Having made it past the contaminated, I was finally able to breathe safely. Of course we weren’t safe yet, but we were one step closer and in the end, that was all that mattered. Once we arrived at the Safe Zones, I was going to be so relieved no longer having to be afraid of anyone. After all, hadn’t we heard on the radio that the soldiers were extremely strict on who they let pass through and the people who weren’t allowed to enter the Safe Zones? We were going to be safe there, but here, at this moment, we still couldn’t trust anyone.

Other people filled the road, and as if by some unspoken rule, we tried to keep our distance from each other. Occasionally, someone would move closer, and that is when I increased my pace and tried to make sure Hunter was situated between me and that other person.

“Keara,” Hunter sighed when I used him as a shield for what felt like the hundredth time that day. “Don’t be so paranoid. It’s not as though everyone here is out to get you.”

I simply shrugged my shoulders at him and continued to walk, only a little faster than before. In order to avoid contamination I’d do everything in my power – acting paranoid included. It was hard to believe that Hunter wouldn’t do the same, but maybe he did it in a more subtle way. Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to lower my guard. My plan was to get to the Safe Zones, alive, and nothing would stop me from doing so.

“Hey!” Hunter shouted from behind me. “Don’t run off like that!”

His rapidly moving feet caused muffled thuds as he closed the distance between us, but  I didn’t slow my pace. Once by my side, he raised his voice at me as though I committed a major crime.

“How many times will I have to remind you that we have to stay together?”

“Well,” I raised my eyebrows at him, “I can’t help that you’re too slow to keep up with me.”

“Too slow?” He huffed. “As if…”

That being said, he fastened his pace, taking steps twice as big as mine to prove his point. It became harder for me to keep up with him, but I managed to - with big effort on my side. We speed-walked past other people, probably making ourselves look like big fools, but neither of us seemed to care.

We walked, and walked, and then we walked some more. We did this in complete silence. It was only when the sun began to set that Hunter finally slowed down, which meant I could do the same without being the weaker one. Of course, I knew it was ridiculous of me to regard our pace as a competition. None of it was meant to be fun, but there was only so little I could do to keep my mind occupied, to keep it from drifting off to depressing thoughts.

“Maybe we should look for somewhere safe to rest. It’s going to get dark soon and we’ve been walking for hours now,” Hunter suggested, having come to a complete stop. Relieved that we’d be able to take a break, I nodded eagerly.

My feet and legs ached, just like my shoulders, and the strain in my back bode little good. My throat felt as though I hadn’t had anything to drink in a long time, and my stomach growled in anticipation at the thought of food. Not able to get my mind to cooperate and help Hunter find a spot for us to spend the night, I followed him like a lost puppy as he moved to the side of the road. My legs protested, but I had to walk those last few steps all the same. Sighing and puffing, I dragged myself after Hunter.

“This looks like a good spot, doesn’t it?”

 My brother looked at me expectantly, waiting for my approval, but I was too exhausted from all the walking to even do as much as nod. The exact moment I stood next to Hunter, I let myself drop to the ground. With my legs stretched out in front of me, I exhaled loudly and rested against the backpack that I still carried.

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