“But they didn’t.” I shrugged.
I headed in to the store, which was now thankfully zombie free. Max poked his head down through the hole in ceiling. When I came in Stella had been beside him, but as soon as she saw me, she disappeared.
“Max, lower down the ladder,” I said.
“Did you get rid of all the zombies?” Max asked.
“I wouldn’t have you lower it if I hadn’t.”
“Who are they?” Max asked as he dropped the rope ladder down.
“That’s Boden,” I pointed to him, and then pointed to Bishop. “That’s Bishop. They came with to help me.”
“Hello.” Bishop smiled at him and waved.
“Hi,” Max said, but he didn’t smile.
I climbed up the ladder, and Bishop followed me. Boden stayed down on the ground, presumably keeping an eye out for zombies.
“Get your stuff together,” I told Max. “We’re getting out of here.”
“And going where?” Max asked.
“North,” I said simply. I grabbed one of their sheets and went over to the corner where they’d stored all their food and supplies. “It’s safer up there. Less zombies.”
Max did as he was told, first shoving his things into a backpack, while I put their provisions in a makeshift sack I’d made from the sheet. I grabbed the lighter stuff first, avoiding most of the canned goods. They would get impossible to carry if we had too many.
“I thought you said there was a girl,” Bishop said.
“There is.” I turned back to look around and saw Stella buried in the blankets, trying to hide. “She’s right there.”
“It’s okay, sweetie.” Bishop crouched down in front of her and smiled. “We won’t hurt you. We’re here to keep you safe.”
Stella only buried herself deeper, so I got up and walked over to her, trading places with Bishop. Max had finished packing one backpack and moved onto putting Stella’s things in a smaller pink one.
“Stella, honey, it’s okay.” I knelt down. “Come out of there, please.”
She poked her head out farther, her matted hair all but hiding her eyes. “Why?”
“I need you to come talk to me for a second.” I held my hand out to her. “I won’t hurt you. I promise.”
She seemed hesitant, so Max chimed in, “She’s nice, Stella. You can trust her.”
Reluctantly, Stella pushed off the blankets and walked over to me. She still clung to the ratty old teddy bear. When she got closer to me, I put my hands gently on her arms, and she tensed up, as if expecting me to hit her.
“Do you have anything here that you want to take with you?” I asked. “Max is packing a bag for you, but I want to make sure you get everything.”
“I’m not going,” Stella said, her voice muffled because she spoke into her teddy bear.
“You have to go, Stella,” I insisted as gently as I could. “Max is going. I’m going. Even Ripley is going.”
Ripley wasn’t in the loft right then. I wasn’t sure where she was, since she’d left while I’d been gone. But since she’d followed me across the country once, I was pretty sure she would do it again.
“I’m not going,” Stella repeated, her little voice getting more indignant.
“Why not?” I asked, trying a different approach.
“I don’t go down there.” She pointed to the hole in the floor. “That’s where the monsters are. I’m not going anywhere there’s monsters.”
“There’s already monsters here,” I said. “That’s why we’re leaving. To get away from them.”
“No!” Stella pulled away from me, and I tried to hang onto her, but she was squirming like crazy, so I let go.
“Max!” I sighed and stood up. “Tell her she can’t stay here.”
I stepped away from her in frustration. Throwing her over my shoulder while she kicked and screamed wouldn’t have been out of the question, except that it would attract zombies. But I couldn’t very well leave a little girl here to die, either.
Max came over and crouched in front of her. He talked to her in a low voice that I couldn’t quite understand, and I went to help Bishop finish getting the food. We’d gotten about as much as the sheet could handle, so Bishop knotted it twice.
Bishop dropped the food down through the hole and climbed down after it. I stood at the top of the hole, watching Max whisper to Stella, but we really didn’t have much more time to waste. More zombies were probably on their way.
“We have to go, Max,” I said, interrupting their conversation.
“She’ll come,” Max said finally and stood up. “You go down the ladder first and help her.”
I did as Max suggested, and when I got on the ladder, I understood why. The rungs were almost too far apart for her short legs. She would have fallen off the ladder several times if I hadn’t been there to catch her.
Max climbed down with her bag and his. She put the bag on her back, then took Max’s hand. I took the sack of food, while Bishop stayed close to Max and Stella, offering to help them as we walked back to get the others. Stella refused any help, and I knew it was going to be an awfully long walk north.
Boden had smartly suggested that we stay off the main roads and away from any cities. We’d followed the highway to the compound because it was the only way I knew how to get there, but if we were just going north, it didn’t really matter what route we took.