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At one point, Teddy must’ve grown bored, because he tried to start a conversation about movies. It went on for a short while, but after he and Boden summarized the plot to Road Warrior, the silence returned.

“You’re sure it’s not much longer from here?” Boden asked me when we reached the river.

We stood at the sloping embankment next to it, staring down at the water’s leisurely pace as it flowed past. Bishop and Teddy had already gone down to the water’s edge to refill bottles of water.

There was a chance the river might be contaminated, but it was a risk we had to take. We checked around for corpses or any signs of infection before, and we hadn’t seen any. We’d dehydrate without water, and Daniels said he didn’t think that virus could survive in water for that long.

Nolita and Daniels stayed next to us, as if waiting to see what Boden did. Since Boden was her superior, it made sense that Nolita’d wait for his orders, and Daniels seemed to be taking his cues from her now.

“I’m sure,” I said. “Maybe a few more hours, but we should reach it by nightfall.”

Boden eyed the sun above us, trying to gauge the time. It was hard to ever know what the exact time was, but we got used to telling time by the sky. It was late afternoon, heading into the evening. We’d been walking all day with only one break in the morning.

“Everybody should get cleaned up.” Boden motioned to the river. “Who knows when we’ll have fresh water to wash up in again.”

I nodded, then skidded down the grass toward the river. Nolita and Daniels were right behind me, but Boden stayed at the top for a minute longer, surveying the scene for any signs of zombies.

Bishop waded out in the water to her knees and splashed water up, using it to clean off her arms, her face, her neck. Teddy walked out a little farther than her and took off his shirt, so he could properly clean his torso.

Nolita had stripped all the way down to her underwear and black tank top and swam out in the water, while Daniels remained on the shore, more content to watch her than to go in the river.

I went underneath the bridge, away from where the rest of them were getting cleaned up, because I wanted some privacy. I only went to the other side of the bridge, where I was still close enough to see them, but not very well.

I set my messenger bag on the rocky shore then stripped down to my panties and the small tank top that served as a bra. It had once been white, but the bottom had been stained a brownish red, and it stuck to my belly.

The water was ice cold as I stepped out into it, tentatively at first, until I was out to my waist. I cupped my hands and scooped the water to my mouth, drinking greedily. In another life, I never would’ve considered drinking water from a river. The fear of fish poop and algae and all sorts of gross things would have scared me off. But now I couldn’t remember the last time I’d tasted anything purer.

I drank as much as I could, my stomach feeling full for the first time in I can’t remember, and my thirst was finally quenched.

The tank top was sufficiently stuck my skin, held to the tender flesh by dried blood. To loosen it, I dipped down lower, soaking it in water. The cold stung painfully on the wound, and I breathed in sharply through my teeth.

I stood back up, so the river was only hitting my hips. The fabric had loosened enough where I could lift up my shirt and inspect my incision. It wasn’t the worst one I’d endured, but it definitely looked like shit.

The black stitches were pressed tight against my puffy, red flesh. It was scabby, and when I touched it, fresh blood oozed from it. Since I had nothing better to clean it with, I splashed river water over it, wiping it off as gently as I could.

This was really my fault, and not because I did such a rushed job of stitching myself up. I’d been pushing myself too hard, and doing a hundred crunches last night couldn’t have helped it.

But I had to be stronger if I planned on fighting off zombies with my bare hands. Irritating a wound seemed like small potatoes compared with getting my head bitten off by a monster.

Once I’d cleaned that up sufficiently, I washed off the rest of my body, trying to remove the sweat and grime. When I went back to the shore, I glanced over to the other side of the bridge, where everyone else was still getting cleaned up. Nolita seemed to be enjoying a nice, long swim.

I crouched down to dig through my messenger back for clean-ish clothes when I heard something in the bushes at the base of the bridge. I stood up slowly, scanning for anything to defend myself with, but what came out of the bushes was something I wasn’t at all prepared for.

It was a zombie, but one so newly turned it still maintained all its human features, so it was instantly recognizable. It was Blue.

He had a few tell-tale marks that he was zombie, including a giant, festering bite wound out of his arm that he hadn’t bothered to wrap at all. His eyes were the same warm shade of gray I remembered them being, but now the whites were jaundiced and blood shot. Plus, they were completely maniacal and crazed.

Blue was definitely a zombie, and a young one, which meant he’d be hella fast and hella strong.

It took a second for that register, though. For a second, all I could do was gape at him and feel sick to my stomach.

Then he growled and charged at me, and I sprang into action.

I bolted, slipping on stones because my feet were wet, and ran toward the embankment. Blue gave chase, stumbling on the same rocks that had given me trouble, and I made sure to lead him away from the others.

Part of that was because I didn’t want to endanger other people, but it was more than that. For reasons I didn’t completely understand, I felt responsible for him. Blue was my zombie, and I would take care of him.