I sat next to Grace on the log we had dragged near the fire. My arms were around her as she leaned back with her head on my shoulder. Snow was on the ground and it was cold. The low groans of the zombies filled the air. We were far enough away we couldn’t see them. We kept the fire low, but we were wary for any sign of zombies getting near. The sky was quickly darkening as the sun set.
Camila sat on the log close to Grace. Todd and Connor sat beside her. Across the fire, Dr. Higgins and Dr. Patel sat on either side of Mrs. Anderson.
“Maybe I should get close and just peek out to make sure our siblings aren’t heading straight into those zombies,” I said and not for the first time that day.
“No,” Grace said. “They are smart. They’ll stay away when they hear all those zombies moaning.”
“But what if they want to check and make sure you guys aren’t in trouble?” Camila unhelpfully answered. “And so they try to come where the zombies are anyway?”
I was on my feet and walking to the trees. Grace was there in an instant hugging me from behind.
“I have to be sure,” I told her. “I can’t just let my family walk into that.”
“We need to be smart,” Grace said. “If we have to check on them somehow, we need to be sure we are doing it as safely as we can. So how do we do that?”
I thought it would be a question she would have the answer for, but as the silence grew, I knew she didn’t have an answer. I glanced at Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins, but they shrugged. Mrs. Anderson wrung her hands in her lap and looked at me hopefully as if I would have an answer.
“I don’t know,” I finally said, “but I can’t sit back in here in safety while their lives are in danger.”
“What if by warning them, you cause the zombies to turn on us instead of them?” Grace asked quietly.
“Then I will do it,” I said. “Anything to make sure they are safe.”
Grace sighed out into the back of my shoulder. Even though I couldn’t see her, I knew it was a sigh of agreement.
“Then you and I will go scan the area from a safe distance,” she said.
“Not alone you won’t,” Dr. Higgins said. He stood up.
“I’ll go too,” Todd volunteered.
“Me too,” Camila said.
“My son is supposed to be with them,” Mrs. Anderson said. “I want to go to.”
“We’ll all go then,” Dr. Patel said. He stood up too.
Connor stood up last. “What about the fire?” he asked.
“We’ll leave it going for now,” Grace said. “It won’t start a forest fire in this weather. We’ll just go check it out and then come back. Leave our stuff.”
“What if someone steals our stuff while we are gone?” Connor asked.
“I don’t think that’s likely,” Grace said.
“Doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” Connor muttered.
“What if the fire grows and attracts the attention of the zombies or strangers?” Camila asked.
Grace looked down at the fire longingly. “Fine,” she said. “Put it out.”
Connor and Todd kicked snow on the fire and it died away.
“Let’s go,” I said. I grabbed my bat. “We’re wasting time.” The others grabbed their bows and arrows and made sure they had their knives. Mrs. Anderson only had a kitchen knife. The gun had been left somewhere with her dead husband.
I pulled the hood up tighter around my face as we walked through the woods. We went slowly and as quietly as we could. Our feet crunched softly in the snow. As we got closer, the chorus of zombie groans grew louder. The sky was darker now, but the snow on the ground helped to light up the night.
We looked out from the trees. The zombies shambled aimlessly around the diner. Some zombies were inside the diner, but most were outside. They took slow step after slow step through the snow. The cold didn’t seem to bother them. I wondered if it got really cold, if it would freeze them in place. I hoped so. But then when it got warm, would they just thaw out and go about their zombie business or would they die? I thought it would probably be the former.
“Everything is quiet,” Connor said from behind me. Quiet except for the zombie groans.
“They wouldn’t travel at night,” Grace said. “We’ve seen they aren’t here right now so we should go back for now. We can come back and check first thing in the morning.”
“But,” I started. Connor and Camila had already turned to head back. Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins followed them. Todd went with them. Mrs. Anderson and I lingered a few moments longer even after Grace turned to follow the others.
“My husband is down there somewhere,” Mrs. Anderson whispered. “A zombie just like all the others.”
“I’m sorry,” I said equally quiet.
The groans in the distance intensified and then almost as if one, the entire crowd of zombies groaned loudly and moved with purpose. All rushed to the opposite side of the diner from where we were.
“Run!” someone screamed in the distance. My body went rigid. I recognized that voice.
“Hunter,” Grace said as she rushed back to my side.
“Hunter,” I said. I started to run towards the voice, but someone grabbed my coat from behind and I slipped and fell on the snow.
Grace hovered over me. “We need to be smart about this. Rushing in from this side isn’t going to do any good. Stand up.”
I quickly got to my feet.
“Run, Richard,” Hunter screamed again.
“Richard?” Mrs. Anderson said. “My Richard?” She started to run towards them, but Dr. Higgins held her back.
“Let go,” she said. “I need to save my baby.” She tried to wriggle her way out of his grasp, but it wasn’t working.
“Getting yourself killed isn’t going to save him,” Dr. Higgins said.
“It will if it distracts the zombies long enough for him to get away,” Mrs. Anderson said and then she shouted, “Hey, zombies, look over here.” She jumped up and down and waved her arms. “Come and eat me and leave my son alone.”
Whether the zombies couldn’t hear or they were just so focused on their prey, they paid no attention to Mrs. Anderson.
Multiple guns went off and I sighed with some relief. At least they had guns.
“Thank god they have guns,” Grace muttered. “They are going this way,” Grace said. She tugged on my coat sleeve and started sprinting. “We’ll run parallel with them. Maybe we can cut the zombies off to join our family at some point. At the very least, we can hit the zombies at the outskirts with our bows and arrows.”
I didn’t need any more encouragement as I sprinted after her. The others of our group were close behind. For the first time, I wished I hadn’t given up my bow and arrows to that other group. I wasn’t a great shot, but at least I wouldn’t feel as helpless as I did now. The others in our group used their bows and arrows. Grace hit her mark every time. The others did not.
Mrs. Anderson huffed and wheezed, but refused to fall behind. She even picked up snow with her gloved hands while she ran and threw it at the zombies. It seemed she was still trying to draw their attention. Snow balls wouldn’t do any damage and we were far enough away, the snow balls didn’t even hit them.
“We should save our arrows and just give them to Grace,” Camilla huffed. Her breath caused a miniature cloud in the air. “We are wasting them when we don’t get it in the head.”
“I’ll gladly take your arrows,” Grace said as she let loose the string on her bow. An arrow arched across the sky and embedded itself into the back of a zombie skull. The zombie fell to the ground. A few of the zombies around it tripped, but they were fast to get up and continue with the rest of the zombie crowd. Gunfire continued to go off so I at least knew the zombies were still chasing them. My family had to be with them and they had to be safe.
“What is going on with this weather?” Connor asked.
I hadn’t noticed anything strange with the weather, but now that he said that, there were dark clouds forming over the zombies. The air grew colder all around us.
Grace’s eyes lifted to the clouds and she whispered, “Thank god,” before she shot another zombie. I wasn’t sure why clouds would have her thanking god.
I couldn’t hear if Hunter or anyone else from that group was saying anything. The zombie groans were too loud and excited. And there was a cold wind now too. Everyone else gave up firing their arrows through the wind and just handed Grace arrow after arrow. She hit her target every time.
Something hard and pebble size pelted my shoulder. Other white pebbles began to bounce on the snow around us.
“Hail,” Connor called out to us. “We can’t stay in this weather.”
“Where do you expect us to go?” Camila cried out.
Grace slowed down. Her bow fell back to her side. Lightning struck the zombies. The hailstones got larger.
“Everyone get close to me!” Grace called out.
“What is going on?” Connor cried out frantically. Camila grabbed one arm and Todd grabbed the other as they pulled Connor in close to us. Dr. Higgins, Dr. Patel and Mrs. Anderson huddled close.
“Our family is getting further away,” I noted as the zombies kept going and we were now at a stand still.
“Why are your eyes gray?” Camila asked in complete disbelief. She stared at Grace.
Everyone looked at Grace. She turned slowly to me and gray eyes that looked like storm clouds blinked up at me. I didn’t consciously take a step back. It was an automatic response to my surprise. I had known Grace my entire life and had never seen her like this.
“Trust me,” she pleaded quietly to me.
“I do,” I said and immediately stepped forward. I grabbed onto her gloved hand for emphasis. The now golf sized hailstones fell around us, but did not touch us. It was as if we were sheltered.
“Are you a wiccan?” Camila asked. “Are you protecting us from the hailstones.”
“No and yes,” Grace said. Her eyes didn’t leave mine. “I’m not a wiccan, but I am stopping the hailstones from falling on us.” Lightning struck into the group of zombies again.
“What’s causing the hail?” Connor asked. He shivered in between Camila and Todd.
“My siblings,” she said. “They don’t know we’re out here. They are only trying to protect their group from the zombies.”
“How are they doing it?” I asked. I thought I didn’t believe in witches or magic. I had thought the zombies were a result of some horrible experiment gone wrong, but if Grace and her siblings could manipulate the weather, what else was out there that I didn’t know about?
“We’re not fully human,” Grace said quietly.
“What do you mean?” Mrs. Anderson asked. “Then what are you?”
Tiny teal scales – the same color of teal as the streaks in her hair – formed around her eyes. “We’re part dragon,” she said. “We can manipulate the weather.”
I glanced at the large group of zombies as another flash of lightning struck them. Several zombies went down, but there were still a lot to replace them.
I started to move in that direction. “We need to save our families,” I said.
Grace’s hand tightened around mine. “It’s too dangerous now,” she said. “I can keep out the hail, but the lightning is unpredictable and I’m not sure I can keep that out. Our family doesn’t know we are here trying to get them. Hunter and Victory aren’t being careful where the lightning strikes or what is happening with the hailstones.”
The hailstones were growing larger and larger. They were now taking down zombies too.
“If you can do stuff like this, why didn’t you do it before?” I hadn’t meant for my tone to be accusatory, but it came out that way.
“My mom said we could never tell anyone, that we could never show ourselves. There are beings in this world that would like to devour part dragonlings. She also wasn’t sure we could stop ourselves from charming everyone. That’s why we had to stop being friends when we started puberty.”
“Whatever,” I said. “We need to talk about this later. For now, we need to save our family. Strike the zombies with lightning or whatever if you can.”
“Wait,” Mrs. Anderson said. “They’ve stopped moving.”
And she was correct. The zombies had stopped moving, but they kept up their loud desperate groans. I could hear a dog barking and then a shout, but couldn’t make out the words. I was pretty sure it was Hunter though.
“Why’d they stop?” Connor asked.
“I don’t know,” Grace said.
“Maybe our children are already dead,” Mrs. Anderson wailed.
“No,” Grace said. “I have a connection with my brother and sister. I know they are still alive.”
“That doesn’t mean the others are alive,” Dr. Patel said gently.
Grace shook her head. “They won’t let the others die.”
We stared at the group of the zombies. We couldn’t see the front, only the tail end of the zombies. Time passed and nothing happened. Slowly, the zombie groans quieted and the ones in the back began to shamble away.
“I don’t want to be that guy,” Connor said, “but it’s really cold.”
He was visibly shivering. His lips were turning blue.
“What are we doing?” Dr. Patel asked.
“Let’s go forward quietly,” Grace said.
She led us as we skirted around the group of zombies. More zombies drifted off one by one, but the majority of the group shifted together not straying far. We got parallel to the front of the zombies, but far enough away that they didn’t notice us.
“I don’t see any bodies,” Grace said hopefully. “Except for ones that I’m sure were already zombies.”
“That means they got away,” Camila said. “Where did they go?”
Grace moved forward several more steps before she froze in her tracks.
“What is it?” I asked.
She pointed off into the night to a large, dark structure.
“A house,” I said. “They must have made it inside. Let’s go.” I took a step forward, but Grace grabbed my arm. Her skin went sickly pale. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Remember when I said there were beings in this world that could devour part dragonlings?” she asked and I nodded. She didn’t say anymore.
“You don’t mean the beings like that are in that house do you?” Mrs. Anderson asked. “We’ve got to go to them right now and get them out.”
I started to walk with her, but Grace grabbed my arm and Dr. Patel was quick to hold back Mrs. Anderson.
“Are they in immediate danger?” Dr. Patel asked.
Grace bit her lip and stared at the house. Finally she said, “I don’t think so. I don’t think Hunter and Victory would have gone inside if they thought the people were going to kill them.”
“What are we doing?” Todd asked. “Connor is in bad shape. We either need to get inside that house or back to the fire. Choose quickly.”
Grace’s eyes flickered from the house to Connor and back again. “Let’s go back to the fire,” she said. “If we do have to fight what’s in there, it will be easier to do it in the daylight. And so far they seem safe there. At least Hunter and Victory haven’t been hurt and they wouldn’t allow the others to be hurt without a fight.”
I helped Todd with Connor. Between the two of us we practically had to carry Connor back to our camp. Grace and Camila hugged him tight when we got back to camp. Dr. Higgins cleared out the snow and ash from our previous fire. Dr. Patel tried to start a new fire, but it wasn’t catching. Grace left Connor’s side and Todd took her place. She bent over the twigs and sticks. Lightning ran along her finger tips. The fire started. We wrapped Connor – who was still being hugged by Camila and Todd – up in blankets. Connor slowly warmed up and fell asleep. We didn’t establish a watch for the night. I stayed awake as everyone else drifted off to sleep. I wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing my sisters were so close and I had to wait until morning to see them.