He appeared in the doorway. “It’s clear—for now. Let’s get in and get out. The windows are wide open.”
The room was dark, so I took off my sunglasses and perched them on the bill of my hat. Then, I stepped over the mess of bodies on the floor before shutting the door behind me.
Just inside the door, in a small kitchen in the back of the church, I saw a few cupboards. I found an opened case of water, a big bag of chips, a mixed bag of apples and oranges, half a dozen cans of various vegetables, and cans of Spam.
It all went into my backpack, and then I walked down a hall before seeing a flight of stairs leading up to a doorway. Corpses of infected lay in a pile at the bottom, and a few were draped over the stairs.
“Should we check up there?” I asked.
“We’re going to have to. They’re coming in. Go. Go!” Dad ran past me to the top.
He opened the door, getting ready to swing at anything in his way. He checked behind the door and then motioned for me to follow him inside just as I heard infected pawing at the back door downstairs along with moans coming from another part of the church below.
Dad shut the door behind me, and I looked around. It was just one big room with a few tables, chairs, and a corkboard. There was also a television on a rolling stand and a gaming console. The walls were decorated with pictures illustrating stories from the Bible, from Jesus walking on water to Noah and the ark.
I laughed once.
“What?” Dad asked.
“They’re all white.”
I shrugged. “I’ve just always thought that it’s funny how all the people in Bible pictures are depicted as white. They weren’t all white.”
Dad glanced at me and laughed, shaking his head. “Don’t let your grandma hear you say that.”
He was right. Grandma was very strict on the way things happened in the Bible, history and science be damned.
We both chuckled until realizing at the same time that Grandma wouldn’t hear me say that because Grandma was probably dead. My mom’s mom was always serious about religion and church, and she’d tend to give Mom a hard time about everything. It just hit me that I’d probably never see her or Meme again. I might not see Chloe again. That freak-out that Dad and I had just discussed didn’t seem so far away.
That was, until a sound from below had us scrambling over bodies on the floor to the already open window.
“I bet this is the window Connor came in and out of when they were here,” I said, climbing out.
I looked down, seeing the AC unit. The infected were following each other to the back of the church, and there were more than before. When the moaning began, it was almost as if they were calling each other, signaling that there was food.
“We can make it, but we have to hurry,” Dad said before jumping down.
He reached up for me, and I jumped down, too. We climbed down the unit together and ran across the street, retracing the route we’d taken to the church so that we wouldn’t lead any infected to the house.
When we got to the school, I rested my hands on my knees. Dad kept an eye out while we caught our breath.
“My pack is heavier. I didn’t account for that,” I said. “If we end up on foot to Red Hill, we’ll have to pack light.”
“If we can get to Shallot, we can spend one night, leave there in the morning and make to Red Hill by evening. I hope. I’m not sure.”
“So, we’re going?” I asked.
At the same time, a low moan sounded behind me, and something lunged at Dad from around the corner. I didn’t look. I just swung my bat at what I thought to be at head level. It wasn’t like the video games or television shows. I hadn’t seen it coming. No scary music had built the suspense or indicated foreshadowing.
I could hear Dad struggling behind me, but all I could think about was the mouth belonging to the infected coming at me and keeping it away from my skin. The adrenaline made everything both sharp and blurry. In one moment, I was next to its bloodstained clothes and dry, scratchy skin, and the next, it was standing in front of me, reaching out again. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d gotten away.
He was tall. I couldn’t kick his knees out from under him, so I swung the bat as hard as I could. That wasn’t like the video game either. The vibration from the impact traveled up the bat and into my arms, startling me, but the creature fell, and I swung at his head. The bat met his skull with a crack, but I didn’t stop until the bone gave way.
Dad grabbed my collar, and we ran south—away from the school, away from the house. The groans from the infected had attracted more.
“We’ve got to lead them away from the house!” Dad said. “This way!”
We sprinted through backyards, hopped over fences, and dodged plastic pools and swing sets until we made a full circle, sneaking into April’s backyard once we were sure it was clear.
“Oh,” I said, noticing Dad was covered in dark goo.
“I panicked,” he said. “I was trying to get him off me, so I could help you.”
“I held my own,” I said.
“I noticed. You weren’t bit?” he asked.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “You?”
Until that moment, I hadn’t been truly afraid. I hadn’t realized that something as simple as a bite could take Dad away from me. He would die, and Halle and I would be on our own.
He pulled open the back door of April’s house, and once it was closed behind us, he hugged me, and I sobbed into his chest.
TAVIA FANNED TOBIN, who was playing quietly on the floor. She had already tried to turn on the television in hopes that basic cable might have the smallest bit of news, but every channel was snow.
We had been at April’s for nearly a month. Almost a week after we had fled Anderson, we had been putting together a puzzle on the floor when we heard a loud boom, and the house had even shaken a bit. Dad had run outside, afraid the military were bombing the cities, but all we had seen was a thick black pillar of smoke.
After that, aside from that, life had consisted of trying to keep the kids quiet when an infected wandered close and fighting boredom. Dad had been trying to convince April and Tavia to help him clear out the school, so we could move there, but they were afraid the effort and risk wouldn’t be worth it. April had argued that there were too many windows to secure. After they had returned from a scouting trip, Tavia had reasoned that the three of them would quickly be overtaken by the number of infected children and the few adults who were still inside—and she didn’t think she could bring herself to kill them, no matter how desperate we were for shelter, and despite the many times Dad and I tried to convince her that they were already dead.