We walked hunched over for what felt like miles. My head swan in and out of darkness unable to focus as I let Heidi control my movements. I didn’t care where we were going. I didn’t care if or how many zombies were around us and I didn’t care if they were coming after us. I was ready to give up and give in to my pain and exhaustion and push Heidi away so I could face the dead and pay for the things I had done over the last few days. These selfish and hopeless thoughts weren’t the real me. I wasn’t a quitter (aside from being an army deserter) but after only a few days of the world I had known falling apart, I wasn’t exactly the man used to be.
Marla and Hunter were the people I was closet to now which was also something out of character for me; to think of being close to anyone. Before this started there hadn’t been anyone in my life that I would have risked my survival for – not my family, I had no real friends and defiantly no lovers. It almost made me sad that these new-found friends of less than a week were the ones giving me the will to go on. And given all that had happened just this night I would now count Heidi with Marla and Hunter. She was, after all, carrying me through a zombie infested forest even though she rightfully could have left me behind. These new connections were strange. The almost instantaneous bonding with strangers during a crisis…
“Louis, Louis! Are you with me?”
Someone slapped my cheek and I realized that I wasn’t moving anymore. The world was becoming muddled between my inner thoughts and reality. I could hear talking, whispering about me but I ignored it trying to steady the spinning in my head and listen for any other sounds like gunshots, screams, zombie groans. Aside from the unintelligible voices, there was a steady drip, drip, dripping somewhere in the distance and the smell of water, dirt and cigarette smoke? This was alarming and I wanted to yell at whoever was smoking and emitting a scent that would draw the zombies.
I opened my eyes, feeling like I was lazily waking from an afternoon nap and took in the hazy settings. It was still dark but an ember light danced off of shiny black, misshapen walls covered with the dripping water I heard. A small fire burned about 10 feet away and as my vision cleared I saw Hunter there with an unknown boy about his age. Tony was asleep just off to the side of them barely visible in the weak light and Cal was close by, looking up a slight slope where I guessed the entrance to this cave was, assuming that’s where we were. I grasped for clarity trying to understand what had happened between being in the forest and ending up in this dank hovel. I didn’t bother to sit up and stayed on my back trying to ignore the increasing dampness soaking through my pants and jacket.
Tony, Cal and Hunter were the only familiar faces around fire (I was still trying to understand why they would even set one with zombies in the area) but I didn’t know the teen girl and two older folks or the middle-aged couple and boy. If I had to guess I would have said they were a family, the four adults and the teen and the boy sitting with Hunter. Their faces said all that they had been through; eyes red and shrouded with a familiar fear that was unmistakable. I was seeing those traits too much and wondered if my own eyes and face looked the same. I heard my name said somewhere to the left. It hurt to move my head and I noticed that was all of my body that seemed to be moving. Marla and Heidi illuminated in red and orange firelight, appeared like burning angels as they looked at one another intently and spoke in hushed tones. I slowly turned away, taking my time to keep the pain at a minimal and saw another man hidden in the shadows in the corner. He didn’t move, just sat still watching and listening.
I tried to focus on hearing what was being whispered but it seemed impossible with the pain flaring through my aching body and the sound of the fire popping and water dripping. A cave. Where the hell did they find this so quickly. The thought tumbled through my mind as I lulled back into unconsciousness. It was the cold that pulled me awake again sometime later. The fire burned dimmer and the same people were still around it, Hunter and the other boy were curled under a blanket asleep but the adults moved around restlessly trying and failing to sleep. Cal still sat apart from them, silhouetted in shadows and I didn’t bother to look for the other man. I tried to move again but an arm across my stomach stopped me and I had a moment of panic not knowing who or what was touching me.
Heidi was attached to that arm and unlike the others, she was in a deep motionless sleep. Behind her Marla leaned against the wall wrapped in a blanket and wide awake staring at the fire and Hunter. My body throbbed but my head had cleared to the point where I was back to fearing what was happening outside and the zombies. I could see the exhaustion on Marla’s face and my first reaction was to get up and tell her to get some rest. I tried again to sit up with no luck. It felt like Heidi’s arm was a stone keeping me pinned to the ground.
“Don’t try to get up Louis, you were pretty banged up when the van crashed. Knocked your head good but there are no broken bones, no serious cuts.” Marla moved closer to talk, trying not to disturb the others. “Tony…he’s in a bad way. He might make it though thanks to Cal and those other people we ran into in the woods.”
“What happened? I don’t remember anything after the van started sliding. What happened? Where are we, why is there is fire?”
I don’t think it was the question that finally broke Marla but rather the weight of the situation that caused her to start crying. I didn’t realize Heidi was awake until she pulled away and wrapped her arms around Marla, murmuring words of reassurance even though she knew they were hollow with no real hope or comfort. I finally sat up, the bumps and bruises seared fresh pain through me. I ignored it, pushed it away and looked at these two women, my dearest, my best and only friends and more sternly asked -what happened.
© 2015, Denise Pasutti