A long, camouflage duffle bag holding nearly every gun Skeeter owned was tucked under the church’s kitchen table. I kneeled to pull the nylon across the worn linoleum, and found the squat-barreled rifle that was smaller, but looked just as ferocious as anything else in the bag. “I’ve never shot a semiautomatic rifle, Skeeter. I’m not sure I can handle this.”
Skeeter laughed once, but he couldn’t quite smile. “Zoe could handle it. And you should let her practice when y’all get somewhere safe. Just in case.”
The thought of something happening to me and Zoe then being left alone made my world stop. She was so little, and if we left Skeeter and Jill, I would be all she had. “Maybe we should stay?” I said, my gaze floating to the sanctuary. The things outside were still trying to get in, pulling and banging against the boards.
Skeeter looked at his wife, and then back at me. “No. You shouldn’t.” I pulled a 9mm from the bag and a box of ammo. “Can I take this, too?” Skeeter’s eyes touched on Zoe for just a moment. He knew why I wanted it. I couldn’t leave her alone to fend for herself.
“Of course, brother.”
I nodded in thanks, and then stood. “But we still need a distraction.”
Doris set Connor in the chair that Jill was in. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will pass through town. Will they follow a car?”
Zoe tugged on my pant leg. “I don’t want to go outside, Daddy.”
I leaned down, looking her in the eyes. “I know you don’t. It’s scary out there, isn’t it?”
“But this isn’t the safest place for us. We have to find somewhere else.”
Zoe’s lips formed a hard line, and a tiny indentation appeared between her eyebrows, but she didn’t argue.
“You should take Connor and Evan,” Skeeter said.
Evan looked to Bob with fear in his eyes. Connor shook his head and hid behind Doris.
Doris shook her head, too. “I can’t stop him from taking his daughter, Skeeter, but I won’t let him take these boys outside with those things.”
“Connor,” Skeeter said. “I think you should go with Nathan. We’re going to work to keep those things out but I’m not sure that you’ll be safe here, little man.”
I could barely see Connor’s head shake in protest as he stood behind Doris. I wasn’t going to force him, and really, I couldn’t blame him after what he’d just been through.
“Bob?” Skeeter said. “You sure you don’t want to give Evan a chance?”
Evan stared at Bob, his eyes pleading to stay. Bob patted the boy’s shoulder, and then shook his head.
Barb located a plastic grocery sack, and I put a few boxes of bullets and five bottles of water inside, and then stuffed the 9mm in the waist of my pants. If someone were to tell me the day before that I would be doing anything close to this, I would have laughed them out of the office. I’d been hunting and shooting with Skeeter a handful of times, but owning a gun was not a priority for me, and I wasn’t opposed to gun control.
Now that the undead had taken over the earth, I imagined any member of the NRA was doing better than most.
Just as I hooked the handles of the sack in the crook of my elbow, the sound of salvation echoed through the church: a car horn.
Most houses were dark, letting the streetlights cast ominous shadows over everything. The army was on patrol, and Tobin and I had to leap behind bushes or into the shadows once in a while, slowing down our pace. In addition to Tobin’s injured ankle slowing us down. I wondered if anyone was still in their homes, or if the army had taken them all somewhere. That thought was pushed out by sheer will; that would mean my girls would be in a place nearly impossible to reach, with murderous armed guards.
Refusing to believe that, I pulled Tobin along, pushing back when his limp forced more of his bodyweight on me. I tried to encourage him through the pain. His ankle was swollen, and getting more so by the minute. The walking wasn’t helping. He needed ibuprofen and an ice pack at the very least.
“It’s not far now,” I said.
Tobin had been holding his breath with each step for the last three or four blocks, but he didn’t complain.
“You think she’s there?” he said.
“I hope so.”
“Doesn’t look like anyone’s home. Is there a public shelter around here? Maybe they were all moved there?”
“It’s possible. Maybe the hospital, or the elementary school. It has an old fallout shelter.”
“She has a little boy, did I tell you that?”
I smiled up at him. “You said she was a single mom. What’s her name?”
“Tavia. And my nephew’s name is Tobin.”
“Yeah,” he said, beaming with pride even though his face was dripping with sweat. “He’s a good kid, too. Athletic. Polite. She’s done a helluva job. I don’t think I’ve ever told her that.”
“You will,” I said, praying it was true.
An army Humvee turned the corner, and I pulled Tobin to the dark side of the closest house. A small pop came from Tobin’s ankle. He grimaced and let out a small grunt.
Tobin tried to keep his labored breathing quiet. “They’re armed, too. I don’t get it. Why would . . . why would they be patrolling the streets if they’re just trying to keep—what do you call ’em?”
“Yeah, shufflers. Why patrol inside the city limits if they’re just trying to keep shufflers out? Maybe they’re looking for survivors? Maybe they’re just gathering people to take to a shelter?”
“I don’t know that we should walk out and ask them for help,” I said, pulling him along once the Humvee passed.
“A black man can get shot sneaking around in the dark, that’s what I know.”
I offered a half smile. “C’mon. We’re almost there.”
Tobin’s limp became more pronounced. A block away from Tavia’s, he was in agony. He moaned and groaned through the pain; every step was torture.
“If you don’t quit making that noise, someone is going to think you’re a shuffler and shoot us from their window.”
“I’m sorry,” Tobin said, genuinely regretful.