The strain on my leg has set me back, but I still insist that we leave today. It is midmorning, however, and we are still here. Charlotte has a can of spray paint in her bag and paints the words AREA NOT SAFE. On the door. When asked she says that everywhere she goes she leaves a note for any survivors.
I am sitting in the Hummer, waiting patiently for them to pack the rest of the supplies before moving out. I am frustrated, but I hide it as there is little I can do to help. Charlotte and Josh left early this morning into town and found some new clothes for everyone and I am now wearing a new pair of jeans, (they are a bit larger, as I’ve lost a lot of weight from a lack of food), and a sweater. I look into the passenger mirror under the sun block and scratch the thickening beard on my face. Chad and Josh both saved this morning, but I opted out. I’ve never minded having a beard.
Eventually the three of them get in and we are off. Chad stops at a gas station to fill up on gas, and while I fill up the tank, (insisting that I need to use my leg), Chad goes into the station with Josh to see if there are any spare gas cans. There are none. I figure that most people grabbed them during the few days the outbreak was infecting people. As I pump I wonder idly if there are any colony’s of people surviving, trying to wade through this and hope that it ends soon. I don’t think it will end but it would be nice to come across some people that had not been changed. I know the longer the amount of time, the less and less humans there will be.
I can see several zombies loitering down the street, maybe a mile away but they do not see us and so I do not alarm the others. If they start this way we can run. My machete is leaning against the Hummer and I had brought it out just in case. I don’t think you can be too careful, and from just my experience in the last few days, not to mention weeks; one moment things can seem fine and the next your leg could become a zombie chew toy.
I finish and get back into the Hummer, leaving the gas nozzle on the ground in an odd sense of defiance.
It doesn’t take us long to get to the redwoods. Chad drives fast until we reach the redwoods and slows drastically down to about twenty-five or thirty miles an hour so we do not miss the red cloth tied to a tree.
There is a peace in the forest and I want to walk in its shade. We stop for a few minutes to allow me to stretch my leg. It is cold and my breath is visible as it raises. I limp around the vehicle a few times, balancing with my hand against the frame, and finally I walk into the woods. Using my cane I am able to make it with no major issues. I do need to stop every so often to take any weight off of my leg, but all in all, I can feel my strength coming back. While the leg has a long way to heal, I should be able to use it more frequently and with more ease, soon.
It took us another hour of driving before we see the first ripped red cloth tied around one of the smaller tree’s. There is little room to maneuver the Hummer, especially since we do not know where to go exactly so we each get out, grabbing some weapons and start to hike into the forest. Chad hits a button and the Hummer’s horn honks once. I look at him questioningly.
“I locked it,” he says. After a moment he adds, “you never know.” It is slow going and after what I would guess was a mile it is getting dark and cold but I cannot concentrate on that with the pain in my leg increasing with every step.
“Aaron,” Chad says, after I have to stop for a rest. “Charlotte and I are going to run ahead while you and Josh wait here.” I begin to protest, but he continues. “If it gets dark we will not find them nor will we be able to find our way back. We’d freeze.” Charlotte says something but it is muffled by her mask.
“OK,” I finally say, and without another word Chad and Charlotte take off. Josh comes over and sits down next to me.
“Do you think she’ll be there?” He asks me, looking up at the sky. It is still light out side, but we don’t have anymore than an hour.
“Yeah, I do. She has to be.”
“Do you want me to check your bandages?”
“Not now.” I say looking down at my leg. “Maybe once we get to their camp.”
We don’t talk anymore and I just sit, eyes closed, listening to the sound of wind through leaves. They rustle and I am reminded of the sound in times that I was not fighting for my life. I loved nature and nature sounds. I use to listen to the rain and soundtracks of rain while I worked on my undergraduate work. I learned that trick from Chad only a month ago and it may have well of been a life time or so. I am not the same person I was a month ago. I am a killer. I am a survivor. I am a man who has to become like these dreaded things, these zombies in order to beat them. I wonder what my family will see. I wonder what they have had to do to survive. What have we all become?
It takes an hour and it is nearly dark when I hear movement. Out of reflex I grab my machete and pull it from its sheath, awkwardly standing, using the massive tree at my back. It gets louder and I can see Josh holding his rifle up ready to fire if needed.
“It’s me,” comes Chad’s voice and we see him coming into view, around a large tree. He is holding my son Connor, and my wife Dawn and youngest son Seeley are with him. I start to run towards them and fall instantly. I try to get back up, but before I am able Connor has run over and is hugging me. Dawn is there weeping her beautiful tears and I find that I am crying as well, holding my wife and boys as though I would never let them go. Connor, who is two, is not crying but is now pulling my arm, telling me to follow him and I finally stand, sheath my machete and carry him in one arm back to their camp. Holding my wifes hand and balancing off of her I grin idiotically, tears still rolling down my cheeks and walk back with my family. My wife. My sons. My brothers. And for the first time since this all began I can say that I am happy and that things will be OK.