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With no other option, I tried to pick him up. The problem was that I wasn’t that strong anymore. I wasn’t eating, I was exhausted from walking, and I probably had an infection brewing. The adrenaline rush I got in battle with zombies made me capable of things that I couldn’t do in regular life.

Unfortunately, as worried as I was, the adrenaline hadn’t kicked in yet. Or maybe I didn’t have any left.  Eventually, I supposed, my body would give out, too, even if I kept pushing it. Unlike the zombies, I wasn’t immortal.

I put my arms underneath Max and tried to lift, but my feet slipped in the dirt, and we both fell down. Bracing my feet, I picked him up, but the trembling in my biceps let me know that I wouldn’t be able to carry him for long.

Still, I was determined to do it as long as I could. Which only ended being a few steps before I stumbled and fell again.

“Remy, go on without me,” Max said.

“I’m not going anywhere without you.” I sat on the ground next to him and ran an exasperated hand through my hair, trying to figure out what to do.

I couldn’t call to the others, not with the zombies so close. Max and I were talking in whispers, afraid of alerting them to our location. If I yelled for Boden or Teddy, the zombies would be on us, and that wouldn’t be good for anybody.

Our best bet was to wait here silently and hope the zombies moved on without spotting us. When Max had enough strength, we could get up and catch up to the others.

“You should keep going,” Max insisted.

“No.” I looked at him and smiled grimly. “If you stay, I stay. We’re in this together, remember?”

I put my arm around him and stared down toward the bottom of the hill. I had my brother again, and I wasn’t about to leave him behind. We sat there for a while like that, listening to the death groans of the zombies growing closer. Max covered his knee in mud, trying to hide the scent of his blood. I held my breath, and waited.

17.

A twig snapped right behind us, and I whirled around, expecting to find a blood-thirsty monster. Instead it was only Boden, trudging downhill to us by himself. I stood up, wanting to ask him why’d he come back here, but I was too afraid to make a sound.

Without a word, he bent down and picked up Max. He swung Max around to his back, so Max wrapped his arms around his neck. Then Boden started hurrying back up the hill, moving as fast he could without making noise.

I followed after him, determined to keep his pace. I’d had a bit of a break waiting with Max, and I felt a second wind coming. Or maybe that was the adrenaline from thinking that Boden was a zombie about to tear us to pieces.

Based on the fading sound of their death groans, I guessed the zombies were moving slower than us. They were wandering without a real purpose, possibly drawn to the scent of people but without a clear target. We were on a mission to get away from them.

When the zombies sounded far enough away for that it was safe to talk, I finally asked Boden why he’d come back.

“I noticed that you and Max weren’t with the group anymore,” Boden said.

“You didn’t need to come back and risk running into zombies.”

“I don’t leave anyone behind,” Boden said simply. “Not if I can help it.”

“How’d you know we hadn’t been eaten by zombies already?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” Boden admitted. “But I figured the kid had just needed a break.”

“Thank you for coming back for us,” Max said, and I realized that I hadn’t thanked Boden either. “Remy wouldn’t go on without me.”

“And she shouldn’t have,” Boden said, and then looked over at me. “But she could’ve asked for help.”

“Thank you,” I said and lowered my eyes.

It took a little while, but we caught up with the others. They weren’t going as fast as Boden and I were, which made sense because by that time we couldn’t even hear the zombies anymore. We’d left them behind.

We made it to the top of the hill and then went back down again, which was much easier. Boden was even able to put Max down, and he walked down into the valley below. It was dark by the time we reached it, but we kept going until we could find some place safe to camp out.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to walk very long. We found a picnic area and what appeared to be some kind of lodge. It was a huge log cabin with all the windows boarded up. The front door was metal, and it had been left open.

Bishop and Boden went in first to check it out. Using a stick and an old rag, Boden made a torch, and lit the rag on fire with a match. But it didn’t take him long to scope out the inside and see it was all clear.

It was basically one huge room with a linoleum floor. It reminded me of my old high school cafeteria, except for a few stuffed animal heads on the wall and the blood splattered on things.

In the back was a cafeteria-style kitchen, but it was separated by a metal curtain that came down from the ceiling to the countertop. Boden checked that out briefly, and then shut the door to the kitchen, closing it off.

Other than the two small bathrooms, that was it for the lodge. The main room had a fireplace on one wall, and three wooden pick tables lined up in the middle of the room. The only signs that people had once stayed there were a few pieces of clothing, a couple of empty tin cans, and some other garbage. And the splattered blood, of course.

The windows had been boarded shut so well that not an ounce of light got through the cracks. Boden and Serg gathered wood outside, then started a small fire for light and for warmth, since it was getting cold in here.

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