When I woke, the sky was beginning to lighten. Gray clouds covered the sky. It had stopped snowing. There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Darren’s mom and Grant’s dad were supposed to be on watch, but Grant’s dad was curled up at the end of the tarp next to Grant.
Darren’s mom was stoking the small fire. Richard, Monica and Maria were all awake and moving about the camp. Maria poured soup into a pan and put it over the fire. Monica and Richard were checking on the bikes. Molly happily trailed after them.
I slithered out from Mackenzie’s arm. She was holding me tightly in her sleep, but I managed to get free and stand up. I looked down at my sleeping sister. She should have been home in a warm bed not out here in the snow. Those men could show up at any time or zombies could walk into our camp. I crouched and touched the back of my fingers to her cold cheek. I pulled the hood of her coat up tighter over her head. Victory’s arms were wrapped Mackenzie.
I stood up straight and went to Monica and Richard.
“Do the bikes look okay?” I asked quietly.
“I was worried the tires might have deflated a little in the snow, but they seem okay,” Richard said.
“It’s going to be harder to ride in the snow though,” Monica said.
“At least it’s not snowing anymore,” Richard said. “I really hope we can find a place to shelter for the winter. The snow is just going to get worse.”
We brushed the snow off the bikes, especially the seats, as best we could. When we turned around to go back, Hunter, Darren, Mackenzie and Victory were awake. Mackenzie and Victory sat on the tarp. Victory sat behind Mackenzie brushing her long hair. Mackenzie smiled strangely as she stared down at my sister’s hair. Her fingers caressed Mackenzie’s hair gently. It struck me that Victory sometimes looked at Mackenzie the same way Hunter looked at Darren. I hadn’t noticed before, but it seemed obvious now that I did.
Monica and Richard had joined Darren, his mom and Maria by the fire. Hunter stood a little ways behind Darren. I walked up to him and whispered, “Can I speak to you for a moment?” I indicated the trees with a nod. He followed me as I led him further into the woods.
“What is it?” he asked.
We could still see everyone in the camp, but they wouldn’t be able to hear us talk as long as we kept our voices down.
“Does your sister have a crush on my sister?” I asked.
His eyes fell briefly on the two girls on the tarp. Victory was now braiding Mackenzie’s hair. He looked at me. “I think so,” he said.
“For how long?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I never paid much attention to them before this.”
“I don’t think my sister feels the same,” I said. I sighed. “Is everyone in this group destined to have an unrequited love?”
“I think Arthur has a crush on your sister too,” Hunter said.
Arthur sat up as if he knew we were talking about him. He rubbed his eyes with his gloved hands tiredly as Molly bounced up to him and licked his face. Arthur scowled and rubbed the slobber off, but he rubbed Molly between her ears. Her tail thumped happily. Arthur’s eyes drifted to Mackenzie and lingered there. Maybe Hunter was right and my sister was more popular than I ever realized.
“Not everyone has an unrequited love though,” Hunter said. “Grant has Monica.”
“Except she has a secret crush on Richard,” I said.
“Really?” Hunter asked.
“That was probably supposed to be a secret,” I said.
“I won’t tell anyone,” Hunter said.
“Soup’s done,” Darren’s mom announced loudly.
Grant and his dad were immediately up. Arthur woke the two boys next to him. We all gathered around the fire and shared the soup. We saved enough for Molly who happily lapped up what was left.
We untied the tarp we had set above us to sleep under. Maria and I shook the snow off it and rolled it up while the others rolled up sleeping bags and the tarp we had placed underneath us. We packed up our bikes and headed out. We made sure the children were in the middle of our group. I rode up front with Hunter. Darren and his mother took the left side of the group. Grant’s dad, Grant and Monica took the right side of the group and Richard and Maria took up the rear. It was difficult to ride through the snow, but at least it wasn’t that deep. Richard was right. We needed to find some place to hold out for the winter because we weren’t going to be able to ride in a foot of snow.
We stopped for lunch. We didn’t build a fire. We ate jerky and trail mix. Molly went from person to person and everyone gave her some of their jerky. Except for Grant’s dad. She went around him and he ignored her. He never shared his food with her. Molly didn’t like him. She never went to him.
When we were through, we went back to our bikes in the same formation. Some of us were on our bikes waiting for the others. Grant’s dad, Monica, Darren’s mom and Juan were all we were waiting on.
A zombie ran from the trees and headed directly to Grant’s dad. Half of its face was torn off and it was missing an eye. Its throat had been torn out. Its shirt was torn in several places. Its mouth opened as if it was groaning, but no sound came out. I was off my bike and reaching for my ax. Hunter and Richard also scrambled off their bikes.
Grant screamed. It echoed through the snow topped trees. Grant’s dad grabbed Monica and threw her to the zombie. Her eyes widened in disbelief as the zombie grabbed her from behind and sunk its teeth into her coat over neck. Monica reached out to Grant, but he turned his back to her and looked away.
I didn’t have time to contemplate my horror and anger as the zombie lifted its head up with a large clump of material in its mouth. Monica clumsily tried to get her knife out. Tears streamed down her face. The zombies spit out the material and dipped its head down again into her shoulder this time. Hunter and I scrambled through the bikes to get to them. Richard beat us to her. He ripped the zombie off and Monica’s coat tore as the head was violently torn away from her shoulder. The zombie stumbled to the ground. Richard quickly dropped down on top of it and stabbed it in the head.
Monica collapsed to the ground as great sobs escaped her. She held onto the shoulder the zombie had bit. I was by her side and kneeling in the snow.
“She’s been bitten,” Grant’s dad said without any remorse. “We have to kill her.”
“Let me look,” I said to Monica as I ignored Grant’s dad.
She dropped her hand from her shoulder, but I couldn’t tell if the zombie had broken the skin. I helped her take her coat off halfway so it was still on her unbitten shoulder, but not on the bitten side.
“Your neck isn’t bit,” I told her as my fingers gently touched the skin where the zombie had first tried to bite her. Her shirt had holes in it on the shoulder where the zombie bit, but wasn’t torn like the coat was. I pulled the shirt back away from her shoulder just far enough so I could see the bite.
“There are some bite mark indentations on her skin,” I said.
“See,” Grant’s dad said. “We have to kill her.”
“But it didn’t break the skin,” I said to Monica again ignoring Grant’s dad. “You’re going to be okay.”
A sob escaped her and she wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. I held her close and let her cry.
“You’re okay,” Richard said. He stood beside me and Monica. He put his large hand on the top of her head. “You are all right,” he reiterated.
She broke her hug with me to stand up and wrap her arms around Richard.
“Thank you,” she said into his chest.
He patted her gently on the back. She pulled away from him and spun to face Grant and his dad. I had never seen her face filled with as much hate as she had now. She rushed to Grant’s dad and slapped him hard across the face. Before any of us could react, she moved away from Grant’s dad to stand in front of Grant.
“I’m glad you’re ok,” Grant said.
She slapped him even harder than she had his dad.
His hand rubbed his reddening cheek. “What was that for? I didn’t do anything.”
“Exactly,” she said. “You didn’t do anything to help me.”
“It’s time for you two to leave,” Hunter said. He extended a hand to me. I took it and he helped me to my feet. Then turned to face Grant’s dad.
“What do you mean leave?” Grant’s dad asked. “You are going to throw us out there by ourselves? We’ll be killed.”
“We’ll be killed if you stay with us,” Hunter said. “And I’m not going to risk that.”
“You can’t make us leave,” Grant’s dad said.
Monica raised her gun and pointed it directly at his head. “Yes, we can,” she said.
“Moni,” Grant started.
She pointed the gun at him. “Don’t even try. I’m done with you.” Richard went and stood directly behind her to support her.
“Take your bikes and your supplies,” Hunter said, “and leave. I don’t care which way you go as long as it isn’t where we are going.”
Grant’s dad grabbed his bike and turned it back in the direction we came from. “Fine by me,” he said. “You all are idiots anyway.”
He started on his way, but paused when Grant didn’t immediately follow. Grant slowly took his bike and faced it in his father’s direction. He started to push it slowly towards his dad. He stopped after a few steps and said to Monica, “You are not coming with us?”
“No way in hell,” she said. Richard placed a hand on her shoulder. It wasn’t to restrain her or calm her, but to show she was fully welcome with us while Grant and his dad weren’t.
Grant’s face fell, but he followed his father. We watched them until we couldn’t see them anymore. Then we all got on our bikes and rode towards the diner.