Dad held up his finger to his mouth, and he took a step back. I did the same, but Halle was behind me, and when she didn’t move, I nearly tripped over her.
“Jenna!” she barked.
The man’s head snapped up, and he crawled a couple of feet before fumbling himself up to his feet.
Dad swallowed. “Run,” he said, his voice surprisingly even.
Tavia held on tight to Tobin as she turned on her heels and ran back the way we’d come. Dad brought up the rear, but Tavia began to fall behind. Dad ran back and took Tobin from her arms, and they ran together, puffing.
A light blinked once, catching our attention. Dad stopped and then pulled us across the street, up a few steps onto a porch, and straight through an open door.
In the dark living room stood an old man holding a small flashlight, sixtyish, with a short white beard and slits for eyes. Next to him was a much younger woman, maybe his daughter. She was plump and covered in freckles, her reddish-brown hair shaped like a Christmas tree.
“Thanks, Jerry,” Dad said, trying to catch his breath. He handed Tobin to Tavia. “Sorry to hear about Marva.”
I scanned the dusty frames on the walls. The same three people stood posed in all the photos. The only person in the pictures and not in the room with us was a woman with wavy silver hair, cut short and feathered back—Jerry’s wife. I couldn’t tell how long it had been since their last family photo. The redhead had the same hairstyle in every picture since she was around my age, and only Jerry’s hair color had changed since then.
Halle crumpled against my side, trembling from the cold. I wrapped her in one of the blankets we carried from the armory and then my arms.
“Have you met the girls? That’s Jenna”—Dad pointed to me—“and little Halle over there,” he finished, lowering his finger toward Halle.
“I’ve seen ’em around town once in a while,” Jerry said.
Dad looked at us and gestured to his friend. “Jerry is retired from the Navy. He’s also a retired Anderson firefighter.”
“Way before your time, Andy,” Jerry said. “I’m an old fart. Never been gladder though. Heard they called all of you to the armory?”
Dad looked down. “We barely made it out.”
“Who’s Marva?” I asked.
Dad shifted, offering a quick apologetic smile to Jerry. “Marva is his wife.”
“Was my wife,” Jerry said. “We lost her to cancer last year. We sure miss her.”
The house looked like it missed Marva, too. The living room had two worn couches and a dark green recliner, their backs turned to the kitchen. A counter covered in peeling Formica that looked older than Dad separated the two rooms.
Jerry continued, “This is my daughter, Cathy Lynn.”
She gave a nod, smiling just enough not to seem rude. She had dark circles under her eyes. She didn’t seem to like that we were there. She tugged on her Winnie the Pooh T-shirt. I thought her choice to wear a cartoon character was odd because she looked older than Dad.
Jerry gestured to his daughter. “I called her over when the news said the virus had hit Atlanta. I knew once it was on our soil, it would spread fast. She lives just down the road there. People just don’t use common sense. Speaking of, what the hell were you doing out there, Andy?” Jerry asked, frowning. “Don’t you know they’re patrolling the streets? They’re shooting people!”
“What?” Tavia asked.
Cathy Lynn pointed, her hands trembling. “On the corner. Greg Jarvis refused to go with them, and they shot him dead right in his front yard. Didn’t you see him?”
Dad shook his head. “We were…preoccupied. The infection is in Anderson. We saw a man. He was…eating a dog, I think.”
Jerry spit into the Styrofoam cup he was holding and nodded. “That was probably Greg. He’s been walking around since about a minute after they put a bullet in his chest and drove away. Idiots. You gotta shoot ’em in the head, or they just get back up.”
Dad and Tavia traded glances.
“One of the last reports on the news said that it spreads like rabies,” Jerry said. “They bite ya, and if it don’t kill you right away, you get sick enough to die. When you get up, you ain’t you.” He shook his head. “Just like in the movies. They were spot-on, goddamn it.”
“Did they say anything else?” Tavia asked.
Jerry frowned. “Oh, they did mention the flu shots.”
“What about them?” Dad asked, frowning.
“Did you get yours this year?”
Dad dipped his head once, the skin around his eyes tight. “Is that what’s infecting people?”
“No,” Jerry said. “Just the bite. But that blonde on channel nine said they heard several reports of people turning faster, once they’re bit, if they had the flu shot. They don’t know why. I’ve never liked her much—that reporter. She’s probably safe. I hear zombies eat brains.”
I chuckled, and Dad shot me a look.
“Did she say any more about the flu shot?” Tavia asked. “Did they ever say how much faster? Right after they’ve been bitten?” Tavia asked, turning her body to put a few inches more between her son and Dad.
“They didn’t say,” Jerry said.
Tavia’s face switched from surprise to anger. “The government should have warned us. They should have told us the truth, so we could have been prepared.”
Cathy Lynn raised an eyebrow. “Would you have believed them?”
Tavia patted and rubbed Tobin’s back. He was already asleep, but she continued to gently bob and sway. “I knew when they started reporting on Germany this morning. If they had admitted it was the dead coming back to life, I damn well would have believed them, and I would have had more time to get supplies and protect my family.”
Dad shook his head. “I wouldn’t have. There’s just no way. That’s like admitting that vampires are real.”
More gunshots popped, and they didn’t sound far away.
“Kill that flashlight, Cathy!” Jerry hissed.
Cathy Lynn pressed the button. It was even darker than before, and Halle held on to me even tighter.
The moon poured in through the windows, highlighting just one side of Dad’s face. He was looking around the room, his eyes dancing from the couch to the floor and past Jerry to the back of the house.