Section 5: Found
Having Miles slip away right under my nose was utterly terrifying. Asleep in my bed, I woke up to his cot empty, him gone. The worst ran through my mind immediately - he was dying and left, he heard an Infected and decided to go find it, et cetera. My heart was beating so loud, and I didn’t want to go find him, for fear that I would find him either dead or in a critical state. Then it would be all my fault, and I wouldn’t be able to live with that guilt.
Gathering up a few supplies, I rushed out the door, wanting to find him incredibly. Not knowing where he went, I headed out away from the cabin, wanting to spread out the distance where I checked for Miles. There were a couple Infecteds heading that way, and I took that as a good sign - they usually hobble subconsciously towards the last living thing they saw.
I do not really know what happened after that. I was frantic, searching hectically for a glimpse, a sign of Miles, or even that he was okay. I didn’t even find a footprint.
And then there he was, a teenage boy lying on the ground next to a tree. He was obviously unconscious, but I checked for a pulse immediately and he had one, though it was faint. Making sure we would be safe, I picked him up and fireman-carried him back to the hut.
It took a while, and Miles’ body was freezing. He must’ve been out there for at least an hour, quite possibly more. I tried to warm him up when we got back to the shack, but I had to give him some medicine first and foremost to make sure that he wouldn’t contract any other diseases. Pneumonia was one of my main concerns, but he seemed okay when he woke up. That relaxed me a bit.
Carrying him back was difficult, and I almost decided to head up to the highway. I could see it from where I found him, and I saw another small house there, but looking closer, I realized that the house was overrun. I know for a fact that if I went over there, I wouldn’t have been able to make it out. That honestly terrified me, too.
Miles is alright now. Walking is difficult for him, and he has dizzy spells. I have to support him - both physically and mentally - but he’s healing, and I am thankful for that.
We are scouting mainly now, looking for signs of people, activity, life. There is so much life in the forest around us, if you can call it that, but the distinction between the life we are aiming to find and the half-life of the creatures is gigantic.
The silence is deafening. I don’t know if I can continue on like this much longer. I wish this girl, Ebony, and her family would give us some signs. But I understand why they haven’t - that’s how you get killed. You take too long, leave a message, and get ambushed. Quickness means life in this situation.
I do have a feeling, a great one, in the pit of my stomach. Usually that means either an awesome outcome or one of great devastation. I think I’m rooting for the former.
Miles coughs and I wave it off as a symptom, as he’s been coughing, but he finally speaks up. “Look,” he tells me seriously.
He walks over to a red object sticking up from the mud. Looking around quickly, our surroundings our clear, and he picks it up.
It is a boot. A small, red boot. It’s obviously a child’s and looks relatively well taken care of, but it must’ve been lost. It’s muddy, caked with dirt, and the inside of it is stained with dirt and blood. It sends a wave of feelings, of sentiment over me, and I am speechless. So is Miles.
There’s a few holes in the boots as well. Miles takes the boot and hooks it onto one of the zippers of his backpack, keeping it safe. Our one sentiment that we share, that maybe we can return. The owner is most likely long gone, but one needs hope.
We continue on, our shoes sloshing in the mud. With every footstep, I think of the owner now, wondering where their boot is. Wondering why this happened. Thinking exactly as we have been thinking.
It’s difficult to wrap my head around the entire situation. I can understand bits and pieces at a time, but not altogether - it’s too much, it’s too overwhelming. Right now, I understand the fact that there are other people out there who are fighting the same battles, struggling just as we are. Very alive people. But there are also the ‘people’, stuck, trapped inside their own bodies, heads. Left literally with only their thoughts.
People who were once like us.
We continue to trudge through the mud, our feet sloshing now, sinking a good inch or so into the gooey mess. Miles seems relatively alright, swaying every now and then. His knees start to wobble eventually, and that’s when I know to wrap his arm around my shoulders and support him under the arm. His head is lolling from side to side with every step, but he’s still conscious. Eyes half closed, he shoots up all of a sudden, pointing to something which I cannot see.
I step a bit closer to whatever Miles is pointing to and realize what it is - a red splatter on a tree. Blood. It looks genuinely fresh, but it could be from a survivor or a Bloody. It could be Ebony or one of her family. There’s only one way to find out.
Glancing to Miles, I ask him if it’s alright to continue with a glance. He nods widely and I support him again, nearly dragging him.
The blood splatters are almost in a pattern, happening every few trees. At first they seemed like coincidences, but the universe is rarely so lazy. Maybe a particular Bloodied, or a couple, bumped into some trees. Or maybe someone was genuinely wounded and needs help.
After a while, the pattern doesn’t exactly break, but it changes. Now there are blood splatters on the ground, leaves painted with red. My head is down, looking directly at my feet, so I do not see the creature in front of me. Thankfully, I hear its footsteps just in time.
Gasping, I whip my head up, giving me a small blood rush, and pull out the knife in the sheath at my side. I stick it cleanly into the creature’s temple, it giving off a screech, before the reality of the true danger I was in hits me like a brick wall.
I bend over, sputtering, and Miles walks up to me, patting me on the back. “You’re fine,” he tells me supportively. “You’re okay. You saved us.”
I give him a thumbs-up, trying my best to catch my breath. We continue walking.
We find a group of Bloodies up a ways, and they’re no doubt the creatures leaving the trail. They are bleeding all over - their hands, legs, chests, faces are all cut up, small incisions all over their bodies. They are dangerous to kill - touching their blood could easily infect us. I don’t have my gear on, and that could be fatal. Avoiding them, we continue in their path, the way that they were and would be shambling.
Then we see the camp.
There is a makeshift camp with rope tied around it, supported by the trees. Cans hang down on the ropes at certain intervals, and it is a fairly large area - lots of room and space. We see a shelter with a tarp overhead. A man is lying there, sporting a thick, white, unkempt beard.
There is also a little boy in the middle of the camp, using a stick to draw in the mud.
No sign of a girl.
“Hey!” I call to the man, and he jumps, incredibly scared for a moment. He walks over towards us, still keeping his distance from us, but he is close enough to examine and to talk to us.
“It’s okay, we’re both healthy,” Miles explains. Aside from all of the grime and filth on our clothes, we look healthy and clean - no suspicious blood anywhere.
“Do you guys need food? Is that why you’re here?” he asks, his voice somewhat gravelly and low-pitched.
“No,” I respond. “Miles said he saw you in the woods one day and thought he might be able to find you. We’re just looking for survivors.”
The man looks extremely uncomfortable.
“My daughter knows better than I do. I’ll ask her.”
“Where is she?” Miles questions, looking around.
“She’s out hunting. Should be back soon. Just wait here, I’ll try to call her over.”
The man runs back over to his shelter, leaning over the rope. “Ebony!” he yells, and soon a girl comes running back.
The man gestures to us, explaining our situation to her. She comes over to us with an expression of pure steel.
“Who are you guys, and what do you want with us?” She looks angry, worried, scared.
“Look, we don’t want trouble. We just wanted to find some fellow survivors. Miles thought he saw you guys and wanted to find you. Don’t worry, we weren’t stalking you or anything, we were just scouting some things out.”
She’s staring at Miles intently. “Miles…” she states absentmindedly. “Miles Brooch?” she nearly yells, angry.
“Yes, Ebony, I know, but I can explain.” Miles pleads.
“You were spying on me, you creep!” she screams, taking a few menacing steps towards me.
“No, I wasn’t, Ebony, I swear! I saw you at the school when I was heading back, but I kept my distance. And then I passed out in the woods and Cody found me, and I thought we’d be safer with you.” Miles begs.
Ebony doesn’t look like she trusts us, but I hear a little voice pipe up. Her brother.
“Eb, Miles was nice. They should stay for a bit. Just a bit, and if they do anything wrong, we’ll leave them in the woods. It’s okay. They found us for a reason, Eb.”
I nod at the little kid. He understands us, and he has such a heart. I’m glad to see that this epidemic hasn’t changed his spirit.