We walked just inside the edge of the woods so we could see the freeway, but anyone – or zombie – wouldn’t be able to see us. There was a light, cool breeze. The gray clouds spotted earlier were now gone. The sky was blue with a few white, puffy clouds.
There were a spattering of zombies on the freeway near abandoned cars, but they were far away and never noticed us. An occasional moan could be heard from the freeway, but it always died away quickly and was never directed at us. Birds sang from the treetops, an occasional squirrel or chipmunk would run up a tree or hide in the underbrush when we got near. A few flies buzzed around but there weren’t too many of them at this time of year. We needed to find our siblings and setup a safe place to stay before winter started.
“Maybe we should go back into town,” Grant’s dad said.
The rest of us looked at him like he was crazy, even Grant.
“Now, hear me out before you give me those judgemental looks,” his dad said. “It’s possible the police have now got things under control or maybe even the military has arrived to help out.”
“I don’t think that flash of green light was discriminant in who it turned into zombies,” Hunter said. “The police and military and everyone would have been affected. And in case you didn’t notice, that second flash of green light wiped out our cars and electronics. The military is not going to be able to just roll in.”
“We should at least go back and see,” Grant’s dad said.
“Go ahead,” Hunter said, “but I’m going to find my sister.”
“I don’t know why a kid thinks he gets to order the rest of us around,” Grant’s dad said.
Hunter – who had been in the lead with Richard beside him – stopped and turned to face Grant’s dad fully. Mrs. Smith pulled Juan and Marcos close to her. Victory, Mackenzie and Arthur all stood next to each other. Molly sat obediently at Arthur’s feet. Monica seemed slightly embarrassed by Grant’s dad’s actions. At least, if I read her shuffling feet and her eyes staring down at the ground correctly.
“I wasn’t ordering you,” Hunter said. “In fact, I told you to go ahead and go back. Just because I don’t follow you doesn’t mean I’m ordering you to follow me. I think I’d rather you left actually.”
“And now you’re being a smartass,” Grant’s dad said.
Hunter rolled his eyes obviously not caring that everyone – including Grant’s dad could see. He turned away from Grant and his dad and started walking, but Grant’s dad said, “Why don’t you tell us what that Erik person meant when he said you were lying to us. I think if you want us to follow you, to trust you, you owe us at least that much.”
“I don’t owe you anything,” Hunter said as he turned back around to face us. “What I keep to myself is my business. It isn’t putting any of the rest of you in danger and I don’t care if you follow me or not. I already told you I’d rather you leave.”
“How can you say that to my dad?” Grant asked.
Hunter shrugged. “Your dad talks about trust,” he said. “But Lily and I were the ones who put our lives in danger to save all of you and get you out of those houses you were trapped in. I think we’ve more than proven ourselves. And honestly, I don’t want to hear about trust from a man who pushed his own wife to the zombies.”
“He didn’t,” Grant said. His voice began to get louder.
“Please, Grant, it’s obvious he did,” Hunter said. “Don’t feel too bad about it though, I’m sure you would throw your loved ones to the zombies too if it meant saving yourself.”
Grant screamed and with tears falling onto his cheeks charged Hunter. Hunter didn’t flinch as Grant tackled him to the ground. The two of them rolled around on the dirt and foliage as Marcos cried and clung to Mrs. Smith’s legs, as Victory and Mackenzie screamed at them to stop, as Richard stepped up and tried to pry the two off each other, but ended up tripping as they rolled onto his feet, and as Molly barked and barked. A flock of birds lifted from the tree branches above and flew away. The moans on the freeway began to get louder.
Darren and I both stepped up to the grappled young men as they rolled completely over Richard, but before we could pull them apart, Hunter ended up on top of Grant and pinned him to the forest floor. Grant tried to sit up, but Hunter pushed his shoulders back onto the ground.
Grant’s dad moved to intervene, but Mrs. Smith gave him a look that froze him in his tracks.
“I’m trying to do what is best for my family first and foremost,” Hunter said as he pinned the squirming Grant to the ground. “I will help this group as best as I can, but I have no obligation to help you or your dad. I don’t have to listen to either of you. If you think there is a better route for you that I’m not taking then you are free to leave us at anytime.”
“I would never throw my mom to the zombies,” Grant said as crystalline tears still flowed. Dirt now smeared on his cheeks as well.
The eerie moans grew louder – closer. I signaled Darren and Maria. The three of us readied our weapons and stood towards the treeline. The zombies didn’t seem to react to animals, but I signaled to Arthur to quiet Molly.
“Molly, shush,” Arthur whispered. Molly quieted and ran to Arthur’s side.
Hunter sighed. “Maybe that was harsh of me,” he said, “but try to understand from my perspective, you haven’t really done anything to help us out yet and you locked us out of that room when we were still in Monica’s house. Maybe you could start helping out more,” he slowly got off Grant.
A zombie shambled through the treeline ahead of us. His gruesome head turned to us. The skin on half of his face was completely missing exposing muscle and bone. He moaned loudly and charged us. A second moan came from behind us. Grant and Richard scrambled to their feet as the rest of us readied ourselves. Grant’s dad moved so he was in the middle of the group. Grant moved to join him there. Mrs. Smith hid Juan and Marcos behind her.
Darren stepped up to meet the charging zombie that had half a face. He stabbed him through the face with the blade angled up so that it would go through the brain. A second zombie broke through the treeline. She charged at Darren. Darren tried to pull his knife out of the falling zombie in front of him, but the knife stuck. I was closest to him. I ran that short distance. The second zombie hadn’t seen me yet. I brought my ax down into the back of her skull.
“Thank you,” Darren said to me. He was on the ground next to the zombie he killed. He continued to yank on the knife trying to get it out. “I think the knife is stuck in the skull.”
“Here,” Hunter said. He knelt next to Darren and tore the knife out. He handed the bloody knife that still had brain matter on it back to Darren. Hunter stood up and extended a hand to help Darren up at the same time I did. We looked at each other briefly. Maybe it was weird that I had extended my hand. Maybe I should retract it, only wouldn’t that make it weirder now?
Darren quickly tucked the knife away at his belt over his jedi robes and took our hands in each of his. Together we pulled him to his feet.
Marcos screamed in his little child voice and there was shuffling behind us. The three of us turned quickly with our weapons at the ready. A third zombie had come out of the woods behind us and charged Mrs. Smith. The two children hid behind her as she brought the knife up through underneath the zombie’s chin and into her head.
A fourth zombie moaned and charged Monica from the treeline. She was by herself now that both Grant and his dad were in the middle. She brought up her knife and stabbed the zombie in his eye as hard as she could as he wrapped his fingers around her shoulders and brought his head close to bite her. She retracted her knife as he fell to the forest floor.
A fifth zombie broke through the treelines near the middle of us. He ran straight towards Grant’s dad. Grant’s dad’s eyes flitted from Grant to the zombie and back as if he was actually contemplating throwing his son in front of it. Grant raised his knife, but his hand vibrated so badly I didn’t think he could really use it.
An arrow embedded itself in the zombie’s head. He fell hard onto his back. Victory calmly walked passed Grant and his dad to retrieve her arrow.
“We need to hurry and leave,” Hunter said quietly. “We made a lot of noise. Any zombies that heard will be coming.”
Even as he said that there were more moans heading in our direction from the freeway.
“Follow us or not,” Hunter said to Grant and his dad. Hunter was already moving away. I moved in next to him. Arthur, Mackenzie and Victory followed us. Grant and his dad followed them leaving Mrs. Smith and the little boys now in the back with Monica. Maria, Darren and Richard moved to the back so the children were more in the middle. Monica stood there as she stared at the retreating backs of Grant and his dad as if she couldn’t believe they were leaving her at the back alone. Richard moved to her and placed a hand on her back and gently pushed her forward. She looked up at him. He nodded down encouragingly to her. She stepped in behind the rest of us with Richard beside her. It was only when I saw everyone was coming with us that I turned my attention back to the front.