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Page 13

John tried to shake one of the soldiers’ hands, but the soldier only offered the barrel of his combat rifle. Adrenaline pumped faster and faster through my body, and every inch of me was on high alert. The soldiers were behaving erratically; nervous. John pointed past the soldier, and then to his family in the car. I could see he was becoming more and more agitated.

I looked down. There was a pickup truck upside down on the interstate below. It was full of bullet holes. To my left, a full-sized van, also covered in holes, was sitting about fifty yards off the shoulder in the grass. I put the Jeep in reverse.

“Just get in your car, John,” I whispered.

When the soldier wouldn’t budge, John took a step and shoved the soldier in the shoulder before returning to his car. I could see from thirty feet away it was just out of frustration. John probably had someone inside Anderson that he loved and wanted to get to—maybe an older child. In the end, the only thing any of us wanted was to be with our loved ones.

Thirty feet away was close enough to see the soldier give the order, to see them all point their automatic rifles at John’s car, and light it up. But thirty feet away was too far to warn him.

As soon as John sat in his seat, the soldiers opened fire, filling every inch of the silver Toyota Camry with bullets. Instinctively, I stomped on the gas pedal, so hard that my chest was shoved into the steering wheel.

“No! Oh my God! No!” I screamed, yanking the gearshift into drive as I turned the wheel in the opposite direction. They weren’t letting anyone in, and worse, the entrances were being guarded by scared young soldiers with automatic weapons. They had either been given orders to eliminate anyone who approached them, or they were operating without communication from their commanding officers. The latter seemed more likely—and more frightening.

I could barely see through my tears, quickly jerking the wheel north down a country road. How would I get to my girls? Were the soldiers gunning down everyone in town, too?

I forced my mind to stop wandering and focused on a solution. Getting inside the city limits was the goal. Anderson was my birthplace. I knew the ins and outs better than those soldiers. There had to be a way in.

On the northeast edge of town was a dirt road adjacent to a heavily wooded area. Those woods were nestled between the dirt road and the main road through town. The soldiers would likely patrol there, but on the other side was river, tall grass, and the old Blackwell Street Bridge. If I could get close enough to that wooded area, and then make it across the main highway, I just might be able to sneak across the bridge and follow Blackwell Street almost all the way to Andrew’s house.

The only way to do that undetected would be to wait until dark. The thought of walking around in the dark while those things were shuffling around created an instant sick feeling that came over me in waves, but no matter how terrifying it was, that was the only way to reach my children.

I drove three miles north of Anderson’s eastern limits, and then cut east once I thought I was clear. The Jeep bounced over an overpass not nearly as wide as the soldiers’, and then kicked up red dirt as I barreled toward my chosen point. Three miles was enough to stay out of sight of whoever might have been guarding the north entrance. I didn’t even come across any shuffling things.

The Jeep slowed to a stop. For the first time, I realized that my purse hadn’t made it with me to the Jeep—or my cell phone—and my stomach turned. The phone lines probably weren’t working, but it made me feel sick not to have any way to even try to call Andrew . . . or anyone else. I looked around for shufflers, locked the doors, and then crawled into the back seat. I pulled up the piece of carpet hiding the tire iron. That and a small flashlight were the only things of use.

I waited in the driver’s seat, ready to drive away at the first sight of a shuffler. My ears perked at every sound, and my muscles twitched every time a gust of wind rattled the leaves and grass around me. I hummed a random tune, picked at my fingernails, made sure my sneakers were double-knotted, and then talked to God.

As the sun set, the level of anxiety I was sustaining felt nearly unmanageable. My mind struggled not to revisit the moment John and his wife and baby were murdered. I also fought imagining whatever awful scenes I might stumble upon once I breached the streets of Anderson. The guarded entrances were both helpful and a hindrance. The armed guards, fearful and quick on the trigger, would at least keep the threat of shufflers to a minimum.

Darkness began to paint shadows across the woods, and with the rise of the half-moon came the fall in temperature. I rubbed my hands together, and then wrapped my arms around my ribs for warmth, wishing I had something heavier than a scrub jacket. Soon, I would be walking around in the dark, my ears and a tire iron my only weapon against anything hunting from the shadows, and the tire iron wasn’t going to be much help. Anyone that hadn’t been hiding under a rock could tell you that the only way to kill someone of the dead persuasion was to obliterate the brain stem. I needed a gun or at least something sharp enough to penetrate bone. Beating in the skull of a shuffler would take more time than I could spare.

It’s incredible, the way the imagination can physically affect the body. My heart rate had doubled, and I was beginning to sweat. The more my fear crept up, the more I kept reminding myself that my girls needed me. They were probably scared to death, and no matter what happened or what state they were in, I wanted to be with them.


Zoe instinctively kept her head down, or else she was mimicking me, as we hurried to the car. Gunshots rang out two houses over, and I looked over to see my neighbor Lyle Edson shooting someone approaching his front porch in the face. An ambulance raced by, the back doors open and waving around as it fishtailed with lights and sirens blaring down the street.

“Daddy?” Zoe said. The fear in her voice was real. Something I wanted to shield her from until the world wouldn’t let me anymore. I couldn’t shield her from this; hell was raining down all around us.

My hands shook as I tried to shove the key in the door to unlock it.

“Daddy?” Zoe said again.

“Just a second, baby,” I said, cursing at my trembling hands under my breath. Finally the key entered the slit and I turned it. In the same second, Zoe squeezed my hand.


I turned, seeing a police officer approach. He was shuffling slowly in our direction, his jaw relaxed, letting his mouth lie open. A low moan emanated from his throat. I picked up the bat that I’d propped against the car while trying to unlock the door, and then I stepped in front of Zoe.

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