CHAPTER 11: A CLOSE CALL

Getting to Safe Zone F was anything but simple now that I had no one left to lead the way. Growing up, I relied too much on other people, never needing to use my own head.  However, I wasn’t a child anymore. I was sixteen years old and should’ve paid closer attention to the news bulletins and the emergency broadcasts. Maybe if I had, I would’ve known which direction to go.

While I hoped Hunter had been right about the path merging with the previous road again, Emily distracted me with her innocent chatter.

 I was too preoccupied to think far ahead in time. Calculating and planning how to get to the Safe Zone was out of the question. The plan, so far, was to follow the path we were on in the hopes of finding more people at the end of it. Assuming the majority of the people knew where they were going, and the fact I didn’t even know whether we were supposed to head North or South, following the throng of humans went without saying.

 “Keara!” Emily pulled her hand free of mine, and ran off to the side of the road.

In a panic, I held on to both heavy backpacks and waddled after her. “What is it, Emily?”

She looked up as I came to a halt next to her, hastily grasping one of her tiny hands with mine. Big tears strolled down Emily’s face, dangling at her nose and chin, before they created dark, wet stains in the fabric of her dirty dress.

“Is she dead?”

Dead bodies meant contamination, and we couldn’t risk tempting fate by stumbling upon dead, decaying, infected bodies. I cursed out loud, too anxious to even realize I did it. I scanned our immediate surroundings, but didn’t spot any dead bodies. Perhaps Emily had meant her mom, and the thought of her family was the cause of the little girl’s tears. I doubted it would do her any good if I were to explain what her family was going through.

Emily sniffed next to me, wiping her nose clean on her arm. “Is she wearing a collar?”

“Huh? Is she what?”

“The cat, do you think she has a name tag?”

I followed Emily’s gaze, something I should’ve done straight away. Slightly hidden from view, behind a bush of weeds, I saw the tail of a cat sticking out.

“Oh,” I let out in surprise, barely able to hide my smile. Emily didn’t need to know that I considered the cat’s death a good thing. I’d rather have to face a dead cat than a person.

The thought of touching the dead animal gave me the creeps, but if Emily wanted to know whether it wore a nametag, I would check that for her. After all, the poor girl was sobbing over a cat she didn’t even know.

Crouching down next to the cat, I felt for a collar at the neck.

“There isn’t a name tag,” I told Emily when she hunkered down next to me.

“Can we call her Lola, then?”

“Lola? That’s a nice name.”

“Let’s just place Lola somewhere safe, alright?”

I picked the cat up, making my stomach twist and turn at the feel of that stiff body, and carried her to a small wooden fence, a little offside the road. Gently, I laid the cat down, covering her with a blanket of grass as Emily picked a handful of dandelions. Still sniffing, she placed them on Lola, silently saying goodbye.

And that’s how, for the second time that day, I hid a dead body at the side of a road, causing me to remember how only mere hours ago, I had done the same thing for Hunter in the hope he’d find peace – wherever he was now.

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