The warmer temperatures explained why I’d woken up in the morning to the sound of death groans. It was still dark, but I could hear them in the distance. I got up quietly, creeping around the house as I woke everybody up and told them to pack.
We tried to sneak off without Clark, but he’d heard us and got ready. The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon when we started out.
Ripley followed us, but I wondered how much longer she would. I knew she liked me, feeling some kind of pack loyalty to me, but eventually, her urge to be warm and survive would outweigh her fondness for me.
Stella was still sleeping when we left, and Daniels carried her draped over his arm. Max was tired, but he walked just fine. I was glad I’d sent them to bed early last night. It worked out for the best, since we left so early.
Clark seemed hungover and lagged behind us, so we all sped up, purposely trying to leave him behind.
None of us said much as we walked. We travelled all day, and when the kids were too tired, we carried them. Boden even offered to carry me after Daniels suggested I rest, but honestly, I was feeling better than I had in a while, so I pushed on.
Even though we were heading farther north, it was getting warmer the longer we walked. The snowstorm must’ve been a random cold snap, and we were moving into the nicer temperatures of spring.
The zombies were still following us. Or they just happened to be all around us. We could hear them, but we never saw them. They stayed far enough back. They were like vultures, circling and waiting for us to die.
We camped out in a tree in somebody’s back yard. Boden surmised that zombies wouldn’t be smart enough to figure out the ladder, which was a few boards spread apart and nailed to the trunk.
They didn’t, but in the morning we had three of them waiting for us at the bottom of the tree. It would’ve been more, but Ripley had already taken care of a couple of them. She was munching on a leg when we woke up.
Our plan to kill them was simple: We dropped our bags on them, starting with the heaviest ones filled with food, like Boden’s duffel bag. That knocked the zombies down, and then Serg and Boden jumped down to finish them off.
Using his hunting knife, Serg cut the head off an older zombie. The bag had knocked the zombie face down, so Serg jumped on its back, then sawed through its neck. It went surprisingly fast, but that was because older zombies had such weak bones.
Boden fought them the old-fashioned way. He stomped one’s head in, then crushed it into the semi-frozen ground. By then, the other one had gotten up and started lumbering toward him. He punched it, then grabbed its head and snapped its neck.
The zombie was still alive, even after that, stumbling confused in a circle. Ripley had just been lying in the lawn, watching them fight, but she got up and pounced on the zombie, finishing off the job Boden had started.
After that, the rest of us climbed down, and we started the day’s walk. Boden was carrying Stella, but she was sound asleep, her cheek pressed against his shoulder.
“Are we ever gonna get far enough north?” I asked him quietly as we walked.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Do you think the cold will really stop them?” I asked. “I mean, it’s spring now, but it’s been winter. It’s been cold and snowy around here until recently. But there’s still zombies.”
“I’ve thought of that, too,” Boden said. “But maybe it’s just not cold enough. There has to be a point where it’s too cold, where they freeze just trying to walk.”
“That’s called Antarctica, Boden. And we couldn’t survive there.”
“They weren’t around during the snowstorm,” Boden said. “That at least slowed them down. Maybe the cold won’t kill them or stop them completely, but they thrive where it’s warm. We’ll be safer the farther we go.”
“I hope so,” I sighed. “But I don’t know if we’ll ever be safe again.”
“Maybe we won’t,” he admitted. “But we’ll survive anyway.”
We walked another full day, stopping only when we had to. We decided to end the day at a roadside motel that was eerily reminiscent of the Bates Motel. Some of the rooms were in horrible shape, trashed and torn up. There was even a rotting body in a first-floor room.
But the second floor rooms weren’t quite as bed. Boden and Serg moved box springs out from two of the rooms to block the stairways to the upstairs, just in case zombies stumbled upon us. It had been a little while since we’d heard the death groans, and we were on a pretty deserted stretch of road.
As a rather exciting added bonus, Daniels found three working flashlights in the office. He’d gone exploring, looking for provisions, and it was like he’d struck gold.
We picked the three cleanest, nicest rooms for ourselves to share. Stella, Max, and I would share the one room with the king-sized bed. The rest had two double beds.
Boden and Daniels were sharing the room next door, leaving Clark and Serg with the room on the other side. Even though we were sleeping separately, we planned on all eating supper together in Boden’s room.
He was getting supper ready while I cleaned up the kids. I took a bucketful of snow into a bathroom and filled the bathroom sink with it. Then I held a match over it until it melted into clean, fresh water.
I had a flashlight in our bathroom, and Max made shadow puppets with it while I washed up Stella. I didn’t give her a full bath, but I used a wet washcloth to wipe off her face and body. I’d taken the brush from the last house, and I wetted down her hair and ran the brush through it.