We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. It was such a shitty night, we were stuck in there with the horses because we couldn’t leave them outside, of course. The place was filled with cots and medical equipment, totally destroyed, a terrible mess. The place stank like I don’t even know what, I’ve never smelled anything like it before, it was a chemical rot. I still smell it on my clothes, the wind hasn’t blown the stench off yet. They came in there and tore that place apart. There were dark stains over everything. I know it was blood, it’s stupid that they always try to hide that shit from me, like they think I’m still a child. I’m sixteen years old. I know what’s going on. I remember before. I was eleven when it happened. What? Do they think I have amnesia or something?
I think this is stupid. It was stupid to leave Spring Street. I get that there are things happening out there that we should be scared of, but we should be scared everywhere. Why wouldn’t we be scared wherever we are?
We have no plan, no destination. We are moving south because we know we can’t survive anywhere farther north in the winter, not unless we can count on a safe shelter, and we can’t count on a damn thing in this world. It’s ridiculous. We’re going to die. Out here, back there, it doesn’t matter. We’re all going to die.
“What are you doing?”
Nora jumped, startled by hearing Lily’s voice. She hadn’t heard the girl walk up behind her and she had no idea how long she had been watched.
“Nora, were you reading my journal?”
“I’m sorry,” Nora said, “It was just sitting here open.” Nora held up her hands, surrendered. “I read a little bit, I’m sorry.”
Lily stared at Nora, her expression completely blank, then she calmly sat down on the grass next to Nora and pulled the notebook away from her, closing the cover and smoothing it with her hand.
“I’m really sorry,” Nora said again. “When I was younger I used to read my little sister’s journal. I know, it’s horrible, right? I was so mean to her, I never bonded with her because she was so much younger than me. It wasn’t even fun to read, though,” Nora sighed. “She was such a good girl.”
“I didn’t know you had a sister.”
“What was her name?” Lily asked.
“Her name was Grace.”
Lily nodded, picked up her journal and held it to her chest, peering at Nora over the tip of the cover. She didn’t need to ask what had happened to Grace.
“Please don’t read my journal again, Nora,” Lily said, and Nora burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry Lily, I won’t. I like that you keep a journal. I used to keep a journal too, I carried it around with me and wrote in it constantly. I feel like I was getting a new one every week.”
“I have to write so small because I don’t know when I’ll ever find another one, you know?”
“I know. I’ll keep an eye out for one for you. Maybe I’ll even find one for myself,” Nora said.
They shielded their eyes from the sun and looked up as Eli walked over to where they were sitting in the shade of some trees, and Lily smiled as he crouched down next to them. Nora thought the girl had a crush on Eli, which was cute. At 30 he was way too old for her.
“We’re going to be heading out,” he said.
“Already?” Lily complained.
“We’ve got maybe three hours of daylight left, that’s it. We won’t get far. Jason is exhausted. He’s feeling sick.”
“Feeling sick on top of his normal, constant sickness?”
“Lily,” Nora scolded, and Eli frowned at the girl.
Eli didn’t answer her question, just looked Nora dead in the eyes and she knew then what it meant. Jason wouldn’t last much longer out on the road, out in the sun every day. His health had been declining for more than a year before they all abandoned Spring Street to go south, and now they were on the road, a week and a half out and they hadn’t even reached the New York state line yet. It was only a matter of time before Eli lost his brother. Jason would die on the road. Just like millions had already died on the road, years ago, when this all began.
Clare walked up to them then, little Ben trailing behind her, bouncing a ball with great concentration.
“He found a ball,” Clare said, smiling, knowing nothing about their dark thoughts and conversation. She plopped down in the grass next to Nora and leaned her head on her shoulder.
“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” she whispered in Nora’s ear. Clare, the only one who was glad to get back on the road, even with her five year old boy in tow. Nora wished she understood.
A shrill whistle cut through the air. Wesley, mounted on his horse a few yards away, waving at them to get up and follow him. It was time to move on.
Nora and Eli hung back a moment. He looked down and kicked the dirt around his feet, wasting time, finding the words to say, and when he looked up Nora saw that his eyes were filled with tears that would eventually fall.
“I thought he would make it farther than this. I didn’t think it would be so fast,” Eli said.
“I know. I didn’t either.”
Eli sighed, wiped his eyes.
“Let’s go,” he said. “The last thing I need today is to get stuck without shelter before nightfall and have to deal the damn zombies.”
“I hear ya,” Nora agreed, and ran to catch up with the rest of the group.
This piece was written for The Master Class writing challenge. The challenge was to write a piece of fiction that began with the first line of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale (which was an incredible book!)
I wrote a zombie novel for NaNoWriMo in 2011, and unfortunately it was the same situation as this year, where I wrote to over 50,000 words and then just sort of stopped writing the story and never finished it. This is a scene that may have happened a few chapters down the road from where I left off. Maybe this means I should pick up that story again and keep going? But maybe I won’t.. What do you think?