Chapter Six: Toeing the Line
Bob Marley starts up as we cruise through the streets. Sam and I are sat in the back whilst Sophie and Robert are in the front. Both of them are singing along to 'Three Little Birds' without a care in the world. Sam is sat up straight as I tickle her head and she looks like she's enjoying the music too. I feel a little better thanks to Sophie. I say a little prayer of thanks to God (just in case he's still there) because of all the people he could have chosen to spare and spur me on this journey, he had to pick the most beautiful, amazing and funny girl out there.
We're driving towards the South Street Sea Port. Thanks to Robert and his idea to train Sophie up as a scientist was a good one but it took all morning. I sat around and played with Sam, having no interest in Science. I always hated school – never was any good at it – but Science was the worst of all. The only thing interesting was when we got to dissect part of a frog – it livened things up – but even that was absolutely disgusting.
First of all, Robert had shown us what he was doing. I flinched when he pulled back the sheets to reveal 20 cages of infected rats which were either dead or attacking the glass front. Sophie had screamed and I don't blame them. They were even more disgusting than that frog.
"Bob Marley rocks," declares Sophie as the song dies. I don't argue, my taste in music having waned. "What…?"
She pauses, her face quickly drains of colour. Robert glances at her and Sam barks.
"What?" he asks, urgently. "What is it?"
"Drive," she replies, her voice uneven. "Drive fast."
He presses down on the accelerator and we lurch forwards. Looking back, I catch sight of something being thrown out of a window and onto the pavement, bouncing twice. I begin to sweat.
We pull up at the dock, still shaken from our little encounter.
"I think it's time I give you guys some extra lessons in self-defence," Robert sighs as we climb out of the SUV.
What good will martial arts do when one of those things are running at you? As if in reply, Robert produces two extra pistols from the back of his car. He offers one to both of us.
He teaches us how to shoot long-range, accuracy and how to reload quickly. It's all familiar to me, having had to learn on the road. I wish to God he'd been able to teach us sooner. An all too unwanted memory about Caleb comes back. Judging from the look on Sophie's face, she's thinking exactly the same thing.
"Is something wrong?" Robert asks. Sophie sits, sinking down by the car. We crouch next to her and I put my arms around her.
"God Soph," I mutter. "Don't get down on us too."
She sniffles and to my horror, wipes a shiny tear from her face. I thumb away another before she has to. Her eyes are full of the memory of Caleb. My fingers tingle as I stroke her cheeks but eventually, she tries to smile.
"Soph," I tell her, softly. "It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have saved him."
Robert's face is full of confusion so Sophie wipes her face and sits up.
"It was my fault," she disagrees, her voice unsteady. "It was. If I hadn't…"
"You don't have to talk about it," I whisper.
"I need to." Those words stop any and all protests left in me.
"Caleb was only little," she whispers. "He was three – we found him clutching his mother's dead body when we were scavenging – and he didn't understand anything. He kept asking us why there were monsters and why nobody would wake. His dad was also dead along with a baby girl in the cot next to them. They'd all been dead for a couple of days and he'd had to live off crisps and things.
"We took him with us and at first he didn't like it. We didn't give him a choice – we couldn't have left him," she says. I hold her hand, forgetting all about my misery. "We had to take him with us everywhere we went… it was too dangerous either way. I think he liked it a little, going into houses and finding things. We told him it was a game and that if he won, it'd be magic. Poor kid believed us. Then one day, we went into a house that wasn't empty. We walked straight into an infected man. Danny stabbed at him (the only weapons we had were knives and one revolver) but he just shook it off. We ran for the door and the sun but Caleb wasn't quick enough. His feet were swept from under him. I can still hear his screams as I shot back in the house. I got it but he'd been torn open. He died in our arms."
Sophie's sobs make me feel awful. I put my arms around her and let her sob into my chest. I glance at Robert. How is it that you can't take pain away? I want to make her see sense – it wasn't her fault that Caleb died. She can't take responsibility for things out of her control. Why can't I just make the hurt go away by wrapping my arms around her? Why doesn't it work like that?
Sam barks, growling on her feet. We squint into the sun and my eyes are drawn to some shadows. There, an infected person is growling. Robert doesn't think twice before shooting it and ushering us to the car. I don't argue – perhaps it is time to leave. Once again, we're forced onwards, toeing the line between safety and danger.