The morning came, and we packed our things and left.
The days that followed felt unremarkable. We walked from sun up until sundown, barely out-running the death groans following us.
Boden and Serg took turns carrying Stella when she got too tired to walk. I tried to, but Boden refused to let me. Daniels said I shouldn’t be lifting anything until my incision had healed completely.
The one good thing about losing so many people in our group was that our food rations suddenly didn’t seem so low. We were going to be set for a while, but not forever.
When we went to bed one night, camping out in the back of an abandoned Dodge Ram, I realized we hadn’t heard a single death groan all day. Just to be safe, we walked on another day, and another day after that, and we still didn’t hear anything.
Midafternoon on the fourth day without any death groans, we found a house on a lake. It was more than a house, though. It was glorious. The living room had a fireplace, and the back wall was the height of the house and made of glass, so you got the full view of the lake.
All the furniture was covered with sheets, carefully protected. This was somebody’s vacation home, and they’d left one fall and never came back. Based on all the dust that had built up and the musty smell, I’d guessed it had been a while ago. But that made sense. Once your neighbors started eating your flesh, a vacation didn’t sound like as much fun.
There were four bedrooms upstairs, and the master bedroom had a fireplace. One of the bedrooms was done all in purples and pinks, with flowers everywhere. The small twin bed even had a new fluffy teddy bear sitting on it.
The other two bedrooms were more basic. One was really beige, and the other was forest green with duck trim around the edge.
But the most exciting part wasn’t the view, the bedrooms, or even the multiple fireplaces. It was the game room in the basement. Not only did it have a pool table and a poker table, which were fun enough themselves, but it had a gun cabinet, with seven different shot guns and many boxes of shells below. They even had a crossbrow, and several fishing rods.
We’d be able to hunt and defend ourselves against attacks.
We were somewhere in Canada, and although I wasn’t sure how deep we were, it was cold enough that the grass was still mostly covered in snow.
Ripley had followed us all the way up here, and I let her into the garage. Boden seemed a little leery of idea of letting a lion run loose in the house, but it was too cold to leave her outside. She loved swimming, and I knew she’d love the lake out back when it warmed up.
Max and Stella were running up and down the stairs, playing some kind of game I didn’t understand, but it involved a lot of laughing and squealing. Serg had discovered a wine rack off the side of the kitchen, and he went through it, trying to pick out a nice one to go with our dinner.
I’d pulled the covers off the couches in the living room, revealing soft leather furniture. The sun was setting on the lake behind the house, so I stood in front of the window, admiring it.
“What do you think?” Boden asked, walking over to me.
“This is it.” I turned to face him. “This is what we’ve been looking for.”
“I know.” He nodded, but he had a look of apprehension. “It almost seems too good to be true, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t care.” I looked away from him to stare back over the lake. “This is it. And I’m not letting anybody or anything take this place from us.”
“Stella!” I leaned on the banister leading upstairs and yelled up to her. “Are you coming or not?”
“I’ll be down in a minute, Remy!” Stella shouted back. “Hold your horses!”
While I waited for her, I flipped through the book again.
We’d been at the house for a few days, and we’d already settled in rather nicely. Max and Stella especially took to it. The game room downstairs had a rather well-stocked library, and they had books on everything from cooking to making candles to finding edible plants in the wild.
That was the one I flipped through now. Stella and I planned on going out to try to gather some plants to eat, but I wasn’t sure how many of them would be out, since spring was only just beginning.
The previous tenants had been kind enough to mark pages – some were dog-eared and others were written on with a red pen – letting me know what they’d been able to find around here, where it was, and if it tasted any good.
“Stella!” I called again, sine she still hadn’t come down.
I heard her before I saw her, a weird slogging sound that I didn’t understand until she appeared at the top of the stairs wearing oversized pink galoshes she’d found in her new bedroom. They came up to her knees and the rubber made an odd slapping sound when she took a step.
To top it off, she’d added a bicycle helmet we’d found in the garage. At least she’d worn her own clothes with it, but I wasn’t sure what we’d do when she started to outgrow them. I’d have to learn how to sew, I guess.
“What’s with the get-up?” I asked Stella, gesturing to her boots and helmet.
“We don’t know what’s out there,” Stella said, like it should be obvious. “I need to be prepared.”
“Can’t argue with that,” I said. “Come on.”
I took her hand when we went out the front door. She hesitated before following me, though, looking around in all directions several times before deciding it was safe. I didn’t hurry her because that was a good habit to have.
The house was pretty isolated, which was another reason I liked it so much. As far as I could tell, it was the only house on the entire lake. The driveway even stretched a quarter of a mile to the road.
The area surrounding the property was fairly wooded, mostly with pine trees but a few maples and oaks stood bare-branched in the mix. Despite the chill, some greenery was poking out here and there, shooting up between melting patches of snow.
We didn’t travel far from the house, because I hadn’t brought anything to defend ourselves with. I didn’t hear any zombies, and the area seemed safe enough. But that didn’t mean it was. I didn’t want to be any farther than a quick dash to safety.
Stella and I took turns looking at the book, and she studied the pictures carefully. We found a few leaves of something that was supposed to edible, but when I tried it, it tasted too bitter to possibly be consumed.
We did manage to find a small cluster of berries. I examined the pictures several times before I tried one, out of fear of accidentally ingesting something poisonous. Nothing happened after I ate a few, so I let Stella try one. I didn’t let her have any more though, until I’d seen how I reacted to them.