A travel log of disaster and disease…as the world descends into madness and death.
Margie’s survival is hampered by her husband’s health while Beth’s survival depends on her willingness to let go.
Scott’s survival hangs in the balance as his fever spikes. Cady watches helplessly as those she loves face the hardest of trials and there’s nothing she can do to save them.
As each person in Cady’s life heads toward her, the deadliest of them all works his way north and faces his own mortality in the face of the end.
None of it matters, if their humanity doesn’t stay intact.
“I know it’s in here.” Cady grunted, bending deeper as she reached further into the Rubbermaid bin. Rummaging through the upstairs storage closet took Cady’s mind off what was happening outside her gate. She’d scraped knuckles in her attempt to escape reality.
An old incandescent bulb glowed dimly above her from a side-mount on the wall. She pulled another plastic bin from the deep tall shelves, hefting the one she’d been working on into the newly emptied space.
The afternoon light didn’t reach the closet with its windowless space and position across from the closed door of the laundry room. No sign of time passing made it easier for Cady to pretend she hadn’t killed Kent that morning, taken his body and dumped it on the side of the highway, gone to the store and stolen all the baby supplies she could cram into the ATV trailer.
She’d returned home, parked the four-wheeler, washed her hands, and made her way upstairs to look through every closet she owned. She may or may not have had lunch with Bailey. Cady didn’t care. What she cared about was her newly appointed mission. That’s all.
Usually, her Christmas decorations were packed on the bottom shelf. She couldn’t find any of those boxes with the strands of lights and unused twenty-year-old yule log. Maybe the ornaments had made their way out to the loft of the shed. It wouldn’t be the first time Cady had lost something.
She sneezed and froze. Was that a sneeze because no one dusted their closets or was sneezing a symptom of the virus? Everything was suspect. Nothing could be ignored or cast to the side. She couldn’t be vulnerable. No, paranoia would probably be what saved her daughter.
Most likely it was just because of the dust. She’d taken on a difficult task and the more she dug, the more impossible it seemed. Cady narrowed her eyes at the number of boxes and lowered the newest one to the ground at her feet.
Sitting, slowly, beside the blue bin, Cady sighed. Rolling her shoulders back and leaning her head forward, she tried to stretch muscles she hadn’t used in a long while. She was tired, but she couldn’t say it was because she was sick. No, lack of sleep could be the reason. She hadn’t slept a sound, solid night’s rest since Zach, her husband, had died. Even though it hadn’t been that long ago, it felt like years.
Cady didn’t have any tears for his loss, not anymore. Too much had happened that almost seemed like Zach had made it out of the entire ordeal with a better hand than the rest of them. He didn’t have to deal with the virus, or the Cure, or killing neighbors, or anything else that might come up that Cady would have to deal with… virtually alone.
“Mom? Where are you?” Bailey’s voice carried down the hallway from the stairs. Her birthday was in a couple days and Cady hadn’t gotten her anything, since they’d self-quarantined a few weeks back. Having knowledge about the end-of-the-world virus had been helpful in some areas, more guilt-inducing in others.
Cady leaned back, glancing past the oak trim of the doorjamb. Her daughter hung onto the landing, searching in Cady’s bedroom and facing the opposite direction of the closet Cady had holed up in. Cady tapped the wood by her face and called out, “Here.”
Turning, Bailey spied her and loped her way. Her long auburn hair was still in a braid from that morning. As she got closer, her eyebrows knit together and she scrunched her nose. “What are you doing? Scott’s supposed to be home in a few hours. Are we going to take the stuff over to his place before it’s dark?”
Scott, their neighbor – another thing she was avoiding thinking about. Cady shook her head and waved her hand limply toward the contents in the closet. “I’m looking for my old answering machine.” Where had she put it? Chances were good she’d gotten rid of it a long time ago and just didn’t remember.
Bailey squatted beside her mom, peering into the bin. “What’s an answering machine?”
Her question gave Cady pause. She lifted her gaze to Bailey from the box and arched an eyebrow. “I dropped the ball on your education, apparently. Seriously? It’s a machine you get your voicemail off of.” Cady hadn’t realized that the terminology had become all but extinct.
“So, a phone?” Bailey’s confusion was genuine which irritated Cady for some reason.
“No. It’s a machine that hooks into the wall and then the phone hooks into it. When the phone rings a certain number of times, the machine answers and, if you’re around, the message can be heard. You can press play or erase or rewind or whatever you need to in person. You don’t have to keep it on your phone and you don’t have to remember which numbers do what – seven to erase or one to replay.” Cady reached into the last box in the closet. She was running out of hiding spots and patience.
Understanding erased the confusion on Bailey’s face. “That makes sense. It sounds interesting. What do you need it for?” Bailey reached up and played with a bell hanging from a small parakeet cage Cady had stored after Bailey’s pet bird, Spacey, had died.
Finally, a good question. “Grandma and Grandpa might call while we’re out taking Scott’s stuff to his place. If she can leave us a message, then we’ll know they’re okay.” Cady needed to know if her mom was alive. Cady wasn’t sure how long she would be down at her neighbor’s house, but she had to hold out some kind of hope her mom was out there and trying to reach Cady. She’d never forgive herself, if she missed a call because she and Bailey weren’t there.
Bailey studied the floor and then lifted her gaze to her mom’s. She wrinkled her nose. “Do you really think they’re still alive?”
Cady didn’t answer for a minute as she dug through the box. Her fingers fell onto the smooth edges of an electronic device. Dragging it from under the other college memorabilia, Cady smiled. “Here it is.” She knew Bailey waited for an answer. She put the machine on the ground beside her, tugging the rest of the cords out of the box and setting them on top of the device. Putting the lid on, she braced her arms on the edges of the blue bin.
Glancing at Bailey, she nodded slowly. “Yeah, I have to think that they are. At least for now. The last few days… I’ve tried to ignore that they might be dead, might be alive, might be sick…” She raised her hand and pressed on her forehead an inch above the bridge of her nose. “Going into town this morning…” She sighed again. “Look, I have to believe Grandma is going to do her best to get here. She’s a tough woman. I know she’s been living an easy life with Grandpa, but Mom has… she’s stronger than you think.” Was Cady trying to convince herself or Bailey? She knew her mother. There were things Margie could do that she didn’t do anymore since she’d taken early retirement with David.
Cady was always impressed with her mom and would like to blame her mother’s independence and strength for Cady’s own independence and strength. Now that there was such devastation in the world, she couldn’t think of a better way to approach the apocalypse then to combine their strengths to survive.
That’d be hard to do with her mother’s whereabouts unknown.
Cady held her tongue as she stood, putting the bin back where she’d pulled it from. Bailey didn’t know about Cady’s dad’s cancer. He’d told Cady while her mom had worked to hide it from her. Apparently, honesty wasn’t one of Margie’s strong suits.
“I think Grandma is fine. She can be a brat and she’s too stubborn for the virus to get her.” Bailey laughed, pointing at Cady’s chest. “Remember when she had the shingles last year and she helped us deep clean the coop? She didn’t even say anything until afterwards that she needed to put some medicine on it.” Bailey shook her head as she followed Cady from the closet. “That was crazy. Do you think I’ll get shingles? It looks like it hurts.”
“Why would you think you’d get them? I don’t remember you having chickenpox.” Cady glanced at Bailey as they reached the stairs and climbed down them together.
Bailey shrugged. “I don’t know. You said they’re contagious, so… I guess I just thought I would get them, too.” She rubbed the back of her arm where Cady had pricked her with the vaccine for the virus. “Maybe I’m protected from that stuff, too. You think?”
“I’m not sure. That’d be a good thing, if you were.” Cady tried not to wrap her tired mind around the intricacies associated with virus. The best thing for her right then would be to rest, but she couldn’t until she’d gotten Scott’s supplies dropped off at his place. Getting home and into bed sounded like the best plan she could think of.
In the kitchen, Cady set up the machine, plugging it into the wall where the landline hookup waited unobtrusively beside the outdoor light switches. “Can you grab the phone from the office for me, please?”
In less than a minute, Bailey was back with the small cream phone. She placed it on the counter, then rounded the end to the sink. “How long do we need at Scott’s?”
Their neighbor would be home that afternoon or evening. Cady cleared her throat, the lines clicking into position satisfyingly loud. “He’s hoping he’ll be home later today. He didn’t give me a time, but if the roads are clear, he should get there somewhere close to sunset. Let’s get his stuff unloaded and then get out of there. I don’t want to be gone longer than twenty minutes or so.” Cady plugged in the electrical cord and made sure everything was connected as it should be.
“You didn’t say if he was able to get his parents up with him.” Bailey turned, leaning her hip against the counter to watch Cady, her arms folded over her chest.
“No. He said they’re dead.” Cady waited for the digital red numbers to blink on as she plugged in the machine. A few beeps, a flash, and the digital numbers stayed on. She didn’t want to think about Scott’s parents dying. If they died when he was helping them, the chances weren’t good for her parents. Cady swallowed. “Look! It’s going to work. Maybe.” Holding up her cell, she inspected the reception bars. She shook her head. “My cell service is in and out, but I’m going to try it.” Three and two and three… the bars flickered back and forth. She didn’t care. She’d try it anyway.
“Okay, when will we know if it’s working?” Bailey leaned forward, eyes on the machine like it was going to start dancing or singing.
“You’ll see.” Cady dialed the landline. She waited, but stared at the machine as well. She would never admit it, but she kind of hoped the machine would be some great answer.
The phone rang loudly, the shrill sound like a scream into the kitchen. Cady jerked toward the plastic piece and quickly turned the volume to the lowest setting while it continued ringing.
After four rings a loud click filled the room followed by a much younger Cady-voice. “Hi, you’ve reached Cady and Beth. Leave us a message. We’re probably out taking over the world. We’ll call you when we get back.” Beep.
A wave of melancholy washed over Cady. Bailey’s excitement that it worked faded as well. She blinked, glancing out the window then back at her mom. “Have you heard from Beth?”
Cady swallowed past the tightness in her throat. “No. I haven’t talked to her since the night…” She didn’t say anything else because talking about that night was just bringing up Zach’s death. Bailey didn’t need constant reminders about the people they’d lost. Slapping the counter, Cady tilted her head. “But, I forgot to tell you, Scott is bringing a brand-new baby niece up. He was able to save a couple family members, I guess.” Cady smothered her sarcastic add-on – he’s also bringing the virus up. He’s going to expose you and I to the virus we’re trying so hard to stay away from.
Once he got home and Cady went to help him, her time would be up. She had to push off that moment as long as possible. Bailey’s antibodies might not have had enough time to develop. Either way, getting the virus wouldn’t just be conjecture at that point.
There would be no going back. Nothing terrified Cady more. The point of no return had already come and gone for the world, but not for her. Not for Bailey.
Bailey’s expression softened. “A baby? Oh, I’m so excited.” Then she downcast her eyes. “But, Mom, that baby will get sick and… die, right?” She lifted a belligerent expression to face her mom. “Why should they save anyone? Why don’t they kill her and leave her be?” She didn’t have a hate in her voice, but simply a curiosity. “I mean, wouldn’t it be nicer than making the small baby suffer?”
“You know, that’s a valid question. I think there’s always a chance that someone could survive the sickness.” Did Bailey feel that way about Cady? Would she want to kill her mom just to save her from the suffering? Maybe Bailey wouldn’t fight Cady’s decision to go into the woods when Cady got sick enough.
Tilting her head to the side, Cady studied Bailey. “I think it’s okay to get attached to the baby. She will need love as well, even if it’s only for a few short days of her life. Can you imagine how fun she’ll be to cuddle and love on?” Cady wouldn’t let Bailey leave behind her hope for the good things. Not yet.
Cady had to rein in too much excitement for the baby. Bailey hadn’t gotten the vaccine more than a couple days ago. Hopefully, the vaccine would take hold and work, but Cady couldn’t take any chances with her daughter. Unfortunately, that might not matter as Scott got closer to home.
After they dropped off the supplies Cady had stolen from the store, she would have to tell Bailey she couldn’t see Scott for a while. She had to stop pushing excitement for the baby onto Bailey when Cady was going to deny her access at first.
Cady ignored her longing to call Beth and check on her friend. Ever since Cady had found out that she’d been instrumental in bringing about the virus that was wiping out the human race, she’d lacked any desire to check in with friends… ignoring Beth had become almost as haunting as not knowing where her parents were.
She’d waited too long, by that point. What would she say? How would she explain why she hadn’t contacted her before now? Maybe it would be okay to just assume Beth was dead and go with that. Of course, Cady could never say anything like that out loud. There was no point in lying at that stage of the game. And saying that she didn’t care what happened to Beth was one of the biggest lies she would have ever told.
Setting the phone and machine into place, Cady jerked her head in the direction of the front door. “Come on, let’s get those things over to Scott’s.” Patting her hip, Cady was more than a little comforted that she hadn’t forgotten her gun this time.
Who knew which neighbor was going to try to kill her next?
It would be dark soon and Cady didn’t want to take any chances of being off the property at night. During the day you could at least see what was coming at you. In the dark, all bets were off.
While Bailey got her boots and jacket, Cady wiped down the four-wheeler with a bleach and water mix a second time. She couldn’t take any chances that the virus hadn’t spread from her man-handling the neighbor’s body off the trailer earlier.
Who was she kidding? She was probably already hosting the virus. She’d only know if she could stay away from Scott and monitor her timeline.
Bailey came out of the house, pulling on plastic gloves. She glanced at the trailer and her eyes widened. “I hadn’t seen all of it yet. You got a lot of stuff. Is that all baby stuff?” She peered at the mass collection of formula, wipes, and diapers mixed with so much more.
“Are you ready?” Cady slid onto the ATV. Scott’s house was as sanitized from the virus as it was going to be. Once he got there, everything would be exposed. This would have to be the last time Bailey helped Cady. She didn’t want to think about what that would mean when Cady was exposed to Scott.
Who was she kidding? Bailey’s exposure was only a matter of time. Cady had to find solace that Bailey was protected by the vaccine. The only problem was, Cady wasn’t sure vaccines worked and this was a disease she couldn’t take any chances with.
The plan to take side roads home was a bust. With a brand-new baby in the car and limited access to gas, Scott couldn’t afford to chance too long of a drive. Not to mention, he was on a finite amount of time until the virus took its toll.
If he was honest with himself, he would admit that some of the symptoms had already popped up. Fortunately for him, he didn’t want to tell the truth and admit his weaknesses were about to become a whole lot stronger.
He had to get home and he had to get there immediately. A fine sweat worked its way up Scott’s neck. Rubbing the muscles between his shoulders and neck, he ignored the insistent pinch as he forced stamina where he just wanted to sleep.
Truth be told, he didn’t want to take longer than necessary because of Jason and Jessica. There was nothing the kids could do, if he was incapacitated. Hopefully, he wasn’t imagining things, but he had a sinking sensation that the constant heat waves he was having weren’t nerves.
But he’d hide the fever as long as he could. No one needed to know. Not yet anyway.
Glancing at his nephew, Scott smiled. He didn’t want to cause alarm, but he had to ask. “How ya feelin’, bud?”
Jason shifted in the bucket seat of the Ford Bronco and rolled his head back and forth. “She’s little but she’s heavy.” He hadn’t put Baby Jessica down since they’d left Boise that morning. He had her cuddled against his chest and Scott understood the need to feel connected. If he weren’t driving, Scott would snuggle the baby and pretend Stephanie, his sister and Jessica’s mother, was going to walk in any minute and laugh about how much she wanted to eat chocolate but couldn’t because she was breastfeeding.
With the recent deaths in the family swarming around them of Scott’s parents, Scott’s sister – Jason’s aunt and grandparents – there was more than enough reason to grieve. But they didn’t have time for that. Scott would deal with that loss when he had a few minutes to himself. As it was, he had to keep things together for his niece and nephew – the last two people he had left in the world.
He had checked the radio for any working stations on both FM and AM frequencies more often than was probably practical. He had to hear what was going on. Most likely there were too many sick to run anything. There had to be other survivors, or other late infected victims.
None of them were making themselves known. Most likely because it was too taxing to do much more than lie there.
Cresting over Mica Grade on US95, Scott’s stomach grumbled at the same time Ranger whimpered, nudging his shoulder with his snout. The dog had been with him a long time and they relied on each other for more than just protection or companionship. They were friends, pure and simple.
Scott reached back and rubbed Ranger’s nose. “Alright, buddy. Let’s stop.” He glanced at Jason. “She’s sleeping, why don’t you put her in the bassinet and stretch your legs up here. I’ll pull over by the lake and get us something to eat.”
They had gone full bore since leaving Boise and cabin fever was getting to all of them. Stopping for brief stints to let Ranger out and to top off the gas from Scott’s tanks strapped to the top of the rig had been the few and far between breaks they’d taken.
The sun would set in another hour or so and Scott wanted to be home before then. With only forty minutes between Coeur d’Alene and his property line, they wouldn’t be able to break for long.
Pulling alongside the road where the shores of the lake faded into the banks of the mouth of the river, Scott sighed. They were close, so close to home. “We’ll stop here before we get into town.” He pointed toward a floating building with dark wood paneling and black vacant windows. “That’s Cedars Restaurant. You don’t remember this, but I took you and your dad there when you were about two. He was up for work and brought you with him.” Scott ignored the pang in his chest at the memory of his brother.
Another person he had to accept as lost.
“I don’t remember, but it sounds cool.” Jason shifted Jessica to the bassinet, her lips sucking silently while she continued sleeping.
Climbing out of the Bronco, Scott stretched his neck by leaning his head forward and then leaning his head back. He lifted his shoulders and swung his arms. As long as he pretended that the aches and pains were from the long ride in an old Bronco, Scott could go on. He could convince himself. He had to, or he’d never be able to convince himself.
Ranger bounded out of the back, barking and rushing to the side of the water.
Tall trees towered over the shore as grass intermingled with the sandy beaches. With very little foot traffic on that side of the water, larger rocks were left strewn about the shoreline where they’d been dropped by glaciers thousands and thousands of years before. Moss and lichen had stained the tops of most of them with a dark ombre effect that faded down to the marbled and speckled surface of the rocks.
Peeking over the top of the hood, Scott narrowed his gaze. The setting sun cast a long, bright reflection across the slightly rippling water. In the distance to the east, the Coeur d’Alene Resort towered above the rest of the town that was hidden with overbearing oaks and maples. The sun caught the glass windows at just the right angle and the building could have been in the middle of the summer, filled with tourists.
Scott had no idea who was inside now, but he was certain the scene wasn’t pretty. He’d once read a series set in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and the scene with the bodies floating in the water had haunted him every time he’d gone to town.
Ranger lapped at the water with an almost desperate gulping. Was Scott not doing a good enough job taking care of his dog? He’d make it up to him when they got home.
At the back of the rig, Scott joined Jason and opened the back door. “I have some MREs. Did Grandma ever give you those to try?” Looking at the stacks of bags and other supplies packed on each other, Scott was filled with a desire to just sit down and rest. Not drive. Not dig for food. Nothing. Just sit and enjoy the breeze coming off the water.
At the mention of his grandmother, Jason’s eyes reflected the grief any reminder of their lost loved ones brought on. “Yeah, she didn’t know how to prepare a couple of them and they were… kind of gross.” Try as he might, his expression lost all neutrality at the mention of the ill-prepared food and he grimaced.
“Let’s be honest, Grandma could cook, but when she didn’t know what she was doing, her food could tear your gut up.” Scott needed to laugh about his mom, he needed the good to overtake the bad until he could get to a place of security and lose himself in the memories.
Jason’s frown turned into a half-smile. “Yeah, she made this cornbread one time and she forgot to add flour. It was like eating tack. She said it was practice for when there was no more flour.” He chuckled, taking the energy bar Scott handed him and a packet of peanut butter and crackers. “Your MREs aren’t like the ones she had.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, I’m not going to lie. This close to home and I’m not digging for food. I’ll feed you a solid meal when we get there, okay?” Kid was constantly eating. Scott could see his food storage of a couple years’ worth of food dwindling to a few months with Jason around. He was more than a little relieved that Jason didn’t complain about the simple fare. That was as deep as Scott was going for food.
The sound of a high revving engine distracted Scott and he dropped his own bottle of water from his lips to study the horizon just past the trees on the edge of the highway.
Staring in the direction of the sound, Scott searched the road and the connecting roads he could see. The curve blocked the sight of vehicles until they were almost on them, but the sound – with it as quiet as it was – carried far.
A pit in his chest gave Scott the energy he needed to kick into gear. That wasn’t the sound of someone going somewhere. It was a crazy speed of someone chasing something. He spoke hurriedly, but kept his volume low. “Get in the car, Jason. Get your belt on and check on Jess.” Scott closed the backdoor and rounded the side of the rig. “Ranger, come on!” He called down to his dog who had gotten a bit far down the shore, about twenty feet or so. A distance Ranger could sprint across in less than a couple seconds.
Ranger glanced at Scott but his attention was pulled toward something and he darted the wrong way to chase something along the rocky beach. The brown and black body of a raccoon dodging and skittering along the rocks and grass was barely visible from that distance.
The roar of the engine grew louder and Scott’s breathing sped up. He couldn’t chance anything. Not right then. Leaving Ranger wasn’t an option, but staying there was even less of a choice.
Why was the car going so fast? He couldn’t see it, but judging by the increasing loudness, he was running out of time to when it would be there.
“Ranger! Now! Come on, buddy!” Desperation hoarsened Scott’s voice and he backed up to the truck, hurrying around the side. Climbing in, he started the engine and whistled one more time. Come on, Ranger. Come on. But Ranger didn’t even bark in response.
His stomach hurt and he breathed a prayer. Please, not my dog. I need him. Please. But his prayer went unanswered. Tears blinding him, Scott shifted into first. He edged slowly forward on the shoulder, unwilling to speed away in case Ranger was nearby.
“Ranger! We can’t leave without Ranger.” Jason searched his side mirror and craned his neck as much as he could. “Uncle Scott, you can’t leave him. Please.”
Every word Jason begged with tore with more intensity at Scott’s guilt.
In the rear view mirror, a van came into view with chipped white pain and windows rolled down. The glint of a rifle barrel caught the setting sun as it rested out the side window.
Choking on his words, Scott hit the gas. “We can’t wait for Ranger.” Scott swallowed the impact of that loss. One more incredible heartbreak he had to store away until he had time to deal with it. He sped off, ignoring the gasp from Jason beside him.
Any second Scott expected to hear a gunshot, hear the van approach from behind, something that would signal their impending death. Or evidence that Ranger had made it back to the highway and had succumbed to either being hit by a car or being shot.
Picking up speed, Scott careened over the bridge, shifting into third and barreling up the incline to carry on US95. He had to get through town.
Frustrated with the soul-rending loss of his dog, Scott slammed his hand on the steering wheel and snarled. He looked out the windshield and the driver’s side window, careful to avoid Jason’s tear-filled gaze.
“Get ready, Jason. There’s going to be a lot of devastation we’re going to have to deal with.” What kind of looting were they about to witness? “Get out the shotgun. We have to expect anything.” Scott clenched his teeth together. Ranger was his best friend and having to leave him behind hurt more than having to leave his parents. His mom had made a decision, willingly staying behind to save her grandchildren and son.
Ranger was an innocent animal who relied on Scott. Abandoning him didn’t sit right. But Scott had to choose between the safety of his nephew and niece and the safety of his best-friend.
Scott wasn’t sure he could live with the decision he’d made.
The snow had disappeared from the edges of I90, leaving behind a dark, wetness to the dirt and tree bark. Margie longed to turn on the radio, but she would never be able to hear anything – even if there was a radio station working – over the sound of the rattling car parts and David’s breathing.
Margie leaned closer to her husband, careful to keep her eyes on the road as she listened to his breathing. No, his breathing had changed from rattling to more jagged, like his throat hurt. If the sound had left his lungs, he was less likely to have pneumonia. Margie could handle most diseases with palliative care as the body fought off the disease, but pneumonia was a whole different illness.
Just like cancer.
Margie slowed the Bug’s speed as they completely left the base of Snoqualmie Pass. Not another car in sight set her on edge. She chewed her lower lip as she glanced at the gas gauge. The needle was dropping faster than she remembered her old one doing in college, but back then everything went further than things these days. Sometimes, Margie swore they put evaporator into the gas, so it would disappear before being used.
She would have to stop and get gas or risk breaking down on the edge of the freeway.
A sign for the next exit flashed green as she popped the headlights on. “Welcome to Easton, Washington” with logos for a Safeway gas station made up her mind. She needed gas and she needed time to think.
Running toward Cady’s homestead was easy in theory until she added the limitations of a struggling vehicle, an invalid husband, and her own doubts and fears. Then, all kinds of small bumps in the road became mountains she couldn’t see herself overcoming without a plan.
On top of everything else, Margie had a suspicion that the Bug wasn’t keeping its fuel, there might be some kind of a hole in the fuel tank. Those old cars had a reputation for rusting out by the coast – any coast.
Margie pulled off the freeway, the front bumper vibrating something fierce as she shifted down. If she wasn’t careful, they’d end up dropping an axle right where they were.
David opened his eyes blearily. “Are we… at Cady’s already?” He licked his lips and grimaced as he swallowed. He hadn’t spoken much since the ship and Cady wasn’t surprised. He was exhausted and the evidence of a slight rash creeping up the back of his neck worried her more than his cancer did.
Margie turned down an empty street, heading straight for the large Safeway sign she could see clearly from down the road. The gas station part was closer to the freeway than the store. Margie had enough food in the car to get them to Cady’s. She didn’t have any interest in the store portion. She wasn’t interested in hanging around there either. She wanted gas and she wanted out.
She glanced to the left as she slowed, approaching the Safeway station. A Burger King seemed to watch over the rest of the road as a hardware store held back a bit. An ominous feel to the air shifted as she turned into the gas station.
Two abandoned-looking cars had been left on the side of the road beside the entrances to the station lot. The reflective glass hinted at lights on inside, but made it difficult to see if anyone manned the store or if it was just left on by accident.
Evening would rear its freezing head soon and Margie wasn’t sure the heater in the Bug could handle more stress on it.
She coasted into a space nearest the building and parked beside pump two. Turning off the engine, Margie didn’t have any further to go. She couldn’t drive any further without gas and she had to drive. David wasn’t going to walk with her.
Winter seemed harsher off the Seattle harbor with its sharp winds and extreme moisture in the air. This side of the mountains left the air feeling warmer, a little more like spring, but that would fade when the sun completely set.
“Margie, I… There’s not a lot of time.” David kept his eyes closed as he spoke, as if he couldn’t look at her and speak at the same time. He flopped his hand around until she took his fingers in hers. “Leave me. You need to go. I… I’m just holding you back. Please. Just go.” David finally opened his eyes, releasing his pent-up tears to roll down his pale, masculine features.
She shook her head as she squeezed his hand in hers. “No. We’re in this together. Don’t you go quitting on me, Mr. Moss. We have so much ahead of us. Cady would never forgive me, if I didn’t make sure you got home with me and you know it.” She dropped her teasing tone and pressed her lips together. “I need you. I can’t do this without you.” Every promise they’d ever made each other tightened in her chest.
Leaving David wasn’t an option. She would make everything else work around him. She leaned over, kissing him carefully on the cheek. “I know you think you’re a burden, but you’re not. I…” She shook her head. She had plenty of time to apologize for dragging him out on that horrible trip when he just wanted to be in the peaceful solitude of their home. “I’m going to fix everything, okay?” She refused to cry. There was nothing to cry about. They would get to Cady’s and David would at least get a few days of rest in familiar surroundings.
Reaching into the orange bag, Margie pulled out her wallet. She’d thrown in so many things in her escape from the ship, her wallet was something that had been afterthought. Who would think money or identification would even be needed? But she hadn’t been sure and had been barely thinking as she’d thrown together the items they needed to take with them. Habit had forced a lot of things from her purse and into the bag. She was glad as she took a deep breath and opened the door.
Stepping outside the Bug, Margie took a moment to scan the lot, and then glanced at the screen of the pump.
The black digital screen flashed $6.42 a gallon. Margie blinked in disbelief. “What?” Her confusion sparked a fury inside her. Why would it cost that much for a gallon of gas? People needed to get home or get places during this emergency. They didn’t need to be gouged from the navel upwards.
But she bit her lip and pulled out her credit card. She’d pay it. Or, at the very least, her credit card would pay it – exactly like every other person who had paid that price.
Pushing her card into the slot, Margie breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth. She was angry and tired and just plain done with the whole situation.
She pushed some buttons but then a beep that split loudly through the silence startled her. The screen flashed a message.
“Transaction failed. Please see cashier inside.”
Margie inhaled, feeling like she was struggling to breathe through a thick layer of gel. Really, she was only angry, but too many things piled on her shoulders.
She couldn’t go inside. She didn’t want to leave David. She did, however, need to use the restroom and she could do with some freshening up.
If the gas station was running like normal though – minus references to price gouging – then maybe she had a modicum of safety there. She could go inside, use the bathroom, get some water, pay, and then come back out to finish gassing up.
On the flip side, it wouldn’t hurt anything to keep going. She could try running her card again. Maybe it was just an error. Re-swiping the card again, she punched in her zip code and got far enough to choose which grade of gas she wanted. At the last second, the screen beeped and the message flashed on the screen to go inside and see a cashier.
Okay, so there was a human in there tampering with her purchase. Margie pressed her lips together. What was she supposed to do? Really go inside? She needed the gas. The temperature was dropping and she needed to get them back on the road so David wouldn’t freeze to death. The heater didn’t have to work perfectly to put off some heat. She’d be siphoning some from the engine anyway.
She had to get going and couldn’t without gas. There was no getting back on the road without gas. There was no getting gas without going inside.
Maybe it would be cleared up with just a few strokes of the key and she could get out there. Plus, she really did need to use the bathroom. David hadn’t gone in a while either.
Margie ducked her head in, pulling the bag from the back. Bracing her hand on the seat, she reached with her other one up to softly shake David. He’d fallen back to sleep or into a daze. She wasn’t sure. When she got back, she’d give him some more Ativan. “David? Do you need to go to the bathroom? Or stretch your legs? I need to go inside and straighten something out with the cashier so I can get some gas. David?”
David’s eyelids fluttered, but that was the extent of his response.
“Okay, I’ll be right back. I’ll just be a few minutes.” Cady straightened from the car and swung the heavy bag over her shoulder. The bright orange and yellow could have been a beacon for anyone looking for a moving target. She shook her head as she approached the glass door to the building. Thoughts like that would make her incapable of moving, let alone getting things done that needed doing.
The windows had to be one-way or something similar as they prevented her from seeing inside as she approached. Hopefully, she wasn’t walking into a trap or anything.
A small chill ran down her spine. But that didn’t make sense. If someone was going to abduct her, they’d need a purpose for doing so. She wasn’t worth anything, as far as they could tell. Plus, if you abducted the customers, then where would your money come from?
None of that mattered anyway. She needed gas. Going inside was the only way to get it.
She’d left the gun in the glove box though. Why hadn’t she thought through what she was doing?
Too late to change course as she reached for the handle and pulled open the door.
Inside the convenience store, Cady welcomed the warmth from the electric heat as well as the sounds of the pop machine and coolers running. She hadn’t realized how truly quiet it was outside with no cars on the freeway or running around town.
Breathing in the scent of gas station hot dogs and nachos, Margie could almost taste the salty extravagances. Her mouth watered and she stood still for a moment, closing her eyes and breathing it in. Just the ambiance of the interior was enough to boost her morale. She should get David inside so he could experience it. Just being in there made her feel like everything was going to be okay.
She hefted the bag higher on her shoulder and her worry seemed to fade. She’d pay almost seven dollars a gallon just for that experience alone.
Metal grating on metal broke into her thought process. The lock had been activated on the door behind her. Margie’s eyes snapped open.
What exactly had she walked into?