I sprint back to the supply area, shoving cans of food into my sleeping bag. When it's too heavy for me to carry, I drag it, over to the medicine aisle. I shovel in one of everything I can find, and then hurry back to the door. The floor sways under my feet. My eyes water, and as time passes, it gets harder to breathe. The path in front of me is replaced by thick black smoke. I can only hope I'm heading in the right direction.
Light breaks through in front of me, fighting its way through the smoke. I take a dive through the hole, landing on the soft grass on my stomach. There are hands all around me, lifting the bag away, lifting me up. I still can't see, blinking rapidly as I try to clear my vision. Panic sinks in.
"Jay, stop fighting me," Isaac says, jerking my wrists away from where I've grabbed ahold of his shirt in an effort to fight back.
I look up at his gray streaked face, the white bits of debri stuck in his hair.
"Sorry," I whisper, letting him stand me up on my feet. "Is everyone here?"
"No, not everyone," he answers, brushing me off.
A great rumbling comes from the building behind me. Isaac yanks me forwards, into his chest, as the entire roof collapses, sending more debri and dust flying towards us. I cover my face with a hand, holding my breath.
I swallow hard against the knot I feel in my throat. The thought of looking around scares me, because I know we didn't all make it out.
That's Ollie's voice, shaky but loud over the intense quiet of the crowd.
"Isaac and Jaelyn," Isaac says, sighing.
We listen as fifteen people say their names. In my head, though, I list the names I don't hear. Some of them I worked with over the past two days, and some I never talked to. One stands out like a sore thumb.
Justin didn't make it out.
I search through the crowd for Clare, finding her standing close to Ollie, her head hanging low. Her eyes are red, but who knows if it's from crying or the smoke. It is unclear what her and Justin were, but they seemed close to me.
Mandy has Belle sitting on the ground. She is picking stuff from her pigtails. Stephen is patting Jackson on the cheeks as the boy coughs dryly. The rest of the people are in clusters, checking each other over.
There were over fifty people living in the Al-Ma. More than half of us are dead.
"Jay, Isaac, go see if you can find your bikes," Ollie says as we walk over to join them.
"Why?" I ask, dropping my bag of food and medicine.
"Because you're leaving for the compound. Now. We have wasted enough time trying to plan something safe. You're just going to have to figure it out on the way," she says, kneeling down to go through the stuff. She doesn't look back up at us. "Take Stephen and Clare."
Does she really think the four of us have any chance against the entire compound force?
"I would send Mandy, but I need her here to help me keep everyone calm."
Isaac pulls on my elbow. I can't help but feel like she's sending us on a suicide mission.
"How will you know if we succeed?" I ask, taking a step towards Isaac. Ollie looks up then, smirking.
"I'll know if the world isn't upside down in five days," she says, nodding. She yells for Stephen, nodding to Clare. The blonde looks at me, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. Stephen wraps his tree trunk arms around Jackson, whispering something to him before standing up. I have never seen Jackson speak, but he smiles at his dad, giving him a military salute as he walks away.
"Go find your bikes," Ollie says again, patting Clare on the back, "I'm going to try and move everyone to another building or something. We can't stay out here like sitting ducks. Hartley may come back."
Without an argument, the four of us walk away, around the flames and still standing outer walls to where the front of the building used to be. I can only tell because the asphalt here has yellow and white lines all over it. Isaac and I had them parked out front on one of the shopping cart pens. That probably wasn't the smartest idea, in hindsight, but it had seemed very unlikely at the time that anyone would come this far after us.
The bikes are where we left them, leaning on one another.
"It doesn't matter that we found ours," Isaac says, untangling them, "There's four of us and two bikes."
The rest of us just sort of look at one another.
"Maybe we can raid one of the houses nearby?" I ask, biting my nails. Glancing around, I notice there aren't many houses nearby. There's a lot full of rectangular buildings made of metal, but they are falling apart.
"Maybe over there?"
Isaac points across the street, to some houses on a hill. They are nicer than the box homes, and they aren't falling apart so much. Stephen shrugs.
"It's possible," he mutters, jerking the mess of bikes away from Isaac. In one jerk, he pulls them apart, handing them back to Isaac. Isaac mutters a thanks, propping them up away from one another before following us across the parking lot towards the houses.
Suggesting these houses was a good decision. No one has to go inside or anything. When we get to the first house, there's two bikes sitting in the driveway, bright pink and matching. Clare laughs, playing with the pink streamers hanging from the handlebars.
"Seriously?" Stephen asks, holding the bigger bike up. It's not even up to his waist. "Is this a bike for ants? I won't make it across the mountain on this."
"You can have mine," Isaac says. He looks hurt, though, with his soft smile and lilting eyes. He loved that basket bike.
We pick up our bikes from the parking lot and leave. If we go back, I'm afraid Stephen would never want to leave. His face is stiff, eyes looking straight ahead. The basket rattles as he peddles, the bag of stuff he always carries taking up most the it. Clare occasionally looks over her shoulder, shaking her head and then peddling faster, head low again.
Isaac and I are in the back, listening to the world around us. The birds on dead powerlines and telephone wires call out as we pass by. The wind whistles in our ears and hair.
Too late, I realize I didn't say goodbye to Mandy, but she never came and checked on me. I don't know which of those makes me more sad.
Author's Note: It has been brought to my attention that Jaelyn and Isaac's official couple name is Issay. We just wanted to let EVERYONE know.
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"I live in a place called Compound 4. We are one of ten different compounds placed at strategic locations around the US. It's been thirteen years since the virus overtook humanity, turning about ninety percent of us into zombies. I'm not sure how it...