p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"he air was dry and the weather hot. Not a good mix when walking through the grass under the afternoon sun./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Stay close Cassie," Jason said. He didn't want her too far away, especially if she ever felt like passing out from a heat stroke. The day was unusually hot for the spring. /p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Okay hold up," she replied. She ran a bit to catch up after tying her shoes./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"They've been walking all day, like other days, but other days weren't as hot as it was that day./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Why don't we walk on the road today? I emhate/em walking on the grass," Cassie groaned./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""I've told you why we have to, Cassie." It was harder walking on the grass by the side of the road than on it, but if any cars passed by, it'd be faster to hide than climbing off the road. Besides, on a day like this where the road could cook your feet through your shoes, grass sounds like an appealing alternative./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""See that sign Cassie?" Jason said, pointing at a traffic sign. "We're only five miles from Ramblewood. We'll stop there tonight, okay?"/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Okay."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"The sign said:/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"strong Welcome to Ramblewood/strong/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"strong Home to the famous Man Eater!/strong/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"strong Population: 7,240/strong/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;" Jason gave a small chuckle. emMan eater/em, he thoughtem. How ironic./em/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""What do you think the Man Eater is, Jason?" Cassie asked./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Most likely some giant meal or something. Put on your headset though, just in case we run into any psychos. Don't turn them on until we're split up." Jason and Cassie took out their single ear headsets from their backpacks and put them on. They made sure their frequencies matched, their microphones working and continued into the town./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"They walked around the dead town, a town that was a hollow shell of its former self. Before the incident, Ramblewood was known for its beef quality, its Man Eater a symbol of how much pride the town took in its beef. Now, not a sound came out of it./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""We'll search three houses and make the fourth our camp," Jason said./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"The first house they searched had almost nothing worth taking anymore. All they found of real worth was some canned foods and some money./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"The second was rather lacking but they found some more food, some jewels and a few batteries./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Can I take this blanket, Jason? It's emreally/em soft and thin so the heat won't be much of a big deal tonight."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""No. There are two more houses we're searching. The other houses will have blankets. If not, we'll come get this one."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"Cassie put back the blanket./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"The two went into the third house, a small one-bedroom house, and immediately noticed it smelled strange. Jason took out his machete and Cassie readied her diving knife. Crude weapons but better to bring down psychos quietly. They searched the house from top to bottom but there was nothing there, not even supplies they could use. emWhat is that smell?/em Jason wondered. He walked through the living room and smelled that it was stronger./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"He followed the scent to a wall. emI am not going to bring this wall down just to find a dead possum,/em he told himself. He turned away but the carpet floor under his foot made a creek. He looked down, pushed aside some of the carpet strands and saw that the carpet had a small, discreet patch to it, almost like a square with one missing side. He lifted the flap of carpeting and saw that it hid a small compartment with a button./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"He pressed it. The wall he walked away from opened slightly, revealing a small room with a ladder leading to the floor below. emA basement? No./em/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Jason?" Cassie asked worriedly./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Don't worry, Cassie. It's just a storm cellar. Come on."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"Cassie followed Jason as they cautiously made their climb down the ladder into the newly found room. The stench was even worse./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"The room was dark, with no windows, and no trace of light anywhere. Jason put his hand in front of him and saw only darkness. He reached back for Cassie and found her arm./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Cassie," he said, "see if you can take out the lantern from my bag."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"Cassie felt through Jason's backpack and took out their small, battery-powered lantern. She flicked it on and screamed. The room was stocked with shelves full of water, food, anything and everything someone could use to survive for months if rationed. The worst part was that some of the shelves fell on someone, maybe the owner of the house, and trapped her under cartons of canned food as well as the heavy wooden shelves on top./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"emPoor girl, /emJason thought. emNo one would've known she died this way./em Cassie buried her face into Jason's chest, sobbing./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"He calmly shushed at her. "It's alright," he told her. "It's alright. Everything's alright."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""She's dead," she sobbed. "She's dead!"/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""I know, I know," he replied. "It's alright, Cassie. She's in a better place now, okay?" He kissed the top of her head. "She's in a better place."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"After a couple minutes, her sobbing lightened. "I'm going to take her and put her outside in the backyard okay?" he told her. "Try and see if there's any kind of ventilation in here."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"He took the corpse out back. Poor girl. Her body was decayed beyond recognition as her body naturally decomposed itself. She was in a better place, as Jason said./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"Cassie found a can of air freshener. Using that and a folded up cardboard box, she fanned and sprayed the room, hoping to make it a bit more pleasant./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""I assume we're going to stay here then?" she asked Jason when he returned./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Yeah," he sighed. "We are. It seems like a safe place to hide out, all this stuff here to keep us living for a while. We have a storm cellar stocked with food, water and other amenities all to ourselves. I'm not so sure the next one we find will be as good or as out-of-the-way."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"She nodded./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"They spent a few hours making sure the house was set up for the night, or however long they would decide to stay. They took sheets off the bed and couches and covered up all the windows throughout the house so no one would through them. The two didn't want to wander the house and end up being seen. They locked the doors and windows, and barricaded the front door, leaving the back as a more subtle entrance./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"They searched and moved all kitchen knives into the storm cellar and squeezed the bedroom mattress into the panic room. Lastly, the coffee table in the living room went over the carpet's little secret so that no one else would discover it./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"By the time the two were done, night had fallen on the quaint little town./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""How much further do we have?" Cassie asked. Jason put down his snack and took out his map from his bag./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Judging by the distance, I'd say we're about halfway there. If that town isn't under military control, we'd be in Canada in under a month."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""If it was?" she replied. Since the outbreak in the U.S., Mexico and Canada closed their borders on American soil. All planes were restricted from going in and out America and everyone at sea during its discovery had a decision: go back to America or take what you have with you and sail to the nearest country./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""If it was under military control, then we'd have to sail through Lake Superior."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""What if they locked it down too?"/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""They haven't."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""If they did?"/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Damn it Cassie! I don't know everything!" She sat quietly. "I'm sorry, Cassie. I just don't know everything. This is our plan and we'll follow it the best we can."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;"Cassie finished her food in silence and laid down in the mattress the two set up./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Do you believe we'll get there?" Cassie asked him. "I hope Dad was right."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""I hope so too, Cass."/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""I miss Dad," she told him./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""I miss him too. And mom," he replied./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Do you think they're in a better place? Like the lady we found?"/p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""I know so. They're up there in the big blue sky watching us right now, watching us survive." Cassie shuffled in the mattress and pulled the blanket up to her chin./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Goodnight Jason," she said./p
p style="margin: 20px 0px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Trebuchet, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;""Goodnight sis," he replied. "I love you." He reached over, flicked the light of their lantern off and fell into the mattress beside his sister, hoping that their plan would come to fruition. /p