Luke charged at the man.
He could see nothing else but those blue eyes, circled with deep wrinkles. He could feel nothing but insatiable rage.
Smack. They collided and tumbled to the floor. Luke’s hands fumbled, then locked around the man’s neck. “You’re not going to hurt us,” he yelled. “You’re not going to make us take that stupid gray pill!”
The man made a choked gasp.
“Luke, stop!” Anna screamed.
Luke’s fingers tightened.
Anna’s hands fell on his shoulders. She pulled him away.
Luke’s heart slowed. The tunnel vision faded. The man hobbled up.
Just an innocent, homeless old man.
“You’re one of them!” he shouted hoarsely, pointing at Luke. “I came in here ’cause I saw the shattered door, thought I could get some food, but it’s one of you. Now you’re gonna make me take that gray pill, aren’t you?!”
“No, no, we’re not…” Luke’s voice died in his throat.
“Let’s just get out of here,” Anna said, tugging at his arm. “We’re so, so sorry,” she called to the man. “I saw some kettle corn in aisle 4! The good organic stuff!”
“Fuck you,” he called back at her, fading into the darkness of the aisles.
“What is wrong with you?” Anna hissed, as they stepped through the jagged opening in the door. “All he did was look at us, and you fucking charged at him like he was going to kill us.”
“I’m just on edge.”
“On edge? That’s your excuse? My God.” She rolled her eyes and stepped into the parking lot, but then she froze.
What the fuck?
Anna stared into the darkness. Across the street, under the flickering street lamp, was an odd-shaped shadow. It took up a good stretch of sidewalk, like some sort of hellish caterpillar. She took a tentative step forward to get a better look, and instantly regretted it.
It was them. A dozen people, standing still as statues, across the street. They were staring right at Anna and Luke.
She dragged him towards the car. The shadows took a synchronized step into the street, making a horrendous clop that echoed off the buildings.
“We’re not going to make it!” Anna screamed.
Anna and Luke pulled the car doors open.
The engine roared to life under Anna’s feet. She peeled out of the parking lot and onto the road. The figures faded back into the rearview mirror, until they were nothing but glints of light and shadow under the distant streetlamp.
“I’m so sorry I was late. I meant to get here sooner,” Anna said, her words cutting through the silence.
Luke didn’t reply. Anna glanced over at him. And as they passed under a streetlamp, his face was illuminated in a flash of yellow light.
He looked gaunt, pale, strange.
“Luke, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
He was listening to them, not to her. The voices were a tumultuous roar, sloshing inside his head like the sea.
“I’m sorry, Luke.”
He glanced over at her. A million things popped out at him that he never noticed before. The tiny scar above her eyelid, from when she nearly gouged her eye out with a car door. The mottled bruises on her shins, from bumping into every single piece of furniture on her midnight trips to the bathroom.
There was something else, too: a tiny scratch across her shoulder. Luke stared at it for a few seconds before he spoke.
“A few days ago… a few days after Amelia… you went out to the pier.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The steering wheel slipped under her fingers. Luke turned to her, but she kept her eyes glued on the road.
“You drove down to the pier. That scratch on your shoulder is from the rusty nail that pokes out of the first post.”
Anna was silent. He watched as her lips twitched down, as her eyes shone with moisture in the glare of the headlights.
“You walked to the end, and you parked Jackson’s stroller in front of some seagulls. He loves watching them.”
Quiet sobs broke from her, but he kept pressing.
“And you thought about jumping in.”
Tears flooded her cheeks.
“Because I fucking killed our daughter, Luke. That’s why.” Her voice crumbled to sobs. “I could’ve just yanked her off you. We could’ve kept her in a locked room, fed her meals through the crack in the door. She could be alive now.” She sniffed loudly. “I didn’t even think. I was so terrified by what she did to Jackson. So terrified what she was doing to you. I let the fear control me… and I pulled the trigger before I even thought about it.”
“She was infected. I think she was already gone.” Luke touched her hand. “I have these dreams where she’s still alive. The horror of waking up, and remembering she’s gone, is the worst thing I’ve ever felt. But there was nothing we could do, Anna.”
“That’s not the only thing.” Tears ran down her cheeks, glittering in the headlights. “You were right about Jackson. Totally, one-hundred fucking percent right. Okay?”
Luke reached for her shoulder, but she jerked away.
“I knew I was pregnant. Or at least, I was pretty sure. But I took the medication anyway. I was just so tired, and all these fucking thoughts and anxieties kept cramming into my head. That we’d get in a terrible car accident because of the construction on 295. That a bomb would drop and kill us all. I couldn’t stand it, and I just wanted to sleep…”
Luke grabbed her shoulder.
“Anna, you’re not responsible for Jackson’s illness.” He swallowed, taking a deep breath. “I am.”
“That woman in there… she said my boss had been spiking the water cooler with Earl Grey for years. I’ve been infected, in some sort of dormant state, this whole time. That’s what messed Jackson up.”
“You mean it had nothing to do with me?”
Anna forced a laugh through the tears. “You really mean –”
She hit the brakes.
The car screeched to a halt.
Lying across the road was a white pickup truck. Dents puckered the metal; the cratered headlights flickered and fizzed out.
A white pickup truck that looked all too familiar.
“Oh my God…” Anna said, her heart pounding in her chest. “Is that...”
A shadow was slumped over in the driver’s seat. In the back seat, through the shattered window, the red-and-black cloth of a car seat poked out.
Anna opened the car door before Luke could stop her.
“Anna, wait! What are you doing?!”
“That’s Dad’s truck! Don’t you recognize it?! He must’ve noticed I was gone, and they followed me out, and, and...”
“Wait, Anna! Don’t!” He grabbed her arm. The drug was fading fast. Something was wrong – Luke could tell that much – but without the full effect of Ear Grey, he couldn’t quite pin it down.
Doesn’t Avery’s license plate have an X in it somewhere? Or is that Priscilla’s? He stared at the pickup blankly, his heart pounding in his chest. And what did he crash into? There’s no second car, no tree, no streetlamp. There’s just a dented car in the middle of the road…
“Let go of me,” Anna said. She slipped out of his grasp as he kept staring at the street. The pavement shimmered in the headlights, wet from the drizzling rain – but it was bare.
There were no glittering shards of glass, no bits of metal or tire. No skid marks, no smell of burnt rubber in the air.
The car didn’t crash.
It was placed there.
He was too late. Anna was already out of the car, running towards the silent pickup.
Her hands fell on the cold door handle, slick with the light rain. She yanked, but it didn’t open. “Dad!” she yelled at the immobile figure. “Dad, are you okay?!”
He must’ve realized I left and came out to follow me, she thought, her mind racing. Came down here to talk me out of it… and ended up in an accident instead.
Tears burned her eyes. She reached through the window, grabbing his arm.
Over the soft, rushing wind and the quiet chirp of crickets, the radio crackled to life. The sun always shines on 90.9! The jingle came through the radio, muddied with static.
The figure lifted its head.
Gaunt face. Red eyes.
It wasn’t Avery.
She jumped back. But she was too late.
A hand latched onto her wrist. He pulled her towards the window.
Luke ran up to her, grabbed her by the waist. He yanked her back. After a few moments, the hand released.
The truck door began to open.
Slam. The man in the pickup stepped out. Clack, clack. His boots pounded against the wet pavement.
Anna and Luke made it back to the car.
Vrrrrrm. The car lurched forward.
The man stood in the headlights for a moment. He stared them down, the white glow illuminating his tall, thin figure. When they came within a foot of him, he darted back into the truck.
A moment later he pulled onto the road after them.
“Go!” Anna screamed, covering her face with her hands. They careened through the darkness. The blocks were growing wider; the trees were getting thicker. The suburbs of Palm Sands were finally fading into the distance.
“Did we lose him?” she asked.
Luke glanced in the rearview mirror. The headlights of the pickup were still floating in the darkness, gaining on them every second. “No.”
“What are we going to...” Her eyes fell on her trusty rifle, laying across the backseat. She broke into a smile, and Luke caught her gaze.
“Oh, no, Anna. I don’t think that’s really a good...”
She grabbed it. Then she clawed at the moonroof, pulled it open. She squeezed herself through it.
There was silence for a moment.
Then came a series of sound.
“Get the fuck out of here!”
“You’re a fuckin’ loser!”
“Don’t ever come after us again!”
The last one was a direct hit. The pickup swerved madly, then veered off the road. Crrrrrack. The terrible crunching sound reverberated through the damp air. Anna scooted back into her seat, a triumphant smile on her face.
“Uh, congrats?” Luke said.
Anna reached out and squeezed his hand.