Robby stared at the newcomer with the curiosity a class may have with a new student. He was dishevelled and tired, beaten and worn. Messy red hair framed a pale, freckly face and fearful brown eyes. The frames of his glasses were broken and they hung awkwardly. He now stood with his arms held up in defence, trembling slightly at the guns pointed towards him. Even though the kid didn’t have any bites, it didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous.
‘How did you find this place?’ Marc questioned him.
Marc was a good person to have around. He was slightly impulsive and volatile, but he was a hell of a fighter. He was merciless too, which you needed when it came to dealing with the bad guys. No one dared mess with Marc, and the kid seemed to get this as his trembling grew substantially worse as he replied.
‘I walked here.’
‘You tryna be funny kid?’
‘No,’ the guy who introduced himself as Joe shook his head. ‘I just went for a walk, lost track of time and ended up here.’
‘Marc I think he’s okay,’ Riley spoke. Robby looked at her sister and thanked her silently. As much as she trusted Marc, she felt bad for the kid. He looked so vulnerable and scared. Although something inside of Robby told her not to underestimate him. There was something in his eyes, something just below the surface. A hardened determination maybe? Sure, on the outside Joe was visibly scared, but on the inside it seemed that he had begun to adapt to the world around him. Then again, you couldn’t afford not to.
Marc hesitated, always keeping his knife ready. ‘You got any injuries?’
‘Not really. I mean, I’m a little tired but that’s it.’
‘Okay, you listen to me and you listen good. You can stay, for now. But if you so much as look at anyone the wrong way and I will not hesitate to kill you. You got it?’
The kid nodded desperately, eyes wide.
‘I’ll show him where he can rest,’ Robby was speaking before she could help herself. She noticed Riley staring and ignored the ogling of the rest of the group as she smiled timidly at the newcomer. The corners of his mouth attempted to turn upwards but they gave up.
‘Man we gotta think about better security,’ Earl, one of the gunmen muttered. Robby left them to talk it out as she led Joe round past the tents and to the small supply of water they kept.
‘We have two separate buckets; one for washing and one for cleaning. It’s scarce but we make trips to the lake, you can use it to neaten yourself up a bit if you want.’
‘Thanks,’ he mumbled, glancing at her nervously.
‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ she tried to make her voice sincere. ‘Don’t mind Marc, it’s standard procedure. You can’t be too careful nowadays.’
‘No, I understand.’
‘My name’s Robyn but everyone calls me Robby,’ she extended her hand. He took it.
‘It’s nice to meet you Joe.’
Robby wasn’t sure if she should be getting too familiar with this stranger; she still didn’t know what his story was, but he just seemed too skinny, too vulnerable to make any attacks against the group.
Out of nowhere the sounds of scuffling and alarmed voices got them both on full alert. Immediately ready for any attack, Robby reached for the blade she kept hidden down the side of her boot and gestured Joe to be quiet. Zombies? Or, possibly worse, plunderers?
She crouched low behind one of the tents, surveying the scene in front of her. She could hear Joe’s heavy panicked breathing behind her.
A tall guy with dark hair stood in the middle of the group.
‘He’s got something to hide. He’s lying. Strip him, look for bites,’ Marc demanded.
Another great thing about Marc; he had impeccable instincts.
‘Just tell me if you’ve seen him!’ The stranger shouted, getting angry. Marc’s fist flew forwards straight into the guy’s mouth and Robby winced.
‘Stay low and hidden,’ she whispered to Joe without looking at him. If she had looked at him though, if she had seen his pale face and trembling lips she may have sussed what was going on.
The guy was quickly stripped, his bare arms holding everything they needed to know. A bloody bandage which was torn away unveiled a nasty looking completely distinguishable bite mark. Robby’s heart dropped and she crouched even lower, praying for Marc to just sort it out.
‘You lied then.’
‘Because I knew you’d react like this. I’m fine!’ He was beginning to sound desperate. ‘Just let me find Joe, okay?’
Robby gasped and whirled to face Joe. ‘You know him?’
He shrugged weakly.
‘You said you were on your own…’ she began backing away, her grip on the knife tightening with each step she took.
The other’s voices didn’t register with Robby until she was back into the open, into the safety of the others. Joe glanced at her desperately but she shook her head.
‘He’s there,’ she pointed to the spot where they had been hiding.
‘Joe?’ the guy asked. ‘Come on we’re leaving. I told you he was here.’
‘You’re not leaving anywhere,’ Thomas growled, his grasp on the gun unwavering. ‘You’ve been bitten. That means you need to die.’
For a second, for one long second, everything was still and quiet. Robby’s own heartbeat seemed to resonate throughout the silence, her blood turning cold. No one spoke, no one moved. Everything had been put in slow motion.
Then Joe burst through into action. ‘No! Don’t kill him!’
‘You lied to us,’ Earl trained his gun on Joe. This whole thing was turning into a massive shit storm. ‘You said you didn’t know any other survivors.’
‘I say they both get the hell out of here,’ someone from the group shouted.
‘He isn’t safe, he’s been bitten,’ another one piped up.
‘What is this? A fucking dictatorship?’
‘He’s safe,’ Joe insisted.
‘Kid I don’t know where you’ve been living but once you get bit, you die,’ Marc hissed.
Joe sighed deeply in exasperation before turning to face all of them. The words that escaped his mouth then seemed to be the words that set the world spinning upside down and brought everything to a crashing halt.
'We found a cure!'