Time for another update!
This time we're back with the main group for a chapter or two. Hope ya'll enjoy!
Things were going pretty well for the group in the New Hampshire compound. They ran like a well oiled machine. In the mornings, Ezekiel, Beth, Rodney, and James would be wake up at 7am and take morning watch while the rest of the group got to sleep longer and get all the chores done. At noon Justin, Lightning, Sierra and Jo would watch for zombies. At 5pm, Courtney, Duncan, Heather, Alejandro, Gwen and Trent would watch in what became jokingly know as the "couples watch". Then at midnight the skeleton crew would come out: Noah, Sky, Chef, and Aidan. They would be up until 7 am when the morning crew would take over.
All in all, things were going really smoothly. However, there was one significant problem.
No matter how well they kept zombies away, they couldn't keep Mother Nature away. Temperatures were getting steadily below freezing now and they spent their days and nights with grey, gloomy skies and clouded breaths. It had even snowed a couple times although it wasn't heavy falls.
This fact had the eighteen inhabitants of the summer camp huddled in the Mess Hall one night after dinner. Seventeen looked to Chef for what to do.
The cook-turned-leader cleared his throat and addressed the room at large.
"Alright guys, listen up. It's time we move out."
He was instantly met with noises of protests.
"Why? We're as safe as we've ever been here!" Beth cried.
"Yeah, it ain't even that cold out!" Lightning added.
Some, however, were in favor.
"It's only mid-November," Noah pointed out, "it's going to get way colder. We won't be able to survive on wood fires alone."
"Prairie people did it back in the day though," Rodney pointed out. "If they can do it so can we."
"But they had thick animal furs to keep them warm, we don't." Gwen said, "look, I don't like it either guys but we have no other choice."
That was met with general silence.
"Look," Chef finally said, "I can't drag any of y'all with me. You can stay here if you want, but we're safer in a group."
Duncan stood up, "no, you've got us this far, no way any of us are ditching." He glared at the rest of the room, daring them to disagree, and no one did.
Chef looked flattered, but tried to hide it. "Alright then," he said gruffly, "we'll head out two days from now then. Use that time to get packed up."
"Where will we go?" Jo asked, arms crossed.
"South. Not too far." Chef said, "we could probably stick it out in rural Pennsylvania or southern Connecticut for the winter. We'll pass through and loot as much as possible since we won't have time to start growing our own food. Any questions or concerns?"
No one had any, so Chef dismissed them and everyone went about their business.
In one of the cabins, Duncan, Courtney, Noah, James and Sky were chatting quietly about the new decision to move.
"I think it's a good idea," Noah said stoutly. The bookworm was leaning against the door frame of the entrance to the cabin, arms folded across his scrawny chest.
Duncan and Courtney were reclining on one of the beds. He had his arms wrapped around her waist and she in turn had her head resting on his chest.
"I agree," Duncan said. "It's gonna suck having to venture into the unknown though. I get why some people are hesitant."
"Yeah," Sky frowned, "besides, I don't even know you guys all that well. It's scary to think of just picking up and leaving with you guys."
At this, Noah just rolled his eyes. "No one is forcing you to come if that's what your concern is." He sounded annoyed. "You're more than welcome to sit here and get torn apart by zombies or other, less nice humans."
Sky looked a little taken aback and hurt, but set her jaw and prepared to rebut. James beat her to it.
"Easy Noah," he scolded. "She every right to be cautious."
"Whatever," he scoffed, turning on his heel. He left without another word.
"What's his deal?" Sky asked irritably, masking the hurt.
"That's just Noah," Courtney spoke up sleepily from the bed. "Don't take it personally."
"Tch, Lightning still thinks this is a bad idea." The ax made a swishing noise as it cleaved cleanly through a thick log.
Lightning and Jo were cutting wood near the Mess Hall with Justin and Alejandro watching over.
"Why?" Jo asked, her voice mostly curious and only a little hostile. "You know we can't just sit here and freeze to death, right? Cause that's what will happen if we stay here."
The jock grunted slightly as he split another log. "Lightning knows that, but he still can't shake this bad feeling."
"Fear not, friend," Alejandro said, elegant as usual as he leaned up against a tree cradling an assault rifle, "if we all watch out for each other I'm sure we can minimize casualties."
"If you say so," Lightning still didn't sound convinced.
"I wonder if there's a chance we'll run into any of the guys that went missing at the motel." Justin piped up, his tone sad.
"That, unfortunately, I would not count on," Alejandro said, heaving a little sigh. "I suppose it is still possible they are alive, but who knows where they are, and the further we drift from out separation location, the lower the odds of us ever reuniting."
"I know," Justin shifted the shotgun in his arms, "but still, nothing wrong with a little hope, right?"
Jo snorted, "I wouldn't be so sure about that." She didn't elaborate, and no one asked her to explain.
The next morning, everyone began packing up.
"We don't have much food left." Chef sighed, going over their remaining supplies with Gwen, Trent, Beth and Ezekiel.
"We've still got enough for a couple weeks." Ezekiel said optimistically, "that's plenty of time to scavenge more on the way south."
"Homeschool is right," Gwen said, ruffling his toque. "We'll be fine."
"I hope so," Chef sighed, rubbing his tired face with his hands. "Let's get this stuff packed up in the truck."
Trent looked up at the gray sky as everyone else began moving supplies into the cars. Gwen noticed and touched his arm. "Hey, Trent, what's up?"
Trent blinked twice and looked down at her. "Huh? Oh yeah, I'm fine," he shifted his heavy belt and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. "I'm just a little nervous about whats to come. It almost feels like we've been on a vacation, staying here. It's been so safe."
"I know what you mean," Gwen agreed, settling into his embrace. "But nature is nature, there isn't anything we can do to fight it."
Trent kissed her cheek and released her, stooping down to pick up a box. "I guess."
Gwen took a step back and framed Trent's bent over rear with her hands. "Now that's a sight I like to see!" She joked.
Trent stood up and saw her antics and flushed. "Pervert." He teased.
Gwen also picked up a box and grinned at him as they walked to the nearest car. "You know you like it."
"You two make me sick." Noah said dryly, leaning against the car they were placing boxes into.
"I think it's beautiful!" Rodney said, popping his head out around the front of the car, his face smeared with oil. "Love blooming in such a horrendous world gives me hope that humankind will one day get back to normal!"
"Wow Rodney, that was surprisingly poetic!" Sky said, coming up behind Gwen and Trent to deposit her own supplies.
Rodney instantly flushed and coughed, "Err..well...I just..."
"And there it is," Noah remarked as Rodney continued mumbling nonsense.
The day went by fairly quickly and soon everything was all packed up. The contestants were having a final meal in the big dining hall and the mood was depressing. The old fear that had plagued them on the road was creeping back up on them, and none were sure how to get rid of it.
As the dinner finished up, Chef clapped his hands. "Alright kids, we're heading out tomorrow morning, no rush. Prepare yourself for hardship, because this is going to be a tough journey. I can't promise we'll all make it through, but you all better try your damndest to look out for yourselves and each other, ya hear?"
A chorus of agreement rang throughout the hall, mere stains of hope on the canvas of despair the world had become.
Little did they know.
The next morning the group woke up to a light snow dusting the ground. The sky was gray and the air was cold as they huddled in their jackets around the eight cars packed with supplies.
"There's eighteen of us and eight cars, so partner up." Chef said gruffly, hoping into the lead car. "Jo, Justin, you two with me."
Jo and Justin nodded solemnly. Jo took shotgun and Justin slid in the back.
"I'll drive," Duncan said. Courtney followed wordlessly into the passenger seat.
Gwen drove car three with Trent and Ezekiel.
Alejandro drove car four with Heather.
Noah drove car five with Sky.
Aidan drove car six with Lightning.
James drove car seven with Sierra.
That left Rodney and Beth in car eight.
They circled out of the camp, most giving wistful looks to the place that had kept them sheltered.
Justin had stretched out in the backseat of the car and was relaxing as Chef's car, the first in the row, sped down the empty road. He was using his backpack as a pillow and fiddled idly with a switchblade. "So," he broke the silence, "any particular reasons you wanted me and Jo in here with you?"
Chef shrugged his massive shoulders and took another bite of his half-eaten granola bar. "No real reason," he said thickly, "I can count on you two do to stuff and if anything comes up I want you two having my back."
Both Jo and Justin looked flattered by this, but didn't comment.
Jo fingered the handgun on her waist. "We've got a big group, we'll have to find a large place to hole up."
"Should be fine," Chef said, not sounding particularly concerned, "New England is known for its huge colonial homes. We're not exactly picky."
"True," Justin agreed, closing his knife with a snap and pocketing it. "Wake me if you want to rest, I'm gonna doze."
"Will do," Chef said, "thanks."
There was an uneasy silence between Courtney and Duncan as their car sped down the road. Duncan wanted to end said silence.
"What's up, babe?" he asked, taking one hand off the steering wheel to rest comfortingly on Courtney's left thigh. His thumb made circular motions and she sighed, some tension leaving her.
"I'm just worried, that's all," Courtney said uneasily, never one to hide things from Duncan, "It's been a while since we've been in any real danger, and I don't want to face it again. I'm scared."
Duncan sucked his teeth and tried to figure out how to respond to that. He had only heard twice in his life Courtney say the words "I'm scared" and he hated hearing it more than most things in life.
"I'm scared too," he finally admitted, "but I'm also hopeful that we can survive through this shit. I can't believe that the world is going to be like this forever."
Silence filled the car for another thirty seconds, more comfortable this time.
"Look at you, being all hopeful and sweet, you're such a softy," Courtney finally teased, placing her hand ontop of his, which was still on her thigh, and giving it a squeeze.
Duncan's macho attitude returned swiftly. "Pssh, I was just consoling my damsel in distress girlfriend. You shoulda seen her, she was practically bawling."
"I was not!" Courtney whined, and Duncan laughed heartily.
Ezekiel had taken back seat which left Trent in the passenger seat and Gwen driving.
"And then the rabbi said 'Oi, you can't do that to my horse!' and smacked the pilot!" Ezkeiel chuckled, and Gwen smirked as Trent slapped his knee in laughter.
"It wasn't that funny," Gwen said with a sideways look at her boyfriend, who was wiping tears from his eyes.
"Maybe not to you," Ezekiel looked pleased that he had gotten such a reaction to his joke. "It was always one of my favorites though, eh."
"It was hilarious," Trent assured him, finally having calmed down enough to speak.
Gwen just rolled her eyes at the two knuckleheads, feeling nothing but affection for them.
Alejandro sighed in content as Heather's small hands kneaded his shoulders. About half an hour after they had started driving, she had slipped into the backseat so she could give his shoulders, stiff from all the loading he had done the previous day, some much needed TLC. Besides, although Heather would never tell this to him, she would never pass up an opportunity to cop a feel of his excellent muscles.
"That feels wonderful," Alejandro thanked her.
"I'm sure it does," she smirked, "I am very good at this, after all."
A muscle in his brow twitched. "Your humility never fails to surprise me."
Sharp nails dug into his shoulder and he yelped. In retaliation he pumped the breaks ever-so-slightly, causing her to slam her chest into the seat in front of her. Cupping her now-sore breasts in her hands, she glared at him as she climbed back into the front seat. "Ow, jerk. Consider your massage priviliges revoked."
He leaned over slowly and planted a kiss on her temple. She didn't resist. But she didn't lean in either. Really, she didn't. It was just the bump in the road.
There hadn't been a word spoken between Noah and Sky on the entire ride so far, and it was rather uncomfortable for the both of them.
Noah had no idea why Sky had chosen to get in the car with him. They had barely spoken to each other since they met nearly a month ago. Why hadn't someone he could actually converse with chosen to get in his car like say...nearly anyone else? His frustration building, his expression got more and more disgruntled.
This did not go unnoticed by Sky, who eventually asked, "everything ok? You kinda look like you're in pain."
"I'm fine," he snapped at her.
Sky looked both hurt and irritated, "you don't have to be so rude."
"I'm sorry, did I hurt your feelings?" he asked scathingly. "Do you need a band-aid? Should I call the doctor?"
Her cheeks colored with anger. "Shut up. You're such an asshole."
"You're the one that got in the car with said asshole." Noah pointed out, "why did you even do that, anyway?"
Sky's eye twitched, "maybe it's because..." she trailed off, seemingly at a loss for what to say.
"Because...?" Noah drawled, doing his best to sound immensely 'over' the whole situation.
"Never mind!" She snapped, "just leave me alone!"
"You're the one that started talking in the first place, I was doing just fine in the silence."
Sky glared out the window and gnashed her teeth. This jerk had a response for everything.
"And then Lightning caught the final pass in overtime and won the game!" Lightning cheered, puffing out his chest proudly. "It was sha-dope!"
"Sounds pretty sweet," Aidan agreed, "those were the days, huh?"
Lightning exuberant smile faded and a rare look of sadness appeared. "Yeah. Lightning wishes life could be like sha-that again."
"Maybe it will be someday..." Aidan didn't sound very optimistic, something that even the dim Lightning caught.
The jock snorted, "don't sound too excited there, cupcake."
"Cupcake? Where did that come from?!" Aidan asked, cracking a rare smile.
"Dunno, Lightning couldn't think of anything better," he admitted, reluctantly grinning, "he ain't the best with words, ya know."
"Oh believe me, I know."
James was worried. Ever since Cody's death Sierra had become completely different. She was no longer the happy, carefree girl she was and had instead evolved into this quiet being that gave off an aura of instability. Even though she was his comrade, James couldn't help the uncomfortable thought that she would snap any second and try and kill either him or herself.
The look in her eyes was broken, her pupils like shattered glass, and the dark place in his mind questioned how much longer she could survive like that.
"Sierra," he ventured, "how are you holding up?"
He received no response.
"Love is just so wonderful," Rodney sighed as he rested his elbows on the wheel, his car the very last in the procession.
"You'll find it someday!" Beth assured him, "There's a perfect someone out there for everyone."
"You think?" The big farmboy looked hopeful.
"Definitely, just be patient!"
Rodney nodded, "I know, it's just hard seeing all the cute couples here, it really gets me itching to find that perfect gal, you know?"
Beth shrugged, "not really," she said quietly, "I haven't really felt any of that stuff since this whole fiasco began. Just haven't had the time or energy, I guess."
"That's fair, love just isn't as important to some people." His intention wasn't to offend, but Beth's face soured all the same and she pointedly looked out the window.
He didn't notice.
All day the cars drove, stopping once for food and to relieve themselves but otherwise driving steadily south.
All were nervous about what was to come, but hoped they could prevail together.
Dead: Owen, LeShawna, Staci, Sadie, B, Sam, Dakota, DJ, Lindsay, Chris, Cameron, Tyler, Scott, Anne Maria, Katie, Haley, Zoey, Dawn, Mike, Zekitrov, Cody, Eva, Mary, Ryan, Spud, Ellody.
Alive (Maine, Heading South): Ezekiel, Noah, Justin, Beth, Courtney, Trent, Duncan, Heather, Gwen, Alejandro, Sierra, Lightning, Jo, Chef, Aidan, James, Rodney and Sky.
Alive (New Hampshire Town): Harold, Shuie, Geoff, Bridgette, Izzy, Carrie, Devin, Beardo, Stephanie, Rock, Brick.
Alive (Car Heading North): Emma, Kitty.