Several dull gray metallic objects with eight spiderlike spindly legs floated around the outside of the observatory. Sarah jumped with fright as the sound of one of them landed on the dome and moved around the top of the structure with a tinny pitter-patter. She looked around the ceiling of the curved vault for any possible entry points. Everything appeared to be watertight.
“Hilarious,” Max said, embarrassed. He pulled up his loose fitting work pants and turned around to buckle the belt. The bones of his elbows moved inside the long sleeves of the matching beige shirt like a classroom skeleton draped with a cloth for protection. He turned back around. “What the hell, Professor.”
It must have been a little after three o’clock in the afternoon that it happened–the afternoon of June 3rd, 1916. It seems incredible that all that I have passed through–all those weird and terrifying experiences–should have been encompassed within so short a span as three brief months. Rather might I have experienced a cosmic cycle, with all its changes and evolutions for that which I have seen with my own eyes in this brief interval of time–things that no other mortal eye had seen before, glimpses of a world past, a world dead, a world so long dead that even in the lowest Cambrian stratum no trace of it remains. Fused with the melting inner crust, it has passed forever beyond the ken of man other than in that lost pocket of the earth whither fate has borne me and where my doom is sealed. I am here and here must remain.
The car’s slowing momentum and shift in direction jolted Sarah awake from her short catnap. She opened her eyes and sat up; they were following the professor’s van onto an exit ramp. Just ahead, a CITGO gas station and a McDonald’s restaurant shared the same building. Driving through the stop sign and into the gas station’s lot, they passed an eighteen-wheeler that appeared to have been pulling out of the station and on the road when the driver decided to abandon his rig. The cab door was open, and the diesel motor was still running, gray smoke puffed out of the exhaust stack. Jack drove past it and pulled up to a pump that did not have a car beside it and sat there. The professor did the same.
It was not until Jack steered the old gray sedan onto the highway, with its wide shoulders and open spaces, that anyone in the vehicle felt like they could relax. There were no zombies stepping out from behind buildings or around parked cars; they would see them coming if they were there. If it were not for the pale salmon colored dust of particles that the professor’s van was kicking up in front of them, at times like a blizzard whiteout, most everyone in the car would be sleeping.
“Looks like Jack’s driving a car to the front door, I think he has Father with him,” Clare said, alerting the others in the classroom. She turned away from the small opening between the window frame and the edge of the blind and took off her sunglasses. She wobbled as she took a step forward. Looking through the tiny slit, one eye at a time, caused a momentary bout of double-vision. “Hurry, gather the gear.”
Jack slid the Kimber pistol out from his blue jeans waistband, held it firmly at his side, and walked to the threshold of the garage’s open door. In the distance, on the other side of the road, he saw a man walking with a Parkinson’s shuffle. His white business shirt was untucked, its sleeves covering dangling arms. He was looking down, not turning his gaze toward them. “The daylight hasn’t killed that zombie, Professor,” Jack said. “He’s still alive and wandering around.”
Jack followed the frame of the house to the first window. He felt around the casing; the window screen was tight and would not budge. “If we didn’t have to leave the jail so fast, I would’ve had time to find my pocket knife, my wallet, and my shoes,” he said to Sarah, who was standing next to him. “If we don’t find an unlocked window without a screen, I may need to use this nightstick to break the glass.”
Sarah kept her distance from the body lying prone in the ditch beside the cornfield. Its plaid flannel shirt was tight around its tortured neck, from Jibber having used it to pull the find to her master. The head was turned to the side, jaw lax, eyes open and glazed.
The zombies behind them were lumbering around the corner of the jailhouse. The zombies in front of them were moving awkwardly around the stalling pickup as if the noise from the dying engine was evoking their curiosity. Sarah stayed close behind Jack as they crept forward, stones crunching under their feet.