Arthur drummed his fingers on the cheap plastic table, his other hand supporting his heavy head. This “no smoking” thing was starting to get to him.
“No, not like that,” he snapped, snatching the magazine from Sky’s hand.
“I was doing just fine!” she said.
“Putting the bullet in backwards isn’t ‘just fine,’” Arthur shot back. “Like this. Watch this time, both o’ you.” For what felt like the twentieth time, Arthur demonstrated how to put the correct round into the right magazine. “See? Easy.”
“I-I think I got mine,” Kris mumbled. He always spoke in a slow, quiet voice, as if he was afraid to speak.
“Lemme see.” Arthur chewed the unlit cigarette in his mouth as he grabbed Kris’s magazine and glanced it over. “Good job,” he said, handing it back. “Now teach your girlfriend how to do it right.”
“Sh-she’s not my girlfriend,” Kris whispered in embarrassment as Sky shouted something to the same effect.
Arthur held up his hands in defense. “Right. Of course. Just pass the knowledge onto Jamar and Krusu when ya get a chance.”
“Her name’s ‘Kurisu,’ Art,” Sky muttered, going back to her work. How he hated when she called him that. Only his family had ever referred to Arthur as “Art,” and they were long gone now. But he was sick of correcting her. He only smiled when Kurisu hit a bump in the road, scattering Sky’s ammo to the floor as she cursed.
He stood and left the kids who were too worried about the end of the world to realize how right they were for each other and positioned himself behind the passenger seat. Jamar was dozing off, and Kurisu gripped the oversized steering wheel as if she clung to life itself, her knuckles white.
“Doin’ okay up here?”
Jamar started. He wiped the saliva from his chin and blinked slowly. “Yeah,” he grumbled, still half asleep. “We’re okay.” He lowered his feet, which had been resting on the dashboard, onto the floor.
“What about you?” he asked the woman.
She nodded quickly without moving her eyes from the deserted road, her body tense and rigid. “I’m fine.”
“You’re both terrible liars. How much sleep did you get when you were looking for your wife, Jamar?”
He shrugged. “Not much, I guess.”
“And how ‘bout you?”
Kurisu swallowed. “I couldn’t sleep—not without knowing where my family was, knowing what happened to Ryuuko.”
Arthur pulled the cigarette from his mouth. “You’re both running on fumes. It’s getting late. Go to bed.”
Jamar looked at him. “I think we’ve got a few hours le—”
“That’s an order, soldier. Pull over.”
Kurisu obeyed. The RV slowed and stopped on the highway’s shoulder. The both unbuckled their belts, stood, and tried to pass Arthur, but he stopped them with a hand on each of their shoulders.
Arthur kept his voice low so Kris and Sky wouldn’t hear. “I, uh, ain’t too good with apologies, so I’ll just say it: I’m sorry.”
They both stared, dumbfounded.
“I acted rashly, and I regret it. I just…” He cleared his throat. “I don’t wanna see anyone else turn, ya know?”
Jamar bit his lip and looked at his wife. After what felt like an eternity, he held out his hand. Arthur accepted it, and they shook. Kurisu squeezed Arthur’s arm, and without another word, the couple made for the bedroom.
Arthur felt ten pounds lighter. He could drive all night, but he knew the others wouldn’t let him. “Who’s with me?” he asked Kris and Sky.
They looked at each other, then back at Arthur. “I’m not tired,” they said together.
“Doesn’t matter. One o’ you needs to rest so we can cycle out during the night.”
“You mind if I stay up?” Sky asked Kris. “I’m totally wired.”
Kris nodded. “Sure.”
Together they cleaned up the ammo and magazines, putting everything away in neat, organized piles—just the way Arthur liked it. When they’d finished, Kris made for the couch and lay down.
“G’night,” Sky said to him as she made for the front.
Sky fell into the passenger seat with a grunt. “What a day, huh?”
“What a week, you mean,” Arthur corrected her. He thought back to the outbreak. It had been a Wednesday. By Arthur’s count, it was only Sunday, a mere four days since the infection began. Four days. It felt like a month. Arthur wondered how many he’d killed in only about hundred hours.
“No argument here,” Sky said. She pulled her straight blond locks back into a sloppy ponytail and stared at the road. “How much longer, ya think?”
“With these roads, who knows?” Driving was a chore. The interstates and highways were full of abandoned and totaled cars. Arthur spent more time taking side streets and back roads than he did on the speedway, which meant it’d take much longer than a few hours to reach Aberdeen. “How big is Aberdeen, anyway?” he asked, his mind now on the city.
Sky stuck out her bottom lip and shrugged. “I’unno. A couple thousand at the most.”
“My parents aren’t very…progressive,” Sky said. “Why do you think I moved to Chicago?”
“I figured ‘cause o’ school.”
“Well, I mean, I was a student, yes. But I just had to get outta that Podunk town, ya know?”
“What about you? Why were you in Chicago?”
“Been here my whole life. My family…” His voice trailed off. He didn’t realize how hard it’d be to mention them aloud. Perhaps he hadn’t healed like he’d thought. He swallowed and remained quiet.
“You had a family?” Sky asked, sitting up.
“‘Course I did. Don’t everybody?”
“Not grumpy military brats like you,” she said. Arthur couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. “Where are they?” She was staring at him intently, surprised, demanding answers. Arthur didn’t like it.
“Same place as Kuristu’s sister and parents, I s’pose,” Arthur said dryly.
Sky placed her hand on his shoulder. “Arthur, I had no idea,” she whispered. “Do you wanna talk about it?”
Sky nodded. “Okay.”
“And don’t feed me those stupid lines about ‘I’ll be here if ya need me’ and ‘You’ll feel better if you talk about it.’ I’m fine, okay?”
“Okay,” Sky repeated, this time weaker.
Arthur wrung the steering wheel and changed the subject. “Whaddaya think of our team?”
Sky’s hands fidgeted in her lap as she spoke. She watched them anxiously. “Yeah, they’re good.”
“They’re great. They’re good people.”
Arthur looked over his shoulder at Kris. The boy was already out cold, his mouth agape, drool trickling down his chin. So for much for his claims of not being tired. “Kreesu handles a gun pretty good, huh? Even you’ve got some spunk.”
“Yeah, like I said: They’re great.”
“What about Kris?”
Finally Sky looked at him. Her expression held curiosity, maybe even offense. “What about Kirs?”
Arthur kept his voice low. “You know as well as I he’s a liability.”
“Need I remind you how he saved your ass back at Gander Mountain?”
“And I’m grateful. But we’re practically babysittin’ the guy. We have a 250-pound child aboard, and that only spells trouble.”
“You’re being a dick, Art.”
Arthur sighed. “I’m being honest. And for the last time, don’t call me ‘Art.’”
“Then leave my friend out of your critical analysis of our chances at survival.”
“Why are you takin’ this personally? I’ve got nothing against the kid—except the fact that he might be the future cause of all our deaths.”
“No one’s making you stay, Arthur,” Sky said, her voice loud and sharp.
“‘Course not. But there’s strength in numbers.”
“Exactly!” Sky practically shouted. “That’s why Kris belongs with us!”
Arthur looked behind him again. Kris stirred, smacked his lips, and rolled over, but didn’t awaken. “Will ya keep your voice down?” Arthur hissed.
Sky crossed her arms and sighed.
Arthur looked at the gas gauge. They had about a quarter of a tank remaining, but Arthur didn’t want to risk passing by all these cars filled with fuel and run dry later. He brought the RV to a halt and put it in park.
“What are you doing?” Sky said.
“Grab a couple buckets. We’re getting some gas.”
“Now?” Sky said, perplexed. “It’s pitch black out.”
“Right. Get some flashlights, too.”
“No, I mean, what if there’s zombies out there and we get attacked?”
“We’re miles from any city. Worst we’ll see is a straggler or two.” The fear didn’t leave her face. “We’ll bring our pistols.”
It took only minutes to gather their handguns, several buckets, flashlights, a plastic funnel, and two clear plastic tubes and gather outside. True to his rule, Arthur made Sky go out the roof hatch and climb down the back ladder just to be safe. He followed after her.
A tinge of orange in the west was the only remaining evidence of the sun’s passing. The stars began to twinkle overhead as the light faded.
“Here’s a good one,” Arthur said, stopping beside a truck not twenty feet in front of the RV. Arthur had left the headlights on, making their job easier. “Gimme a bucket.”
Sky handed one over.
“Keep a lookout,” he told her.
Arthur placed the bucket by the truck’s back tire, unscrewed the gas cap, and stuck both tubes into the tank. He put the long tube’s end into the bucket and sealed the tank by stuffing his handkerchief around the tubes. He blew into the shorter one, creating pressure, and voila: The bucket filled with gas.
“Wow,” Sky remarked. “You make it look so easy.”
“That’s ‘cause it is. C’mon. Let’s fill ‘em all up.”
They filled a couple more buckets in silence. Sky kept her neck arced back, her eyes on the stars.
“How can you wear that all the time?”
Her trance broken, Sky looked at him, then down at her clothes. “Whaddaya mean?”
“It’s the middle of summer and ya got jeans and an oversized sweatshirt on.”
“So? You’re wearing a full Army outfit or whatever.”
Arthur blew into the small tube until gas started flowing from the larger one into the bucket. “This thing was made to keep ya cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I’m snug as a bug. But you must be sweatin’ bullets under that thing.”
Sky crossed her arms and spoke in an exaggerated voice. “Oh, pardon me, sir! Let me just strip naked! Surely I’ll be more comfortable then! Thank you ever so much for looking out for little old me!”
Arthur sighed. “Ya got me. This whole time I just wanted to see a skinny brat show me her pasty naked body.”
“I’m not pasty!”
“Care to prove me wrong?” Pain shot through his arm as Sky punched him in the bicep. “Jesus! It was a joke!” he cried, backing away. He rubbed his bruising arm, and Sky backed off. “Nice right hook ya got there.”
Sky blew the bangs from her eyes. “If you must know, this sweatshirt belonged to my boyfriend.”
Sky stayed quiet.
“That’s alright. We all have our secrets.” The last of the gas trickled into the bucket. Arthur removed the tubes and rag. “You don’t have to tell me no—”
“He’s dead,” Sky said suddenly.
Arthur looked up at her, wondering, for a brief moment, if she was telling a sick joke. The look of pain on her face told him it wasn’t. “When did it happen?”
“A few days ago. Right before we met you, actually.” Sky nodded. Arthur could see the tears forming in her eyes. She looked up and tried to blink them out of existence. “He, uh, turned while I was out. I met Kris in Rosemont, and when we came back to my apartment, he attacked. Kris…killed him in self defense.”
Kris’s cowardice and distaste for killing zombies suddenly made sense. Arthur couldn’t help feeling guilty.
“I was cold the morning I woke up, ya know? So I just threw on Jared’s sweatshirt and left. I just wish…” Her voice broke from choked breaths into full sobs. The tears fell freely now. She buried her face in her hands and wept.
Arthur grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into a hug. He couldn’t think of anything to say, so he didn’t speak; he simply held a heartbroken teenager as she cried into his chest and waited for it to end.
It was minutes later before Sky pulled away. She wiped her eyes and stared at the ground.
“I think we’ve got enough fuel,” Arthur said. “Let’s fill ‘er up and get back on the road, eh?”
Sky didn’t object.