Jackson’s cries came through the wall. Anna hoisted her body out of the bed, suddenly feeling like she was made of lead. Her head ached and throbbed, and she had to squint to see.
Sleep deprivation is the worst.
But for the first time… I feel like we have a shot at curing Jackson.
Anna entered the nursery. Jackson was already standing up in the crib, his little face all red from crying. She picked him up and held him for a long time, despite the woozy feeling from lack of sleep.
“We know why you’re sick,” she whispered in his ear, a smile creeping up her face. “And we’re going to make you all better.”
She finally set him down. With a squeal, he ran over to his toy police car. A few minutes later Luke came in, barely holding back a yawn. “So how am I going to explain my presence to your parents?”
“We’ll say they let you go,” Anna replied, smirking back at him. “I wasn’t involved at all. Oh, no, last night I slept like a baby. Didn’t even hear him come in.”
He snorted. “You look really tired though.”
Laughing, the three of them entered the kitchen together.
“Hey, Mom, Dad,” Anna said with a glowing smile. “They let Luke go last night!”
“Oh, that’s great!” Priscilla ran over and wrapped him in a hug. Avery gave him a smile and a thumbs-up.
After a few minutes of hugs and greetings, they returned to the couch. The news had just come on.
It showed a familiar scene.
“Hey, let’s put on cartoons for Jackson!” Anna said, with too much enthusiasm. “I think Curious George is on now, and he really loves that...”
Avery turned around, shushing her. “We’re watching the news! Can’t you see that?” Click, click. He turned the volume up, watching as the newscaster stepped into frame.
“Last night, the CVS on 4th Avenue was broken into,” the reported said, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “One person was found wounded inside – a woman by the name of Myra James. The perpetrator is still at large, but coming up, we have an exclusive interview with a witness.”
The scene cut to footage of an unkempt-looking man with blue eyes.
“Tell us what you saw last night, Mr. Kazinski.”
“I was walkin’ down the sidewalk on my way to see my friend Bill when I saw the door was broken into. So I said to myself, ‘hey, I’ll just sneak in and take a few snacks.’ Well, outta nowhere this crazed-lookin’ blond guy, about yea tall an’ kinda funny-lookin’, grabs me and starts stranglin’ me!”
Avery turned around, his eyes narrowing at Luke.
“His wife, some nut holding a huge gun, pulls him off.”
This time Priscilla turned around, her face scrunched into a scowl.
“Then I saw that poor woman in back. Shot straight in the leg. No doubt by tha’ gun-totin’ woman.”
Priscilla’s mouth hung open. Anna immediately turned back to the bowl of cornflakes she was making. Her hand shook as she held the carton, sending milk splashing up the sides of the bowl.
Her mom stood behind her, so close that she could feel her breath.
“That was you who broke into the CVS, wasn’t it?!”
“No, of course not.”
“You were just talking about breaking into the CVS yesterday!”
“It could have been anyone!”
“How many rifle-toting women do you think live in Palm Sands, exactly?” Priscilla yelled.
“And I bet none of ‘em are married to funny-lookin’ blond men,” Avery shouted from the sofa. “They have better sense than that!”
“Okay, fine. It was me. Now, my cereal’s getting soggy, so...”
“You shot someone, Anna!”
“She was one of the infected, Mom. She was keeping Luke prisoner. She planned to kill him...”
“She actually wasn’t going to kill me,” Luke shouted from floor.
“Uh, it’s not as bad as it sounds, Priscilla,” Luke added weakly.
“Oh, so Anna didn’t shoot someone?!” Priscilla asked, incredulously.
“No, uh, she did. But it was self-defense. When Anna broke in, Myra lunged at her with a knife.”
“That’s my girl!” Avery said, a hearty laugh floating in from the living room. Jackson giggled.
“This is all terrible! You broke into a CVS and shot someone – when all they were going to do was give Luke the antidote and set him free?”
They all stared at each other. Avery, amused at the whole thing. Anna, defensively staring daggers at her mother. Luke, awkwardly trying to keep the peace. Priscilla, seconds away from flying into a flaming rage.
Before anything else could happen, the scene halted. A small, but perfectly clear, sound came from across the room.
Four heads whipped around to look at Jackson. He was sitting on the floor, toy car in his hands, while he stared directly at Luke.
He burst into a smile.
A wave of emotion swelled in the room. Anna started laughing and crying all at once. Priscilla started sobbing uncontrollably. Avery ran over to the little boy, his footsteps shaking the whole house. They were overjoyed, but Luke just stood there numbly.
He knew exactly what it meant.
Jackson was now Infected.