Kris cast his line into the water for what felt like the fiftieth time that day.
“Jesus, Kris, will you ever learn?” Arthur snapped. He snatched the pole from Kris’s grasp and reeled it in. “This time, try to get it farther than twenty feet.” He handed it back.
Kris swallowed hard, doing his best to ignore the four sets of eyes watching his every move, and cast. The hook sailed a good fifty feet before plopping into the pond. He groaned as the others clapped with approval, Sky shouting, “Bravo! Bravo!”
“Great. Now that it only took you half an afternoon to master the easy part, here comes the hard part: catching a fish.” Arthur paced back and forth along the shore, taking occasional drags from his cigarette. “Now, if you’re lucky, you’ll feel a tug on your reel before too long. The key is to tug back just as hard. Once the sucker’s on there, you reel ‘im on in.”
Kris nodded. “Okay.”
Arthur continued to explain the ins and outs of fishing while Kurisu, Jamar, and Sky kicked back and drank the afternoon away. Kris wished he could join them.
He left the shore with a five-inch trout, an empty stomach, and the heavy weight of disappointment bearing down on him. Arthur gathered the tackle box as the others groggily stood and brushed the sand from their clothes.
“Better luck next time, eh, Kris?” Jamar said, swinging his arm around Kris’s shoulders as they walked back to the RV.
“Don’ worry,” Sky chimed in, her speech slurred by too much alcohol. She stumbled forward and laughed before continuing, “We got plen’y o’ foo’ in the RV.”
“Actually, we don’t,” Arthur said.
“The soup?” Kurisu said.
“Last night,” Arthur replied.
“I thought I saw some crackers,” Jamar said.
“Kris spilled most of those into the river two days ago.”
“Wha’ about the soup?” Sky suggested, obviously too drunk to pay attention to the conversation.
Arthur sighed. “Look, you bunch of ingrates, livin’ in the woods is great, but only if we’re equipped to survive. The river’s empty, and we don’t have the gear to hunt land game.” He stopped, sighed, and put his crossed his arms, as if he’d come to a hard decision. “It’s time to move on.”
“Bu’ I like the woods!” Sky complained between a hiccup. They’d been camping in a forest for a week now. Kris had to admit he liked the wilderness for its lack of zombies, but being so far from “civilization” meant little food.
“Look at yourself, Sky,” Arthur said. “You and Kurisu are skinny as rails, Jamar’s lookin’ gaunt, and I’m certainly not the macho man I was a month ago. Hell, even Kris is losing a few pounds!”
Kris palmed his stomach and noticed how much smaller it felt—still big, but smaller.
“So what are we supposed to do?” Jamar asked, throwing up his hands. “The cities aren’t safe, the small-town neighborhoods are run by lunatics, and we’ll starve in the woods. What’s left?”
“There’s gotta be a community out there—a group of survivors like us,” Kurisu thought aloud.
“Yeah, we already met one, remember?” her husband said.
“I said ‘like us,’ as in ‘not crazy.’”
“We gotta keep movin’,” Arthur said. “It doesn’t matter where. But stickin’ in one spot without a source of food ain’t gonna work. We’ve got a comfortable RV; all we gotta do is stop for food and resources, maybe rest a couple days, and move on. We can look for communities or groups of survivors in the meantime.”
“We shou’ go tuh Maine.”
Everyone stopped and turned to face Sky, who was struggling to keep up with the group. She staggered toward and half-fell onto Kris, who held her by the waist to keep her from falling.
“Whose bright idea was it to give an 18-year-old blond chick unlimited cans of beer?”
“Kurisu said it’d be funny,” Jamar said, pointing at his wife. He rubbed his nose in a poor attempt to conceal a smile and shrugged. “She was right.”
“‘Ey, why won’ you list’n to me?” Sky spat. “I said, ‘Le’s go tuh Maine!’”
“What in the fuck is in Maine?” Arthur yelled.
Sky opened her mouth to speak, but Kris interrupted her. “Uh, nothing. Nothing’s there. She’s just…drunk.”
“Am I?” Sky asked, blinking curiously at him. She was serious.
“I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon,” Kurisu said.
“I wonder how bad Manhattan is,” Jamar wondered.
“Ooh! Do you think we could get into Area 51?”
“Knowing them, they’re probably the ones who started this whole mess.”
Over the ridge, the RV came into view, perched in a small clearing along the abandoned dirt path they’d found a week ago. Apparently they were in a state park—one long since abandoned. They stopped outside in unison, forming a circle.
“So… What’s for dinner, then?” Jamar asked.
Mr. Caldwell snatched the puny fish from Kris’s hand and held it up. “Looks like we all get an inch of this thing.” He groaned. “Soon as we’re done eating we’re driving outta here.”
“Where?” Kurisu said.
“Wherever the road takes us. We’ll find food or a farm or something eventually.”
“Som’un else can take my share,” Sky groaned. “I’m feelin’ a bit…” She doubled over and retched, puking up nothing but alcohol. The others recoiled, just dodging the projectile vomit Sky barfed into the center of them all.
“Why don’t I take you inside?” Kurisu offered.
Sky nodded, holding her stomach.
By the time the moon rose over the trees, Arthur had a strong fire going, and the fish had been cleaned and cooked. Kurisu taunted them by providing plates and silverware like they were diving into a decent meal. Instead, the three men downed their shares in a single gulp each. Kurisu chewed quietly, her head low and her eyes up.
The group didn’t waste any time after that. They stomped out the fire, packed up the RV, and hit the road. Kris couldn’t be sure, but he thought they were heading north-east, the general direction of Maine. He wouldn’t allow his hopes to rise.
Instead, he opened the bedroom door and watched Sky sleep sprawled out on the bed, doing his best to convince himself he wasn’t a creep.
He reached into his pocket and felt the note. Pulling it from his pocket, he unfolded it for the hundredth time and read the hastily scribbled message, obscured under splotches of blood: “Our dearest Sky. If there’s any good in this world, you’ll never see this note and go on thinking we survived. The reality is we’ve both been bitten, and we know what awaits us. We love you more than you’ll ever know, and we’ll see you soon. Stay safe. Love, Mom and Dad.”
Folding the note and sliding it back into his pocket with a heavy sigh and a heavier conscience, Kris wondered if he’d ever get the guts to show it to Sky.
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