They had been driving in silence for 1 hour and 32 minutes. Jackson was asleep, his head leaning against the car seat. His feet jiggled every time they drove over a bump.
Anna had the empty chocolate milk container wedged between her legs. She tapped it at random intervals, each time the gravity of the situation hit her. Luke looks so different. Too gaunt, pale, warped.
Priscilla pretended to read, but she’d been open to the same page for over an hour. Avery’s eyes were glued to the road. He hadn’t touched the rest of his beef jerky.
Luke leaned against the window, still wearing the sock blindfold. He’d scooted as far away from Jackson and Anna as he could possibly get in the tiny backseat.
The voices of the hivemind churned inside him.
But there was one voice that was different from the rest. A terribly familiar voice, echoing the same few sentences over and over in his mind.
I’m sorry, Daddy.
I’m sorry that I hurt Jack… I didn’t mean to.
Please, Daddy, let me out!
At first, he thought it was his imagination. The memory of Amelia haunting him, preying on his altered mind. But the voice was clearer than any memory. It sounded as if she were sitting right next to him.
Do the dying words of the infected echo, over and over, in the hivemind? He wondered. But he didn’t have much space to think as Amelia’s voice continued.
I’m sorry, Daddy.
Each sentence drove a stake into his heart. He remained still, crumpled against the door of the pickup.
Please, Daddy, let me out!
If only I didn’t let her out. Maybe she’d still be alive. Playing with her airplanes. Holding her Amelia Earhart doll. Sitting next to them in the car.
Please, Daddy, I’m scared! Where are you?
Luke jolted up. His heart thrummed in his chest.
Amelia had never said those words.
Tell me where you are, Daddy. I want to come find you.
The voice distorted into a hissing whisper. Tell me where you are, Luke. Or we’ll have to do this the hard way.
He gripped the door. Sweat covered his forehead.
“Can you open the window?”
It was Anna’s voice.
She stared out at the orange groves, whipping by in a green blur. Damn carsickness. Even though, deep down, she knew the waves of nausea coursing through her weren’t carsickness at all.
“Can’t you open it yourself?” Avery replied gruffly.
“You’ve got the child lock on again, Dad.”
He merely grunted in reply.
The window rolled down. Anna’s dark hair whipped back in the gusts of wind. She took a deep breath in, enjoying the fragrance of the grove. The glossy leaves glittered in the setting sun, matching the clusters of oranges. If only I could be one of those oranges, ripening in the sun, not a care in the world.
Luke straightened. He pulled in a deep sniff of air.
“Sulfurous smog.” He paused, and took in another long sniff. “We’re a few miles outside of Baronton, aren’t we?”
As soon as the words escaped his lips, the voices inside his head grew to a roar.
They escaped to Baronton.
Send an officer after them.
White pickup, right? I saw it go by just a few minutes ago.
Above the roar, above the din of the voices, he could hear a police siren blaring.
“Go!” Luke screamed. “Gun it and don’t stop!”
The pickup lurched forward. Luke tore off the blindfold. He whipped around. Behind them a police cruiser wove through the traffic, gaining on them steadily.
“You planned this, didn’t you!?” Anna snarled. “You’re one of them now, and you told them where we were!”
“No! I can’t help it! They’re in my head! I just figured it out and suddenly they all knew –”
The police car was just a few cars behind them now. The lights were flashing; the siren was blaring.
“Go faster, Dad!”
“Gun it, Avery!”
The police car was right behind them.
It smashed into the bumper.
The pickup flew off the road. It rolled down the embankment, stopping halfway through the murky stream next to the orange grove.
“Shit!” Avery yelled. He pushed the shifter in reverse, jamming his foot against the pedal.
The wheels spun in the muck uselessly.
The car was stuck.
The officer stepped out of his car a moment later, obviously triumphant. He carefully walked down the embankment, taking his time reaching his prey. The setting sun shone behind his silhouette, dyeing it blood red.
Click. Anna unbuckled Jackson, preparing to run. She scooped him up, grabbed a gun for good measure, and leapt out of the car.
“Run!” she yelled frantically.
They were too slow. The officer was nearly upon them, his gun drawn. Avery had one leg out of the truck, Priscilla was panicking in the passenger seat, and Luke was knee-deep in mud.
“Go!” Luke yelled at her, gesturing wildly.
“Run, get Jackson away!”
“I can’t leave you...”
“Go!” he screamed, his voice echoing off the trees. She stared at him for a second – then she took off into the orange grove.
The officer grabbed Luke’s shoulder. He landed painfully in the mud, but despite it all, he smiled.
They’re getting away.
“You’re all coming with me,” the officer said.
More sirens filled the air, growing louder with every passing second. The officer shoved Avery and Priscilla out of the truck, his gun aimed at their heads.
“Where are you taking us?” Avery asked – but they already knew.