Zach helps his group to set up camp and walks over to where I am perched.
“Hi Charlotte, do you mind if I sit with you?” He asks.
“If you want, I assumed you would want to get some sleep.” I reply.
“I don’t feel right leaving just you to stay on guard duty.” Zach shakes his head. “What if a group of Rabids or the Undead attacked?” Zach stares at the ground as if he is imagining it. The Undead are children that have been bitten by Rabids – to kill them, they have to be behead. Children can’t become Rabids because they have the ‘anti-rabid’ gene. If an adult is bitten by a Rabid then they will Turn. Rabids were first created when the plague spread – if you caught it then you either died (if you were lucky) or you Turned. Zach shrugs. “Anyway, I take a shift every night.”
“Yeah, me too, James and I share shifts but of course I take the longer one. He’s only ten, you know.”
“How come it’s just the two of you? Are you looking for-” Zach stops himself then carries on. “- something?” He asks curiously.
“Yes, I guess we are looking for ‘something’.”
“Is this something Tierra de Esperanza, by any chance?” Zach asks, he tries not to sound too excited or hopeful, there’s something he wants from us – I can hear it in his voice.
“Why would I tell you? Do you expect me to trust you?” I hiss. Zach is surprised by my reaction.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean any harm - it’s just that our group hasn’t come across other travellers for months. It’s been even longer since we’ve met someone who wants to find TDE, too. Sorry.” Zach bows his head in shame; my face softens. I feel bad for reacting so coldly.
“Oh, well, okay.” With that I began. “My brother and I were travelling with my father until about a year ago. My father met someone, a few years after the plague started to spread, who told him about Tierra de Esperanza. My mother had only died a few months before that and my father was losing the will to live. He saw this as a chance to get away from it all. After only a few months of planning and preparation, we were ready to leave. We left the day after James’s fourth birthday.
“At first we travelled from abandoned village to abandoned village, we scavenged food and my father hunted with his bow and arrow. We did this for a few years but my father knew that we weren’t getting anywhere; it wasn’t a good strategy, so we headed off road. We came across more Rabids and Undead than we’d ever seen; our father fought them off, so we didn’t need to, but he taught me to fight. We carried on off road, only going into villages to scavenge for food when our supply was low, for two more years. We’d relaxed into a routine; we weren’t careful enough. One day, a large group of Rabids snuck up on us; my father died trying to protect us. It was all, my fault; I should have been stronger.” My eyes well with tears.
“Charlotte, it’s not your fault. Don’t think like that. Those Rabids are to blame.” Zach sighs. “They’ve caused us all pain – they killed my mother.” Zach seems so sad and vulnerable that I reach out and touch his arm sympathetically. After a second I remember that I don’t know this Zach, and I take my hand away. I don’t know why I am being so open with this guy that I barely know. I clear my throat again and speak.
“You know my story –“Regrettably, I think, “- so it’s only fair I know yours. Tell me how you became a leader of a group this big?” Zach nods in understanding.
“I’ll start from the beginning; we’ve probably been travelling as long as you. My uncle formed a group that included my mother, me and seven others. Only three of those remain; me, my younger sister, Eliza, and Ben, my cousin. Ben’s mother died before the disease spread, my uncle was his father, the poor kid’s lost both his parents and he’s only eight. Three died in a rabid attack and the other three didn’t want to be travelling anymore so they stayed when we camped outside a small village of survivors. My Uncle Frank died two years ago; he died in his sleep, he was ill and we didn’t have what we needed to save him. He didn’t suffer though, and I’m glad because he was a great man, he saved many lives.
“Since his death I’ve been in charge. I’m not the oldest but I was voted leader, even by the older people, because they think I understand this world, we now live in, enough to keep people safe. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it’s what they want.
“I follow the map that my uncle used to use. He’s marked on many, many sites where TDE could possibly be, we travel from place to place – we never rest. Each time we get near a possible spot, the whole group buzzes with energy, but every time it’s a false lead, the group’s reaction gets worse. It breaks me to see all the faces crumple in disappointment, when there is nothing. I think that to find it, we need to know more about it. How about I tell you what I know and you tell me what you know.”
“Yeah, sounds like a good plan. Zach…I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through. I think you’re group made a good decision when they put you up for leader; you’re a good guy. Well, with first impressions and all that.” I look up at him and see his eyes - they are a stormy grey-blue.
“We’ve both been through tough times, yet we live on. There must be some reason we do.” Zach shakes his head to bring himself out of his daydream. “Right, um, I know who the founders are.” I motion for him to carry on. “Well, my uncle told me that a large group of Spaniards came here before the plague hit. They told people about the disaster that was to come, but few listened. They’d found an ancient prophecy which warned people about all the death that was to come, and the Rabids and Undead. Their plan was to build a safe haven for the survivors, so they built Tierra de Esperanza.” I sigh at this information. If your father had heard about this prediction, then your whole family could have all been safe in Tierra de Esperanza by now, the voice in the back of my mind told me. I let out a yawn; I haven’t had a proper sleep in weeks. “Charlotte, if you’re tired then I can keep watch alone.” Zach offers. “I don’t mind.” I shake my head.
“I’m fine; it wouldn’t be fair to make you stay up alone.” I say, which makes Zach shake his head.
“I insist, really. Anyway, I stay awake alone all the time; it’s the only way to keep the nightmares away.” Zach’s, embarrassed, facial expression shows that he hadn’t meant to let the last bit out.
“Um, thanks Zach.” I nod in appreciation to Zach and slide into my tent.