Chapter 25: Theo
I glanced up at the bridge and wondered if I should warn the others. The wrecker worked on vehicle number three and I decided against it. This didn’t pose an immediate threat. There would be plenty of time to discuss this later with Dad.
“It’s slowing down,” Theo said.
Theo, vigilant when he perceived a threat, gazed toward the water. Lost in thought, I watched the wrecker make its way toward the levee. We sat in silence, with only the howl of the wind to listen to.
Threats, unknown threats, danger from places we couldn’t begin to anticipate surrounded us. My mind wandered to the apparition in the river. Mom believed in evil spirits, but that‘s just rubbish. Superstitions from the old country. Still, Theo swore he heard wails, and Theo wasn’t one given to superstition. For that matter hadn’t I? No, that was foolish. Still, I had heard something after we left the Spell’s house, had heard and seen something in the river. Or had I?
I considered talking to Theo about all this but decided against it. Everyone thought me crazy already. I saw no reason to throw more fuel on that particular fire.
“Hey,” Theo said, during a lull in the wind.
He paused. “How come your mom doesn’t like me?”
I didn’t answer, didn’t really comprehend the question at first.
He continued when I failed to respond. “I mean, I’ve always been cool to her, never gave her any trouble. You know?”
I caught up and realized he wanted to have a serious conversation. “Mother likes you fine. I just don’t think she trusts you is all. She’s afraid you might be a bad influence on her precious Chris, and--” My wind reddened face blushed ever hotter. “Maybe she’s afraid you might try something.”
Before Theo could reply, and desperate not to explain my last statement, I said, “It’s Dad I’m worried about.”
“He doesn’t like me either?”
“What? No. He likes you fine.” I sighed in exasperation. “He, they both like you fine. You’re like a son to them.”
“I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it. He seems….”
“Changed?” Theo said.
“Yeah, maybe. No definitely. Tired you know. Kind of out of it.”
“Yeah, well, who wouldn’t be? He’s trying to save his family and that’s got to take a toll.”
Not sure of what I meant, I continued. “It’s, well, his plan and all. It hasn’t worked out real well.”
“Nah, its fine.”
“But the snow and it’s taking so long. Dad always said if we were lucky we could make the farm in less than a day.”
“Did you honestly believe he thought we would make the farm in a day, everything would somehow break our way?”
“Well--” I realized yes; I had assumed this would go off without a hitch.
“Listen. I’m going to tell you something, and you can’t tell the others. Only Chris knows.”
“The plan,” Theo whispered, just heard above the wind, “is a joke. Your dad came up with most of it while we watched a movie.”
I looked at Theo, not sure if he was having a gag at my expense.
“A couple of years ago, Chris and me were watching a movie. One of those end of the world types. Anyway, your dad came downstairs and watched it with us. The movie pissed him off, said everyone deserved to die.
“So he goes upstairs and returns with a map. He went on about needing an evacuation plan. It was crazy; he ruined the movie. Kind of funny though. He kept at it through the entire movie, about how he would do things.
“Man, he talked about it for weeks. Every time I came over, he would make Chris and me watch some disaster movie he’d saved. He was all like, lay low, let the idiots clear out first; you’ve got to have a plan if you’re going to survive. It got old after a while.”
Theo fell silent; his gaze fixed on our moaner. “The thing is, so far he’s been right. If you guys followed the Government’s instructions, you would be like this thing,” Theo pointed to our experiment in the snow.
Damn, I didn’t know any of this. I figured Dad, because he was Dad, knew what to do. I had gone along blindly, trusting his wisdom.
“Anyway, we have enough gas to go to California if we want, and more than enough food for months. That takes planning. Your dad’s worked toward this day for months, years. He’s understandably a little stressed if you think about it.”
I definitely thought about it now. Here Dad was, taking his family away from a position of relative safety in search of a more secure future. All based on an idea cooked up over a movie. Hell, I’d be stressed, too.
I decided I would talk to Theo, of all people, about what troubled me. Yeah, I must have lost my mind. I took a deep breath.
“I wish my mom had a better plan,” Theo said.
I looked at Theo. He looked away. Silence affronted me. My breath caught, terrified he would tell me what I had been curious to know all these months.
“My mom worked for the police, a dispatcher. She got home from work one night and told us to pack. Said we were moving to the civic center the next morning.
“Peg snuck out of the house to get high or something. Anyway, she came home later and her and Mom got into it real bad. I didn’t want to hear it, so I locked myself in my room and went to bed. Next morning I found Peg and Mom in the kitchen. Having lunch. With Zoe.” Theo broke down and sobbed.
My voice failed me. Unsure what to do, or why lunch upset him so, I put my head on his shoulder and stroked his back.
“Zoe saw me and tried to cry out for help. She started to twitch and shake real bad and then… just stopped. I could tell from her eyes it was over for her. Thing is, when I woke up that morning I thought I was having a dream and Zoe had called my name.”
Theo broke down completely. I took him in my arms and held him while he wept. I cried with him and he buried his face in my neck. After what felt like several minutes, he pulled away from me.
“When they saw me, they lunged toward me. In my mind, I knew they were gone. Dead. You know? But in my heart, well, they were still my family, even my bitch of a sister.
“I came to my senses, or maybe reflexes took over. When Peg and Mom tried to get to me, Peg bumped my mom down the basement steps. I ran out the door to my car. Peg ran right through the glass door like it was nothing and kept coming at me.
“By the time I got my car started, Peg kneeled on the hood trying to break through the windshield. I backed up; right into a tree and knocked her off. Shit, I had no idea what to do. Peg tried to get back onto the hood. Man, I freaked out. I rammed my car into her and another tree.
“I drove off trying to get away but she was trapped on my hood. I kept looking at her trying to get at me the whole time I drove.
“You know how your Dad always said I was welcome anytime?”
“Yeah,” I croaked.
“Well, that’s all I could think of. It was messed up. Between my sister and cars in my way, I had a hard time not hitting all the other people driving like maniacs. Hell, no one in their right mind stopped for lights, me included. Moaners roamed around, enough to throw people into panic. I hit a lot of them.”
“Well, they were dead already.”
Theo snorted, “Not all. There were people out there, frightened, trying to get the hell out. Some tried to get into my car, trying to escape. You know? Shit, I saw people with TV’s and crap. It all settled down after I made it past the college.
“By the time I made it onto Colleen Street, I was the freak show on the road. Anyway, when I came down your road and saw your driveway fenced off, I turned real hard and drove through the fence. Tell you how messed up I was, I actually worried I was going to hit one of your Dad’s trees and piss him off. Chris and Chet must have heard the noise because they came running across the driveway. Chris took the shovel in his hand and beat Peg’s head to a pulp with it.”
I knew Theo never thought much of his older sister, but his devotion to Zoe was beyond question. Often he brought her over to the house so she could play with the twins. Laura and Zoe played on the same soccer team, too.
I looked up at the bridge to hide my tears. “Look,” I said, my voice choked, “they’re on the second to last car.”
Theo didn’t reply, but he did turn his gaze from the swimmer to the bridge. No wonder Theo took after the moaners like it was personal. It was.
Theo kept glancing at his watch for the next several minutes. At last, he said, “Let’s go see what it can do.”
Again Theo showed his disturbing ability to switch off. I wondered if we all would end up like Theo and Klara? Not quite damaged, but certainly bent. I sighed. The general consensus held that I was already bent.
“Two forty-five. It hasn’t moved in twenty minutes.” Theo brought his bat down and crashed it through the skull. “Ug, it’s still gooey on the inside.”
I kicked at an arm and noted with satisfaction that it wouldn’t move. More than frozen enough.
Theo looked at me about to say something. His grin faded. “We need to get you out of the wind.”