Ebony looks us up and down, examining us. Her eyes give no vindication to her thoughts, and I do not know if what she sees is good or bad. After a little while, she sighs forcefully, lifting up the rope with a clatter to allow us under.
She waves her hand for us to follow and Miles looks to me, puzzled. I shrug, trying to tell him We might as well, we found her and everything. She doesn’t seem too bad.
The man walks up to us, hand outstretched, and I grasp it firmly. His hands are rough and warm.
“I’m Mike Wilson,” he states. “That’s my son, Teddy, and my daughter Ebony.” He points to his children respectively. Teddy gives us a wave, but Ebony just glares at us. I wave back to Teddy, trying to avoid Ebony’s gaze.
“I’m Miles,” he replies, shaking Mike’s hand. “Ebony and I used to go to school together before this whole thing.”
Mike stares at Miles thoughtfully, trying to remember him. His face lights up after a little bit. “I believe I’ve seen you around the school, young man. Glad to have you here.”
Then he turns to me. “I’m Cody,” I respond, giving him a small smile. “I didn’t go to school here.”
He chuckles a bit. “Cody, we’re glad to have you, too. Where were you guys camped?”
Miles looks over at me, a veil of fear covering his face. “Uh, there was a little wooden house in the woods over that way. I was, um, injured, and Cody took care of me. Then I saw Ebony and we decided to come looking for you guys.” It wasn’t entirely false - I don’t think telling them that Miles was infected would do any good for our case. I am not sick, so he is no longer contagious, but they might not believe me, and we want to stick with them.
Mike brings us over to their shelter and tells us that we can prop our bags up wherever we want. Miles and I place our bags under a tree nearby when I hear Teddy shouting.
“My boot! He has my boot, Dad!” Teddy runs over and falls to his knees next to Miles’ bag.
“Oh, yeah, I found that in the woods. Is it yours, Ted?” Miles asks politely, using a slightly higher-pitched voice.
“Yes! I lost my boot in the woods, there were those sick people all over! It fell off of my foot and I was so scared that I’d never find it again!” He was jumping up and down, clutching his boot tightly. Mike waved him over and they pulled out an identical - though slightly cleaner - red boot.
Mike helped Teddy slide the boots onto his feet and he resumed his joyous leaping.
“That means you guys must’ve been near that camp, the ‘sanctuary’, they called it. Wasn’t too safe, if you ask me.”
“We were,” I explain to him. “I thought I might be able to get some supplies from them. I believe it’s one of the camps that’s run by the government. Good thing you guys got out of there - last time they had camps like that, everyone was experimented on. It was terrible.
“I’m sort of a scientist, in a sense. I think I might have a cure for the disease, but I need some supplies and more experimentational objects. There’s one more ingredient that I’m not sure about, and I don’t know where to find it, but if I can get my hands on it, we’ll be completely safe.”
Ebony walked up to us now, arms crossed. “How do you know it works?”
I steal another glance at Miles, wondering whether I should tell them or not. I decide I might as well - I’d rather they find out on my doing than have to find out later.
“Miles was infected. I found him in the woods, and he was one of those creatures, but the medicine worked. He remembered everything again.”
“No,” Ebony states blatantly. “No, he’s not allowed here. He’s going to get us all killed!” She was slowly backing away from us, but she looked angry, not scared.
“Ebony--” Mike starts, but she cuts him off.
“They could be lying. He could still be sick, we don’t know anything. They could both be sick. I’ve lost Mom, I’m not losing you two.” She hugs her little brother against her body, pulling in her dad as well.
“Look, it’s fine! He’s not sick at all. Miles can remember. If you don’t believe us, that’s okay, but we need your help. It’s either a chance at the cure or we rot from this disease. Your choice.”
I start to turn away, but she speaks up, her voice suddenly squeaky instead of the solid rock, now wavering instead of steady.
“Are we safe?”
Turning back slowly, I process her question, starting to nod. “None of you are going to be infected by either one of us. We can promise you that.”
Ebony nods and waves her head up, indicating for us to walk back over towards her.
“We need supplies, and then I can finish my research. Any ideas?”
Mike pipes up now. “That refugee camp, the ‘sanctuary’. It’s unsafe, sure, but we have more people now, and we escaped from it once. They probably have supplies.”
I process his statement, trying to comprehend. “You escaped?” I gasp.
“Yeah!” Teddy chimes in. “There were alarms going off and it was really scary, but Ebony saved us! And then I was like a spy and pretended that I was lost but I really wasn’t and got out!”
He giggles, and I kneel next to him, giving him a fist bump. “Way to go, little dude,” Miles praises.
Mike rubs his head, ruffling his hair, then offers, “We might as well try. If it looks too dangerous, we’ll go find another place.” Ebony nods.
Still on the fence, I look to Miles, raising my eyebrows. Usually Miles doesn’t seem to have the best judgement, but his mind is clear now. He can think.
“We should try it out,” he states surely, and I am at ease knowing that we all agree.
“We’ll head out in the morning,” Ebony acknowledges, looking up at the sun’s position. It is lower in the sky, the edges of the vast atmosphere turning pinks and oranges.
Ebony then pulls out another tarp from one of her bags, spreading it out for me and Miles to sleep on, and I thank her. Even though she hasn’t been the most welcoming or hospitable person, she seems like she has a nice heart, a pure soul. I hope we can get to know each other before the inevitable happens.
The night comes quickly and we sit around the fire for a little while before turning in, telling stories of our favorite foods and books and movies. We talk very much about the past, but nobody dares bring up the future.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Miles is very fidgety while he sleeps.
He tosses and turns, mumbling every once in a while. Once he woke up and sat straight up, panting. Probably had a nightmare.
I wonder if he’s always been like this or if he now has terrors because of the terror of our lives now, how life is at this point. We live our days in fear, not sure if we’ll be able to experience another one. Each day is lived like our last, because it easily could be our last, but at the same time it feels so ordinary.
I do not want to wake him when the morning finally comes. I barely slept, but I don’t usually sleep for long periods of time. Plus, I wanted to be there for Miles. He seems like he needs help, just the comfort of a friend.
However, I do wake him after pondering it for a while, and he jolts awake. Looking around terrified, his eyes fix on me and he relaxes. I pat him on the shoulder, trying to comfort him, and I look at him sympathetically. He returns the look, pushing himself up onto his feet.
Ebony is awake already, packing her bags. Some of the ropes are down, but only the ones facing other clearings, with visuals on our surroundings. The wooded paths are still barricaded to not present us with any more danger.
Mike is shaking Teddy awake. He is fast asleep, his short, blonde hair matted. He looks incredibly peaceful when he is asleep, and soon wakes up with a smile on his face.
Once we’re all awake and up, we help to fold up the tarps and take down the rest of the ropes and cans. They are incredibly loud, and as we’re taking them down, I can’t help but constantly praise her handiwork. It makes an incredibly useful warning system, and keeps them back far enough to be killed cleanly without wasting materials, instead of shooting blindly and hoping, praying, that you hit them in a place that might kill them, or even just hit them at all.
Handing her the ropes, I tell her, “That’s a genius idea,” and Ebony blushes just a bit, thanking me, the ghost of a smile on her lips.
Soon the clearing is emptied, only a few slight traces that there was life here. Footprints, maybe a piece of trash here and there. I don’t know why, but it relaxes me, seeing traces of human, intelligent life.
Like that, we’re gone, just wisps of the forest. It’s amazing to think that we’ve been so many places, seen so many things, left our marks in so many different areas, and yet we are all here. Just five survivors, together, back where most of them started.
I’m glad to have met these four people. I’m glad to be able to fight, to live, next to them, and see them fighting and living. Now that I’ve seen the alternative, the sadness of defeat, I’m lucky to experience this with them. I want to make it out with all of them, more than anything in the world.
We live out our days like they’re our last because we have no choice. Any day could be our last. But now, in this life, living a day like it’s our last constitutes as living, as being a human. Back before the epidemic, it would be boring, just something we take advantage of.
Now it is a blessing. I am blessed to experience it with these people.