Chapter 35 .

Tanner

We went back to the bikes and reunited with Connor, Camila and Dr. Patel.  Several zombie groans spread through the air, but they weren’t focused or alert.  It was the same groans they made when they wandered aimlessly.

“Is it close?” Dr. Patel asked us.

“It’s just across the freeway,” Dr. Higgins answered.

“Isn’t that good news?” Connor asked.  “Why do you all look so down?”

“Because hundreds of zombies are on the freeway between us and the diner,” Grace said.

“And they surround the diner,” Todd said.

“What are we going to do then?” Camila asked.  “Should we continue on and try to find your family.”

“No,” Grace said.  “We told them we would meet them at the diner.  What if we go searching for them and miss them? Then we might not ever meet up.”

“So what do you want to do?” Dr. Higgins asked.  All of them turned to me and Grace.

“I think we should find a way to cross the freeway safely and hide somewhere near the diner.  I want to be able to see our families if they are coming to the diner, but stay in hiding so the zombies don’t see us.  What do you think?” she asked me.

I nodded.  I didn’t see what other options we had.  “Let’s do it,” I said.

“I think we’ll need to backtrack then,” Dr. Higgins said.  “There are too many zombies here. We need to get far enough down the freeway we won’t be spotted crossing it.”

We got on our bikes and headed back in the direction we came from.

“What if your family already came here,” Todd said.

I froze and almost crashed my bike.  That wasn’t a possibility I had thought of.

“They haven’t,” Grace said.

“How can you be sure?” Camila asked.

She shrugged.  “Call it women’s intuition.”  I hoped she was right. She had to be.  My family couldn’t have been caught up in that mess of zombies by the diner.

When we were far enough along the freeway, we crept back up to the treeline and peered out at the freeway.  It was empty as far as I could tell.

“Remember what we talked about last night,” Dr. Patel said.

The previous night, Grace had taken the time to teach each of us a little bit about how to use the bow and arrow.  It turns out, everyone was good at it but me. None of them were even close to Grace’s level, but they were good enough.

“About when to shoot the bows?” Todd asked.

“Right,” Dr. Patel said.  “Don’t try to melee attack while people are shooting the bows.  We don’t want friendly fire. And remember once zombies are about 25 feet away, stop shooting them and prepare your melee weapon.”

We had discussed all this last night.  It was decided only Grace could be trusted with the bow and arrow once zombies got close.  I was confident there wouldn’t be friendly fire accidents with her around.

We ventured slowly and quietly onto the freeway.  Our heads darted from side to side as we watched for any signs of zombies.  My ears were extra sensitive to the sounds of our bikes, our footsteps, of the zombie groans in the far distance.  I didn’t hear anything else. We made it to the other side without incident.

Back safely in the woods, we started to head to the diner.  We got to the edge of the woods that encircled the diner.

“I think this is a good spot,” Grace said quietly as we looked out at the diner and the zombies.  There were two cars and one truck parked in the parking lot, but the vehicles were empty.  

“We have a clear view of the diner if our family comes,” Grace said, “but the zombies won’t be able to see us.”

“Neither will our families,” I pointed out.

“But we should be able to see them,” she said.

“Unless they decide to stay hiding the woods and watch for you,” Camila supplied.

“Hopefully, at one point we’ll see each other,” Grace said.

“We won’t be able to make a fire to keep warm,” Todd said.

“That’s true,” Dr. Higgins said.  “We can’t risk the zombies seeing it and coming to investigate.

We had just gotten off our bikes when there was a loud scream near the diner.  The zombies groaned in one loud, terrifying chorus.

My family.

I had my bat in hand and ran into the clearing as fast as I could.

“No,” Grace hissed after me, but I couldn’t stop even as I heard her faint voice say, “It’s not our families.”

A gun went off.

The zombies on the freeway ran to the diner, tripping over each other in the process.  The zombies around the diner ran to the opposite side where the scream and gunshot had sounded from.  Around the building ran a familiar looking middle-aged woman and man. They were both heavy set. The man slowed and fired his gun into the head of a charging zombie.

My footsteps slowed.  It wasn’t my family. I was putting myself in unnecessary danger.  I left Grace behind. I might get myself killed out here and then how could I protect my family.

“Come on,” Dr. Patel patted my shoulder as he ran passed me.  “They need our help.”

It was only Dr. Patel and me.  Everyone else stayed behind, but they weren’t doing nothing.  Grace fired an arrow. It streaked passed me and into the head of zombie charging the couple.  The others aimed their bows at the zombies coming at us from the freeway. That way we weren’t in the crossfire.  I ran after Dr. Patel.

“Let us in!” The woman was at the diner door.  She pulled it, but it wouldn’t open. “Please!” she cried.  “Let us in!” The man fired at another zombie. Grace’s arrow hit the zombie directly behind that one.  The zombies that had surrounded the diner were now all heading towards the front and the screaming woman.

I reached her just as a zombie reached out for her with his crooked fingers.  I bashed his head in with my bat and he fell hard at my feet. Dr. Patel stuck his knife in the next zombie.

“We have to go,” I said to the woman.  I grabbed her forearm intending to pull her along with me.  The diner had to be empty. The blinds were pulled down over all the windows, but the door was glass and surely the zombies would have broken it if they had seen anyone inside.

But there was a shadow behind the door.  I backed away for a moment thinking it was a zombie, but then a man was scrambling at the lock inside.

A zombie grabbed me from behind, but before it could bite me, Grace’s arrow struck it in the head.  We were going to need to stock up on more arrows sooner than we thought judging on how many Grace had already spent and how many the others had lodged into the charging zombies coming from the freeway.  Some of the zombies from the freeway had arrows in their chests or shoulders and they still charged us. There were a few that dropped with arrows in their heads.

Another zombie reached me just as the one Grace just shot fell away.  I hit the other one hard with the bat. I heard the sickening crunch that was becoming all too familiar as the skull caved in.

The door to the diner opened and the woman scrambled inside.  Dr. Patel helped her as she tripped in the doorframe. “Lawrence!” she cried out to the man still outside.  He fired the gun again, but nothing happened. He was out of bullets.

Grace’s arrow hit the zombie that was almost to the man.  I grabbed the man’s forearm and started to pull him into the diner as the man who opened the door, the woman and Dr. Patel waved us on to hurry.

An onrushing zombie tripped over the one that Grace just killed.  It reached out and grabbed the man’s leg. The man fell onto his butt and I lost my grip on him.  I readied my bat to bash into the zombie’s head, but I was too late. The man screamed and pushed desperately at the zombie’s head as it bit into his ankle.  Blood gushed out from the corners of the zombie’s mouth and then a second zombie was there biting at the man’s leg. The man screamed again.

“No!  Lawrence!” the woman screamed and started to exit the diner, but Dr. Patel held her back.

“You can’t help him now!” Dr. Patel called out, but I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or the woman.  I took a slow step back towards the door as the man’s head tilted back to stare at me. His arm reached out to me pleading me for help.  His horror stricken eyes would haunt me for the rest of my life. A third zombie bit into the man’s stomach.  

“Run!” Grace’s scream hovered over the zombie groans, over the panicked voices of the woman and Dr. Patel.  I was worried that Grace’s voice would attract the zombies, but the screaming man drew all of their attention.  Every zombie out there was running this way.

I turned and ran to the diner.  The man closed the door behind me and locked it.

One quick look around the diner told me the man wasn’t alone.  There was a small group of men, women and children. One woman even had a baby held close to her bosom.

“It’s too late,” I said to the man.  “They know we’re in here. They are going to crash through that door and the windows any minute.”

The man’s cries outside quieted.

“Where is the backdoor?” I asked.

“This way,” the man said.

Dr. Patel helped the crying woman.  The other people in the diner followed me and the man.  

“We couldn’t leave because the zombies surrounded the place,” one of the women from the diner said.  

“They are all out front now,” I said.  

Glass broke at the front of the store.

“They are coming.  Hurry,” I whispered harshly.

The man opened the back door and we all spilled out.  The man closed the door behind us. Snowflakes began to slowly drift peacefully from the sky unaware of the turbulent situation in the diner.  Banging started on the inside of the back door.

I took the lead back to the woods.  The others had the bikes ready when we got back.

The new people with us doubled up behind us on the bikes.  The woman who seemed familiar rode with me on my bike. She clung to me.  She sobbed trying to keep her sounds as quiet as possible.

We backtracked through the woods as quickly as we could.  The snow continued to fall. When we were far enough away, we stopped.  It was then that it hit me who the woman was.

“Mrs. Anderson,” I said as she climbed off the back of my bike.

She blinked at me for a moment and then said, “Tanner.”

“You two know each other?” Dr. Higgins asked.

“She was our fifth grade teacher,” Grace said.

“Grace,” Mrs. Anderson said.

“I’m sorry about your husband,” I said.  “I tried to save him.”

Tears welled up in her already red eyes.  “I know you did,” she said quietly.

“What about your son?” I asked.  If I remembered correctly, they only had one child and he was just slightly younger than Lily.

“We were supposed to meet him at the diner,” she said quietly.  “I think he was traveling with your sister actually.”

“We have to go back,” I said.  “Our families don’t know what they are walking into.”

“I’m not going back there,” the woman with the baby said.

“We’ll give you some of our supplies,” Dr. Patel offered.  “You and whoever else wants to can leave.”

In the end, everyone from the diner except for Mrs. Anderson left.  We gave them half of our supplies. I gave them my bow and arrows since I wasn’t any good at it anyway.  Lily gave them her screwdriver. Now she didn’t have any close range weapon. It was more important for us to stick close to each other.  She could protect me with her bow and arrows and I could protect her with my bat when the zombies got too close.

We started back to the diner and the hordes of zombies.

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