A Camp Up Ahead
The rest of that morning was pretty quiet. No more snide remarks from Jessica, no rebellious responses from me, James didn’t say much--as usual--and Nero just seemed to sleep a
lot. Maybe car rides make him sleepy. I found that car rides make me sleepy too; I had fallen asleep, and when I woke up again, James had retired the wheel to Jessica.
He was tired, and I could tell. He reclined in the passenger’s seat and leaned the chair back, far enough that I could see the top of his head. He closed his eyes, and his head
slowly drooped over to one side.
His hair was jet black, and it sprouted wildly from his head in thick, dark wisps. I touched my own black hair, and grimaced. His looked soft… and I wanted to see if--
I looked over at Jessica; she wasn’t as shaken up as she had been earlier, but there were still signs of trauma written across her face. If I even looked like I’d attempt to
bother James, I knew she’d start some kind of scene. So, I sat back and once again slinked down in my seat.
Eventually, Jessica slowed down and almost immediately, James sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“Why’d you stop?” he asked, squinting.
I peered around him, looking over his shoulder.
“There’s… a person,” Jessica said, stunned.
We all looked toward the street and sure enough, there was a person standing out in the middle of the street.
“Is it…really a living person? Or… is it one of those things?” I asked, clinging to the back of James’ seat.
“I can’t really tell,” James said. “Drive a little closer… Try to drive around it.”
Jessica put the car in drive and attempted to go around.
“No, stop!” the thing said, waving his arms.
“Ha!” I yelled. “It’s a man!”
He ran to the front of the car with his hands held out and tapped the hood.
James got out of the car, and had words with the man. They seemed to get along quite well, too. So well, in fact, that I pushed Nero’s head out of my lap, got out of the
car, and waltzed up to the man.
“Hi, I’m Cayleigh,” I said, beaming brightly. Then I extended a narrow hand in the hopes that he would take it.
He stared stupidly for a moment, and I thought briefly about taking my hand back. But before I could execute the action, he took my hand and shook it.
“Arthur,” he said, then retracted his hand quickly.
His palm was hot; when he withdrew, my hand felt even more sensitive to the frigid, morning air. I quickly shoved my hand inside of my pocket and stood behind James.
Jessica got out of the car as well, and she too began to listen to the two talk. She even joined the conversation every now and then, but I stayed silent. Arthur’s eyes kept
swimming across James’ face, to Jessica’s breasts--as if he could miss them--and then to me.
His glances were no ordinary glances. When he looked at me, he examined me--from head to foot. I noticed that he did the same to Jessica as well. Second by sluggish second, I
found myself slowly shrinking behind James’ slender body. ---
Apparently, there was a small camp--clear of any attacks--and Arthur was a part of it. He led us through the drooping, ivy vines and the hanging tree leaves to a nook far away
from the road.
There was someone else--a girl; she had light-brown hair and too much enthusiasm. But decidedly, I liked her straight away. She greeted us eagerly and welcomed us to sit
“So, what’s your name?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “You shouldn’t get too attached when either of us could die any second.”
“Well, she’s right,” James agreed, and sat down beside her.
However grim it sounded, she really was quite right. How could a girl with so much enthusiasm be so morbid?
I grimaced and wandered over to the fallen trunk where James sat with Arthur's travelling companion; and, I sat on the ground by James’ foot. I leaned against his knee and for a
second, I felt his body tense up. Then just as quickly, he relaxed again. Jessica sat across from us on another log with Arthur.
“Yea, we’ve been out here in the wilderness together for nearly two months, and I still don’t know her name,” Arthur proclaimed. “I just call her Bootsie.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
Arthur pointed over to her feet, and it was then I saw that she wore big, black combat boots.
“Oh, I see,” I said sleepily. “Bootsie…”
I don’t remember much after that. I fell asleep--I think--but not for long. Bootsie had fallen asleep herself, leaning her head against the sitting log.
It seemed to be long beyond noon when my eyes fluttered open, and I felt James gently caressing my hair. I wanted to pretend that I was still asleep--just to feel his hands
stroking my tresses. And for a moment, I decided that I would… until Arthur came bursting through the bushes.
James quickly jerked his hand away, and I pretended to be roused out of my false slumber by their noisy entrance. Damn it…
Arthur, along with Jessica, came over to the three of us, carrying an arm full of food. Jess eyed me conspicuously, and I turned my head away.
“You slept all this time?” she asked, noticeably prodding.
“Well, yea…” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“Yea, she’s been asleep for a while now,” James interrupted, “and just woke up when you two came trampling through the bushes.”
“It makes no sense for her to sleep that long anyhow…” Jessica complained peevishly.
“Well, neither of us got much sleep the other night; I needn’t point out what happened with Aaron,” James mentioned coolly.
Jessica rolled her eyes and came to sit on the log.
“I guess so,” she said, running her hands through her short, tawny hair. “I could use some sleep too.”
She leaned her head against James’ shoulder and nuzzled the side of her face into his arm. I wanted to protest, but instead, I rolled my eyes and stood up from the cool ground.
“Something wrong? Are you alright?” Jessica asked, brushing her chest against James’ arm and back.
His face was slowly turning red. He tucked his bottom lip under his top one and said, “Are you?”
He obviously loved big breasts…
“Yea, I’m fine.”
I walked by a still slumbering Bootsie and down into the shallow grove of trees from whence Jessica and Arthur had come.
I sat alone for what seemed like an hour. And pretty soon, I began to feel so… tired, all over again.
I reclined back into the frozen, crumpled leaves and pulled my jacket tightly around me. The tension in my arms, my legs, my entire body just… diminished. I was calm. I was at ease…
And pretty soon my mind also drifted.
* * *
I dozed off a little, but it wasn’t for very long. I parted my eyes a bit, and I could see the scarce light of the sun filtering down through the leaves. I rolled over and
hugged myself, rubbing my arms and neck. It was getting colder, and no one had come after me yet.
Maybe they had realized that I needed space? Or, maybe they had come looking for me and let me be when they saw that I was asleep?
I rolled over onto my back and gazed up through the trees.
“Arthur?!” I gasped, grabbing at my jacket collar and hugging my arms. “Wha--where did you--?”
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said sincerely.
“But--why--how--? How long have you been sitting there?”
Arthur looked embarrassed. He stood up from the broken trunk that he had been leaning against, walked over to me, and extended an arm.
“Are you gonna take it?” he asked, holding out a steady hand.
I reached out and grabbed it. He pulled me up swiftly--so swiftly that when I got to my feet, I stumbled forward and fell into his chest.
“Sorry,” I quickly responded.
“It’s fine…” he said, still holding my hand.
I pulled away. “You never answered my question.”
“Oh… I was making sure that--that nothing happened. It was stupid of you to run off into the woods alone. So, I went after you.”
“Oh,” I replied, thinking to myself that he still hadn’t answered the one question I had asked. “M-maybe we should get back to the others.”
Arthur nodded, and I quickly walked past him and headed toward the camp.
* * *
Things with Arthur only continued to get more awkward. That night, we had to camp outside, but not quite…
There were two tents, and Bootsie offered to share her tent with Jessica and me. To James, Arthur wasn’t as generous. He’d never volunteer his tent to anyone if of his same
His eyes were squinty; he stood as tall as James, but he was significantly more robust. He was sturdier than James. And because of his reddish-blonde hair, I speculated that he
had a very short fuse. Creepy bastard.
He and Bootsie were noticeably older than the rest of us--by maybe three or four years.
You see, Arthur was a man’s man. And, he didn’t seem to do more than he thought a “man” should be expected to do. He only offered to share his bed and rations with women, and he
never volunteered a helpful hand to another man.
James brushed it off. He seemed to take ‘not having a place to rest pretty well. If there was enough room in our tent, we would have been more than happy to let him inside.
“You know, Arthur, you’re just full of shit.”
Everyone stood silently and looked over at Bootsie. I really liked her now. She was very outspoken even though she kept mostly to herself.
“An honest piece of shit,” Arthur said in his own defense.
Bootsie rolled her eyes and stamped towards Arthur’s tent.
“You can just have my spot in the tent. I’ll brave one night with this smartass.”
“No, it’s fine,” James insisted. “I can sleep outside. I’ve fallen asleep in worse places.”
“Worse places than this?” I thought aloud.
“I’m not asking, I’m telling you. Take my place.”
After that, Bootsie retired to the tent with a smiling Arthur only seconds behind her.
“We could always switch,” Arthur said to James, peeking his head out.
“Heh…” James mouthed softly, noticeably un-amused.
I crawled inside of the other tent; Jessica and James followed. It was awkward getting our positions right, but it didn’t take long. It was decided that James would sleep in the
Jessica fought to lay behind him. So, I was left to lie in front by the opening. Damn, more cold air.
Before lying down, I could see the dim tinge of red slowly creeping across James’ cheeks. Hm… I peered across to Jessica. Her chest was loosely pressed against his back. It’s
gonna be a long night.
I separated myself from them, and I could feel the cold air creeping through the tent and slowly slithering inside of my jacket. I curled into a ball, as best I could, and
hugged my arms. Slowly, but surely, I fell into a shallow slumber.
In the middle of the night, I woke up surprisingly warm… To my realization, James had moved closer. His pelvis was near to my back, and his chin rested just above my head.
I blushed, and forced myself to think rationally for a second. A cold body would move toward another if it needed warmth, right? Satisfied with the excuse I concocted, I curled
back into a ball. And James, in a quick act of impulsivity, slipped his leg between mine. I panicked.
“James?” I whispered. But, I received no answer. “James?”
I settled down again and decidedly enjoyed the warmth that that was being created between us.
* * *
The next morning was warmer than the previous day, but it was still fairly cold. I rolled over and got a full glimpse of Jessica’s cleavage. She was curled into a half moon and
clasping the floor of the tent between her fingers. I sat up and sleepily looked around the tent. James was nowhere to be found.
I crawled out of the tent and saw Nero. He was curled up at the base of a tree. Arthur and Bootsie’s tent still seemed to be closed.
I walked through the shrubs and hanging branches, down the path where Arthur had first led us. At the end of the trail, I saw a confused James, pacing up and down the ground and
staring at the side of the car.
“Cay--?” James said turning around, noticeably startled by me.
“What are you doing?”
James scratched his head and backed away from the car.
“Listen,” he said, walking towards me with both hands now in his pockets, “about last night…”
“What about it?” I replied with a nervous smile, attempting to spare us both the embarrassment of his explanation.
James let out a nervous bit of breath, which sounded mixed between a laugh and a sigh; and then, he proceeded to explain himself.
“I, um… You see,” he began, “ I have this thing… Where… I sleep wildly sometimes. And, I just--You see, with my last girlfriend, she--we--” he seemed at a loss for words. “I
just do things in my sleep sometimes… I’m sorry if you were uncomfortable, but--I just tend to huddle closely to things in my bed.”
Who does he think he’s fooling? I thought to myself a moment. Alright. He huddles closely to whatever’s laying beside him. But, Jessica was closer than I had been, and he
decided to reach for me--not her. Maybe he likes me after all…
James’ cheeks went bright red, and up close, I found it to be adorable on such a pale face. Not that it wasn’t cute before when Jessica had made him blush. --It’s just--this
time, his emotion had depth. And, we both shared the same feeling. Embarrassment.
“That’s okay,” I said, my face more rubicund than his, “I was cold anyway.”
James turned back around and moved toward the car. The blush slowly trickled down from his face and emptied into his throat; soon, it was no longer visible, and he was pale once
“What are you looking for?”
“We should’ve gotten another car after hitting that thing…” he said, a twinge of remorse clouding his sympathetic eyes.
“Why? What’s wrong? It won’t start?”
“I wish that was the problem…”
I bit my bottom lip. “Then, what is it?”
“When we--when we leave later on today, we have to leave Nero here.”
James’ eyes went cold, and his lips began to tremble.
“He must’ve gotten curious… I should’ve fed him as soon as we got here,” he said, tensing up his jaw.
“What are you talking about…?”
“I caught him, this morning, licking blood and pieces of flesh off the underside of the car.”
I gasped and clasped both hands around my mouth.
“Are you sure?”
“I mean, he could’ve just been--”
“Damn it, Cay, I said I was sure!” an enraged James snapped. “I wiped the damn blood from his mouth myself.”
“They say you shouldn't give dogs blood... It makes em wild... But, zombie blood..?" James winced. “I thought twice about… just acting like it never happened--and just letting
him tag along until--just to see if…”
His voice trailed off, and his eyes lowered.
“I’m so sorry…”
The corner of his eye glistened. “Well, anyway,” he said almost too loudly, and wiped the corner of his eye with his sleeve, “it’d be too much of a risk.”
“I--promise not to tell… if you decide to bring Nero along, I mean.”
“You--you would do that?”
“I mean… yea. I know how much he means to you.”
“Yea,” James said sleepily, staring blankly into space. His eyes were filling with nostalgia. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
“Even before, with my family--”
“Why the hell did you two leave me behind like that?!”
Jessica burst out of the bushes with leaves and dew littering her dark hair; she was furious.
“We were just checking out the damage,” James said quickly.
“Never leave me behind with that creepy guy, ever again!”
“Arthur? Creepy? No…” I replied with cynical disbelief. James eyed me conspicuously. “She started it…” I mumbled.
“I’ll deal with you later,” James replied, then turned his attention back to Jessica. “What happened?”
“That creep!” she wailed, eyes filling with water. “He was staring at me! Just staring! And when I caught him, he just grinned and said, ‘g’morning girls’.”
“Nothing’s so bad about that,” James tittered.
I rolled my eyes. “So what! He mentioned your breasts in a sentence… And now, you’re upset that he was talking to your boobs instead of your face? You should be used to people
doing that by now.”
“Cay,” James scolded, signaling me to be quiet by putting a finger to his lips. “Is that all, Jess?”
Jessica sucked up her tears and began again, “I wasn’t all that upset at first, no… not until--until I looked down and saw that--”
“My breasts were out!” Jessica bawled.
I was flushed, and James was speechless. He gained a noticeable tinge of red in his cheeks.
“I don’t know!” She wailed again, “They were just out!”
Damn, I was enjoying this. “They were bound to slip out,” I said smiling. “Just look at how big they are!”
“Cayleigh!” James said, glaring at me. His eyes were cold. And soon, I knew that I had gone too far. “Maybe you should wait with Nero at the camp.”
“Go wait with Nero at the camp,” he said, pronouncing each word more stern than the last.
I frowned, but obeyed. And slowly, I walked back through the bushes and trees towards the camp.
I thought minutely about the way I had been acting back there, and I was a tad disgusted with myself for going so far. Not because I was wrong, but because Jessica deserved this
kind of treatment and nobody saw that as clearly as me.
Okay, maybe I did kick her a bit too hard while she was down… and maybe that wasn’t such a great thing to do, but she kicks me all the time!
I bit my bottom lip and stamped through the bushes, swatting away branches and sidestepping thick tufts of grass. I was getting angry--no, not angry. I was pissed! And, no one
understood my reason for anything.
Well, I really was pissed, until I tore through the brush and saw Arthur--creepy Arthur--sitting on the log, petting Nero.
“You and ol’ Jim done playing nice?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing,” Arthur said, smiling. “So, what were you two doing?”
“Um, the car…” I said, stammering through the sentence, trying to remember what James had told Jessica. “There was damage. So, we were checking it out.”
“Oh, so the three of you are leaving soon?”
“Yea, pretty soon, I think.”
For what it’s worth, I actually wished, I prayed, I hoped that we would be back on the road soon and that we would be leaving Arthur’s weird ass behind. I wanted as many miles
between us as possible. Bootsie, though--she could come. I didn’t mind her at all.
“You hear that, Boots? They’re leaving us,” Arthur shouted into the bushes.
The bushes adjacent to Arthur began rustling, but there was no answer.
“Boots, got damn it, stop playin’ around and answer me! We know you’re back there! We can hear you moving in the bushes, for goodness’ sake.”
“Bootsie?” I called.
Arthur walked towards the bushes, and stretched out his hands to part the wilting vegetation.
As soon as he attempted stepping through, something came bursting out. It knocked Arthur down, and he hit his head on the log.
I stared in disbelief. How could it--? Where did it--?
It was wailing something awful. The sound was so grave that my ears threatened to bleed from the noise.
It managed to trample over an unresponsive Arthur; then, it somehow tumbled over the log and landed right on top of me.
“Arthur! Get it off! AAAAAAAAArthur!”
I screamed at the height of my lungs. It reached and clawed for my neck--for anything it could touch; I swatted and pushed it away with all the strength I could gather.
Growing increasingly tired, I clasped my fingers tightly around its arms and continued to scream.
“Nero! Help meee!! Somebody!”
I looked around, and Nero was gone. Some loyal dog he was after all! And, what exactly was Arthur playing at? Was he unconscious? Or, was he pretending to be out of it--to keep
from attracting attention?
“Please, James! Bootsie! Someone!”
My arms were giving way, and I couldn’t hold him off anymore. So, in one last act of desperation, I pulled my feet up and kicked as hard as I could and my legs went through! Its
ribs were all mush and spongy flesh.
“Oh, please! Someone, help me!”
I couldn’t look around properly, but I could tell whose voice it was.
The butt of her boot came into sight, and the white of her leg followed. She raised her heel and stomped down onto its face.
It toppled over, still clawing and wailing as horrifically as it could--like it could’ve been in pain. But, I knew it wasn’t hurting--it couldn’t have been.
I scooted backward, and I watched as Bootsie reached down into one of her black boots and pulled out a knife--maybe some sort of machete--and aimed for his forehead.
She jabbed it in as hard as she could, with as much strength as she could muster, and then she stepped back.
In vain, it struggled to get up on its knees. Then, it toppled over into the dead leaves and stopped moving completely.
“Are you alright?” she said, stepping backward and now towering overhead.
“Yea, I think so---”
“Did it bite you or scratch you anywhere?”
“N-no..” I said, briefly thinking of what happens to those who are injured--those who would become liabilities--those like… Nero.
Bootsie walked toward the thing and examined it once over. It was immobile, but still alive, more or less. Still flinching. The large knife jutted out of its forehead at an
“Oh, shit… Where did that thing come from?” James asked.
He and Jessica had finally managed to find their way back to the camp. If I had to rely on them for help, I’dve probably been mauled and mutilated by now.
“The bushes, I’m guessing,” Bootsie answered.
“Is it dead?” Jessica asked.
Bootsie picked up her foot and--almost angrily--thrust her heel down upon the hilt. Then she retrieved her bloodied knife from the gaping hole in its forehead.
“It is now.”
© Copyright 2016 Jennifer Brighton. All rights reserved.