I rolled down my window. “What are you doing? This town is crawling with those things!” He didn’t respond. “Hey. Hey!”
He looked up.
“Have you been bit?”
He shook his head, and then leaned against his window to look down at the mess on the road. There was a girl in a hospital gown, skin and bones, lying on the street, a large bullet hole in her skull, parts of her brain spilled out onto the pavement.
He rolled down his window, too. His eyes were swollen. He’d been crying, probably over the girl in the street. “I’m out of gas.”
I glanced around. We couldn’t leave him here to die. “Get in.”
Joy slowly kneeled on the floor to help Walter with his boots. He was sweaty from the near jogging he did on the return trip. She grunted each time she pulled, until she finally had them both off.
Walter sat back in his chair. “Can I get a glass of water, dear? I’m parched.”
“Yes,” Joy said, curious. “You look like you were chased back.”
Zoe watched us from the other side of the room, glancing out the sliding glass door once in a while. After Joy’s comment, Zoe’s eyes seemed to scan every blade of grass outside. The door looked over the patio, and into a room on the other side of the house. The bedroom opened to the backyard with a sliding glass door, too, but was concealed by the ugliest curtains I’d ever seen.
“It’s okay, Zoe. They’re all still on the highway.”
Joy sat two glasses of water on the kitchen table, and then she put her hands on her hips. “Well? I think we’ve been patient enough, right, Zoe?”
Zoe turned away from the glass just long enough to nod, and then returned to her watch.
Walter cleared his throat, and then gestured to our bags. “We got some supplies. It was getting late and sugar britches over there wouldn’t leave without his pantyhose.”
Joy frowned in confusion, and then waited for me to explain.
“They’re good for lots of things. I’m not going to wear them. Well, actually, I might, if it gets cold. Good insulation.”
Joy and Walter were content to watch me talk myself into humiliation.
“What?” I said. “I was a Boy Scout.”
Walter laughed once. “And all this time they’ve been worried about the g*ys infiltrating their organization, and they’re teaching lulu things like that.”
“I think my leader was a closet survivalist, too. I learned a lot from him.”
“Pantyhose?” Walter said in disbelief, his voice going up an octave.
I shrugged. “You don’t worry about what you’re wearing if you’re warm.”
“Then I’ll be toasty all winter,” Joy said. Her expression immediately softened when she turned to Zoe. “Come on, peanut. I bet Princess is getting mighty hungry.”
Zoe nodded and followed her outside.
Walter and I moved to the front porch, sitting in the rocking chairs and discussing our next move. We decided we would try again for Jesse’s the next day. We also needed to fill the gas cans. Walter didn’t seem to be in a hurry, even though I reminded him we would be leaving before long. He pretended he didn’t hear me.
The next day we walked the distance to Jesse’s house. Walter was right; Jesse had more guns than Skeeter. We took as many as we could carry, along with the appropriate ammunition, and then made the trek back to Walter’s. We made that trip every day for three days. The basement began to look like an arsenal. I put several rifles and a few handguns in my car, reminding Walter again that Zoe and I weren’t staying.
The days were beginning to get longer, and it panicked me when I had to think twice about what day it was. The only reason time mattered was to avoid getting caught outside at night. Weekends were irrelevant. Every day was about survival. Living with Walter and Joy, though, even with the occasional infected stumbling by, the apocalypse wasn’t so bad. Still, I had to take Zoe somewhere out of the way, and I still hadn’t carved out a quiet moment with Joy to see if she knew of a place we could settle.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” I whispered.
Walter and I were watching an infected walk by. We’d learned over the last few days that if we stayed still and quiet, they kept walking.
Walter didn’t respond until the infected passed, and then he shook his head. “You need to get more sleep. You’re not making any damn sense.”
“I’m going to start making trips out of town. Scout the area. See if I can find some acreage with a house.”
“You have a house right here, you fool,” Walter grumbled.
Joy occupied the space from the open front door, and looked over to Walter with a knowing smile. Walter shook his head so slightly that if he hadn’t paired it with a glance in my direction, I would have questioned whether I’d seen it. They were in disagreement about something.
Joy walked over to stand behind Walter, patted him reassuringly, and then spoke. “You asked about a place out of the way.”
“Yes,” I said. My posture straightened instinctively, eager to hear what she would say next.
“There is a doctor that comes to the store here sometimes. He buys things in bulk. I’ve only spoken to him once. He seems like a reasonable man, not what you might expect from a big city doctor. I know he has two girls, and he lives northeast of here. He’s several miles out, so it might be isolated enough to be safe for you and Zoe.”
Walter frowned at his wife.
“I would never force my way in, Walter. I hope you know that. I have to find the safest place to raise Zoe, though.”
Joy smiled. “It’s not that. He likes having you two here. He doesn’t want you to leave.”
Walter crossed his arms over his chest and settled into his chair, unhappy.
“Is this true?” Antagonizing Walter was probably not a good idea, but it was also too fun to pass up.
“Go to hell.” He frowned.
Joy let out a cackle, and she shook her head. “Oh, you stubborn man,” she said, rubbing his shoulder.
Walter stood up quickly, his rifle in his hand.
I aimed at nothing in reaction. “What is it?”
Walter squinted over the rifle’s sights. “Kids.”
The sun had poured a bright light over us and everything else by the time we’d made the north turn on Highway 123. My hands were shaking, knowing we were that much closer to my dad’s ranch. I imagined his reaction when he saw the Bug pull into the yard, and what it would feel like for his arms to wrap around me, strong and warm. His cheeks wet from worried and happy tears.