We stood there, without words, for several moments.
What words could sum up what any of us were feeling? We had travelled so far, endured so much, losing friends and family along the way only to be faced with what we could only hope would be civilisation. David was in the car, and I noticed him scanning all around, maybe checking for faults in the large heavy barricade that lined the perimeter as far as we could see. It curved round in the distance and I wondered if it enclosed all of Riverton or only a part of it. The makeshift wall was made of various sturdy materials; metal, thick wood, lorry tyres, barbed wire, anything that could keep the dead at bay. It stretched up impressively high, maybe thirty feet or so. Where had they gotten all the resources they needed to make this?
I got out of the car and eyed what looked like the entrance.
I heard a door opening and shutting. Cancer stood beside me, looking absolutely exhausted. There was something on his face though, something foreign. Relief perhaps?
‘We’re finally here,’ I breathed.
Cancer nodded, looking around. ‘As long as they have running hot water, I’ll be happy.’
I turned round, to face the cars again. ‘We should be on our guard, just in case it’s not what they promised.’
‘Well what’re the chances it’ll be the same as the camp before Atlanta?’
I could tell Cancer was trying to be brave. He was just as worried as the rest of us.
‘Even so, we shouldn’t get our hopes up.’
The barricade creaked suddenly and I jumped back, pulling my gun upwards. Cancer did the same and I heard several clicks of guns from people behind me. Metal scraped against metal, something was being turned and the heavy doors swung open slowly. About fifteen or so soldiers stared back at us, all holding guns that looked much heavier and much more lethal than ours.
‘Put your weapons on the floor!’ one of the soldiers commanded.
I immediately complied. Cancer grumbled slightly but was wise enough to follow the guy’s instructions.
‘Have any of you been bitten?’ he took a step forward. He didn’t look like the type that would hesitate to shoot someone who had been infected.
Everyone shook their heads.
The soldier gestured something with his hand and we were suddenly surrounded by the soldiers who began marching us inside. We were told to leave the cars outside the perimeter. I didn’t feel comfortable with leaving our only form of escape where we couldn’t reach it, but I didn’t have a choice.
Cancer continued grumbling all the way inside, demanding his knife back several times. He was rewarded with a sharp push in the back. It was a wonder a fight hadn’t broken out yet.
When we entered the camp itself, it was like something from our dreams.
It was literally a small town. Normal shops and buildings lined the roads; people were walking around in couples or small groups. A few army vehicles were parked against the curb and a little way ahead I spotted a vegetable patch. A couple of people were tending to it. Several curious faces turned towards us as we entered but their interest soon disappeared and they continued with whatever they had been doing. I was completely and utterly fascinated.
After months of running and surviving, it felt like we had finally reached our long-awaited rest.
The soldiers were taking us somewhere, that much was obvious. We walked for about five minutes before arriving at a small, squat building. The windows had been smashed in and were loosely covered by bits of cardboard. Someone had graffiti’d ‘Judgment day has come’ across the door in black letters.
We were told to wait outside whilst one of the soldiers disappeared into the building.
Cancer was scowling. Alicia was clutching his hand tightly, looking terrified. Carol looked intrigued and Eloise and David looked strictly professional, like they were willing to negotiate whatever they needed to ensure that we were allowed to stay.
It felt like forever before we were told to come inside. The interior was mildly better, although it could have done with a damn good dusting. Dozens of books filled heavy oak bookshelves. There was a small television in the corner of one room, a cracked leather sofa and a large desk which stood in the centre of the room. Behind it was a man. He was reading something and glanced up as we entered.
The guy nodded at the soldiers and they disappeared back out the door. We all waited apprehensively. I hadn’t felt this hopeful about something since the CDC. Considering how well that had turned out, I was hesitant to feel any form of faith.
He stood up and smiled in a welcoming way. He was tall, maybe a few inches taller than Cancer with dirty blonde hair and pale blue eyes. He was wearing a simple brown jumper and dark jeans. He just looked like an ordinary guy, but I knew he must have a great deal of power.
‘I will start off by saying that I assume none of you have been bitten, otherwise you would not have made it past the gates.’ His voice was gravelly and serious. ‘We take security very seriously here, as I’m sure you can imagine.’ He walked around the desk, his boots creaking along the wooden floorboards. ‘You will of course have to submit to a blood test if you intend to stay.’
Cancer didn’t look pleased about this at all but said nothing.
Eloise rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment.
‘Of course,’ David stepped forward. ‘It’s more than generous enough that you’re letting us stay. It’s not safe out there…’
‘No, it isn’t,’ the leader smiled once more. ‘Well I will let you get settled in. You will also be required to pull your weight around here as well, we don’t tolerate slackers.’ His eyes drifted down to Alicia, who hid further behind Cancer. ‘I’m sure we’ll find something for you to do.’ The smile still stayed on his face.
‘What’re you gonna get a kid her age to be doin’ then?’ Cancer bristled, irritably.
‘Whatever is suitable,’ the leader replied, completely unfazed. He assessed Cancer for a second, probably wondering if he was gonna have a problem with him. I prayed Cancer wouldn’t mess this up for us, like he did with Harley’s group. Although to be fair that hadn’t been entirely his fault. The camp had a racist family and I hated racism almost as much as I hated zombies.
I found my voice. ‘Of course.’ I gave Cancer a look. ‘Thank you for your hospitality.’
‘We will keep all weapons until we feel that you have had suitable training and are not a danger to yourself or anyone inside this community.’ The leader once again viewed Cancer as he spoke, waiting for him to object. We all waited silently. Cancer gritted his teeth but said nothing. I noticed Eloise pinching the back of his neck slightly, presumably to keep him from arguing.
‘I can imagine how exhausted you are. I will want to talk to you all more tomorrow, have a little meeting of sorts. I want to know what your skills and weaknesses are, what you did before the world went to hell, so we can determine where to put you in the community. For now though, let Anthony show you around.’
Right on cue, the soldier who had taken our weapons walked into the room.