Darren and I both took a step towards the red slush. Hunter grabbed both of our wrists and shook his head. Darren pointed fervently at the red. Hunter shook his head and started to pull us back to where we left our bikes.
But I had to know if that was my sister’s blood or Maria’s or anyone else’s in our group. I refused to let him pull me back.
Hunter frowned in frustration before he held up one finger and then put both his hands together in front of him in prayer style. He motioned back to the direction where we left our bikes and held up one finger again. He took a step backwards towards the bikes while Darren and I watched him. He took a second step back.
Darren and I followed him. When he saw that we were both following, he turned and walked forward back to the bikes.
As soon as we got back to the bikes, Darren whispered, “We have to follow that blood trail. What if someone in our group is hurt? What if it is my mom or one of your sisters? Or Richard or Maria or anybody?”
“This is going to sound weird,” Hunter said, “but you know how sometimes twins have a connection like one will know if the other one is hurt. I have that with my sisters even though we’re not twins. It’s stronger with Victory than it is with Grace.”
“So you know it’s not Victory that is hurt?” I asked.
“Not that exactly,” he said. “I can’t tell if she’s hurt or not. I can tell that she isn’t in that direction. She’s that way.” He pointed in the direction to the diner. “Both of my sisters are that way.”
“How far away?” Darren asked.
Hunter shook his head. “I can’t tell distances. Just that she is that way.”
“Hunter,” I said. “Even if she is that way, it doesn’t mean the others are. Our party could have easily been split when the zombies came. We need to follow that blood trail to be sure. I need to know Mackenzie is safe.”
“I agree with Lily,” Darren said. “There wasn’t any sign of blood going in the direction Victory is in so we can assume she is safe, but we have no idea about the others. The only thing we know is that there is a blood trail that goes off that way.” He waved his hand in a vague direction of where the blood trail was. “If someone is hurt and we can help them, we need to. Like Lily said, what if it is her sister or my mom or either of those little boys? Once we find them, then we head to where Victory is.”
Hunter sighed, tilted his head to the sky and closed his eyes. “Fine,” he said. “But let’s hide the bikes and our supplies first.”
We took the bikes into the woods. I took out a pistol and ammunition from the bag I had collected from the weapons store. We might need it. I loaded the gun and tucked it away in a holster I had also got at the weapon store. I still had my ax and would use that first. The gun was only for a last resort. It would be loud and we didn’t need to draw anymore zombies to us.
Darren collected some knives from the bag he had got from the weapon store and Hunter grabbed a bow and several arrows as well as a quiver. The rest of the items we left on the bikes. We pushed the bikes into an area with thick bushes, pines and foliage. Then we fluffed up the boughs of the pines and the bushes and foliage to make it look like it had never been disturbed. Hunter led the way back to where our old camp had been. We skirted around it to avoid the groaning zombies inside.
Hunter found the blood trail beyond the camp and we followed it. The slush began to melt away as the day went on and the sun was higher in the sky. I was worried we would lose the trail once the slush was all melted. Some of the foliage had been smashed down as if something or someone had been dragged over it.
My heart began to beat a little more rapidly. If one of our group had been hurt badly enough that they had to be dragged away, maybe they were dead already or a zombie. I pushed that thought away because I wasn’t sure I could handle it if Mackenzie was a zombie. The thought of it made me sick to my stomach. It made my fingers tingle and my brain go numb.
The sounds of the zombies retreated behind us. The trail led us over the empty freeway and further into the woods on the other side. I was beginning to think this was a mistake. Our group wouldn’t venture over the freeway would they? Maybe they would if they were being chased by zombies. I briefly wondered if the blood wasn’t one of our group members, but maybe a zombie itself. Except from what I had seen, zombies didn’t bleed like normal people did because they were already dead. And zombies didn’t run away from other zombies. They would chase people, but if that had been the case, the rest of the zombies would have chased after the people too so it must have been a person that had been hurt.
We continued on through the woods on the other side. Hunter stopped beside us and tilted his head slightly.
“What . . .?” Darren began, but Hunter held up a finger to his lips and Darren instantly went quiet.
I strained my ears listening, but I didn’t hear anything.
“Idiots,” a voice said. I froze thinking we had been discovered by a stranger, but quickly realized the voice was too far away to be addressing us.
Hunter quietly crept forward. Darren and I followed him.
A zombie groan made us freeze. It was somewhere ahead of us.
“Why did you bring him back?” the same voice that had said idiots earlier spoke again.
We continued forward using the trees for cover.
“He’s our brother,” another man said.
The zombie moaned again. It was just up ahead now. Hunter crouched low to the ground first and motioned for me and Darren to follow. We did. Through the tree branches and foliage I could see a group of men and one zombie tied to a tree. The zombie’s shirt around his abdomen was covered with blood. It had dripped and spilled down his pants and shoes. That was probably where all the blood had come from. He probably hadn’t been a zombie when the blood trail had first been made. It was probably only after he had been tied to the tree that he became a zombie.
“He’s not your brother,” the first man said. He pointed a gun directly at the zombie’s head. A gun shot rang out through the woods and the zombie slumped dead in its ropes.
“Why did you do that?” one of the men asked.
The man who had just shot the zombie rolled his eyes. “Tell me how a simple scouting mission ends up with one of you as a zombie?” he directed his question to the two men standing in front of him. One of the men’s face was horribly red with growing blisters. The other man had a bloody bandage wrapped around his wrist.
The other men around them were interested in the conversation, but didn’t interfere. I counted eleven of them, but that didn’t mean there weren’t more somewhere else. I didn’t see any of our group members. That was a relief, but it also meant we had made the wrong decision based on my idea. We should have just followed Hunter’s lead and gone to where Victory was.
“That bitch shot him,” the man with the bandage around his wrist said.
“And the other one did this to me,” the one with the red, blistered face pointed to his face.
“You weren’t supposed to confront them,” the man with the gun said. “You were just supposed to get their numbers and report back. Now they know we are out here.”
“No,” the man with the bandaged wrist said, “they think it’s just us. They don’t know about the rest of you. We can still get them. Kill the men and take the women as ours.”
I grabbed Hunter’s leg in our crouched positions. They had been in our camp. That meant they were talking about our group this way. They were talking about my sister this way. My fingers dug into the thick material of his pants. His hand came over mine and squeezed. I didn’t realize at first that Darren had grasped my forearm of my other arm until Hunter looked over at him. These men were talking about Hunter’s sister and Darren’s mom this way too. And they so easily spoke of killing Richard, Grant and Grant’s dad. I didn’t like Grant or his dad, but that didn’t mean I wanted them to die. And what was their intention with the three boys. Did they consider them part of the men that should be killed?
“So how many men?” the man with the gun asked.
“Three men, three boys and five women,” the man with the blistered face said. They didn’t really just count my twelve year old sister and Hunter’s twelve year old sister as women did they? I wanted to kill them.
“And a dog,” the man with the bandaged wrist said.
“And where are they now?” the man with the gun asked.
The other two men looked at each other. “They ran off.”
“You let them get away after they did this to your brother? After you let them know you exist?” The man pointed to the dead zombie with his gun and shook his head. “Idiots.”
“You weren’t there,” the man with the bandaged wrist said. “The zombies were coming. The one girl threw hot soup in his face,” he indicated the man with the blistered face. “The dog bit me. The other girl shot our brother.” Which girl shot them? Probably Monica as she had the gun. So which girl threw hot soup? She had to have been close to him for his face to look that bad. And Molly. It was good to know we could count on her. It was strange, but I was proud of a dog.
“It started to snow or rain or whatever the hell that was,” the man went on, “and then lightning struck right in front of us.”
Hunter did a sharp intake.
“Lightning right in front of you? I didn’t see any lightning last night or heard any thunder. You better find them again or at the very least, another group just as profitable and when you do, don’t confront them, just come tell the rest of us. Idiots.” The man with the gun walked away.
Hunter nodded back in the direction we had come from. We quietly retreated. We made our way back through the woods, over the freeway, skirted around our old camp until we got back to our bikes. They were safely hidden away where we left them.
“I never should have gone into that stupid RU in place,” Darren said as we retrieved the bikes. “If I hadn’t, we would have been back at the camp with them when all that happened.”
“Actually,” Hunter said, “maybe it’s for the best. Those men don’t know the three of us exist. As of right now they are underestimating our group. They don’t know we have more weapons now or bicycles. Let’s get back to the others and get away from here as fast as we can.”
I was all for that. I couldn’t wait to see Mackenzie and be back on the trail to get to Tanner and Grace.