The governor wiped his brow with a handkerchief and then shoved it back into his breast pocket. “We’ve got three dozen men on patrol. They’re experienced hunters or marksmen. Rest assured that we’ve got Anderson locked down.”
“I’ve got family who are trying to get home!” a woman shouted.
After more yelling, the governor motioned for everyone to settle down. “The infection has spread to our state. If they’re not infected, they’ll be allowed in. But I’ve heard several reports that the interstate has shut down.”
The crowd exploded again.
I clicked on my phone to check the time. Mom should be halfway to Anderson by now.
Commotion from the yard interrupted the shouting citizens inside. Several people rushed out to see what it was, and then more yelling ensued. The door was left open, and a series of popping noises, like fireworks, echoed from down the road.
“Stay here,” Dad said, leaving us just inside the door before stepping out into the yard.
“What is that?”
“Is that gunfire?”
“The boys are shooting!”
“What are they shooting at?”
Wailing weaved together and formed a symphony of fear and anguish. It was stifling and stuffy inside the building and chilly outside. The sun was lower in the sky, and I knew it would only get colder.
“Dad?” I said when he returned. “Do we have to stay here?”
“The chief wants us here while people are choosing to stay here.”
“I didn’t bring my coat.”
“You’ve got one at the house.” He patted my back while looking past me to warily scan the yard.
“Halle only has her jacket. Maybe we should go to the house and get some of our things?”
He nodded. “We will.”
“I don’t want to spend the night here.”
“Me either,” Halle whimpered.
Dad glanced around the room. “People are getting sick fast. It’s probably not a good idea to be in here with all these people.”
“Tom,” Dad called his chief over.
Tom shouldered past several people to get to us. He always seemed fairly devoid of emotion, except for the occasional chuckle. His voice was monotone, but his eyes were kind. He didn’t stand much taller than my dad’s five feet nine inches, but being the chief, he didn’t scare easily. In that moment though, fear flashed in his eyes.
“Have you heard from either of your girls?” Dad asked.
Tom shook his head, looking a little lost. “Nope,” he sighed. “Connie’s phone quit working about an hour ago. They were both trying to get home from college, and they were taking the interstate. I’d told them that would be the fastest route home coming from Greenville.”
Dad made a face. “They’re together?”
“They’ll take care of each other,” Dad said, glancing at Halle and me.
Tom showed a moment of appreciation and then looked around. “This group isn’t going to stay calm for long. We’ll need everyone ready to help the police when the panic starts.”
“I wanted to talk to you about that. I was hoping to take the girls home. Maybe we should instruct everyone to go home. It doesn’t seem safe, having everyone grouped together like this, when an infection is spreading fast.”
“I said the same,” he said quietly. “The governor instructed the police to keep everyone here. They just went outside to get their rifles and gear.”
“Christ, that’s going to make it worse.”
“I know it. They know it. The governor is just doing the best he can, and they’re following orders.”
“What the hell does the governor know about riot control?” Dad growled.
Tom put a hand on Dad’s shoulder. “Not a damn thing.”
Dad stiffened. “They can’t force us to stay here.”
“I don’t think they’ll shoot ya, but you’ve got to stay, Andy. It’s your job to help these people.”
“I’m a father first, Tom.”
Tom looked down at Halle and me with a sympathetic expression. “We’ve all got a job to do. You do what you think is right.”
He walked away, and Dad watched him, his jaw moving beneath his skin.
I checked my phone again for the time and for any messages from Mom or Chloe. Nothing.
“Is she almost here?” Halle asked.
“Almost,” I said, not sure if I was telling the truth.
The brakes of a military truck squeaked in the street near the armory’s entrance, and then more people came in through the front doors.
“Are they giving people rides?” Halle asked.
One of the gunmen shoved a father forward, and his frightened wife and sons followed.
“Back off!” the father growled, pulling his wife and kids under his arms.
“I’m not sure that’s what they’re doing,” I said.
“My Lord, it is hot, hot, hot,” a nearby woman said, dabbing the forehead of her young son. Her long braids were wrapped in a bun on top of her head, and she held her son’s red puffy coat over her other arm.
“I want to go home, Mommy,” the boy said around the finger in his mouth.
“I know you do, baby. Me, too.” Her eyes brightened when she saw Halle. “There’s a little girl. Maybe she’ll play choo-choo with you.” She walked over to us. “Hi there.”
“Hi,” Halle said.
With one hand, the boy held tightly on to his mother’s leg. His hair was freshly trimmed, and his smooth mocha skin was a stark contrast against his white tee. He looked to be around four or five.
The mother batted his other hand away from his mouth. “What do you say, son?”
He held out his hand. “I’m Tobin. Nice to meet you.”
Halle looked up at me. Tobin’s finger was still glistening with his spit.
Halle would collect tiny bottles of hand sanitizer and not just because it was the new thing at school. She had started the trend. Not only was Halle a borderline germophobe, she was also a hoarder. Dad had even dubbed her second backpack a B.O.C.—Bag of Crap. She would keep tiny toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals, an old camera, a calculator that hadn’t worked in years, three or four notebooks and several pens, and random items she’d collected from toy machines at stores or restaurants. Once, I’d even found a coagulated bottle of nail polish that had to have been as old as she was.