Long Way Home

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They get on when the train stops for the third time. I see their red caps, their uniforms through the crowd, and I curse myself for riding as long as I did. I know how dangerous trains are, but it’s a long, long walk home through the rain. I thought I’d get lucky. I have before. Once or twice.

But it seems my luck has run out.

I pull my cap down over my eyes, hunch into my seat, and pretend to be looking out the window. Watching the rain fall, just like any normal person would on a long trip home. I can’t get off now. If I move, they’ll see me, and there’s nowhere to run on a train. Maybe if I pretend to be asleep, they’ll let me alone, check me later.

But I’m a coward, and I can’t close my eyes. Not while they’re searching for me.

So I watch the rain instead.

The lady across from me is knitting. A scarf, or something like it. Bright red. Like blood. I can’t look at it, can’t look at her or them. I watch the rain, begging them to pass me by, to see a boy on his way home, a student on his way to class, a delivery boy on his rounds. Anything but what I am.

Only she’s noticed. She looks at the men, then at me, and I can see that she knows what’s happening. They’re two aisles away when she shoves the ball of yarn into my hands. “Hold this for me, Stephen,” she says. As if my name really is Stephen, as if I really know her. “And don’t slouch, child.”

I take it, so confused I can’t do anything else, and the men walk by me without flinching, without a second look. Because I’m with her, and the Infected are always alone. Always.

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