Joe needed to get out of the house, badly. Everything was too cramped and fucked up for him to really be able to breathe properly. The tension in the air was so thick he felt he could cut it with a knife. Something was going on with Cancer and Sophia and the two new guests only made it worse. Joe hadn’t bothered speaking to any of them and wasn’t sure if he was going to change this. All he wanted was to go on living for as long as he could and as much as he hated to admit it, lugging a small girl around only decreased their chances at survival.
He wanted to go unnoticed by Death.
When Cancer and the new guy had left, he waited until the small girl was asleep and Sophia was preoccupied with other things before picking up the blood stained crowbar that had saved his life so far and snuck out the front door.
Immediately he felt better, which was strange given how easily he could be eaten by a stray walker.
He started straight towards the forest, enjoying for once, the way the wind felt against his skin. It was tinged with the decease; a scent that lingered along with any passing breeze, filling his nostrils, filling his mind with impending doom. Regardless, he tried to not dwell on this too much.
* * *
He stopped walking when his legs ached and the light in the sky began to lurch in a different angle, indicating that night time was soon approaching. Not sure how much time had passed, it was only then that Joe stopped and realized how stupid he had been. How stupid and reckless. He hadn’t marked his way and hadn’t been paying attention to his surroundings; how was he supposed to get back?
Voices caused him to suddenly drop low in the undergrowth.
A couple of yards away, he could hear it. He began searching for a way to retreat without making too much noise (the warehouse incident had taught him to not trust strangers) when a particular voice caught his attention. It was a female’s voice and it sounded distressed.
‘They should be back by now.’
It was immediately joined by another voice, this one male.
‘Relax Riley, they’ve only been gone an hour.’
‘Exactly, an hour! It takes twenty minutes to get there.’
Joe’s curiosity got the better of him and he straightened up a little, all the while keeping a firm grip on his weapon and trying to stay hidden. What he saw caused his hearth to both simultaneously drop and implode on itself.
A campsite. With actual humans. He could count at least fifteen from here.
The three figures nearest to him seemed to be the ones that were talking. Two girls and a man. The girl’s shared similarities, siblings perhaps? The male was tall and dark; he reminded Joe of Cancer. There was a small fire in the centre of the site, people huddled round it almost desperately trying to grab some comfort from the flickering flames. Two guys stood with heavy looking guns patrolling the perimeter. Joe wondered where they had gotten that find of firepower.
Someone suddenly grabbed him from behind, pulling his arms behind his back and pressing something cold to his throat. For a second, Joe’s senses froze.
‘Drop the weapon.’
Joe forced his fingers to open, dropping the crowbar near his assailant’s feet. He got shoved forward, the pressure at his throat disappearing.
‘Look what I found!’ Joe was pushed into full view of everyone.
The guys with guns trained them directly on Joe and it took all his willpower not to scream like a girl. Instead, he forced the fear back down his throat and tried to remember every single bit of self-defence he had learned.
What would Cancer do in this situation?
The answer wasn’t too promising and certainly didn’t guarantee his safety; he soon dropped this thought.
‘Who are you?’ the nearest gun-guy questioned. He was thick with dark skin and had a tinge to his accent.
‘Joe,’ he squeaked, inwardly cursing himself for letting his fear show. ‘I’m harmless.’ He held his hands up.
Everyone was on full alert; they were all staring at him like he was a ticking time bomb. The guy who had grabbed him circled round and flashed his knife at Joe. He was short, a few inches shorter than Joe, with hard grey eyes and dirty blonde hair.
‘You been bitten?’
‘What? No. I swear.’
‘Check him,’ the blonde guy instructed. He was grabbed roughly by two guys who pinned his arms behind his back and the girl who had been panicking earlier crept forward tentatively. She lifted his shirt up and despite everything, Joe flushed. She was an attractive girl and he had always been self-conscious of his appearance.
The guys holding his arms rolled his sleeves up, checking for bites. Joe shoved them off, annoyed and hoisted his trouser legs up, kicked off his shoes and showed them all his skin.
‘See? Not bitten. Now have you finished violating me?’
The guy with the blade was suddenly up close, holding it back against Joe’s throat.
‘We’ll ask the questions here pal. So you wanna do the wise thing and shut up?’
‘Cool it Marc,’ someone said.
‘I’ll cool it when he tells us what the fuck he was doing spying on us!’
‘I wasn’t spying on you,’ Joe rushed, backing away. ‘I swear. I found you, by accident.’
‘You on your own?’ the girl asked.
Joe hesitated, only for a split second before nodding. He didn’t know whether he could trust the fact that they wouldn’t kill him and go find the others. For now, he would lie to them.
‘He’s lying,’ Marc stated.
‘I’m not lying,’ Joe insisted. ‘I’m on my own.’
Marc scoffed. ‘And you’ve survived this far on your own with this?’ he held up Joe’s crowbar.
‘It’s handier than it looks.’
The girl’s mouth twitched slightly, like she was trying to fight a smile.