Anna spread the guns across the carpet.
“Look, Anna,” Avery said, standing up. “I’m all for shooting up the bastards who took him, but don’t you think this is a bad idea?”
Jackson sat in the highchair, completely oblivious, as his grandma fed him spoonfuls of macaroni and cheese.
“You’ve got nothing to worry about, Anna. They’ll just release him as soon as they’ve administered the antidote,” Priscilla said.
“You don’t get it. We can’t wait that long! If he takes the pill, he’ll become one of – one of them!”
“Maybe you misunderstood Luke, honey.” Her mother broke off a piece of cracker and placed it on the highchair tray. A chubby hand shot out and grabbed it happily. “It sounds like the pill is a good thing. The radio said it’ll make him immune to the disease.”
“No! Don’t you get it? The pills are the cause!”
Anna stood up so forcefully that her toe caught on one of the guns. It clattered against the others, causing Jackson to jump. “Mom, Dad… we have to save him. Before it’s too late.”
They shook their heads.
Anna jolted out of bed. The clock by her bed read 11:04 PM. She glanced at the crib; Jackson was sleeping soundly, his chubby face squished against the mattress. Since Amelia’s death, she’d moved Jackson into the master bedroom. She never wanted to sleep apart from him again.
Anna stayed still and listened. All was silent, save for the light pitter-patter of the rain outside.
Good. They’re asleep.
She plucked off the covers and climbed out of bed. Then she tiptoed to the door and slowly pushed it open.
Damn rusty hinges. Luke was supposed to fix that.
Luke… She felt a pang of sadness, but ignored it as she stepped out into the hallway. She left the bedroom door open. If Jackson happened to wake up, her parents would hear him.
They’ll also figure out I’m gone, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
She crept out into the family room. Most of the guns were still lying on the carpet – except for Dad’s beloved Smith & Wesson that had rested underneath his pillow for the past fourteen years.
Anna picked out a rifle and she walked to the key rack.
Dammit. The keys to the white pickup were gone. Dad must have them… it is technically his car, after all. She grabbed Luke’s keys to the Accord instead.
With a slam of the door and a jingle of keys she pulled out of the driveway. Her white headlights washed over the road, casting eerie, elongated shadows from the streetlamps and the trees. The mirror was fogged with humidity. Anna didn’t turn on the radio. Tonight was a night for silence.
It took her ten minutes to get to the CVS. The parking lot is desolate, shimmering in the light from the streetlamps. Inside, all the lights were off, save for a few in the back. The aisles of Maybelline and the displays of M&Ms were cast in eerie, dim light.
She walked up to the front door, but as expected, they didn’t whir open.
She aimed the rifle at the glass and pressed the trigger.
“What about Anna?”
“What about her?” Myra asks.
“Is she infected too?”
“Did she take the pill?”
“No, I mean, is it…”
“Oh, sexually transmitted? Ha! I wish. Then my job would actually be fun.” She sighed dramatically. “No, the only way to get infected is to take the pill. Dissolved in a water cooler, crushed into a powder, or even baked into a flambé. My friend Katie did that.” She paused. “Well, not really my friend. Someone I know in the hive mind.”
“So Anna’s safe.”
“For now. And...” Myra froze. Her eyes went glassy as she stared blankly at the wall.
Still as a statue.
And then she jolted back to life. “Sorry, just getting orders through the mind,” she said, tapping her temple with a smile. “I’m supposed to get something. Be right back.”
She disappeared through the door. Luke waited until her figure disappeared from the glass-paneled window.
Then he wriggled against the cords again. He bent his arms and shook his legs. But it was no use; they were just too tight.
A few minutes later, Myra came back with a tall glass of water. Except Luke could tell it wasn’t just water. It looked slightly darker and slightly cloudier than it should have.
Myra stooped and cut the rope from Luke’s wrists. A tingling numbness spread over his skin, and he felt a rush of relief.
Myra placed the glass in his hand.
“I’m not stupid. That’s Earl Grey.”
“Sort of. It’ll activate you, but just for an hour. Consider it a preview.”
“Why? Why not just activate me now?”
“Because you’re useless to us if you’re against the cause. I’m going to persuade you by showing, not telling.”
“I’m not taking it.”
“It’ll wear off, I promise.”
“You promise?” he scoffed. “So what, now I’m supposed to trust the woman who tied me to a chair?”
Myra reached into her pocket. She pulled out a long, sharp knife and pressed it against Luke’s neck. “You don’t exactly have a choice, you know.”
Luke gulped, looking down at the water. It’s this, or never seeing Anna again. Never seeing Jackson again.
He raised the glass to his lips, taking a tiny sip. He immediately choked on it. “This is terrible!”
“Drink it all,” she commanded.
He tilted the glass and chugged it down, fighting the waves of nausea coursing through his body. The glass rolled out of his hand, falling onto the floor.
Crash! It shattered into a thousand pieces.
“Good.” Myra stood up and paced the room again, the glass crunching under her feet. “How do you feel?”
The effects were immediate. A slow, sinking feeling followed by a wave of nausea. Then crackling pain that spread over his skin like lightning.
Then there was nothing.
He opened his eyes. Myra stared at him, head cocked. “What do you see?”
He didn’t have time to answer.
A gunshot reverberated through the walls, and her grin faded.
Crrrack! A second one followed. Luke wriggled against the rope, twisting his knees and shifting his feet, but it didn’t budge. Myra took a careful step towards the door, raising her finger to her lips.
“Hey! Untie me!”
She didn’t respond.
“I’m a sitting duck! They’re going to kill me in an instant!”
“Fine by me. You’re kind of annoying.”
“Come on Myra...”
Slap, slap, slap. Hurried footsteps against the cement were coming closer and closer.
And then a familiar face poked in, crowned with wild, dark hair.
He cried out in relief as she stepped into the room, rifle poised.
Myra leapt at her knife-first, but Anna was faster.
Myra fell to the ground. Blood soaked through her jeans. She grabbed at her leg and screamed in agony.
“Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, you fucker,” she whispered under her breath. Then she pried the bloody knife from Myra’s hands, as if it were nothing, and cut at Luke’s rope.
“Luke, are you okay?”
He didn’t hear her, or anything, except for a deafening tone that was ringing in his ears. It was like a chorus of screams, but flattened into a single, unearthly note. His hands snapped up to is ears.
“Luke! Are you okay?”
The scream faded into a chorus of voices. A thousand at once – yet somehow, he could hear them and understand them perfectly.
Did you hear that?
One of us is wounded.
They’re at the CVS on 4th Ave.
Ugh, I don’t feel good. Shouldn’t have had that tequila…
Luke heaved. A spout of vomit fell into the carpet.
“We have to get out of here!” Anna yanked him out of the room and through the store. It was empty, quiet. Rows of shampoo and cold medicine glinted in the dim light, watching them. One of the bulbs flickered, setting the shadows into motion. Their footsteps echoed off the carpet, muffled and low.
The voices in Luke’s head faded into soft chatter. He looked around, his eyes catching on the cooler. It was lit from the inside with a blue, otherworldly light. Rows of Coke and Gatorade lined the refrigerated shelves.
Pinned to the glass was a handwritten sign: BUY 1 GET 1 FREE.
She was crying when she wrote that.
He could tell from the quiver of the 1s, from the way the ink ran on the last e. He could read it in the crinkles on the sides of the page, on the slant of the tape. He could see it all.
“Luke. We have to go.”
He didn’t budge.
His eyes were glued to an overturned can of peanuts. The cartoonish, anthropomorphized peanut stared up at him from the canister with an outlandish grin. The man who drew that just had something wonderful happen to him. A baby, or a wedding...
The flow of thoughts stopped. Luke whipped around. “I heard something,” he whispered to Anna. “I think someone’s in here with us.”
“I didn’t hear anything –”
They cautiously took a step forward.
The sound came from the makeup aisle, behind a lit-up Revlon display with a blown-up photo of some blonde celebrity. Luke moved to go in first, but Anna threw out an arm.
“I’m the one who’s got the gun.”
She pushed past him. Luke watched as the end of the gun turned the corner. His eyes flicked to the floor; the makeup was spilled out in a rainbow of shiny lipsticks, brightly-colored tubes of mascara, and shades of tan foundation.
There was too much silence. Not only in his ears, but from the endless chittering of the infected. They had fallen dead silent in Luke’s head.
Did they turn it off on purpose?
His heart pounded, and a terrible sinking feeling settled in his stomach. He stepped through the aisle after Anna. Anna took a few slow steps forward, gun poised in front of her. If these infected dimwits think they’re going to get us, they have another thing coming, she thought. Her finger trembled on the trigger. The eyeshadow palettes crunched under her boots.
“I think it’s clear, Luke.”
“No. Something’s still wrong.”
He could see it in the spilled makeup. A tube of lipstick was standing upright. A stick of eyeliner dangled haphazardly from the rack.
Waiting to fall over.
Waiting around the corner.
It was too late. A man poked his head out from the corner, staring right at them.
They had been found.