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“Jess, I don’t want you leaving again. It’s too dangerous at night. Got it?” I stare blankly at my dad.
“I don’t understand what the big deal is. I’m old enough to take care of myself.” I shrug, and stare down at my plate.
“I don’t want to lose you. Okay?” He stares at me and I nod.
“Where’s Jason, anyway? I haven’t seen him since this morning.” I look around my dad to the front door.
“Probably scavenging. He’ll be back before dusk, at least he better be.” The door bangs open and my older brother walks in.
He dumps his backpack by the stairs and slams the door. He looks at me before grabbing a plate off the counter and sitting down. My dad takes out his reading glasses and starts to read in silence.
The sun is setting and I jump off the stool to get to the front door. My dad looks at me briefly before going back to his book. I take that as an okay to leave. Walking to the tall fence that surrounds our home, I make out a shadow in the distance.
They’re already coming up the mountain which isn’t a good sign. I turn and twist the locks lining the fence and jiggle them to make sure it’s secure. Turning I run back inside before the sun sinks down behind the hills.
Jason and my father are already boarding up the windows by the time I stumble back inside. I kick the door. I hate the blackness of the night and the shrill screaming that seeps through every crack in the house. I hate that the only way I can be happy is out in the monster filled world.
Jason gives me a look as I make my way upstairs into our room, “Jess, you can’t leave tonight. Dad is expecting it and you’ll get caught.” he whispers quietly in my ear.
“I know. I wasn’t planning on leaving anyway.” I hiss back.
“Hey, I got you something,” He says, ignoring my hostile comment.
He pulls out three things from his backpack and hides them from my sight. I close my eyes tight and hold out my hands. He sets the first object down gently and I open my eyes. A laptop, a laptop that’s in perfect condition and for the first time I love that we have our own generator.
I squeal and jump up and down. He puts his finger to his lips and I mouth a sorry. Jason smiles and from behind his back pulls out a package of Starbucks ground coffee beans. I almost burst into tears at the sight of it. I hug him tightly and he hugs me back. When I pull away he hands me the last item, a copy of The Last Song.
My eyes fill with tears at the sight of my favorite book. I almost reach over to kiss Jason but he walks over to his bed and flops down.
“How did you remember?” I ask, holding up the book.
He shrugs and runs his hand through his hair, “I just did.”
I cross over and peek out the window as a high pitch screech rips through the night. Figures dot the woods out beyond the fence and I shiver.
“Don’t look out the window if it bothers you so much.” I turn to Jason who is propped up against the pillows.
“I know... I would already be out there by now. It’s not fair, I can fight them off. Training was so easy for me and you get to go out scavenging everyday.”
“Jess, dad just doesn’t want anything to happen to you. I’m sure he would let you go scavenging if I talked to him. You’re only sixteen and to be honest, you’re the only person that I still care about.” He smiles weakly.
I mentally slap myself, I hate to see Jason sad. Jumping into bed I quickly turn the light off, pretending not to notice the tears streaming down Jason’s face.
Sleeping, I always hate this part. Memories flood into my dreams. My mother is cradling my sister in her arms blood pours from the gash across her chest. Taylor’s lifeless body twitches and her eyes fly open, I scream out to my mom but it’s to late. Taylor’s teeth clamp down into her neck and I run towards them only to be pulled back by Jason.
He puts his finger to his lips and slowly walks me out of the room. Inhuman screeches fill the space behind us. My mom stumbles in.
“Mommy.” I whisper. She bares her teeth and screeches in response.
“Jessica, wake up! Jess!” I’m ripped out of the dream and look into Jason’s face.
I sit straight up, almost colliding my head into Jason’s. I can feel my hands shaking and sweat runs down my forehead. Breathing hard I grab for Jason and immediately start to cry. He holds me tight, stroking my hair as I gasp in between sobs.
“Hey, you’re okay. It was just a dream. You’re alright.” He whispers into my ear calmly, “Was it the same nightmare?” I nod into his shoulder.
“Did it really happen?” He looks at me puzzled, “Well, I don’t remember that far back, I was only eight.” He looks down at his hands.
“When I was ten, the outbreak started. I remember because I was at school that day. A boy, maybe about eight stumbled into our classroom and he started screaming at us to get out,” Jason takes a long pause, “The sirens started blaring and our teacher yelled at us to get outside.
When I ran out, I could hear these screeches. Then I saw them. Those dark sunken eyes and rotten flesh. They were everywhere, taking down kids left and right. I knew I had to get out, my friend was right next to me. He was grabbed. I saved him before he was bitten. Hit the thing over the head with a chair, it just crumpled to the ground.
I ran straight home to you guys, Matt was with me. Taylor was already home. Looking pale and scared, of course, everyone was. Taylor was fifteen, a lot older than you. I remember her complaining of a headache, and then she just... Fell. Mom ran straight for her. You were right behind her and I grabbed you. Taylor... Bit mom. I ran into the kitchen with you before you could see anything, but it was too late. That’s when dad ran in with... The gun.” I shudder and try, but fail, to stifle a sob.
A small knock on the door breaks us from our daze. “Hey, guys your dad wanted me to get you for breakfast.” Matt, my brothers best friend, says.
I get up slowly, steadying myself before running a brush through my tangled mess of hair. I love breakfast, it’s the only meal we’re actually required to ALL be at. I stumble down stairs, still disoriented from my nightmare.
“Hey, Jess!” I turn and my best friend Molly waves me over. Our “house” is split into two equal parts. Since our father built this place, we get the main house while the other families sleep and stay in the connected living space.
Molly is two years younger than me and her parents stumbled across our camp five years ago. I don’t know what would’ve happened if she wouldn’t have showed up. She likes to think I would ‘crash and burn,’ which is mostly right.
I walk over to the long table placed in the center of the room. “Jess! You won’t believe it!” She’s practically crying of happiness and I can’t help but giggle. “They rescued more people last night!” I gasp.
“Why didn’t Jason tell me?”
“He wasn’t with the team. He was out looking for supplies. Remember? Anyway! They found a new group, a family and a group of guys. They’re our age.” She winks at me and I push her.
“Yeah. Don’t get any ideas Moll. You’re only fourteen.” I laugh at her while her face turns into a scowl.
“Okay, just wait till they walk in. You’ll see what I mean.” I sit down roughly next to her.
As everyone passes around the eggs and bread, I hear the front door squeal open. I’m in the middle of handing the bread to Trisha, Molly’s mom, when my dad comes up to the table. Two boys, a little girl, and two middle aged parents are behind him.
“Everyone, meet the Roberts family. Give them a big welcome, since they’ll be with us from now on.” Everyone says a cheery hello as they are escorted to the end of the table. I squint at the boys, who cant be more than ten.
“Molly,” I whisper, “they’re like ten years old! What are you talking about?” She gives me a strange look in between gulps of bread.
“Jess, that’s not them. I said a group of guys, firstly. And, c’mon you really think I would find ten year olds attractive?”
“Well....” I smile and she hits me lightly on the shoulder.
I sneak glances at the door every few minutes. Molly keeps catching my eye and smirking. Sydney, another girl at our camp, sits down next me. “Hey,” she smiles, “have you seen the new guys yet?” I shake my head slowly.
“Too bad. I haven’t either. Molly,” she looks past me, “thanks for waking me up at four this morning. They aren’t even here!”
“My bad, maybe...” before Molly can finish the front door opens and four, incredibly hot, guys walk in. My dad claps his hands once and walks toward them.
Wow, seriously? What are the odds of this happening? I can’t help but stare at the one closest to the door. His blonde hair falls into his face and auburn streaks run through it, piercing green eyes fall onto my face. I quickly realize that I’m wearing an oversized t-shirt about 4x too big and baggy pajama pants.
I turn abruptly and almost knock over the plate of eggs with my elbow. I close my eyes and try to compose myself. I turn to Molly, “Hey, I’m gonna go to the wash room. Don’t wait up.” She nods and I manage to slip out of the room as soon as my dad starts introducing the boys.
The washroom is a building separated from the main house. Since no showers are in the house, it’s built on top of two tiny streams that are our main water sources. With a towel and some soap in hand, I make my way across the yard. I knock once on the heavy wooden door and push my way in.
I look up at the worst possible time. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” I avert my eyes from the blonde haired boy from earlier, except now he’s wearing no clothes.
“Oh no, um.. Ok you can look now.” I slowly unstick my eyes from the ground. A towel now loosely hangs on his hips. “It’s alright, I’m sorry I didn’t answer when you knocked.” He half smiles and I can’t help but smile back.
“I just assumed everyone was still at breakfast! Uh.. I’m Jessica, you can call me Jess.”
“Jess, I’m Mason. Well, I guess I should get out of your way..” He shuffles around me and reaches the door.
“Hey Mason,” I call out before he leaves. “I’m happy they found you, welcome. I’ll see you around.”
He smiles and nods slowly. “I’ll see you around... Jessica.” He walks out and I’m left alone.
I pull my combat boots on and grab my backpack from under my bed. Jason watches from his perch by the window. “You’re gonna get caught,” he whispers in a sing-song voice. I give him my best death glare and go back to getting ready. “There’s no way I’m letting you go alone, dummy.” He says playfully even though I know he’s being serious.
“I’ll be fine,” I grab my knife from a drawer in the nightstand. “it’s not that hard. I’ll stay above the streets. None of those things will touch me.” I turn around and see that Jason isn’t even paying attention. Instead, he’s taking a baseball bat out from behind the door and grabbing his bag from the closet.
“Seriously!” I whine and slouch my shoulders.
“Yes seriously,” he grins.
I roll my eyes and tuck another knife between my sock and boot. “Fine.” I grumble under my breathe. I open the door to the bedroom and strain to hear any noise from downstairs. The only noise heard is the wind that somehow creeped its way in through the cracks of the house.
I take one step, then another, slowly but surely we make it down the stairs. “Jess, I really don’t think...” I put my hand in the air to silence him. I can feel his eye roll aimed towards my turned back. When I open the front door we’re met with a cold breeze. I pull my jacket tighter and tiptoe into the night.
Jason and I make our way to the bushes lining the porch. I look up towards the guard tower. “Can you see anything?” I whisper to Jason.
“I don’t know. I can’t tell. I think Johnson was supposed to be on duty tonight. I think we may be able to sneak around him.” A loud crack to our left echoes out and I snap my head up.
“What was that?” My voice shakes.
Jason puts his finger to his lips and moves toward the noise. He then jumps out and tackles a shadow crouched by the corner of the house. I clasp my hand over my mouth to stifle a squeal. They begin to struggle, finally Jason pins whoever it is to the ground.
“Who are you?” Jason whispers in a hostile voice.
“Mason. I’m Mason. I saw you two leaving and followed. Who are you?” Jason releases Mason’s arms, I sigh in relief.
“Jason. This is Jessica. I suggest you go back to bed if you don’t want trouble.”
“Just tell me.” He looks over Jason’s shoulder at me. “Are you guys going out there?” A scream rips through the night and more echo in response. We stand still listening until they die down.
Jason answers, “Yeah. We are.”
“I can help. With whatever you need, I’m a good fighter. If something happens I can protect you.” I can feel this statement was directed towards me and I feel a twinge of anger. Apparently no one trusts that I can take care of myself.
To my surprise, Jason starts nodding his head. “Okay newbie. I guess you can tag along.” ?