We stood in what looked like a former single-car garage that had been turned into a bedroom. A set of French doors led into the rest of the house. Dad handed Tavia’s son to her, and then he turned the knob of the door on the right, slow and cautious. He was holding his rifle with both hands. Brad and Darla held their kids close, and Tavia moved to the side while the woman joined us. She closed the back door softly and turned the lock.
“What is he doing?” she whispered.
All three of her kids were standing against the wall, eyeing us warily.
“Checking to see if anyone else is in here,” Brad said, keeping his voice low.
“No one is here,” she said, shaking her head. “Just me and the kids.”
“We need to make sure,” Brad said.
Gunshots could be heard, popping like firecrackers somewhere nearby. It reminded me of the Fourth of July, but it definitely didn’t feel like it.
Dad appeared in the doorway. “It’s just us,” he whispered.
He turned on his heels, and we followed him down a hallway that opened into a kitchen. The lights were off, and it would have been dark but for one broken window. Jagged edges of plywood hung from the nails driven into the wall.
Dad gestured to the unsecured window. “We need to patch that up—now.”
“There are more sheets of plywood in the garage outside. We should have enough to double up on most if you’d like.”
Dad complied, following her outside. They returned less than ten minutes later. April was carrying a toolbox, and Dad was grunting and walking awkwardly with the stack of plywood sheets in both hands.
Once Brad and my dad were finished refortifying the windows, only the few holes in the wooden sheets offered enough sunshine to see. I’d worried about the noise from the hammering, but Tavia had kept an eye out, and she’d said any curious infected kept being drawn the other direction, toward the sound of the gunshots. They were now just popping off one at a time. It was more sporadic, but they were still happening.
I made my way to the table and pulled out a chair. My leg muscles were still burning from our long walk.
Dad and Tavia immediately got to work with making us a small meal. Brad and Darla did the same for Madelyn and Logan.
The woman and her children just watched.
Darla’s eyebrows pulled in. “Haven’t you got any food?”
“We’ve already eaten. You go ahead,” she said.
“We haven’t got much left, but you’re welcome to share,” Darla said.
The woman walked with pride over to a door. She opened it to reveal a deep pantry with a decent stock of various cans of vegetables, rice, bread, peanut butter, chips, cereal, boxed stuffing, and bottles of water, and that was just what I could see right away.
“You’re welcome to ours, too,” she said.
“Goodness me,” Tavia said, holding her palm to her chest.
Dad frowned. “You had all this food, yet you were so desperate to leave that you nearly got yourself mowed down in front of your kids?”
I raised an eyebrow. I was fairly impressed with him at that moment.
The woman looked at her kids and then back at Dad. “I’m scared. I was over there at that church when it was overrun, and we lost a lot of friends.”
“So has everyone else.” Dad scoffed.
“I lost my husband.” A gunshot outside served as the period to her sentence.
Dad didn’t have a response to that.
“I’m alone with these kids. I saw your van, and I panicked. I didn’t know if we were leaving or you were staying. I just knew I couldn’t keep us all alive by myself.”
Tavia touched her arm. “You’re not by yourself anymore. I’m Tavia. That’s my son, Tobin,” she said, pointing.
“My daughter’s name is Nora, and my son is Jud.”
“And who’s this?” Darla was referring to the boy who looked to be around seven or eight, gauging by his oversized front teeth and his baby teeth on the bottom.
The boy spoke up, “Did you see that blood streak on the side of the church?”
Some of us nodded.
“That was from my teacher, Miss Stephens. She saved me from my parents when they were trying to kill me,” he said the words matter-of-factly, as if he were talking about something that had happened at school that day.
Darla gasped, and Tavia’s hand flew up to her mouth. Halle looked to me, not knowing how to react. Since it had all began, all I could think about was getting to my mom. I hadn’t thought about what it would be like if she were dead—or worse, if she tried to kill Halle or me.
April offered an apologetic smile and cupped the boy’s shoulders. “This is Connor. Annabelle Stephens was our first-grade teacher. She was the best. Right, Connor?”
He looked up at April. His eyes darkened with guilt. “She would have lived if she hadn’t saved me.”
April frowned. “She wanted it that way. Don’t forget that. She loved you, and she wanted you to live. She would have done that for any one of you kids. We’ve discussed this, Connor. You can’t blame yourself.”
“What did you do,” I asked, “when your parents changed and chased you?”
“Jenna!” Dad scolded.
Connor’s eyes shot up to my dad and then back at me with a blank expression. “I ran.”
After I finished my sandwich and chips and downed an entire bottle of water, I helped Dad fill up the empty bottles from the tap, and then we resituated our packs.
The gunshots still continued, but they were infrequent, and I was beginning to get used to them.
Halle was playing with Madelyn and the younger boys while Connor seemed to prefer standing by the window and looking out of the holes.
Dad joined the adults to discuss what was next, but their conversation derailed somewhere between plans and theories to what had caused the virus.
“I’m just glad I never got a flu shot,” April said. “There were reports that those who had one were turning faster once they were bit.”
“I’ve heard that,” Dad said. “I had mine, so if I get bitten, I guess you’d better shoot me quick.”
“I didn’t get mine, so let me say my good-byes,” Tavia said, glancing back sadly at her son.
April scratched the back of her neck. “I still don’t understand though. People with the flu shot are turning more quickly? After they’ve been bitten? After they die?”