“I did say that,” Boden agreed. “But when I said ‘left behind’ I didn’t mean ‘hauled off by zombies.’”
“Bishop’s not a zombie yet. She’s just insane.”
“Like that makes it any better,” he muttered. “I should go with you.”
“You can’t.” I shook my head. “They need you here.”
Serg was injured, Daniels was no good in a fight, and Max was just a kid. Without Boden, they were easy targets for any crazy person or flesh-eating monster that came along.
He nodded grimly, realizing the same things I had. “How long do you want me to wait for you?”
“It’s not that long until it’s dark.” I looked up at the cloud-covered sky. We had maybe a few more hours until nightfall. “And Serg could use the rest. Wait until morning, but no longer than that. If I’m not back, go on without me.”
“Okay.” He looked at me a moment longer, like he wanted to say something more.
But he didn’t, so I started to walk away from him.
“Remy,” Boden called after me, and I turned back to see him walking backwards toward the house. “Don’t do anything stupid. Stay safe. And… come back in one piece.”
If the snow had been real snow instead of the mushy gunk it was, it would’ve been easier to follow Bishop. She would’ve left tracks for me to find. Every now and then I would catch one – a smashed imprint in the grass and snow. But I was mostly following my gut.
The area around the farm was tree lined enough that she was hidden from sight. If it had been all flat land, I would’ve had a clear view of her running with a child. But I didn’t.
I started off running at first, but then I became paranoid I’d miss a footprint or lose her track if I hurried too fast. Slowing down might have eased my paranoia, but it was only widening the distance between myself and Bishop. That gave me a whole different kind of panic.
I’d left the map at the farmhouse with Boden, but I’d looked at it enough to know that I was heading in the direction of the city. That made some sense. If Daniels was right about the virus calling out to the infected, the large zombie population of a city would be telling Bishop to join them.
If that happened, though, if Bishop met up with the zombies before I got to her, then this would no longer be a rescue mission. There’s no way a little girl like Stella could survive a mob of zombies. I was pretty sure that even I couldn’t do that.
My only hope was that Bishop wasn’t a zombie yet, and I’m pretty sure she’d taken Stella to protect her. In her mind, she was the only one who could do it, and as long as she still had some of her faculties in place, her goal would be keeping Stella safe.
I’d been trudging along for some time, and the snow was sticking more. It’d gotten cold enough that it could actually stay frozen on the ground instead of melting in to a slick mixture. That made Bishop’s tracks easier to follow, but that was the only good thing.
My legs were frozen from the knee down. The slush had been melting against my pants and shoes, soaking them, but now that it was colder, my jeans had literally frozen around my legs. Like my leg had become the clapper inside the solid bell of my pants.
My head and stomach still felt very hot, despite the cold snow blowing against them, and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. The incision had actually begun to throb the last few hours. I could feel it pulsating under my shirt. I hadn’t looked at in a few days, because I didn’t want to.
The infection was getting worse. It wasn’t the zombie virus, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t wreaking havoc on my body. The fever was growing, and I felt weaker. Between the cold, the infection, the borderline starvation … I was not doing so well.
I began to regret going after Stella. I didn’t know if I was strong enough to save her, assuming she was still in a condition where she could be saved. All I was doing was getting myself sicker, possibly killing myself, to rescue a child I barely knew, a child that probably couldn’t even be rescued.
I stopped walking, and for an awful minute, I seriously considered going back. For one moment, I considered leaving a child to die. I didn’t want to, and I felt guilty even considering it.
But would it be worth me dying to go on a futile mission for her? Was I willing to give up everything on the small chance that I could actually help her?
Then I heard Stella crying, and I had my answer.
The whole time I’d been walking, I hadn’t her cry, which had alarmed me. My only reasoning for it, other than her being dead, was that Bishop comforted her. Stella liked and trusted Bishop.
So if Stella was crying now, something had changed.
I was getting closer to the city. I could tell because more and more houses that were popping up around me. If the snow hadn’t been coming so hard, I might have been able to see the skyline of the city in the distance.
Instead, all I could see was a large concrete box off the side of a highway. It was an old factory, and based on the sign hanging from it, I wouldn’t have known for sure what they built. But from the rusted green combines parked in front, I guessed that they built farm equipment.
That was where Stella’s cries were coming from. An old factory full of sharp, monstrous machinery.
I ran toward it without hesitation. She was still alive. I could still save her. And nothing would stand in my way.
When I got closer to the factory, I slowed down. There were a few windows around the building. They were covered in dirt and muck, and I wiped it off so I could peek inside. The first window I looked in only showed me the inside of a ransacked office, which really wasn’t much help, so I moved on to the next one.