Chapter 24 .

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We slept on the cabin floor all huddled together.  I held Grace close to me as we slept. That was how I woke with sunlight streaming in through the cabin windows.  The cabin was void of furnishings. It looked like it hadn’t been occupied for quite awhile judging by all the dust and cobwebs.

“I’m hungry,” Camila mumbled as she sat up on the other side of Grace.

Grace nuzzled her face more into my shirt, but didn’t make any move to get up.

“Is there anything in your 24 hour kit to eat?” Connor asked.  He grabbed the backpack by Grace. Grace sprang up and pulled it away from him.

“And something to drink?” Todd asked.  Unlike Connor, his tone was polite and his eyes patient and hopeful as he blinked his brown eyes at Grace.

I sat up cross legged and Grace settled next to me.  She unzipped her pack and began to rummage around. “I do have some water,” she pulled out a large bottle, “but we need to share it so only start with a few swallows.”  She handed the bottle to Camila. The professors gathered around us waiting for their turn as the water was passed around.

“I do have a little bit of food, but not much.  It’s called a 24 hour kit not a kit to save your life in an apocalypse.”  Grace pulled out a bag of jerky, opened it and handed each of us one.

“We’re going to need to get food and water,” Dr. Higgins said.

Dr. Smith stretched her back and mumbled, “My arthritis is killing me.”

Connor stood as he chewed the jerky and went to the door.

“Where are you going?” Dr. Higgins asked.

“To the bathroom, dad,” Connor bit out.  “I was trying to be discreet about it.  Geez.”

“From now on,” Dr. Higgins said, “no one goes anywhere alone.  There has to be at least 2 of you so one can watch out for the other.  This is no longer a safe world.”

“Was it ever a safe world?” Dr. Patel mumbled.

“Todd, come with me,” Connor said.

Todd stood and went to the door.  I went with them. I made sure I had my bat.  Connor opened the door a crack and peeked outside before he opened it a little wider.  I didn’t think there were any zombies out there. There weren’t any zombie groans.

“I saw an outhouse in the front,” Dr. Patel offered.

“Oh,” Grace said.  “I have tissues if you need it.”  She tossed a small packet of tissues across the room to me.  I caught it and nodded my thanks.

I followed Todd and Connor out and closed the door behind us.  We scanned the area as we walked to the outside. It was quiet.  It was colder than it had been the previous day, but maybe that was just because it was morning.  There were a few clouds overhead, but none of them covered the sun at the moment.  

Connor hesitated with his hand on the handle.  He let go and turned back to me and Todd. “I’m just going to pee in the bushes,” he said.  We followed him as he walked into the woods enough he wouldn’t be seen from a cabin window.

Todd and I scanned the woods as Connor relieved himself.  All was quiet as he went, and then Todd and then myself.

We walked back to the cabin to see the women standing out front.  Dr. Smith was huddled between Grace and Camila.

“Where is Dr. Higgins and Dr. Patel?” I asked because the cabin door was open behind them and I could see it was empty.

“They went into the woods to relieve themselves too,” Dr. Smith said.  “You boys didn’t try the outhouse?”

“I’m not going in there,” Connor said definitively.

“Well, I am,” she said.  Camila and Grace walked with her to the outhouse.

“Tissues?” Dr. Smith said to me before she entered.

“Oh, right.”  I almost tossed it, but remembered last minute that she had been complaining of arthritis so I walked the short distance and handed them to her politely.

“I hope our siblings found our parents,” Grace said to me.

“Alive,” I added.

“Yes,” she said.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket to try and call again, but it was dead.

Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins stepped out from the woods and rejoined Connor and Todd.  

“We should go back to the edge of the woods to check the freeway,” Dr. Higgins said.  “If the zombies are gone we should retrieve our cars and be on our way.”

“Our cars might be boxed in,” Grace said.  “We might have to take other cars.”

Dr. Higgins nodded.  “This is true,” he said.

Dr. Smith came out of the outhouse and handed the tissues to Camila who went inside.  I had never been in an outhouse and it really wasn’t an experience I wanted.

“I left my backpack in the cabin,” Grace said to me.  “Why don’t you get it so we can be ready to go when I come back out.”

I nodded.  Camilla came out of the outhouse and handed Grace the tissues as she went inside.  I went back to the cabin and retrieved her backpack. I looked around quickly just in case we had missed something useful, but the place was bare.

I stepped out and rejoined the others.  When Grace came out, she took her backpack from me and put the tissues back in it.  She strapped the backpack onto her back. I noticed Camila had Grace’s purse.

“Why don’t you carry your purse and I’ll carry your backpack,” I said and started to reach for her backpack.

“You carry my purse,” she said to me.

“Fine,” I said.  Camila handed me the purse and I put the strap over my shoulder.  “But then I’ll have the screwdriver you’ve been using to kill zombies.”  I could see it clearly at the top of her purse.

Grace blinked up at me with her beautiful eyes.  “Fine,” she sighed. “You carry my backpack and I’ll carry the purse.”  She slipped out of the backpack straps and handed it to me as I handed her the purse.  She opened it and ran her fingers along the screwdriver’s handle almost lovingly. That thing had saved our lives.

The professors – mostly Dr. Higgins – led us back through the woods.  We ignored the dead zombie by the side of the cabin. I hoped Dr. Higgins knew where he was going because everything looked the same to me.

We traveled mostly in silence because we knew zombies had chased us into the woods the previous night and we had only killed one of them.  There had been a scream so maybe the other students had killed the zombies. Or maybe they were now zombies. All the more reason for us to be quiet and not draw any zombie attention.

We reached the edge of the treeline.  Not too far away was the freeway. It wasn’t the exact spot we had left it however.  I couldn’t see our cars – didn’t know if we should go forward or backwards to get to our cars, but Dr. Higgins started to move back along the freeway.  The freeway was eerily devoid of humans or zombies. All was silent. Empty cars and trucks lined the backup freeway. All the vehicles were turned off, but I would have assumed some at least would have been running by the urgency people scrambled out of their cars the previous night.

Dr. Higgins led us closer and closer to the freeway.  The closer we got the emptier it seemed. I spotted his truck before I spotted Grace’s car.  My first inclination was to rush to the cars, but Dr. Higgins in front of us kept the pace careful and slow.  We followed him. I held my bat tightly in both hands just in case. My legs were tense ready to sprint back to the woods at a moment’s notice.

Dr. Higgins carefully led us over the concrete barrier.  Dr. Patel helped Dr. Smith over. The professors went to the truck while the rest of us went to Grace’s car.  Grace sat in the driver’s side and climbed in. I wasn’t sure why we bothered, we were boxed in by other cars.  We’d have to move some – probably the ones behind us – to get out. Grace tried to start the car, but nothing happened.  It didn’t even make a noise like it was trying to start. There was just the click of the key in the ignition.

The professors exited the truck. Dr. Higgins dug around behind his driver’s seat and came back out with two bottles of water and a blanket.  We all got out of the car as they came to us.

“Truck won’t start,” Dr. Higgins said quietly.  He and Dr. Patel both scanned the area to make sure there weren’t zombies about.

“My car won’t start either,” Grace said.

“Do you have anything useful in it?  Like a blanket or something?” Dr. Higgins asked.

“I do have a blanket in the back and I think I have some water.”  She popped the trunk and I went to the back with her to retrieve the items.  She had a case of unopened water bottles, a blanket and a tarp. We dispersed the water bottles between us and took the blanket and tarp.  She also had a lug wrench we took and she grabbed a flashlight from her glove compartment. She patted the hood of her car affectionately before she left it.

Dr. Higgins led us further back on the freeway.  It made me antsy because my family was in the opposite direction, but we needed an available car or transportation of some sort to get us to the diner.

We traveled slowly as we checked the cars we passed for anything useful.  We gathered more water bottles, a bag of chips, several bags of halloween candy and another bag of jerky.  We gathered a few more blankets and flashlights along the way as well.  

When we came to a spot where there was no concrete barrier, we each tried a car at the edge of the freeway hoping to just drive alongside the freeway to get out of there.  There were several cars and trucks with the keys left in them. The owners had obviously been in a hurry to get away from the zombies. None of the vehicles worked. At first, I thought it was just coincidence, but the more vehicles we tried the less coincidence was a possibility.

“What happened?” Todd finally asked.  “Why won’t they start?”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Camila added.

“Maybe it was the green light,” Dr. Smith said.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Connor said.  “How could a green light cause all the cars to stop?”

“How could a green light cause zombies,” Dr. Patel countered.

We all stood in the heavy silence.

“So now what?” I asked.  “We have to get to the diner.  Our families will be there.” I indicated myself and Grace with a wave of my hand.

Dr. Higgins sighed heavily.  “We need to go into a nearby town,” he said.  “There is a freeway exit not far from here if we backtrack a little.  It will be dangerous. I’m sure we’ll encounter zombies, but we need more food.”

“And maybe we’ll find bicycles or something to use,” Dr. Patel said.

I liked that idea.  I could get to my family faster.

“What about my family?” Camila asked.

“And mine,” Connor said.

“We already know where mine and Grace’s will be,” I said.  “We’ll reunite with our families and then help you find yours.  Wouldn’t it be better to stick together?”

I took their silence as agreement.

“Okay,” Dr. Higgins said.  “We go into town then.”

I wasn’t a religious man, but at that moment I prayed to God that my sisters and parents were all right.  But even as I said my silent prayer, my heart sank and there was a terrible pit in my stomach. I clasped Grace’s warm hand desperately in mine.  There was nothing I could do for my family at the moment but get to the diner.

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