Chapter Twenty-Five

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The first thing I noticed when we stepped outside was the absence of snow. The snow kept disappearing for random intervals, only to come back sometime later.

I was finally able to see the stars.

There was no way to describe it. The night sky was so mesmerizing and vast, I felt lost in it. It was one of those things you had to see for yourself to understand. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen it. My breath caught as I stared at something that everyone always seemed to take for granted, yet was one of the greatest miracles that the universe had to offer.

It took Axel nearly running into me to wake me from my trance. I stumbled forward slightly and muttered a quick, "Sorry," that I wasn't sure he heard. Instead of responding, he just continued walking past me, not really giving me any attention at all. For some reason, I had a strong feeling that he disliked me. But there was no point worrying about that when there were bigger issues. Like how we were going to get to New York without any true navigation. The thirty-two-day goal hadn't exactly included all the time we would waste going in the wrong direction.

I jogged to catch up with the rest of the group, who I was now a couple paces behind, feeling my bag bang against my back. In it I had stored a gun, a small first aid kit, and a water bottle. It wouldn't last thirty-two days and we still needed food, so there was no doubt more time would be spent searching for sustenance.

"It's beautiful, right?" Asten asked.

I nodded slowly, then looked back down so I wouldn't trip. "It is." We continued to walk in silence for a few more steps until we passed by the trucks. I envied the idea of being able to just hop on one and go to New York, but I knew we couldn't. We had to leave all of them here in case there was an emergency. There was barely enough room for everyone on the trucks. If something happened, they needed all of them so everyone could escape.

"So...where do you live anyway?" he asked, seeming to want to keep the conversation going. I just shrugged.

"Somewhere close to the border of New York," I replied, somewhat vaguely. We weren't even going there so it didn't matter. I just wished I could have a GPS or something, so I would know to stay as far away from that place as possible.

Sometimes, the apocalypse did kind of suck.

"Near New York City?" he asked, raising one eyebrow and smirking at me.

I shook my head exasperatedly. Every time I told someone I lived in New York all they could think about was New York City. But what most people didn't seem to realize is that there is kind of an entire state attached to the one city. "Not that close," I replied, as I thought back to memories of my white-paneled suburban house. At one point, it'd given me so much comfort.

Things had changed since then. Now we were coming back up here to find a man apparently capable of leading us to safety.

At least that was the plan.

As we continued walking, the sky became lighter as the dead world slowly began to wake up. My legs were becoming tired, but I knew we had to keep going. The longer we stayed up here, the less supplies there were, and the more likely it was that we'd end up dead.

By midday, the snow had come back, and as night began to fall, one of the girls suddenly shouted. My body was extremely sore, and the nonstop walking seemed to be tiring out everyone in our group, not just me.

"I see smoke!" she yelled again, pointing to something in the distance beneath the darkening clouds. It was difficult to tell, but my eyes soon found the same trickle of smoke the girl had been focused on. Smoke meant people. People meant food, water, and shelter.

If it was really smoke, I would be ecstatic. I could tell we couldn't go much longer before someone passed out of exhaustion. Despite needing to hurry, soon, continuing this course would be detrimental.

Noting the possibility of reprieve, our group picked up its speed. I rushed to keep up with everyone else, until finally we ran through a series of trees and found the source.

A house.

It was better than I'd expected.

It was huge and had peeling white paint on its wooden exterior. The windows were glass, but surprisingly still intact. It was obvious somebody was still living there. There were massive snow banks surrounding the house, like there were everywhere, but somebody had dug out a path to the front door.

Our group slowed to a stop, hovering at the edge of the decline.

As if on cue, the door opened, and a woman in her twenties walked out. She stood on her front porch, staring at our group in fear. I would've done the same. She had no idea what our intentions were. Nobody moved for a long moment.

Finally, Asten stepped forward cautiously. "Hi....sorry for intruding but do you think we could stay here with you for a while?" It was a long shot – you had to be selfish to survive the apocalypse.

But rather than getting rejected, she nodded as her expression of fear was replaced by one of nervous welcoming.

"Yes....yes. Come right in...we don't exactly get many visitors anymore." She backed away into the door, and motioned with her hand for us to enter.

She didn't have to tell us twice.

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