I wished Daniels was around. He’d know what to do if we accidentally ate something that could harm us. Hell, he’d probably even know what plants were dangerous, so we wouldn’t even need the book.
That wasn’t the only reason I wished Daniels was around, of course. I missed him a lot, more than I’d expected I would. But he’d been my only companion for six months, and though our relationship was rocky a lot of the time, I truly believed he was a good person. He tried to be rational in an insane world.
Sometimes I found myself going to ask him something or wanting to tell him something, only to remember that he wasn’t here. That he would never be here again.
“Remy,” Stella whispered. Her hand found mine, squeezing tightly onto it.
“What?” I asked, pulling myself from my thoughts.
“Are they zombies?” She pointed to three figures walking on the road at the end of the driveway.
They moved normally, with the fluid movements of humans that zombies were incapable of.
“No, honey, they are not,” I said quietly as I watched them.
There were two men and one woman. The woman had fiery red hair, long curls she hadn’t even attempted to tame. The younger of the two men was wiry, with a grizzled face. He had a scar that stretched out from underneath one eye around to his temple.
But the last guy was a giant of a man. He towered over the other two, with broad shoulders and a bald head that appeared to be twice the size of mine.
Their clothes were ragged and worn, and all three of them carried bags, fat with their possessions. I supposed they didn’t appear all that different from our little group, but my heart beat erratically when I saw them. I couldn’t see any weapons, but I was never sure if I could trust people.
They paused at the end of the driveway, talking among themselves. I held my breath, hoping they would keep walking, bypassing our house completely. But they didn’t. They turned and walked toward the house.
Stella and I were near the edge of the driveway, so they would see us when they got closer. We were somewhat hidden in the trees for now, so we had a chance to run and hide. Or we could step out and introduce ourselves.
I wasn’t sure what the best course of action was, but the three strangers were walking to the house, where Boden, Serg, and Max were playing cards in the basement game room. I couldn’t let people blunder on in them.
“Stay behind me,” I told Stella.
I still held her hand, but I’d moved so I was blocking her with my body. I took a few steps out to the driveway, and she moved with me, hiding behind me.
“Excuse me.” I cleared my throat, and the three people stopped short on the driveway. The smaller man and the woman looked startled, but the giant didn’t have any clear expression. “Can I help you?”
“I don’t know,” the smaller man said, his voice lilting with an accent. I couldn’t place it for certain, but it sounded almost Irish. “Can you help us?”
“Did you need something?” I asked, rephrasing my question.
“Is this your house?” the woman asked, and she at least attempted to sound friendly.
“Yes.” I stood up straighter and tried to sound more confident. “Yes, it is.”
“You live here by yourself then?” the wiry guy asked, smirking a bit, and then gestured to Stella hiding behind me. “You and the little girl, I mean?”
I shook my head. “No. There’s three other guys in the house. Waiting for us.”
His smile fell away, and he exchanged a look with the redhead. I definitely did not like the vibe I was getting from them. I wanted to run to the house away from them, but I feared if I ran, like mad dogs, they would give chase.
“Where are my manners?” The woman laughed lightly. “I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Hayley, that’s Louis,” – she pointed to the wiry guy – “and this big guy here is Bruce.”
“I’m Remy,” I said, because I had to say something back. “And that’s Stella.”
“We’ve been wandering for days,” Hayley said. “And as you can imagine, we’re quite tired. You wouldn’t mind if we stopped and just took a little break here?”
“I …” I started to shake my head. “I don’t think – ”
“We wouldn’t be any bother,” Hayley insisted and took a step toward me. “We have our own food, so we wouldn’t eat yours. We just need a little break, to put our feet up.”
I was wrong about Bruce, the giant standing behind her. I’d thought he didn’t have any expressions, but he was definitely grimacing now as he glared down at me.
“I’ll see,” I said, because I wasn’t sure that I could fight a giant like that on my own. But in the house, with Boden, Serg, and several guns, I thought I might stand a chance. “I have to check with the others.”
I picked up Stella then, putting her on my hip, and I turned to walk quickly to the house. I didn’t look back, but I could hear them following me, Bruce’s heavy steps clomping on the ground.
As soon as I got in the door, I put her down and whispered, “Go to your room and lock the door.”
She raced up the stairs, and I walked farther into the house, wanting to put distance between myself and the weary travellers.
“Boden!” I shouted, hoping he heard the unease in my voice. “Serg!”
Louis whistled when he came inside, eyeing up the rather impressive living room. I’d stepped back, moving deeper into the living room away from them. Bruce made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and a growl, and I have no idea if that was good or not.
“This is some place you got here,” Louis commented.
“And you have all this space just for the couple of you?” Hayley asked.
“Thanks,” I muttered, and Louis took off his backpack and casually tossed it on the sofa. “Boden! We have company!”
“Company?” Boden’s voice wafted up the stairs, and within seconds, I heard footsteps tramping up them.
Boden, Serg, and Max came upstairs, all three of them looking confused. I hadn’t called for Max, and I was hoping that they’d take the hint that I wanted him to wait downstairs. I had no idea what this might turn into, but I was certain that it’d better if Max stayed out of it.
“Oh, company.” Boden’s eyes widened with understanding and surprise when he saw Hayley, Bruce, and Louis standing our living room.
“This is Hayley, Louis, and Bruce,” I said, gesturing to each of them as I said their name.