I was daydreaming. Imagining a time when my mom didn’t eat my dad. When my sister was a normal person. When the family dog was still alive. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe a few months, maybe a year. It’s hard to keep track of time in a tropical place like this. The summers are hot. The winters are a little less hot. The springs and falls are equally as hot with a bit of rain sprinkled here and there. Maybe someone will know. “What’s today’s date?”
“Today’s date is let’s not get infected by fuckers day,” Joe said. “Coincidentally, it was the same day yesterday, but James seemed to have missed the memo.”
Loo twitched in his sleep. He had a rough night, losing his brother to a group of infected like that. I still don’t know how they got him. One second, he was fine, the next second, he’s screaming and crying for help. James was the glue of our group, keeping us grounded. Someone looking in from the outside would’ve called him our leader. And now he’s gone. I wonder how long we’ll last.
“We’re running out of gas; what do I do?” Jen’s voice came from around the corner.
We have three tanks of gas left. That’s 15 gallons, so, about ninety miles on the road, minimum. But where should we even go? The radios stopped picking transmissions up a long time ago. Either all the settlements are full and not taking anyone in, or they’ve been run over by infected. In the end, our primary focus is food. “Keep going. Once we run out, I’ll refuel us. Let’s try to make it to a truck stop.”
“Who died and made you leader?” Joe asked, raising an eyebrow. His face split into a grin. “Oh, right. James did.” He cackled, and Loo turned over in his sleep. There was a large bump on the back of his head, and bits of dried blood sprinkled the ground. The only reason he was able to sleep so soundly after losing his brother was due to Joe’s medication: a good ol’ knock on the noggin.
“I’m not the leader.”
“Really.” Joe smiled at me. “Who made the call to abandon James?”
It was me. But…. “You agreed.”
Joe shrugged. “After you made the call. Leaders lead. Followers follow.”
“There’s no way Loo is going to accept that.”
“He’s going to have to,” Joe said and leaned back. He turned his head and lifted the corner of the curtain nearby. A beam of sunlight shone onto his face, causing him to wince. He placed the curtain back down before lifting his eyepatch. “You’re the smart one, went to college and all that.” He gestured towards Loo. “This dumbass? He used to climb trees to chase squirrels. No way we’ll live long if he leads. And Jen? She’s a grade-A moron, even dumber than Loo, thinks we’re pirates or some shit.”
“Fuck you. You wanna drive?”
Joe chuckled, ignoring Jen. “And with those two out of the running, the leader is either you or me. But Jen hates my guts, and I conked Loo on the head. You think they’ll listen to me? You, on the other hand, well, you abandoned James, but other than that, you’re cool, level-headed. Remember when we had to put down Wilson? All I saw was red, but you’re the one who mediated between me and James.”
“He’s right, you know,” Jen said. “And don’t feel bad about leaving James. You made the right call. It wasn’t any of our faults that James died; you can only blame it on bad luck.”
“That reminds me,” Joe said. “Remember how I said there was an infected that was really creeping me out because it was just staring?” He didn’t want for either of us to respond. “Well, you also remember James saying one of the infected was banging two metal rods together? I think they were the same one.”
“You’re saying those infected had a leader?” Is that possible? Infected can’t think. They’re like insects, acting on baser instincts. But unlike insects, they aren’t attracted to light. The only things that attract infected are sound and smell.
“Maybe,” Joe said. “But we can’t deny we lost James when an unusual infected showed up. I mean, think about all the zombie apocalypse movies. Aren’t there special zombies that appear occasionally? Like some are made up of multiple people and have chainsaws for arms or something. What if it’s something like that?”
“You watched too many shows. Chainsaws for arms?” Jen asked. The RV swerved, and I nearly fell over. “Damn potholes.”
“If you haven’t noticed, Jen, we’re in the middle of an actual zombie apocalypse,” Joe said and snorted. “Fine, maybe not chainsaws for arms, but certainly there can be intelligent infected, right? What if Einstein became infected? You think he’d be just as dumb as those bastards?”
“If you’re so smart, why don’t you get your ass bit by an infected and find out?” Jen asked.
“I don’t know what kind of kinky shit you’re into, but I like my ass free of toothmarks,” Joe said. He looked at me. “What do you think?”
“It might be possible for some infected to be smarter, but I hope that isn’t the case.”
“I wasn’t talking about that,” Joe said and grinned. “I was talking about Jen. Does she like being bit? You two share a room, and the walls are pretty thin, you know?”
The RV swerved again. “James just died, asshole. Is it really the time to joke around?”
“Is there a better time?” Joe asked. “Oh, Loo’s waking up. Should I give him another dose of medication?”
“No.” It’s better to confront Loo now while we’re in the comfort of the RV. I made the most logical choice and left James behind. Unfortunately, most people don’t run on logic, letting their emotions take control. And I can’t really blame them, that’s what makes them human. But even if I can’t blame them, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a hassle to deal with. I can only hope Loo isn’t too angry with me.
“Hey. There’s smoke drifting up over there; should we check it out?” Jen asked.
Smoke means fire, and fire means people, usually. “Yes, but let me talk with Loo first.”