Pack, my butt, I’d thought. This is the sorriest pack I’ve ever seen – a social misfit, a seventy pound fruitcake, and a smelly pink mouse-dog.
A few hours later, Peter and I were startled awake by the ferocious pink mouse-dog barking at the front window. I kicked out of my sleeping bag and grabbed for the gun next to me. I couldn’t see anything in the dark.
“What is it?” whispered Peter, panic in his sleepy voice.
“Someone’s trying to get in. Stay here!” I found the gun and jumped up, taking off for the front of the house, towards my living room.
As soon as I got there, I saw that someone had broken the window, and was reaching up to unlock it from outside. There was just enough light from the moon and stars to see that the raider’s hand had a gardening-type glove on it to protect it from the shards of glass.
I flipped the safety off my gun and yelled, “Get the hell out of my house or I’m going to blow your friggin head off.”
The hand froze. Then I heard whispering. “Shit, man, you said no one was here!” The hand pulled out of the window and some sounds of scrambling around followed.
I could see some forms moving but no faces. Another voice came out of the dark, this one mean and growling.
“All we want is your food. Give it to us and we’ll go away.”
“No. I don’t have any to give. But I do have a gun and I don’t mind sharing some of my bullets. I’ll put ‘em right in your brain, that way they’ll be easy for you to carry.”
“You think you’re funny, bitch? I’ve got a gun too.”
I ducked away from where I’d been standing, taking a spot just behind the edge of the wall. Depending on what kind of gun he had, that bit of wood and drywall might not make any difference, but it made me feel safer.
“Just get the hell out of here,” I said loudly, trying to sound tough. The rest of my warning was drowned out by the sounds of Buster barking in another part of the house.
“Bryn! They’re at the back door too!” yelled Peter.
I heard glass breaking.
“Shoot their asses!” I yelled.
The figures in my front window took off, yelling and calling out to each other.
A loud BOOM! shook the walls of my house and set my eardrums to ringing. The muffled sounds of shattering glass and screams rent the air. They sounded like they were far off, even though I knew they weren’t. I shook my head, trying to get the rest of my hearing back.
I quickly gave up trying and left the front of the house to go back to the family room, where I had left Peter. I could see him now, in the light of the moon that was shining in through the big hole in my back door – the one that used to be covered in panes of glass but was now just a half door on the bottom with a simple frame on top. He was lying on the ground over our sleeping bags, unconscious.
Buster came trotting over, sitting down next to Peter’s face to lick him. I was worried about him, but patting him down all over his chest and neck to see if he’d been shot revealed no blood anywhere but on his forehead; and I was pretty sure it was from his gun hitting him rather than a bullet, since there wasn’t any hole. The dummy had knocked himself out with his own weapon.
I got up and walked over to the door, looking tentatively out of the giant hole. There was a kid lying on the ground out in the weeds of my yard. He wasn’t moving but a gurgling sound was coming up from his chest. I was kind of bummed to find that my hearing had returned to normal at that point. His death gasps sounded wet and disgusting, continuing for a few seconds before finally stopping with one last, faint wheeze.
“Holy shit,” I whispered, “you killed him, Peter.”
Peter didn’t hear me. He was too busy being unconscious, and I was glad for him. I’m not sure he would have been able to handle this part.
I stepped outside the back door, shoving it hard against the kid’s legs to get it open. I crept up to him as quietly as I could, grabbing him by the arms and dragging him over to the side of the house. We weren’t going to have time to bury him or do anything else with him for that matter, but I didn’t want him blocking access into and out of my house. The idea of eating him flitted through my mind and made me almost vomit on his bloody chest. No matter how hungry I got, I knew that was never going to be an option for me. There were just too many other things I knew I could find. Hell, I could go live in an orange grove and eat oranges for the rest of my life. Anything but another human being.
I went back inside and locked the door. It seemed silly, now that there was a hole in it so big someone could climb right through, but I felt safer anyway. We had Buster, the wonder dog, watching over his lame-ass pack.
I sat down next to Peter, determined to stay awake until the sunrise, watching over him and the hole in my door. I felt his pulse and it was beating nice and strong with a steady rhythm, making me feel a lot better about his prospects.
Buster came over and climbed into my lap, giving me a few licks on the hand before resting his chin on my forearm. I absently petted his fuzzy back as he snored softly, trying to figure out how we were going to get the heck out of there with Peter’s injury and our piles of crap, before those raiders came back to finish the job they’d started or get revenge for their fallen comrade.
Lines from George’s journal haunted me as I waited for the sun to come up.
I looked up at Peter to ask him a question and tried not to laugh at his face. He had a huge bruise on his forehead with a knot the size of a ping pong ball in center of it.
“Stop laughing at me. It’s rude.” He was busy pushing things into his backpack.
“No, stop, you’re doing it wrong,” I said, trying not to sound frustrated. He was useless at this part of our planning. My dad’s training was earning huge points from me today. “You have to conserve space. Condense it down into the smallest footprint possible.” I got a little choked up at the end, hearing my dad’s voice echo in my own words. I used to get so mad at him saying that over and over. Why did I hate it so much? I couldn’t remember now.
“I’m trying. I just have a monster headache,” said Peter, slumping to the ground.
I pushed him gently, easily knocking him over. “Lay down. Take a nap. I’ll finish this.”
We’d decided that we had to leave later today. This way, Peter would have one day of recuperation and then we could strike out for the Everglades after. Last night’s fiasco had pretty much made the decision for us.
“The cop a couple doors down didn’t have a holster, but he did have a nice mountain bike. You need to go get it,” said Peter, tiredly.
“I will. Soon. Just let me finish this.”
“No,” said Peter more forcefully. “Go now. The raiders are going to be coming out soon. They were out late last night, but they’re not going to sleep forever.”
He was right. “Fine.” I looked at the dog. “Buster, watch Peter.”
Buster responded by doing his doggy dance and wiggling so hard I was afraid he was going to pee.
“God, just relax, would you? I’m just talking to you, ding-dong.”
Buster made some high pitched whining sounds and then let out a sharp, quick bark.
Peter smiled. “He’s telling you to go, that he’ll take care of me.”
“You talk poodle now. Awesome,” I said as I stood. “I think that .357 to the forehead might have caused just a teensy bit of brain damage.”
“Just go get the dumb bike. And don’t get killed on your way.”
“Here,” I said, laying his gun on his chest. “Try not to knock yourself out again. I don’t think your puny skull could take another hit like that.”
“I’ll hold it lower next time.”
“No, stiffen your arms next time, spaz. We don’t need you adding a cracked rib to your list of injuries.”
I got up to leave the room and Buster went to follow me.
“No, dummy, stay with him. He needs you more than I do.”
Buster looked at Peter and then at me for a second.
I gestured at Peter again. “Stay!”
Buster went back to Peter and laid down next to him.
I nodded in appreciation of the training Buster had apparently not forgotten, and left the room, tucking my own gun in the back of my pants as I walked to the front door.
I waited a few seconds to take two deep breaths and let them out, slowly calming myself before going outside. Everything seemed like it had higher stakes now. People were breaking into my house with guns and threatening to kill me. Peter had put a huge hole in one of them. And one unfortunate soul was currently getting ready to rot on the side of my house because he couldn’t take no for an answer or read my note on the front door that said to stay the hell away. This bike was the last thing I was going out to get before I left here for good.
I opened the door and nearly gagged at what I saw there. I took two steps back, forgetting that I shouldn’t just be standing there with the door wide open. But I was too stunned to reason properly and do the smart thing.
Sitting on my front porch was a gray skinned, brown-haired thing, its eyes open and staring at my knees.
Someone had chopped off the head of the kid Peter had killed and left it for me to find at the front door – a grisly warning that took me less than a second to fully appreciate. It was a promise of retribution staring out at me from the dead eyes of the boy who’d died too young, all because he was hungry and desperate enough to try and steal from me.
I took deep gulping breaths and fought my instincts to slam the door, instead carefully closing it and slowly moving the deadbolt back into place. I ran back to the living room and dropped down on my knees next to Peter, jiggling his shoulder roughly. Buster just watched me curiously.
“Peter! Get up! We have to leave now!”
“What’d you say?” he said, confusion all over his face, his speech sounding slurred. “What time is it? How long have I been sleeping?”
“They friggin cut someone’s head off and put it on the doorstep!” I nearly screeched, trying to keep my emotions under control, but losing it anyway. “It’s the kid you shot! They cut his head off!”
Peter sat up, now suddenly very wide awake, pressing his hands to his mouth, his eyes looking around the room. When they finally stopped on mine he whispered through his fingers, “That’s what they did with my sister. They’re eating the rest of him, I guarantee it.”
“Wwwhat?!” I whispered, so freaked out I could barely get the word out.
He dropped his hands and used them for leverage to stand. “The canners are here, Bryn. They’re here in your neighborhood.” His face was white, with probably no more color to it that mine had right now.
“Come on,” I said, jumping up, trying to get a handle on myself, even though my ears were ringing from my sky-rocketing blood pressure and my hands and legs were shaking with the adrenaline pumping through my veins to reach my heart and every other part of my body. “Go get your damn bike. Climb over the fence and bring it around back. I’ll help you get it over.”
Peter stood. “Wouldn’t it be easier for me to ride it over on the street?”
I looked at him like he was nuts. “Wouldn’t it be easier for them to see you and eat you, you mean?!”
“You have a point there.”
“You’re damn right I do. Now go. Get. Your. Bike. I’m going to the cop’s place to get his. Bring your gun. Shoot anything that moves. Put bullets in your pockets. And Peter,” I grabbed his arm and squeezed it hard, “for the love of God. Don’t knock yourself out again.” I pulled him into a quick hug, not even thinking about it before I did it.
“I’ll try not to,” he said, patting me on the back and then pulling away to walk out the back door. I watched as he stepping over the pool of gooey dried and stinking blood on the slate step just beyond it. He didn’t even look down; he just kept on walking to the fence.READ MORE >>