I prefer living with the zombies.

I think I am starting to understand why my mom doesn’t want me to be around Mel. There should be a rule about people like him not being able to look like jolly ole Saint Nick. Did you know he hates kids? Wait, of course you don’t. I didn’t know so how could you? Well, the guy hates kids. Now you know. So do I.

I am so frustrated I barely slept last night. Oh man, yesterday was the worst day of my life.

First, Gabriel and River decide to play tug-o-war and I’m the freaking rope. I take back my thoughts that it would be thrilling to have two guys waging some kind of war over you. Girls, you have been warned. Then, Mel… Well, I better start after I finished writing yesterday morning.

I just finished writing when someone knocked on the door. Thinking it was River, I practically bounded out of bed. I didn’t think of closing my journal. Abby sat up in surprise to watch me.

We slept in our clothes, but there wasn’t exactly a surplus of clothes for either of us. I didn’t know where spare clothes were kept and hadn’t thought to ask the day before. Both Abby’s and my hair were rats’ nests but I didn’t care. Until I opened the door.

It wasn’t River. It was Gabriel.

I must have looked like a fish with my mouth hanging open like that. But I was shocked. I mean, I was kinda thinking it would be cool if both Gabriel and River were both interested in me. And there he was, standing there.

The first logical thought that came into my head was that it must have been a mistake. He was looking for someone else and came to my cabin by accident.

But then he said “hey” and smiled at me. My face instantly rivaled the heat of the bonfire the night before.

“Hi.” I replied intelligently. I glanced back at Abby to see that she was just as surprised as I was.

“Can I come in?”

I pulled the door closer to me, almost closing it. “Why?” It came out sounding suspicious.

He laughed. “I just wanted to come by and see how things were going for you.”

I frowned at him. “Everything’s fine.”

“Come on, Cleo. I won’t bite.”

I sighed and stepped aside, holding the door open for him. He came inside and glanced around the room. I hated it. The room, I mean. It was so barren. There were no items that identified who the place belonged to. If it weren’t for Abby still sitting in bed and my journal next to her, I wouldn’t have thought it was mine.

“So.” He said. He moved to sit on the foot of the disorderly bed when he spotted my journal. In an instant, he was around the bed, reaching for it. “What’s this?” I took a step forward, my mouth opening to stop him.

Abby has to be one of the most wonderful, intelligent, talented, and charming kids on this entire planet. She snatched the journal before he could touch it and clutched it to her chest. Then she scrambled awkwardly out of bed and stumbled over to me.

Gabriel’s eyebrows shot up as he looked between the two of us. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

My face flushed again. “It’s just a journal.” I said, holding my hand out for it. Abby gave it to me with a small smile. I rubbed her head. “Thanks.”

“Yours?”

“I don’t know if Abby knows how to write yet.” I admitted. Then something popped into my head. “Do you know if they have a school set up for the older kids?”

He shrugged and sat down. “I don’t think anyone’s thought of it. Right now, everything’s about getting supplies.”

I walked around him, aware that Abby was following close enough to be a miniature shadow in human shape, and shoved my journal into the nightstand drawer. When I turned back to him, I saw his eyes locked on the nightstand. “It’s just a log of what happened. It’s kinda stupid, but I feel like people should know. You know, in case we survive this. Or, in case…” I couldn’t finish it out loud. In case someone found this compound after we were gone.

He lifted his sky blue eyes and regarded me for a minute. “That’s actually not a bad idea.” He stood up and stepped closer to me. I started to step back but remembered Abby pressed against the backs of my legs. “Maybe you should start, I don’t know, interviewing others. Get some of the stories from here, what these people went through.”

“I am not good with… talking to people.”

“You have to stop hiding, Cleo. You have a good mind and some good ideas.” A small thrill went through me. But I stamped it out. He doesn’t know me, how would he know if I was smart or not.

Someone knocked on the door. My heart dropped into my stomach, knowing who was standing outside. I walked around Gabriel and opened the door. And for the second time that morning, surprise choked me. Mel was standing on the cabin’s stoop, cowboy hat in hand. He had taken the time to clip his hair and beard since the night before.

Almost perfectly repeating Gabriel, he said “hey.”

“Hey, Mel.” Gabriel sat back down on the foot of the bed. Mel’s eyebrows rose as he looked past me toward the teenager.

“Oh. You’re busy.” He stepped back. “I just wanted to,” he hesitated, his eyes catching Abby clutching to my legs. “Thank you for what you did yesterday. You know, with the kids.”

River appeared behind him, looking at me with curiosity plainly written on his face.

I gave him a grateful smile before replying to Mel. “No problem. I didn’t want Abby to keep getting punished. She just doesn’t talk.” Realizing my mouth was moving, I closed it.

Something told me that Mel thought my smile was for him, instead of the dark haired boy behind him. “Yes, well. Would you like company for breakfast?” Mel asked.

Suddenly the room was extremely cold. I fought to keep from shuddering. There was no way I was going to have dinner with a guy that may have looked like Santa, but reminded me of an eel. Not to mention the fact that he could have been my grandfather. At that thought, I did shudder.

I could feel when Gabriel moved up behind me. “I was going to ask her the same thing.” He commented.

I thought the floor was going to vanish beneath my feet. It was too weird. I looked over Mel’s head at River, who looked like he was trying not to laugh.

“Uh.” I started, sounding like a frog. I cleared my throat. “Actually, Abby and I already have plans.” I grabbed her hand and stepped out of the cabin, around Mel, and up to River. “Get me out of here.” I hissed. My cheeks felt numb with cold. River nodded to the men behind me and grabbed my free hand.

The movement surprised me. His hand was warm but not hot or too moist. It wasn’t too dry either. He squeezed my fingers. “I think we are having cereal.” He commented tugging lightly at me.

I started walking with him, the men behind me completely forgotten.

Breakfast was a quiet affair. Most of the people around us were silently eating food or sipping at cups of coffee, still bleary eyed. And most of them were men.

“What was that all about?” River asked quietly, picking through a muffin. They tasted more like bread than muffins, even though they were obviously supposed to be muffins. I didn’t bother with cereal for myself, but made sure Abby had both.

“Honestly, I am starting to get tired of people asking me that.” I grumbled without looking at him. “I have no clue what’s going on with any of you.”

River sat back in his chair. I could feel his eyes on me as I popped another piece of muffin into my mouth.

“Any of- Cleo, am I doing something wrong?”

I looked up at him. “Tell me what’s going on between you and Gabriel, and I will tell you if you’re doing something wrong.”

His face shuttered, growing blank. “I don’t like him.”

“That’s obvious.” I went back to my muffin.

“I have met guys like him all my life, Cleo. They are the popular guys. The guys who think they deserve everything that is handed to them on a silver platter without any amount of effort.” He sighed and leaned forward. Bracing his elbows on the table, he settled his chin in his hands. “I like you, Cleo.”

I stiffened, my mouth going dry. “You don’t know me.”

“I know that you write. I know that you are a caring person. A strong person. I know that you survived for days on your own, most of that time without anything to protect you. I think that it shows you are not only strong, but smart and creative. I see you with Abby and know that you would protect her until the end of time. And that tells me that you are extremely loyal.” His eyes fell on the girl sitting beside me. “She knows it, too. And I think she would do the same for you.” His comment made me think of the journal. I looked down at her and smiled, brushing her hair away from her face. She continued eating without looking at either of us.

“I may not know your favorite animal, your favorite color, or food, or flower, or movie. I don’t know your favorite band, or what your favorite holiday is. But I think I know the most important things about you, the rest is pretty trivial.” He added before leaning back.

I was blushing. I could feel the heat spreading from my throat to my face and finally ending at my ears.

He grabbed his muffin and started eating again. I don’t know what he expected me to say. I never saw myself that way. “Thanks.” I finally muttered. But I couldn’t say the words back to him. I like you didn’t seem to be the right thing to say. He made me feel stronger when he was around. Sure, I liked him. But, other than what he told me about his family, I didn’t know him.

“I have to go on another supply run.” He said, breaking the silence.

I lifted my head and looked at him. “Are they daily or something?”

He nodded. “Yeah. But it’s starting to bother me. We don’t really go for anything more than stores.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his chair on its back legs. “We only aim for things like liquids, packaged foods, and canned goods. Sometimes we go for other things, like toilet paper.” I could see that it really did bother him, but I wasn’t getting it. “We should be getting other things. Medicine. Clothing. Blankets.” He suddenly smiled and added, “pens and paper.”

“I noticed that they get beer.”

He nodded. “I don’t see it as a necessity.” He shrugged.

I considered what he said as we finished eating. “After a while, supplies are going to run out, even with the daily supply runs.” I said, toying with the fork on my tray. “And we are going to run out of room sooner or later. I mean, if we keep rescuing people.”

“That’s the other things. We don’t.” River said softly.

“What?”

He sighed. “Maybe it’s just because I’ve been on the one run. But they didn’t go any further into the towns than the stores.”

I thought about my father. Then about myself and River before we met up at the store. “What if people are holed up in their homes? Or if they are stuck in buildings that you guys aren’t searching?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

We took our trays to the tubs and walked Abby to the room for the kids. I recognized the woman from the day before. She was the one who told me the kids were safe.

The moment she saw me, her face brightened into a broad smile. She came to us and hugged me tight enough that it caused my ribs to start burning. “Oh, sorry. I forgot.” She blushed, putting a hand to my injured side. “I just wanted to thank you. I had no idea. I mean, Richard didn’t say anything to me about it.” She continued on and I tuned her out.

She wasn’t much older than me. Maybe early twenties. Her hair was the same shade as mine, a rich dark brown that could have been considered dark chocolate. Her eyes were a cross between gray and brown and set a little wide over a thin nose and mouth. She was almost too thin in general. But her personality was almost overpowering. She was one of those happy-go-lucky people who wanted to be friends with everyone they came in contact with. I hadn’t noticed this side of her when she was washing laundry, but then I hadn’t really been paying attention.

She held her hand out to me, looking expectant.

“I’m sorry. I spaced off for a moment.”

She laughed. “I’m Maggie. I know you’re Cleo.” We shook hands and she turned to River. “And you’re River.” They shook, River’s expression revealing his confusion. “Oh, we have little more to do around here than gossip.”

“How do you like it here?” I asked, looking for Abby amongst the heads of the kids. She was sitting in the far corner with a doll.

Maggie’s smile faltered for a second. “It’s safe. There’s food. And other people. That’s all I can ask for Richard and me.” She indicated a little red-headed kid who looked to be around seven or eight years old.

“Where’s his father?” River asked.

She blushed a furious red. “Oh, he’s probably dead.” She said completely without remorse. Our shock must have shown on our faces because she smiled and added, “I was living in Washington when I met him. We got together just before my parents and I moved out here. Then I found out I was pregnant. I was able to let him know, but he wouldn’t claim Richard as his and refused to talk to me.” She shrugged. “Guys have it easy. They just point and shoot.” She elbowed my uninjured side lightly. “It’s us girls who have to put up with the consequences.”

Then she eyed us. “Is she yours?”

I spluttered and River coughed a strange laugh. “Uh. No. Actually, we don’t know whose she is. We think her parents are…” I let the sentence drop.

She blushed again. “Oh, sorry, I just thought that… well, you are awfully protective of her. I just assumed-.”

“I don’t think either of us is old enough for kids.” River interrupted.

She sized him up for a moment. “You’d be surprised.” Then she surveyed her charges before she brightened again. “There’s a bulletin board out there,” she waved a hand toward the parking lot, “that everyone uses to post missing family members. That way if the supply trips rescue someone, they are able to find out who they belong to.”

I stared at her. That was one thing that Mel’s little tour didn’t include. “Where is it?”

Maggie looked at me and laughed. “Just outside the restaurant doors.”

I didn’t say anything, just turned and ran from the room. I reached the board and wished that I hadn’t run. My side felt like it was split open and it was hard to breathe. Hearing footsteps on the gravel behind me, I turned to see River walking casually toward me.

“You shouldn’t-.” He started when he reached me.

“Run. I know. I just…” I turned my attention to the board. It was filled with papers. Some were tiny slips, others were full pages. I started scanning through them before I realized that River was leaning on a post behind me.

“Aren’t you going to look?”

He shook his head, his face growing pale. “I have no one left.”

Then I remembered. He watched his family die in front of him. “I-I’m sorry.” I stammered, suddenly feeling like the words couldn’t portray exactly how bad I felt for reminding him.

He lifted one shoulder and let it drop. I wanted to do something. Hug him maybe. But before I could decide what I would do, a man came jogging up to us.

“It’s time to go, Raven.” The man said.

“River.” River corrected. “I will be back soon.” He added to me before trotting down the steps. The two men headed down the driveway.

“Be careful.” I shouted after them. River’s hand shot up, but he didn’t look back.

I watched them climb into the beds of the two trucks waiting for them. Then the trucks pulled down into the road and vanished from sight.

Sighing, I turned back to the board. The papers contained names, ages, and basic descriptions. After a while, I found an Abigail, but it was for a woman in her thirties. Another Abigail was for an even older woman. The last Abigail was a seven year old, but the girl was blond with blue eyes.

While I was looking at the list, I also scanned to see if my father’s name was there. It was, hidden under several other pieces of paper. Under his name, age and description was my info, but it was crossed out. I recognized my mom’s fluid writing. And the dots on the paper that showed she was crying when she wrote out our information.

Suddenly, I wanted to see her. It took a while, but I finally found her in the kitchens. She and several other women were working on the next meal, dinner, and washing dishes from breakfast. Looking around, I saw two other teen girls, but I didn’t recognize them.

Everyone looked tired and drawn. Even my mom, whose arms were up to the elbows in dishwater. She would wash a dish, hand it to the girl next to her, who would rinse it off using a ladle and bucket of water. The girl would then stack them on a drain board which was almost overflowing.

It took me a few more minutes to find a towel and join them. Grabbing a dish at a time, I started drying.

We worked in silence for a while, before I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Mom, what happened to you? How did you get here?”

The rinse girl, maybe a year older than me, looked up at me. She didn’t say anything, but watched me long enough that the hairs on my arms lifted. Then she went back to rinsing.

“Cleo, I don’t-.”

“Mom. I can handle it.” I quickly told her what happened to me as I worked. When I finished, I looked up to see her watching me with a strange look on her face. “What?”

“Just.” She shook her head. “You were really lucky.”

I shrugged. “Getting stuck in a tree with only canned food to eat and dropping the only can-opener I had is not something I consider lucky.”

“I think… I may be the one who drew the zombies away, Cleo.” She went back to washing the dishes. “And I think I may have been the one you heard calling your name.”

I studied her for a moment, a plate in my hand. “How is that?”

“Well. We were serving lunch when we noticed that one of the nurses on duty was missing. She was at the desk one moment, gone the next. One of the residents passed away earlier in the day and we were waiting for the ambulance to pick them up. But it bothered everyone that the nurse was missing.

“I went to find her. She collapsed in the bathroom. We had to get the maintenance guy, the one you don’t like, to open the door.” My stomach twisted at the thought of the maintenance guy. He was a total jerk. For some reason, he thought he was better than everyone in the place. One of the days I went to visit my mom at work, I heard him ordering one of the nurses around, telling her how to do her job.

My mom continued with a haunted look marring her face. “She was just lying there. Blood was coming from her nose, so we just assumed she tripped and hit her head on the sink. We took her down to the resident’s room and the resident was missing.” She stopped and scrubbed at the bottom of a pot for a few minutes.

“We couldn’t find the body in the room, so we were starting to look around when people started screaming in the dining room. I don’t think I will ever forget it. We ran down there and the resident, the one who was dead… she had dragged another resident to the floor and was tearing into his stomach.”

She stopped again. This time so long that I thought she wouldn’t continue. Just before I prompted her, she started speaking again. “We barricaded ourselves into one of the resident’s rooms. We tried to stop them, but they just kept moving. Another nurse and I managed to save one of the residents.

“Pure luck would have us in a room that had a door leading outside. We got to Jenny’s truck, loaded Emily inside and left. But then our luck ran out. Just as we were reaching town, the truck ran out of gas. I offered to head into town to get help and started walking. Just as I reached the city limits, I ran into some of the people from here. They helped to get Jenny and Emily, but I wouldn’t leave. I wanted to get you and your father. So they dropped me off in town, told me where to find them if I found you, and left.

“I was almost home when I heard someone crying for help. I thought it was you, but it wasn’t. There was a girl who had been bitten pretty badly. Those things were after her. So I pulled us into a house just down the street from you.

“The woman died. But by then there was a group of zombies around the house and it was getting dark. I decided to stay there. In the morning, the woman was awake and standing over me. It took another day before I could reach the house, and I saw them climbing into our bedroom window. I thought the worst, but I still hoped you were alright.” She finally looked at me. “I was in the garage across the street when I saw you leave the backdoor. I called to you then, but I guess you didn’t hear me.

“I wanted to run after you, but they were everywhere.” She stopped washing dishes and came over to me and dried her hands on the towel I was holding before she cupped my face and looked straight into my eyes. “I wanted to come for you, honey.” Her eyes filled with tears.

“I know, mom.”

She tilted my head so she could kiss my forehead, then hugged me. “I heard the screams. I thought it was you.” She started to shake. “But I couldn’t do anything. It was the worst night of my life. I couldn’t leave the garage until the next night when the zombies around it finally left.

“I found a flashlight in the garage. It was still dark. But I had to know. I followed the path you had taken. I stopped when I saw a crowd of them gathered in the front of the house. I thought you were inside it. I did the stupidest thing. I was so hopeful you were alive. I just started calling for you.

“Those things turned on me and I ran. I knew if you were alive and safe, then I needed to stay alive, too. I was downtown when I ran into a family who were leaving. They just grabbed me from the street.” She stopped and held me at arm’s length. “I didn’t want to leave, but they didn’t give me a choice. I realized as we were leaving town that if I was going to save you, I needed to get help. So I told them where to go and we ended up here.

“I told everyone what happened, but no one… Well, Mr. Jackson believed you were alive. But no one else did. And he couldn’t get anyone to go to town with him to get you. It took him a while to convince them to even go there for supplies.” She shook her head. “The first time they went, they came back with supplies, but no rescues. I admit that I thought the worst.” She pushed a strand of hair behind my ear and gave me a shaky smile. “But then you came on the second trip and were unconscious.”

She hugged me again, kissing my forehead as she did. “Don’t ever scare me like that again.”

I couldn’t help it. I snorted. “I will do my best not to be involved in a zombie apocalypse for the rest of my life.”

She released me and swatted my shoulder. “You’d better not.”

I realized then that everyone in the room had stopped working. Some of the women were watching us. Most were crying. A few were studiously staring at the walls or floor. Looking at them, I felt bad. How many of them have yet to see their families? How many of them never would?

“Sorry.” I whispered.

That one word broke the spell. Everyone went back to work. This time, people were talking quietly amongst themselves.

I worked for a while longer before my side started aching and my mom sent me to our cabin to take my pills. I stayed there for the rest of the day. I was tired enough that I wanted to take a nap, but when I lay down, my mind became active. I could picture what happened to my mom in my mind.

I didn’t realize that I was crying until the bell rang for dinner and I sat up. The air chilled the water on my cheeks. I tried to wipe my face, but I didn’t think it cleaned up all the evidence of my tears.

I ran into River on the way to dinner. He looked as tired as I felt. The moment I saw him, I couldn’t stop myself from going up to him and throwing my arms around his waist. He stiffened at the contact for a moment before he hugged me back.

Then he cupped my chin and forced me to look at him. “Are you ok?”

I nodded. “Where’s Abby?”

“Eating dinner with your mom.” He draped his arm over my shoulders as we went into the dining hall. Gabriel and Mel were both at the table with Abby and my mom.

River noticed them, too, but didn’t say anything. We grabbed our trays and sat down next to Abby. She surveyed us with solemn eyes before returning to her own plate.

“How old is she?” Mel asked loudly.

“She’s five.” I replied.

“She’s not yours.” It was a statement. He was staring at Abby openly, a slight curl to his mouth. She was sitting stiff in her chair, her eyes focused on her plate.

I glanced at River and he shrugged. “No, she’s not.”

“Why is she with you, then?” The way he said the words struck me wrong and I turned to look at him.

“Her name is Abby. And she has no one else.”

He met my gaze and for a moment, I felt like we were having a contest of wills. I felt my mom’s hand on my arm. Just a brief touch, but it caused me to look at her.

“She should be with another family then.” Mel stated, taking a bite of the food in front of him.

“Why?”

That caught him off guard. “What?”

“Why should she be with someone else?”

“She’s not yours.” He said as if that was reason enough.

“In a way, she is.” I replied, ignoring when my mom touched my shoulder again.

Then he said something that turned my blood to ice. “She should have been left where she was.”

River’s chair scraped the floor as he stood up. I automatically reached a hand out and snagged his arm but didn’t look at him. “Why?” My voice was as cold as my skin. My mom grabbed my shoulder, her fingers digging into the flesh through the jacket.

“She’s a drain on resources. She doesn’t contribute and has no one with her who contributes in order for her to stay.” Obviously, Mel wasn’t aware of everyone’s reactions. People from other tables were now staring at us. A few people looked completely shocked. I glanced at Gabriel to see how he was taking it, and his face was hard as rock as he looked at the Santa look-alike.

“We do our share.” River ground out.

Mel finally looked up from his food. His eyes widening as he noticed the faces around him. He must have realized that he was making a mistake because he shrugged. “I was simply curious.” He said.

I hadn’t eaten a bite of food, but suddenly, I didn’t want it. I didn’t grab our trays to put them up. I let go of River, picked Abby up from her chair and strode out of the room, fully aware of all the eyes that were on me. I could feel Abby shaking in my arms and thought about going back to kick Mel in his Santa-like face.

It wasn’t until I reached our cabin that I realized my mom, River, and Gabriel had followed us. River and my mom, I understood. Gabriel, not so much. I let us all inside climbing onto the bed Abby and I shared and just held her.

For once, the two men didn’t seem to be worried about each other. Gabriel sat at the table with my mom while River sat next to me on the bed so he could touch Abby.

I stroked Abby’s hair until her shaking subsided and my anger ebbed. Finally, I looked at my mom. “That guy is insane.”

“I don’t disagree.” She said, surprising me with the anger in her tone.

“Something needs to be done about this.” Gabriel added from his spot before glancing at me. “I have no respect for anyone who’s willing to throw a child out simply because she doesn’t have a family.”

“It’s worse than that.” River agreed. “The fact that he could be so callous about her, and he knew that she may have seen her family…” He stopped and touched her cheek.

There was a slight tap at the door. Gabriel was the one who went to answer it. It was easy to tell that we all thought it would be Mel. My mom and River both stiffened. Gabriel hesitated at the door before sucking in a large breath, somehow appearing to swell before he opened the door. Outside was Mr. Jackson, his wife and his two sons.

I hadn’t thought to seek Alex or Juanita out since seeing Mr. Jackson at the shop. Mr. Jackson ushered his family inside before joining them. Gabriel closed the door behind them.

Juanita was instantly beside River and me, peering intently into Abby’s face. “Such an Angelita.” She murmured reaching out to stroke Abby’s hair. River stood up and went to stand with Mr. Jackson where he leaned against the counter, letting Juanita sit next to me. “May I hold her?” The thick jersey accent made me smile.

“Would that be ok, Abby?” I asked the girl in my arms. She sat up and looked at the tiny Hispanic woman, then slowly nodded before climbing into her open arms.

Juanita started rocking Abby and humming under her breath.

Mr. Jackson cleared his throat. “I am starting to think that there is something wrong with Melburn.”

“We aren’t the only ones, dad.” Alex said.

“Alejandro!” Juanita hissed. “You better not talk like that outside this room.” Then she leveled us all with a stare, still managing to rock Abby and hum around her words. “None of you should.”

Mr. Jackson sighed. “She’s right. But Alex is right, too. People are starting to become unhappy with the way things are run.”

“So are we talking a takeover?” Gabriel asked, leaning against the door.

“No.” Andrew said. “At least, not yet. Melburn isn’t saying things that people really disagree with.”

That sent chills over my skin. “How could people turn away a child?” I wanted to know.

“Because he’s right, she’s a drain on resources.” Andrew replied. As if realizing that I was getting angry, he lifted his hands into the air. “Hey, I don’t think so, myself. But in a way, it’s true. The children can’t contribute to our survival. They can’t go on supply runs or really do chores. All they can do is eat and sleep.”

“Easy, Cleo.” Mr. Jackson said. “It’s not that people don’t want to help the kids, but the fact of the matter is that people are more concerned with themselves and their families.”

“We are putting in our time for Abby.” My mom said softly from her seat. Her hand was wrapped over her forehead like she was getting a headache.

“Actually, you aren’t. Cleo can’t do any major work until her ribs heal. You are working for both her and Abby until she can.” Mr. Jackson said calmly.

“Aren’t there other families with one adult and more than one kid?” I asked.

“Actually… no. Not that I can think of.” Andrew said, running a hand through his hair. “Few kids actually survived.” He looked at me, then at the other boys. “With you three and my brother, there are only nine teenagers here.”

“Nine?” Gabriel asked, surprise lining his voice.

“What about Melburn? Is there anything we can do about him?” River asked, redirecting the topic.

“Until he does something that really upsets people, we can’t. The division of labor bothered some people, but most have gone with it. The comment about Abby-.” Mr. Jackson started.

“Cleo and her mother aren’t the only ones to lay claim to Abby.” River said. “I do, too.”

“And I will.” Gabriel added a second later. Everyone turned to look at him. “I don’t have any family here either. Abby and I are in the same boat.” I mentally added River to the boat, but it still surprised me.

Gabriel met my gaze for a second before I looked away. I suddenly understood. He wasn’t doing it for Abby. The knowledge was both comforting and alarming.

“As I was saying,” Mr. Jackson said, “the comment about Abby may have bothered more people, but again, he’s not saying anything that isn’t true.” He met my gaze. “Frankly, we agree with you, Cleo. But we also understand his point. That’s why we came. You need to be careful.”

“The fact is that Melburn will try to keep your mom around, and maybe these two,” Andrew motioned to River and Gabriel, “but he will make you and Abby leave if he feels that he can.”

Andrew’s words turned my stomach to stone. Mr. Jackson pushed away from the counter and nodded to Juanita, who whispered something to Abby. Abby slid from her lap before climbing from the bed to vanish into the bathroom.

“We have seen him do it before.” Juanita said softly as she stood. “Before there were so many people here.”

Mr. Jackson nodded. “It’s true.” He sighed, leading his family to the cabin door. “Keep your head down, Cleo, boys. Stay out of Melburn’s way and don’t cause trouble.”

The family trooped out the door, leaving us in shocked silence. It wasn’t long before Gabriel and River followed suit.

River stopped at the door to look at me as Abby came back from the bathroom. “Breakfast?”

I stared at him for a moment before nodding. Then he too was gone.

My mom had me take some more pain killers and we all went to bed. I don’t think any of us fell asleep for a while. But I heard when Abby and mom did. Most of the night was spent tossing and turning for me.

I really do prefer zombies to this.

Go Back to Day 9 – or – Go to Day 11

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Comments
  1. cb says:

    “It’s time to go, Raven.” The man said.

    “River.” River corrected.

    Clever, very clever 🙂

  2. cb says:

    Blaze – if you are reading this, this is the perfect example of what I was talking about. I had a long eloquent post typed out on my iPad 1, but I needed to go to another website for more info. The browser burped and I lost it all. This post will be shorter and less eloquent. 😦

    Chrystina – This is really good! The classic morality play of people trying to restructure society after it all falls apart. Could be zombies, plague, war … You are dealing with the people. You are developing rich characters that the reader begins to relate to. I am really enjoying this. As one writer to another, are you writing this day-by-day or do you already have the “end game” mapped out in you mind?

    On a related topic with a totally different perspective, invite you to read my own Day 42 serialized novel from the beginning http://contrafactual.com/2013/07/11/hzv-day-42/

    • Cat Reyes says:

      I keep trying to think of a way to explain without sounding like an idiot or completely bonkers. But to me, what is happening to Cleo is completely natural. As I pointed out, its in human nature to have a hierarchy. In that way, we are very much like the animals we share this planet with. There are those who have natural talents for leading, others who want to lead but have no skills, those with the skills who won’t lead, and those who have neither the skills or the aptitude for it. I think it was speech class that pointed out that people will automatically establish a leadership. Sometimes we choose leaders for the wrong reasons. I don’t want to give anything away, but keep that in mind.

      But its more than establishing order or structure. It’s about realizing that it’s the people who decide what will happen. Kinda like what you said “could be zombies, plague, war…” You are right, the fact that my story deals with zombies is not the point of the story. Sometimes, people think its the plot that makes the story. But really, it’s the character’s reaction to the plot that determines the story.

      For several years now, I have been curious about people. Partly to understand how to create realistic characters, I admit, but partially because people do things that I just don’t understand. I am fascinated with the choices other people make. Why that car? Why that job? Even the horrific choices, why does a mother kill her kids? What was Hitler thinking? I am not even close to understanding what makes people behave in certain ways. I guess I will always be a student of man.

      In a way, some of these characters are based off people I have really met. River… he’s based off my husband, but at the same time, he has evolved into someone completely different. No, he’s not a Native American, though when I first created him, I toyed with it. His parents were more hippies than anything else. Kinda like Cleo’s parents’ fascination with Egyptian history. Mel is based off of a variety of people I have known through my lifetime. I guess the secret comes in being able to see these people and think about how they would react if something happened.

      I am seriously glad you enjoy this. I have general ideas about what will happen. I have ideas for what will happen until day… 20(?) I think. But the story is taking a life of it’s own. I can tell you that the last two posts have strayed from the things I assigned to them. They touch some things I planned to cover in more detail, but for the most part, its their story now.

      Just as a for instance. My plan was to have Mel and Cleo butt heads. But I can tell you that it will be worse than that. Already signs are pointing for a very different situation between Mel and Cleo.

      Mostly its a day-to-day posting. As far as an end-game? Well, I have several ideas to play with, but with all the changes happening (blame Cleo and the others) it could go any of those ways.

      But there is still plenty of time. There are a few more things I want to cover before I even think about wrapping it up.

      🙂 I read it. I thought it was good. Is the story published?

      • cb says:

        Re the Day 42 series: it is on-going and currently only exists online. Unlike you, I am addressing a variety of topics on my blog including a variety of science fiction topics, personal history, current events, and my cats.

      • Cat Reyes says:

        I saw that. I wanted to stick with a purely fictional theme throughout this blog. But I have been toying with opening another blog for ideas, opinions… all the normal every day boring things I tend to think about. So far, I am not sure if I will have the time. I am also in school right now so time is something I have little of. 🙂

      • cb says:

        Writing is a full-time job, whether you have time for it or not. 🙂

      • Cat Reyes says:

        Tell me about it. I think about it even when doing school work. I still have to do a paper on Ulysses. UGH! LOL

  3. cb says:

    Where is Day 11?

    You’re not writing fast enough 🙂

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