Among Monsters / Page 41

Page 41

For the first time since the morning we’d left for Red Hill with Dad, I was filled with hope.

“Here, let me carry those,” he said, taking our packs. “It’s dark, so listen for anything shuffling around. Stay close.”

“Okay,” we said in unison.

This is really happening. Mom is just a couple of minutes away.

Joey stepped out of the back door, and I began to follow him, but then the door slammed in my face.

Joey turned to face us while an infected sank its teeth into his neck.

“No,” I said, looking into his wide eyes while flattening my palms against the Plexiglas. “No!”

“Stay inside,” he whispered before pushing backward and then stumbling away. Several infected followed him, and then he disappeared into the darkness.

Halle took a breath and began to scream, but I covered her mouth and pulled her to the floor. I reached up and turned the lock, and then I rocked her while we listened to the crickets and the excited moans of infected shuffling through the yard after Joey.

I concentrated on my breathing, trying to slow it down. My eyes began to get fuzzy, and my nose felt numb.

I held my breath for a moment, and then I took in a shallow breath through my nostrils before blowing it out. The next one was more controlled. After several more of those, I felt better.

I realized I was still rocking Halle, my hand covering her mouth. I quickly pulled my hand away, and she wiped her eyes.

“Are we still going to see Mom?” she whispered.

“It’s too risky. We’ll catch her in the morning before she leaves town.”

“He has my backpack,” Halle said, her bottom lip quivering.

“I’ll find you a new one.”

I pulled a dresser in front of the bottom of the stairs and set drinking glasses and vases on top, just like we had done our first night. Then, I did the same at the top of the stairs.

Halle and I didn’t attempt to sponge bathe like usual. We just went straight to bed. I knew that no matter what happened, the next day would be a long one.

“I want Mom,” Halle whimpered.

“Me, too. We’re going to see her tomorrow.”

“You keep saying that, but we never do.”

“I promise, Halle. One way or another, we will see Mom tomorrow.”

“Okay,” she said.

It took Halle longer than usual to fall asleep, and then she jerked and muttered and cried in her sleep, likely dreaming about Joey or Dad.

The moaning outside continued for hours, and I wondered if I was ever going to fall asleep. The heat didn’t help, and neither did thinking every noise was an infected trying to get into the house or thinking about seeing Mom the next day.

I thought about the first time I had seen the group, and I wondered if the woman I had seen was Mom.

Did she look so different that I wouldn’t recognize her? Would she recognize us? Would she think we had changed? Had she?

I thought about Connor and how different he was from the boy April had described and how quickly he had changed. We had been apart from Mom for months, and by Joey’s description, she was now in the business of killing zombies so that we could get to Red Hill. I imagined what she was like now. It didn’t matter how much she’d changed though. With her was the only place I wanted to be, and it was worth anything to get there.

My eyes finally began to feel heavy, and I let it take me away from Shallot to the halls of Bishop Middle School.

I walked and talked with Chloe, confused about where my classes were, and I was frustrated because I couldn’t remember my locker combination.

Chloe shook her head and frowned at me. “Jenna?”


“Wake up.”

I opened my eyes to see Halle leaning over me, pushing up her black-rimmed glasses. “Jenna? Are we seeing Mom today?”

I pushed her to the side and sat up, seeing the bright sun shining through the windows. “No. No!” I said, running to the window at the top of the stairs.

They would have left at first light. I’d overslept. I’d missed them.

“Fill the canteen with water, Halle!” I said, pushing the dresser out of the way. “We’re leaving!”

I stuffed the last slices of beef jerky into my back pocket. I grabbed the rifle, the last box of ammo, and then a sack full of newspapers with a box of matches.

“Get the bat and Dad’s hunting knife,” I said.

“What are you doing with that?” Halle asked, pointing to the matches.

I looked outside, seeing several infected in the backyard. The street had several, but there weren’t so many that we couldn’t outrun them.

“We’re going out the front door.”

“Why?” she asked. We’d never done that before because there were often infected in the street.

I dumped the bag of papers onto the couch and pushed it against the wall, draping the curtains over the cushions. I lit several matches, held them under a few newspapers, and then watched as it turned into flames. The other papers caught, and I tossed some of the bullets into the fire.

“What are you doing?” Halle cried.

“Creating a diversion,” I said, watching as the flames climbed the curtains.

The room quickly began to fill with smoke, so I opened the front door and pulled Halle through.

We ran out into the street, straight into a group of infected.

We ran the other way, stopped by several more.

“Jenna,” Halle said, afraid.

Smoke billowed from the front door, and then one of the plywood sheets broke open with a snap. The infected turned toward the house, but when I pulled Halle along, they began to follow.

Then, the bullets began to pop and crack, gaining the full attention of the creatures. I tugged on Halle’s hand, and we sprinted for the highway, finally passing the car sitting in the middle of the road. I only slowed down when Halle began to fall behind.

We stopped for a moment, both grabbing our knees and heaving until we caught our breaths. The sun was bearing down on us, and only then did I realize I hadn’t grabbed a hat or sunscreen for Halle.

“I’m sorry,” I said, knowing Halle’s pained expression matched mine. “We have to hurry if we’re going to get to Red Hill before dark.”

“Where’s Mom?”

“She’s probably almost there by now.”

“When will we get there?”

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