Dad pressed on the metal lever before opening the door. “Give me Tobin. My house isn’t quite two blocks away, and I don’t see anything between here and there. Even if those things notice us, we can make it.”
“We don’t want them to notice us. Then, they’ll follow us to the house,” I said.
“True,” Dad said, pausing to think. He looked to Halle. “No matter what, you can’t scream. You can’t make noise. We don’t want to draw their attention. Do you understand?”
“I’ll try,” Halle said.
“Good girl.” Dad kissed her forehead.
“Wait,” I said before he walked out onto the porch. “What if something happens? What if we get separated?”
“We won’t,” he said.
“But what if we do?”
“Try to go the long way around. Try to keep anything from following you, but go to the house.”
“Which one is yours?” Tavia asked.
“On the southwest corner of Fifth and McKinley. White house with a red porch. There’s a detached garage in the back.”
Tavia kissed her fingers and then touched Tobin’s hand.
“Let’s get moving,” Dad said. “Jerry?” he called back. “Good luck.”
Jerry and Cathy Lynn waved to us, and then we walked in a tight group down the sidewalk, heading west.
“Keep your eyes open for someone walking between these houses,” Dad said.
Tobin was looking around. It was more because he was wondering what we were doing than trying to help. One of his fat hands had a fistful of Dad’s shirt, and the other was in his mouth. “Mama,” he said around his fingers.
“Hi, baby,” Tavia whispered. “Be real quiet until we get there. Good boy.”
The whole town was quiet, too quiet. No vehicles were driving down the street. No dogs were barking. No planes were overhead. The only sounds were the soles of our shoes padding along the sidewalk. It was very unsettling.
We crossed the intersection and then walked around to the back gate. It was open, and immediately, my heart began to pound against my rib cage.
“She’s here!” I said before covering my mouth too late.
Dad handed Tobin off to his mother, and then grabbed my sweatshirt. “Hold your horses.” After pulling his keys from his pocket, he looked inside the large Plexiglas window that made up the top half of his back door. He sighed. “Someone broke the window.”
“It was Mom!” I whispered, excited.
He turned around, his face pale. “Jenna, I know you’re eager to see your Mom, but I’m going to look first. What if she’s…” He trailed off, looking to Halle. “Just wait here until I get back.”
Even though he hadn’t finished, just him insinuating that Mom could have been bitten, turning into one of those things, made me feel sick to my stomach.
Dad turned the key and then the knob before pushing the door. It resisted, sticking like it always did, and then creaked as it opened. Any other time, that noise would barely register, but when the world was so quiet, any sound we made might as well be a dinner bell.
Dad walked onto the yellow-and-green linoleum kitchen floor. “Scarlet?” he called just barely loud enough for anyone to hear.
“Get ready to leave,” Tavia said, glancing over her shoulder. “Just in case.”
“I’m not leaving without my mom,” I said.
“I have to potty,” Halle said.
“Pee-pee,” Tobin said.
Tavia patted his back. “Me, too.”
Dad reappeared, all color gone from his face.
“Oh Lord Jesus,” Tavia said. “She’s not—”
“No,” Dad said, rubbing his forehead with his thumb and index finger. “She’s not here.”
“What?” I shouldered past him. “Mom?” I called. “Mom!”
I searched each room in a panic. When I returned to the living room, Dad, Halle, Tobin and Tavia were all staring at the wall.
The drips of black spray paint had dried a few inches below the words that Mom had hastily written on the wall.
“No!” I said, staring at the wall. “I told you! I told you she’d come here!”
Dad reached for me. I pushed him away, my shoes crunching on the glass piled on the carpet. She’d come here for us. She had just been a little over a block away, and we’d missed her.
Tavia put Tobin on the floor, but he was clinging to her leg, only one train in his hand.
“Jenna, you have to keep your voice down,” Dad said.
Halle sniffed. “It’s okay, Jenna. We’ll just go to Red Hill. It’s the safest place, remember? Mom said so.”
I wiped my nose, looking to Dad. “We’ve got to get to your Tahoe. We can be there by this afternoon.”
Dad shook his head. “Jenna, the interstate is blocked. You heard what that guy said.”
I lowered my chin. “Mom made it here somehow. She knew she could get to Red Hill from here. We’ve got to leave now. She’ll be worried sick if we wait too long.”
“Jenna—” Dad began.
“I’m going!” I said. “I need her. I want to be with her”—tears streamed down my face—“for however long that might be. And if you won’t go with me, I’ll go by myself.”
“No!” Halle threw her arms around me.
Tavia blinked and then looked to Dad. “What is Red Hill?”
Dad sighed. “It’s a ranch, northwest of here and across the state line.” He sighed. “I’ve never been there, Jenna. I don’t know exactly where it’s at.”
“I do!” Halle took a breath and began to sing.
West on Highway 11
On our way to heaven
North on Highway 123.
Cross the border.
That’s an order!
Left at the white tower.
So Mom can clean the doctor’s shower.
Left at the cemetery.
Red! Hill! Roooooooad!
Tavia smirked and put her hands on her hips. “Who knew? I’ve been traveling with Beyoncé all this time.”
Halle beamed. It was the first time I’d seen her smile since Mom had dropped her off at school the morning before. That seemed like an entire lifetime ago.