White Horse - Chapter 24
“The spiders are going that way,” Willis said, pointing toward the west from the backseat of the school van.
Tony steered the van in the direction of the spider drones, now appearing as little black dots in the rose washed indigo sky.
“It’s almost as if they’re leading us right to them,” Clare said from the passenger seat. She strained her neck to see the cluster of drones as they occasionally disappeared behind leafless tree branches.
Jack leaned toward the front seat. “You’re right. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
“It means we’ll find the aliens,” Tony said, speeding down the narrow drive of Blue Star Hill, kicking up dust as he occasionally veered off the blacktop and onto the gravel shoulder. When he reached the main road, he turned south, into open country.
“At least there are no zombies,” Willis said, clenching his thirty-thirty.
“I wonder where all the zombies went,” Clare said, running her fingers through her bob then replacing her camouflage cap.
“I don’t know, but we only have a couple more hours of daylight,” Tony said, turning on the van’s headlights. “So hopefully we get to where the drones are going before we lose sight of them.”
They drove on while the peach colored sun, set lower on the horizon.
Clare reached into her vest and retrieved a cell phone. “Here, Jack,” she said, handing the phone over the seat. “You and Willis can use this one, Tony and I can share his.”
“Looks like the drones stopped moving,” Tony interrupted, slowing the vehicle next to a harvested soybean field. The pack of black dots was fading into the inky sky several miles in the distance.
“Looks like they’re over South Haven,” Jack said.
“Why would the aliens be in South Haven?” Willis asked. “All it has is a little lighthouse and marina.”
“There’s a nuclear power plant south of it,” Clare said, opening the glove box. She pushed aside the owner’s manual, an envelope, and a flashlight. “I was hoping there was a map in here.”
“Shit, that’s right,” Jack said. “Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.”
“Do you see any spaceships?” Willis asked, eager to catch sight of anything from another world.
“Nope,” Tony replied.
“I’m not relishing the thought of having to go toward a nuclear power plant,” Clare said. “I don’t know how long it will be online without human intervention and a nuclear meltdown begins.”
“I heard there’s a strike force there called VIPER team, and it’s run by an assassin,” Tony said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Jack said, exasperated. “Not only do we have to worry about the aliens and a nuclear meltdown but we have to worry about a strike force, too? Why would a nuclear power plant hire an assassin?”
“It’s because of the potential for terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants, but they didn’t know he was an assassin, they just knew he worked in the military and passed their security clearance, so they hired Gus Jordan. He gave the security guards elite strike force training and was developing VIPER teams at all nuclear power plants.”
“I never knew there was anything like that around here,” Jack said, shaking his head.
“I guess Gus fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and he believed the jihadists would have an easy time taking over nuclear power plants if the security guards weren’t able to put up much of a fight,” Tony said, looking down at the gas gauge. “We’re going to need to stop and refuel soon.”
“There’s a gas station just ahead,” Willis said. “Then we can drive to my house if you want to since we know where the spiders are going.”
“Okay, show me the way,” Tony said.
“The gas station is at that yellow flashing light,” Willis said, pointing over the seat.
Just ahead was an old family run carry-out and gas station. Time was not kind to this almost nonexistent village. Buildings of early century businesses were torn down, leaving only a church, cemetery, and country store.
Tony pulled next to the first of two pumps, the one without an out of order sign on the handle. “Lights are on.”
“I’m going to see if they have a map inside?” Clare said as she got out of the van with her revolver in hand.
“I’ll go with you,” Willis said, getting out next to her.
Clare turned toward Willis. “That bandoleer won’t do you any good without your weapon. Where is it?”
“It’s in the van.”
“Go get it, you don’t go anyplace without it.”
Willis went back to the van, grabbed the thirty-thirty lying on the seat and returned to Clare, who was waiting for him. They walked up to the store’s window and looked inside.
“I don’t see anything,” Willis said, his nose inches from the glass.
“Me either. Follow me.”
Clare slowly opened the door; a bell clanked. No people welcomed them to the country store. Clare walked toward the checkout counter while Willis walked past short aisles of snack foods, bread and canned goods toward the humming coolers. He took an armful of pops from the cold metal shelves and walked up next to Clare.
“I found what we needed,” Clare said, pulling a Van Buren county map and a South Haven city map from a rack.
Tony was re-hanging the handle on the gas pump when they exited the store. The doorbell clinked again for no one to hear.
“Go that way towards Bloomingdale to get to my house,” Willis said, snapping open a Mountain Dew.
Willis guided Tony to Great Bear Lake and Sarah’s long driveway.
“You have quite the hideout here. The zombies probably don’t even know it’s here,” Tony said as he backed the van toward the front door.
Jack looked over at Willis, who had his head down, and shoulders hunched forward. “What’s wrong?”
Willis shrugged, shook his head as if everything was fine then said, “I feel bad leaving Jibber and Miss Foo so far away.”
Jack did not reply. He was having second thoughts about his decision to leave the dogs.
“It’s getting dark, let’s get inside,” Clare said as she got out and walked to the back of the van.
The air was light gray and still. The shadows were gone as they began to take supplies into the house.
Jack turned on the kitchen light and walked over to the refrigerator. He opened the door and laughed. “Your mom drinks that cheap beer?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Willis said, walking to the bathroom.
Jack grabbed one of the cold beers and began his tour of Sarah’s house. He walked past the bathroom to a room that looked like an office. A kitchen table with a computer was in the middle, piles of papers and books were stacked around it. A couch served as a tabletop rather than the seating area.
“Is your mom in college?” Jack asked as Willis walked out of the bathroom.
“She’s writing a book.” Willis pointed toward the primer coated drywall covered with handwritten notes created with markers. Colored index cards and assorted pictures were pushpinned into the gypsum.
“Interesting,” Jack said, walking to the writing on the wall for closer inspection.
“I’m tired,” Willis said, making a sandwich. “I’m going to my room.”
Jack followed Willis upstairs while Tony and Clare went through all the rooms making sure no surprises lie in wait.
Willis plopped onto his bed with his gun at his side. He looked up at Jack and smiled. “I never thought I’d ever be lying in my bed with a gun beside me.”
Jack gave a quick nod then walked past the upstairs bathroom and laundry room to the bedrooms further down the hall. One was obviously Georgie’s and the other Sarah’s. He smiled when he walked into the feminine room. Just then, the cell phone in his pocket rang.
“The cell phones and the electricity are back up, at least temporarily,” Sarah said. “How are you guys doing? Where are you at?”
“It smells nice here?” Jack said as a broad grin formed on his face.
“Oh, hi Jack,” Sarah said, surprised she was not speaking with Clare. “Smells nice where?”
“Well,” he began. “It’s a place where you should be right now.”
“What are you talking about, Jack? You better get to the point because we may lose service at any moment.”
“I’m in your bedroom.”
Sarah paused, and then said, “You’re at my house? In my bedroom?” She changed the subject. “How’s Willis?”
“He’s fine,” Jack said, walking out of Sarah’s room and back down the hall. “I think he fell asleep already.”
“What about the spider drones? I thought you were following them. You didn’t follow them to my house did you?”
“We think they went to the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant,” Jack said. “Since it’s dark, we’re exhausted and don’t even have the foggiest idea what we’re going to do yet, we decided to stay here overnight. Have the professor and Max found anything new yet?”
“Well, actually they did find something and since you mentioned Palisades, it fits right in.”
“What’d they find?”
“Other crafts have entered the atmosphere and they are located around nuclear reactors. There are reactors across America, with four being here in Michigan. They’re also in Europe, Russia, Japan and other places.”
“Maybe we’re starting to get somewhere,” Jack said. “At least we’re finding clues.”
“I’ll let the professor and Max know that the drones are at Palisades.”
“Okay, call me when you find out anything new. Right now we need to rest and see what our next move is. I’ll call you when I know what we’re doing.”
“Great, I’ll call you with anything new that we find out,” Sarah said. “If Willis is awake I’ll talk to him.”
Jack walked into Willis’s room. “Your mom’s on the phone.” He handed Willis the phone and walked downstairs where Tony and Clare were looking at a map they had spread over the dining room tabletop.
Tony pointed to a spot along Lake Michigan. “Here’s Palisades. It’s a secure facility, fenced, monitored, and not to mention the possibility of an elite VIPER team with assault weapons.”
Jack sat down at the table and crossed his arms. “There’s no way we have a chance against an assault team.”
“Maybe they’re all zombies,” Clare said. “If that’s the case it should be fairly easy to go in.”
“I just spoke with Sarah and she said there are more alien crafts and they are locating themselves around nuclear reactors. Why would they do that?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know,” Clare said, walking over to the window overlooking the front porch. “Nuclear power uses uranium or plutonium. Maybe they need that to power their ships or maybe they’re going to shut down the plants or maybe they want to allow the reactors to get supercritical and discharge radiation.” She shivered.
“Destroying us makes no sense,” Tony said, looking up from the map, “because they’ve already turned most of us into zombies. They haven’t shut the plants down because we have electricity and they haven’t let a meltdown begin.”
“Another big question is why weren’t we turned into zombies and why are we being led to the aliens by the spiders?” Jack asked.
“Like Max said, they want something from us,” Clare said softly in thought.
Tony’s facial muscles tensed. “And we’re doing exactly what they want.”