The kid woke up a lot calmer than I did but then he wasn't sleeping on watch or breathing in fresh Woof breath. He was a little bit wide-eyed. Woof's friends who were sitting, laying, and in one case, licking himself, would do that to most people. Especially to a kid that weighed, maybe, as much as the scrawniest dog there. I looked over at Zane and said "Don't worry. They're on our side for now." I pushed Woof aside, got up, stretched, and checked where the sun was. We had a couple of hours to go before sunset. Woof was sniffing the kid who much to my surprise reached up and scratched Woof behind the ear. I heard him whisper "Hey doggie." Woof liked that. I knew that because his tail wagged.
We moved fast without stopping. I ran us back the way we had come but I planned on looping down towards Kentucky and then back up. Too many people had been stirred up to go back the same way. We were going to have to find us some more water soon too. Fortunately it wasn't that scarce. Filtering it was going to take some time. It must have been nice to be able to drink from a stream without having to worry about spending the rest of your life sitting in the woods shitting your insides out. I wanted to find a spring. I also wanted a lot of things but I would take what I could get and like it. Supposedly once upon a time that had been a joke. I never got what was funny about it. It seemed to sum up life for most everyone I knew.
We made camp on the opposite side of a hill with the road about a mile or more on the other side of that. I decided to go light on dinner. We had eaten pretty good that day. Better than I know I was used too. We settled in. I didn't know what to do about watches since their was only me. I was glad no one else had witnessed my falling asleep on the job. We had the dogs so I was going to use them as watch standers. I knew they would run off to hunt though. I just hoped they stayed close. Regardless, I was going to be up before dawn.
I split my plastic tarp that I slept on with the kid and unzipped my sleeping for us both to lie down on. It was still warm enough that we should be okay. I made a mental note about looking for midget clothes for him. We might find some in an abandoned house. Kid clothes were usually left behind when people ransacked houses. They weren't in a lot of demand during peak looting.
I settled in with the kid next to me. He had been very quiet all day so I was surprised when he started talking to me.
"Gardener...you still awake?"
"Kid. I just laid down."
"I should have expected this" I thought. He had been through some strange shit today. Of course he would have questions." So I told him "What's on your mind?"
He waited instead of answering right away. I knew he was framing what he wanted to ask in his head the right way. After a couple of minutes he said "I knew someone would come." He paused, the said slowly, "I thought Max would come too."
I listened to that and thought "Damn kid. Couldn't you have asked about Hammerhead or that weird lightning? Hell, we could talked about you racking Lowell's nuts but no..." So I told him "He wanted to come but he is busy being a leader and what not. So I got the job."
"Is my Mom okay?" This I could handle "Yep. She is waiting with the rest for you to come back."
"Where is that?" He asked.
"I don't know kid. Hopefully we can catch up with them soon." I didn't bother to tell him about the clock ticking in the background.He didn't need to know. There was silence for a bit. I was just starting to drift off when he said "My Mom told me about you and Max." Yeah. That brought me back to the land of the listening. I waited. He didn't follow up, so I asked "What did she say?" I thought I sounded casual. She said "Max was like a blade. By the time you knew he was there it was too late. She said you were a bomb. You went around perfectly fine until you went off, then there was nobody left alive around you. Is that true?"
I mentally discarded about five answers before I went with "Max is a good man to have around. You couldn't do any better" and left it at that.
He thought about it and I started drifting off again when he said "My Mom said my Dad, not my real one, fought like a lion. He was there when we needed him."
I told him "Go to sleep" and I pretended not to hear him crying.