In conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series I’m writing over on the Go Teen Writers blog, I’m posting the chapters for THIRST on my website. Subscribe by clicking here. And if you’ve just discovered THIRST, click here for a list of previous chapters, if you’d like to get caught up.
How far did Eli and his friends make it?
“I have an aunt in Flagstaff,” Krista said, as we made our way out of Phoenix. “You think you could swing by there? See if she’s… you know… home?”
No way, was my first thought as I recalled the Flagstaff zombie people. But that wasn’t really fair. We had to pass through Flagstaff anyway. “What part of Flagstaff?”
“University Heights. It’s right when you come into town.”
I glanced at her—at the thick black sharpie lines around her eyes. And I thought Jaylee wore a lot of make-up. “Yeah, we can stop. I want to stay out of the city as much as I can. Too many people.”
“Are you scared?”
I glanced past Krista at the kids, saw they were sleeping. “I’ll feel better when I’m in the woods.”
“You like to camp?”
I laughed. This girl… “I just figure it’s going to be crazy for a while. Whatever people are still alive in the cities, it’s going to get bad.” I lowered my voice, just in case the kids were listening. “People will kill for water. We’re better off getting away until things calm down.”
“Three extra people are going to need a lot of extra water, huh?”
I nodded. Maybe was smarter than I’d first thought.
“Well, don’t worry,” she said. “We won’t drink a drop. Just get us to my aunt’s house and we’ll be out of your hair.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, but I wasn’t certain I meant it. We had quite a bit of water in the back of my truck, but for eight people, it wouldn’t last more than a few months, if we were careful.
We made it the two and a half hours to Flagstaff without incident. We passed several parked cars on the highway, but no people. The temperature on my dashboard read 75. I was glad to be in cooler temperatures. Just thinking about the heat back in Phoenix made me thirsty.
I radioed Lizzie about stopping at Krista’s aunt’s place, then followed Krista’s instructions to get there. University Heights was an upscale wooded subdivision on the south side of Flagstaff that was filled with a lot of redwood homes with suburbans in the driveways and the occasional RV.
Krista instructed me to pull into a concrete driveway in front of a redwood house with forest green trim. The yard was landscaped with piles of river rock boulders and ferns and shaded by a forest of towering ponderosa pine. An A-frame roof sat over the entrance and divided a two-car garage from the gable roof that covered the rest of the house. I turned off the truck and climbed out.
“Might as well let them sleep.”
Krista climbed out behind me and walked toward the house, slowly. I pushed the door shut until it clicked, hoping I wouldn’t wake the kids.
“You want me to come with you?” I asked.
She spun around and winced. “Would you?”
“Sure.” I held up my finger to Zaq in the van, and followed Krista to the house.
We entered a spotless living room, walls painted dark beige, carpet light beige, dark brown leather sectional and a matching recliner. A large river rock fireplace dominated the room. The place looked homemade, in a good way.
Krista walked into the center of the living room and stopped, like she was afraid to go any further. From what I’d seen at Zaq’s, I didn’t blame her.
“Aunt Robin?” She fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, pulling it down.
I wondered why she wanted a skirt like that if the thing made her so uncomfortable.
“Hello?” Krista turned to me, giving me that I’m-a-helpless-girl-what-do-you-think-I-should-do look.
“Might as well have a look around,” I said. I mean… duh.
I followed her though a pink kitchen with black appliances. Yuck. I doubted a man had chosen these colors. Up beige carpeted stairs to a wide and short hallway, we peeked into a little girl’s room, a teen girl’s room, an office, and Krista entered the final room, which turned out to be the master bedroom. A pine California king bed with a canopy of scalloped iron sat like a throne in the center of the wall opposite the door.
“Whoa,” I said. “I like that bed.”
Krista scoffed at me, her brow wrinkled as if I was some sort of leper. “You would.”
What? “I’m serious,” I said. “I didn’t mean anything sick by that. My feet sometimes hang off my bed at home. I’ve always wanted a California king.”
She giggled then, glancing at me like some shy school girl. Whatever.
“No one’s home,” I said, eager to get back on the road. “What are you going to do?”
Her eyes flashed wide. “What do you mean?”
I felt like my meaning had been a fairly obvious. “Are you going to stay here or stick with us?”
“We can stick with you?”
“Of course,” I said, hoping I looked kind and sincere, though my eyes felt like they were watering at my lie. “I mean, if you want to stay, you can. But you’re welcome to come to the mountains with us.”
Krista clapped her hands over her mouth and nose and started sobbing. My sister cried all the time, and I never knew what to do or say. I never understood why girls cried so easily. And I didn’t have a clue why Krista was crying now.
“Um… take your time,” I said, heading for the door. “I’ll be outside.”
“Wait! I don’t need any time. I’m coming with you.” She said this in a whining tone, like a puppy who’d been put outside and desperately wanted to come in.
“Great,” I said. “Do you want to take anything?”
She shook her head. “None of it’s my stuff. I wouldn’t feel right.”
I wanted to bring up the stolen skirt or the fact that her aunt was likely dead, but I didn’t think that would help. Still… this house had to have some good food in its pantry. “What about clothes for the kids?”
She shook her head. “Not the right sizes. There’s a Target just up the road. We can stop there for clothes.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but Shyla and Davis would need clothes… I hightailed it outside, where I could confer with Zaq for at least a few seconds before Krista caught up to me.
“I don’t think we should stop at Target,” I told him. “Krista wants to go there to get clothes for the kids, but we need to get moving—get out of the city as soon as we can.”
Krista stopped beside me. “What’s wrong with Target?”
“It’s a huge store on the main road,” I said. “People will be drawn to it.”
“So what?” Krista said. “You’re acting like every other person alive is evil, or something. No one is going to bother us.”
“Hey,” Zaq said to her. “Eli’s in charge here. If he doesn’t want to go, we’re not going.”
Krista clicked her tongue and glared at me like I was some sort of serial killer. Man, she ran hot and cold.
“Eli, I think we should at least check out Target,” Lizzie said, leaning over Zaq’s lap to look at me out the driver’s side window. “We need to get as many medical supplies as we can. Target has a pharmacy.”
“There’s a Walmart too,” Krista said, “if you think that would be better.”
I shook my head. “Smaller is better. There’s got to be a Walgreen’s. Isn’t there one right up the road from Target?”
“I don’t remember, man,” Zaq said.
“I can’t get clothes at Walgreens,” Krista said.
“They have sweats and T-shirts,” I said.
Again Krista gave me the half-choking gasp. “I’m not wearing sweats and T-shirts.”
“90 percent of the world is dead,” I said. “Fashion doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It matters to me,” she said.
I folded my arms. I wasn’t going to give in. Target could very well be suicide.
The van door on the driver’s side rolled open and Jaylee swung her legs out, sitting sideways on her seat. “I need some clothes too, Eli,” she said. “Plus with all us girls, we’re going to need to stock up on feminine products.”
The words “feminine products” may as well have been magical words for “burst into flame” because that’s what happened inside by body when those words rolled off Jaylee’s tongue. I couldn’t even speak. What was I supposed to say? No, you can’t have any feminine products? I mean, females had managed to deal for thousands of years before modern technology had created such convenient “products.” These girls would have to deal with that at some point, but I wasn’t going to be the one to tell them.
I swallowed, exchanged a painful glance with Zaq, and said, “Fine. Let’s go to Tar-jay.”
“You know,” Logan said, “sanitary napkins were mentioned as early as the late 300s AD. The Greek philosopher Hypatia was said to have rejected a suitor by throwing a menstrual rag at him. She likely used folded linen. That’s where the term ‘on the—’”
The girls all yelled at Logan to shut up. I walked away. I could only take so much talk of menstrual anything, and my just now had maxed out my yearly limit.
I drove back to the 17, which soon became South Milton Road. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until we passed a Pizza Hut and KFC. So not fair.
I turned right on West University Drive, scanning the Target parking lot for any sign of… anything, I guess. There weren’t a lot of cars. Maybe twenty-five. I pulled in the side entrance and parked in a handicapped spot. I’d rather drive around back, but there was no way to know whether we could get in that way, so the closer to the entrance without parking in the loading zone, the better.
Zaq stopped the van beside me, and everyone piled out. Except me. I rolled down my window and waited for Zaq to get the hint.
“I’ll wait out here,” I told him. “Watch the vehicles.” I mean, I didn’t even have a tarp over the back of my truck. My load screamed, “Steal me and live!”
“Probably a good idea,” Zaq said. “You want to do it alone?”
“Not really, but we can’t send the girls in there with Logan.”
“I’d leave him with you, but he says he needs to get some new underwear.”
I laughed. Of course he did. “Well, take my dad’s gun.” I twisted around to lift it off the rack and passed it out to Zaq. “It’s loaded. Safety’s on. You got four rounds.”
I grabbed my own gun off the rack and watched them walk inside. Logan had to force open the automatic door even though Zaq and everyone else had used the manual door. I sat there, imagining every worst-case scenario I could think up. What I’d do if I heard my father’s gun go off. What I’d do if I heard my sister scream. I held my gun awkwardly across my lap. There wasn’t a lot of room in the cab to rotate the weapon. I could easily shoot out the driver’s side window, but if someone approached from the back or the passenger’s side, I wouldn’t be able to get the gun pointed in the right direction very—
I straightened and stared in my rearview mirror. I thought I’d seen something move behind me. My eyes strained, watching the spot. I was sure it had been there. And then a dog trotted out from behind a red, 90s Volvo station wagon. He was a brown Labrador retriever, looked a lot like Sammy had except for the darker color. I watched him stop to sniff something on the pavement, jog through the cart rack and up to an army green Impala and pee on the tire.
I couldn’t see very well from inside the cab and decided it would be better to get out of the truck where I could put my back to the outside wall of Target and see the whole lot. I opened the door, and when I twisted to get out, a bearded man stepped out from behind the back of Zaq’s van, pointing a shotgun at my head.
END OF CHAPTER
Ack! Who’s the guy with the shotgun? And what will happen to Eli?