Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both
“Are you sure this is safe?”
“Of course. Why would anything come looking out here? They’ll be stripping the cities.”
Dana huddled and hugged her knees, the shade of the cleft a blessing after the heat of the desert.
“How are we going to feed ourselves?” she asked, still terrified.
Jesse sighed quietly. “Look, I know you weren’t an eagle scout, but I was. There’s lots to eat out there.” He pointed at one plant after another. “Berries, bark, root, and rabbit.” His finger traced a blur in the distance. “I’m not as good at snares, but we’ll manage.”
Dana wasn’t so sure. “You brought a gun, right? And where’s the water?”
Jesse passed her the canteen. “Don’t drain that too fast. I want to wait until dusk to get more. Unless you want to go back out there.” He pointed at the bleached rocks and pale sand that radiated the sun’s heat.
“No,” she agreed. “How did you know?” she wondered.
“About the zombies?” he asked. “Don’t you follow the Seeress? She said it was coming. We’ll want to make our way to Colorado eventually, but I like the openness here. Nothing is sneaking up on us.
Dana nodded and rested her head on her knees. “Thank you,” she whispered, closing her eyes. She tried not to remember, not to see her own mother slobbering and trying to bite her. With a start, Dana straightened. Jesse’s eyes were haunted as well. He had ripped open their door, barged in, and yanked her away from her mother. “Did your parents...?” She almost couldn’t bear to ask.
He nodded. “I heard Billy screaming and ran. I assume they’d gotten him.” Billy was his little brother, only five. Dana jumped up and ran to the sunny edge of the cleft, vomitting on the hot rocks. Eating his brother. How many half-devoured bodies had they passed on their bikes before ditching them for rougher roads. She could still see Reno from here. The buildings glittered and shimmered in the sun’s haze, making it seem to sit in a pool of liquid metal. Jesse put a hand on her shoulder and passed her the canteen to wash her mouth.
“Don’t imagine you’re hungry or worried about food anymore.”
She shook her head. “So we sleep here?”
He nodded. “That’s the plan. We’ll take turns watching for coyotes. They shouldn’t bother us, though. We’re too big.” He stepped into the shade and leaned on the dark wall. “I’m going to nap now so I can be awake later. Try to relax. We’re going to be okay. I promise.”
She wasn’t sure he could keep that promise, but trusted him enough to pass out blissfully at dusk. “Dana, wake up!” Jesse kicked her leg and she mumbled as she woke.
“Look.” There were headlights moving through the desert.
“Zombies can’t drive,” she said.
“Exactly.” He took out his phone, which had been turned off to save battery and flashed the light of it in the direction of the car. It slowed but didn’t stop immediately. After a few more flashes, it did stop and someone moved in front of the light.
“Come on,” Jesse said, grabbing Dana’s hand.
“Wait,” she argued, tugging. “How do we know we can trust them?”
“Because they’re smart enough to not be zombies. Let’s go.”
Dana couldn’t argue with that, but her steps dragged behind Jesse who shouted ahead. “Hey! Wait for us! You have room for two more?”
“Gonna be a crunch, but yeah, we can squeeze you in.” The car was an ancient thing, all metal exterior. It had a back seat wide enough for four. That was good because there were already two in it.
“I’ll take the hump,” a girl said with a sigh, moving to take the middle of the front seat. She cuddled with the boy who had just returned to his seat. The driver was quick to put it in drive as soon as Jesse closed the door behind him. “You ever work in a gas station?” the girl Dana was squeezed beside asked.
Dana shook her head. Jesse nodded. “Yeah, a couple of days before I got fired.” All four existing passengers snorted or chuckled.
“Great,” the girl said again. When we hit the next station we need to fill. You’ll go in and turn on the pump?” Jesse frowned. “But that’s stealing.”
More laughter. Dana shuddered. She was not liking this group one bit.
“It’s not stealing when there’s no one to steal from,” the driver said. “This car belonged to the senior couple I mowed lawn for. Always had the keys inside, safe in the garage. They aren’t around to complain.”
Dana shook more violently and felt tears leaking. Jesse wrapped his arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him. The girl stroked Dana’s elbow.
“Yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it?” she murmured. “Don’t worry, though. We’re headed somewhere safe.”
“Freetown?” Jesse asked.
“Seeress knows it,” the girl in the front muttered.
“Colorado or bust.”
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Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege, and it's sequel Duty and Sacrifice. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including Kimmydonn.com