I ran to Tanner as Hunter and Victory engulfed Grace in a hug. Tears spilled from my eyes and onto my cheeks. I didn’t even care how cold that made my cheeks as I jumped into my brother’s arms. I sobbed into his shoulder. Everything I had been holding in came spilling out. Our parent’s death, Grant and his dad, all the people we tried to save who died along the way, the neighbors I saw as zombies, friends now turned zombie trying to eat me, no cars, no electricity, having to see my ax kill zombies that were once people, Darren getting wrapped up in that RU in? place, learning about dragons and vampires and venefici and knowing there were other creatures in the world we didn’t know about.
His strong arms held me close to him and I knew for at least that moment, I didn’t have to be strong. He would be strong for me.
“Tanner!” Mackenzie’s voice cried out from behind me and then Tanner was holding both of us.
Tanner’s shoulders shuddered and only then did I realize he was crying too. I held onto him tighter. Mackenzie was audibly crying beside me as she hugged both me and Tanner.
“Mom?” Richard said. “Mom!” He rushed passed us. I looked over Tanner’s shoulder through bleary eyes. Richard crushed Mrs. Anderson in a tight hug. She clung onto him.
I pulled away from Tanner. He quickly wiped the tears off his cheeks. I wiped my own cheeks. Molly barked excitedly between us.
“Molly, come back here,” Arthur called to her. She bounced back to his side, but immediately ran back out and circled Richard and his mom.
“Where’s mom and dad?” Tanner asked me.
I froze. Fresh tears welled in my eyes, but I blinked them away. “They didn’t make it,” I said quietly.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “Maybe they are hiding out somewhere. We could go back and check.”
I shook my head. “I’m sure. I saw them myself.”
Tanner turned his face to the sky as tears sprang to his eyes.
“What about our mom and dad?” Grace asked Hunter.
Hunter swallowed. “They didn’t make it either.”
“Not even mom?”
Hunter shook his head.
“But . . .,” Grace’s voice trailed off.
“Hunter thinks she let herself die when she saw dad turn,” Victory said quietly.
Grace pulled both Hunter and Victory back into the hug.
“Rich,” Mrs. Anderson said, “your dad . . .”
“I know,” Richard interrupted her. “I know.”
“Nancy,” Bev said. She walked passed us calmly to stand by Richard and Mrs. Anderson.
“Bev,” Nancy said. She pulled away from Richard and hugged Bev. “Does that mean Darren is here too?” she asked.
“Hi, Mrs. Anderson,” Darren said from the doorframe.
“More visitors,” Gunnor said from behind me. It startled me. I had no idea he was there.
“Come inside,” Jin said. “You don’t have to stand out in the cold.”
“I’m all for that,” a young man said behind Mrs. Anderson. I had been vaguely aware there were others, but I had been so caught up in my brother that I hadn’t paid them any attention.
“No,” Grace said. “We’re leaving. Get your stuff,” she said to Hunter and Victory. They both nodded and moved to comply.
“Wait,” Maria said, “Jin is teaching me magic. We can’t leave yet.”
“I wanted to learn magic too,” Darren said.
“Magic?” Mrs. Anderson asked. “Are you not human?”
“We are,” Maria said.
“How do you know there are beings other than human?” Richard asked his mom.
“I’m cold,” Marcos said from further in the house.
“Come inside,” Jin said. “We promise we won’t hurt any of you and you are free to leave whenever you wish.”
“Your promise doesn’t mean much,” Grace said.
“Now, now,” Jin said, “your bigotry is showing.”
“It’s not bigotry,” Grace said.
“I think it’s okay,” Hunter said. “Just come in for now.” He stepped inside and pulled Grace with him.
“How could you even come inside in the first place?” Grace asked, but she followed Hunter and Victory inside. I followed them. I looked over my shoulder to make sure my brother was following. Mackenzie held Tanner’s hand as they came inside. Everyone piled into the same living room we had been led to the previous night.
“Now, tell me why you came inside this house in the first place,” Grace demanded of Hunter when everyone was settled and had found seats.
“I think you should tell us how you even knew we were here first,” Hunter said, “and why Mrs. Anderson seems to know there are other beings in this world than humans.”
“It seems your group knows that too,” Grace said. “How did they find out?”
“Last night when we were running away from the zombies,” Hunter said, “we ended up here. It was not my intention to lead them here. I didn’t even know this place existed.”
Tanner sat squished between me and Mackenzie. Mackenzie held his hand as if afraid if she let go, he would disappear. I took his other hand in mine. He squeezed it.
“Gunnor and Jin were the ones who told them we were part dragon,” Victory said.
“And then we learned there were vampires, werewolves, witches, venefici and magic,” Mackenzie said.
“Vampires? Werewolves?” the other young man with my brother’s group said. “What are venefici?”
“Witches,” Gunnor said.
“They’re not witches,” Hunter reiterated. “They aren’t human. They are the beings that run the RU in? places.”
“Have you had run in with those places?” Grace asked.
“Yes,” Victory said. “He charmed Darren when he got charmed by the RU in? place.”
“It was the only thing I could do to save him,” Hunter said defensively.
“Everyone keeps acting like it’s a big deal,” Darren said, “but it’s not. I’m fine with it. He saved me and it didn’t hurt me.”
Hunter smiled gently at him. Grace noticed. Her eyes flicked from Hunter to Darren and back again. I assumed she realized that Hunter had a crush on him then.
“We had to leave a few people at one of those RU in? places,” Grace said. “I still think it was the wrong decision, but they insisted on staying.”
“You could have charmed them like Hunter did with Darren,” Victory said.
Grace shook her head. “I’m not sure they could survive out here anyway. I didn’t like it, but leaving them there was their best chance at survival.”
“I wonder if your girlfriend charmed you and that’s how you got a girlfriend,” one of the young men teased Tanner.
Tanner frowned at him.
“You have a girlfriend?” Mackenzie asked him. “Who is it?”
Tanner’s and Grace’s eyes met and it was obvious. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I wanted to be with Hunter, but I knew that wasn’t an option. I was a little jealous of my brother.
“You’re together?” Hunter asked. “Since when?”
“Shortly after the start of the school year,” Grace said.
“Did you charm him?” Victory asked aghast.
“I would never,” Grace said.
“She couldn’t even if she wanted to,” Hunter said. “Tanner is like Lily. Magic doesn’t touch them.”
“Magic doesn’t touch us?” Tanner asked.
“It’s why our dad just died instead of turning into a zombie,” I said. I realized I hadn’t told him that before and it was the first time he was learning that about our dad.
“So if we’re bit, we won’t turn?”
“Right,” I said.
“What about me?” Mackenzie asked. “No one has said anything about me.”
We waited, but neither the Sangs nor the vampires answered right away. Finally, Victory said, “You are more like your mom than your dad.”
“So that means I’m susceptible to magic?” Mackenzie asked.
“Does that mean I can do magic? Like your light ball thing?” she asked Jin.
“Maybe,” he said. “You do not have the same affinity for it as Maria and Darren, but it’s possible you might be able to learn a few things.”
“Maybe now would be a good time for introductions,” one of the middle aged men in Tanner’s group said.
After everyone went around the room introducing themselves – even Marcos stopped running around long enough to say his name – the room filled with silence.
“So what do we do now?” Connor asked. “Camila and I still want to go find our families. Do we split up?”
“Why don’t you all stay here a day or two?” Jin offered. “Rest up, come up with a plan of action and then you are free to leave if you want. This is a safe place. Zombies won’t come here. Gunnor and I can easily go into the towns safely to make runs for food. You could stay here and make this your home.”
“And what do you get out of it?” Grace asked. “Our blood? I don’t think so.”
“It would only be fair,” Gunnor said, “if we let you stay safely in our home and provided you with food that you reciprocate.”
“I’m okay giving my blood.”
“Maria!” I scolded.
“What? They said it wouldn’t hurt. And I’m curious.”
Jin smiled widely at that and chills ran down my back.
“Nothing needs to be decided immediately,” Jin said. “Stay here where it’s safe for a few days and think it over.”