Adam wasn't clear on exactly how he was being tracked, mostly because he didn't know. GPS wasn't an option, not that he'd been tagged in any case, so it wasn't immediately obvious to any of us how the hunters were able to follow his trail.
Over the course of the next day, we formulated a plan. The beginnings of a larger one, anyway. First step was always going to be finding the car. We also needed supplies beyond what was squirreled away in the car itself. This meant searching the town, which required us to either kill or distract the swarm currently wandering about it like video game NPCs just waiting for a player character to interact with them.
Jess and I were both reluctant to let Adam do that part. Trust wasn't really the issue since the kid alone didn't pose much of a threat. And let's face facts: if he decided to lead the zombies toward us for whatever reason, he wouldn't be the first to do so. I might be operating on a bum wheel, but I'd been injured before. I would manage somehow.
"He's been gone for a long time," I said from my perch in the tree we'd staked out as a sort of home base.
"Mmm," Jess hummed noncommittally, continuing her habitual weapons check.
She didn't want to talk. I knew that much just from her body language. It's one of those things spending years together ingrains in your subconscious whether you want it there or not. Just as she should have known that when I'm anxious, I talk a lot. Uncontrollably, even.
"It's probably hard for him to get them very distracted since they can't see him," I continued. My voice was a bit higher, my words a shade faster than normal. Nerves. You'd think after years of this I'd have become jaded to this sort of danger. The opposite was true. I was more sensitive to it than ever, which several people I knew explained as a more honed survival mechanism. "I wonder what he's doing to get their attention..."
I left the end of the sentence hanging on the slim hope that Jess would pick it up and engage with me a little. She didn't.
That was okay. It's not like I was entitled to a response just because talking helped me manage the stress. One of the hardest things for people to internalize at pretty much any point in their lives is that other people are not the same as them. Every one of us is a unique individual with different reactions, needs, perspectives, and the like. Far too much conflict comes from this simple divide and the inability to understand it.
I let the silence stretch out for a while, occasionally lifting the pair of mini binoculars we'd found in our bug out bag. A quarter hour after I last spoke, a loud grunt of surprise worked its way out of me unbidden.
"What is it?" Jess asked, suddenly alert and with me.
I tossed the binoculars down to her. "See for yourself."
I knew what she'd observe. Adam had somehow managed to gather the town zombies into a loose swarm and lead them far enough to one end of the tiny village--hey, it was too small to really be considered a town--that they could be seen from a distance. How he managed it, I had no idea. It worked better than my suggestion, which was to find some kind of noisemaker and get the zombies to cluster together around it.
The fascinating part was seeing him dart between them. I had no idea why the loop Adam made in and around the swarm was necessary, but he'd run back and forth several times in the minute or so I was watching. He was easy to pick out of the crowd even from so far away.
Zombies never raised their hands at him in the way they would if he were visible to them. They definitely noticed something, that much was obvious. Withered heads turned in his direction no matter where he was, and the whole swarm moved in the general direction he led them. But at no point did even one of the dead so much as twitch in a way that seemed aggressive. It was the sort of behavior zombies exhibited when they were confronted by the smell of food but not with active prey.
Adam didn't hesitate in his movements, either. He clearly had a lot of experience doing this. I was fascinated. I needed to know more.
"I guess that's our cue," Jess said. "Come on. We'll hit the other end of town and start looking around. No way to know how long this will hold."
I nodded and climbed out of the tree. "If nothing else, we'll find some place to hole up that isn't outdoors."
Jess glanced at me, her expression unreadable. "That'll work, but I'd much rather get out of here as soon as we can."
I agreed. Whoever was tracking Adam would get here eventually. I'd rather be long gone when they did.
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