The drive, excruciatingly slower than usual, continues to set me on edge. I weave the car between the abandoned vehicles on the highway as we all stare out into the woods. It’s daylight. We don’t have to worry about them but you can’t trust other humans nowadays either. Some will kill you over a bag of chips. There are no laws in this new world.
It takes three hours to get to the run-down Kroger on the edge of town. We all know how important this is. If we don’t find supplies soon, we’ll be starving in just a few weeks. Hunting has become more difficult. The deer and rabbit population has dwindled down to nothing. The idea of moving on to a new town is a difficult one to stomach. We’ve lost so many already. A move could mean death to us all.
I turn in my seat to stare at the four volunteers who agreed to come with me on the supply run. Lewis is only twelve years old. His knuckles gripping the shotgun are white, and his smooth face has lost all its color. I give him a reassuring smile, and the one he returns nearly breaks my heart.
“Okay, fellas,” I begin. “We each know what we need to get. Michael, Lewis, you two stick together. The rest are with me. Don’t split up, you hear me?”
They all nod, but I can tell they’re each nervous as hell. Only Michael has been on a run before. You never know who or what you will run into. Daylight is usually a safe place for humans but wandering into these buildings could be a death march if you’re not careful. Some of them had moved above-ground in the past year. It made supply runs like this even more dangerous.
The air is stifling hot as we step outside the car and move slowly toward the building. I pray there are even supplies left. Most stores were ransacked long ago. I take the lead and see Michael fall back to cover our rear. The last thing we need is someone sneaking up on us. The glass on the doors has long been broken. We duck inside and move into a line before the registers, scanning the aisles for any sign of movement. I turn to Michael and Lewis.
“Guys, it looks clear but stay alert. You two check the aisles for what we need, and the rest of us will hit the storeroom in the back. Yell if you need us, okay?”
Michael and Lewis move left to cover the aisles. I motion to Rick and John to follow me, and they move quickly to stay close to my side. Light from outside makes it easy to see within the store, but I can already tell the storeroom is pitch black. I ease the swinging door open with my foot and push inside, gun raised. I can’t see a damn thing.
I move to the right and place my hand on the wall to search for a light switch. A noise to my left makes me jump, but I keep searching.
“Be ready, boys,” I say as my fingers find the panel on the wall. I flip them all and drop to the ground. Rick and John copy my movements, beads of sweat dripping down their faces. They have no idea what they’re doing.
“Don’t shoot,” a man says from the corner, throwing his hands up as the others with him cover their eyes and cower behind him. There are only four. I move slowly toward them. They don’t appear to be armed, but I don’t trust them. I don’t trust anyone. The one who spoke looks my age, probably 18 or 19. The others are much younger, like my crew. He turns around, and his eyes widen at the sight of me. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
His eyes. He’s one of them.
I move back slowly and watch as my own hands start shaking. I’ve never been in the same room as one before, but I know he could kill me in an instant.
So why isn’t he?
I keep moving backward to where John and Rick are standing. To my left, I see a long pipe and an idea slowly forms in my brain.
“Boys, move slowly backward please, out the way we came, okay?” I lean down and pick up the pipe. I hear the boys hit the door behind me.
“We won’t hurt you,” he says suddenly, making me stop short of the door. He begins walking forward, but I shake my head at him and move my finger to the trigger.
“You and I both know that won’t do anything to me,” he says. “I meant what I said. We’re not what you think we are. We’re different. In fact, we’re a lot like you.” He continues to walk forward, and I know I have only one chance to get us out alive.
I turn and run through the door, grabbing it behind me to swing it shut. Pushing the pipe through the handles, I pray it will hold long enough to get everyone out. He is suddenly peering at me through the window. I step back and raise my gun even though it’s useless.
“You don’t understand,” he says through the glass. “We need you to help us. We’re not them. We can end their reign, but we have to do it together.”
I can only stare at the man in front of me who is supposed to be my sworn enemy. His kind has killed everyone I love, but he does seem different. His eyes aren’t quite the same. Michael and Lewis run up and gasp when they see his face.
“I’m sorry. I can’t take the chance of trusting you. Not with them,” I say, waving my hand at the boys behind me. We turn and begin running to the car. I hear him scream something behind me, but I can’t make out the words.
When we make it back to the car, I stop and stare back at the empty store. I think I can still hear him screaming after me. We had all heard the rumors. I for one never believed them, but what if they were true? What if the hybrids were real?
I roam the grocery store for food, but every aisle yields only expired, inedible mush. I hear the kids playing in the back which only makes me more nervous. They’re getting hungrier by the day and soon they won’t be able to control the urges. God help any humans they come across if they don’t find food in the next day or two.
We’ve called the grocery store home for the past month. We stumbled across it in the middle of the night after our escape. At first, I thought it was perfect; that it would last us for months, maybe even a year. The kids had been so happy to be free that they didn’t even notice the dwindling supplies. Now, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who is looking for us. Traveling by day or night is too dangerous. We’re trapped.
My thoughts drift back to the dream I had the night before. I was always told to pay attention to my dreams; that they would show me things no others could see. I picture the girl as vividly as I can recall as I wander through the store. She’s beautiful and a fighter. I wish I knew who she is and what she is meant for. All I know now is that she’s important to my mission.
The sound of a car engine stops me in my tracks. I duck down and move slowly to the front of the store. Peering out the broken window, I see a large, black SUV coming straight for us. Panic immediately sets in. I’ve tried to teach the kids to be scared of humans and what they would do to us, but their hunger could take over at any second.
I run back to the storeroom and corral the kids in a corner.
“You have to be quiet, no matter what, okay?” I say to them. Their eyes are wide and terrified, but they nod slowly. I switch off the lights, and we hide in the darkness. The littlest one fights back a sob.
There is only silence for the longest time, but I soon see a shadow move before the storeroom door. I suck in a breath and pray they’ll move on, but my prayers go unanswered. The door begins to slowly push inward, and the gun is the first thing I see. They’re not expecting us. Otherwise, they’d have different weapons.
I watch the girl enter slowly, and something about her stirs up the memory of my dream. Two boys follow behind her, but she is all that I see.
“It can’t be,” I whisper. I immediately slap my hand over my mouth, but it’s too late. I turn away from the humans and shield the kids. Light suddenly fills the storeroom, and I groan.
“Don’t shoot,” I say, throwing my hands up as the kids cover their eyes and cower behind me. I hear her moving slowly toward us. I need to turn around and see if it’s really her, but I know it’ll be over once she sees my eyes. I have to take the risk. I turn around slowly and raise my eyes to her face. It’s her. I can’t believe it.
She immediately moves away, and I know I’ve made a mistake. She’s terrified of us. I stand still with my arms raised while she moves backward to the boys she arrived with. She speaks softly to them, but I still hear every word. I watch as she picks up the pipe, and I immediately know what she intends to do. I just wish she could understand that I would never hurt her, but there is no way I’m gaining her trust in a single day.
“We won’t hurt you,” I say quietly. I begin to walk toward her, but she shakes her head. Her finger moves to the trigger, but I keep moving.
“You and I both know that won’t do anything to me,” I say. “I meant what I said. We’re not what you think we are. We’re different. In fact, we’re a lot like you.”
Before I can say anything further, she turns and runs out the door. I make no move to pursue her. While bullets won’t kill me, they sure do hurt like hell, and I’d rather not have to endure that today. I move to the door and look at her through the glass. Two other boys approach as well. They all look to her for guidance. She is clearly a leader. When she sees me staring through the window, she moves back and raises the gun again.
“You don’t understand,” I say in a last desperate plea. “We need you to help us. We’re not them. We can end their reign, but we have to do it together.”
She stares at me. I allow myself to hope that she’ll believe me, but I know it’s ludicrous. She’s smarter than that. All she does is shake her head.
“I’m sorry. I can’t take the chance of trusting you. Not with them,” she says, waving her hand at the boys behind her. She turns and runs past them back toward the exit. The boys quickly follow her.
“MAGGIE!” I scream, suddenly remembering her name from the dream. She doesn’t even turn around. I sink to the floor, and the kids run over to me.
“Cole, what’s wrong?” the youngest one asks me. I look at each of them. They’re already over it. Kids are so resilient.
“Do you remember the girl I told you about? The one that will help us win this war?” I ask them. They all nod their heads, and smiles spread across their tiny faces.
“That was her,” I say, standing back up to peer through the window.
“She’s the one.”
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