The house stood behind the haphazard fence and barbed wire. Pink dawn bled over the horizon while Anna pulled the kettle off the stove. With a metallic clink, she sat it down on a trivet, then rifled through the cabinet. In the past two weeks she went through all the green tea, then all the black.
Now there was only one box left.
Earl Grey. How ironic.
She plunged the tea bag into the steaming water. It tinted the water brown, like the rising sun was tinting the dark sky with hues of dawn. Then she poured two cups – one for herself and one for Luke.
“What are you thinking about?” Luke asked.
“Nothing, really,” she replied, shaking her head.
“Come on, Anna. I know you’re thinking something.”
I am thinking something.
I’m thinking of the pier.
Anna took a shuddering breath and cleared her throat.
“So it’s not really Jackson saying ‘dada’ and ‘mama’?” She looked up, her lips trembling. “Is he… is he going to be like Amelia?”
“I don’t know, Anna.” He sighed, his breath blowing the steam off his cup in swirling eddies. “Myra told me –”
“The woman you shot.”
“She said when he was activated that he’d be cured. He’d talk, and he wouldn’t have seizures anymore.”
And he wouldn’t die? Anna thought. But if it isn’t really him, then how is that better? Tears burned her eyes, and she shook her head again. No, I’m not going to cry anymore. Luke reached out and squeezed her hand.
“I don’t know much more than you, Anna. I’m trying to make sense of it all, but I don’t know.”
A rustling sound came from the nursery. She rose from the table and walked in. He was standing in the crib, but instead of crying, he let out a soft “mama.”
It’s not real. It’s not him talking. It’s the drug, the disease.
She shut out the voice. No, I won’t listen.
“Hi, Jack,” she said with a smile.
He’s not going to end up like Amelia.
I won’t let him.
“Want to join Mama in the kitchen?”
Jackson followed her into the kitchen. She opened the kettle, fished out the teabag, and dropped it in the sink with an unceremonious plop.
The sound reverberated through the morning air.
Anna stood up, running to the window.
“I think we have a problem!”
The sun’s first rays danced across the lawn, gold and serene. The chain-link fence stood tall, the barbed wire glistening in the light.
But the scene was broken by something terrifying.
Behind the fence stood a tall figure, who was cutting madly into the metal fencing with huge shears.
Anna disappeared from the window and grabbed one of the guns from the closet. Then she slid the kitchen door open and stepped out onto the porch.
“Stop, or I’ll shoot!” she yelled.
The figure immediately dropped the shears and held up its hands in surrender.
“Get off my lawn!”
“Wait!” The voice isn’t a man’s, but a woman’s. “I’m not one of them!”
“Like hell you’re not! You’re cutting through my fence!”
“I’m trying to help you,” she said. “Please, let me in.”
“I’m not falling for that.”
The woman hesitated, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Then she said, quietly, “I know about your son.”
“So you are one of them.” Anna cocked the gun, leveling it at the intruder.
“No, I’m not.”
“How else would you know about my son?”
“Because I was there, at the CVS. I was standing three people behind you.”
Anna studied the woman. She didn’t have the ghastly, deformed appearance of the infected – at least not from afar. Her eyes weren’t flashing that hideous red, and she stood patiently at the fence.
Anna turned to Luke questioningly. He shrugged. “She looks okay. Keep your gun up, though.”
Anna took a hesitant step into the yard. The palms swayed in the breeze, scattering shadows across the grass. The rifle was still raised, cocked, and ready. I’m safe, I’m safe, she repeated in her head, her finger poised at the trigger.
“What do you know about my son?” Anna asked, as soon as she got near.
“I know that he doesn’t speak, even though he looks old enough to. I’ve got a little one too, two years old, who’s the same way.” She smiled sadly at Anna. “And then someone told me a rumor…”
“That it’s linked to Earl Grey, somehow.” The woman folded her hands across her body. “So I set to work. I’m a chemist by trade, and I spent hours mixing up different things. I finally got something that worked. My little girl took it, and she’s cured.” She pulled a thin vial from the folds of her coat. “It’s right here.”
“You mean – it cures them, completely?”
“Like they never were infected. Good as new.”
Anna stared at the woman through the links of the fence. Her heart begins to soar. Cured… all she wanted, more than anything, was for her little boy to be cured.
The woman smiled sweetly at her. “If you take it and give it to Jackson, I think –”
The gun exploded in a fury of sound and fire. The woman’s head burst. Blood splattered onto the metal links of the fence. Her body toppled to the ground seconds later, motionless and still.
Anna backed away, panting madly.
“Anna, what the hell?!”
She turned to Luke, her eyes flaring. “I never told her Jackson’s name.”
“You mean she…”
Anna nodded. “They found us.”
Police sirens sounded in the distance. They were faint, but growing louder by the second. Anna and Luke ran back into the house. Jackson was wailing from the gunshot; Priscilla and Avery were standing in the kitchen, stunned.
“We have to get out of here,” Anna said, scooping up him up. “They found us.”
“What do you mean, we have to get out of here? Where are we going to go?!” Avery said, crossing his arms stubbornly.
“Anywhere is safer than here.” Anna scrambled to the nursery. She grabbed a tote bag and threw in the police car, a half-full sippy cup, and a stack of diapers. “Pack up your things. Let’s go.”
Luke threw clothes, phones, and chargers into a large backpack as Priscilla filled a bag with canned food. Avery reluctantly grabbed no less than a dozen different guns. They loaded into the pickup truck. Luke’s hands flew over the car seat as he buckled Jackson up tight.
They peeled out, past the palm trees and fences. They sped down the road until their house was nothing but a speck of gray against the green foliage.
“Did I leave the stove on?” Priscilla says, her face turning pale. “Wasn’t I cooking up some pancakes?”
Avery let out a hearty laugh.
“Doesn’t matter much now, does it?”