“Without weapons we need to lay low.”
The Captain’s orders echoed through Aria’s head as, one by one, the crew piled out of the boat onto land.
“Any sound will draw the Weeches. Any movement will draw in Caius. We have little options and high priorities.”
Balancing on Cin’s firm grip, Aria clambered out of the boat with her new sea legs as she played back her own words.
“When my father and I toured the St. Lawrence, we found a marina. Cigar boats. Day cruisers. Tour ships…Any of these will be loaded with food.”
“No telling how much has been stripped clean since the start, but it’s worth a look,” Norry had said.
“That leaves weapons…” Cin added.
“Fort Drum.” Adam had said. “We can hit up Fort Drum.
“All the forts were taken,” Chess said. “The military bases and forts were the first thing the Weeches hit.”
“I checked the fort on my way up to the St. Lawrence,” Adam had argued. “It was hit and swarming with Weeches when I passed through, but it may be empty now, and it will be covered in supplies.”
“Any survivors in the area would have the same thoughts we do,” Stanushka said.
“Food first. Then weapons,” the captain had decided. “Shelter…”
Silence had followed.
Behind Aria, and with bazooka in hand, Stanushka climbed out of the boat before Norry and Adam pulled the boat ashore. Aria watched as they shoved it into the nearest bush and buried it under a collection of branches.
“Come on,” Chess whispered, waving the crew on. Early morning was creeping in giving no mask from the Weeches. Quietly, they hurried along the banks of the St. Lawrence: Cin, Norry, Adam, Stanushka, Professor Sudan, Mad Matt, Chess, Aria, and the Captain.
“No matter where we settle, Zombies or vampires…,” Cin said. “Take your pick.”
“Oh could we please not use the Z word,” Aria had cringed. “It makes this whole thing sound stupid.”
“What would you call them then?” Stanushka smiled. “Walkers?”
“Stalkers?” Adam suggested.
“Living Dead?” Chess added.
“My in-laws?” Cin said.
“Weeches is fine,” Aria grumbled.
In the distance, Aria gawked at the silhouettes of Weeches turned shadow in the first of morning light. As if fighting the force bearing down on their shoulders, the Weeches slumped beneath earth’s gravity as they pulled the remnants of their shredded bodies toward the river.
Even from here Aria could make out the skin clinging to bone like rags.
“Aria,” Cin whispered, pulling Aria’s attention from the hoard heading their way.
“Why didn’t we stay in the boat?” Aria asked.
“Ever seen a hoard of Weeches attack a dingy?” Stanushka asked.
“They’ll pull the boat apart then pull it under,” Angela said.
“And leave you nowhere to run,” Cin somberly added.
“Land gives you an out,” said Adam. “Last thing you want is to be stuck out in a boat with a pack of Weeches on all sides.”
Aria envisioned a hoard of Weeches shredding the only source of survival left. A shiver ran up her spine. Picking up pace, She stared at the ground and walked, her thoughts instead turning to the whistle that blew and the rain that stopped the night her father vanished. Despite all the crew had done for her, she had her misgivings, and if she was to find her father, she would have to venture out alone. Guilt settled itself into her gut at the thought of abandoning those who had already done so much to help her.
“You won’t survive out there alone.”
Aria startled at the sound of Norry’s voice. He was suddenly beside her walking like an armed guard.
“How…?” She asked staring up at his blond beard.
“You had the look,” he said. “We all have it from time to time. You want to run…go back to an old home, an old city, an old past.”
“Do you let them go?” Aria asked.
“Sure,” Norry said. “But they never come back.” Norry looked at Aria dead in the eye. “No one ever comes back. No one survives alone long enough to ever make it back.”
Norry released Aria from his gaze as his words sank in.
“These few here,” Norry said, nodding to the captain at the front of the line who had stopped to inspect a wall of forestry. “We are those who didn’t go back.”
“Didn’t you want to?” Aria asked.
“Every day,” Norry said.
Aria stared at her feet unsure of what to say.
“And every day that I don’t is a regret,” he added.
“Norry!” Angela called from the trees.
Dropping their conversation, Norry clutched the scimitar at his hip and jogged ahead to meet Angela.
“What do you make of this?” Angela said as Norry arrived at Angela’s side. The crew slowed to a stop, and Norry shifted a branch and peered through the bushes.
“Holy Mary mother of God,” Norry muttered. “Fuck damn.”
“What is it?” Cin asked.
One by one, the crew made their way to the Captain where each in turn gazed through the trees. Aria pulled back a branch and gasped, throwing her hand over her mouth to avoid screaming out.
An unexpected white light had illuminated the forest allowing her to see miles ahead, and there, before her eyes, a vast saucer nearly six miles in length hovered over the Earth. A beam of light poured from its belly onto the forest floor where Weech upon Weech, hundreds at a time, stood. Each Weech, buckled beneath Earth’s gravity, stumbled around for a moment in disorder before settling on South.
A shadow within the beam caught Aria’s eye and she stared into the light pouring out of the underside of the saucer. Sure enough, buried within the light, Weech poured from the ship as if the light itself carefully carried them to land.
“We are so fucked.”