Abby rolled over, yawned and opened her light brown eyes to look at me.


“Morning.” I grinned at her. “Do I look as bad as you guys?” I asked, studying Abby’s tangled mess of hair.


River gave me a weird look, “If we look as bad as you, no one is going to believe we’re human.” He shot to his feet and out of my reach when I tried to smack him.


“Very funny.” I said, closing my journal and shoving the pen into the spine. I threw the tarp off of Abby and I and got to my feet. Instantly a wave of dizziness swept over me. My ribs sent scorching waves of pain through my torso and my lungs felt like a huge band was tightening around them. River reached out a hand to steady me and I grabbed his arm, thankful for the help.


When I was able to stand on my own, River stepped farther out of reach, like he didn’t trust me not to hit him if I was close enough. The sad part is that it was exactly what I intended to do when I first stood up. Sadly, my ribs took any thought of play out of my mind. “We should get ready.” He said watching me for a moment longer before he went to the front windows and peered outside.


I helped Abby to her feet and we folded the tarp then took it, and my journal, and put them into the bags. I toyed with changing into the spare clothes still in my bag, but quickly decided against it. It felt wrong for me to change while they were unable to.


“You don’t want to look out front.” River commented, coming to join us.


“Why?” I asked, trying to shove the tarp into my backpack. Pain kept flaring up in my lungs as I struggled. I straightened up, frustrated at my aching ribs.


“Looks like a couple zombies had a fight or something.” He stepped around me, taking the tarp from my hands. The moment our skin touched, static electricity jumped between us. I jerked my hand away to rub the afflicted fingers. He gave me another look before stooping to work on the backpack.


“We should eat before we leave.” I pointed out. Other than the donut when I was writing in my journal, I hadn’t eaten anything and Abby was probably hungry. River nodded, sliding the tarp into the bag easily. I stooped long enough to fish around in the bags until I found a package of jerky and another package of donuts, acutely aware that River was watching my every move. I considered making a comment but realized he was probably just watching in case I had more problems with bending over.


“I think the truck is a stick.” I commented. I gave Abby a powdered donut and watched her bite into it.


“Mm.” River grunted accepting a proffered donut.


I rubbed my burning eyes. “I don’t know how to drive one.” I added, taking a donut for myself.


He glanced at me. “Do you have your license?”


I choked on the donut. “I doubt very seriously that I need a license to drive, especially now. Who’s gonna check?”


His face broke into a smile, the first I saw on him and it was startling. His smile brightened his face, the even white teeth standing in contrast with his skin. It was probably a better smile than Gabriel’s had been. And that’s saying something.


“I guess not.” He shook his head before looking outside again. “Can you drive at all?”


My face burned and I focused on helping Abby open a water bottle. “No.”


He grunted again as he stood up. Grabbing another donut and a stick of jerky he went to look out the windows again. “There are about eight out there that I can see.” Sunlight filtered in the window, highlighting his silhouette. I heard myself gasp and quickly went about handing Abby another donut. She accepted the donut after she gave me a confused look.


“I’m a girl. When you get old enough you will understand.” I muttered out of the edge of my mouth.


She shook her head and started eating her donut. River stepped up to the table, grabbed a couple more donuts and sticks of jerky before stepping back. “I’m going to check the windows in the garage.” He started to enter the shop but hesitated in the doorway.


“Oh, come on. I am not an invalid and I doubt very seriously that zombies are gonna come charging in here in the few seconds you look out the windows back there.” I groaned.


“Knock on wood.” He vanished into the darkness of the shop.


I waited until I was sure he was out of hearing before rapping my knuckles on the back of the bench seat. Abby jerked and I patted her shoulder.


“I heard that.” He called softly. I grinned.


Abby and I finished our breakfast and cleaned off the table. “Are you gonna eat?”


“Later. We should try to get out of here.” River appeared beside me, startling me. “I can’t see out those windows and I really didn’t want to open the door to look around until just before we move.”


I tossed the wrappers into the nearby garbage can. “Can you drive a stick shift?” He nodded. “Are we really going to be able to carry everything you packed?” I leaned my hip against the table top. Abby vanished into the shop to use the makeshift bathroom. It was really just a bucket, and from the looks of it, it had been used for oil before I confiscated it a few days ago. The only addition since then was the tarp River put up for privacy.


“How are you feeling?” He asked looking at me intently. He pressed the wrist of his hand against my forehead. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I was still cold. His wrist somehow felt colder than the air around me. River’s eyes widened.


“I think I still have the fever, but I feel better than yesterday.” He considered me for a second longer before pulling his arm away and nodding.


“Let’s check the bandage.”


I lifted my shirt. The bandage was in better shape than before, but there was some bleed-through. He retrieved the first aid kit and set to work. I bit my tongue to keep from crying out as he cleaned the gash, applied more ointment, and rewrapped my torso.


“Foot?” He asked. I slid into the bench seat and let him work on that as well. Then he handed me some more medicine. “You mentioned your mom is a nurse?” I nodded. “Maybe when we go to pick her up, we can get some more supplies. We’re running out and I doubt that your wounds are going to be our last.”


He didn’t say what I knew we were both thinking: ‘If she’s alive.’ I don’t think I could have handled it if he did. We already decided that she would be the first person we went for, mostly because of my ribs.


Abby reappeared as River worked on my foot. So, once he was done, it was time. I grabbed the backpack and put it on, wincing as the weight contracted muscles in my back and jarred my side. I took two more plastic bags in one hand. The other I held out for Abby when River finished putting a plastic bag on her like a backpack. He grabbed the duffle bag, the other bag, and the last two sacks.


He positioned himself at the door, unlocked it, then carefully opened it. I almost expected it to squeal as it swung open. The moment we stepped outside, my eyes began to water from the brightness of sun on snow. I blinked furiously to stop my eyes from blurring so I could look around.


There were no zombies between us and the truck, but there were two directly across the street from us, walking around like they were taking a stroll. Across the side street, another zombie shuffled  around the side of a craft shop. I recognized the blond hair of the zombie from the bar.


River nodded and we all walked cautiously toward the truck. From where we stood, I could see the blond zombie still walking away from us along the side of the craft store.


The passenger side door came open easily and I threw the two bags into the back seat. I pulled the bag from Abby, keeping my eyes on the blond head. I tossed her bag into the back, and then lifted her into the cab of the truck, grunting with the wave of pain and nausea. By that time, River reached the other side of the truck and opened the driver side door with a shriek. We both froze, looking at each other over the seats.


The zombies heard us. One of the two zombies on the other side of River let out a shriek that chilled my blood. The blond turned around and sluggishly headed for us.


Abby scrambled into the back as I fumbled with the straps of the backpack. I finally got the backpack off and shoved it behind the driver’s seat before launching myself into the cab and slamming the door. River was already climbing into his seat. His door squealed again when he shut it.


The truck wouldn’t start. It didn’t do anything more than make a hard clicking sound when he turned the ignition.


“Come on. Come on.” He moaned, trying again. I glanced over my seat to look at Abby. She met my gaze with wide brown eyes. Motion pulled my attention out the back windows of the truck. Zombies were oozing from the side streets in ones and twos. Not many yet, but I knew from my time in the tree that it wouldn’t take long for more to come.


“We have to get back inside.” I said, trying to keep my voice calm for Abby’s sake.


River hit the steering wheel with both hands. “Damn it!”


“River. We need to go. Now.” I told him, pushing my door open. The blond zombie was already at the back of the truck, close enough that I could see his staring eyes. I dropped from the cab and jerked the seat forward, reaching for Abby. She practically threw herself into my arms, her foot connecting with my ribs. I doubled over, nearly dropping her as pain roared through me.


“Cleo!” River shouted. A handgun, the one I had before, landed on the passenger seat. I put Abby down and grabbed it. Latching onto Abby’s hand, I staggered toward the still open door to the shop.


A handful of zombies had stumbled around the side of the building and as they came for us, moved between us and the door. Abby tripped, her hand sliding from mine. I turned to pull her to her feet when the blond zombie grabbed the hem of Abby’s skirt and pulled Abby out of my reach.


Another grabbed me from behind and I screamed. I aimed the gun at the woman’s head as she bent it closer to Abby and pulled the trigger.


Nothing happened. I screamed again. A hole appeared in the woman’s head, her eye suddenly vanishing in a flash of red. I had a dizzying second to wonder if my voice caused the explosion. There was a snap of sound and the zombie holding me suddenly pulled me back. We both hit the ground. The zombie’s arms fell away from the impact.


I scrambled to my feet, grabbed Abby’s arm and dragged her to me. Zombies around us began to drop through a series of sound explosions. Throwing Abby through the door to the garage, I plunged through the gateway. I barely moved to the side to find the door when River charged into the shop. He raised his gun and shot again, the gunshot sounding much louder. The sound hurt my ears, making them ring. I couldn’t cover my ears before he shot again. My eyes finally adjusted and I spotted the door as River shot the gun again.


A zombie crumpled just beyond the doorway, but its arm fell through the crack, making it impossible to close the door. Abby was the one who grabbed the limp arm and tossed it back toward the body. I shoved at the door to get it in place.


Just before the door met the frame, something struck the door from the other side. I staggered back with the force of it and nearly tripped. The door flew back open and two zombies started to come through. I threw myself at the door, ignoring the eruption of pain in my side. I felt the door hit the zombies, flinging them back, before snapping into place.


River landed next to me on the door as Abby’s hand appeared, locking it.


“Damn it!” River crowed, turning to punch the door.


“River!” I panted. “Abby. Please.” I meant his language. It was a silly thing to worry about with the zombies standing on the other side of the door, but it slid from my mouth. The door shuddered as the zombies started pounding against it.


River turned on me, ignoring my admonishment, and jerked the gun from my hand.  “What the hell happened?” He snarled, waving the gun in front of me. His face was contorted with anger.


“It didn’t work.” I grunted still leaning against the shaking door. My side felt like it was on fire. My lungs weren’t working right and  spots were appearing in my vision.


River did something to the gun before handing it back. “Check the damn safety next time!” He snapped.


Then Abby screamed. I jumped, trying to see her through the spots and darkness. Suddenly, River was jerked backwards off his feet.


In a flash, the gun in my hand went off. The jerk of the gun startled me even more than the fact that I had fired it.


The zombie clinging to River staggered back, still clutching at him. River yelled, seizing his arm. Blood started dripping through the gaps of his fingers. I shot River by accident. Instantly I felt terrible, but I tramped the feeling down and took careful aim before pulling the trigger. The creature’s head rocked back, but the thing still didn’t let go of River. It took two more shots before the head was a mass of blood and bone. Only then did it drop to the ground, pulling River with it.


River rolled away from the still body, shouting something at me. I watched his mouth move but I couldn’t hear the words. There was a waterfall echoing in my head. Abby grabbed my pant-leg and I whirled on her. She pointed at the doorway to the store.


Oh. I needed to check the store. I moved past River, who was trying to get to his feet, and through the door into the store. The board was still in place. I could see zombies moving past the windows toward the back. None considered the fact that the store was connected to the shop.


My arms were shaking with the effort of keeping the gun raised. It may not have been heavy, but I wasn’t used to holding an object out in front of me like that.


Something grabbed my shoulder and I screamed before a hand clamped over my mouth. Over the thumb, I saw the zombies at the window shamble to a halt and look around, listening. I could feel something breathing against my ear. My hair lifted with each exhale, tickling the skin at my neck.


It shouldn’t have taken me so long to realize that River was holding me against him. That it had been his hand on my shoulder, his other covering my mouth.


And then the image of the zombie’s head being decimated replayed itself in my mind. The zombie had been someone’s brother. Someone’s son. Someone’s friend. Tears burned my eyes before freeing themselves to race down my cheeks. I tasted salt, but I couldn’t say whether it was from my tears or the hand.


I dropped the gun and pried the hand from my mouth before doubling over to start retching. Cool hands collected my hair and pulled it away from my face. I could tell River was talking to me, because he was still pressed to me and I could feel the vibrations in his body. But I couldn’t hear. The ringing in my ears was muting everything else.


Abby appeared with a package of paper towels when I finished. I sagged to the floor in the door jam and watched them clean up the mess. Neither said anything, but they both kept shooting glances at me or, in the case of River, at the window.


When I finally followed his glances, I felt my heart leap in my chest. Arms had appeared through the crack between the frame of the front door and the board. I could see the glass of the windows rattling with the zombies’ attention. River said something to Abby, who looked at him blankly. I realized then that none of us could hear.


The mess finally cleaned up, he grabbed Abby’s hand and pulled her after him to get plastic bags and start shoving things into them. It took me a second to remember that the packed bags were still in the truck. I finally pushed myself off the floor to help.


We stuffed everything we could into the bags, but before we were even halfway done, River grabbed my arm and jerked me toward the shop. The zombies managed to break one of the windows, but I hadn’t heard it. They were climbing through when we reached the door. River pulled me through behind him and Abby shut the door.


Inside the shop, it was almost pitch black. I couldn’t tell if River or Abby locked the door and I still couldn’t hear anything. It was like I was completely numb, or stuck in this weird bubble. I knew my side should be hurting, or my foot, or something, only I couldn’t feel anything. My arms were still shaking, except it was more of an afterthought than anything else.


It was hours before I could hear again, and then it came back in stages. River had thought to grab candles, so we had two lit. One next to the makeshift bathroom and one between the three of us.


He had me help him with his arm, but there wasn’t much we could do. The first aid kit was in the truck, too. Luckily the bullet only grazed him. I found some paper towels and pressed them against the scrape until it stopped bleeding. “I’m sorry.” His head was tilted away so I doubted that he heard me.


The first sound I heard was the zombies beating on both doors. But it was like I was listening to sounds coming from the other side of a long tunnel. River would try to talk to me, but it was too muffled to actually make any sense.


Abby climbed into my lap and fell asleep. River moved the body of the zombie to the other side of the car, but it did nothing for the smell. It was a mixture of burnt flesh, blood, a faint hint of rotten meat, and a scent that was somewhat similar to an outhouse.


I started noticing a shift in the temperature, too sudden to be anything other than me. It would be warm for a few minutes, then cold for a much longer period.


“I’m sorry.” I tried again as he settled next to me. My voice sounded garbled and amplified.


“You need to practice shooting.” He replied, almost shouting to be heard. Abby stiffened in my lap. I stroked her hair.


“Yeah.” We fell silent.


I fell asleep that way, sitting next to him with Abby huddled in my lap. I would wake up every once in a while to realize sound was becoming clearer, but then would blank out again.


River checked my ribs and foot again, but since we didn’t have a kit, he left them open to the air. Every breeze caused my ribs to ache thunderously.


I had to use paper from the office to write my entry on. My journal is in the truck, too. My hearing has returned for the most part. Everything still sounds a little muffled. I can hear the keening of the zombies and River doesn’t have to shout to be heard.


Abby borrowed some paper and started writing something. She won’t show me what it is. Maybe she’s drawing. I can’t remember if kids her age are taught to write. I guess I will find out when she’s done.


River just broke one of the windows in the garage door. The windows are small enough that nothing more than a hand can pass through. I guess it’s time to see about practicing shooting. I don’t think it’s a good idea. The last time I shot in here, it made us all deaf. But I guess survival is a little more important than hearing. Do you need to hear to survive?


Go Back to Day 6 – or – Go to Day 8


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