Zoe immediately popped up and ran to him, melting into his arms.
“Zoe!” he said, kissing the top of her head. “We’ve missed you!” He looked to me. “I think she’s grown a foot!”
The conversation was typical, but typical conversation was unsettling during an apocalypse.
“Where’s Aubrey, trying to boot up the computer?” he asked.
Jill looked to me, and I looked down at Zoe. “She wasn’t home when we got there. She left a note.”
Skeeter’s expression was hard to decipher. I wasn’t sure if he was confused or just trying to process what that meant.
Jill stood next to her husband. “Ms. Kay? Barb?”
Skeeter offered a contrived smile. “I got them both to the church. I came back to get you. They’re boarding up the windows as we speak, and almost everyone brought supplies. Food and stuff. Guns. Ammo. It’s a good holdout.”
“Skeeter,” I said. “It’s not a good idea to get all those people in one place. It’ll be like a buffet.”
Skeeter’s face fell a bit. “There’s not that many people.” He grabbed his gun with one hand and wrapped the other around Jill’s waist, talking softly in her ear. “Get a few changes of clothes in a bag.”
Jill squirmed. “I don’t want to leave the house, Skeeter. Can’t we just stay here?”
Skeeter lowered his voice even more. “They’re breaking through the windows. We don’t have anything to board ours up.” He lowered his chin, waiting patiently for Jill to agree. Once she agreed, he continued, “We need to take as much food and water as we can carry. I’m going to get the weapons and ammo. Be quick, baby.”
Jill nodded, and then disappeared to the other side of the house. Skeeter brushed past me into the living room and opened the closet door. He pulled out two oversized duffle bags and brought them to a brown safe sitting against the wall next to the television. It was taller than Zoe. Almost as tall as Jill. Skeeter turned the combination and quickly opened the heavy door, pulling out pistols two at a time and setting them into the bag. Once he emptied the safe of handguns, he began pulling out his rifles, scopes, and shotguns. He filled the other bag with ammo, hunting knives, a first-aid kit, and several boxes of matches.
I looked down at my brother-in-law, watching as he kneeled down on the floor to organize his survival bags. “Jesus, Skeeter, did you know this was going to happen?” I said, only half joking.
“Anyone that didn’t think this was a possibility was in denial. With the technology out there, how long have people been talking about zombies? Since before we were born. I knew last fall when the reports about human attacks were on the news for a day or two, and then you didn’t hear anything about it. I don’t care how crazy bubble bath can make a person . . . there is no drug that can get me high enough to chew someone’s face off.”
“It was bath salts, Skeeter. They said the guy even admitted to it. It was in his system.”
Skeeter looked up at me, dubious. “You still believe that, do ya?”
I crossed my arms and leaned against the doorjamb, trying to pretend his theory wasn’t completely disturbing. Surely our government didn’t know. This sickness couldn’t have been here that long—months—without the government telling us until it got out of hand.
“They would have reported it in the news before now.”
Skeeter paused and took a breath, still staring at the floor. “They did, Nate.” He reloaded his thirty aught six and stood.
A crash sounded on the other side of the house, and Jill screamed.
The next events seemed to happen over a span of several minutes, but it was really only seconds. Skeeter scrambled up from the floor and tore through the living room to the bedroom. He yelled, and then shots rang out. They were loud. The emotional side of me thought about covering Zoe’s sensitive ears, the logical side—which won—went into survival mode and I grabbed my daughter and raced through the kitchen to the back door, clawing at the dead bolt. Just as I pulled open the door, something dead and horrifying stood in our way.
Zoe screamed, and then another shot rang out, this one not far from my ear. All sound merged into a single, solid ringing noise. Skeeter had shot the . . . thing . . . in the face, and shoved past me with Jill on one arm and the survival bags on the other. He yelled something to me, but I couldn’t hear him. The only thing I could hear was the ringing.
Skeeter finally pointed and motioned for me to follow. I grabbed Zoe’s hand and shut the door behind us, hoping whatever was coming through the bedroom window would have trouble with doorknobs.
Once we got to the ranch, we would be safe. That was what I kept telling Ashley while trying to keep the Bug from getting stuck—on or off the highway. Daddy would be there waiting for us. He was a crack shot, and Bryce had been hunting with him enough over the years that he was getting pretty good, too. I had teased my dad so many times about his ridiculous collections of firearms and ammunition. No one needs this many. It’s like a car collection. It’s a waste, I would say. But because of my dad’s silly obsession, we would have weapons, the kitchen cabinets and pantry would be well stocked, we would have well water, and Butch—my dad’s bull. He didn’t like anyone in the yard. Not even us. If we let him out, we’d have our own security system. Red Hill Ranch was the best place to ride this out.
All we had to do was make it there, and we were in like Flynn.
We’d all tried our cell phones. Different numbers. Even 911, but we all got the same busy signal, or out-of-range signal, as Bryce called it.
“The towers must be down,” he said.
“Well, that’s just great,” Ashley said. “I can’t get Internet, either!”
“Trust me,” I said. “No one is checking your Facebook status right now.”
“For the news,” she snapped, irritated with my joke.
“I’m going to take this exit. Take a back way. The interstate isn’t getting any better, and if I keep driving in the median and the shoulder I’ll end up blowing a tire.”
Bryce frowned. “We’ve only got another twenty miles until the Anderson exit. The interstate is the fastest way to your dad’s.”
“It used to be. Now we’re bypassing hundreds of cars stuck or stalled and trying not to run anyone over.” Ironically, just as I said that, an older man stepped out between cars. He leaped back just as I passed. I wasn’t slowing down. Not even for the terrified people who were now on foot and crying out for us to save them.