For a while we drove in silence, the funeral resting heavy on all of us. I continued to sit in the car with David whilst Cancer, Eloise, Carol and Alicia were in the other car. Alicia was one to watch; I knew what it was like to lose your parents and how badly it can affect you. Alicia was only six years old though; she would never have a normal childhood again. She was supposed to play with her toys, to giggle with her friends and go to the park with her mum and dad. She’d never, ever do that though. Even if this apocalypse did somehow magically fade away she would have no family to hold her hand through it.
The rest of us had lost so much, humanity had suffered radically. There would never be any sense of normalcy again. It was scary to think about what the survival rate was right now; I guessed it was well below 30%. At least 30% of the world had died, fallen to the hands of the dead. Even if we did come across a survivor, they were always corrupt. They were violent, merciless, desperate.
David drove at a steady pace. I think he was trying to avoid using the petrol up so quickly, which was understandable, but at the same time unavoidable.
‘We have to guide Alicia, you know. There are two very different paths that she can take in life, now she has no real parentage. If she’s raised right, she’ll grow up strong and capable. Otherwise, she can grow up to become one of the bastards that killed her father.’
I nodded at David’s words.
‘Cancer’s taken a shine to her,’ I said fondly. ‘I didn’t peg him as the paternal type.’
‘I’ve met people like Cancer,’ David replied. ‘Their lives are driven by violence and they can feel so lost, they become dependent on the anger that consumes them because they think it makes them strong. Having Alicia round though seems to have provided him with someone to look after other than himself.’
‘He had Rayn before.’
‘His best friend. I think they grew up together. He got killed though during a shootout. It wasn’t the bullet that ended his life, but a bite.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘I was the one who put Rayn out of his misery when he rose again. I had to, Cancer sure as hell wasn’t going to do it.’
‘That was brave of you.’
‘I didn’t always used to be brave…’ I trailed off, unsure if David wanted to hear about my life. I suddenly wanted to tell him though. David’s eyes flickered to me and he seemed to be waiting to hear what I had to say.
‘Before the apocalypse I was a shy, awkward teenager that got bullied at school. The bully's name was Harry Acker and he was a living hell for me. Long story short, my parents took me to Reno for a holiday after I finished high school which is where the apocalypse was. You could say it was pretty bad timing,’ I smiled sadly at my poor-tasted joke. ‘My dad was bitten first, he killed my mum and Cancer shot them both. He saved me from that hotel that night and we went to find Rayn in Sacramento. Along the way I changed though. Something inside of me changed. I got darker, more capable. Rayn and Cancer trained me how to use a gun and I used it not long after to kill someone. It was in self-defence, but I’ll never forget it.’
David was silent for a few moments. When he spoke, his voice was gentle but assertive. ‘You mustn’t blame yourself Joe. People change in times like these. The purest person can become utterly brutal. You can’t expect to live through the apocalypse and be the same person you were before.’
He was right, I knew it. I just didn’t like this new person I was. I wanted more than anything to go back to how things used to be.
We were both silent after that, continuing on our journey to Wyoming. It was a long one, and we had obstacles to face. We didn’t come across anymore survivors. We came across plenty of zombies and we had to redirect our route more times than I can count. We got swarmed at one point, which was absolutely terrifying. David was perfectly capable though and drove us away with ease. The other car followed ours, so if we saw danger we’d flash our lights and they’d know to stop.
We rested several times, in old houses, abandoned buildings or sometimes even simply in the car. One of us would stay awake; I chose to do this more times because David needed to sleep. I could rest when he was driving. We scavenged what little food and drink we could, sometimes it was enough, other times it wasn't.
As we got closer and closer to our destination, I felt the first glimmers of hope, something I hadn’t felt since we reached that lab where I first saw Robby. Would this place be all that we had heard? Or was it too late? Was it already overrun?
I was sleeping when David shook me awake violently. I was immediately on my guard, looking out for attack. One glance at his face though told me something else entirely. He wasn’t scared, he was… excited?
A large sign stood on the side of the road, covered in roots and leaves. The words were barely discernible, but at the same time unmistakable. A loud honk from the car behind told us what we had all known: we had arrived.
Welcome to Riverton.