Jenna stared at Caleb. It had been a few days since she was able to get up and out of bed. Now she slowly paced the floor. This wasn’t possible. “I need a minute.” She took a few deep breaths to steady herself. The rapid beat of her heart refused to quiet.
Caleb nodded, his voice quiet and controlled. “Lilly was happy here. You know that, but Gunnar was a mess after the incident.”
“Incident? My attempted rape and murder is a little more than an incident.” Jenna’s anger overwhelmed her. “We should never have let Gunnar stay after what he tried to do.”
Her thoughts instantly returned to the awful events of the past. Gunnar and his companions Tundra and David had plotted to take over the inn and use humans as the “Others” slaves and food supply. Tundra, never shy about getting what she wanted, set her sights on Caleb, but Jenna’s relationship with him was a problem. To remedy this, Tundra created an elaborate scheme hoping to destroy the strong unity of everyone at the inn and lure Caleb to the dark side.
The outcast “Others” kidnapped Jenna, planning on raping her, draining her of blood, and then convincing the “Others” at the inn that humans were merely cattle waiting to be consumed. Of the three, Gunnar was the only one who survived when Caleb came to her rescue.
“We all thought Gunnar could be rehabbed,” Caleb piercing violet eyes prayed for her forgiveness.
“I guess we know better now.” Sarcasm dripped like honey from the words. “Gunnar’s lucky you let him live. I still think he should have joined Tundra and David. We could have fed him to a stalker or something.”
Caleb sighed at the start of an old argument. “With someone following Gunnar around the inn all the time and a guard at his door when he slept, he really was a prisoner.”
“It’s not like anyone forgave him for taking part in Tundra’s plan to kill you.”
“He should have been eternally thankful The Council let him live, let alone stay at the inn,” Jenna wobbled on her feet, still unsteady from the days of illness. “The Council could have punished him or banished him from the inn, but they didn’t. He wasn’t thankful about anything.”
“Gunnar resented the house arrest. You didn’t see it, but he became angry and belligerent. We were planning on doing something .”
“Obviously, not soon enough. As one of Tundra’s minions, he was always a jerk. You can’t expect him to be thankful about the fact that we didn’t send him out to be food for the stalkers.”
“I’m sorry you had to hear about this now. You’re still weak.”
“I’m okay.” Jenna tried to reassure Caleb, but she sat, her head throbbing. “How did he escape with Lilly?”
“We’re not sure. It’s all just guess work at this point.”
“Tell me.” Her eyes strained to focus on Caleb.
“He holed up in his room most days, but there was someone outside as guard. The day he escaped, he must have jumped out the window and found Lilly. Gunnar probably lured her off property with some lame excuse.” Tall but lean, he looked like a marble statue in the dim room.
“Lilly was always trusting and gullible.”
“She’s been gone for almost a week?” Jenna asked. “What have people done to find her? What can I do?”
“As soon as we knew they were missing, everyone went on patrol,” he said. “We scoured the grounds and took the vehicle into the surrounding area to search.”
“Gunnar stole one of the vehicles, but the trail only led to the main road. We found some information in his trash, but the patrols turned up nothing. I’m sorry.”
Silence stretched time. Jenna wanted to rage or shout, but instead deflated. “Nothing?”
“People scoured the area, but couldn’t find any evidence of them.”
“There must be something else we can do?” She wished for civilization, laws, police. Someone in authority would have known what to do. Someone would have been able to guide her. Even with the love of her life next to her, she felt like a helpless child.
“Believe me, this has been the priority at the inn for everyone.” His gentle touch made her shiver. “We’ve run out of options.”
“Then think of more options.” She took a tattered breath but couldn’t quite fill her lungs.
“Think long and hard but stay in bed while you do it and get strong.”
As if responding to those words, her illness rammed her like a runaway train. Even the simple conversation sapped her strength. She sat on the bed, back against the pillow, feeling the waves of exhaustion. A yawn escaped like a prisoner.
“Sleep now.” Caleb chuckled as she cuddled against him like a cat. He pulled the blankets up to her chin. “We’ll talk more when you feel better.”
“I am better.” Sleep fell upon her like heavy snow.
The next day, Jenna improved physically, but was emotionally destitute. Out of bed, she washed and changed. Her fresh t-shirt felt baggy on her thin frame, her black hair falling below her shoulders.
Caleb arrived with food. He was showered and changed, his favorite hoodie replaced with a superhero t-shirt.
Jenna sipped the hot broth, watching the potatoes and vegetables, probably the remnants of the garden she had started, danced in the cup. “I can’t let anything happen to Lilly. She trusted us.” She batted Caleb’s hand away during his clumsy attempts to feed her bread.
She remembered back to when Lilly arrived at the High Point Inn under the control of Tundra. The bird-like woman had been shy and reserved. Jenna soon found out why. Tundra had been using Lilly and her human companions as a food source, keeping them alive only to feed from them. When Lilly and Jenna had finally become friends, the other woman shared her plight.
Lilly also shared that Tundra hated Jenna’s outspoken stance against “Others” feeding off humans. When finally freed from the “Others”, Jenna and Lilly had much more in common than their age in common.
Lilly had been a social misfit in her pre-stalker life, something Jenna could relate too. A band geek, a girl scout, and a naturalist, Lilly was sweet and sensitive, an odd combination to carry on after the end of the world. It was Lilly’s love of nature and her knowledge of camping and the outdoors that had helped her survive. These interests brought her and Jenna together as friends as they minded the horses and tended the garden.
At the inn, both women had taken to Star and Moon, the two horses. Jenna also loved having another person her age to reminisce with. Some days their conversations felt like two friends at a sleep over, and Jenna was a sucker for nostalgia.
Caleb snapped his fingers in her face. “Are you in there? I’m not sure what else anyone can do to find them. We found some notes and maps in Gunnar’s garbage, but everyone’s still trying to figure out where he might have taken her.”
“I want to help.”
“You need to help yourself.” A dark strand of hair fell across his concerned eyes. “But I’ll bring you the notes from Gunnar’s garbage if it’ll keep you quiet.” His smile softened the reprimand.
“You’ve were pretty much out of it for three day. Even Emma can’t figure out what was wrong with you. You’ve had a fever and kept going in and out of consciousness.” He ran a hand through his dark, disheveled hair, pushing it off his forehead.
“I’m better now.”
“Really? You just woke up after sleeping through the night and much of the day. Your weak and in no condition to carry out whatever crazy scheme you’re planning. “You’ve been out of it for a few days with a mysterious illness, a high fever, and bad nightmares. Remember, I know you.” He sent her a look meant to silence her.
It didn’t. “I feel fine and I’m not planning anything. Just thirsty. Can I have more water, please?”
Caleb poured more water out of the carafe. “Please focus on getting better or Emma will be mad at me, and even you don’t want to make Emma mad.”
Emma, a former physician’s assistance, tried her best to keep everyone alive and healthy. As if sensing the discussion going on, Emma entered the bedroom. In her late thirties, Emma’s long, golden curls were pulled into a high, messy pony tail. Jeans and a soft sweater made her look like a trendy soccer mom ready to chaperone a mini-van load of children around town. The ensemble was completed with a pair of fur-lined boots, slightly scuffed. Jenna wondered how she managed to scavenge an outfit that actually made her look trendy, if pre-apocalypse fashion ever became a priority.
Concern marked Emma’s face. She scrunched her petite nose as she stared at her patient. “I need to check up on you, even though Caleb’s been keeping everyone out until you had some food.” Emma leaned in for a hug.
“I’m fine. Caleb telling me about Lilly. I want to help.” Jenna said.
“Right now, all you need to worry about is getting better,” Emma said. “We have no idea what caused your fever or why you were out for so long. Recover. Then worry about all the rest.”
“Bull.” Jenna didn’t want their ministrations. “You can’t tell me Lilly is missing and then expect me to stay in bed and stare at the ceiling.” Jenna pushed herself up, making her head spin. “Caleb’s not telling me everything. Tell me what else you know, Emma.”
Emma eyed Caleb before speaking. “I’m sure Caleb’s told you all this. We found a lot of information in Gunnar’s room about the Eastern shore of Virginia, especially this bunch of islands around there called the barrier islands. There are more than twenty of them. In the past, pirates used to use them to hideout on, but most were protected from development by the time the world ended. Perfect for hiding out in a relatively stalker-free environment.”
“He didn’t tell me any of this.” She glared. “Maybe Gunnar had more smarts than we gave him credit for.”
“Fine,” Caleb gave in. “We found a couple vacation guide books in his room too. He must have picked them up during one of the scavenging parties or maybe he brought them with him. He made a bunch of notes about Chincoteague. It’s a larger island that attracted tourists because of the wild horses close by. A good place to go, lots of places to scavenge, but the island also had a larger population. That means undead roaming around.”
“It looks as if Gunnar planned to head that way,” the blonde said. “I’m not sure what else he was looking for. Most of the other islands are little more than sand and marshes. Not a lot of houses or shelter.”
“I guess if it’s mostly uninhabited, there would be fewer stalkers. That’s a good thing,” Caleb said.
“True, but how would they survive?” Jenna asked.
“I have a bad feeling that’s what Lilly is for.” Emma said.
“No! He wouldn’t do that to her.” Jenna voice pitched.
“Yes, he would.” Caleb said.
“I’m going to find her.” She heaved herself up in the bed. This overwhelming tiredness be damned.
“I forbid it,” he growled.
Let the battle begin.