Authors: Kilayla Pilon
“We were heading north.” Isaac turned his gaze away, frowning.
“Why up north? It’s warmer down south,” I questioned, raising an eyebrow.
“There’s a salvation up there, a place where we’ll be safe,” he said.
“Are you still going?” Jumper squirmed, trying to leap out of my arms towards Isaac.
“I don’t see any reason not to; I mean my father is
what else do I have to lose?” Isaac snorted, reaching forwards to take Jumper from my arms. “Who’s this little guy?”
“Then get ready, we’re leaving in twenty,” I ordered, turning away from him and heading towards my tent. “His name is Jumper, by the way. He decided to sleep with me last
night and hasn’t left since.”
“Alright, I’ll take it down. You just… Pack our stuff; make sure we’ll be able to carry it and uh...” Isaac said, walking up behind me and putting his arm across my chest to stop me in my path to the tent.
“What do I do with him?”
“Carry it?” I asked, looking at him and then over at the cart, which stood lopsided, half of its wheels sunk into the mud. “And I’ll carry him, don’t worry.”
“We’re not bringing the cart. It’s too heavy and it will just slow us down,” He muttered. “Just go pack up.” I nodded, though I couldn’t quite say I agreed with him and headed over to the cart. There were so many valuable things to take, like water bottles filled with clean water and packages of food that we could take with us. I sighed and began sorting out our stuff, hoping Isaac would be fine with what I had chosen for us to take with us and what we would leave behind.
By the time we had finished packing all of our things, or at least what we could carry with us, the su
n had begun to peak out of the clouds and the ground was not as horrid to walk upon, no longer squelching beneath our footsteps. Our tents were covered in mud, but the plastic wrap was smeared with blood, so after a lot of debate, most of it involving me whining about the trade value of the tents, we settled on leaving them behind. We wouldn’t have much use for them anyway – we wouldn’t be doing a lot of sleeping until we got to Cobalt.
“So, this community we’re going to, how far is it?” I asked as I finish
ed zipping up a backpack filled with food. We’d packed all the food and water we could carry – we decided to leave behind any clothing we had, making room for more necessities like medical supplies and weapons. We didn’t have many bullets left, and I was running out of arrows, but I was more hopeful that we wouldn’t need to use them.
“It’s about a four or five day walk from here,” Isaac said, sighing. “It’ll be worth it though, don’t worry.” His voice was soft, as if he wasn’t speaking to me at all.
“What’s it like up north?” I mused, tilting my head. I had to wonder what it was like – we had never gone far up north because of how cold the winters got. We had bounced between provinces and spent days down south, but we had never really gone too far north – in fact, we had never gone further north than in the house we had been living in.
“Cold winters, beautiful scenery, but… I don’t know how bad it is up there. It could be crawling with bandits, some infected may
even remain, I don’t know. I thought most of those infected were dead by now, but that dog…”
“We’ll just have to see,” I said and patted his back.
“I guess so,” he murmured in response, shying away from my touch. He took a side step away from me, beginning to walk towards the path we had taken from the road without me. I jogged after him, making sure I was a few steps behind him.
“If it makes you feel better, there is one thing we have in common,” I began, deciding that I would try and cheer him up.
“What’s that?” He said.
“We’re both parentless!” I sa
id, grinning up at him and realizing then that what I had said sounded far better in my head than out loud. “Arin? Can you do something for me?” Isaac asked his voice sweet.
“Depends, what is it?” I hoped it was something simple.
“Stuff a sock down your throat,” he said, batting his eyelids at me.
Good one, idiot,
I thought and stared down at my feet, shuffling along beside him.
Silence succeeded our conversation, a good half hour of walking along the road with nothing but the wind and crunch of our footst
eps against the gravel along the roadside. Every sound seemed amplified in the echoing silence around us. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“How do you know we're headed in the right direction?” I inquired, shocked at the sound of my own voice – i
t sounded, to me, like it could be heard for miles in every direction.
“I just do,” Isaac said his response not very reassuring.
“And how did you hear of this place?” I continued, hoping to get some information out of him. I didn’t just want to walk in to some place I had never heard of before with someone I had known for just over a thirty hour period.
“Word gets around,” he said and gave a slight shrug. “Dad used to have contacts all over.”
“Have you ever been to it?” I questioned, unable to contain my curiosity.
“No,” he replied with a sigh. “Trust me, we’ll get there.”
“Okay,” I murmured in response, chewing on my lip.
He’s never seen it, but everything is riding on it being a safe place to stay. What if it doesn’t even exist?
“You have my word. Maybe I’
ll take you over to one of the lakes on the way, show you some of the beauty left in this damn world.” He gave a little snort, shaking his head. “What very little there is, I mean.”
“There’s beauty everywhere, Isaac, you just have to look,” I assured, cros
sing my arms and glancing up at him.
“Well,” he laughed. “I don’t see it.”
“Look up,” I said, grabbing his arm and pointing up to the sky, where a large black bird soared above.
“I see the sky,” he said, looking up and yanking his arm from my grip.
“And there’s a bird,” I continued, moving my finger to point at the soaring creature.
“Oh boy, a bird,” he said, his tone full of sarcasm.
“Just look at it fly, look at how free and alive it is,” I commented, locking my gaze on the soaring black creature.
“It’s a vulture. It feeds off of death,” he said, looking at me with a condescending expression, eyebrow raised.
“Oh, you know what, you’re just impossible!” I said, throwing my hands up. “I am trying to make you a little happier and here you are -”
n, shush,” interrupted Isaac, eyes wide as he scanned our immediate surroundings.
“Excuse me? I will not be shushed, not by you or by anyone!” I said, appalled that he would even think of telling me to be quiet.
“Arin, shut up and listen,” he growled, and I opened my mouth to protest, but he glared at me, and the look in his eyes kept me silent. For a long moment, the only sound I could catch was the soft wind blowing through the tree. It wasn’t until I opened my mouth again to complain that I caught the sound of distant voices.
“Did you see that guy back there? He'd just… Who could do that?”
“He was infected, you…”
“Yeah, but…” The voices trailed off before I could determine the gender of which they belonged to. Isaac and I stood silent, hands reaching for
our weapons for a long few minutes afterward.
“I think we’re good,” Isaac said.
“Yeah?” I asked, glancing over at him.
“Yeah,” he reassured, nodding his head and relaxing his stance.
“Great, but I have a question,” I continued, taking a large step forwards and pivoting to look him in the eye, beginning to walk backwards. “Do you know what the infected are infected with?”
“Some mutated form of the common cold, that’s really all I know. Dad said it’s this weird disease that can only pass in two ways –
bodily fluids or like what happens if you eat your food and it’s not cooked right... Through bacteria, I think it’s called,” he paused and ran his fingers through his hair, smacking his lips together before he continued, “he said there were these groups of people; they would use it to kill people, poor people or sick people, they thought of them as vermin, even though they were just normal people without money to support themselves or heal themselves. Then it just mutated and... It doesn’t even sound real, right? But it is, I mean, we saw what it can do to people.” Isaac stopped and shook his head, closing his eyes.
“They never did make or find a cure, did they?” I questioned, the understanding of my parents reasoning’s for why my mother and father always d
anced around my questions about the disease. It just seemed too horrible – like something out of the stories they used to tell me when I was a kid. Except that the disease was real and my books with tales of vampires and trolls were not.
“They tried, but n
othing worked, as we already know. It just kills them and takes anyone else it can before then.”
“I was attacked once, got attacked by some dog,” I mentioned, holding out my arm and pointing to a scar near my forearm.
“Not everyone is going to get it the first time – are you sure the dog was infected?” Isaac said, holding my arm and inspecting the faded scar, eyebrows pulled together.
“Yeah, it attacked someone else and they wound up really sick too – Mum knew what it was before he went insane, though,” I s
aid, a shiver running down my spine. I had never seen my mother kill before, but watching her kill the poor man…
“Let’s just hope I don’t get bitten again, I doubt I’ll be as lucky.”
“How did you guys not notice the dog was infected?” Isaac asked, letting my arm go.
“It wasn’t like your father, it didn’t seem sick, and next thing we knew it was attacking us.” I shrugged. “That was two years ago, anyway. I know better now.”
“I didn’t think you didn’t,” he said in an attempt to defend himself. I just smiled and began walking, shifting the bags on my back – they were heavy.
Again we walked in silence, shifting further from the forested side and over to the right side of the road, but for much longer this time, having nothing to say betwe
en the two of us. I had questions, of course, but I didn’t want to bother him, have him think of the past and make him even more upset than he already was. I knew I wouldn’t be too happy if he asked about my parents, too. It’d be nice to talk about them, but I just wasn’t ready. It was ironic; however, that I spent most of the silence dwelling on the horrors of the past and dreading a future I knew would forever be without the two people I had trusted the most.
Isaac came to a sudden stop, peering over the
edge of the road we had been walking beside. I shuffled over to stand beside him and leaned forwards, gazing at a long stretch of blackened iron metal rods at the bottom – they looked like someone had laid a large, long and wide latter along the ground.
hat’s that?” I questioned, blinking. It seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite recall the name belonging to the long ladder-like object.
“It’s a rail road track, or train track, trains ride it. Listen -” Isaac grabbed my head, moving it so that my head was
tilted to the south of us. A low rumble echoed and I furrowed my eyebrows, the sound remaining as familiar as the strange bars stretched across the ground. “There’s a train coming, and it’s heading the way we’re going, I think. Want to take a chance and ride it? See if it’ll take us further north?” Isaac said a mischievous glint in his green gaze. I opened my mouth, but I had nothing to say against it.
“It couldn’t hurt, I guess,” I responded, looking down the hill,
“how long until it gets here?”
we have maybe two minutes at the most.”
“How are we getting on? Will it stop for us?” Isaac looked at me, holding back a laugh at my question.
“We’re going to jump on it,” he said, as if it was obvious.
“Oh.” I blinked, chewing on my lip.
“I’m real glad we didn’t bring the cart now,” Isaac said, a grin on his face as he ran down the hill. I watched him go, his legs moving so fast I was surprised he kept upright. I followed suit, closing my eyes and clamping my mouth shut, holding tight to Jumper, who had been quiet and snuggled against my chest the entire walk, I felt my body begin to soar.
The ground beneath us wasn’t level and my legs rocked with each step, struggling to keep my body upwards as we stepped on large humps within the ground, but I couldn’t
control myself as I ran, plummeting downwards, and feet slamming hard and jarring my legs. I almost flung my arms out, trying to keep my balance as I held back a scream of terror and exhilaration, my heart roaring in my chest, the wind and the sound of my blood beating consuming my entire consciousness. I began to stumble forwards and opened my eyes to see the ground coming up fast – I was falling.
“Gotcha,” Isaac said as something hard slammed against my stomach. Jumper had long leaped out of my arms and
was sitting beside me, staring up at me with round pupils, ears perked and head tilted. I laid against Isaac’s arm for a moment before I stumbled backwards, clutching onto his arm, panting and trying hard to steady my frantic breathing.