Outside

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Soon enough, Isaac and I discover that we have no idea where the 3-to-4 route even is. Finding the old highway was easy enough; all roads eventually lead to it. But once we are on the six lane road, we can't decide which way to go. On our left is Chattanooga, its abandoned skyscrapers casting shadows over us. On our right is a huge mountain, the road disappearing upwards into the tree line.

"Jane said something about 127, which is a highway, I think," I said, straddling the bike. We had stopped, inspecting the way the roads were empty. I had half expected to see cars crowding the once popular streets.

Our virus was a slow one, though. People knew it was coming; they hid at home.

"Well, this sign says Highway 127 is this way, leading towards Dunlap," Isaac says, pointing a ways down the road where there's a black and white metal sign. "Maybe we should head that way."

We are both silent as we eye the uphill road. There's barely any that we can actually see. The mountain, though, is daunting.

"Well, let's get started. I don't think we are going to be able to bike up that," I say, getting off the bike. Isaac follows suit, pushing his bike along behind me.

The strangest thing about being outside of the compound is the lack of unnatural noise. Everything here is quiet. I can hear birds, overhead and in the trees around us. The wind around us whistles, unbridled. Isaac's metal chain on his bike clinks in a nice rhythm, the spokes on both of our bicycles synchronizing with it. Our boots seem to thud against the asphalt that's cracked, just like our sidewalks back in 4.

Weeds poke their heads through those cracks. Flowers bloom almost everywhere between the abandoned gas stations and empty open air markets. Different vines have taken over the signs, from the short elaborate sign that reads 'Baylor School' on it to the giant billboards overhead.

That's the second strangest thing about being outside.

Behind me, Isaac isn't even breathing hard as we trudge up the mountain. I'm already panting, focusing on placing each and every foot flat in front of me.

I wasn't cut out for this.

What on Earth was I thinking?

"Jay, did you say something?"

I laugh, remembering when Howard asked me that. I shake my head, listening carefully to the birds and bugs and the gentle sounds of an engine nearby.

Wait.

"No, but I do hear something," I whisper, stopping. I turn my body, looking over the side of the road, over the metal rail that is barely hanging onto the road. It's a compound vehicle.

"Get off the road!" I whisper hurriedly to Isaac, scrambling over the rail. There's not much space to hide in. Isaac hands the bikes over to me, jumping the rail and ducking down beside me. Isaac's gun hits me in the back of the head, and I swear, covering my mouth.

I'm shocked to discover that the truck isn't olive. It's not a search vehicle.

It's Jane's crew, heading home.

The first truck drives past, hitting it's brakes as it's about to round the sharp curve ahead of us. The second slams on its brakes, filling the air with a terrible smell. Isaac looks at me, pointing at the road.

Out in the middle of the road is a folded up piece of paper. Patting myself down, I realize it's my picture. There's no way they saw it. It's so small.

Jane swings herself out of the vehicle, walking over to the picture. She picks it up, unfolding it as a few of the other crew members join her. Emily peeps over Jane's shoulder, standing on her tip toes.

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