Joe hardly slept at all. The night mostly consisted of dozing into shallow moments of unconsciousness with vivid nightmares and haunting images. He woke often; always paranoid that he was somehow being watched. The feeling of being one of a handful of survivors in a world that had gone to shit never left you. The constant fear, the mistrust of anyone you came across or that spine tingling sensation that you were seconds away from death.
He sat up, fully frustrated and inexplicably angry. He wasn’t sure where it had come from. Maybe all the years of bottling up his rage would take its toll.
Joe threw the thin blanket off him and marched outside, no longer wanting to attempt sleep. The fire was still burning and Scott and Chris eyed him as Joe took a seat. He wanted to curse at them, to shout wildly, to hit something. It felt like poison was pouring through his veins like blood, charging his whole body with the desire to flip.
He watched the fire, hoping it would calm him down. Orange flames dancing into the air, like they wanted to escape but could only get so far before they were pulled back down. He knew how that felt.
Voices drifted from nearby. Moments later, two figures emerged from the woods. Cancer had returned. Seeing his face made something inside Joe snap.
He stood up, his heart pounding wildly against his chest and before he could help himself, the words were flowing: ‘You! What the fuck are you doing here?’ Some small voice inside Joe’s head scolded him for swearing, but he paid it no heed. ‘You said you’d come back for me! You said you’d be back and you weren’t!’
It all dawned on him then, why he was so angry. It was because he had been abandoned. He had relied on Cancer to provide some sort of adult authority, to guide Joe and protect him from the monsters that now roamed freely.
Cancer looked completely taken aback.
‘Whoa, kid calm down. I already explained –’
‘You didn’t to me,’ Joe cut him off. ‘You just left!’ He knew his voice was getting louder, but he couldn’t help it.
‘Be quiet!’ Scott hissed. ‘You’ll draw walkers in!’
‘Shut the hell up!’ Joe rounded on him.
‘I had to draw them away! It’s not my fucking fault that I got chased down for miles is it?!’ Cancer was getting angry now; his eyes burned and he took a step closer to Joe. Sophia laid a hand on Cancer’s arm, trying to placate him but he just shook it off. ‘Nobody asked me to save you did they?’
‘Oh save me? You saved me? Sorry, I guess I must have missed that part!’
‘Yeah! I saved your sorry ass from getting eaten by walkers! Don’t you dare act like this is my fault cos I could have easily just left you there to die.’
‘You know what? You really are a jerk Cancer. You care about no one but yourself. I know who you are. You’re the guy who acts like the whole world is against him cos of some bad experience you had in the past. I have a newsflash for you though: the fucking zombie apocalypse is here! You’d better get over your insecurities and fast or you’ll be one of the zombies!’
Cancer was fuming. He looked even more intimidating in the light beside the fire. His eyes looked black and his jaw and fists were clenched.
‘Kid you better step the fuck down or you’ll end up hurt,’ he spoke through gritted teeth.
Joe let out an exasperated cry and shoved Cancer hard in the chest. ‘I am NOT a kid!!!’
The moments that followed seemed to pass in super slow motion as Joe realized what a huge mistake he had made. It seemed as though the group had taken a simultaneous inhalation of breath, waiting on tenterhooks to see what was about to go down. That’s what it felt like to Joe anyway. Little did he know, they were all in a very dire situation right now.
He watched Cancer’s face go about five shades darker; his eyes narrowed and in one fluid motion he had produced a knife. The blade glinted in the light and Joe’s blood ran cold. All he could think was Shit what the fuck have I done?
Frozen to the spot, he could not move.
Out of nowhere, a startled cry pierced the air. Both Cancer and Joe instinctively looked to see where it had come from.
‘Holy SHIT!’ Cancer hissed.
About three figures were crouched on the floor, on the place where Chris had been moments before. Joe could make out a pair of legs flailing desperately, covered in blood. Chris’ manic cries of pain and horror echoed the moment that AJ was taken down. Seconds later, they were all fighting. Dozens of walkers had surrounded them whilst they were arguing.
Something grabbed Joe’s shoulder in a tight grip and he shrieked – a little too highly for his liking – and tried shoving it off. Another pair of hands grabbed him round the waist and shoved him to the floor. All he could think about was how he didn’t want to end up like his parents. He frantically kicked out, his body squirming away from snapping mouths. He did not want to die.
Something warm grabbed his hand and pulled hard. He kicked off from the ground, kicked another time and had the satisfaction of hearing bone give way. Feral moans and desperate growls filled the air around them as Joe was pulled away from the corpses. He looked to see who it was and only had time to register surprise at seeing Cancer’s face before they were all running.
Joe ran like he had never run before. His feet pounded the floor and blood pumped agonizingly through his head.
Branches scratched at him, deterring him, pulling him back. He fought all this off and pushed himself forward, harder.
He didn’t look back.