Before I could warn the others, the shadowed form stepped into a ray of moonlight. He held one finger up to his lips urging me to be quiet. Mason. I didn’t know him well. He was a senior too, but he only hung out with his group of friends. They didn’t interact with other people. I had always found that strange as they all seemed like they would be the popular athletic types. His sister looked like she should be a cheerleader. He and Alex looked like they should have been football players. They had never been on a sports team. They had never been in any after school activities. When school was finished, their group went home together. I didn’t know where they lived, but there were rumors they lived in a cult compound. I didn’t believe that though.
His brown eyes drifted to the camp behind me. I turned to look if he had garnered anyone else’s attention, but not even Darren had noticed us and everyone else was still asleep. Molly, however, lifted her head from Arthur’s stomach. She sniffed the air and then jumped to her feet. I opened my mouth to urge her to be quiet, but she didn’t bark. Instead she ran to Mason and jumped on him wagging her tail happily. He crouched so he was eye level to her. He smiled fondly and scratched between her ears. She leaned into him loving every moment of it. He stood up straight and waved a hand in Arthur’s direction. Molly ran back to Arthur’s side and settled down next to him with her head on his stomach.
He turned back to the woods and made a shooing motion with his hand as if to tell others to leave. I didn’t hear anything in the woods, but I hadn’t heard him either. He turned back to me. I waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. He stepped passed me into the camp. He stopped near Hunter’s head and stared down at my friend. He cocked his head to the side in contemplation. His eyes slowly left Hunter and scanned over everyone else in the camp and the low fire.
He crouched next to Hunter’s head and tilted his head again. “You must really trust your friends to sleep so deeply you don’t notice me,” he said.
Darren spun in our direction with his knife raised. The rest of the camp woke with a start, but Hunter’s hand shot out and closed around Mason’s neck.
“Careful,” Mason said as Hunter sat up and his grip tightened. “I’m not alone.” For the first time, I heard footsteps in the woods, twigs breaking as if they were purposely letting themselves be heard. And it wasn’t only coming from the direction Mason had come from. It came from all around the camp. We were surrounded.
Hunter slowly released Mason’s neck. Mason smirked and brought his hand up to rub his neck. “You are dangerously close to our home,” Mason said never taking his eyes off Hunter’s. “The ignorance of these others I can understand, but you and your sister don’t have that excuse.”
“We’ve been killing zombies all night,” Hunter said. “Their blood and viscera on my clothes must have hidden your smell.”
That was an odd response, but it seemed to satisfy Mason as he looked down at Hunter’s clothes.
“It’s almost dawn,” Mason said standing up straight. “You better break up camp and be on your way. Erik knows you are near and he doesn’t like it.”
“In case you didn’t notice,” Hunter said, “the world is different than it was yesterday.” He stood up and shielded his sister behind him.
“We could really use some help,” Mrs. Smith said. “Even if it’s just packs to carry our things.” She held up a jacket that had been folded up to carry food and water.
“We’re not planning on staying,” Hunter said to Mason. “We are on our way to find my sister and Lily’s brother.”
Mason sighed. “Stay here a moment,” he said. He walked passed me and back into the woods.
I strained my ears and listened carefully, but I didn’t hear anything. He came back a few moments later and this time Alex was with him.
“We’ll take you as far as the gates,” Mason said. “It’s up to Erik if we are going to help you. None of you can go beyond the gates. We’ll go this way.” He and Alex walked across the camp and left through the trees near where Darren stood.
We gathered our things and followed. Molly ran ahead and nudged Mason’s legs. He patted the top of her head, but didn’t stop walking. She ran to Alex’s side and he did the same. Then she ran back to Arthur’s side and stayed near him the rest of the time.
We didn’t see the others, but I knew they were out there. We had heard more than Mason and Alex around our camp. I could feel their eyes on me and they didn’t feel friendly.
I couldn’t see any identifying marks to show where we were going. There were only trees and more trees. Mason and Alex seemed relaxed and easy other than the occasional glances they gave Hunter and Victory. Hunter and Victory on the other hand grew more and more nervous. Their eyes scanned through the trees constantly. Hunter’s fingers skimmed along the knife strapped to his leg several times. Victory’s hand almost went for the bow on her back, but every time she started to reach for it, she stopped herself. Hunter took Victory’s hand in his. They held each other so tightly their knuckles were white.
There was a moan from somewhere in the distance. We all froze except Mason and Alex who kept walking as if a zombie moan was no big deal. The rest of us followed them again. It didn’t take long before the zombie moaned again this time louder and more urgent. But before the moan could die away it was suddenly cut off. We didn’t hear it again. I assumed one of the silent guards in the woods killed it.
We continued our walk through the trees until we got to a small road. We followed it until we reached a large ornamental iron fence. There was a large stylized wolf on the iron gate. The fence stretched out in the woods for as far as I could see. Mason’s other companions finally came out of the woods then including Mason’s sister, Elsie.
“What were you supposed to be?” Elsie asked. Her hand reached up and almost touched the faded makeup on Victory’s cheeks, but Hunter pulled Victory behind him before Elsie could touch her.
“Relax,” Elsie said easily. “If I was going to hurt her, I would have already done it.”
Mackenzie looked at me with concern for her friend. It was strange how Mason and his friends seemed to focus on Hunter and Victory but barely glanced at the rest of us.
“So what were you supposed to be?” another young woman from the group asked.
Victory didn’t answer her. Now everyone in Mason’s group stared at Victory. Hunter couldn’t shield her from the stares of all of them even though he tried. They had encircled us.
Victory didn’t answer them and she seemed uncertain – maybe even afraid of them – but she didn’t shy away from their gazes. She was defiant in her silence in a way I didn’t understand. Mackenzie squirmed beside me clearly not liking the way the focus was on her friend.
“She was a lizard girl,” Mackenzie said.
“Lizard girl?” Elsie asked and then they all started laughing – like jovial, genuine laughing. I didn’t understand it.
“I don’t want to be rude,” Monica said as she stood beside Grant, “but don’t one of you need to go in to get Erik or whatever? The phones are dead so you can’t exactly call him.”
“He’s on his way,” Mason said easily. “We’ll wait for him here.”
It grew quiet as we waited for Erik. I had never met or seen Erik myself. He had been a senior when Tanner was a freshman and Tanner had spoken highly of him. He had said Erik was the coolest person he had ever seen and had even tried to dress like him for a few weeks. He had tried to become Erik’s friend, but after Erik ignored him and only focused on his own group of friends, Tanner became disenchanted with him and went back to normal.
“Lizard girl,” Alex muttered and their entire group laughed again as if it was the funniest thing they had ever heard.
Victory reached up and rubbed away the leftover makeup roughly. Mackenzie stepped up and helped her get it all off. Victory’s reaction seemed to indicate Mason and his group were making fun of her, but I didn’t understand how. It was as if they all had some inside information the rest of us didn’t. Because with the exception of Hunter and Victory who both scowled at Mason and his group, the rest of my group looked as clueless as I felt.
It grew silent again as we waited. The sun was rising and the sky was lighting. Birds began their morning call. Molly had settled at Arthur’s feet. She jumped and rushed to the gate with her tail wagging vigorously. A moment later a man stepped out of the woods beyond the wrought iron fence. A woman stood by his side and a handful of people stood behind them. He smiled at Molly and reached through the fence to pet the top of her head.
Hunter and Victory became even more stiff at the appearance of the new man. The man looked away from Molly and his face went serious when he saw Hunter and Victory. Hunter pulled his sister close to him and wrapped his arms around her shoulders as if to shield her. She hugged him back and wouldn’t look the man directly in the eyes. Hunter didn’t look at his eyes either.
“You were at the party,” Mrs. Smith said to the man. “You both were,” she indicated the woman by his side.
“How’d you get out?” Grant’s dad asked.
The man smiled, but it wasn’t friendly. It was menacing and a rush of fear spread through me causing the hairs on my arms to stand on end.