“Hey! Let us in!” In the window next to the door was a face.

I hurried to the door. “Go to the back. I will let you in. And be quiet.” I hissed through the crack between the doorframe and the board. I didn’t wait to see if he would move, but I did stop at the table to grab the gun I set out. I didn’t have time to load it, but he wouldn’t know that. I ran into the shop as he began to bang on the door.

It was getting easier to deal with the pain in my side, but any exertion seemed to make things worse. By the time I reached the door, I was breathing like I ran for blocks instead of from one room to another. Pain thundered awkwardly in my side, spiking as I unlocked the door and pulled it open.

The guy stumbled through, pulling a little girl behind him and started stamping the snow off his shoes. I closed and locked the door, making the gun as visible as possible. He didn’t seem bothered. Probably because after the door was closed, I leaned against it and struggled to breathe. Or he just didn’t notice the gun since he was busy brushing snow off of himself.

“Are you ok?” The guy asked, bending down to dust the snow from the little girl’s legs. I stepped away from the door and almost sat down in the grime of the shop. The guy reacted in time to catch me before I was on the ground, swinging me up into his arms. My breath caught at the suddenness of it.

“No. I’m not ok. Put me down.” I squirmed to make my point. He put me down, but in the same motion, he took the gun.

“You are in no shape to use this.” He said waving the gun in front of me. “Were you bit?”

I glared at him. “No, I wasn’t bit. I cut myself.” My voice was too breathy. “Give me the gun back.”

“No.” He put it in the back of his pants. “Besides, you couldn’t fire the thing with the safety on.”

I rolled my eyes and started to walk carefully into the store.

“How did you cut yourself?”

I showed him my bandaged side and his eyes widened. “Dodging zombies.” He nodded.

“How bad is it?”

“I think I might have a broken rib.” I lead the way back into the store and pointed to the rear. “There is some bottled water in the coolers back there.” I said as I made my way to the table.

I wanted to throw up. My whole body was starting to throb like it was one big wound. My head hurt almost as bad as my ribs. On top of that, I felt like I hadn’t slept in days. While I listened to the guy and little girl move about the store, I rested my head on the cool surface of the table. Maybe a broken rib wasn’t my only problem. What if I was coming down with a cold or the flu on top of everything else?

I heard one of them, the girl, approach the table and stop a short distance away. I rolled my head to the side and opened one eye to peer at her.

Abby

She stared straight back at me with light brown eyes. The eyes were so serious that I straightened up to look at her. Her nose was level with the table top, so she was pretty short. Her face was round, the kind of face people associate with cherubs. There were faint lines in her face that showed she was typically a laughing and happy child, which explained why the serious look seemed unnatural. Her pale brown hair was shorn short. It looked like whoever cut it was trying for a pixie look. Her face was too round for the haircut to look right.

She wore a dress that was obviously for special occasions. It was a red crushed velvet thing with a skirt that reminded me of a tutu. Long socks reached up to disappear under the skirt and a pair of shiny shoes graced her small feet. The dress was in horrible condition. Its skirt was ragged and stained with dirt and other things that I really didn’t want to think about. Her leggings had, at one point, been white, but were also marred.

She wasn’t wearing a jacket. Her pudgy arms were almost white, the tips of her fingers, dangling at her sides, were tinged with blue. Looking at her mouth, I saw the same blue tint.

She couldn’t have been more than four years old.

“What’s your name?” I asked softly. The guy slid into the bench opposite me, and held out a small bottle of water to her, cap off

“She won’t talk.” He stated simply. She took the bottle without looking away from me. Her eyes widened at the first sip of water, then she was chugging it like a pro. I felt myself smile as I watched her. My next thought took the smile off my face.

She must have seen something really terrible to stop her from talking. Most kids I knew at her age were incapable of keeping their lips together.

“Whoa!” The guy said, pulling the bottle from her hands. “Not so fast. We haven’t had anything to drink in a while, kiddo. We have to take small sips at first.”

Her eyes broke away from me, and focused instead on the bottle the guy held. He twisted the cap onto it and set it on the table between us. His bottle joined hers.

“Well, what’s her name?” I asked, finally looking at him. He was studying me. I straightened and leveled him with my own stare, ignoring the quickening thrum of my heart.

He shrugged, twisting the cap onto the bottle. “I don’t know.”

“Why wouldn’t you know your sister’s name?” I could feel a slight wave of frustration lick at me, but I was too tired to deal with it.

“She isn’t my sister.” He met my gaze as if challenging me. I studied him, thinking about it. They were both white, but that was where the resemblance ended. He was darker than her with black hair, summer bronzed skin, and startling dark blue eyes that stood out in sharp contrast to his face.

River

I shivered. Why did the room feel so cold? “So who are you?”

“River Hughs.” He said. His tone told me more than enough that he liked his name as much as I liked mine. I could just imagine the jokes that came from his.

“Cleopatra Stevens.” I rubbed my burning eyes, trying to think of a way to broach the subject without being rude. Finally, I chose to just ask. “What happened?” His thin eyebrows shot up at my question. “To you.” I added. I frowned, it didn’t sound right. “I mean, what’s your story.”

His face went blank and for a moment, I wondered if I was still messing up the wording. “I tell you mine, you tell me yours.” I nodded my agreement.

“My grandmother lived here.” He said thoughtfully.

“I’m sorry.”

His dark blue eyes met mine and he tilted his head. “Yeah. Well. When the news reports started, my parents thought it was a hoax. You know some wonky virus. They thought it was a way for the government to get us involved in another war.” He took another slow sip of water after handing the smaller bottle to the little girl. “Anyway, they decided to bring us here for a visit. Besides, my grandpa died this year, so my mom didn’t want to leave my grandma alone for the holidays.

“The next day, my grandma started getting sick and the woman next door died.” He started to fidget with his bottle, twisting the cap on then off again, only to repeat the process. The little girl tried to hand her bottle back to him, but he didn’t seem to notice. I took it from her and smiled.

“We took her to the hospital. My grandma could barely move she was coughing so hard. There were so many people there. Everyone was sick. Some worse than my grandma, and more were coming in.

“There was a guy sitting next to us, at least, I thought he was just sitting there. I noticed him, but I wasn’t paying attention to him. My sister was starting to get upset and I was trying to calm her down.

“No ten year old should see what was happening. It would have been better if we just stayed in the car.” His face paled. “The man suddenly lunged at us. He pinned me into the chair, my sister trapped in my lap. If I hadn’t pulled her into my lap, it would have been me.” He put his bottle of water on the table then picked it up again. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands.

He met my gaze and clenched his jaw. “He bit her before my dad wrestled him off of us. The guy went berserk. He turned on my dad, but my dad knew how to fight. My dad threw him into a wall near this family. The guy just stood up and attacked them, too.

“My parents took us back to my grandma’s house after that. My grandma died a few hours later.”

“I’m sorry.” I said again, not sure what else to day. “If it’s -.”

He shook his head. “We made an agreement. Besides, it’s probably good to talk about it.” His dark eyes stayed on mine. “We called the paramedics and when they came for her body, I overheard them saying that there were twelve deaths in the last few hours. That more people were sick. One mentioned the government was getting involved, but it was too late by then.

“Then my sister was sick. With my grandma, it lasted hours, with Jaz, it lasted days. A fever set in, and literally boiled her blood. It was coming from her eyes, her nose, her ears… She was coughing it up. I didn’t think it was possible for a person to bleed like that.

“I think it was Tuesday morning when she attacked my dad. My mom wanted to go back to the hospital, but dad refused. Even as she tore into him, he refused. I think she bit into the artery that lined his neck or something. There was blood everywhere. He just stopped fighting and dropped. She turned on me, but my mom got in the way, trying to stop her.

“I grabbed the only thing I could find, a stupid umbrella, and started hitting her. Her head split open-.” Suddenly he stopped, carefully breathing through his mouth as if he could still smell the carnage around him. “My mom’s arm was in really bad shape. I made her go to her room while I tried to call the police.  The lines were busy. I dragged the bodies of my dad and sister into the backyard because I didn’t know what else to do. My mom died in her room while I worked.

“After I dragged her outside, I tried to call the police again. In the middle of dialing the power went out and my cell lost service.” He looked at the girl, holding a hand out to her. She accepted it and allowed him to pull her into his lap. “Yesterday, or the day before… I forget. I heard her screaming. She was being chased by this really old lady down the middle of the street. I left the house to help her.

“I caught her up and started back. My dad was standing between me and the house and zombies were coming from all directions. There were fewer coming from the direction of the highway, so I started running.” He tilted his head as he looked at me. “I honestly didn’t think we would make it.

“There’s a park on the other side of the tracks with a restroom.” He pointed in the direction of the park.

I nodded. “Haven Park.”

“We holed up there and waited. I don’t know why the zombies didn’t just smash the door down. Every once in a while, I would open the door and look around. I saw the truck last night and I saw you put up a board in the door after they left. I knew we had to get here if we could.”

I felt my stomach clench. “Did you see what happened to them?”

He nodded. “They got out of town. Headed up toward the mountains, I think.”

“Good.”

“I’m not so sure. I wouldn’t want to be up there in the middle of winter. If it were summer, sure. But food is going to be scarce and there are four of them. No shelter and no food. I doubt they will survive more than a week.”

I felt my expression drop and sighed. “I heard about the news, too. But I thought it was some stunt or something. To gain notoriety for a movie or something.” I told him what happened to me, as simply as I could. “I have some stuff packed up and ready to go. It’s stacked up next to the door in the shop. We will need more if you guys come with me.”

River nodded. “First, let’s just rest. Mind if we get something to eat.”

“It’s not mine.” I pointed out and waved a hand toward the shelves. He slid the girl from his lap and stood up. The moment he moved to start getting food, the little girl climbed back up onto the bench and stared at me. “How about I try and guess your name, would that be ok?” I asked. The girl tilted her head, thinking, before she nodded.

“I doubt you are Cleopatra, like me.” She shook her head.

“Stephanie?” Shake.

“Daphne?” Shake.

We proceeded that way for a while, River piling some jerky, chips, and candy on the table and helping the little girl to open several of the packages. They ate while I continued to guess, my choices in names growing limited, I started with some more bizarre ones (Gertrude, Rabbit, Tornado, Shenandoah, Brat…) until she smiled and started to giggle.

I glanced at River. He was studying me again, his eyes narrow and thoughtful. My cheeks grew warm and I ducked my head, a small smile toying with my mouth. “How old are you?” I asked the girl, just to avoid looking at him. She held up a small hand, all fingers prominently displayed. “Five?” Nod.

“We could always call you Five.” I suggested. She shook her head vigorously. I smiled. “Ok. Let’s try something else.” I turned one of the receipts in front of me over and grabbed a pen that I had been using to translate the stick-like writing. “What I’m gonna do is list off the alphabet and you’re gonna nod when I get to the letters in your name, ok?” She stared at me for a second then nodded.

“A?” Nod. I wrote it down. “Ok, I doubt your name is going to have two A’s to start with, so B?” Another nod. I raised my eyebrow. “Abigail?” I asked. She nodded. “Abigail it is then.” She shook her head. I frowned. “But you just said-.”

“A nickname? Abby?” River asked. She nodded again and smiled.

“Alright. Nice to meet you, Abby. My name is Cleopatra, but I prefer Cleo. Ok?” She nodded.

“No nickname for me, just River.” River sighed.

“You could always try for Ri.” I suggested.

“Knowing my luck, people would start asking me if I was made out of bread.” I smiled at him. “We should gather some more supplies before we think about attempting that truck.”

“We can grab some more bags from behind the counter. The only real bags I found are already filled.” I said. We both got to our feet.

The next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground. The world seemed to swirl around me in a dizzying array of colors before things faded into shapes and faces. Abby was standing beside me and River’s face was upside down above mine. I started to shift when I felt something soft beneath my head.

“Am I sitting on your lap?” I asked stupidly. He nodded, but his face was serious.

“We need to find a doctor.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Could you have a concussion?” His fingers probed the cut on my forehead but it didn’t hurt. The feel of his fingers against my skin sent chills down my back.

“No. I keep getting dizzy and I am having problems breathing. I think it’s my ribs.”

“Let me take a look.”

He helped me sit up, bracing my back against the bench seats of the table. I lifted my shirt again, wincing as he pulled the bandage from my side. The gash was irritated. The skin around it was an angry red and looked swollen. Bruises extended from the red to claim most of the rest of my torso. River’s breath hissed between his teeth.

“It’s not healing well.” He probed it with his fingers as he had done with the cut on my forehead. Despite the flares of pain, the chill in his fingers was almost soothing. “It might be infected.”

“I don’t think it is. But I keep running around, so that doesn’t help.”

“Do you have a first aid kit?”

“Yeah, it’s packed in the bags.”

“Hold on.” He stood up and vanished through the doorway to the shop. Abby crouched down next to me, peering at the cut.

“Sad huh?” She nodded and reached out like she would touch it.

“No, Abby.” River snapped appearing beside us. She jerked her hand back and sat down where she was crouching. Her lower lip stuck out as she pouted.

River set about using the alcohol wipes, ignoring when I gasped. “Stop jerking around.” He growled, opening another package.

My side was pure agony when he was done. A tube of antibacterial ointment appeared in his hands. He applied a generous amount to the cut. Replacing the gauze over the wound, he used the medical tape to wrap my torso. He inspected the cut on my arm and agreed that it didn’t need further treatment. Finally, he started working on my foot. That he cleaned as rigorously as he did my side. After applying band-aids, patches of gauze and ointment, he wrapped my foot with an ace bandage.

“It isn’t as good as a shoe, but it will have to do until we can find you something.” He said, patting the top of my foot. “Abby and I will finish packing supplies. I think we should wait till tomorrow to try the truck out. It’s getting dark and you need to rest.” He reached for something on the table, then handed me two small packages and a bottle of water. One package held two Tylenol tablets, the other contained antibiotics.

I wasn’t sure if I could take them with my stomach roiling. I was also starting to become extremely cold. The breeze from the door hovered along the floor, chilling me to the bone. “We can’t stay here forever.” I took the pills and put them back on the table. “I need to wait a few minutes before I take those.” I added.

“No, we can’t but you are ignoring your body. Besides, Abby and I could do with a good night’s sleep.” They both looked exhausted. Had they slept at all since River rescued Abby?

He bent down in front of me and placed his wrist against my forehead. “You have a fever.” He said after a moment.

“I could have told you that.” I rubbed my irritated eyes. “There isn’t anything that can be done for my fever except rest and we don’t have time for that.”

He nodded. “You’re right. Come on, Abby.”

River did the packing, while Abby held the bag open. As they finished each bag, they added it to the pile in the shop. Darkness was falling when they finished.  River shook me awake, put his hand against my forehead.

“It’s getting worse.” He said.

“Again, nothing we can do.”

“Keep you hydrated and warm.” He started shifting things off the table and took the tarp before vanishing toward the back of the store. “Ok, come on back. You, too, Abby.”

I stood up and waited for the dizzying dots in my vision to dissipate. The tarp was spread out on the floor near the coolers. He had Abby lay down in the middle of it, then helped me to join her. He threw the tarp over us and I shuddered, wishing for my warm bed and pile of blankets. He climbed in behind me and I stiffened.

“You need to get warm, Cleo.” He rumbled. I tried to relax but it was weird to have a guy curl up next to me. It would have been weird even if he slept in the same room. He sighed but scooted closer until he was pressed against my back, then threw an arm over me.

For a while, all I could focus on was his breathing on my neck, even when it steadied out and became rhythmic. Abby fell asleep quickly, followed by River.

It is a weird feeling to sleep next to people, especially people you don’t know. Even worse when one of those people is a cute boy. But, for the first time in days, I was warm and I slept like a rock.

When I woke up, River was gone. Abby was snoring softly in front of me and we were both still wrapped up in the tarp. River must have heard me because he came around one of the isles.

“Hey.” He said quietly, settling down to sit with his back against the coolers. He held out a bottle of water. After sipping on the water, I handed it back. “How did you sleep?”

Instantly, my face felt like it was on fire, remembering how I fell asleep the night before, with his arm draped over my body. “Ok.”

A smile played around his mouth. “Never slept with a guy before?”

My face went supernova. I blustered for a moment before settling on, “have you?”

“Not with a guy, no.” A flash of jealousy shot through me at his words and I looked down. I wanted to hit myself. I barely knew the guy and already I was jealous of other girls.

I sighed. “Anything happen last night?”

The smile finally won dominance of his face, but he went with my topic. “One of the zombies tested your board this morning.” I started to sit up. “Relax. I fixed it so they can’t come in that way.”

“How?”

“The tool box in the shop comes apart.” He shrugged. “I just broke it down, brought it in here, and put it back together in front of the door. It’s heavy enough that they will have some serious trouble if they try to get in again.”

Abby shifted in her sleep and we both fell quiet. After a few seconds, she settled down again. “Can I ask you a favor?” I asked in an almost whisper. He lifted his eyebrow. “There is a notebook in my backpack, can you bring it to me? I really don’t want to wake Abby up.”

He nodded, stood up, and vanished. When he came back he was carrying the notebook, a pen, and some food. He settled down against the coolers again and handed me everything. The food was donuts.

“Journal?”

“Kind of.” I shrugged and ate a donut before shifting so I could write. “I wanted to make a record of what happens, just in case.”

He nodded but didn’t say anything else.

Go Back to Day 5 – or – Go to Day 7

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Comments
  1. cb says:

    “Raven didn’t do anything because he figured that if he ”

    River?

    • Cat Reyes says:

      Ahhhhhh! Ok. Fixed. LOL Thanks. Sometimes I wish document programs had the ability to keep an eye on names so that doesn’t happen. I caught myself doing it twice last night while writing today’s post.

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