Chapter 23 .


“Shouldn’t they be back by now?” that mean old man asked.

I sat on the ground in between Arthur and Vicky.  Molly stretched out behind us. Her back foot would occasionally jerk as she slept and kicked Arthur in the back.  He didn’t seem to mind. In fact, the way he leaned back into her, I thought he might actually like it.

There was a fire going in front of us.  Mrs. Smith had a pan over the fire and was cooking soup.  The two little boys were playing a game of tag a little way from the fire, but still in the camp.  Their little giggles brought some peace to my worried heart. I didn’t like being away from Lily. It was cold, but noticeably warmer by the fire.  The hearty smell of the soup made my stomach growl. I covered my stomach with my arm, but it had been quiet enough I didn’t think anyone heard.

Richard and Maria walked along the outskirts of the camp.  I wasn’t sure if they were patrolling to keep us safe or watching for my sister and the others.

“They’ll be back,” Victory said confidently.  “We just need to wait for them.”

“How long do we need to wait?” the old man asked.  “The sun is beginning to set.”

Gray clouds gathered over head, but the sun had drifted below them.  Its rays spread through the tree branches to the west while the sky darkened in the east.

“Maybe something happened to them,” Monica said carefully.  She sat next to Grant not too far away from the fire. The old man stood behind them.  I couldn’t figure out why Grant was her boyfriend. She seemed nice and he seemed like a jerk.  He was handsome though. “Maybe some of us should go find them.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to them,” Victory said.  “I’m sure they are fine. Maybe they just got caught up somewhere or decided not to travel in the dark.”

It wasn’t that dark yet.  I looked in the direction they had left earlier that day.  There wasn’t any sign of them. I was worried about my sister, but she and Hunter had proven themselves very capable over the last few days.  If anyone could survive, it would be them. I wasn’t sure about Darren, but I didn’t think Hunter or Lily would let anything happen to him.

“If they’re not back by tomorrow,” Richard said, “I’ll go look for them.”

“Me too,” Maria said.  It made me feel a little better that others care about my sister and Victory’s brother.

“Well, isn’t this a pleasant sight,” an unfamiliar male voice said.

Those of us who were seated scrambled to our feet.  The little boys ran and stood behind Mrs. Smith’s legs.  Molly immediately woke and stood protectively in front of Arthur.  Her hackles were up and her teeth bared. Victory had her bow out and an arrow cocked and pointed at the strange men that entered our camp.  Maria and Richard gathered with the rest of us. Their hands were tight on their weapons, but didn’t raise them as a threat yet.

“Careful there, girl,” one of the three men said to Victory.  “You don’t want to accidentally fire that at us.”

“It wouldn’t be an accident if I did,” Victory said.

I didn’t like this.  Not at all. I hoped no one noticed that my fingers trembled slightly.  There was a tightening in my stomach that made me want to go to the bathroom, but I held it in.  I wished Lily was there. I stepped a little closer and behind Victory.  

The man raised a gun.  It wasn’t pointed at anyone, he was just showing it off.  The other two indicated their guns as well. Arthur’s fingers slipped into mine and together we took another step back as Molly and Victory stood in front of us.  A low growl came from Molly. The dog’s reaction more than anyone else’s told me these people were not good.

“We’re not here to hurt you,” one of the men said, but the way his eyes looked Maria and Monica up and down gave me goosebumps and a wave of nausea washed through my stomach.  It caused Richard to move slightly forward as he placed himself between Monica, Maria and the men. I noted that Grant took a step back instead of placing himself between his girlfriend and these men.  He really was a jerk.

“It looks like you’ve got plenty of supplies,” one of the other men said.  “Why not just give us a few? We’re starving.” But his eyes roved over Maria, Monica and Mrs. Smith similarly to the way the other man’s had.

Grant and his dad were the first to move and put their backpacks on clearly not willing to give up theirs.  Monica and Maria did the same. Maria also grabbed Richard’s. Arthur and I grabbed ours. Mrs. Smith grabbed hers.  The boys clung to her pants as she did. I grabbed Victory’s as she made no move to lower the bow and arrow.

“There’s a city close by,” Richard said.  He never took his eyes off the three men. “Go there to get your supplies.”

The sky darkened as the sun set and the gray clouds darkened.  The fire in front of us crackled and flickered.

“Come on now,” one of the men said.  “You’re not being very friendly. We haven’t done anything wrong.”  Except now his eyes drifted over Victory and me in a similar way as it just had Monica and Maria.  I just wanted to run away from them. My legs were tense. This would be easier if they didn’t have those guns.

“We don’t need to be friendly when there are zombies roaming around,” Richard said.  “Go on your way.”

The three men raised their guns.  One had his pointed directly at Richard, one at Grant even though Grant wasn’t making any threatening movements and the other on Victory.  They hadn’t figured out yet that Grant was a coward and it was unnecessary to threaten him.

“We’re not going anywhere,” one of the men said.  “Now,” he said pointedly to Maria, “why don’t you bring me some of whatever is cooking and then we can have a little chat.”  And then he smiled with the creepiest smile I had ever seen.

I took a step away from them, but didn’t want to run away without everyone else.  Arthur’s hand held onto mine tighter. It gave me enough courage to stand my ground.  Molly growled low as one of them took a step forward. Her body was tensed and slightly crouched.

Maria hesitated, but she handed her bags to Monica and took a step towards the fire.  

“Don’t do it,” Richard instructed her without taking his eyes off the men.

“If you don’t, we’ll start shooting,” one of the men said.  “We just want some food. What’s so bad about that? It’s the end of the world.  Shouldn’t humanity be helping each other out?”

“Don’t worry,” Maria said to Richard, but Richard tensed.  He didn’t move to stop her as she went to the fire. She picked up the cloth we had been using as a hot pad and removed the pan from the fire.  She walked up to the first man and I got a sick feeling. The back of my throat tightened. I didn’t want to be there anymore. Molly growled loudly, crept two steps forward, but then stopped.

“Here,” Maria said.  She held the pan out towards the man.  

He grabbed her arm and spun her around so her back was pulled up against him.  He held her tightly around the waist.

“Let her go!” Richard yelled as Molly barked, growled and took two more steps forward.

The man leaned forward as Maria struggled to get free and licked her ear.  The look of horror and disgust was clear on her face as she froze for one brief moment.  My stomach churned suddenly and I almost threw up, but managed to keep it down.  

Several things happened all at once.  Maria stomped hard on his foot. He grunted in pain and when he let go of her from the surprise and pain, she threw the soup in his face just as a gunshot went off.  The man howled and wiped frantically at his face as his fell backwards and tripped so he landed on his butt. His face was a deep red from the scalding soup and bits of meat and vegetables clung to his face and hair.  

The man on the opposite end, grasped his stomach as blood began to spread over his shirt.  He fell to his knees. Monica had her gun pointed directly at him. Sleet began to fall from the gray clouds making everything colder and wet.  Molly charged the man in the middle. His gun had been pointed at Grant, but when he noticed Molly’s charge, he lowered it to shoot her. He was too late.  She bit his wrist and twisted her head violently from side to side. The gun went off, but the bullet hit the ground. The man hit her on the top of the head with his free hand.

“Don’t hurt her!” Arthur yelled at the man.

“Get away from them!” Victory yelled.  Maria stumbled as she ran back towards our group.  The empty pan was still in her hand. Molly broke away and ran with her.

The man who was just bitten by Molly raised his gun in our direction as his two companions sat on the ground holding their wounds.  Lightning struck the ground right in front of the men. The man who was going to shoot us jumped back in surprise. Zombie moans began to call out in the night among the sleet.  They were still at a distance, but we had made a lot of noise. They would be drawn here.

“Run!” Mrs. Smith yelled.  And we ran forward away from that spot.  I looked over my shoulder to see the man who wasn’t injured helping the man who had been shot up.  The one who had been scalded got to his feet to help. The three of them disappeared into the woods.  We ran because it was the only thing we could do, but I worried that meant we were leaving behind my sister for good.  No. I had to trust that she would find me no matter what.

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