It must have been around one in the morning when Andy shook me awake. It took me a few moments to remember where I was, and why I was here. It was a common event, where I would wake up with the blind hope that I would find myself in my bed again, with everything back to the way it had been. Sometimes I felt like the whole world was a dream, some horrible nightmare that I could never seem to wake up from.
When I saw the fire and the dark forest I remembered everything all over again and the world came crashing down around me. I sat up slowly as I felt the weight settled back down onto my shoulders and with it came the tense muscles that ached constantly. As I rubbed my eyes, Andy walked over to the other side of the fire and laid down. In less than ten minutes his breathing slowed and he was asleep.
I leaned back against a large maple tree that was nearby. The night was quiet, with nothing but the chirping of crickets and the crackling of the fire to break the deadly silence.
For a while I just watched the fire, watching as the flames flickered and twisted in a sort of hypnotic dance. The small amount of light that the flames gave off, cast eerie shadows onto the trees around me that flickered and moved in time with the flames. I let my mind wander, thinking over the past few days. Things had been easier with Andy around so far. I didn't have to watch my back so much anymore and I was actually getting sleep, not the fitful, half awake sort of limbo that I used to fall into every night so that I could be fully awake and ready to fight on a moment's notice.
Despite how things were going, I didn't regret all the years I spent alone. I had seen so many people torn apart, so many lives lost because people put too much trust into someone else. A mistake on the part of one person in a group can lead the death of everyone. I'd lost count of how many people I had seen who died because of someone else they trusted. So no, I didn't regret being alone for almost five years because it was probably the only reason why I was still alive.
Suddenly, a twig snapped somewhere to my right. I immediately turned towards where the sound had come from, reaching out to grab my katana from the ground beside me. I scanned the trees, but it was too dark to see anything beyond where the fire-light reached. The leaves on a large bush rustled softly and I tensed getting ready to spring up and fight at the first sign of rotten flesh. For a few moments, nothing happened. I kept my eyes trained on the bush, not even daring to blink. Then, I saw a flash of a red, bushy, white-tipped tail and I let out a sigh of relief. It was just a fox.
There was another soft rustle of leaves and then a small head slowly appeared from the darkness. The fox wasn't very large, its face not much bigger than a cat's. It's fur was a light red-orange with a white patch on the bottom of its jaw leading down its chest. It's large, bushy ears swiveled slightly from side to side, listening. It's black nose twitched constantly and it's large, round, amber-colored eyes were filled with curiosity as it eyed our makeshift camp. A log shifted on the fire, sending up a shower of sparks into the air and the fox vanished back into the darkness, without a sound.
I smiled after the fox had disappeared. Her presence here meant that there weren't any zombies nearby. Animals tend to give the undead a rather wide berth. Zombies would go after anything that moves though animals didn't really seem to have too much trouble avoiding them.
To be completely honest, I envied her. The fox, and all animals for that matter, didn't have to worry about becoming infected. True, they did have to watch out for a zombie's gnashing teeth as much as humans did, but a single bite would be nothing more than an injury to an animal. The virus only seemed to affect humans, at least as far as I knew.
I sighed and leaned my head back against the rough bark of the tree, staring up at the star-filled sky. A light breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and the stars seemed to flash on and off as the leaves covered and uncovered them as they moved.
It was peaceful and quiet for the rest of the night. Occasionally Andy would roll over in his sleep, making more noise than I would like as he rolled over dead leaves and occasionally snapped a stick or two, but other than that, nothing else happened until morning.
When the sky began to turn pink, and the first, early-rising birds started chirping, I stood up. My body was stiff from having sat in the same position for so long. I walked over to where Andy lay. He was sprawled out on his back one arm flung out to the side and the other laying over his chest. Crushed leaves covered his green shirt and a thin line of drool trailed out from the corner of his mouth.
For a moment, I just watched him, the rise and fall of his chest. I briefly wondered what he might be dreaming about. Did he have nightmares, like me or were his dreams peaceful and nice?
After a few more seconds, I kicked him in the leg. "Oi, wake up," I said loudly.
His eyes flew open and he bolted upright, looking around wildly. When he saw me, he relaxed and rubbed a hand over his face. "What time is it?" he asked in a tired voice.
"Time to get moving," I said in response.
Andy groaned and leaned back until he was laying down on his back again, both arms stretched out. "Can't we just take a day off?" He said to the sky.
I rolled my eyes. "Sure Andy, feel free to take the day off. In fact, I'll let everything that's out to kill you know that you're off duty today so that they'll leave you alone." I put as much sarcasm into the words as I possibly could.
Andy pushed himself up again so that he was leaning on his elbows. "Jeez, it was just a joke," he said.
I bit back another sharp reply, it just wasn't worth it. Instead, I spun on my heel and started disassembling the camp. I kicked dirt over the glowing embers that remained of our fire, making sure that it was completely extinguished. Then, I started to gather up any trash that we had made and tossed it into the bushes.
When the camp was cleared I slung my katana and pack over my shoulders and turned back to Andy. He was still sitting on the ground watching me. His pack was on his shoulders along with his bow and shotgun.
"I would have helped," he said. "But you didn't seem like you needed any." He stood up and brushed himself off.
"Whatever, let's just get going," I said, too tired to argue. "The more distance we put between ourselves and the Raiders, the better."
Andy gave a brief nod and we set off, weaving our way through the trees until we reached the highway again. I stopped briefly, looking back in the direction of the town we had come from the day before. There wasn't anything to see except trees and an empty stretch of road.
"What is it?" Andy asked.
I shook my head. "Nothing," I said.
I turned around and started down the highway, Andy walking beside me. The morning was still dim and every once and a while Andy would trip over something letting out a silent curse. We walked in silence for a long time. I didn't mind it though, I was used to silence. To having nothing but my own thoughts to listen too.
The road we walked was empty. Here and there large weeds sprung up from cracks in the asphalt. At one point we passed by a car that had veered off the road and smashed into a tree. The front of the car was completely destroyed, wrapping around the tree. The front and back windshields were completely smashed and tall weeds grew out of the inside. I wondered what had happened to the driver off the car and what had made the car crash. If I looked inside, would I find the withered husk of a body or had the driver somehow escaped from the wreckage. The thoughts only briefly occupied my mind and as we passed by the wreck and when it was out of sight, all thoughts off it left my mind.
An hour passed, then two. I looked at Andy walking beside me. He looked straight ahead as he walked, his eyes glassy. I knew there were things that he hadn't told me about his past, horrible things that he would never tell anyone. Everyone out here has them, things that they have seen or done that keep them up at night, keep them questioning why they deserve to live when everyone else had died. I know I did.
I decided to pull Andy into a conversation to bring him out of whatever horrible nightmares he was revisiting in his memories.
"So Andy," I said. "Where'd you learn to shoot a bow and arrow?"
Andy's eyes cleared and he looked over at me. "What?"
"Where'd you learn to shoot a bow and arrow," I repeated gesturing slightly at the bow slung across his shoulders.
He looked down at the string of the bow that crossed over his chest as if he had forgotten it was there. "Oh, uh.... my dad used to take me out hunting all the time before, well, you know." He shrugged. "We, my dad and I, used to be really close."
"Ah," I said. It wasn't the answer I had expected. Most people out here learned how to use a weapon after Day Zero, purely out of necessity. People that knew how to hunt before had an advantage, it might explain how Andy had made it this far. "I never got to know my dad... or my mom for that matter. My grandparents raised me."
"What happened to them?" Andy asked.
I shrugged. "I don't really know. My grandmother used to tell me that they died in a car accident or something, but I knew she was lying."
"How'd you know?"
"Because my grandfather told me the truth. He said that both my mother and father were druggies. When my mom found out she was pregnant she came back home long enough to have me and then she disappeared again, left me with her parents so she could get high whenever she wanted without having to worry about taking care of a kid."
I kicked a stone that was in my path and watched it clatter away. "To be honest, I hope they're both dead. I hope they were torn apart by zombies."
An awkward silence fell between us then. I didn't want to say anymore and Andy didn't say anything else, and I was grateful for that. I don't know what I would have said after dropping a bomb like that.
Over the next hour as we walked, houses started popping up along the road that we walked on until we stopped at the edge of a new town.
It was small not much bigger than the one we had just escaped from. By then, the houses had made way for small shops, and businesses that lined the street. But they weren't the reason why we stopped. Right in the middle of the street, stretching from building to building, was an overturned semi truck. It must have crashed years ago, the top of the truck was facing us. The cab of the truck had smashed into a building, bringing it down on top of it. It blocked the road entirely and I couldn't see any easy way around it.
"What do we do about that?" Andy asked.
"We climb over it," I said. I walked over to the truck and looked at it closely.
The bed of the truck was a plain white with a silvery metal along the edges. Silver rivets lined the edges of each sheet of metal. It was about eight feet high. I put a hand on the surface. The metal was cold and hard.
"Make yourself useful and help me up," I said, turning back to Andy. "Once I'm on top I'll pull you up."
"Sure, works for me," Andy said. He walked over to the truck and adjusted the string of his bow across his chest before interlacing his fingers together and bending over slightly.
I back up a few steps as he got into position. When he was ready he gave me a slight nod. I sprinted forward a few steps before reaching him. I made sure my right foot landed in his hands and I felt him push me upwards. I grabbed onto the top edge and easily climbed up.
Once I was on the top of the truck I stood up and looked out. The town was even smaller than it had seemed from the other side. The street was packed with cars. Directly below me, a pile of cars sat right up against the truck and a handful of zombies shuffled through the maze.
Instinctively, I began making mental notes about the area. Noticing where the zombies were the thickest, noting shops that might prove fruitful to loot. I was so lost in thought I had completely forgotten about Andy until he loudly cleared his throat.
"Are you going to help me up or are you just going to stand there sight-seeing all day?" He called up.
I shook my head, chasing away any last wandering thoughts. "Right, sorry." I knelt down at the edge of the truck and held a hand down to him.
He reached up with his left and grabbed my arm. As I started pulling him up, the sleeve on his left arm dropped down and revealed something just below his wrist.
When I saw it the world seemed to fall away. My body seemed to move on its own as I released my hold on Andy's arm and drew my katana.
He fell back to the ground landing on his ass and letting out a loud, "Oof."
"What the hell?" Andy said but when he looked up at me, sword in hand, he froze. "Lauren?"
"You told me that zombie didn't bite you!" I yelled at him.
Confusion filled his eyes. "What are you talking abou-" He started to say, but his eyes widened and darted down to where the bite mark was still visible on his arm. He quickly pulled his sleeve down, covering it back up.
"Lauren, wait, it's not what you think."
I couldn't control my anger. He had used me. I had let down my guard and he had taken full advantage of it. I knew I should have killed him the moment I saw him. "Then what is it Andy, huh? Are you going to tell me that isn't a bite? I'm not fucking stupid!" I gripped the hilt of my katana so hard my knuckles turned white.
He bowed his head. "No, you're right, it is a bite," he said in a low voice. "But it's old."
"Old? What do you mean, old?" I snapped.
"I mean," he said looking back up at me. "that this bite is from two weeks ago."
I furrowed my brow in confusion, my anger faltering slightly. "What?"
Andy sighed. "I said I was bitten two weeks ago."
I didn't understand what he was saying. It wasn't possible. Everyone who was bitten by a zombie turned within 48 hours. Was he lying? Was it another trick?
The tip of my katana fell until it was resting on the top of the truck. "But... how is that possible?" My mind was running in circles.
Andy sighed, "I don't know. But if you let me, I'll tell you everything I do."
I didn't say anything, I couldn't seem to get my mouth to work right. In a daze, I nodded and sheathed my katana and knelt down one more, reaching out a hand. Andy stood up slowly and grabbed on and I helped him all of the way onto the truck. Once he was standing in front of me, I broke out of my daze.
"Show it to me," I demanded. I had to see the bite for myself, up close.
Andy held up his arm to me, palm up. I stepped forward and grabbed his arm, pulling back the sleeve quickly and there it was. It was undoubtedly a human bite. Two crescent moon shapes marked the skin on his forearm, parallel with his arm. But they weren't fresh wounds. The marks were scabbed over and both had already begun to heal and scar around the edges. The undamaged skin between the two marks was a faint yellow color of a bruise that was almost healed. Unable to stop myself, I ran a finger lightly over the wound, the skin was smooth except for the scabbed part. "Are you sure it was a zombie that bit you, not some human?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
I looked over the bite one last time before dropping his arm and stepping back. I crossed my arms over my chest.
"Alright, start talking."
Andy dropped his arm and pulled his sleeve back down. "There's really not much to say. I got careless and I got bitten, but I never turned. I don't know why, I just didn't," he said.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I said.
He shrugged. "To be honest I had actually kind of forgotten about it."
I raised my eyebrows. "You forgot? You've got to be kidding me." I uncrossed my arms and put them at my sides, my hands balled into fists.
"I had other things on my mind," he said. "I was in that town I found you in because I heard that there were clues about New Eden there."
"New Eden? What the hell is New Eden?" I interrupted.
He started at me in surprise. "What, you don't know?"
I glared at him and he held up his hands. "Sorry, I just thought it was common knowledge. It's supposed to be the last safe zone left."
Safe zone? That was a word I hadn't heard in a while. Safe zones were areas set up by the military shortly after Day Zero. They were communities set up for survivors. Each one was heavily guarded, any zombie that came close was shot down. They worked well for a while, there was even a time when I considered joining one, but by the time I had made up my mind to do so, almost all of them had fallen apart, overrun and abandoned.
"But, I thought they were all destroyed," I said.
Andy shrugged again. "Not all of them."
I was silent for a long time. If what Andy was saying was true, if there really was another safe zone out there, then it changed everything. All I've ever wanted was to feel safe again, to not have to struggle, both physically and mentally, every single day just to keep going, to keep on living.
"Are you sure that it's real?" I asked quietly.
"As sure as I can be," he said in reply.
I hesitated again. Andy had lied to me, deceived me, but if there really was another safe zone, he was the best shot I had at finding it.
It pained me to say the next sentence. "Alright, fine. I will go with you to find New, whatever it was."
"Eden." Andy supplied.
"New Eden, whatever. But I'm warning you, If you ever lie to me again, I will not hesitate to kill you on the spot. Is that clear?"
Andy looked relieved. "Yes."
"Good," I said. I turned on my heel and hopped down off of the roof of the truck and started walking away.
"Hey wait! Where are you going?" Andy said.
"Away from you." I paused and looked back at Andy who was still standing on the truck. "Don't follow me." I said and I turned around again and kept walking.ns 126.96.36.199da2