Brad pressed on the gas, and the van surged forward. Just as he got back up to speed, someone ran in front of the van, a woman, with her hands waving in the air.
“Stop!” she screamed. “Please!”
“Brad!” Darla shrieked.
Brad yanked the wheel to the right, crashing hard into a truck parked in the middle of the road. I managed to grab Halle this time, holding her shirt tight in my fists. She flew forward, toward the driver’s seat, and my shoulder rammed into Logan’s booster seat, but I didn’t let go. The shirt choked Halle for half a second, but other than that, she was unharmed.
Tobin was crying, and Tavia was checking him over.
Brad and Darla both looked dazed, half-wondering what had happened and half-worrying what would happen next.
“Mommy!” Madelyn said again.
Logan began crying, too.
“Andrew! Is Tobin okay? He hit his head!” Tavia said with a strained voice. She was trying to keep calm.
Dad reached for him and pulled down one of his lower lids to get a good look in his eye.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Brad said. “Unbuckle your seat belt, Maddy!”
“Open the door!” I said, lunging forward.
Madelyn reached for me, so I helped her get unbuckled, and then I did the same with Logan. I put my hands under Halle’s arms and lifted her up and forward, taking a big step out of the passenger-side sliding door. I was glad this van was the kind that opened on both sides. We wouldn’t have been able to get out on the other side.
I glanced back at the church, at least a quarter of a mile behind us. “Halle?” I said, leaning down to look into her eyes. “Are you okay?”
“My throat hurts,” she said, rubbing the red line the collar of her shirt had left.
“Sorry,” I said, hugging her.
I took a quick sweep around the truck and van, looking for any more infected, and then I stopped at the front. The two vehicles, an old green truck and Brad’s silver van, were twisted together, both of their guts exposed and intertwined.
A dark, oozing liquid crept slowly from beneath the wreckage. “Something is leaking!” I said, pushing Halle backward.
Dad appeared next to me, holding Tobin. “That’s…not from the van. That’s…”
I leaned down to peek under the mangled vehicles to see a waif of a girl, not much older than me, lying beneath the van. One of her arms had been severed by the driver’s side tire, and it was barely visible behind the tire.
“Oh my God, did I hit someone?” Brad said.
Darla covered her mouth.
“She was already dead,” I said. “She was shot in the head. Probably infected.”
Dad leaned down. “Looks like she’d been sick a long time before catching the zombie virus.”
“Don’t say that,” Darla said. “Zombies—that’s ridiculous,” she spoke the words with a nervous giggle, like it was against her nature to speak up like that, but she had to say it out loud just for her own sanity.
“Are you okay?”
We all turned around to see a woman standing in a dress. It was once a red dress with white polka dots. Now, it was just red. One section of her frazzled dark hair was still tied back. Three children, a girl and two boys, stood behind her, wide-eyed and afraid.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Are we all right?” Brad stepped toward her, his expression severe.
She retreated back a step, holding her arms out, shielding the children with her body.
“We had a perfectly good vehicle! We were nearly to our destination! What the hell were you thinking, running out in the road like that?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes glistening. “I was trying to get us a ride out of here.”
“Brad,” Darla said, touching his arm.
Brad pulled away from his wife. “A ride? How did that work out for you? Now, none of us have a damn ride! I have kids, too! You nearly got them killed!”
“I was…I was desperate!” she said, taking a step forward. “The town is overrun. It’s just me and these kids, and I…I wasn’t thinking. I’m so sorry.”
Brad looked back at the vehicle and then threw his keys. They skipped across the asphalt and landed somewhere in the grass on the other side.
“Can … can we start over?” she asked. “My name is April. I have a house over there. You’re welcome to stay. Please … please stay.”
“Get your bags,” Dad said. “We have to move.”
“We have a house,” the woman said. “O-over there. My husband boarded up some of the windows. If we’re quiet, they won’t bother us.”
“Where’s he?” Dad asked.
Her eyes danced between each of us, and then she simply shook her head.
The little girl—her hair, when it was clean, was probably nearly white—was younger than Tobin and Logan but not by much. She reminded me a lot of Halle when she had been that age. The boys were younger than me and looked nothing alike. They were scared to death. The older one had big green eyes and a splash of freckles across his nose, and the younger one had brown eyes, his sandy-blond hair already overdue for a haircut.
Tavia glanced at the approaching mob of infected slowly limping and stumbling toward us from the church.
“We’ll have to run,” the woman said. “We can lose them around the elementary school, and then we can sneak in through the back.”
“Of the school?” Darla asked.
She shook her head. “It’s full. You don’t wanna go in there. Not all the kids were picked up in time, and…” She trailed off, blinking away whatever images were in her head.
“C’mon, boys,” she said after picking up the little girl.
We quickly gathered our belongings and followed. We ran into the grass on the south side of the road, went across an overgrown empty lot, and continued behind the elementary school. The woman stopped there, her labored breathing making her chest heave. Dad was holding Tobin for Tavia, and Brad carrying Logan.
We had way too many little kids in our party. No one who got far on zombie television shows ever had this many kids under ten.
Once we were all standing behind the tin exterior wall of the school, the woman took off again. We made a half circle and then snuck into a back yard through a gate. She gestured for us to go inside and then put her finger against her lips. After we did so, she quietly shut the gate behind her.