Chapter 26 .

Tanner

“Stay away from the windows,” Todd whispered.  He grabbed Camila’s forearm and pulled her away from the nearest window.  Groaning came from just outside the window, outside the door and from upstairs.  Zombie fists pounded on the door behind me and Grace. Footsteps came from the floor above us.  A moment later and the loud footsteps and groaning were on the stairs.  

Five zombies – three adults and two children – came rushing down the stairs, tripping over each other in their rush to get to us.  The children were still in tattered Halloween costumes. Grace lifted her bow and arrow and shot the charging adult male zombie in the head.  He tumbled to the ground. The two adult zombies behind him – a man and woman – tripped over him. The children zombies ran around them.

The little girl we had rescued from the car, cried and hid behind Camila.  The zombies pounding on the door behind us grew louder. Pounding started on the windows.  Dr. Higgins stabbed the zombie boy in the head. Dr. Patel stabbed the zombie girl. I looked away.  It was too difficult seeing small children like that even if they were zombies. 

Todd and I stepped up between the professors to take care of the two adult zombies that were groaning and shambling to their feet.  Todd plunged his knife in the back of the zombie man’s head. I swung my bat hard into the zombie woman’s skull. She crumpled to the ground at my feet.

Glass shattered nearby and a zombie started to climb in through the nearby window.  Grace quickly stepped up and stabbed it in the temple with her screwdriver. She left the zombie where it was halfway through the window and then quickly closed the curtains.  The rest of us went through the room quickly closing all the curtains.

“She’s not breathing,” the little girl from the girl screamed.  She was on her knees next to the couch and her sister. She shook her sister’s shoulders and screamed, “She’s not breathing!”

“Shhh,” several of us shushed her and Camila covered the little girl’s mouth with her hand for emphasis.  The little girl had tears streaming down her face. She pointed at her sister urgently, but didn’t talk anymore.

The zombie groans outside picked up again.  There were a few loud knocks on the door, but not as many as before.  Dr. Patel rushed to the older girl on the couch. He bent low with his ear over the girl’s nose and mouth.  He put a finger up to her nose, then he put two fingers on the girls neck to feel for a pulse. He felt around in different spots and then shook his head.  “There isn’t a heartbeat,” he whispered.

The younger girl started wailing.  Camila hugged her into her shoulder to muffle her sobs.

Dr. Patel waved Grace over by his side.  She immediately complied. He started doing chest compressions.  After he had done a few, he paused and indicated for Grace to breathe into the girl’s mouth.  Grace held the girl’s nose, tilted the head slightly back, dropped the jaw and breathed into her mouth.  They repeated this process for several long moments. Nothing happened. The girl didn’t move. Her heartbeat didn’t return miraculously.  She didn’t start breathing.

The zombies quieted outside during this process.  I hoped that meant they were leaving, but didn’t dare open a curtain to check.

Dr. Patel finally broke away from the older girl and shook his head.  The younger girl clung to Camila and cried, but at least her cries were silent now.  Camila stroked her hair and rocked the girl that was Mackenzie’s age back and forth.

“But it was only a broken leg,” Connor whispered.  I put a hand on his shoulder. He was pale and wrung his hands together tightly.  I hoped he didn’t blame himself. He had done what he could to save her.

Dr. Patel shook his head.  His voice was quiet when he answered.  “She might have had internal bleeding somewhere.  Even if there was internal bleeding around the break in the leg, it could cause a blood clot or other complications.  It would be difficult to determine internal bleeding without taking her to the hospital and I doubt hospitals are up and running right now.”

Dr. Patel reached over and patted the younger girl on top of her head, “What’s your name?” he asked her.

“Hailey,” the girl managed to get out.

Dr. Patel nodded.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “We’ll take care of you. We won’t let anything happen to you.”

The girl’s bottom lip quivered.  She reached out and took her dead sister’s hand.  I really hoped both of my sisters were all right and that they had found our parents.  As if knowing my thoughts, Grace took my hand in hers and squeezed it.

Dr. Higgins tapped me on the shoulder.  Todd stood beside him. Dr. Higgins indicated with a slight nod of his head that I should follow him.  I brought Grace with me still hand in hand. We found the kitchen and began to look for supplies. Dr. Higgins and Todd went to look for supplies further in the house.

Grace and I took out all the canned and dried food and set them out on the counters.  We found matches and candles, took out the can opener and some silverware, some pans we would be able to use over a fire.  Todd and Dr. Higgins came back with some backpacks, camping supplies and more blankets.

We regrouped back in the living room with the others.  Dr. Smith and Camila both hugged Hailey while they sat on the floor next to the couch.  Connor still looked shook up. Dr. Patel sat next to Connor with a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“There is a back door,” Dr. Higgins whispered.  We didn’t hear any more groans outside. “The back looks clear.  I think we should find another way out of the town than the way we came in.  I’m sure that area is going to be crowded with zombies still.”

Dr. Patel nodded, “Let’s go,” he whispered in reply.

Dr. Higgins led the way to the back door.  It was silent outside. He opened the door, stuck his head out and looked in both directions before he led the way.  We went as silently as we could along the grass in the back and to the grass in the next house over. The only sounds were our feet in the grass, an occasional groan and the shuffling steps of zombies on nearby streets.

We paused when we reached the next street.  There were a few zombies down the street, but they had their backs turned to us.  We ran across the street as quietly as we could as a group. We went the next few blocks in a similar fashion until we reached a street with local businesses.  There were no zombies meandering on this street.

Dr. Higgins pointed to the camping supplies shop.  We started to head towards it when Grace grabbed my forearm and stopped me.

“What is it?” I whispered.  The others stopped with us.

Grace swallowed hard and pointed a little further down the street.  There was a cafe, but the words RU in? Had been spray painted over the cafe sign.  Black curtains had been drawn all along the windows.

“We should go there,” Dr. Smith said.

“No,” Grace said.  “We should avoid it at all costs.”

“I saw someone spray painting that when we were trying to leave town,” Hailey said.  “Maybe they are people who can help us.”

“We don’t need help,” Grace said.  Everyone but me looked at her like she was crazy.

“Don’t you get weird vibes from it?” Grace asked everyone, but mostly me.

“It does feel ominous,” I said.

“You just think that way because we’re in an apocalypse,” Camila said.  “But I’m getting good vibes from it.”

“Me too,” Dr. Smith and Hailey said at the time.

“I think we should check it out,” Dr. Patel said.

“I agree,” Connor said.

Dr. Higgins shrugged.  “I don’t feel one way or the other about it.  It wouldn’t hurt to check it out.”

“If everyone is voting,” Todd said timidly, “I think we should check it out too.”

Grace’s face fell and she closed her eyes tightly.

“We’ll stay close by the door,” I leaned in to whisper to her and only her.  “If we need to escape, we can do it quickly.”

She took in a deep breath and then nodded.

We stepped quietly to the cafe, always aware of our surroundings and watching for any zombies that might be lurking nearby.  We didn’t see or hear any.

The door wasn’t locked when Dr. Smith opened it.  She went inside followed closely by Hailey and then the others.  Grace and I were the last to enter.

I was surprised to see that all the tables and chairs had been removed.  It was dark inside except for the candles that were spread throughout the room giving off a pleasant aroma.  Beanbags were spread out over the floor. Some were occupied by people. Other people walked around serving drinks to those in the beanbags.  

“Welcome,” a man said with a pleasant voice as we entered.  “Find a seat. You are safe here. You don’t need to worry about anything.”  He ushered Dr. Smith carefully into one of the beanbags. “Get her a drink,” he said to a young woman.  The woman nodded and went off to get a drink.

“Please,” the man said to the rest of us, “find a seat.  Take a rest.” His face and pleasant voice faltered when he saw Grace.

“Am I welcome too?” she asked.  There was a challenge in her voice I hadn’t heard before.

“Do you want to be welcomed?” the man asked in a flat voice.

“We should leave,” Grace said.  “Now.” She snatched up a drink that had been meant for Camila and gave it back to the young man who had tried to hand it to Camila.

“Hey,” Camila complained, “it’s okay to relax for a moment.”

“It won’t be for a moment,” Grace said.  “Look. Already all of you are too comfortable.”

Dr. Smith took a sip of the drink that was handed to her.  Her face relaxed into a smile. “Delicious,” she muttered. Hailey sat in the beanbag next to Dr. Smith.  She quickly drank from the cup that was handed to her. She smiled for the first time and sunk into the beanbag.

“Don’t drink that!”  Grace snatched another cup from Todd.  He looked up at her confused from his beanbag.  Grace turned to me with desperate eyes and said, “Help me.”

I snatched the cups away from Dr. Higgins and Dr. Patel as she took the cup away from Connor.

“If you keep this up I will have to ask you to leave,” the man said to Grace.

“I’m fine leaving.  We’ll all leave.”

“I’m too old and tired,” Dr. Smith said.  “Just leave me here.” She took another drink.

“What’s the problem if we stay and relax for a moment?” Connor asked.

“My brother and sister are out there alone,” Grace said.  She snatched away another cup as it was handed to Connor. “They need me.  I thought all of you were going to help me reunite with them. And Tanner’s family.”

That made all of them pause for a moment except for Hailey who took another drink.

“You’re right,” Dr. Higgins said.  He stood back up and turned to the man who had first greeted us.  “Thank you for your hospitality,” he said, “but we really should be going.”

The others stood up with the exception of Dr. Smith and Hailey.

“Of course,” the man said with a fake smile and narrowed eyes directed at my girlfriend.  I stood in front of her to get his eyes off her. This place, these people, didn’t feel right.

“I’m going to stay here,” Dr. Smith said.

“Me too,” Hailey jumped in.

“But,” Grace started, but Dr. Smith interrupted her.

“I’m too old.  I’m slowing you down.  My body aches everywhere.  I can’t keep this up.”

“I’ll stay with her,” Hailey said.  “I don’t want to go back out there. It’s scary and all of my family are dead.”

“I think they’re right,” Dr. Patel said.  He hugged Dr. Smith and so did Dr. Higgins before they headed to the door.  The others followed, but I stayed where I was as I watched Grace. She bit her bottom lip and then went and crouched in front of Hailey.  

“If you ever feel like you are not yourself, leave this place,” she implored the girl.  “Leave immediately, please.”

Hailey nodded, but she was already drinking her next cup.  Grace and I followed the others to the door. My girlfriend looked one last time at Dr. Smith and Hailey.  There was a pained expression on her face, but she came with me when I tugged gently on her hand.

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