Authors: Khel Milam
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
“So we can’t get to them?”
The young man regarded him with a quiet sort of civility. “No. We cannot get past them.”
“What do you mean?”
“The marks say that the group is blocking the road like a dam.”
The young man glanced at her quickly then his attention returned to the man and he tilted his head as if puzzled. “The messages we leave for each other on the road.”
His eyes darted between them without comprehension.
“I will show you.” Gesturing for him to follow, the young man went to the fork. “See the symbols here painted on the road?” He ran his finger along a line of faded shapes on the asphalt. “This symbol, the square with the bars in it, means a group. A permanent camp. The one that looks like an H, means that the group is blocking the road. The arrow shows the way and the number five indicates how far they are from here.”
For a moment, he studied the markings that the young man was pointing at then he rubbed them with his toe as if trying to erase them. His expression was inscrutable as he gazed in the direction the arrow was pointing. “If there’s still a camp up there, it’d be a good place to hole up and get off the road for a little while at least. And even if nobody’s there anymore, it’d still be a good place to head for. We know there’s water and food around here. All we need are some walls.”
Both she and the young man shook their heads.
The young man shrugged with the same quiet civility as before and stood up and dusted off his knees, his eyes drifting towards the young girl walking among the horses in the swale. “H’s are no good. I think we will be going to the reservoir after the horses have had their fill. We should be able to make it there before the sun sets, I think.”
He turned to her.
Shaking her head, she turned away, focusing with something not unlike anticipation on a point in the distance down the road in the direction she had been traveling the day before. “I won’t go that way either.”
“You won’t even give it a chance? If it’s blocked, we’ll just turn around. You can still go that way if it turns out to be no good.”
“It’s best to avoid rabid dogs.”
“You don’t know it’s dangerous.”
“Anything that tries to force you to do what it wants you to do is dangerous.”
“You don’t even know where you’re going. The road could be blocked that way, too, by an even worse group.”
“But it isn’t.” She smiled at the young man. “I asked.”
“See those marks there?” The young man pointed at a set of symbols running across the main road underlined with fresh paint. “Those say that the road is clear that way. And I put that line under them to let others know that they are still true.”
“This one doesn’t have a line.” He toed the symbols etched on the road at the fork again. “The road could be open now, for all you know. Might be nothing there now. If it’s still true, somebody’d have let us know, right? Left some kind of a mark?”
“Only if they were curious enough to find out.” She took a can of spray paint from the bicycle’s front basket and drew two wavy lines beside an arrow pointing towards the reservoir followed by the number twenty. Then she aimed the can at an older set of markings that were pointing at the woods and made a line under them. “This was how I knew about the place where we camped last night.”
He glared at the symbols on the ground and at her and at the young man and at the fork in the road. “What about other people who come this way?” His voice had quieted. “Shouldn’t we check out what’s up there for them? See if the compound’s even still there or not? Leave a message for them or something? Let them know if it’s safe or not? That’s how this works, right?”
Their implacability stopped him.
He lowered his eyes, sighing without conviction, and frowned at the ground then looked up at the young man. “Could you give me a lift up the fork when you go? Not all the way or anything, just half way or so? I’ll give you a bag of food for it.”
“No, that would not be possible.” The young man’s brow was knitted. “We will not be going that way at all. We might get stuck. It is too easy to get stuck that way.”
“Whatever’s up there can’t be worse than what you’ll find on the road.” His head dropped, his voice barely more than a whisper now. “Any place is better than the road.”
The young man smiled. “But in the end it is just a road. If you do not like the way you are going, there is always another way to go. You are welcome to come with us. We have plenty of room. And you can rest your ankle. And we can tend to your hands on the way.”
“It’s okay. I’m good.” He shifted his weight, watching himself through their eyes. “It’s not far. I’ll be fine.”
Looking at him now as if able to see all of his thoughts, his feelings, his memories, his life—as if she was able to see even his soul—she spoke to him with a slow, quiet, deliberateness. “You won’t get far on that ankle. Or with those hands.”
Without moving, he seemed to retreat from them.
She called to the cat and it leaped into the basket. She gave a short wave to the young man and to the girl and to him. Then flanked by the dogs, she turned and pushed off towards the ocean of blue in front of her, the sun flashing off the bike’s bright chrome. And without looking back, she pedaled down the road away from them with an unexpected lightness.
He watched her go, his face drawn and spent, not moving, not speaking, just standing there, among the scraps of clothing littering the road and waving in the breeze like so many prayer flags.
• • •
The dead congregate. The living collide.
has a background in Anthropology, Philosophy, and Law. Born in Baltimore, Khel grew up in Houston, and currently lives South Florida with a 17 year old shelter cat and two former strays: a Korat and a three-legged Tabby. This is Khel’s first book.