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.
Jack directed the beam of his flashlight back and forth over the motionless body. The skin looked dead, sallow. When the light was directed at its mouth, Sarah could see particles of something brown stuck around the teeth.
“Is it dead?” Sarah asked, not moving, allowing Jack to do a close inspection.
Jack poked at it some more. “It’s dead, all right.”
“I wonder if Jibber killed it.”
“No way,” Jack said, walking over to Sarah, flashlight in one hand, a club in the other. “We would’ve heard the fight, she found it dead out there.”
Sarah swallowed, placed her hand over her stomach and walked over to Jibber, who was sniffing the lifeless object. She knelt down and shined her thin beam of light around the head and over the limbs. “I wonder how it died.”
“What are you looking for?” Jack asked.
“I’m looking for any signs of what could’ve caused its death.”
“It turned into a zombie.” Jack suppressed a laugh.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Being a zombie cannot be good for a person’s health.” Sarah giggled as she stood up. She looked down at the body. “I don’t think we should touch it though, in case it has something contagious. Taking its boots was not a good idea.”
Jack pointed the flashlight toward Jibber, standing on the other side of the body, admiring her catch. “What about the dog, she’s been biting it?”
Sarah shrugged as Jibber walked across the zombie and then rubbed against her pant leg. She backed away, not wanting anything smeared on her clothing. “Hopefully, I’m wrong and it’s just something to do with that blue light beam or the red sky.” She walked up to Jack and looked him in the eyes, her eyebrows raised. “For some reason, we still haven’t been affected.”
They looked at each other, silently knowing they would have to watch each other for signs of changes, signs that the other is beginning to turn into one of those things.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jack said, walking back to the pickup, his pace brisk. “If there were one of those things out here in the middle of nowhere there could be more.”
Sarah ran to the driver’s side door while Jibber jumped in the passenger side ahead of Jack.
“Are you sure that dog should come with us?” Jack asked, looking at the panting dog with its wet tongue hanging out of its mouth.
Sarah put the truck in gear. “Until I know she’s contaminated, she’s coming with us,” Sarah said firmly, looking at Jack. “You better get in.”
Jack found a shop rag in the door’s side pocket; he wiped Jibber’s face and threw the moist cloth out the window. He looked at his hands. “I don’t think there’s any way to keep from getting that shit on us.”
“There’s hand sanitizer in the glove box,” Sarah said. “I need it, too.”
They cleaned their hands with the soap-scented gel then rode in silence for many miles. The full moon was blood red as its light struggled to penetrate the scarlet atmosphere, like the moon with its light rays scattered after a volcanic eruption or forest fire. She looked over at Jack, who was now sleeping, his head bobbed slightly to the vibrations of the truck.
As they approached Jackson, Sarah began fiddling with the radio, hoping to reconnect with the earlier transmission.
“Here, let me try,” Jack said, having been awakened from the static. He placed his hand gently on top of hers.
Sarah paused for a moment before pulling her hand away from the warmth of his skin. It felt good, but she was not going to let on how she was feeling.
They were now entering the Jackson city limits. Sarah stayed on the highway, swerving slowly around an increasing number of dead vehicles scattered on the road. Movement caught her eye as they passed the Wild Rose Mall. “Is that people over there? I think I see something moving.”
“Should we drive over there and see if they’re people or zombies?” Jack asked, looking out the passenger window toward the moving shadows. “They may be the people we heard on the radio.”
“No, not until I get my kids,” she said, hands firmly on the wheel. “I don’t want to take the chance of anything happening and slowing us down. After all, they’re probably zombies anyway. Why would ordinary people be walking around the mall in the middle of the night.”
Jack nodded in agreement. “We will need gas, though.”
“I know we will, but we have enough to get us there. I’m not going to be happy until I get the kids.”
“What if . . .” Jack did not finish the sentence; he just stared at her.
Sarah looked over at Jack’s glum face. “What if, what?”
Jack was not sure if he should finish the sentence, unsure of how Sarah would react. He looked away. “What if the kids are affected by the light?”
Sarah did not say anything at first. “I already thought about that. I figure that if I’m not affected, then they’re probably not affected.”
Jack said no more. They would find out when they get there.
Jackson was now in the rear view mirror as Sarah exited I-94 and drove south on U.S. Route 127. She looked over at Jack, who was trying to go back to sleep. She knew that he could ask to be let out, but he was not acting as if he was going to leave. Surely, he would be better off without a mom, her kids and a family dog in tow.
Sarah’s eyes were heavy as they passed a roadside rest area. She thought of pulling over and taking a catnap, but she pushed the thought aside. There was not much farther to go.
A few miles from Larry and Bertha’s, Sarah attempted to wake Jack. “Jack,” she said, yawning. He did not move. The shallow rise and fall of his chest indicated he was in a deep sleep. “Jack, we’re almost there.”
Jack opened his eyes. “What?”
“We’re almost there.”
“What time is it?” Jack sat up and stretched, his feet pushing against the floorboard.
Sarah looked at the clock on the dash. “It’s almost three.”
“That little bit of sleep wasn’t enough.” Jack yawned. “You must be tired. Do you want me to drive?”
“Yawning’s contagious, stop it,” Sarah chided, yawning and rubbing her eyes. “I’m okay; it must be my adrenaline keeping me going. I’ll sleep later.”
“Speaking of sleep, your kids are going to be sleeping when we get there. So what’s the plan?”
“I don’t know.” Sarah took her cell phone from the purse around her neck. Its light illuminated her tired face. “I was thinking of calling, but there’s still no signal.”
Jack watched her put the phone back into her purse. “No plan? Play it by ear?”
She looked over at his face. His eyebrows raised in question, not anger. “What I want to happen is to sneak into the house, get the kids, drive back to Jackson and find shelter with that radio guy before we run out of gas, and the sun comes up.”
Jack laughed. “You’re not asking for much.”
Sarah smiled. “It could happen.”
“Maybe,” Jack said, with a skeptical smile.
“Hey, you asked me my plan and that’s it. Do you have a better one?”
“We’ll follow your plan,” he said, still smiling. “So what’s the setup?”
“I don’t know, what do you mean?”
“Who’s in the house, where are the bedrooms, do they have a dog, does your ex have a gun?”
Sarah let out an exasperated sigh. “This sucks, all I know is that Larry, his wife Bertha, and the kids are the only ones in the house. I’ve never been in the house before so I have no idea where their bedrooms are. But, unfortunately, I think they do have a dog. I’ve heard it bark in the background on the phone before. I think it’s one of those little poodle types.”
“We’ve got to do something with the dog especially if we’re going in and forcefully taking the kids. How old are they?”
“Georgie is fourteen and Willis is seventeen,” Sarah answered. “I don’t think he has a gun, I have it.”
“You have a gun?” Jack sat up straighter in the seat. “Where is it?”
“At my house.”
“At your house? You didn’t bring it?”
“I didn’t even think of it.” She shrugged.
Jack sank back in his seat. “This may be harder than you think.”
Sarah was now driving down narrow streets, following the shoreline of Spirit Lake. She slowed while navigating hairpin turns, her headlights reflecting on cold cottages. “The house is just ahead on the left.”
“Drive slowly by the house,” Jack said, his gaze attempting to pierce the pink tinged gloom of the neighborhood. Murky air covered the lake’s still water. “There’s no power here, either.”
“It’s that house, the two-story with the garage underneath.” Sarah pointed as the pickup idled slowly past a sickly building. “It’s dark inside.”
“Park over there,” Jack said, pointing to a vacant lot a couple houses up.
Sarah pulled on the other side of a pontoon boat, partially hiding the truck. “I need to keep it running, but don’t forget there’s not much gas. We can’t take long.”
Jibber tried to get out with them as they quietly opened the cab doors.
“Keep the dog here,” Jack said in a low voice, holding the billy club and flashlight.
“You stay here,” Sarah said to Jibber, gently closing the door behind her. Jibber began to bark. Sarah quickly opened the door; the dome light flicked back on. The dog was in the driver’s seat, trying to nudge past Sarah and the doorframe. She held the dog’s collar, trying to push her back inside. The mutt was determined not to be left behind. “If you want to come with us, you’ll need to be quiet,” Sarah whispered as if the dog was a five-year-old child.
Jibber’s tail wagged as if she understood. Sarah let go of the collar, the pooch stood quietly next to her.
The red waves in the sky were less pronounced, similar to a fire burning itself out. They walked as if on tiptoes to Larry’s house, making as little noise as possible as they dashed over damp lawns and paved driveways. Sarah was happy that she was close to her sons but was afraid of what they may find when they went inside the house.
“So let me get this straight,” Jack said, pausing behind a raft. “You’re kidnapping your kids.”
Sarah looked away, unsure how to answer. She knew that Friend of the Court would not look well on this, but did it matter with zombies running around. She whispered back to Jack. “I suppose we should knock on the front door first, that way the court won’t think we just broke in.”
“If you say so.” Jack grinned. “Let’s go.”
They went up wooden risers to the front door while Jibber sniffed around leafless bushes before deciding to urinate on a cracked ceramic garden gnome. Jack knocked. No one answered. He looked at Sarah with a cocked smile and knocked once more. No sound.
Sarah fidgeted with her hands before pushing the doorbell. They waited. Silence. She rang it again. The only sound was water lapping against the breakwall.
“I wonder why no one’s answering,” Sarah said, pushing the buzzer a third time.
“Maybe they all went to the blue light,” Jack joked, rotating his finger as he pointed toward the sky.
Then a barking dog could be heard deep inside the structure. Its barking grew louder as it approached the door. Jibber began to growl.
“This is taking too long, we need to get back to the truck before it runs out of gas,” Jack said, banging on the door. He bellowed, “Open up!”
Sarah giggled. “You sound like the police.”
“The only thing we’ve managed to do was wake up the dog,” Jack said, wiggling the doorknob. “It’s locked.”
“There’s a door by the garage, maybe that one’s not locked,” Sarah said as she turned and walked back down the steps.
They walked around to the side door, through a violet haze of cold air. Sarah crossed her arms, pulling her cardigan tight across her chest. The weather did not seem to affect Jack as he tried to open the other door.
“This one’s locked, too,” Jack said, turning toward Sarah. “What now?”
Sarah looked at the dark windows and then square into Jack’s eyes. She did not come this far just to walk away, leaving her sons behind. “We’ll need to break-in.”
“And I was the one in jail,” Jack said, amused.
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