Among Monsters / Page 18

Page 18


“You’re right,” Dad said, his cheeks flushed.

“She didn’t leave us,” I said again, mostly to myself. “I know her. I know exactly what she is thinking. I would have done the same thing! She wasn’t sure if we would come back to your house. She knew where we would go, though, because we promised each other, and we keep our promises.”

Dad bobbed his head. “Load up. Let’s go.”

I climbed into the back, next to Tobin, crossing my arms, and Dad sat in the driver’s seat. He turned the ignition. The engine started, then sputtered, and died.

“No…c’mon…” He turned it again.

The engine made a whirring sound, but it didn’t catch this time. Dad slapped the steering wheel with both hands.

“Andrew,” Tavia said, her voice low and soothing, “we can walk. We can make it. It’ll just take us longer than originally planned.”

Dad nodded and ruffled Halle’s matted hair. “Okay, Pop Can, get your backpack. Take as much as you can carry.”

Halle obeyed, pulling her backpack over her shoulders.

Chapter Nine

WE KEPT TO THE ROAD.

Dad half-hoped a car would pass us and pull over, but he also worried that someone would try to take our stuff. I didn’t tell him that it was unlikely since it was only day two, and most people were either worried about getting home to their loved ones or concentrating on fortifying where they were.

“You don’t know that, Jenna. Everything you know is based on television shows,” Dad scolded.

“Which are based on common sense and historical facts,” I said.

“There has never been a zombie outbreak before.”

“But there’ve been disasters before. The behavior is the same.”

Dad sighed and shook his head. Then, he stopped and turned around. “Want me to carry him?”

Tobin had fallen asleep half an hour before, and Tavia had fallen further behind the longer we walked. She shook her head, too tired to talk.

Dad double-backed toward her, his arms out in front of him. “Give him to me. You’re no use if you’re exhausted. We still have fourteen miles to make before dark.”

Tavia’s chest heaved, handing her son over. “I’m really regretting my excuses not to walk with my friend Teresa.”

Dad chuckled, but his smile vanished when Halle pointed.

“Daddy!” she said, alarmed.

One of those things, a man, was stumbling toward us.

“It’s alone,” Dad said. “Probably from the next town. We’ll make a wide run around him and then run for a while to stay ahead of him.”

“I can’t run,” Tavia said, breathless.

The thing was coming closer.

Dad looked around. “We could find a place to hide, but he’ll probably just follow. Either way, we’ll have to pick up the pace.”

“If we kill it, we don’t have to,” I said.

Everyone looked at me.

“I’ll run around with Halle. You distract it. When he turns around, kick his knees out from under him, and then hit him in the head with the butt of your rifle.”

Dad’s eyebrows shot up.

I shrugged. “Or we can run.”

“What kind of stuff was your mom letting you watch?” he asked.

“That was from a video game. Are we going to run or not?” I asked.

Dad and Tavia looked at each other.

“I’m sorry, Andrew. I just can’t.”

Dad breathed out as he handed Tobin to Tavia. Dad rubbed the back of his neck and then pulled the strap of his rifle over his head. “Yesterday, I never would have believed that I’d be bashing someone’s head in.”

“I didn’t think I’d be bait either. We all have jobs to do.”

He glared at me. “Don’t watch—either of you. I don’t want you to see me doing this.”

“Just make sure you kick out his knees,” I said. “It’ll be a lot easier.”

I knelt down, and Halle climbed onto my back. I jerked up, adjusting her position.

“In theory,” Dad said. “Go on. Give yourself plenty of room.”

We walked another twenty seconds. Then, Tavia stopped, Dad readied himself, and I ran to the right in a wide half circle. The man moaned, reaching for us.

“Hey!” I said. “This way!”

He turned to follow, his bloody Oklahoma Sooners shirt ripped at the collar. Raw meat and bone were visible, but the blood wasn’t fresh. Something had chewed on him but not for long.

I heard Dad grunt, and I turned, but I didn’t come to a full stop. The infected fell just like I’d said it would, but when Dad hit its head with the stock of his rifle, it kept reaching for him.

“Hit it again!” I yelled.

Dad swung again, and a loud crack echoed in every direction. It was finally still. Dad nudged it with his boot and then stomped over to Halle and me.

“I thought I told you not to watch!” he growled.

I looked back and up at Halle whose hand was over her glasses. “She didn’t.”

“You! I told you, too!”

“I can’t keep my eyes closed, Dad! I have to see what’s coming!”

He thought about that for a moment, still breathing hard. Different emotions scrolled across his face, and then he bobbed his head once before wiping the remnants of the infected’s brain matter off his gun and onto the grass.

“Good job,” Tavia said when she caught up to us.

Dad took Tobin again, and we continued on, almost as if nothing had happened.

I kept Halle on my back, knowing we still had a long way to go. She silently thanked me by touching her cheek to the crown of my head and giving me the slightest squeeze. I grinned. For us, getting along was a rarity. When I wasn’t antagonizing her, she would be bossing me around. We had become so accustomed to fighting that we’d often yell at each other for no reason at all.

But now, the world had shifted, and so had the things I cared about. The most important thing to me was Halle, and even after two miles with her small yet surprisingly heavy frame, the goal of getting her to Mom kept my feet moving forward.

We talked while we walked. We ate while we walked. We drank and laughed. All the while, we moved toward the next town, only pausing for bathroom breaks.

“I’m hungry,” Halle said just as we reached the crest of a hill.


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