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Page 15

Tobin reached out and touched my arm. “It’s okay. They’re gone. I need to take a piss, and then we’ll keep going.”

His words struck me as odd. I had to wait and take stock of my bodily functions, to figure out if I even had to take a bathroom break. All of a sudden, my bladder felt like it was going to burst, and it was all I could do to get my scrub pants untied and my panties around my ankles fast enough to keep from urinating all over myself.

Tobin met me at the edge of the water. It was dark, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to swim, but we couldn’t risk taking the bridge across, either.

“Did you think this far ahead?” Tobin asked, staring at the flowing river. The rain earlier had made the current stronger, and the water level higher.

“Not really, but we can’t get caught on that bridge. They’ll take one look at us and know we snuck in. They’ll shoot us on sight.”

“Agreed. You used to live here. What do you think we should do?”

“We can either try to find a shallower place downstream, try to cross here, or use the rope swing on the other side of the bridge.”

“The rope swing?” Tobin said, dubious.

“There’s been one on that tree over there as long as I can remember. They keep one there for the kids that live around here.”

Tobin stared at me blankly.

I shrugged. “The city pool is on the other side of town.”

Tobin blinked. “What kind of backward redneck village did my sister move to?”

Nathan

“Lyle shot a cop, Daddy.”

“I saw that,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“What’s happening?” Zoe said. “Why is everyone fighting?”

“Some of the people are sick,” I said, turning on the police radio. “I think.”

Reports were coming in that the virus had affected all counties. After a while, the dispatcher stopped talking, so I turned up the car radio. Thirty-two of the forty-eight contiguous states reported casualties and illness. The East Coast reported that those who had chosen not to receive the flu vaccination were not showing symptoms as quickly as those who had. Some reports said that those who had had the flu shot didn’t necessarily need to get bitten or attacked before they caught the virus. They would reanimate no matter how they died. I glanced over at Zoe. She had an egg allergy like I did. People with egg allergies were advised against the shot unless they stayed under the supervision of a doctor post-inoculation. Even though my allergy wasn’t severe, Aubrey and I decided the benefit didn’t outweigh the risk, for me or for Zoe. Well, I did . . . Aubrey left the decision to me. I let a small sigh of relief escape my lips. If I only did one thing right, I’m glad it was that.

All roads proved to be an obstacle course. If I wasn’t jerking the wheel to the left, I was yanking it to the right, dodging people, other cars, and general debris left behind by the pandemonium. Aubrey used to always bitch about my driving, but we were almost out of town, and I’d yet to crash into anything. Even if it were a small miracle, even she couldn’t complain about my driving skills now.

Zoe pointed ahead. We were on one of the few roads out of town that I thought would still be open. It was paved, but just a few miles ahead it would turn to dirt. Halfway between was a railroad crossing. A train was visible a little less than a half-mile away, and soon the lights would blink red, and the crossing rails would lower. There were cars behind me, and God knows what else. We couldn’t get caught behind that train. The sedan’s nearly bald tires wouldn’t be able to forge through the wheat fields between us and the next road.

I pressed on the gas.

“Daddy, slow down!”

“I can’t, Zoe. We can’t wait for the train.” I reached over and yanked up her seatbelt to be sure it was tight, and then I put both hands on the wheel. The crossing rails began their descent. The horn of the train wailed, drawn out and sad. I used to think that sound was romantic. Now it was what was keeping me from getting my daughter to someplace safe.

My foot grinded against the gas pedal, slamming it to the floor.

“Daddy, no!”

The first crossing rail just grazed the paint on the top of the car, but we took the second rail out, easily snapping it in half. Zoe flipped around, covering her mouth. I looked in the rearview mirror. The wine-colored Lincoln Town Car behind us must have had the same idea, but was a second too slow. The train clipped its back bumper and sent it into a spin. The front end of the car whipped around, crashing into the train a few times before it was spit out a bit farther down into the wheat field. If they weren’t badly hurt, they were going to have to walk.

“We should go back!”

I shook my head. “We’re going to Uncle Skeeter and Aunt Jill’s.” Skeeter McGee was Aubrey’s little brother. Aubrey’s obvious disdain for me made Skeeter like me that much more. They lived in a tiny two-bedroom dump of a house just on this side of Fairview. The town was small. Small enough not to have to worry about a herd of the undead surrounding us.

Zoe’s lips turned up in the tiniest hint of a grin. Skeeter and Jill hadn’t been married but a couple of years, and had no children. Skeeter was in love with Zoe like she was his own, and Jill was just as crazy about her.

One more reason to make a beeline for Fairview was that Skeeter was a hunting enthusiast, and had several pistols and hunting rifles with plenty of ammo. It would be the perfect place to hole up and wait out the end of the world.

The two-lane road didn’t have the congestion I expected. A few times I had to steer around a two- or three-car pileup, most likely from the initial panic and worried drivers not paying attention, but for the most part the cars on the road were driving along at moderate speeds. Zoe pointed out her window when we arrived at Old Creek Bridge. A man was bent over, vomiting next to his ’76 Buick LeSabre while his wife touched his back. Her expression was more than worry or fear; the residual lines on her face were deepened by resignation.

“Is he one of the sick people, Daddy?” Zoe asked as we drove slowly past them.

The woman looked up, hopelessness in her eyes, and then she helped her husband to the passenger side of their car.

“I don’t know, baby.”

“Maybe we should stop and help them.”

“I don’t think we can,” I said, pulling my cell phone from my pocket. I tried to dial Skeeter’s number to warn him we were coming, but all I heard was a busy signal. Of course the phone lines would be down.

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