Chapter Twenty-Seven

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I woke up the next morning to sunlight streaming in through a window.

Callie and I had ended up sharing a bed. There had only been a couple, but there weren't so many of us that it would be a problem. The few people who couldn't fit had mats on the floor. I could feel the sheets beneath my body as I stared outside at the frozen trees, not wanting to move in fear of breaking the perfect moment.

There was no noise besides the light inhalations and exhalations of the other people sharing the room. And maybe I was imagining it, but I thought I heard a bird chirping somewhere in the distance.

After some time, I knew I had to get up. No matter how much I wanted to just lay down and stop fighting, none of us would be safe until we reached the Equator.

The wooden floor was cool against the soles of my feet as I tiptoed the few scattered bodies. The door made the slightest creaking noise as I opened it and began to walk down the stairs.

The staircase was wood like the rest of the house. Natural light spilled onto the floor from the kitchen. As I began descending the stairs, I was shocked to hear angry whispers. It was the couple who'd welcomed us in.

I didn't want to eavesdrop on them, since they'd been so kind to us, but I also felt uncomfortable running out there and announcing my presence. So instead, I continued my slow descent down the stairs as their conversation became more audible.

"Listen, John! You know we need to....as soon as possible..."

"I know, Claudia, but I promise, waiting is best..."

"...The last time you promised something!"

"This time is different."

My feet found the bottom step and I walked towards the door awkwardly. The girl, Claudia, was the first one to notice me. Her face paled slightly when she realized I'd heard some parts of their conversation. She quickly smiled, trying to cover it up, but it couldn't conceal the tension.

"Good morning," she said, trying to act normal. She looked around uncertainly, before turning back to me and waving her hand and saying, "Come in, we made breakfast already."

I nodded and entered the room. A table was already set with ceiling to floor windows surrounding half of it. Plates filled with bacon, eggs, and biscuits sat in the center of the table. I was surprised that they had food like that. But I didn't question it. When faced with fresh, delicious food and a hungry stomach, all I could think about was eating.

One of the seats was already partially pulled out and I sat down in it. I cautiously took a couple fresh slices of bacon and put them on my plate. Guilt arose at the thought of taking too much.

More people trickled down into the room and began eating. The two hosts stood to the side, talking to each other conversationally as if their argument had never occurred.

The food disappeared quickly. None of us had eaten much since the start of our trip. The generosity of these people was overwhelming.

I was just getting up to leave, when I heard a fork clatter onto a plate. It was Callie. She stared down at her plate like it had betrayed her somehow.

She stood up, her hands gripping the edge of the table cloth like she would fall off the Earth if she let go. Her face was white. Axel stood up anxiously. "Callie...are you okay?" he asked. He got out of his seat and walked towards her.

She nodded a bit, with a confused expression. Then, she fell, and the only noise in the room was the sickening thud of her head banging against the wooden floor.

"Callie!" Axel shouted as he sprinted to her side. Claudia looked down, just as shocked as Axel seemed to be, and without anyone even saying anything, ran towards the cabinet and pulled out a medical kit. I stood up and walked around the table to watch as Claudia knelt and pressed the back of her hand to Callie's forehead.

People were all talking at once, trying to understand what had just happened. John seemed to be trying to restore order, but it was obvious other people from our group were getting nervous. What had caused her to just suddenly drop like that? It was obvious she was sick, but from what?

Because whatever she had gotten sick from, it was likely we all had had some exposure to it too.

"Everyone, please stay calm. She may have just eaten a bit too much too fast," John reassured. It wasn't really reassuring.

The talking was overwhelming as Claudia and a couple others picked up Callie and brought her out of the room. I ran to help and grabbed her legs. Should I be more worried since I'd slept right next to her?

By the time we returned downstairs, everyone was much quieter. Claudia was the first to break the silence.

"I'm sorry for your friend...but I think she'll be fine. Although this may have prolonged your stay...," she said, seeming genuinely apologetic.

Axel stepped forward as if to respond. He looked furious. I knew he was thinking what we all were. Jadyn quickly put a warning hand on his shoulder.

"Do you think...it could have been something that we ate?" he asked. He didn't even try to hide his accusatory tone.

Claudia was unfazed and just gave him a shrug and a pitiful smile. "I don't know. I hope not. Everything we have comes from the chickens and pigs we've been raising out back."

I knew the food had to come from somewhere, but that answer seemed illogical. How would they possibly keep animals warm enough in this weather?

Axel wasn't happy with this answer, but realized he wouldn't be getting anything else. Cautiously, a few people sat back down and returned to finishing their food. I'd already finished, and felt uncomfortable with the tension in the room. I sighed, and turned around. As I started walking back up to my room, I noticed a dark metal door in the middle of the hallway leading to the dining room. I wasn't sure how I hadn't seen it earlier. John was cooking more bacon, and Claudia was picking up empty plates. Neither were paying attention.

I couldn't help my curiosity. The door looked so out of place, its stark metal contrasting with the wooden wall. It wouldn't be difficult to just open the door and check what was behind it. It was probably just a closet, anyway. It didn't seem like they were trying to hide it.

And I really didn't have anything else to do.

I checked one last time to make sure nobody was watching, and then gripped the cold metal handle.

Ina flash, I opened it, slipped inside, and closed it tightly behind me.    

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