Screaming woke her, causing her to fall out of bed. Mika looked around frantically, finding nothing in the tiny room with her. Grabbing her trusty crow bar she went to the window and peeked outside. It was dawn, the sun lighting up the small town and allowing her to see that the group from last night was starting to rouse. Mika turned and sank against the wall, dizzy and drained from waking so fast. She laughed to herself, thinking herself a scardy cat when she heard another scream. Slowly this time, she went to her knees and looked out the window.
She saw John and Jane holding up their guns in the same direction. Following their gaze, Mika saw an unknown man biting into a woman who she had just met last night. The biter, Mika could see, was savagely burying his face into the woman’s neck as she clawed at his neck. He had attacked her from behind, which made her attempt to release him, awkward.
John stayed back while Jane went to the struggling pair, her gun cocked. John said something Mika couldn’t make out and saw Jane stop a few feet from her target. The zombie paid the danger no mind, he had his prize. In his fevered attempt to engorge himself on his prey, he swung himself and the woman 45 degrees, which gave Jane her opening. Checking her angle, she let a bullet loose from her gun, its path traveling through both the woman and the zombies head delivering a gruesome blow. Both bodies dropped, either not having enough time to make a sound.
Jane went up to her victims and toed the man to see if he was responsive. She dropped her gun to her side when he did not move, her shoulders slumping as she came to the realization that she had just killed someone she had known.
Mika watched the event unfold; the group dug a grave for the woman and one for her attacker, and eventually saying a few words over the freshly covered dirt. It was well into the afternoon before Mika went to where everyone was sitting in the shade.
“ I’m sorry about your friend,” she started, her eyes on the ground.
“ Where the hell were you?!” Jane raised her voice, standing abruptly from the lawn chair she was sitting in.
“ We could have used a little help over here, and you did what exactly? Sit on your arse all day and watch us work?” Jane pointed to the roof that Mika had indeed been watching them from.
“ Jane,” John began.
“ No, if she’s going to be one of us, she has to earn her keep.” Jane went up to Mika, her face inches away. “ I don’t know who you think you are, but I don’t have to pretend to like you.” With one final glare, the red haired woman stalked away, pulling her arm from John when he reached for her.
Carmine came up to her. “ Lucy and Jane were, close” the older woman said, putting a hand on Mika’s shoulder as they both watched Jane until she was no longer visible. Mika nodded, tears in her eyes.
“ We were just about to make lunch, you hungry?”
When they were done eating, everyone remained seated, pondering the day’s events.
“ More will come,” Brian said to no one in particular. Everyone nodded.
“ Do we have to move on so soon?” Carmine asked, rubbing her foot to show that she was tired from walking.
John, who had been talking with Jane while everyone else ate, joined them. “ I think it’s best if we leave today.” He let his words sink in, looking everyone in the eye to see if they understood. “ Where there is one, there are others. I’m surprised that Mika had been here for so long without seeing one,” he nodded in her direction. “ We should pack up soon and leave.” He said these words with defeat in his voice. They had all hoped to rest a few days, but their goal would not be met.
“ Brian, Carmine, can you fill everyone’s canteens and the reserves from the pump?” They both nodded and rose to complete their task. “ Ed, Nicole can you guys help me clean up where we were sleeping? Everything needs to be packed up.” He turned to Mika, “ I guess you’d better gather your things as well, if you want to come with us.”
Mika knew this would happen, she knew they would ask her to join them. Doubt clouded her mind: would they want to know more about her? How would they react if she told them about?….
“ I-I,” Mika began.
“ I understand if you have trust issues, hell, who doesn’t these days,” he chuckled. “ But, with Lucy gone, we could use one more scout. There is truth to the saying, there is power in numbers,”. Mika nodded. It made sense that she go with them, but she was afraid.
“ I’ll go with you,” the more sensible part of her blurted before the fear overcame her and she ended up alone again.
“ Good,” John smiled. “ That’s excellent news.”
The group of seven weary travelers were on their way within the hour, each dutifully carrying their packs, trudging along like soldiers. This day, like all the others was sunny and warm, but did little to lift their spirits. Jane brought up the rear, remaining quiet and glaring at anyone who threw concerned glances her way. John and Brian walked at the front of the column with Mika in the middle with Carmine and Nicole. Carmine chattered on about what it was like to work in construction, which surprised Mika who thought the older woman to be something more genial like a house wife or school teacher. Nicole, who was not much older than Mika had been a theatre actress before the world ended. Her long black hair and olive skin made her beautiful but it was her habit of making everything she said dramatic that gave any hint to her previous profession.
They didn’t speak of the death, of how they came to be together. It was clear to Mika that these people had chosen to put it all behind them, and wanted to focus on the good that had happened to them.
“ And I told him, who do you think I am? A Geisha?” Nicole laughed, which sounded like music as she recalled a night when a theatre patron had asked her back to his hotel room after a performance. Carmine and Mika echoed her laughter, and even Brain and John, who weren’t participating in the conversation, smiled.
Ed suddenly burst through the brush to their right, ruining the jovial mood. “ Dead!” he hissed. They were walking on the country road for a few hours with no houses in sight, which meant no immediate cover.
“ How many, and how close?” John asked, keeping his voice low as they group picked up their pace to a slow trot.
“ At least six,” Ed said panting. He had gone into the woods to scout for anything, shelter, weapons, when they’d seen a deer trail that could have been an overgrown driveway to a camp. Evidently he’d found something, the walking dead not being everyone’s preference. “ I’m not sure if they saw me, but they were headed in my direction last I saw.” He accepted a canteen from Jane and tried with no avail to drink without spilling.
“ If we can find a spot that’s dense enough, we might be able to hide until they pass,” Jane said. John agreed and everyone began to scan both sides of the road. Mika looked around with the others, desperation making everyone whip their heads around. They kept checking behind them for the zombies to see if they had made it to the road yet. As far as they had gone in the short span of time, they could hear the moans meaning there were more than Ed had seen.
“ There!” Mika pointed to her right. She spotted a private property sign barely visible through the dense trees. The group stopped. If they squinted, a small shack could be seen through the trees.
“ It looks safe enough, but what if there are more inside?” Jane said. “ We don’t have time to battle attacks on two fronts.” She spoke as though she was a seasoned soldier.
The moans suddenly got louder and shapes could be seen down the road at the treeline.
“ We don’t have a choice,” John said as he jogged off the road towards the shack. Everyone followed him, but slowed once off the road. They had to be cautious: anyone or anything could be in the small building. It was seemingly well built, a hunting shack or camp that housed maybe three people at best. The door was behind the building, facing away from the road and there were only small windows, an advantage if they had to hide. Jane hand signalled them to surround the building and motioned John to follow her to the door. The building was on stilts so it was impossible for anyone to peek inside the windows. As John and Jane went to the back, the door came within their sights. Rickety stairs led up to a smallish deck and the door itself had no window. The pair walked up the steps silently, relieved that they didn’t creak. Jane went first and grabbed the door handle; they had no time to tip toe around. Yanking it open, they both raised their guns, ready for anything.