The city of Gunnison had been ravaged. As we cruised through town, I didn’t see one store that hadn’t been looted. Every window seemed to be broken, every door hanging open, and every few block yards we’d see a body on the ground. Reinhold, my dad, Zaq, Hannah, and I made it three steps into the lobby of the Gunnison Valley Heath Center when I saw this would be ten times as horrible as I’d imagined. Dad sent Zaq back out to warn the others to wait in the vehicles. With Hannah in the lead, we made quick work of the place. She seemed to know exactly where both the drugs and the medical supplies would be kept. There were plenty of medical supplies to help ourselves to, but Hannah seemed to think that someone had already picked over the drugs. Still, we left the place each carrying a heaping box. We put the stuff in the back of Reinhold’s truck since he had packed light, thinking the rumors of clean water were bunk and he’d be back home tomorrow.
My son, Luke, and I have been hard at work on the second book in the RoboTales chapter book series, Mardok and the Seven Exiles. In case you didn’t know, RoboTales is a chapter book series of fractured fairytales that I wrote with the help of my son Luke (click here to learn more). Tinker is a retelling of Cinderella, but our Cinderella is a boy named Tinker who works in his uncle’s fix it shop. It has been challenging to find time to squeeze in these books between my deadlines, but Luke and I almost have book two ready to release.
Zaq may as well have punched me in the gut. I couldn’t believe I’d just thought he was worthy of my sister.
“Zaq,” Lizzie warned.
“Yeah, my bad,” Zaq said. “I’ll ask something else.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Jaylee said. “He has to answer. Go ahead, Eli. Who did you like?”
I stared at her, speechless, wishing I would say anything at all. It suddenly seemed extremely warm in the house and I wished I could escape outside where the night was sure to be cool.
Jaylee’s eyes narrowed. “Is it someone here?”
“Sorry, man,” the guy said. “Looked like you were stuck. You sure got a lot of stuff packed in there. You guys headed up to Mount Crested Butte?”
“Uh, Cortez,” I said, instantly wondering why I’d told the truth. I didn’t like anyone looking at our supplies or knowing our business.
I moved cautiously, shining my light over every inch of floor before I took a step. From the intensity of the pungent sweet smell, I was expecting to find a dozen dead people, but Cree led us to a lone body, lying on two couch cushions—likely the missing ones from the lobby. The woman had dark, Native American skin, but her body appeared black and blue in places, almost a sickly green. Flies swarmed and crawled over her skin. Cree plopped cross-legged onto the floor beside the cushions and slipped her hand into the dead woman’s.
I had no words. I closed my eyes and began to pray. I didn’t know what else to do. Why was all this happening? The poor kid had been sitting around with her mom like this? How many others had been abandoned like this?
If I was going to be the leader, I couldn’t freak out like some middle schooler because Jaylee had picked Zaq. I had to be a man about this. Deal with it. Move on.
Be cool, McShane.
I was debating whether to walk away or say something scathing when Zaq’s hand slid down to the girl’s waist, revealing the number 14 on the back of her shirt.
It was a young woman. She stopped when she saw me, her face a pale mask of shock. She was Asian, and her hair was long and straight and messy. She was wearing a filthy white blouse and a pair of short jeans, the kind that end midway between a girl’s knee and ankle and have a special name that I can never remember no matter how many times Lizzie explains it to me. She was also barefoot and wore a silver toe ring one of her middle toes.
All this I noticed in the space of a breath.
“Please don’t shoot,” she said, her English perfect.
I lowered my rifle. “I’m not going to—”
She ran, sprinting past Logan and me as if her life depended on it.
“Williamson crafts a complex and vividly portrayed epic fantasy reminiscent of George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series but less edgy and with a Christian worldview. Loosely following the events in the Old Testament, the author depicts a society in which paganism and superstition are deeply ingrained prior to the coming of the Savior.” –Library Journal
I knew we shouldn’t have stopped at Target. I knew it!
My heart lurched inside. I had my right fist around the barrel of my gun, my left hand on the handle above the door. I let go of the handle, hoping to get my hands into position on my rifle. Lost my balance and slid out of the truck. My hiking boots twapped on the pavement.
“Don’t do it, boy!” Shotgun Man yelled. “It ain’t worth it. Leave the rifle in the cab and walk away.”
“I can’t do that,” I said.
“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?”
Some things are so shocking, they scar for life, like the time my dad hit a dog that had run out into the road. Dad had stopped to check on it. He told me to wait in the car, but I didn’t listen. I was ten at the time, and when I saw that dog… Well, I still have nightmares about that poor animal. And I know I’ll have nightmares about Zaq’s family for the rest of my life.
Still. It was the right thing to do. I know that much. And I think it gave Zaq some closure that I might never have with my mom.
It had taken a while, though, to dig the grave—we buried them together. By the time we got back to Logan’s place, it was almost five. We were both covered in dirt and sweat. I wanted a shower more than ever. And I also wanted to find a dark closet and hide for a few hours, to try to deal with the madness piling up in my head.
No time for that, though. Had to keep moving.
“Elijah?” a soft voice said.
A girl’s voice. Sounded like Lizzie, but…
“I can’t see,” she said. “I thought the power had come back on.”