I still didn’t understand it. Mel had to know that I wanted to go on the runs, I thought I made it clear before. Maybe it slipped his mind.

My mom wasn’t too happy about it, though. Neither were River or Abby. Since the fight, Gabriel and River weren’t put on the same teams. Gabriel was going, so River couldn’t. However, Mr. Jackson and his son Andrew were on the team and made the typical promises of keeping me safe. As if I am some kind of two year old disobedient kid. Well, ok, I admit to being disobedient.

We went straight through Wild Horse, where I lived, and on to River Forge. There we pulled into the parking lot of Golden Harvest Foods. I looked around at the deserted streets and was reminded of the movies I watched.

Trash bags sitting in the driveways of nearby houses were ripped open and litter lined the streets. Cars were sitting open everywhere, including inside houses, left where they stood as people ran away trying to dodge the apocalypse. One car had driven right into the grocery store. Bricks and other debris cluttered the asphalt around the end of the car that was still visible.

When I started to get out of the truck, Mr. Jackson leaned against it, pushing it shut. The door clicked with his pressure alone. I frowned at him through the glass that separated us. He signaled me to roll down the window. “Stay here. We can’t watch out for you while we work.” I opened my mouth to refuse when he slid his hand into the window and dropped a pistol into my lap. “Pretend you’re the lookout and we are robbing the place.”

Then everyone was gone. I watched as the last man slid into the store and sat back. Didn’t they have someone to watch their way out? That bothered me. Movement out of the corner of my eye had my heart in my throat. A zombie was headed for the store. I shifted so I could look around again and spotted several more were moving toward us. More were being stopped by fences around the houses, and other obstacles, but they wouldn’t be held long. When I turned around, the first zombie I spotted had changed direction.

It was on the other side of the door, staring at me. It didn’t look like one of the gray skinned zombies in movies or even the blood covered and damaged zombies I managed to run into. This one looked more human than any I had seen so far. The only sign that it was a zombie was the wide staring eyes and jaw hanging open. Otherwise, it looked like a man in every day clothing.

It didn’t blink. In a way, it was almost like it was waiting for something. I sat frozen, staring at the slack face. But I was more than aware that more zombies were moving toward the store. I needed to warn the men inside the building. If I did anything, the one staring right at me would do what it could to get into the truck.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a handful of zombies pile up around the end of the car sticking through the hole in the building. I couldn’t hold off any longer. I leaned back, slamming my hand on the horn and keeping it there. But when I moved, I heard something thump into the floorboard. The gun. I kept my eyes out the windshield, hoping that I wouldn’t need it. The zombies starting to work their way into the store stopped. It was the strangest thing. They just froze, then they turned as one and staggered toward the truck.

I was still leaning on the horn when a hand clamped around my ankle. I screamed, trying to kick my leg free. The passenger door was sitting open and the strangely normal looking zombie was bending over my calf. I pulled my other foot nearly to my stomach before thrusting it into the zombie’s face. Its nose spurted dark red blood as the head reared back from the blow. I felt a moment of elation before it bent forward again. I shoved the bottom of my shoe into its mouth and its teeth clamped onto the tread.

Another zombie was already leaning into the car. It tried to climb over its brother. But as it did, it slid between the normal looking zombie and the passenger seat. It wasn’t trapped though. It shimmied forward, like a cat squeezing through a hole that looked too small for it. Three fingers of what remained of its hand dug into my jeans. I screamed again as the fingers pinched the skin under the fabric. It dove for my leg. Thinking quickly, I shoved my right hand against its leathery forehead and locked my elbow. The angle was bad and the zombie was stronger than it looked. Tears of pain leaked out of the corners of my eyes, but I couldn’t let go. Letting go meant it would bite.

The sound of gunfire almost stopped my struggling. Then I remembered the mass of zombies headed toward the car. I didn’t know if I would be able to stay alive long enough for someone to get to me.

I released the horn and stretched my hand into the floor board, my fingers searching. I felt something brush my fingertips. But I couldn’t quite reach it. And I couldn’t shift without releasing the second zombie. Another clattering of gunshots caught my ears just before blood and clumps of darker things sprayed over the windshield.

My foot was still stuck in the one zombie’s mouth. I shoved hard against it and my fingers finally hooked the gun grip. I pulled at it, then slid my fingers around it. But I never fired a gun with my left hand. I took a deep breath and aimed anyway. The sound of gunfire lit the ringing in my ears but the bullet went wide, opening a tiny hole in the roof of the cab just above the passenger door.

Then another zombie joined the first two. It literally leaped onto the backs of the ones already in the car and scrambled to climb over them. I screamed again and pulled the trigger again, aiming for the face of the newest zombie. The bullet barely scraped the side of its face. I was gearing to shoot again when a hand appeared, jerking it from the backs of the other two.

More hands appeared, pulling the other two zombies from the cab. The hands clinging to me refused to let go. When my back hit the asphalt, two things happened. My breath vanished in a painful shove. And my right hand slipped from the forehead of the second zombie. It reared and lunged, mouth hanging wide. I jerked my head to the side so I wouldn’t have to see it. A spray of cool liquid and gravel erupted over me just before I heard the gunshot.

Another shot sounded and fingers pried the hand from my ankle. I looked around to see several of the supply men gathered around me. Most of them were facing away. Looking down at myself, I saw that I was caked in thick blood.

I wasn’t even aware of crying until Gabriel pulled me off the ground and against his chest. His arms clamped around me, fingers digging through my clothing. He was trembling. No, it wasn’t him. It was me. I let him hold me for a moment, just reveling in the fact that I was alive. Then I took a shaky breath as another battery of gunshots sounded and pushed him away.

“Here.” Andrew handed me a handkerchief.

I took it and wiped the gunk out of my face. I didn’t taste anything, but I spit several times for good measure. “Man, that was disgusting.” I groaned, thankful that my voice was steady. “Ok, who shot the thing into my face?”

Mr. Jackson grabbed my upper arms and peered into my face. “Were you bitten?”

“What?”

He shook me hard enough that a muscle in my neck felt like a breaking guitar string. “Were you bitten?” He almost shouted.

“No. Knock it off!” I pushed him back, clamping a hand over my stiff neck. “God. What’s wrong with you?”

“You weren’t supposed to be hurt.” Andrew swung himself into the bed of the truck and started taking the bags.

“I’m not hurt, see?” I pointed out, then did a pirouette for good measure. What I needed was to take a moment and just breathe, but I wasn’t about to tell them that.

“Good. Come on guys, help us load up.” Andrew called. “We still have some shamblers coming in.”

Mr. Jackson and Gabriel shot me glances before joining him in the bed of the truck. “Tell us what happened while we work.” Gabriel suggested hauling a bag into the truck. I shrugged, going around the truck to help lift the bags. Lifting one up, Gabriel took it from me. Apparently, he didn’t think I was going to tell them, so he prompted, “So, what happened?”

“They came from everywhere.”

“And they attacked the truck?” Mr. Jackson asked taking the next bag from me.

“No.” I said, struggling with the next bag. My ribs complained but not enough for me to stop. The sound of gunshots caused me to jump and I pulled the muscle in my neck again. Looking around I saw that other men were standing in a ring around us, taking any zombies that came close.

“So they didn’t attack the truck?” Mr. Jackson asked, watching me return to my struggle with the bag.

“No. They were heading for the store. But one was right outside the truck, watching me, I think.”

“Watching you?” Gabriel asked as he took another bag.

I finally hefted the bag I was working on onto the edge of the bed. Mr. Jackson grabbed it as it slid from my fingers. “Yeah.” I leaned against the bed as another battery of shots went off. “I honked the horn.”

They were silent a few moments. “Did you know they would come back to the truck when you did that?” Mr. Jackson asked, leaning down to look at me. I nodded. “Of all the stupid-.”

“She saved our lives.” Gabriel said simply, leaping down from the bed of the truck. “We need to start leaving someone to watch our exit.”

“One thing I will tell you,” Mr. Jackson said quietly, “Mel has no clue about you. And I think I am starting to.”

Gabriel stepped up beside me. “You did good.”

“If you start calling me ‘Pig’ or ‘Babe,’ I am going to kick you,” I warned. Gabriel laughed.

“Well, we have a problem.” Mr. Jackson said. “We have more bags inside, but we came out when we heard the horn and left them there.”

Andrew joined his father. “What are you thinking?”

“Go somewhere else and get more supplies. Hope they wander off when we come back. If not, come back tomorrow.”

“What about leading them off?” I asked.

“Too dangerous.”

“How much stuff do you have in there?” I shifted away from Gabriel. He lifted an eyebrow but didn’t push it.

“Three more bags. But that place is the lottery.” Andrew told me. He frowned at Gabriel who shrugged.

I looked at the car sitting in the hole of the store. “I think I have an idea.” I offered, straightening, “But I don’t know if it will work.”

“What is it?” Mr. Jackson’s eyes narrowed as his brow wrinkled.

I peered around studying the zombies. “Hear me out before you say anything.” I glanced at him and he nodded. “Ok. I can take the other truck and lead the zombies off on a goose chase.” When he opened his mouth, I stomped my foot and continued. “One of the guys can pull the car out of the wall. It doesn’t look like the wall will come down. Look,” I pointed at it, “The car is almost all the way in there and there is a gap between the wall and the car now.

“Take the other truck and back it into the hole. Then load it up with whatever you can. I will come back after a bit and we can switch trucks.” I finished talking and looked up at the men who stared at me with wide eyes.

I waited for them to think it over while I crossed my fingers. If I could get one of the cars, I could check the place my dad worked. The glint in Mr. Jackson’s eyes gave me the feeling he knew what I was planning.

“That’s actually a good idea.” Andrew was the first to say it. I didn’t bother to hide the huge smile that broke out over my face.

“Only one problem,” Gabriel said, and my heart sank. “I heard that you don’t know how to drive a stick.” My stomach vanished.

I sighed. “No.”

I could almost feel Gabriel’s gaze like a physical touch. “I will go with you.”

Mr. Jackson nodded. “Ok, then. Sounds good.” He let out a piercing whistle that made me flinch. The other men drew back, still forming a circle around us and Mr. Jackson told them the plan.

A few minutes later, the car was pulling out of the hole and one of the trucks took its place. Two men stood in front of it, while Gabriel and I got into the other. I checked out the dashboard and found exactly what I wanted. Dropping the blind in front of Gabriel produced a sparse selection of CDs. I snagged one and inserted it into the CD player. Music started and I turned the volume up till it couldn’t go any higher.

The cab around us began to rattle with the sounds of the speakers. Gabriel and I both rolled our windows down and pulled slowly out of the parking lot. True to our expectations, the zombies started following us. We stopped in the middle of the road, letting the zombies swarm us. As they drew up to the truck, we rolled up the windows but left them open enough that sound still bounced off the buildings around us. With the windows partially closed, the music sounded even louder to me.

Then Gabriel pulled up, running over several in our path, to stop a few feet ahead. The zombies staggered after us.

“You gonna tell me what this is about?” He shouted over the music.

“I wanted to help get the supplies.”

He turned cool sky blue eyes on me, his eyebrows drawing together. “And my real name is Elvis Presley.” Then he did the worst impression of the king I ever heard, “Thank you, thank you very much.” Though, to give him credit, it was probably distorted from having to shout to be heard.

I laughed. “Well, nice to meet you Mr. Presley.” I yelled, sticking out my hand after Gabriel pulled forward again.

He smiled, but it faded. “Tell me, Cleo.” He shifted forward again. “It’s your father, isn’t it?” Something must have shown on my face, because he nodded. “Thought so.”

“Please-.” I started.

“I think we have a lot of the zombies. It’s time to lead them off.” He bellowed, shifting into gear and pulling away from the mass banging on the back of the truck. I sank into my seat and stared out the window, past the zombies. “Good. They’re following us. So,” Gabriel tapped my shoulder, “where to?”

“Are you kidding?” I looked at him trying to ignore the fact that I wanted to hit him.

“No, I’m not. But you have to promise me something.”

I didn’t trust him. “What do you want me to promise?”

“Don’t get out of the truck. No matter what you see. Don’t even open your door.” My chest suddenly felt light, like a bubble was growing inside and spreading until my entire body was tingling. I would see my dad again.

“But there is something else.” His voice dragged me from my thoughts. “You have to realize that he may already be gone. Maybe he fled, or was rescued, or…” He let the comment slide. “Now. Where do we go?”

“He works just up the road. Over the bridge and to the left, there’s a building there. It’s the corporate headquarters for Golden Harvest Foods. They have an inter-state distribution campaign dad was working on.” I wanted to bounce in my seat. Wait until mom finds out, I thought, already imagining the look on her face when she saw him. And he’s going to love Abby. That thought brought more images of us as a family again, bringing Abby into the fold and caring for her.

“Whoa, hold up.” Gabriel stopped the truck and grabbed both sides of my face. “Are you listening to me, Cleo?” He shook me slightly.

“Yeah,” I pushed his hands away. “No need to be so grabby.”

“We may not see him. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I hear you.” But I knew my dad would be there. He would wait for us, or try to come to us. Since he never came to the house and the people on the supply runs hadn’t rescued him, it meant he was still at work. I was sure of it.

“Ok, we need to lead this group away, then we can go check.” He returned to the steering wheel and pulled away from the crowd. “By the way, you never said how the zombies got into the car.”

I frowned. “I think it opened the door.”

“What did?”

“Remember that zombie that just stared at me? The one that looked human?” When he nodded, I continued, “I was looking toward the store and pushing the horn and suddenly it grabbed me. You guys pulled me right out of the cab, and I don’t remember going through the window.”

Gabriel raised his eyebrows at me. “I thought maybe you opened the door to warn us and they jumped in after you, so you hit the horn instead.” He frowned, lines forming on his forehead and around his mouth as he thought. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I am so going to open my door when a zombie is standing right outside it. Maybe I will even invite it home so we can watch some movies together. Go dancing. Or-I know, I can have a picnic with it under the stars.” I rolled my eyes. “No, I did not open the door. I swear I didn’t.”

“Could you have kicked the door open?”

“The door only opens if you pull the handle, remember? Kicking it won’t make it open.”

“But you opened the door to get out of the truck before we went into the store.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it, trying to think. Yeah, he was right, I had. But then Mr. Jackson leaned against it. Did I hear it click? It was hard to think over the music. After a moment, I was certain I heard the door click. “Yeah, but Mr. Jackson closed it before you guys left.” My throat was getting sore from all the shouting. “Why is this bothering you so much?”

“Do you think it’s possible for mutations in zombies?” It wasn’t until he looked at me that I realized he was serious.

“I wouldn’t think so.”

“But everything mutates in order to survive. What if, just for instance, this whole thing started as an air born genetic weapon? By now, it’s not going to be air born. That is, if it was in the first place.” I finally turned down the music so I could hear him.

“But what if it was injected into the body?” I asked.

“Then a bite could spread it, but the virus would have to be extremely sophisticated.” He cleared his throat. “Thanks. I don’t think what we know about zombies from movies can really apply to real life. Those were fictional, this is real.”

“Look at what they got right though.” I pointed out. “Shooting in the head, biting, shambling.”

“But other than a couple movies, animals didn’t convert to zombies. And even then, only dogs were claimed to have the… whatever it is.”

“They focus on dogs, I think, because of all the domesticated animals, they were the most dangerous. Can you imagine a lion, tiger, or leopard contracting the virus?” I shuddered.

“We’re getting off subject. I’m saying, what if your zombie was another kind?”

I frowned at him, then looked out the back window at the zombies still trooping behind us. “You mean they could be evolving?”

“Not all of them, but some?” He asked in return. “It could be possible.”

I settled into my seat and thought about it. “Did you notice that there are no cats?”

“What?”

“No cats. Felines. The domesticated opposite of dogs.”

“I know what cats are. I was asking what you meant.”

“I haven’t seen any cats. I think I remember a skunk, a couple dogs, and a deer. But no cats.” I frowned and looked over at the zombies behind us. “See, look. There’s a raccoon.” It was in front of the human zombies, along with three dogs, and two deer. The animal zombies’ motor function seemed to be better than their human counterparts, but not by much.

Gabriel shifted to look out the rear view mirror. “Now that you mention it, did you notice any cats around a week before it started in Wild Horse?”

I glanced at him. “I didn’t think about it. I don’t normally notice cats.”

“With a name like Cleopatra, I would figure you to be a cat lover.”

“I am. My mom is allergic to cats, so I’ve never had one. Always wanted one though.”

He nodded. “We had one. It disappeared about a week before everything happened. And some of the neighbors mentioned the same thing with their cats. We thought someone was stealing cats in our neighborhood. But maybe it’s related.”

“Could they have known?”

“If they did, where did they go?”

I stopped watching the zombies behind us. “Do you think we could check on my dad now?”

Gabriel checked the rearview mirrors. Then he took a deep breath and shifted into third gear. “Yeah, let’s do this.”

The car sped up, the motor revving beneath my feet and my heart followed suit. In a short time, we were over the bridge and pulling into the parking lot of the building where my dad worked. Several cars were there, including my father’s.

“Look,” I grabbed Gabriel’s arm, “that’s my dad’s car!” I bounced in my seat. “He’s still here!”

Gabriel didn’t say anything, just pulled in beside the car so we could look into the windows. There wasn’t anything inside the car that we could see.

“Honk the horn. Let him know we’re here.” I commanded, sitting forward eagerly to examine the building in front of us.

It looked like a manufactured home, only it was three stories and about four times as wide. I remembered from visits that the main doors led to a hallway. The hallway went to the center of the building, which was open and contained three large fish tanks, chairs along most of the walls, and tables with other chairs spaced around the floor. The stairs to the other floors were there too. A huge sky light allowed natural light into the building, though the offices didn’t have the same luxury. Most offices had windows. Only the call center on the top floor didn’t.

After the horn sounded, we sat and waited. I was sitting on the edge of the seat, my hands braced on the dashboard in front of me and my head practically against the glass. It seemed like an hour before I noticed movement. My heart lurched into my throat as a man stumbled into view.

I thought he was excited about being saved. But then he straightened up and my heart began a slow drop back into its place. Several more zombies filed out behind him. Gabriel put the car in reverse when I saw a familiar head.

My dad’s boss stumbled through the group around him, his leg barely functioning because of the gaping hole in his thigh. Blood seeped down from a cut on his forehead, his pale face stretched as he opened his mouth in anticipation.

Tears burned in my eyes at the sight of him. Then the entire world exploded as my dad stepped out from behind him. Other than the jerking movement, glazed expression, and pale skin, my dad looked normal. His shirt was crumpled and there were stains on it. He was always so picky about his shirts, he ironed them himself. The fact that it was crumpled should have told me the truth, but I ignored the warnings going off in my head.

Someone kept saying “no” over and over. I opened my mouth to tell Gabriel to shut up, only it was already open and another “no” slipped out. I couldn’t look at Gabriel. I couldn’t turn my head, or my eyes from my dad’s body.

The truck was moving backwards. Gabriel turned and pulled us back onto the road, heading for the store. “No!” I screamed, turning around in my seat to look for my dad. “No! We have to go back. It’s not real. He’s just pretending so they won’t get him.”

“Cleo. Your dad is dead.” Gabriel grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. “I’m sorry.”

“No. You’re wrong! He’s just pretending! We have to go back!”

“Cleo, did you look at the window behind him?” Gabriel asked softly, not removing his hand.

I took a deep breath and looked at him. “What has that got to do with anything?”

He mimicked my breath. “His back was gone. It’s amazing he’s even walking.”

“What?”

“Cleo, his back was completely gone, it was nothing but a cavity. You could see his spine, his ribs… He’s dead.”

“No!” I jerked away from him. “Don’t say that. Don’t you ever say that!” I was screaming again. “Turn around!”

“I can’t Cleo. I’m sorry.”

In one movement, I jerked around and opened the door. Then I was rolling on the pavement, my breath knocked from my lungs. But it didn’t matter. I struggled to my feet, ignoring the pavement burns on my arms and face and started running back to the building. Something tackled me from behind. I screamed, lashing at the weight pressing into my legs. It grabbed my arm and jerked it back, the pressure moving from my legs to the small of my back. Something tightened around my wrist.

Heads jerked steadily into view and I spotted my dad.

“Dad! I’m here!” I shouted. A hand clamped over my mouth.

“Damnit, Cleo. Shut up.” Gabriel hissed in my ear. He removed his hand to grab my free one and jerked it behind my back to join the first. A second later, I was hauled to my feet by my hands. I cried out as my shoulders caught on fire. “Cleo. Damn. Damn.” He jerked me back to the truck and shoved me inside before climbing in himself.

“Dad!” I screamed again, just before Gabriel closed the door.

Suddenly he was leaning over me, staring into my eyes. “What the hell is wrong with you? You can see it for yourself.” He jerked me upright in the seat and turned me to face the cluster of zombies that were finally reaching the back of the truck. “Watch.”

Then his gun was aimed out the window. I lunged at him. “Stop! He’s just pretending!” I cried.

Gabriel pushed me back, steadied himself and pulled the trigger. I turned wide eyes on my father as a hole appeared in his chest. He fell back and I screamed again.

But… he got up. His upper body first, then he swung his arms around. And he stood up. He shuffled toward the truck, the zombies around him converging and shielding him from view.

My mouth hung open, ready for another scream, but I couldn’t scream any more. My dad was dead.

I shuddered and my body sank into the seat. Gabriel was there, brushing my hair out of my face. “I’m sorry, Cleo.” He whispered. I just looked at him. “You would never have forgiven me if I hadn’t proven it to you. Hell, you may not forgive me for this either.” He tucked my hair behind my ear. “I will untie you later. We will both have hell to pay for this and I won’t take any chances that you will do this again.”

He settled into his own seat, shifted the car into gear and guided the truck back to the store. I couldn’t see over the dashboard and I didn’t shift so I could. But I felt when we plowed through the group of zombies we had led away from the store. It almost felt like trying to flow through a snowdrift and a field with potholes at the same time.

I couldn’t seem to think about anything besides my dad. The fact that he got up, even after a bullet had taken a nice sized chunk out of his chest.

When the truck pulled to a stop, Gabriel leaned over me again. “Hold on. I’ll pull you out your door in a minute.” He slid out his door and vanished.

I could hear people talking, then Mr. Jackson peered at me from the open door of the cab. “What the hell were you thinking?” He shouted. I was certain he was yelling at me, but I didn’t care.

“Sir, I think she’s in shock.” Gabriel’s voice stated. “She saw her father.”

Mr. Jackson whirled on Gabriel. “What?”

“He’s a zombie, Mr. Jackson.” I watched Mr. Jackson’s face fall. “She thought he was pretending to be one, hadn’t seen the wound in his back. I shot him in the chest to prove-.”

Mr. Jackson grabbed Gabriel’s shirt. “You did what?” His voice was like ice and deadly quiet.

Mr. Jackson wasn’t a small man. Neither was Gabriel, for that matter. But Mr. Jackson dwarfed the teenager. Mr. Jackson was built like a very tall brick. It had always struck me funny when I saw him and his wife together before everything happened. He was so big, not fat or even overweight, but bulky, and so tall. He always made the tiny woman look even smaller by comparison.

Gabriel didn’t react. “I shot him in the chest.”

“Why in the hell would you do that? Especially in front of her?” Mr. Jackson growled.

“Because she wouldn’t believe me. She even jumped out of the truck.” He paused for a moment, to let it sink in then added, almost as an afterthought, “while it was moving.”

“Oh, hell.” Mr. Jackson shoved him back. “Leave her in the truck. You, Stevie? Pull this into place and stay with her. I am taking the other truck.” Another man, who I assumed was Stevie, climbed into the truck, barely glancing at me. “Gabriel, you help the others. And as far as I am concerned, you will not join a supply run for the rest of my life.” Mr. Jackson’s voice drifted away and I heard another door open a moment before the other truck started.

“Are you alright?” Stevie asked. The images of my dad being shot were still playing over in my mind. I could barely see Stevie through the images. He reached out to touch me and suddenly I sat up. He jerked back startled.

“Stay away from me.” I whispered. I saw the other truck pull out from the building. I scrambled to put my back against the door as Stevie started maneuvering our truck into position.

After he was done, he turned the engine off and shifted to watch me. I didn’t look away from him. But as I did, his green eyes bled to sky blue and his red-blond hair faded to blond. Gabriel sat across from me checking his gun. In a moment, he was going to open the back window of the cab and point it at my dad. “No!” I screamed, launching myself at Gabriel. He shoved me back hard enough that my head hit the window of the door behind me. Pain flared through my brain, clearing my vision.

“Holy shit.” Stevie dropped out the driver’s side of the truck. “She’s crazy!” He stood just outside the driver’s door.

Gabriel appeared beside him and I focused my attention on the face with the blue eyes. “What happened?” He asked.

The other man shook his head. “She just freaked out, lunged at me.”

“Go help the others, I’ll stay with her.” Gabriel’s cool blue eyes turned on me and I saw him pull the trigger again. The hole reappeared in my father’s chest, just before he fell back.

“But Mr. Jackson-.” The man started and I jumped, jerked from the images in my mind.

“She’s going to hurt someone else, or herself. I can handle it, and frankly, I probably deserve it.” Gabriel glanced at the other man. “I would rather it be me than someone else paying for what I’ve done.”

The man nodded and vanished from my vision. Gabriel climbed into the truck, his eyes still on me. “Cleo?”

A quiet voice whispered, “Why?” and I realized it was me.

“You… You would have done anything to get to your father.” He swallowed. “I didn’t kill him, Cleo. He was already dead.”

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to stop the images from replaying again in my head. “You shot him.” I whispered.

“And he got up.”

“He got up.” I shook my head. “You shot him and he got up.” Suddenly, I was crying. “You shot him and he got up. Why did he get up?”

Gabriel pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. “It’s ok, Cleo.” He whispered brushing my hair out of my face. “It’s ok.”

“It’s not ok. You shot him and he got up. It’s not ok.” I turned into him and let myself go.

I don’t know how long we sat like that. But after a while, Gabriel pushed me into my seat and locked the seatbelt. Someone was talking to him through the window, but I was crying too hard to hear the words.

A pit had opened up in my stomach, sucking out every happy or light thought and every good feeling I ever felt. I may not have gotten along with my dad, but I loved him. Suddenly I was so tired, but it wasn’t the physical kind. It was deeper inside. Like a voice that begged me to just give up fighting and told me that everything I had ever done didn’t matter. That I failed. That I had done something so terrible, I deserved what was happening.

The door on my side opened and Gabriel reached around me to unbuckle my seatbelt. He pulled me from the truck, turned me away from him and released my hands.

“What the hell?” I heard River snarl. I lifted my head, rubbing my wrists, and looked around. He, Abby, my mom, and Mel were standing on the porch of the dining hall. River was striding down the steps toward me and Gabriel when Mr. Jackson stepped in front of him and placed a hand on his chest.

“Hold on, there.” Mr. Jackson started. “You need to know-.”

I ran around Mr. Jackson and threw myself into River’s arms. He caught me easily, his grip tightening around my shoulders. “What did they do to you?” River asked.

“Now, son.” Mr. Jackson’s voice deepened. “There is something I need to tell you and her mom. In private.”

I felt River nod. “Abby, why don’t you go find Tori and see if you can play with Boots for a while?” After a moment, he added, “Cleo’s going to be fine. This is between grown-ups. Go find Boots.”

I heard my mom say something, but it was too quiet to hear over my own tears.

We reached the cabin and I was fighting to gain control. What my mom needed to hear shouldn’t come from someone else. I broke away from River, but held onto his scent like it was a lifeline.

Inside, Mr. Jackson started to talk, but I cut him off by clearing my throat. I looked at mom and fought not to break down again. She needed to hear it from me. Not someone else.

We went to River Forge to get supplies.” My voice wavered so badly it was hard to understand, but when my mom’s face crumpled, I knew she did. “I wanted… We stopped at Golden Harvest and came up with a plan to…” I stopped and coughed, trying to stop my voice from shaking so bad. “I was going to lead the zombies away, but I couldn’t drive a stick. Gabriel helped and he figured out… I wanted to go get dad.” River’s hand tightened around my shoulders when I said Gabriel’s name, but then there was a horrible moan. My mom sank to the floor like someone had taken all the bones from her body.

River turned me to face him and bent down to peer at me. “What happened?”

I shuddered and tried to look over my shoulder at my mom but he rocked me enough to get me to focus on him. He repeated his question. The whole scene replayed itself in my mind.

Mr. Jackson finally had to be the one to tell them everything. My mom started sobbing as he explained what Gabriel had noticed, but I was too blind to see. When Mr. Jackson told them what Gabriel did, my mom fell dead silent and River went rigid beside me. All the while, I was seeing it all over again in my head.

Juanita appeared and settled my mom, who finally started crying again, into bed. River moved us, so that he was leaning against the headboard of my bed, me curled onto his chest. I stopped crying but I felt like I was slipping down a dark tube to insanity. My mind wouldn’t stop replaying what happened.

I don’t think I fell asleep. But if I did, then I just dreamed everything over again. After light hit the window, River handed me my journal and the pen.

Abby never came back last night, but I think Mr. Jackson took her. I’m not sure what I expected for my first supply run, but I now wish I never left the compound. People say it’s worse to not know. I think that in a way, they are right. It’s better to know than to always wonder. To always think that they were waiting for you to find them. Or that they needed your help. But, I don’t think that those thoughts work in the world I find myself in now. I would have rather found my dad dead on the side of the road than walking around as a zombie.

I understand what Gabriel did. I’m not mad at him. He’s right. I would have kept trying to get out of the truck. He saved my life. I just wish that he had spared another bullet to make sure my dad stayed dead. I don’t want to think about him walking around now. Maybe killing someone else’s parents or kids.

I need to let Gabriel know that I’m not mad.

Go Back to Day 13 – or – Go to Day 15

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Comments
  1. cb says:

    Day 14, or Day 13? (See top)

    (I know exactly how it happened)

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