I was back in the kitchen trying to pry open a can of baked beans with my knife when Andy walked in. He shrugged his pack off his shoulders and tossed it into the corner where I had tossed my own pack. My katana, still in its sheath, sat next to me on the counter.
I reached behind me to where I had moved all of the food from the cupboard, grabbed a random can and tossed it to him.
"Thanks," he said, catching it out of the air.
I didn't answer him, I had already turned my attention back to opening my own can. It's harder than it looks to open a can of food with nothing but a knife. With a final twist of the blade, the top of the can popped off.
After I had moved all of the food from the cupboard to the counter, I had dug through the drawers until I found the silverware. All of it was packed neatly in their own parts of a sectioned drawer. Both the spoons and the forks were stacked up neatly one on top of the other. The utensils on the top of the stack were rather dusty, but the ones underneath were clean enough to use. I had grabbed a spoon that I now used to scoop the beans out of the can. The burst of sweetness that filled my mouth from the sugary sauce was heavenly.
I hadn't realized how hungry I was. Fighting the zombies in the gas station and trying to run from Andy had taken more energy than I had thought. I started to attack my beans shoveling it down. I noticed that Andy hadn't made an effort to open his can. He just stood staring at it like he expected it to do something.
I swallowed the food I had in my mouth. "What is it?" I asked.
He looked up, "Nothing, I'm just... not that big of a fan of spinach."
What was with this guy? He was like no other survivor I had ever met and not necessarily in a good way.
"Again, it baffles me as to how the hell you're still alive."
I reached back and grabbed another can. "Here," I said, tossing it to him after checking the label to make sure it wasn't another can of spinach. "How does creamed corn sound?"
He caught it and tossed the can of spinach back.
"Better," he said. Then, after a short pause, "thanks."
I caught it easily with my free hand then placed the can back on the counter. I resumed the attack on my beans. Andy pulled out a pocket knife and flipped it open to the can opener attachment.
I'll admit, I was jealous. I had been searching for a pocket knife for the longest time and I never seemed to be able to find one. I thought about taking it from him, but I knew that my conscience would never let me live it down. I don't like stealing from people, in the same way that I don't like people stealing from me. The simple act of stealing even a seemingly unnecessary thing could lead to someone's death.
I didn't mind stealing from Raiders, though. In fact, I had made it a goal of mine to steal from them whenever I got the chance. In my mind, Raiders didn't deserve the title of human. So far I had never been caught stealing from them, but I knew that if I continued, I was bound to be caught sooner or later.
I finished off my beans and wiped my finger around the inside of the can, trying to get every last bit out of it that I could. When it was completely empty, I tossed the can and the spoon into the sink. I was far from full, but I didn't want to eat another can. I wanted to make all of it last as long as possible. I leaned back against the counter looked at Andy. He was tipping back the can of creamed corn so that it would pour into his mouth.
He certainly was strange. I had no idea what his past could have been, how much he had to go through, what he's seen. Instead of just wondering about it, I decided to go right out and ask him.
"So then," I said. "What's your story?"
He choked on his corn and started coughing. "Excuse me?" he said between coughs.
I waited until he had stopped coughing. "I said, what's your story?"
"Um, I don't have one?" He looked very uncomfortable, looking at the ground as he spoke instead of talking to my face.
I rolled my eyes, "Bullshit, everyone's got a story. So what's yours? How did you manage to survive through five years of hell?"
I hopped up on the counter and pulled one of my knees up to my chest letting the other dangle off the side. I waited for him to say something.
"Um, I don't know. I guess I'm just lucky?"
"That's your answer? No one makes it this far by being 'just lucky'. Luck can get you a week, a month, maybe a year, but not five years. Now tell me, what's your story?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Look if you really want to stay with me, you're going to have to tell me everything. And don't lie, I'll know if you do."
"I don't know what you want me to say."
I shrugged, "I don't know, start from the beginning. What happened on Day Zero?"
He took a deep, shaky breath and ran a hand through his hair. "Okay, uh... Day Zero... well, I assume you know the general details of what happened that day. No one really knew where the outbreak started but once it did I spread like crazy. The people that were bitten turned within 48 hours-"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everyone knows that part. Cut to the chase." I interrupted him.
He cleared this throat before beginning. "I was uh... I was home with my family that night. It was just me, my mom and dad, and my little sister. We were watching TV when the emergency broadcasts started airing. I remember my dad turning off the TV and telling us to go to our rooms and pack a bag nothing but essentials. He looked worried. That was one of the things I remembered the most, was the look of worry on his face. My dad had retired from the military several years before and he never looked worried about anything. Except for that night."
"We tried leaving the city, but all the major roads were packed with the cars of people trying to flee. Thankfully, we managed to take one of country roads out. The first time we came across a zombie was three nights later. We had been living in the car the whole time and had stopped for gas when one of them came out from around the corner of the building. No one noticed it until it was too late."
"My dad was the only one outside of the car at the time. He was filling the car up with gas when it snuck up from behind. He managed to fight it off and get back in the car but somehow during the process he was bitten. At the time, we had no idea that was how the disease spread so we didn't think much of it. It wasn't long before he started to get sick. He started to hallucinate and he had an extremely high fever that just wouldn't break.
"I wasn't physically there when he turned. My sister and I were outside playing in a field somewhere. At the time, my dad had taken a turn for the worst so we had pulled over and my mom has shooed us away. I don't know if she knew what was happening or not. I remember hearing her scream. After I heard it, I grabbed my sister and ran. I don't know why I didn't go to my mom, I just... I was so scared. I knew something horrible had happened and I knew that I needed to protect my sister."
"We ran and ran until we came across a small town. We stayed there for almost four years, living on the outskirts, avoiding zombies and Raiders. One day, though, my sister just vanished. I searched every inch of that damn town and never found a trace of her. After that I left. I never stopped moving. Then I saw you in that gas station with those zombies and well, here I am now. There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss every single one of them." He fell silent.
I didn't quite know what to say. I knew everyone out here carried their own demons, their own evils and experiences that they had been forced to go through, but I hadn't expected anything close to what he had told me. I was impressed that he hadn't snapped a long time ago. Maybe he was stronger than I had initially thought.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"What are you sorry about?" He asked, rubbing his face with his hands.
"Everything you had to go through."
I hopped down and grabbed my katana from the counter. "Well, I don't much fancy sleeping on the floor when I have a better option available. You okay taking the first watch?" I asked him.
"Yeah, sure." he said.
I turned to go. "Alright, I'm going to crash on one of the chairs in the living room. Wake me up in a couple of hours."
I started to leave.
"Wait, aren't you going to tell me what happened to you?" Andy asked.
I stopped walking and turned around. "Not today, and maybe not ever. There are some things I don't share with anyone."
When he didn't say anything, I turned to leave again.
I stopped but didn't turn around. "What?"
"Thanks," Andy said.
"For not saying it was my fault. With my sister, you know."
I turned around then. Andy was sitting on the ground staring at his hands that sat in his lap. "Things happen that you can't blame yourself for."
"Yeah, well goodnight."
"Goodnight Andy." I said and I left the kitchen.
I walked down the hallway and into the living room. I leaned my katana against one of the chairs and curled up on it. As tired as I was I couldn't seem to fall asleep. My mind was racing with everything that had happened. For five years, I had lived my life pretty much the same. Alone. Then, in just one day, I wasn't alone anymore.
The sun slowly set until the room was pitch black. At some point in the night, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I woke up the next morning to the light shining in through the cracks on the boarded up windows.
'What the? Why didn't Andy wake me up for my turn on watch?' I thought to myself. I looked around the room, nothing had changed from the night before. When I sat up, a blanket fell from my shoulders. "What the hell?"
I got angry then. I slid off the chair, grabbed my katana and the blanket, and stormed out of the room. Andy was sitting on the stairs carving patterns into the wood of the bottom step with his pocket knife. I threw the blanket at him.
"What the hell is this?" I demanded.
He casually pushed the blanket aside and closed his pocket knife.
"Good morning to you too," he said.
"Don't you dare get cocky with me." I snapped at him.
He shrugged. "You looked cold last night so I covered you up with a blanket."
I couldn't control my temper anymore. In a flash, I dropped my katana and pulled my knife from my belt. I crossed the short distance between us and pushed him back against the stairs so that I held my knife at his throat.
"Let's get one thing clear here." I spat in his face. "I don't need anything from you. I let you join me and I could just as well leave right now and not give a flying fuck about what happens to you. Do you understand me?"
The next thing I knew, Andy had knocked me to the ground and sat on top of me. He held down each of my arms. I tried to break free, but I couldn't. Andy was stronger than he looked.
"You know, I think it might be a little extreme to threaten someone with a knife just for trying to do something nice," He said calmly.
"Get the hell off me!" I snarled.
He only smiled slightly "Look, I promise not to do anything nice like that again as long as you promise to stop pressing blades against my throat. Deal?"
"You absolute dumb ass!" I said. Then I kneed him in the balls.
That got him off of me. He fell to the side, his hands clutching his crotch.
As soon as I was free I sprung to my feet.
"That's for pinning me down asshole."
"I don't quite think I deserved that." Andy groaned into the floor.
"If you ever do that again, I'll put a blade through your throat."
"Right, got it," Andy said.
I snatched my katana from the ground and stormed into the kitchen. I couldn't believe that guy.
'Well you did threaten him with a knife.' a part of me said. 'He didn't really do anything to deserve that.'
I groaned and ran a hand over my face as my conscience caught up to me. I shouldn't have lashed out at him for something he did just to try to help. I shook my head and grabbed a can of food at random.
Andy peeked his head into the kitchen a few minutes after I had finished eating.
"If I come in are you going to murder me?" He asked.
I sighed. "No, I'm not going to murder you."
He slowly walked into the kitchen. An awkward silence stretched out between us.
"I'm sorry." he finally said.
"No, you're not the one who needs to apologize. You weren't the one who did something wrong." I said. "I just... Haven't been around people in a long time and it's hard for me to control my temper."
Andy nodded. "That's understandable," he said.
I shook my head. "No, it's not. I'll tell you right now that I'm not a good person, Andy. I've done some things in the past that I regret. I'm not a Raider, but I don't consider myself much better than one. If you were smart, you'd turn around and leave right now."
Andy started laughing. This threw me off completely. Of all the possible responses I thought he might have had, laughter wasn't on the list.
"What the hell are you laughing at?"
"Absolutely nothing," He said.
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever. Forget I said anything."
I walked over to where my pack sat and brought it over to the food on the counter. Off all the items I had, my pack was probably one of the most important things that I had. It was simple and solid black, but it was durable and held everything I had acquired over the years to survive. The pack itself had only three main pockets. A small one in the front with a straight zipper going from left to right, a slightly larger pocket behind it that made a pouch off from the main body of the pack, and the largest pouch. I kept it well organized so that if I ever needed something in a moment's notice, I would know exactly where it was and would be able to get to it quickly.
The smallest pouch contained the Ruger P95 that I carried along with a small amount of extra ammo. The next pouch held both medical supplies and other miscellaneous items; a flashlight, batteries, a small bit of rope, a few fish hooks, a screwdriver, and a flint and steel. The largest and final pouch contained canned food and a metal water bottle. I also kept a towel, folded up against the back wall of the pack so that whatever I had in my back, wouldn't dig painfully into my back.
I began stuffing as many cans into my pack as I could.
"What are you doing?" Andy asked.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm packing up."
"You know," I said, turning around to face Andy. "Sometimes I forget how stupid you really are."
"Just tell me," He said.
I rolled my eyes and resumed packing up the food. "We can't stay here, it's not safe."
"It seems pretty safe to me," Andy said.
I slammed the can I had in my hand down onto the counter and whirled around. "Then by all means Andy, stay here. I'm going to keep moving because I don't like being tethered to a single place!"
Andy held up his hands. "Okay, okay. I get it. I'm sorry I asked."
My clenched my hands into fists at my sides. It took all of my willpower not to punch him in the face. I remembered why I hadn't liked people, even before Day Zero.
I gritted my teeth and forced myself to turn away. This guy was really getting on my nerves. I didn't know why I didn't just leave. I had food, I had supplies, there was nothing physically keeping me here but for some strange reason, I didn't want to leave.
By the time I had had filled my pack with as much food as it could hold, there was less than half of the total number of cans left on the counter. I zipped up my pack and slung it onto my shoulders.
Now that it was full, it weighed a good twenty or so pounds. Five years ago, before Day Zero, I would never have been able to carry a pack that weighed this much for more than an hour. Now, though, after years of building muscles, my back and shoulders were strong enough to carry as much as thirty pounds on my back for an entire day.
I turned to Andy. He was leaning against the wall next to the fridge with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
I walked to the door of the kitchen but stopped before walking out. "I'm leaving in ten minutes," I spoke to the door, not bothering to turn around. I knew he would be listening to me. "If you're coming with me, pack up the rest of the food and be out before then." And with that, I walked out of the kitchen. As I walked out of the house, I felt nothing. No lingering attachment to the place. I'd never stayed anywhere for longer than a few days. I always stayed on the move, not because I had any destination in mind, but because it never felt right staying anywhere for longer than that. I felt like if I allowed myself to settle down in a single place, everything I had to sacrifice would have been for nothing.
Outside, the sun was bright and birds chirped in the trees. If it weren't for the zombies sprinkled throughout the cars, it would have seemed like a beautiful summer day. Judging by the position of the sun, it was around ten in the morning. I hadn't slept this late in a very long time. Part of me blamed Andy. I had slept soundly that night because I had believed that Andy would have woken me up sometime late in the night. I didn't have to wait more than two minutes before Andy joined me on the front steps.
"Did you decide then?" I asked him.
He nodded. "Yeah. I packed the rest of the food that was on the counter. I've still got plenty of room in my pack if you want to put some of yours into mine."
"Why? Worried I might run off and leave you with less?"
"No, I just thought you might like to share some of the weight between us."
"If you're trying to imply that I can't hold my own because I'm a girl you are seriously mistaken. I suggest you change your frame of mind before I cut your balls off." I snapped at him.
He sighed. "That's not what I meant. I just thought we might share some of the weight so neither of us kill ourselves trying to carry more than we can."
I shook my head and turned away. Now that Andy was with me, everything had changed. The rules of survival I had to follow when I was alone were different now that I had someone else around and I didn't know what they were yet.
Sensing that the conversation wasn't going anywhere, Andy changed the subject. "So what are we doing now?"
"We're going, take the main road out of the city and try to get as far as we can before dark," I replied.
"Lead the way then," Andy said gesturing out with his arm.
Again, his cockiness almost sent me over the edge but I checked myself. It just wasn't worth the energy to argue with him anymore. So I just started walking, choosing to ignore him.
As we walked, Andy tried several times to start up a conversation, but after about the fourth attempt, he gave up altogether. We walked in complete silence for quite a while after that. A few times we would have to veer off the road to avoid a lone zombie but for the most part, the town seemed vacant.
It was about two hours after we had left the house that I suddenly heard a noise that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was faint, drifting in on the wind, but it was quickly getting louder. I stopped dead in my tracks. Andy, who had been looking at a sun-bleached poster on a storefront, ran into me.
"What the hell?" he complained loudly.
"Shut up," I snapped. I was trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. I tilted my head in different directions, trying to pinpoint it. The entire time the sound kept getting louder and louder until it was clear where it was coming from. It was a sound I knew only too well. The sound of feet pattering on pavement mixed with the sound of moans and snarls.
The source was what I called a herd. It wasn't common, but every once and a while, groups of zombies would clump together to form masses that would travel together, never stopping. I'd seen herds of zombies wipe out entire groups of people in only a few minutes.
"What is it?" Andy asked.
Panic flared inside of me. "We need to get off the road," I said.
"We need to get out of here!" But it was too late. From around the corner of a building about 50 meters in front of us, came the herd.
The zombies at the front of the group spotted us first and started up a collective snarl. It was a smaller herd, only about five zombies. But as soon as the group saw us, four of the five broke into a sprint straight for us.
"Dammit," I said. I didn't have time to get out my gun, so I reached up and drew my katana. I quickly took up my defensive stance with my katana out in front of me.
"At least we aren't indoors." I thought.
The zombie at the front of the pack never had a chance to reach me. It went down only seconds before, an arrow sticking out of the front of its forehead. I glanced over to see Andy drawing back another arrow.
At that moment, I was glad to have him there. I turned back around just as one of the zombies reached me. I twirled to the side and swung my katana in a tight arch. When the Runner flashed past me, it fell forward without a head.
Andy's next arrow missed the brain of the Runners and lodged itself in its cheek. That was all I managed to see before I had to face the next Runner that charged at me.
I quickly swung my sword low, and it toppled to the ground, missing a leg, skidding a few feet on the pavement. It instantly tried to get back up, but I never gave it the chance. I sprinted over and quickly brought my sword down on its neck, killing it for good.
Andy finally managed to hit the other zombie's brain with an arrow. When it was down he lowered his bow and looked over at me. But he had forgotten that there had been a fifth and final zombie in the group. It came up from behind. At the short distance I knew Andy wouldn't have time to draw his bow.
"Andy, behind you!" I yelled. He turned, but not soon enough to act as the zombie grabbed him by the shoulders. He tried to push it away, but it had him in an iron grip. It was all he could do to keep it from biting him. I quickly grabbed my knife and threw it at the zombie. It spun through the air and lodged itself in the zombie's skull. The zombie fell to the ground in a heap.
I ran over to Andy who had bent over with his hands on this knees.
"Did it bite you?" I asked sharply.
He shook his head.
I let out a sigh of relief. "Good." I sheathed my katana and went to the zombie with my knife in its head.
The blade had struck right in the middle of the zombie's forehead, right between the eyes. It was embedded up to the handle of the knife. A thick, dark brown fluid slowly seeped out of the wound. I grabbed the handle and tried to pull the knife out but it was stuck. I shifted my body so that I was holding the knife with two hands and had a foot planted on its face. With a strong tug, I managed to pull the out. The blade was covered in the brownish goo and the smell was absolutely horrible. I wiped it off on the dead zombie's shirt and returned it to my belt.
I quickly glanced around the area. It didn't seem like our fight had attracted any unwanted attention, but I didn't want to stick around for another herd.
I cleared my throat. "Let's go. Before any more of them show up."
Andy didn't respond. He stayed hunched over his face pale, staring blankly at a spot on the ground.
"Hey, you ok?" I asked.
"I just... It never gets any easier," he croaked out.
I took a step towards him. "Look, I don't know what your life was like before, but you better get your head straight, or this," I gestured to his hunched form, "is going to get you killed. Everything out here wants to kill you. Forget that, and you might as well just throw yourself into a pack of hungry zombies. Now I'm going on ahead. I suggest you think long and hard before doing anything because once you make a choice, there's no going back. Just remember that I'm not here to protect you. If you screw up it won't be anyone else's fault but your own."
Andy straightened and looked at me, sadness filling his eyes. "Alright," he said softly.
I gave him a sharp, curt nod and started walking again, stepping over one of the dead zombies in my path. Andy trailed behind keeping a bit of distance between myself and him.
We walked for another two hours, neither of us speaking. We finally stopped to set up camp in an old church. There was still a few hours of daylight left, but Andy had started to fall behind and I wasn't opposed to calling it a day.
Being inside of the church made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I had never really been religious and, before Day Zero, I could count the number of times I had been inside a church with one hand. I pushed down my discomfort. The church was safe, the doors were solid and the windows were intact. As long as Andy and I kept quiet, we should remain fairly safe. After we each ate a can of food, we settled down for the night.
"I'll take first watch. Get some sleep. I'll wake you up in a few hours." I told Andy.
Andy nodded gratefully. He had been struggling to keep his eyes open for the past hour. He laid down on the floor and after a few minutes, his breathing slowed and evened as he fell asleep.
The next few hours were peaceful and uneventful. I passed the exploring my own thought, letting my mind wander from thought to thought, not letting my mind stay on any one thing for longer than a minute or two. At about one in the morning, I stood up and walked over to Andy's sleeping form.
I shook his shoulder until he woke up.
"Wazzat?" he said groggily.
"Your turn for watch."
He yawned and nodded, sitting up. I walked back over to where I had sat for the beginning of the night and laid down. "You better not fall asleep," I grumbled.
He gave a half-hearted "mm-hmm."
I sat quietly in the darkness for a while, listening to make sure Andy didn't fall back asleep. To his credit, he didn't. He kept softly humming the same tune to himself over and over. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep.