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“Look, over there!” Denise pointed impatiently at an abandoned gas station. She stuck her head out of the window in anticipation

            “Yes, finally!” Rory yelled in relief, and most probably in exhaustion, too. He punched his fist hard on the stirring wheel, grunting excitedly, and let out a long, low whistle.

Denise turned back and knocked on the small metal window on the wall that separated them from Ferrah and Tina. “Hey, Ferrah. Open up.” She knocked again. Denise can’t wait to tell the girls about this.

Tina had been sick for days, barfing every now and then when she couldn’t take the nausea anymore. They haven’t gotten out of the armored truck in the weeks that had passed, except, of course, for when they needed to take a leak or something. But aside from that, they had been confined in this traveling prison they couldn’t get out of since it was their only protection.

Ferrah slid the window open. “What is it?” she asked eagerly, smiling. The smell of vomit streamed out of the open hole to the front of the truck. Rory and Denise coughed and gagged immediately. “Sorry,” Ferrah said. “Tina’s been throwing up continuously since last night.”

“Yeah,” Denise said, pinching her nose with her thumb and index finger. “So I’ve noticed.” Rory puffed his cheeks, his eyebrows furrowed and eyes narrowed, probably trying to hold his breath. “Anyway, we found a gas station. Maybe Tina can breathe in some fresh air while we fill up the tank. And maybe we can, too,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll go tell her,” Ferrah said and went to Tina.

“And you may want to close the window, too, Ferrah,” Denise added.

“Oh, right.” The window shut close. Good thing most of the glass was already shattered so the stench can go away. Denise let go of her nose and exhaled sharply. Rory let out the breath he was holding and lolled his tongue out.

After the disgusting smell went out, they both inhaled sharply. As the station grew nearer, Denise felt like her life can go on now.

Once there, Rory slowed down and parked the truck in front of a fuel dispenser and climbed down. Denise followed him outside and walked to the back of the truck. She opened the backdoor while Rory filled the tank. The revolting smell of vomit wafted out of the door, worse than ever after Denise opened it.

She fluttered her watering eyes and smiled at them. “You can come out now, Tina,” she said. The girl obliged indisputably and vomited on the ground once she stepped outside, clutching her stomach. Her color turned a sickly green from the sickness and the weeks without proper nutrition. Denise patted her back gently as Tina continued to barf.

Ferrah walked out of the truck, too. She breathed deeply and scanned the gas station. Ferrah’s face was exhausted, with lines showing under her eyes. She looked a lot more strained and older than she had been just a few weeks ago.

“Hey,” Ferrah called out when she saw the two girls. Denise was hugging Tina, who was still trying to hold herself together. They resembled a perfect mother and daughter image. Maybe she didn’t intend to, but she kind of felt a little jealous of her new best friend.

Denise turned around. “Do you think we can get some food from the store over there?” Ferrah said and looked at the small convenience store behind Denise. “And maybe some soap and clothes, too.”

Denise followed her gaze. The store looked abandoned. Well, obviously, Denise thought. What would she expect, really?

Denise looked back at Ferrah. “Yeah, sure. I think the truck can use a clean-up, too,” she pointed at the open backdoor with her thumb. “Just so, you know, we can pack food in there.” The truck was still reeking of vomit.

“Right,” Ferrah said, brushing her long, red curls away from her face as she looked behind her. Until now, after weeks without taking a bath, her hair still looked nice, save for a few strands that flew away here and there. Denise felt a bit envious.

Maybe some things wouldn’t change.

Just then, Rory walked towards the girls.

“Rory, what do you think?” Ferrah asked the tall boy with the brown, almost blonde hair, who was staring at Denise. “Rory?” she repeated.

“Huh? What? Uhm, sure, I guess,” he said. Denise turned to him and laughed. Tina and Ferrah did, too.

“Tank’s full?” Denise asked her boyfriend when the laughter died down and Tina ran to Ferrah.

“Yeah,” he replied.

Denise looked at the counter beside the fuel dispenser and saw some paper bills on it. She turned to Rory and raised an eyebrow at him. “You know there’s no one there, don’t you?” she asked him.

“Well…” Rory tried to explain, shrugging his shoulders.

“You’re such a nice guy!” Denise gasped a little and punched his firm chest. Rory scratched the back of his head. They both laughed. “I can’t believe that after killing all those zombies, you’re still acting nice. I hate you!” she said to him.

“Really?” Rory asked.

“What ‘really’?”

“Do you really hate me?”

“Of course I don’t, you dolt! Ugh. I can’t believe you!” Denise looked like Rory’s a hopeless case and just rolled her eyes. She tried to ruffle his hair, but Rory grabbed her waist and kissed her. She returned it – first softly, then a bit deeper. Denise wrapped her arms around the boy and fiddled with his hair, while Rory held her tightly around the waist, so their bodies press together.

For some seconds, they stayed in that intimate position, but then Ferrah cleared her throat, and they stopped.

“Guys, Tina’s here. Maybe you can do that later?” she said.

The two let go of each other immediately. Denise brushed her shirt down while Rory ran his hands through his hair repeatedly.

Tina’s eyes were blocked by Ferrah’s hand. “Er – what’s going on?” she asked.

“Nothing, darling, they just got something on their lips.” Ferrah glared at them. “But I think they already got it.” Denise blushed.

“So, are we going to get those supplies or not?” Ferrah asked Rory, a bit annoyed.

“Uhm, yeah,” Rory replied, still embarrassed.

Ferrah finally let go of Tina and headed for the store, her face didn’t suggest that she was jealous, maybe just a bit revolted since Tina’s there – she really cared about Tina a lot – but Denise didn’t really know. I guess I still need to learn to read her expressions, she thought.

Ferrah didn’t even wait for Rory. He just scratched his head again, crossed.

“I’ll be right back, okay?” he said to Denise.

“Okay,” she agreed.

Rory moved closer to her again and whispered, “Do you still think I’m a nice guy, huh?” He winked at her.

“Yeah. You can do better than that, Mr. Good Boy,” she said and kissed him on his cheek. Rory gave her his most bedazzling smile.

He finally let go of her and ran towards Ferrah, screaming, “Hey, Ferrah! Wait up!” But Ferrah kept walking like she didn’t hear anything.

Denise shook her head. She turned around to the place where Tina stood, but she wasn’t there. She turned again and found her sitting on the metal step of the back door. Tina was looking down at her feet, which were dangling over the edge of the step. Her feet almost touched the ground. She had grown a few inches since Denise and Ferrah first saw her.

Denise approached the little blonde girl.

“Hey, Tina,” she called out. The girl didn’t lookup. “Still feeling sick?” Tina nodded but didn’t even glance at her.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Denise asked in a low voice. Tina just sighed heavily and shook her head.

Denise bent a little in front of her and said, “Tina, look at me.” She cupped the girl’s face in her hands. The eight-year-old girl’s deep blue eyes finally looked at her brown ones. “Listen,” she said. “Even if we don’t find your family, it’ll be ok, you hear me? If that happens, remember that you already have us as your… substitute family.” Tina just stared at her.

“Ferrah and I can be your moms, and, though we can’t really be sure he can handle the responsibility, Rory can be your dad. So don’t you worry, okay? You’re safe as long as you’re with us, as long as we’re together.” She smiled at Tina; the young girl returned it. She wanted to comfort the young girl, so she said, “Nothing’s going to harm you as long as –”

But her speech stopped when a hand fell on her shoulders. Tina gasped as her eyes widened in fear; Denise heard a low growl from behind her. She trembled, tears starting to flood her eyes. Tina’s eyes were still wide open, but now, so was her mouth.

Another growl sent a chill down Denise’s spine. She already knew what was behind her, and what it can do.

She didn’t really have an option right now, except maybe to protect Tina. But how can she do it when the monster’s already behind her, holding her shoulder?

Go inside, Denise mouthed at Tina, and the younger girl moved slowly as the zombie growled again, placing another hand on Denise’s other shoulder. She tried hard not to break down. She can feel the living corpse’s cold breath on the back of her neck.

I’m sorry, she mouthed again at the girl inside the truck, who was now trying to hide under the garbage of food.

The zombie’s grip on her shoulder tightened and its growl grew louder like it was trying to say, Nothing’s going to harm her, eh?

Denise closed her eyes tight, ready to get bitten by the zombie, which growl-shouted at her back as it held her real tight. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. The zombie’s fingers were digging painfully on her shoulder blades.

She prepared herself for the death waiting behind her as a louder growl came out of the monster.

Bye, Tina, she mouthed.

The zombie’s breath still touched the back of her neck, and she can smell the faint blow of air reeking in her nose. Tears fell from her eyes and Denise tasted its saltiness on her half-opened mouth.

Just one bite would do it.

Denise was ready. Hide, she mouthed one last time as the zombie shouted behind her.

But then she heard a faint thunk and felt the zombie’s grip loosen, then it made a rumbling sound again as Denise heard it turn around.

“Hey!” She heard Rory shout. “Hey, you filthy dickhead! Over here!” Denise still hadn’t moved from her place. Again, she heard a thunk and a growl. She turned her head a bit and saw, in the corner of her eye, the zombie walking towards Rory.

Denise looked at Tina, who was still crouching behind the pile of garbage and vomit. She glanced back at the zombie, who was still approaching Rory with slow steps. Ferrah was beside him, throwing cans at the monster.

It was the first time Denise ever noticed the zombie’s appearance: a mess of dark hair, a medium-built body topped with a tattered orange shirt, faded and torn pants covering its legs that were bent in very strange angles, and rotting bare feet.

Denise gestured for Tina to come out, and the girl obliged; she crawled towards Denise hastily, but quietly. Then, when Tina was mere inches from her, she grabbed her and ran behind a fuel dispenser.

Denise glanced back at the others and saw Rory – still throwing cans of food at the monster.

Ferrah’s nowhere to be seen. Where did she go? Denise thought. The zombie was closing in towards her boyfriend, merely five meters from him. She started to panic as much as she knew he did.

Just then, the truck’s engine rumbled and she heard Ferrah’s voice say, “Try to bite this, motherf –” Her voice was muffled by the earsplitting shriek of tires, but Denise knew what she was trying to say. Ferrah drove the truck backwards and hit the zombie, sending it flying away a few meters. Rory ran out of the way. Then Ferrah drove it forward again for impact, then backward once more, running over the zombie’s legs.

She stepped on the gas pedal and set the tire spinning on the its legs as it growled in pain – well, if they could still feel anything, that is – sending chunks of undead meat flying across the area.

The zombie became still.

When Ferrah got satisfied, she stopped the engine and climbed down the truck again, and then she walked towards the back, stumping her feet. “Take that, bitch. Don’t ever fuck with my family again, got that?” she screamed at the zombie, who didn’t even move.

Maybe it’s dead, but then again, it was alreadydead even before Ferrah ran over it.

Rory and Ferrah ran to the other two girls, who were trembling behind a fuel dispenser. Rory bent forward and rested his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Ferrah merely touched her chest and placed her other hand on her waist while she did the same.

“Are you – are you guys alright?” Rory asked them, breathless.

Tina was crying, and so was Denise, who was hugging the younger girl tightly. Denise kissed Tina on the head and said, “It’s a – al – alright, Tina. We’re f – f – fine now.” Tina looked up and tried for a smile. Ferrah reached for both girls; Rory did the same.

“Shhh…” Ferrah tried to calm them both down. “It won’t get to us anymore. Promise,” she said.

Rory helped them stand up. For maybe a minute or more, they stayed like that, all three of them sandwiching Tina with their warmth, love, and body odor.

It was Tina herself who broke it. “I c – can’t breathe, guys. Stop!” They all stepped back at the same time. Tina breathed in sharply. Denise started to laugh, and the rest followed.

“I’ll start cleaning the truck,” Ferrah said, sniffing, after the laughter died down. It was evident in her voice that she cried, too. She ran her hand through her red curls and walked back to the store, kicking the zombie on the head before stepping inside.

Rory chuckled a bit and scratched the back of his head.

“What’s so funny?” Denise asked, looking at him questioningly.

“Nothing,” Rory said. “It’s just… nothing.” He smiled mischievously. Denise raised an eyebrow at him again. “What?!” he asked, putting both his hands up like he’s under arrest. “It’s nothing!”

“Whatever,” Denise said; she looked at Tina, who was staring at the horizon. Denise walked to her.

“Will everything go back to normal, Denise?” Tina asked even before Denise had the chance to speak. It was the first time she talked since they came here.

Tina’s question shocked her a bit, to be honest. What should she tell her? But I think the better question is: What does she need to hear?

So, Denise thought of something to say to the young girl, who looked a lot older than her age against the afternoon light. The burst of events, the horrors of the past weeks, all the deaths this young girl saw can really take its toll on her. She was too young to witness those things; in fact, Denise herself hadn’t yet processed the events that happened, clearly. But Tina did it, better than Denise. Better than any of them.

Note to self: Don’t underestimate this child’s potentials, Denise thought. It was obvious that Tina was still waiting for an answer.

And Denise is going to give her one.

“You know, honestly, I’m not quite sure when all this would end, or if things will go back to normal,” she said as she wrapped her arms around Tina’s fragile shoulders. Denise’s tone wasn’t what you normally use when speaking to eight-year-old girls. But then again, it’s Tina. “But, what I’m sure about is…” She sighed deeply. Then, she continued in a low, exhausted, yet hopeful voice, “As long as we can still see that sun rise and set,” she pointed at the ball of light at the distance. “Our hope for survival will still continue.”

Tina looked up at her, and she looked at Tina, too. Then Denise went on, “We may not see this end, Tina, but I assure you, we will survive this. Remember that, okay?” She gave her a sweet smile.

“Okay,” Tina agreed and nodded slightly.

The girl hugged Denise tightly, Tina’s short arms wrapping around her thighs. Denise pushed her away and bent her knees. “I’m sorry, Tina,” she said. “I told you that nothing’s going to harm you as long as I’m here, but I didn’t do anything when the zombie got me. I was a coward, and I’m sorry.” Tears fell from her eyes again.

Tina wrapped her arms around Denise. “You’re not a coward, Denise. You saved my life.”

Denise hugged Tina tightly once more and uttered the words “Thank you” before kissing her forehead.

Rory just stared at them, a bit awkward with what was happening with his girlfriend, but the girls didn’t even notice him.

“Er – girls?” Rory tried to get their attention. Denise turned to him. “Tina?” he tried again, and this time, Tina looked at him, too. “Er – if it isn’t much of a bother… Well, if you want to, that is… Er – there’s a water hose on the back of the store and – uh…”

“Okay, Rory,” Denise said, laughing a little.

“Well, then,” Rory said. “You can grab some clothes and towels from inside – and some soap. I’ll just pack the food in the truck after Ferrah finishes, and maybe I can take a bath, too.”

The two girls walked towards the store as Rory picked up the canned food that scattered across the ground.

After Denise and Tina finished cleaning themselves, they saw Ferrah and Rory sitting on a bench outside the store, panting. The truck was clean and supplies are all inside.

Tina wore a pair of faded blue pants that reached her knees and a flower-patterned top. Denise was wearing a plain yellow blouse that she kept on pulling down over a tight pair of jeans because it “exposes a lot of her skin.”

“You look fine, Denise,” Ferrah assured her. “It looks good on you. I mean, you can’t always wear those baggy, guy shirts. They make you look like a scarecrow.”

Rory chuckled. Denise just rolled her eyes and threw her towel at her best friend. “I was trying to boost your confidence!” But Ferrah was laughing when she said that.

Rory and Ferrah came back after twenty minutes. Rory threw his old clothes away and settled for a green shirt that said, Staying Alive, in bright red letters, and straight cut pants. Ferrah wore a blue sleeveless flutter blouse and a pair of white shorts, which exposed her long, flawless legs.

 “About time,” Denise shouted at them. “Tina’s feeling sick again.” She was patting Tina’s back as the little girl tried to control her sickness. Denise was starting to worry that the infection already got to her, but she shrugged the thought off. She couldn’t afford that.

Once the two got to them, Ferrah brought Tina inside to drink some medicine. Rory tilted his head sideward, gesturing Denise to follow him.

Once they stopped on the side of the truck, Denise leaned her back on the vehicle and said, “I’m still scared, Rory.”

“It’s okay to be scared. I am, too.”

“But what if we don’t survive this?” she asked.

“We will, Denise. Just like you said.” He kissed her forehead. “Just remember that I’m here. We’ll be scared together.” They laughed.

“But Tina… I mean, she’s sick. Do you think that maybe –”

“No,” Rory said firmly. “I refuse to believe that. Maybe the long travel got into her, or she just ate spoiled food or something. We’ve been driving for weeks now, remember?” Denise nodded.

“Don’t worry, okay?” Rory rested her forehead on Denise’s so their noses touch. Denise gave him a faint smile.

“Okay guys, show’s over,” Ferrah said from behind the truck. “We have some visitors, and I’m pretty sure they’re not welcome to the party.”

Denise and Rory looked at each other questioningly, and then they ran to the back of the car.

Across the road, a small horde of zombies were approaching them.

“How did they get this far?” Rory asked.

“I don’t know!” Ferrah answered.

As they said that, one of the undead group started crossing the road. The four started to panic.

“Go go go go!” Rory shouted, pushing Ferrah and Tina inside again while Denise ran to the front.

Before Rory can even close the backdoor, a hand grabbed his leg. The zombie Ferrah run over growled again, very much – well – undead.

Rory kicked the zombie’s head, but its hand gripped his leg firmly. “Help!” he shouted. He tried to shake the hand off.

Tina came out and threw a large piece of meat at the zombie, and it finally let go of Rory’s leg. He ran towards the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut, but the living corpses were closing in.

The backdoor was still open and zombies were starting to climb in the truck. Ferrah grabbed the Gatling gun, but she’s didn’t know how to use it. While she’s fiddling with it, Tina grabbed some canned food and threw it at the monsters, but it wasn’t much effective.

Ferrah was screaming in terror. “Help!” she shouted as she fiddled with the gun. Tina continued knocking on the window to the front of the truck while throwing cans at the undead group and screaming shrilly.

Denise opened it and saw what’s happening. “Rory!” she shouted. “They’re inside! Start the truck now!”

I’m trying!” Rory yelled in frustration as some of the corpses reached for him. He kept turning the ignition, but it wasn’t working. He punched the stirring wheel and kicked the gas pedal.

 “Denise! Heeelp!” Ferrah gave an ear-piercing scream from the back of the truck.

Rory!” Denise shouted at her boyfriend again.

Rory turned the key again. Nothing. A lock of his hair got pulled off by a zombie hand. He swiped his hand at it and grunted.

Meanwhile, Ferrah finally made the gun work. “Yes!” she breathed out. She showered the zombies with gunshots as she shrieked frantically. Though it sent them back a bit, it was only little help as more and more came rushing in.

Denise was pounding on the wall that separates Ferrah and Tina from them. She was screaming, too. “RORY!” she shouted at him again. Two zombies were reaching for her, too, through her open window.

Rory tried the key again as he kicked on the gas pedal, shouting stridently in frustration. A zombie successfully climbed his window and was about to bite him.

But finally, the engine started and they zoomed off, almost crashing into a tree. The zombie fell off the window.

Rory drove the truck backwards as Ferrah continued to shoot at the zombies, then he abruptly stepped on the brake. This sent corpses to fall from the truck; Rory drove forward again onto the road, seeing the horde falling behind in the side mirror.

But not all of them were left behind.

Two remaining zombies crawled towards the two girls as the truck drove swiftly. Ferrah shot at them, but it didn’t seem to cause any effect. Tina was shaking beside her as the wind from the open door came rushing in to them, sending their hair flying in all directions. “Denise!” Ferrah shouted.

Denise wanted to do something, but she can’t. She didn’t know how to protect her best friend and Tina in her position. She wanted to jump to the back, but the window was too small for her. The truck was still zooming on the road so she couldn’t jump off.

She just punched the wall as she screamed, “Ferrah!”

Denise’s scream seemed to get into Ferrah, but the red-head didn’t know what to do either. In hopelessness, she stopped shooting at the zombies and stood up. Then, she lifted the heavy gun with two hands and threw it at them.

The gun hit the zombies and it sent them flying out of the truck. The monsters hit the asphalt hard, the gun on top of them.

Ferrah laughed insanely and dropped on the floor of the vehicle and held on to the seats, Tina behind her.

The group camped on the empty road when they made sure they were far enough away from the horde. Rory parked the truck on the side of the highway. They kept the back door open as they set a picnic. The four of them shared a can of fish, sausages and a loaf of bread.

The events of the day exhausted them too much, and they hadn’t even eaten once until now. So here they are: ravaging canned food and bread, barely breathing through bites.

The ham radio they brought since their escape from the farm hadn’t been much help.

Until now.

It whirred as a voice of a man tried to speak. Rory reached for it from the front of the truck and brought it to them while he searched for good reception. The device whirred and hummed again until the voice became clearer, but the man was already in the middle of his message.

“…survivors. We’ve been here for two weeks now. Please, if you can hear me, come and help us. Most of us are weak, but none are proven infected as of the moment. We’re inside an old church beside a lake somewhere in…” the radio hummed; Rory turned it again. “…been a great help since the zombies haven’t reached this place yet. No buildings are in sight, but you can see a huge arc and a sign that says Oakhill. We can give help to other survivors, but as of the moment, we need help, too.”

The man’s voice was drowned out by the continuous whirring from the radio.

“Oakhill?” Rory said.

“An old church beside a lake?” Denise asked.

“Looks like we’re heading north, guys,” Ferrah said, smirking.

The sun was starting to set, a variety of bright colors stretching across the sky. They set off quickly towards north with Ferrah’s help. Apparently, she’s been there.

While Rory and Denise talked in front, Ferrah went back to Tina, who was lying on one of the seats.

“You okay now?” she asked the girl.

“I’m still a bit dizzy, but why didn’t you tell them you were sick, too?” Tina asked.

“They don’t need another burden to carry, Tina,”

“But, you’re sick. Maybe they can help.”

“It’s okay, little girl. I’m okay.” She smiled at her.

“Are you sure?” Tina asked one last time.

“Yeah,” she answered her. Tina nodded and finally went to sleep.

Ferrah glanced at Tina’s peaceful face while she brushed her fingers on the girl’s blonde hair, which was starting to turn brown. The two in front finally stopped talking so everything fell silent except for the truck’s engine.

Ferrah looked out of the backdoor’s window, with small shards of glass still sticking out from the frame, and sighed deeply.

She’s been sick for days, but she tried not to tell the others. In fact, she was vomiting worse than Tina. Almost half of the reeking bile she cleaned up came from herself, but she couldn’t even try to tell Denise and Rory. But sometimes, she can’t help but feel an urge to confess to them what she’s feeling.

No, she won’t tell them. They need to rest a bit from this chaos, and she’s not going to jeopardize that. Ferrah already had a friend in Denise, and she’ll keep it that way.

“All will be well,” she just muttered to herself as she gazed at the colorful sunset, which didn’t have the same colors anymore.

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