‘Right do you have a list or something of what we need?’ Cancer called over his shoulder to Joe. Joe pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his jeans and handed it over.
‘Mainly just food, medical supplies and survival gear. I figured we could do with a few more close-range weapons, like knives or something. None with serrated edges though. Also, if you’re going to be fighting zombies that close up you’re gonna have to have enough energy. It’s very physically demanding.’
Cancer raised an eyebrow at Joe who shrugged. ‘I used to read a lot of zombie fiction.’
They wandered the dark abandoned halls of the shopping centre, always prepared for any attack. Joe thought it was odd that they hadn’t run into any trouble just yet; in the movies the shopping centres were the worst places to be. They came across a grocery shop and Cancer had to kick the door in before it gave way.
‘Get things that’ll last,’ Cancer whispered. ‘Canned goods and whatnot.’
‘Do we have a can opener?’
A pause. ‘No, best get that too.’
Joe’s eyes scanned the shelves, observing expiry dates and checking for any cans that may be spoiled. After a while he just scooped them all into his rucksack.
‘Got the can opener,’ Cancer chucked it through the air at Joe. ‘Also got some sugary snacks. Like you said, we’re gonna need our energy.’
‘Yeah but what happens when we have a sugar crash?’
Cancer shrugged. ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’
For an hour or so they browsed the rest of the shopping centre, coming across a pharmacy that sold all sorts of medical supplies: bandages, ointment, painkillers. Shampoo, conditioner and shower gel stood on the shelves, looking very much untouched. Joe let out a relieved groan and shoved it all in his bag. God how badly he had missed these things. He picked up a bottle of deodorant and chucked it at Cancer.
‘You need some of that.’
They came across a store that sold hunting gear; camouflage jackets, thick army boots and knives. Joe decided that now might be the time to abandon the blood stained holey shoes he had on and replace them with the steely, sturdy boots.
‘Yeah ready to kick some zombie ass now!’ He tried kicking up in the air but the bags weighed him down and he ended up toppling into the wall. Cancer started sniggering, but stopped suddenly at something behind Joe.
Joe’s heart automatically froze and he waited, listening for the distinct guttural groans of the dead.
‘Well whaddya know?’ When the tone of Cancer’s voice told Joe it wasn’t anything serious, he allowed himself to relax and followed his line of sight.
A sign in miniature light bulbs, all devoid of electricity spelled out “Thunder Strike Bowling”. Blood stains decorated the boarded up doors like art work and Joe scrunched up his nose. Cancer headed straight over to it, grabbed his crowbar and began prying the edges of the wood away.
‘What are you doing?’ Joe hissed. ‘How do we know there aren’t thousands of zombies in there?’
‘Come on kid, live a little. It’s your birthday!’
Joe heaved a groan. ‘Fine, but not for long.’
Not-for-long ended up being two and a half hours. Although the place stunk, it was pretty much untouched by the dead and Joe had forgotten what it felt like to have fun. In a world crumbled with chaos, it was nice to have some normalcy, some reminder of what life used to be like. They had found a handful of pins and some bowling balls and Cancer set them up perfectly. Joe didn’t particularly want to leave the place, but he knew Sophia would be worried sick about them both at camp.
‘Thank you for that, I needed that.’
‘Yeah I think we all need some normality.’
Joe pursed his lips, wondering. ‘You know there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.’
‘Why do you call yourself Cancer? I know it’s not your real name and yet you prefer it.’
There was a silence for a few moments and Joe wondered if he had somehow offended Cancer.
‘It all started when I was younger,’ Cancer eventually replied. ‘I smoked a lot and my friend thought it’d be funny to call me it, seeing as how it’s also my star sign. I guess it just stuck over the years and I’ve grown attached to it.’
‘Is that it or is there more to the story?’
‘We should get back, Sophia will be worried.’
* * * *
Then there were three.
* * * *
The next few days were quiet and awful. Sophia was distant, withdrawn and Cancer was at a loss of how to help her. On the plus side, the tension had died down now that Scott wasn’t here to antagonize anyone. Joe thought back briefly to the time he had punched Scott and wished that he had hit him just that little bit harder, just enough to tell Scott not to mess with anyone. But then what difference would it have made? If Cancer, the guy who was merciless and tough, couldn’t even intimidate Scott then what chance did Joe have? He felt guilty that he had been away on the supply run. Maybe if they had come back sooner, if they hadn’t wasted time bowling, they could have protected Sophia.
Four days after Joe’s sixteenth, he made an announcement to the others.
‘Guys, we cannot stay here anymore.’
They both looked at him.
‘I mean, we cannot stay here doing nothing. There are three of us now, which makes us vulnerable and weak. We need to be out there, either searching for other survivors or a safe haven. This isn’t safe.’
Sophia nodded glumly. ‘He’s right.’
‘We can’t guarantee that any survivors out there are going to be the ones we want to run into. Do you remember the warehouse?’
‘I know Cancer, but we can’t stay here,’ Joe sighed. ‘We need to take our chances. We have to search for more people.’