The rest of the day went by without further incident. We camped just inside the treeline by the freeway. We each took turns with the watch. The night was colder than the previous night. There had been occasional sobs through the night. I think all of us cried at one point except for Grant’s dad. I missed my parents.
The next morning we broke camp and continued on our way. It was late morning when Hunter stopped us. Gray clouds hung heavy overhead and blocked the sun.
“We’re coming upon Freemont,” he said. “I think a few of us should go into town and see if we can acquire guns and maybe some crossbows or bows.”
“And what if the few that go in never come out,” Grant’s dad said.
“Then you can leave without us,” Hunter said.
“I’m going in,” Victory said.
“We’ll talk about that in a moment,” Hunter said.
Judging by Victory’s pout, she was taking that as a no. Mackenzie gave her a short hug to comfort her. Victory smiled briefly at my little sister.
“I think the children should stay here with Mrs. Smith,” Hunter said.
“I’m staying too,” Grant’s dad said. “I’m not risking myself for something foolish.”
“Yesterday you were talking about going back home thinking the military or police would have everything in order,” Mrs. Smith pointed out.
“Well,” Grant’s dad said, “if they are, they will be in this town too and then whoever goes into town can come back for the rest of us.”
“I’m going to stay too,” Grant said.
“What do you want to do?” Hunter asked Monica not unkindly.
She looked at Grant who gave her a little hand signal to stay. “I guess I’ll stay,” she said.
Richard’s eyes lingered on Grant and his dad while Maria’s eyes lingered on the children.
“I think I better stay too,” Richard said. I liked that. He was the biggest of us and if Grant or his dad tried anything Richard could stop them.
“Me too,” Maria said.
“Great,” Victory said. “Then the rest of us can go in with you.”
My little sister frowned and shuffled from foot to foot. She was clearly not as eager as Victory to go into a city filled with zombies. And I didn’t want her to come with us. It would be safer in the woods where she could hide or escape more easily.
“Vicky,” Hunter said as he placed a hand on his little sister’s shoulder. She rolled her eyes clearly knowing what was coming. “You have the bow and arrows. If zombies attack here while I’m gone, don’t you think it’s best if you were here with your weapon? Nobody else has a long range weapon.”
“I still have the gun,” Monica said helpfully.
“Don’t use it unless you have no other choice,” Hunter told her. “It might attract more zombies.”
“You are the only one who has a silent long range weapon,” Hunter amended his words to Victory. She frowned, but nodded.
“Be safe,” she said as she hugged him.
“I guess,” Darren said, “that means that Hunter, Lily and I are going in.”
Mackenzie hugged me tightly. “Be careful,” she whispered to me.
“I will. I promise,” I said as I returned her hug. I kissed her on the top of her head. “We’ll find Tanner and be a family again.” As much as we could be without our parents. It still didn’t feel quite real that they were dead even though I had seen their bodies. It almost seemed like we were just on a camping trip without them.
Mrs. Smith gave Darren a kiss on his forehead as Marcos and Juan clung to her. She patted down Darren’s messy hair, but the wavy tendrils immediately sprang back up haphazardly.
Hunter, Darren and I walked from the treeline to the freeway exit that would take us to Freemont. We didn’t see any zombies. There was an occasional zombie moan, but it sounded far away.
We paused as we came upon the first stoplight. There was a 5 car crash in the intersection ahead. Zombies milled about the cars, some zombies moaning inside the cars. Two of the cars had unmoving figures inside them. I wasn’t sure if the people inside were dead or zombies that just weren’t moving. Large black birds hovered on the street lamps and posts as they looked down on the crash. Sparrows and Robins hopped along the ground like they normally would. The zombies didn’t pay them any mind. The birds would hop away if a zombie got too close, but then they would go back to their spot when the zombie meandered away.
There was a heavy stench of rot and decay and death in the air. I already missed the fresh smell of the trees, shrubbery and the earthy smell of the woods.
Hunter waved to a nearby building. Darren led the way. We went slowly and quietly. We reached the back of the building and hugged the wall as we went to the next building. We went to the end of the block by hiding behind buildings. We peeked around the corner of the last building into the next street. There was only one zombie on this street meandering aimlessly. We waited until his back was fully turned to us before we ran across the street to the next set of buildings.
We went the next few blocks in this same fashion. We were always able to slip passed the few zombies we saw. Thankfully, they weren’t smart or observant. We heard gunfire in the distance. I froze. Had it been Monica? Had I left my sister behind thinking she would be safe only to have her be killed while I wasn’t there?
I turned around to go back and bumped into Hunter.
“It came from that direction,” he whispered and motioned to the left which was not the direction we had left our group. It hadn’t been Monica.
“That building,” he pointed to a few buildings ahead, “is the one we are going to.”
“How can you tell from the back?” Darren whispered.
“I’ve been there many times. It was Grace’s favorite place to go for her supplies.”
When we got to the back of the building, the back door was slightly open and the doorknob had been knocked off. The three of us looked at each other and then readied our weapons in silence. Hunter opened the door just enough for us to slip in. Thankfully, it didn’t make any creaking noises.
It was dark inside and I stepped on Hunter’s heels more than once. Darren bumped into me from behind and murmured a quiet, “Sorry.”
We navigated through the dark, small hallway. A small stream of light wafted in when Hunter opened a door. We filed out of the door and were now in the main store. Sunlight filtered in through the large windows at the front.
Guns, knives, crossbows, ammunition and an array of other items had been rummaged through and knocked off shelves. Someone had been through here and taken what they needed, but they hadn’t looted everything. The glass front door was slightly ajar. I could only see two zombies walking aimlessly in the street through the window. One of them was a child. It was dark and quiet inside the store, hopefully we could keep it that way and the zombies wouldn’t notice us.
Darren tripped beside me and grabbed onto my shoulder to steady himself. All three of us looked down to see what Darren had tripped over. A small gasp escaped Darren. It was a dead human. He hadn’t been a zombie. It didn’t appear that he had any bite wounds on him either. He did have a large gash in his head and a pool of blood underneath him. I bent down and felt his neck for a pulse just in case even though he looked bluish and I was sure he was dead. I didn’t feel a pulse and it didn’t seem like he was breathing.
“Dead,” I whispered.
“It doesn’t look like zombies did this,” Darren whispered.
“No,” Hunter said quietly. “I think it was the looters that came before us.”
I wondered if the man had a family waiting somewhere for him. Maybe his family were now zombies. It was pointless to wonder. It wasn’t like we could find his family to tell them of his fate.
We began to look around the store and gather supplies. Darren and Hunter left it up to me to choose the guns as I was more familiar with them. Hunter grabbed some crossbows and bows as well as arrows. Darren gathered hunting knives. We gathered a few more things like a tarp, rope, matches and flint and steel.
“There’s a bicycle shop across the street,” Darren said. I hadn’t realized he had drifted so close to the store front. “Should we risk getting bicycles? It would make traveling faster and easier.”
“I don’t know,” Hunter said. “If we were going to get bicycles, we should get enough for all of our group, but there are only three of us now and I don’t know if we could manage 12 bikes and that’s assuming Juan and Marcos will ride with adults and not on their own.”
Darren looked back over the street. “I still think we should try,” he said. “Maybe between the three of us we could drag 12 bikes on a tarp or something.”
“The problem isn’t just halling them,” I said. “The problem is getting the bikes and us passed all the zombies and back to the woods. Although, bikes would be good to have. They are relatively quiet and we’d make a lot more distance. And we could also get chocolate.” We still had the Halloween chocolate we brought, but we could always use more chocolate.
I pointed across the street where a fancy chocolate store was situated between the bicycle shop and a dance studio. There was a sign indicating there was a yoga studio underneath the dance studio in the basement. There were two sets of stairs. One led up to the dance studio and the other led down.
Goosebumps rose on my arms when I noticed the words RU in? had been spray painted over the sign to the yoga studio. Now I only wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t know what those words indicated or why I felt such trepidation when I saw them. They were the same words that had been spray painted on the school. Now we were in a completely different town and it didn’t seem like someone’s sick joke or a coincidence. It couldn’t have been.
My arm dropped heavily back to my side.
“Bikes would be good to have,” Hunter relented. “Even if we didn’t get enough for everyone. Even if we just got three we could take turns riding them and we could give the others a little reprieve by packing more onto the bikes so the others don’t have to carry so much.”
“We should check that place out,” Darren pointed to the words RU in?
Hunter’s eyes widened when he saw the sign and he swallowed hard. “No,” he said. “Nevermind about the bikes. We should leave now.”
He started towards the back of the store where we came in.
“Why not?” Darren asked, but did not turn away from the sign. “What if it’s people or an organization that can help us? Maybe they are working on a cure or something. It seems welcoming to me. We should go.” He took a step towards the store door, but I placed my hand on his shoulder and held him back.
“No,” Hunter said. He walked back to me and Darren. “We need to go now.”
“Shouldn’t we at least check out the bikes?” I asked. He had just said he wanted some.
“No,” he said to me again. His eyes pleaded with me, but I wasn’t sure why.
“Is it because of that weird sign?” I asked. “Because, yes, I feel creeped out by it too, but Darren has a point. What if it is an organization that could help us?”
“It’s not,” Hunter said.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“I just do,” he said. “Trust me please.”
I did trust him. I trusted Hunter any day over a sign that was already giving me creepy vibes.
I nodded. “Okay,” I said.
There was a loud creak and a bang as Darren threw open the door and ran across the street as fast as he could.
“No!” Hunter and I screamed at the same time.
The two zombies in the street shambled after Darren, but stopped when Darren disappeared down the steps. The two of them turned to me and Hunter. They moaned. More moans joined them.