Jacob walks down the apartment stairs, reaching the main floor before me. The broken front door is open about two feet. He adjusts the brown paper bag in his hands and takes a look outside to see if we’re in the clear. His eyes get wide.
“What is it?” I whisper, standing still on the last step. The weight of our newfound goods pulls the backpack straps tight against my shoulders.
He doesn’t answer. I tiptoe behind him and peek out the gap in the doorway. A remnant boy with a large gash on his face is roaming around outside. Black strings of skin hang from his gums like burnt spaghetti. He looks familiar; I’m sure of it.
Then I remember.
It’s the boy from yesterday, the one I walloped in the head. His basketball tee is covered in blood. How is he still alive?
“What are we going to do?” I say to Jacob.
Jacob puts up his hand and says, “Stay still for now. There could be others.”
Three more remnants wander close to the boy. My knees start to shake. Beads of sweat move from my brow to my chin, dripping onto the orange carpet below.
The remnant boy tilts his head and walks with splayed legs toward the apartment building. His red eyes are glistening. Has he seen us? Heard us? Smelled us?
We hide behind the open door.
Jacob’s hands are trembling as he holds the paper bag. His rifle is slung over his shoulder. My headband starts sliding down my forehead, covering the top of my eyes.
The remnant boy is close. Gruff sounds exit from what remains of his mouth. Jacob turns to me with fear in his eyes.
“Go. Go,” he whispers.
We scurry to the laundry room on the main floor, flatfooted like burglars sneaking through a house. I adjust my headband while Jacob turns around, checking the front door again. There are two washers and dryers up against the right side wall in the laundry room. A hamper is on the floor—underwear and socks all over. I position myself in the far corner and unstrap my bat from my backpack. Jacob sets the brown bag of goodies on the washer and grips his rifle. He closes the laundry room door and moves against the wall. A circular glass window at the top of the door makes it impossible for us to stand in front of it.
The front door of the apartment building creaks open. I tell myself it’s the wind, but methodical, advancing footsteps soon follow, announcing the presence of something evil. My eyesight gets foggy. I can’t tell if I’m sweating or crying.
The remnant starts to growl like an animal. The bat slips from my hands—too sweaty. Jacob grabs it before it falls and we lock eyes. His unkempt hair, his blue eyes, his wanna kiss them cheeks—they help calm my anxiety for a second. I mouth I love you to him. He does the same.
The footsteps stop. Something sniffs. The glass window fogs up. I wonder if he can smell us. I certainly can smell him. It’s worse than the rotten food in Unit 13. Dozens of fancy words race through my mind—repugnant, vile, malodorous—but none of them are as accurate as death. He’s the embodiment of fear, a walking plague, our ruination. He is death, and I’m utterly afraid.
The footsteps start up again. He’s walking away.
Jacob hugs me and we remain cuddled together for what seems like hours. I usually love the proximity, but I’m incredibly uncomfortable and overly hot. I separate from him. Sorry, Jacob, but after the extra long shower tonight, we can cuddle.
“What should we do?” Jacob asks.
“I say we wait here.”
“We have enough food and water. If we kill him, it could attract the others. Let’s wait it out.”
I take off my backpack and sit with Jacob against the washers. The door is to our left. To our right is a plain wall with a small window at the top made out of rippled glass blocks. I pull out a bottle of water, the granola bars, and a bag of Sour Cream & Onion chips. Jacob mixes a lemonade flavor burst into the bottle and hands it to me. I take a long drink. Delicious.
We slouch our bodies and silence our bellies with lunch. I have no idea how long we need to stay here to avoid the remnants. All I know is this is the best bag of chips I’ve ever had, and I want to eat them forever.