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“So what if it’s out of our way?” I asked. “It’s not like we have a deadline when we have to be somewhere.”

“Maybe not, but I for one want to get someplace where we can settle down instead of wandering all over the planet,” Boden said.

“Me too, but not at the expense of everyone here,” I said.

“No, he’s right,” Bishop interjected. “The little ones aren’t going to be able to handle all this walking, not as well as the rest of us.”

I glanced back over my shoulder, where Teddy was helping Stella and Max pack up the rest of their things. The sun had risen about an hour ago, and the morning had been spent eating and getting ready to go. Boden, Bishop, and I didn’t eat anything, but the kids needed to, if we expected them to keep their strength up.

“Besides that, we can’t keep camping out like this,” Bishop said. “We’re too exposed to the elements. We need to find a safe place where we can stay.”

Boden exchanged a look with me, and I sighed. I didn’t like taking risks, at least not with Max’s life, but Bishop was right.

“So we take my route?” Boden asked, and I nodded reluctantly. “Good.” He folded up the map again and shoved it into his duffel bag. “We should get moving then.”

I stood up just as Serg came over to us. He’d woken up roughly the same time as we had, and he’d eaten breakfast out of his own food he carried in his bag.

“I just want you to know that I’m not following you,” Serg said, readjusting the straps of his bag on his shoulders. “But I’m going north, too. I hear there’s less zombies up there.”

“So you’ll be walking in the same direction as us?” Boden asked him.

“Kind of, yeah,” Serg nodded. “I just want to get to Canada as quickly as possible.”

Boden scratched his head and muttered something to himself. “You can walk with us, if you like. We can’t promise you protection, and we won’t share any of our provisions.”

“I understand.” Serg offered a small smile. “Thank you.”

Once he was out of earshot, I turned to Boden and said, “What’d you invite him along for?”

“I’d rather have him walking beside us than sneaking up behind us,” Boden replied simply.

We finished packing our things and headed out. We started out following Boden’s path as closely as we could, but when we heard the rumblings of zombies nearby, we had to diverge from the course.

It was nice that we had a map, though, and for once we weren’t wandering completely blind, even if it was hard to discern where we were since we weren’t really following roads.

The zombies called frequently in the distance, but we never got close enough to see them. But to be safe, we didn’t slow down. We kept as quick a pace as we could manage and didn’t take any breaks.

That ended up wearing on the kids. Teddy and Nolita ended up carrying Stella most of the day, taking turns between them. I would’ve offered to carry her myself, but I didn’t think she liked me that much.

Besides that, the walking was harder on me than I’d ever admit. My stomach ached terribly, and when I’d cleaned up in the morning, I’d noticed that my incision was leaking. I assumed that wasn’t good, but I didn’t want to ask Daniels for help. Not unless I absolutely had to, and I wasn’t there yet.

By midafternoon, Max really started trailing. I walked in the back with him, and eventually I took his hand, nearly dragging him along. He didn’t whine or complain, though – he just struggled to keep up.

Once Max stumbled and fell to the ground. To make matters worse, the death groans were nearby.

We were walking uphill through thick pines and scattered bare maples. The ground was covered in dry pine needles and patches of snow. It was colder up here, and we’d stopped once to put an extra sweaters on Max and Stella.

The trees offered cover from the zombies, but the zombies calls sounded like they were echoing off the tree trunks. It was hard to tell exactly where they came from, but it couldn’t be that far away. Our best bet was to stay quiet and keep moving.

Every time one of them would cry out, Ripley would stop, her ears pointed forward as she looked around. So far, she hadn’t spotted one, and I figured that was a good sign, since she had better tracking skills than I did. She just kept walking several feet away from us, weaving through the trees.

When Max fell, I was still hanging onto his hand, and it jerked me back. I started pulling him up, but he shook his head and refused to stand.

“Remy, I hurt my knee.” He let go of my hand and sat up. A rock had torn through his jeans, and his knee was scraped and bloody. “I don’t think I can walk.”

“It’s just a scrape, Max,” I said in a hushed tone. “You can walk just fine.”

“No.” He shook his head and looked up at me with sad eyes. “I’m too tired. I don’t think I can walk anymore.”

We’d already been lagging behind the others, and when I looked back up the hill, I could see the rest of them getting even farther away. Even Ripley continued on, her beige body almost disappearing in the trees.

“You can do it,” I insisted and took his hands. I tried to pull him to his feet, but his legs gave out, and he fell back to the ground. “Max, come on.”

“Remy, I can’t,” he said.

The plaintive tone in his voice made me believe him. Max wasn’t one to just give up or throw fits needlessly, but he was an eight-year-old kid. He couldn’t go on forever, no matter how much he wanted to.