The sun was high in the sky as I wandered the woods with a tentative relief at not being alone and maybe, not having to be in charge or solely responsible for two other lives. Fate played her hand and brought Marla and Hunter to me but the incident at the rest stop and the endless trees threatened to crush the hope that Marla knew where she was going, that the virus hadn’t spread across the border and that zombies hadn’t made it this far into the forest. The feeling of increasing isolation and the encroaching trees coupled with the total lack of life other than the 3 of us, were helping to drain any sense of safety and possibility of survival.
Marla led the way sure-footed with Hunter keeping pace, dragging his stick along the ground and tapping tree trucks lightly as we went deeper into the woods. I, on the other, was a total buffoon among the trees and overgrowth. I kept watching the ground and stumbled more than once over hidden branches and stumps causing more sound than anything else around. I like to chalk that up to exhaustion and not clumsiness but it didn’t really matter as we each seemed to be lost in our thoughts, silently trudging along and not paying attention to one another. My thoughts were sluggish as I concentrated on walking and tried to keep it from repeating the scenes of death, blood and human degradation over and over again through my weary mind. I turned to Marla and saw a quiet determination on her face as traces of shock and fear were gone or merely buried behind this mission to get her son to a safe place. That was my hope for her, my hope for what she may be feeling. I could have asked but I didn’t as my reluctance to be travelling with them was still not completely admonished and I was still uncomfortable with company.
The forest didn’t seem to change and I wondered if Marla really knew where she was going. Doubt vanished after about 30 minutes of walking and taking several turns that by all rights should have ended with us back where we started but we weren’t, and stood in front of the shack Marla had mentioned. Recalling the old wooden structure, I would have to say that shack was almost to kind of a description for the building before us that consisted of four walls and a slightly steepled roof of aged and weathered wooden boards. There was no visible cement foundation and the floor appeared to rest directly on the ground. I feared that a strong breeze would be enough to blow it down and it certainly wouldn’t hold up to 4 or more zombies coming after us. But there was no choice, there was nothing else in sight and the day was getting long.
Marla must have seen the doubt on face as she said that it wasn’t as bad as it looked and told Hunter to go check it out. My stomach flip-flopped with concern as the boy ran at the shack not knowing if anyone or anything might be inside. I wanted to yell at him to stop, not to open the door but I didn’t say anything, just watched as Hunter pushed open the door and slowly backed away. Marla was at his side in two quick steps. I was past them in four long strides and at the door, gun pulled and pointing at the gloom inside the shack. The room, that’s all the shack consisted of a single room, was cast in shadows and I couldn’t see anything or signs of anyone in the dimness.
Banging the butt of the gun on the door, I waited, eyes sharp and desperately trying to penetrate the shadows. No movement, no sound. The small single floor building wasn’t big enough for anyone to be hiding and certainly couldn’t have concealed a Shambler for long. Marla approached, her arm around Hunter’s shoulder and searched my face before nodding, asking without words, if it was clear. Lowering the gun, I nodded back affirmative and stepped aside to let them inside. Marla flicked open a lighter and asked Hunter to look for a flashlight in the bags. I tossed my pack beside him and told him there was small wind up lantern in it, then turned from the shack and scanned the woods.
There was still no visible movement. The sun was beginning to dim as the day was drawing to late afternoon. The stillness of the woods and this little hovel felt safe even if the shack itself was rickety. I could only hope that the night passed with the continued silence and we didn’t have to deal with any Shamblers in the darkened forest in the middle of the night. We just had to remain quiet and inside. Hell, I didn’t even know if the threat was an issue out here and I was still just making this shit up as I went but if we could pass the night without incident, I figured I could make it to Canada with or without Marla.
I turned back to the room and saw a faint light growing stronger as Hunter worked hard to get the lantern he found in my pack to a solid brightness. Marla spoke to him in hushed tones as they took out some of the food and water and started to prepare a small meal. It looked natural enough to see mother and son having a picnic in a ramshackle building with a camping lantern as company but I could only guess at what was running through minds. My own thoughts were still a jumble between the impossibility of what was happening, being concerned about the state of mind of these people and sheer exhaustion but I had some sense of self-preservation. Walking back toward the woods, I found a good-sized branch then headed into the shack, closed the door and wedged it under the door knob. It was a poor barrier and I worried that it might actually break the knob off but it made me feel better none the less.
I sat with my back to the wall on the opposite of the room facing the door. I wasn’t really hungry but I took the granola bar and water from Hunter and watched as he sat beside me and struggled to get the wrapper open on his bar before getting to the goods and chomping down. The warmth of the days’ sun was trapped in the small space and with the windows boarded up and the door closed, the room was left feeling stagnant and almost claustrophobic as the heat hung in air and seemed to hug me in a stifling embrace. The heat mixed with my exhaustion and mental hiccups from lack of food and sleep quickly became overpowering and forced my sluggish body to relax. As warm as it was at that moment, I knew it was going to cool down once the sun set; I could feel a slight breeze blowing through the gaps of the warped wood boards that made up the walls.
I sat for a few minutes feeling dazed and tried not to think about anything, focusing on the light of the lantern. My mind drifted and my eyes started to close until I felt the bottle of water Hunter had given me slip from my hand. Marla picked it up and gave it back, then tossed a blanket at me. I drank the water in one gulp, tossed the bottle aside and rolled up the blanket into a makeshift pillow. The water was refreshing but my head still felt heavy. Peeling off my jacket I laid it and my gun beside the pillow and laid down. It was quiet and we were in a shelter that would keep us safe for at least a little while. I stopped fighting it and let my heavy eyes close. I slowly started to drift into sleep, listening to the soft murmur of incomprehensible words between the mother and son who may have just saved my life.
© 2014, Denise Pasutti