“There are kids!” she said in a panic. “Why are they like that, Daddy? Why do they look like that? Are they dead?”
Dad drove slowly across the overpass, weaving between the various military vehicles and pickup trucks. Half-eaten men in camo were lying on the concrete, their weapons still in their hands.
Dad pressed the breaks gently until we came to a stop.
“What are you doing?” I said, afraid. “What are you doing, Dad?”
Before I could ask again, Dad was back inside the Tahoe with a huge rifle and a lot of ammo in his arms.
He set the gun, stock down, on the floorboard next to Halle. “Don’t touch that,” he said. “The safety’s on, but until you learn how to shoot a gun, you don’t need to handle one.”
Halle quickly bobbed her head.
Dad switched the gear to Drive, and we continued forward.
Finally, we were at the edge of the overpass. A man, his suit tattered with bullet holes, reached out for the SUV, but we easily passed by him. He was wearing a wedding ring, and I wondered if his wife was wandering somewhere below, if he remembered her, or if they had any children. Maybe he had taken the interstate home, and his wife was waiting, looking out the window and thinking he’d pull into the driveway at any minute.
“Do you think they know they’re alone?” I asked.
Tavia reached up to put her warm hand on my shoulder. “Who they were has left that body and gone on.”
“To where?” Halle asked.
Tavia hesitated. “To a place where they can rest, where they aren’t afraid, where they can’t see this mess down here.”
“I wanna go there,” Halle said, absently twirling her hair, as she watched the pastures and farmhouses blur by.
Dad gave her a side glance. “Don’t say that, honey.” His voice was strained, and his Adam’s apple bobbled as he swallowed down the sadness we all felt.
“Damn it,” Dad grumbled.
“What is it?” Tavia asked.
“I meant to get gas when we got back into Anderson, but it slipped my mind.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Tavia said. “Let’s all keep an eye out for a gas station. Maybe we could stop at the next house and see if they have a gas can?”
“I can try to siphon off gas from a car, if I can find some tubing and a container,” Dad said. “I’ve never done it before, so no promises.”
“How low are we?” I asked.
“Don’t ask,” Dad said just as his dashboard chimed.
Tavia fidgeted, and then asked anyway, “Did the gas light just come on?”
“Don’t ask,” Dad said again.
I clenched my teeth. He knew what was happening, and he forgot to get gas?
Tavia noticed the expression on my face and mouthed to me, We’re still okay.
“Mama?” Tobin said.
“I wanna go home.”
Tavia pulled her son’s head against her side and kissed his temple. “Me, too, baby. Me, too.”
Dad pulled into the long driveway of an old farmhouse sitting next to a much newer barn. The gravel crunched under the tires until the Tahoe came to a stop.
Dad turned off the engine. “Jenna, come with me. Tavia, I’m leaving the keys in the ignition. Stay with the kids.”
I found that funny. Last week, Dad had told me that he didn’t have to explain his decision not to take us to the theater—he wanted to hang out with Five and her son, who was much too young to sit through a cartoon, much less a movie—because I was a kid, and he was the adult. Now, when he talked about kids, he wasn’t referring to me.
I shut the door most of the way and then pressed it closed. My black Converse made less noise against the gravel than Dad’s boots, but it still sounded louder than it should have. I hopped onto the grass, and Dad took a wide sidestep to do the same. We smiled at each other and walked toward the house.
There were four steps to the side door, bordered in black iron rails. We climbed the steps together, and even that seemed too loud. There was no sound—no vehicles going by, no combines in the fields, no dogs barking, not even wind. I’d never realized how quiet the world could be without people in it.
Dad and I stood on the small concrete porch. The door was like Dad’s—Plexiglas on top, wood on the bottom—except these people had a doggy door.
“Their dad got them a dog,” I grumbled.
“Don’t start,” he said.
He tapped lightly on the Plexiglas.
“What good will that do?” I asked. “If any of those things are in there, that’s not loud enough to draw them out. If people are inside, they won’t hear us, and they will probably shoot us in the face if we—”
A man’s face pressed against the door, and his mouth was open and wide, too wide. One of his cheeks had been chewed off. Dad and I startled. A smear of blood streaked across the window, and the man’s molars were in full view.
“Don’t look at it,” Dad said.
“I don’t want to, but I can’t stop.”
Another one, a woman, shouldered by the man and started clawing at the door.
“They can’t open the door,” Dad said.
I rolled my eyes. “Apocalypse level—genius.”
“Okay, smart-ass. I’ll be in the barn, being useful. Try to keep an eye on…them without looking too close.”
I will myself to look back at him, but I couldn’t pull my line of sight away from the couple. The woman had a patch of hair missing from above her left ear, but that was the only wound I could see. Her skin was a bluish color, and her veins were a shade darker, visible underneath.
As they clumsily pawed at the door, I tried not to look into the vacant milky eyes of the woman. She wasn’t overweight, but I couldn’t help but notice her ill-fitting dress. Both of them had blood-covered chins and hands, and I found myself wondering who bit whom first.
Have they been feeding on one another?
Then, I saw it.
My chest heaved, and my eyes bulged. “Dad?” I took a step back. “Dad?” I called again, reaching for the railing. I nearly fell off the top step. I stepped down backward and down again until I could no longer see it—the portable crib sitting against the wall in the living room behind the couple. The wall was spattered and smeared with blood, and the crib was saturated in it.