Another window broke.
I looked to Gary. “What is that hallway there?” I said, gesturing to the open doorway on the other side of the kitchen. There were two his and hers bathrooms, and then an open doorway leading down a dark hall. “We may need another exit.”
“Just to the stairs.”
My attention was piqued. “What stairs? You boarded up windows but didn’t secure the upper level?”
Gary shrugged. “I don’t think they can climb.”
“We’re in the house of the Lord!” Doris said. “I’m not going to let this happen! We don’t know what this is. Skeeter, Jill could get better!”
Bob spoke for the first time. His voice was deep and raspy. “We know exactly what this is.”
Everyone turned in the direction of Bob’s voice. He was sitting on a metal folding chair in the corner, where he’d been for the last hour. He’d perched his cane between his legs, resting his hands on the handle.
His gray mustache twitched when he spoke. “This is nothing less than a goddamn tragedy.”
“Bob!” Doris said, pretending to be offended.
“Truth is, she’s just going to end up like one of those things outside, only she’ll be in here with us.”
Glass crashed to the floor again, and this time a bone-chilling moan floated from the sanctuary into the kitchen.
Bob’s eyes drifted to me, and then settled beside me about waist high. That was when I noticed Zoe standing just behind me. She stared at her aunt Jill, her beautiful hazel-green eyes filling with tears for the umpteenth time that day. I wondered if she would ever know happiness after today.
I kneeled beside my daughter, trying to think of something cathartic to say, but words wouldn’t save Jill, and Jill being okay was the only thing that was going to make this hell somewhat tolerable for Zoe.
A heavy thud sounded above us, and we all looked to the ceiling. Skeeter kissed Jill’s forehead, and then motioned for Doris to sit next to her as he grabbed his shotgun. Gary picked up his hammer. I gently pushed Zoe toward Reverend Mathis, and then followed my brother-in-law, Gary, and Eric through the doorway, and down the hall. Skeeter stopped at the bottom of the stairs, pointing his shotgun to the closed door at the top.
Gary flipped on the light. “Maybe someone crawled onto the roof to get away from them and made their way inside?”
We heard slow, clumsy footsteps, and then something was knocked over.
Eric took in a sharp breath. “They can’t climb, can they? I’ve never heard of a zombie climbing.”
“Why not? They used to be human. Humans can climb,” Gary said, resituating the toothpick in his mouth and tightening his grip on the hammer.
I nervously ran my fingers through my hair. “We don’t really know anything about them. Assuming is going to get us all killed. I say we get some boards, take them upstairs, try to communicate with whoever is in there, and if they don’t answer, we board up the door.”
“Simple enough,” Skeeter said. His voice was low and smooth, and reminded me of the few times he’d invited me along on a deer hunt. That was his in the woods voice, like the guys in those hunting shows always used while they were narrating their victorious kill. He didn’t pull his eyes away from the door, as if he were hunting whatever was on the other side.
“Skeeter?” Eric said. The nervousness contrasted with his large, burly frame. “We’re out of boards.”
“Now what?” Ashley said. Her voice was increasingly whiny with each mile we drove.
I didn’t want to be sitting still. I wanted to take the overly congested exit and then head west of the overpass, past the army, or reserves, or whoever those guys in green camo guarding the bridge into Anderson were, and be on my way to my dad’s. A dozen or more guns were pointed in our direction, at us and everyone else caught in the mess of cars below the overpass. Three lines of cars and trucks were stopped on the northbound exit ramp by the men with guns. People were outside of their vehicles, yelling and pleading to pass.
I had maneuvered the Bug as close as I could to the ramp, but quickly ran out of room. There was no way to get through, and we were stuck on the shoulder of the interstate.
“What are they doing?” Cooper asked, still clutching Ashley to his side.
Bryce tried his phone again. When he heard yet another busy signal, he let the phone fall in his lap, and hit the door with the side of his fist.
“Hey!” I said. “She’s gotten us this far! Be nice!”
A newer, red pickup truck approached the overpass on the Fairview side, slowed, and then came to a stop. A man got out, pointing toward Anderson. The army men shook their heads, motioning for him to turn back. He kept pointing to Anderson, but when more than a dozen semi-automatic rifles were turned in his direction, he got in his pickup and backed away.
“He came from Fairview. You think we should still go that way?” Cooper asked.
“It’s the quickest way,” Ashley said.
“So they’re guarding Anderson,” Bryce said, watching the scene transpire.
“Looks that way,” I said.
“Then why are they on the Fairview side of the bridge? Wouldn’t it make more sense to be on the Anderson side? Then they could guard the exit ramp, too.”
I took a closer look. The soldiers were young, and from what I could tell, seemed antsy. “There is an armory in Anderson. You think they’re really soldiers? Maybe they’re just trying to protect their town?”
“The governor is in Anderson today,” Ashley said.
We all turned, surprised she knew that interesting and pertinent tidbit of information.
“I listen to the radio in the mornings when I’m getting ready for class. They said it on the news. Governor Bellmon would be in Anderson today.”
Bryce nodded. “There’s no way he’d already have soldiers there. They must be random townspeople.”
I looked at them again, and gasped. They weren’t wearing fatigues. They were outfitted in Realtree and Mossy Oak. “Oh, Christ. Scared kids with AK-47s? Is the governor that stupid?”
“Maybe it wasn’t him at all? Maybe they just took it upon themselves?” Cooper said.
“Either way,” I said, turning to look out the back window. I didn’t see anything that would bite us yet, but it would only be a matter of time before they caught up to us. “We have to get going.”