Among Monsters / Page 15

Page 15


Halle and I spoke in unison, both bored of the lesson already, “We’ll get in a wreck.”

“I see it all the time,” Dad said as I mouthed his words at the exact same time.

Tavia snorted.

“What’s so funny?” Dad asked.

“Nothing,” Tavia answered, trying to keep from smiling.

Dad pulled to the side of the road and parked, leaving the SUV running. “Tavia,” he warned, “try to keep your voice down.”

“What?” Tavia said, looking up.

When she saw what Dad saw, she immediately covered Tobin’s eyes. A man the size of an NFL player was lying in Tavia’s front yard, his arms and legs sprawled out.

Tavia sucked in a few gasps of air and then looked down at Tobin with a firm look on her face. “Son, do not, under any circumstances, look out this window,” she said, pointing to the glass. “Do you hear me?”

Tobin quickly bobbed his head.

She cupped his cheeks and kissed his forehead. “Good boy.”

She pulled the handle and hopped out, and I followed her, again closing the door quietly. I froze when I saw two people standing over a lifeless body lying in the yard, holding hands.

“Mema!” I said, running to her.

She opened her arms. “Jenna!” She turned me away from the body. “Don’t look, honey.”

Mema was stick-thin, but she always gave the best hugs. She would hold me like she meant it, and she was never in a hurry to let go.

“Andrew!” Papa said when Dad stepped out of the Tahoe. “You’ve got both girls?”

“I do,” Dad said.

“Have you seen Scarlet?” Mema asked, fussing with her short permed hair.

Dad slowly shook his head. “But she’s okay.” He looked over his shoulder, watching Tavia slowly approach.

She threw her arms out and let them slap her sides. She fell to her knees beside her brother with a lost look in her eyes. I had never witnessed that kind of devastation in a person—the kind that made me want to help, but I knew nothing would.

Tobin’s clothes were full of holes, and he’d been shot a few times in the face. It was strange how the bullets had gone into his body smoothly and made such a mess on their way out. The front of Tavia’s home was also pockmarked.

“Look away, Jenna,” Dad said. “Tavia, I’m sorry.”

Bent over her brother’s body, she sobbed.

“But we have to go.” He looked to my grandparents. “Get your things together. We’re meeting Scarlet. We’ll make room.”

Papa put his arm around Mema. “Tell her we love her. We’re staying put.”

“Mema?” I said, looking up at her.

She squeezed me tight. “We’re going to stay here at the house, sis.”

Dad kneeled next to Tavia and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Tavia?”

“We can’t just leave him here,” she said, shrugging away from Dad’s touch.

“We’ll bury him,” Papa said. “You have my word.”

“Tobin,” she cried, touching her cheek to his. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

“Tavia, I hate to rush you, but we have to get going,” Dad said.

She wiped her wet cheeks. Dad helped her to stand, and she took one more look at her brother before going inside her house.

Papa crossed his arms over his chest. “Poor guy. He never had a chance. See his ankle? Must have blown it out somehow on his way here. It’s the size of a cantaloupe. Were you at the armory?”

“Yes. Were you?” Dad asked.

Papa shook his head. “Nope. No, those soldier wannabes picked us up. We didn’t want to go, but the men said the governor ordered it. We were on our way when someone radioed that the armory was overrun. They let us out about four blocks from here. We walked the rest of the way. Wasn’t easy though. We’re not as spry as we used to be.”

“It was overrun,” I said. “It was awful.”

Mema walked me back to the Tahoe and opened the passenger door to hug Halle. She had tears in her eyes.

“Give your mama kisses for me.”

“What about Grandma?” I asked, meaning Mom’s mom. “Have you heard from her?”

“Not yet,” she said, her lip trembling. “Take care of each other.”

She hugged us both, and I climbed into the backseat with Tobin.

The boy was kicking his feet back and forth, keeping his chin nearly to his chest, minding his mother exactly the way she’d asked.

“You okay, Tobin?”

“Yes.” His eyes strained to look up at me. “It’s my Uncle T, ain’t it? Is he out there? I heard Mama crying.”

I pressed my lips together. “Just…don’t look outside. Your mom will be back soon.”

“With cereal,” he said, looking at his feet again.

Dad and Tavia entered the SUV a few moments later. Dad was holding a duffel bag, and Tavia had three plastic sacks and a bowl with a spoon.

“I just put a spot of milk in there, so it doesn’t spill. We have to get on the road,” she said. The whites of her eyes were red, the skin around them sagging, but she was trying to stay strong in front of her son. “Keep looking down until I say.”

Tavia kept her eyes on her front lawn as Dad pulled away.

“Okay, baby. You can look around.”

Tobin leaned his head against his mom, and she hugged him to her, holding her breath to keep from crying. She looked up at the ceiling and then straight forward. I could tell that she had decided to push it out of her mind for the moment.

We had a long road ahead, and we all had to stay focused. Besides not knowing the condition of the interstate overpass, we had four tiny towns to get through before Red Hill ranch.

“Daddy?” Halle said.

“Yes, honey?”

“I want Mom.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m trying.”

Chapter Eight

“MERCIFUL JESUS,” Tavia said.

Her mouth hung open as her eyes scanned the carnage on the interstate. Cars were facing in every direction, gridlocked so tightly that it looked like the hopeless last few seconds of a Tetris game.

Infected were ambling about—men, women, and children.

“Don’t look, Halle!” I said, reaching up too late to cover her eyes.


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