It was freezing even with Victory on one side of me and Arthur on the other and the two little boys in front of us with Molly trying to spread herself over all of us. We had sleeping bags and blankets wrapped around us, but the blankets had got wet in the slush. At least with the sunlight, it was warming up slightly. The previous night had been miserable. None of us except for Juan and Marcos got any sleep. And I had been scared those men would come back to find us no matter how many times Victory reassured me that they weren’t.
“Are you going to go look for my sister now?” I asked Richard. He paced back and forth underneath the trees.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Stop pacing,” Grant’s dad said. “You’re driving me crazy.” Richard ignored him. Grant, his dad and Monica sat huddled together. They had sleeping bags wrapped around them too.
Maria and Darren’s mom had gathered sticks and were trying to start a fire, but everything was wet and the fire wasn’t catching. We had cold soup for breakfast. The cold soup didn’t taste good, but I ate it because I was starving. Molly didn’t seem to mind it. She thought it was delicious by the way her tail wagged when we gave her some.
“But you said yesterday you would go look for them if they didn’t return,” I said. “You and Maria.”
“That was before we knew about those other men,” Richard said. “I’m afraid if we leave to find Lily, Hunter and Darren that those men will come back.”
“But how is my sister going to find us?” I stood up, but regretted it when the cold washed over me. I sat back down between Victory and Arthur and wrapped the sleeping bag around me. Marcos cuddled up to my legs. I patted his head with my gloved hand.
“They’ll find us,” Victory said. All of us looked at her, but she didn’t speak anymore.
“Face it,” Grant’s dad said, “the chances of them finding us are slim. We should move on. It’s dangerous to stay in one place too long. Those men might find us, or the zombies. At the very least, if we get moving it will warm up our bodies a little bit.”
“It won’t be hard for them to find us,” Victory said. “We are following the freeway to the diner. They know that.”
“Fine,” Grant’s dad said. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving to the diner. They’ll catch up to us.”
Victory narrowed her eyes at him, but he didn’t seem to care. I didn’t like all this conflict.
“Maybe if we keep going,” Monica said, “we’ll get out of this slush. It can’t be good for any of us.”
Richard and Maria looked to Darren’s mother. She stood up and stretched out her back. “I don’t want to leave yet without Darren here,” she said. “But they do know where we are headed. We can’t stay here.”
“See,” Grant’s dad said. He stood up and gathered up the sleeping bag. The rest of us followed his example. Soon we were all packed up and walking further away from where we had left my sister and the others.
We had walked for about a half hour before Marcos said, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
“We should probably all go,” Darren’s mom said.
“Let’s go,” Richard said and held out his hand to Marcos. Marcos hopped to his side and took his hand while Juan and Arthur followed. Molly followed Arthur. Grant and his dad went off on their own, but not that far away from Richard.
Darren’s mom led the rest of us in the opposite direction further in the woods.
“Hey,” Monica said to me. “I know you packed toothpaste and soap and stuff which I think we’re all grateful for.” Maria nodded her head. “You might be too young for this still, but did you happen to pack any tampons or pads?” Monica asked.
“Oh,” Darren’s mom said.
“I packed some because I thought Lily might need some and she never thinks about that sort of thing,” I said. I rummaged through my backpack and handed her the pads.
“Thank you,” Monica said and hugged me. “You’re a lifesaver.”
We split up on our own from there, but close enough we could still watch each other’s backs.
“Do you need some pain pills?” Darren’s mom asked Monica as we walked back. She put her arm around Monica’s shoulders.
“I’m okay right now,” Monica said.
“We have some with the first aid kits if you need some,” Darren’s mom said.
“We should probably save that for when someone really needs it,” Monica said.
“I guess next time someone goes into a town for supplies, one of us should go with them to pick up these sorts of supplies,” Maria said. “Especially if Lily is just going to forget about it.”
“And maybe,” I said, “never mind.”
“Maybe what, dear?” Darren’s mom asked.
“It’s silly,” I said.
Darren’s mom patted the top of my head. “Maybe silly is what we need right now.”
“I was going to say, maybe the next time someone went into town for supplies they could pick up face paint or makeup. My sister is an expert at it and it’s fun. I kinda miss it even though Halloween wasn’t that long ago.” I didn’t really get to have too much fun with it on Halloween night as that was the night the world changed and my parents died. I pushed that thought away before I started to cry.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Darren’s mom said, “and some school supplies.”
We all looked at her like she was crazy.
“Paper, pencils, crayons,” she said. “Something for Marcos and Juan to do.”
“I miss drawing,” Monica said.
“I wish we could get a flute or a guitar too,” Maria said, “but that would probably attract the zombies.”
“Finally,” Grant’s dad said when we got back. Juan and Marcos were running around giggling while Arthur chased them with a wide smile on his face. Molly ran circles around all of them. Her tail wagged excitedly. Arthur stopped and grew serious when he saw me and Victory. Maybe he thought we wouldn’t want him playing like a little boy. I didn’t mind. In fact, I wanted to join in too, but Grant’s dad would probably say we didn’t have time for that.
Monica and Grant smiled at each other. Monica went back by his side and he put an arm around her shoulders. Maria rolled her eyes and turned her back to them.
“Finally?” Darren’s mom said. “We went to the bathroom and came back.”
“It took a long time,” Grant’s dad said.
Darren’s mom shook her head, but didn’t say anymore. She started walking again. Marcos ran to her and took her hand. Richard took the rear. Victory and I slowed down so we were walking beside him.
“Do you think my sister and the others are alright?” I asked Richard.
He smiled and patted my head. “I’m sure they are,” he said.
“They are,” Victory said with surety.
“How can you know for sure?” I asked her because I wanted to believe her more than anything, but they had been gone for a long time.
“I just know,” she said.
That wasn’t the reassurance I was hoping for. The day warmed and the slush melted. I kept looking back hoping my sister would just pop out of the trees behind us, but that didn’t happen.
Occasionally a zombie would moan somewhere in the distance, but not close by. Marcos started to sing a song too loudly, but Darren’s mom shushed him. I couldn’t see his face from where I was in the back, but his tiny shoulders drooped sadly.
“We can sing it, Marcos,” Darren’s mom said, “but let’s try to sing it as quietly as we can.”
Marcos perked up and began to sing it with her very softly. Arthur ended up in the back beside me. Maria stayed in the front so she could help defend the children if zombies or those men showed up.
Victory stopped and turned around to face the trees behind us. I stopped and looked, but I didn’t see anything. Arthur and Richard stopped too. Molly gave an excited bark and ran back. Victory ran as fast as she could following Molly.
Hunter came out of the trees, riding a bike and guiding a second bike alongside him. My chest filled with relief, but I was still anxious because I didn’t see Lily.
Hunter scrambled off the bike when he saw Victory running to him. She ran into his arms and he picked her up to hug her close even though she was almost thirteen.
And then Lily came through riding a bike and guiding a second one.
“Lily,” I cried probably louder than I should have. Everything was right again and the worry I had been holding onto washed away. I ran to her and wrapped my arms around her.
“Kenzie,” she said into my hair and held me close.
I felt the brush of wind as something rushed by me. I looked to see Darren’s mom hugging Darren. And then Richard was there hugging both of them. Maria reached me and Lily and hugged both of us. And then Arthur was there hugging the three of us and Molly was dancing around our feet. Marcos and Juan were hugging Darren with Darren’s mom.
“You only brought back six bikes?” Grant’s dad asked.
“You’re still here?” Hunter asked. “There was only three of us. The streets had zombies in them. How were we supposed to bring back more?”
“We brought coats for everyone,” Darren said. I was handed a red one. They also had other winter wear and soon we were all snuggled in coats, new socks, boots, gloves, scarves and hoods. It was almost too warm now.
“What else did you get?” Grant’s dad ask.
“Weapons,” Darren said. They started rifling through the bags strapped to the back of the bikes.
“Good,” Grant’s dad said. “I want a gun.”
“You’re not getting a gun,” Hunter said.
Lily handed me a pistol and some ammunition. I knew how to shoot it. My dad had taken me to the range a few times. That didn’t mean I was comfortable using it.
“You don’t get to dictate what I get,” Grant’s dad said. He got close to Hunter. Really close. Like those standoffs you see in movies when the men are staring each other down. Hunter didn’t back down from the older man.
“You don’t get a gun,” Hunter reiterated. He held up a knife. My heart beat rapidly against my chest because I thought he was threatening Grant’s dad. I wasn’t the only one either because everyone got really quiet. Marcos clung to Darren’s mom’s legs.
“You get a knife,” Hunter said and turned the knife to extend the hilt side to Grant’s dad. Grant’s dad paused a moment, but took it. Hunter turned back to the packs to distribute the bows and arrows.
Grant’s dad stared at Hunter’s back with his knife still raised. I froze because it almost seemed like Grant’s dad might stab Hunter in the back. But Richard watched Grant’s dad carefully and he had his own knife ready in his hand. Victory had her bow in her hand and was slowly reaching for an arrow as she watched Grant’s dad. He noted these movements and then put his knife away and turned away from Hunter.
“You all seem alright,” Darren said.
“We are,” Maria said.
“While we were looking for you,” Lily said, “we overheard some men talking about a group they had come across. We thought it might be you. One of them said he had soup thrown at his face and one of them had been shot and the third one had been bitten by a dog.” Lily looked down at Molly.
“That was us,” Maria said. Her voice went cold. “I threw soup in his face when he grabbed me.”
“And I shot one of them,” Monica said.
I shuddered as I remembered the previous night’s events. It made me sick to my stomach to think about.
“And Molly bit one,” Arthur said proudly. He patted her head. Her tail thumped happily.
“The one who was shot turned into a zombie,” Hunter said.
“Was he bit by a zombie then?” Richard asked.
“We couldn’t get close enough to tell, but he must have been,” Hunter said. “When we came upon them, they had rejoined a larger group of men. One of those men shot the zombie. He seemed like the leader. They were only supposed to spy on us not confront us. We need to move faster away from here if we can. I don’t want them to catch up with us.”
“The good thing is,” Lily said, “they don’t know that we now have additional weapons.”
“We can’t all ride those bikes,” Grant’s dad said.
“We might be able to if we double and maybe triple up,” Hunter said. “We can pack them up with our supplies.
We paired off to ride the bikes. Grant’s dad driving with Arthur. I didn’t like that. I worried about Arthur’s safety. Darren and Darren’s mom drove Marcos. Richard and Maria took a bike with Juan riding with them. Grant and Monica took the fourth one. Hunter and Victory took the fifth and Lily and I took the last bike.
Hunter and Victory led the way to the diner. I clung to my sister’s back glad that we were all together again. The only thing that would make it better was if Tanner and Grace were with us too.