Chapter 5: Don't Catch the Plague
My mom wouldn’t stop knitting.
When I came in through the door, she said, “So you’ve decided to grace us with your presence.”
She refused to look up from the scarf she was making for Haley. It had grown by an arm’s length in the days I’d been gone.
All I’d wanted was to come home to my parents’ house, spend a semi-normal evening with my family, maybe have one of my mom’s home-cooked meals, then actually sleep in a bed. I really needed some sanity after everything I’d been through. And considering that I was going to try to seduce and drug Jason Gibbs tomorrow, I was hoping to get some rest so I could prepare.
But apparently Shawn and the rest of Jason’s squad had told my family that I was wanted for hiding infected refugees. They all thought that I’d been gone because I’d been with Morgan somewhere, concealing her from the Home Guard. I thought about telling them what had actually happened, but how could I? I didn’t think anyone would really believe that I’d been buried alive then locked in a stripped-down U-Haul for the better part of a week.
“I don’t see why you don’t just tell them where Morgan is,” my mom scolded.
I hadn’t realized that she was in such deep denial about everything that was happening.
“They know what’s best for her,” she went on, fiercely knitting at the kitchen counter while she lectured me. “They’re keeping us all safe. I don’t know why you have to go and disrupt all of that. They’re all such nice boys. And Shawn! You should be so proud of him! This has been so good for him. You need to be more grateful. We’re all just so lucky that the good guys are on our side, watching out for us.”
We’d missed dinner. Ian was having a beer with Bryce on the porch, and I’d told them that I’d make up some sandwiches. My dad was washing the dishes. As I opened the fridge, he dried his hands and put an arm around me.
“It’s good to see you,” he said, softly, so my mom wouldn’t hear him. “I was worried. I’m glad you’re home.”
At the dining table, Danielle was playing cards with Tyler and Haley. My sister hadn’t said a word to me since I’d arrived at the house. When I went to grab the bread knife from the table, she scowled. She stood up, placing herself between me and her children, then she whispered fiercely into my ear.
“I know you know where that little bitch is,” she hissed. “She’s probably the one who brought that disease in from outside. You need to tell Ian where she is. No more fucking around, Ashley.”
I hadn’t realized how much Ian wasn’t telling Danielle.
She didn’t have a clue about what was going on. He obviously didn’t trust her to keep the granary a secret. And judging by how my sister was acting now, he was absolutely right not to trust her. She wasn’t ever the most easy-going of the two of us, but I’d never seen her behave this way. The stress was really getting to her, I could tell. Suddenly, it seemed, she hated me.
“Play with us, Aunt Ashley!” Haley peeked around her mother and looked at me expectantly.
Even after all I’d been through, I felt really bad having to say no to my niece yet again.
“Next time,” I told her, mussing her hair. “I’ve got some important things to take care of. And we have a guest,” I said, nodding in the direction of the porch.
Tyler couldn’t have heard what his mother whispered into my ear, but he looked at both of us apprehensively. He was still in that awkward stage; he was probably going to be good looking when he got out of adolescence, but his nose had suddenly gotten too big for his face, and his forehead was ringed with acne from wearing his football helmet. Poor kid. He just wanted life to be normal, to play football, and to meet girls his age. He’d been helping Haley fan out the cards in her hand, and I could tell right away that he was terrified at everything that was happening, even though he was putting on a good face and trying to help his little sister through it. I think he just wanted everyone to stick together and make it out alive.
“Let’s just leave Aunt Ashley alone for a little while,” he said graciously, avoiding Danielle’s gaze. “She’s probably starving.”
He was right. I was famished. Other than the military rations that the Home Guard had delivered to the house, my parents seemed only to have an endless supply of freezer-burnt roast beef and white bread. While I made a sandwich each for Ian, Bryce, and myself, I ate at least another sandwich’s worth of the meat with my fingers. I still had a strange, insatiable craving for a hamburger and a milkshake, but instead I poured a big glass of milk and gulped it down. I hadn’t craved milk like this since I was a kid, but I couldn’t get enough of it. I poured a second glass.
I brought Ian and Bryce their sandwiches. They thanked me effusively. Both of them looked guilty that they hadn’t helped me while they’d sat on the porch with beers.
But completing these little tasks kept my mind occupied. It prevented me from collapsing in a heap and totally breaking down, which I was afraid I might do now that I was relatively safe at the house.
Because Shawn was only a private, he had to bunk at the Home Guard Center, and the couch was free. I put sheets on the cushions for Bryce and laid out a blanket. I made myself another sandwich and took it upstairs to my old bedroom.
The internet had been shut down. When I tried to log on, the only accessible site was homeguard.gov, which automatically appeared after I opened the browser. The site had maps of each residential district, a ration distribution schedule, and an emergency hotline for “reporting individuals suspected of being infected with the TGV pathogen.” In big, red letters running across the top of the screen, it warned, “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.”
The same thing happened when I tried to use the internet on my phone. The Home Guard website immediately appeared, and I couldn’t access any other page.
I showered. I put on a pair of threadbare sweats that I’d long ago discarded.
I couldn’t believe how much weight I’d lost. I studied myself in the mirror for the first time in days. My cheeks had hollowed out, and I could actually see the contours of my abdominal muscles. I hadn’t looked like this since I was fourteen.
Good, I thought. I was looking hot, actually. All the better for tempting Jason.
I brushed my teeth and got into bed without saying goodnight to anyone. I fell asleep going over all the things I could say to Jason to make him believe I actually wanted to sleep with him.
Sometime late at night, Bryce came into my room.
He closed the door softly, then he sat at the edge of my bed.
“Ashley,” he whispered.
I’d been in a deep sleep, and I tried not to be too annoyed that he’d woken me.
I said, “If you’re looking for a late-night Lady Gaga dance party, sorry, but I’m little worn out.”
He laughed quietly. “I guess I’ll go ask your mom if she’s down then.”
I smiled at the thought. “You’d probably have better luck with my dad.”
I hadn’t moved since Bryce had sat on my bed. I closed my eyes. I could feel his weight on my mattress. For a while he just sat there in the dark.
Finally I asked, “What’s up?”
The night was completely quiet. There was no wind. There were no crickets. Just a deep, dark silence.
“I just can’t stop thinking about it,” Bryce whispered. “When they locked us up in those U-Hauls, I kept dreaming we were back in the coffin. And when I woke up, it was so dark I thought maybe I really was in the coffin again. I kept spreading out my arms, trying to convince myself I was only in the back of a van.” He drew in a deep breath. I think he’d started to cry a little, but he was holding it back. “God, I really thought I was going to die in that fucking thing.”
When he stopped talking, the night’s silence rushed back in. It was almost like we were alone together in the coffin again.
“I thought I was going to die in there too,” I whispered. What else could I say?
I sensed Bryce turning to look at me. I could just make out his profile. It seemed like he wanted to say more but couldn’t find the right words.
I felt myself start to nod off again. I was exhausted.
“I’m really tired.” I reached out and touched his knee for a moment, then I pulled my hand back under my covers. “I have a big day tomorrow.”
“Right,” Bryce said. “Sorry.”
He stood and stepped softly from the room. I heard him making his way quietly back down the stairs.
But now that he’d left, I couldn’t sleep. I started regretting making him leave. I did want to talk about what we’d gone through together, at some point. I knew that no one else in the world would ever be able to understand what it was like to be trapped beneath the earth. No one else would ever be able to understand what we’d shared down there. No one.
I tried to go back to sleep.
I tried not to think about Bryce, or how alone I’d started to feel.
Instead, I thought about Morgan. But that only made things worse. I missed talking to her so much. I just wanted to call her on the phone like I’d normally do if I was feeling shitty, but I couldn’t. It was hard to bear the idea that maybe I’d never be able to talk to her again.
I felt even more alone than before. It was like I was a tiny speck of dust floating out in the frozen, starry universe.
For a moment I thought about waking Ian and talking to him, but I couldn’t. It would be weird. Right now he was fast asleep in bed with Danielle, quietly keeping all of his secrets from her.
I lay awake for an hour, maybe two. I couldn’t go back to sleep.
Just before dawn, I crept downstairs.
I could tell right away that Bryce wasn’t asleep.
I lay down on the couch beside him and pulled the sheet over us both.
Bryce wrapped his arms around me.
I started to cry.
I couldn’t help it. I just sobbed for a few minutes while he held on to me.
“It’s okay,” he whispered.
And, then, we were kissing. I wasn’t sure if I’d kissed him, or if he’d kissed me. We were just kissing.
Soon, somehow, I was on top of him. I took his shirt off and stripped my own shirt off as quickly as I could. I couldn’t think of anything but being as close to him as physically possible. I felt his bare chest against my breasts, and I put my arms around his neck. I pressed my body into his with all my weight.
Very suddenly, but quietly, he flipped us both over so that I was on my back.
He lay between my legs. He was still wearing jeans, but I could feel through my threadbare sweats how hard he was when he pressed into me.
I unbuckled his belt. As soon as I started doing this, he tore off my sweats and underwear all at once. I couldn’t believe how wet I was. I unzipped his pants, reached into his underwear, and—I couldn’t help it—I pulled him straight inside me.
I thought maybe I was really falling in love with him. Ever since we’d been trapped alone together inside the coffin, Bryce and I had been linked together. Neither of us would ever see our lives in the same way afterwards, and only the two of us could really understand what that meant. My marriage with Shawn was obviously over. A future inside the Muldoon quarantine zone, living amid a devastating plague, wasn’t much of a future, but it was the only future any of us had. Maybe Bryce and I could share it together.
As soon as I pulled him inside me, he pressed even deeper in.
The sex I had with him that early morning was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I knew there was some chance that he could be infected, and that I was responding to the pathogen’s pheromones. But what I felt for him felt so real, and so human. Bryce was staggeringly tender with me, and yet so irresistibly firm at the same time. He whispered how he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about me while we were locked away from one another, then he grabbed my pelvis and pushed so deep inside me I thought I was going to explode with pleasure.
I started to come, and it was all I could do to keep from yelling out and waking everybody up. Bryce put his hand over my mouth and I bit into his finger, which only made him drive deeper inside me.
But just before he came, that self-preserving part of me rose back up in my consciousness, and I pulled away from him. I grabbed his penis in both of my hands as he cried out, arching his back, and I felt his warm semen leap onto my belly and breasts.
Bryce heaved a huge sigh, collapsed beside me, cradled my head in his arms, and kissed my forehead.
He whispered something. “You and me,” he said. “We’re going to stick together.”
I kissed him softly.
It was so hard not to just fall asleep in his arms. I hadn’t felt such warm, satisfied peace since long before the plague.
But the morning sky was growing brighter. The sun was already about to rise. My family would be up soon. I had to get back to my bedroom.
I grabbed a tissue from the box on the side table.
It was just at that most vulnerable of moments, as I was wiping Bryce’s semen from my belly, that I saw someone standing in the living room window.
It was a woman. And at her hip was a young boy, maybe two years old.
She was about my age. The first rays of morning sunlight were coming over the plains, illuminating one side of her face and her freshly-straightened hair. She was beautiful, like she belonged on a TV show. And she was staring right at me.
I was completely naked. Bryce, asleep, had collapsed on one of my legs. His head rested on my breast. Morning sunlight was falling on his bare ass.
The woman screamed.
“You have got to be kidding me!” she yelled through the window. “Are you kidding me?”
She stomped across the porch and threw open the front door, oblivious that anyone was asleep in the house. Or she just didn’t care.
Bryce looked at her, groaned, then let his face fall onto the sofa pillow.
The woman stormed toward us.
“Seriously?!” she screamed, even louder than before.
The boy in her arms looked like he was on the verge of crying, but his face was frozen.
I scrambled to wrap the sheet around my shoulders, which left Bryce uncovered.
He tugged on his pants, taking his time to zip them. He left his belt unfastened.
“Lindsay,” was all he said.
The woman was wearing a wedding band and a huge engagement ring.
Now it was my turn to yell at Bryce. “Are you kidding me?” I screamed.
Everyone in the house had to be up by now anyway.
Bryce looked at me, defeated. He shrugged.
“Yeah,” the woman yelled at me. “I’m his wife. He’s fucking married. With—” she gestured silently at the boy in her arms, obviously Bryce’s son. She smiled acerbically. “Surprised? I fucking bet.”
“Lindsay,” Bryce repeated.
It was like he was capable only of repeating his wife’s name. He just sat back in the couch, shirtless, with a surprisingly unapologetic expression.
“I came all the way out here looking for you,” Lindsay screamed, nodding indignantly. “And then they tell me I can’t leave town? I spend a week in a shitty motel, finally track you down, thinking these fucking Nazi Robocop’s are after you, and here you are with—” she shook her head, finally whispering as she pointed at me, “her?”
“The phones were down.” Bryce stared at his wife with a strange confidence. “I tried to call. I couldn’t.”
Lindsay just stared at him, speechless, shocked at this response. Finally his son started to cry.
Bryce looked slowly from Lindsay to me. Again, he just shrugged.
I slapped him. I slapped him really hard. I cuffed him across the jaw with the full weight of my arm. I couldn’t believe how he was acting. I didn’t even recognize him as the Bryce I’d known.
For a brief moment he looked at me with an expression of shame and contrition.
“I just—” he began, but he couldn’t complete his sentence.
Suddenly, I understood.
I backed away from him instinctively, horrified, gathering the sheet around my body.
When Bryce had tried to speak, but couldn’t, he’d made this quivering jerk of the jaw that was just like what Morgan did when she’d tried to speak in the silo.
Bryce was infected.
I had no doubt. He’d been so charmingly talkative before we’d gotten trapped in the coffin. But ever since then, he’d hardly said anything. I’d thought that it was because of the trauma he’d gone through, but I’d been wrong. Bryce had been speaking in shorter and shorter sentences, until finally this morning he’d gone into this strange, sexually-charged state of speaking only in very terse phrases. He wasn’t just infected. He was moving into stage two.
Even as I grew more angry, and more heartbroken, I felt a sudden, intense urge to fuck him again. What was I thinking?
I was still holding the tissue I’d used to wipe his semen. I held it to my nose.
It smelled like honey.
“That night?” I asked him. “In the hay loft?” I was crying now. “You slept with Morgan that night?”
He stared straight into my eyes. “Couldn’t help it.”
Somehow everything he said when he spoke this way sounded so reasonable and forgivable, even when it obviously wasn’t.
It had to be the effect the pheromones were having on me. And his beautiful blue eyes.
I actually felt a little tingling between my legs again. My pulse picked up.
What was happening? It was like a spell. I was dizzy. . .
I forced my thoughts away from thinking about sex with Bryce. It was surprising how difficult it was, until finally I remembered what he’d done to me, and I snapped out of it.
“You slept with Morgan,” I said. “And you didn’t tell me about it, and then you slept with me?”
“Couldn’t help it,” he repeated, again as if this was the most reasonable response in the world.
I felt another wave of pheromone-induced dizziness in which I wanted to kiss him and slap him all at once.
Bryce just sat there on the couch staring unapologetically at his wife, his baby son, and at me.
The sad thing was that when he said he couldn’t help it, he’d been telling the truth, in a way. The pathogen was affecting his consciousness. It was making him want to have sex with as many partners as possible in the shortest amount of time, no matter the cost.
And yet my feelings for him had felt so real. I’d even thought a few hours ago that maybe I was falling in love with him. Was that just the effect of the pheromones too? How could I know for sure?
I backed away from Bryce, trying to distance myself from whatever strange effect his physical presence was having on my body.
As soon as I was more than a few feet away, my feelings changed. Suddenly, it seemed absolutely crazy that I’d had sex with him on the living room couch. My family must have heard us. What had I been thinking? I tried to remember the moment when Bryce came. Thank God I’d pulled away. But had I pulled away in time? Had some of his semen ended up inside me? I didn’t think so, but I couldn’t be sure.
It was only now that I realized my entire family—all of them—was watching from the kitchen.
Even Tyler and Haley had appeared, but Danielle was busy trying to pull them away from the scene we were causing in the living room. My mom was speechlessly shaking her head, both at me and at the strange woman who had barged into her house with a toddler. My dad was averting his eyes. Ian was pacing around the kitchen, trying to decide whether or not to intervene.
I pulled the sheet more closely around my shoulders. Underneath, I was wearing nothing. I had no choice but to gather up my clothes and hurry away to the bathroom, horrified at what had I’d done.
After I washed up and dressed, I sat on the front porch steps.
I couldn’t face anyone.
Not yet anyway. I’d never felt so mortified.
I’d lost control of myself with Bryce, my entire family knew I was cheating on my husband, and now I couldn’t even be sure whether I was infected because I had no way of testing myself—Chris and Ian had used their last test applicator on Morgan.
Someone opened the front door behind me. The screen door banged shut.
I still wasn’t ready to see anyone. I was slightly hoping the person approaching would turn out to be Ian, but I wasn’t sure if I felt like speaking even to him. I was so embarrassed.
“Your mom wanted me to give you this.”
It wasn’t Ian. It was the last person I expected it to be. It was Bryce’s wife.
Lindsay sat beside me and handed me a cup of coffee. I took it tentatively.
“Look,” she said. “I’m sorry I barged in on all you guys.”
She was really strikingly attractive. Dark blue eyes, dark hair, sharp features, a perfect body. Perfect everything. Why would Bryce have shown any interest in me, with a wife like this?
“You’re apologizing to me?” I asked.
I was ready for the woman to tear me to pieces, now that she had me alone, but she didn’t even seem angry. She actually sounded like she felt sorry for me.
“Well, yeah,” she said. She didn’t have her son with her. My mom must have had him inside. “I just came into a house full of total strangers, screaming and yelling like that. I’m lucky I didn’t get shot.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I imagined what Lindsay must have seen through the window: her husband sprawled out naked with a strange girl. “I’m so, so sorry. Bryce didn’t say anything about being married.”
“He never does.”
Lindsay blew on her steaming coffee, wrapping her hands around the mug. It was a cold morning.
“This isn’t exactly the first time,” she said. “I can only blame myself for staying with him as long as I have. After I got pregnant, his last girlfriend tried to warn me about him. I didn’t listen, but she was right. He’s just an egotistical asshole. He always will be.”
The thing was, though, Bryce didn’t seem like an asshole. It was true that he didn’t tell me about his wife and son, which, I had to admit, was an extremely asshole-ish thing to do. But he seemed so kind. He hadn’t ever come off as egocentric. He was charming, but in a really sweet way. Was it because of the pathogen that he’d behaved so irresistibly charmingly? If so, that meant he’d been infected even before sleeping with Morgan. Had he been in stage one when I’d first met him . . . ?
Someone else came out onto the porch. The screen door slammed shut.
It was Bryce.
He sat on the porch swing behind us. He was still wearing nothing but jeans. He clasped his hands behind his head. He had a really amazing body. Even the way he planted his bare feet against the porch boards was cute.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I wasn’t sure whether he was apologizing to me or to Lindsay. It looked like he wanted to say something more, but his jaw only made the same quivering jerk as before, and he gave up trying to speak.
“What are you sorry for, Bryce?” Lindsay was already seething again. “Are you sorry for sleeping around? Again?”
I realized she had no idea that Bryce was infected. I wondered if that’s what he’d been trying to tell her when he hadn’t been able to speak.
“Don’t be sorry for sleeping around,” she said. “Okay? Sleep around all you fucking want. Because it’s over between us. Got it? Over. You want to be sorry about something? Be sorry that your wife—your ex-wife—came to look for you, with your son, after you disappeared. And then I got stuck in this shit-hole town for who knows how long. Forever, for all I know. Be sorry for that. Don’t be sorry for sleeping with Ashley, or whoever else you fucking want.”
“What the hell is going on here?”
My attention had been focused so intensely on Lindsay and Bryce that I hadn’t noticed that someone was coming up the driveway behind me.
It was Shawn.
He wasn’t wearing his Home Guard combat gear. He was in his old street clothes. At his hip, though, was a very large handgun.
And he’d just heard everything Lindsay had said about Bryce sleeping with me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked Shawn in a panic.
“Breakfast!” Shawn said, glancing from person to person on the porch. “Your mom’s making me breakfast. It’s my morning off. She didn’t tell you?”
My husband looked hurt and confused as he tried to make sense of Bryce Tripp sitting shirtless on the porch swing. I could tell he was struggling to process everything he’d just overheard Lindsay say.
Bryce stood and held up his hands defensively. “We’re all just le-le—” he stuttered. But he couldn’t finish his sentence.
“What the hell is going on here?” Shawn repeated, now shooting me a mystified look.
He stormed up the porch.
He slipped his gun from the holster, then stared at Bryce as he tried to say something. But once again Bryce failed to get the words out, his jaw quivering.
“This is bullshit!” Shawn screamed like a distraught child. “You’re all obviously at risk!” He turned to me, disgusted. “Especially you! You fucking slut!”
Ian rushed out to the porch.
“Shawn,” he said. “Let’s just calm down a bit. You’re upset. I understand that. But let’s just calm down.”
“Calm down? What the fuck, Ian? I’m doing my job. This overrides any clearance you got! They’re no doubt a ‘contagion threat’ now!” Shawn wagged his gun between me and Bryce. “That means it’s up to our discretion to expire them or arrest them. Period! And this fucktard is well on his way to stage two!” He raised his gun and pointed it straight at Bryce. “What were you thinking, Ian? Keeping them at the house? I should have done this a long fucking time ago.”
I leaped onto my feet and put a hand gingerly on Shawn’s shoulder.
“Shawn,” I said.
He whipped around, facing me. Tears were starting to well in his eyes.
“Fuck you, Ashley,” he whispered.
“Shawn.” I didn’t know what else to say.
Finally he gave me a heartbreaking expression of hurt.
Then he spun back around, and with a terrifying, primitive scream, he fired his gun at Bryce.
Ian lunged forward, drawing his own gun now.
But he was too late.
Bryce collapsed backward onto the porch swing, sending the chains bouncing and jangling as he rolled to the ground. He clutched at his stomach, writhing in pain. Blood spilled between his fingers. For a moment he tried to pull himself up with his arms, smearing the porch boards with blood, but then he collapsed backward again.
I couldn’t believe how much blood had already gathered around Bryce. It had collected in a wide pool and was dripping off the porch.
Ian held his gun firmly trained at Shawn’s head.
“You haven’t tested anyone, Shawn,” he said. “You’re not following protocol. Put your gun down. Stop right now.”
Shawn didn’t put his gun down.
Instead, he pointed it directly at my face.
“New rules.” Shawn’s gun was inches from my forehead. “Where have you been, Ian? We’re out of Insta-Reads. Until the next shipment comes in, it’s up to our discretion to expire or arrest.” He repeated this phrase like he was reading it from a manual, never taking the gun from my face.
A deafening boom.
Someone had fired their gun.
It couldn’t have been Shawn, because when I opened my eyes I was still standing.
My husband was clutching his right hand. He was no longer holding his gun. Ian had shot it from his hand, puncturing his palm in the process.
Shawn screamed out in surprise and pain, staring hatefully at Ian.
“Do not point a gun at Ashley,” Ian said flatly, keeping his own gun pointed at Shawn.
I heard my mom screaming from inside the living room as she banged open the screen door and hurried toward Shawn, shrieking.
“He wasn’t going to shoot her, Ian!” She completely ignored Bryce and tried to wrap a dishcloth around Shawn’s bleeding hand. “He was just doing his job. Somebody has to do their job around here!”
My mom seemed to be losing her mind. Shawn just let her wrap his hand.
“You want a warrant?” Shawn yelled at Ian, staggering in pain toward his truck. “You stay right fucking here. You all stay right fucking on these premises!” he yelled. “There’s no doubt I’ll get a warrant for him and Ashley both after what I’ve seen here.” Shawn jerked his head toward Bryce, who was gasping and clutching at his stomach. “He’ll live,” he said. “That stomach wound won’t do anything. When I come back with the squad, we’re taking both of them in.” He looked at Lindsay, bent over Bryce, her knees soaking with his blood. “And you too!” he screamed. “Nobody cleared you to leave the motel!” Now he turned to Ian. “And you most of all! Shooting a Home Guard soldier? Are you crazy? You can kiss your cushy rank goodbye, son. Say hello to a fucking court marshal. Just wait. Just fucking wait! Nobody leave these premises!”
Shawn jerked away from my mom, who was still trying to tie the dishcloth, and he hobbled into his truck.
He sped away in a storm of dust.
Ian said, “We have to go. Now. All of us.”
Between Ian, myself, and Lindsay, we were able to lift Bryce into my dad’s wheelbarrow.
Bryce looked hopelessly uncomfortable splayed out inside. His legs dangled over the edge and his neck was bent to one side like a dead pig. But there was no other way to move him.
“We have to leave, right now,” Ian said. “Jason’s squad could be here any minute. Shawn’s probably already called them. None of us are safe here anymore.”
We scrambled down to the river and started making our way along the bank toward the granary. Ian pushed the wheelbarrow as carefully as he could, but Bryce’s head kept bouncing around inside. He was still conscious, but he’d lost so much blood he’d grown gruesomely pale. Lindsay had grabbed her son, and she struggled to carry the toddler as she hurried to keep up with us. She was covered in Bryce’s blood. The kid wouldn’t stop wailing.
I was terrified that the crying was going to give up where we were. If Jason’s squad showed up right now, they’d hear the kid and come straight to us.
I grabbed him from Lindsay’s arms. She must have been in a state of shock, because she just let me take him. I put my hand over his mouth, careful not to cover his nostrils. And I just kept running.
All I could think about was getting inside the granary where we couldn’t be seen.
We left the bank and rounded the row of silos. But instead of an empty, weed-strewn grain yard like I’d expected to see, there was a group of people.
Maybe seven or eight of them. They looked like they were waiting for something.
We all stopped, breathless. I realized the kid had stopped crying and I let go of his mouth. Ian put the wheelbarrow handles down and tried to catch his breath while he took in the scene.
I recognized the Botteroffs, who lived on the other side of the Hershel’s. And my third grade teacher, Nancy Thomas, was sitting against the rusted tin wall. I didn’t recognize anyone else; they all must have been from out of town.
What were they doing here, at the granary? I didn’t understand.
“Is this the Underground?” one man asked Ian. He was dressed in a mechanic’s jump suit, covered in grease.
“The what?” Ian lifted the wheelbarrow and started making his way warily through the small crowd toward the granary door.
“The Underground,” an elderly woman said. “You do shelter positives, don’t you? From the Home Guard?”
“Fuck,” Ian said under his breath. “Well, I guess we fucking do now. . .”
Ian tapped on the granary’s wall. “Chris! What’s going on out here, man! Who are these people?”
Chris appeared at the door.
He looked around at the desperate faces. “Shit. There’s more?”
“What have you been telling people?” Ian demanded, rolling Bryce into the granary’s dark interior.
“I haven’t said anything!” Chris said. “You think I can treat any of them? Any of them? They just keep showing up!”
“We’ll just have to hide them all in one of the silos for now,” Ian said, flustered. “Tell them not to make a sound. Home Guard will probably be crawling all over the place soon.”
Chris looked more closely at Bryce. “What happened to him . . . ? He’s positive, isn’t he?”
“He got shot, that’s what happened,” Ian said. “And, yes. He’s positive.”
“I knew it,” Chris said. “I thought something was up with that guy.”
“Just get those people out of sight before someone shows up!” Ian said, hoisting Bryce from the wheelbarrow and laying him onto the granary’s dusty floor.
Chris hurried outside to deal with the crowd while Ian took Bryce’s pulse.
Bryce raised his head slowly, watching Ian as he pinched his wrist. He’d stopped bleeding. The small bullet hole in his stomach had started to scab over. His skin was a sickly gray color. I’d never seen anyone so pale.
Bryce dropped his head back onto the floor.
“Hungry,” he groaned.
Ian was still holding on to Bryce’s wrist.
“No pulse.” Ian shook his head, confused.
Chris hurried back into the granary and fell to his knees beside Bryce.
“I can’t find a pulse,” Ian said.
“No shit you can’t find a pulse! He doesn’t have any fucking blood left! What do you think?” Chris shined a light into Bryce’s eyes. “Can you stand up?” he asked him.
Bryce shook his head. “No legs.”
“The bullet must have hit his spine,” Chris said. “He can’t move his legs at all.”
“Hungry,” Bryce whimpered again.
“How is he conscious?” Ian dropped Bryce’s wrist and sat back on his heels. “I don’t fucking understand!”
Chris grabbed a disposable syringe from a box on his desk. He kneeled beside Bryce while unwrapping the packaging, then he tossed aside the clear plastic. He jabbed Bryce’s forearm. He pulled the plunger backward, drawing fluid into the syringe.
What came out of Bryce’s vein wasn’t blood. It was a deep amber color, translucent, and thick like bacon grease left over in a skillet.
“Honey,” Chris said.
“What the fuck?” Ian looked closer at the syringe. “I don’t get it.”
“I don’t really get it either,” Chris admitted. “Somehow the pathogen has replaced his blood with its own honey. His heart’s stopped beating, but the honey is oozing through his veins somehow. It’s keeping him conscious.” Chris shook his head in amazement. “The larvae must need tons of protein and sugars to produce so much honey. That must be why he’s so hungry. The pathogen needs him to eat. It needs the food energy.”
Bryce flopped his head from one side to the other. His face was ashen. His hair was slicked with sweat.
“Just—want to fuck,” he stammered. He started to cry. “Want to fuck so bad,” he whimpered. “Can’t. Can’t.”
Bryce weakly pounded his hip with his fist. His legs lay limp, bent in the same awkward angle they’d landed in when Ian had lowered him from the wheelbarrow. It was obvious Bryce couldn’t feel or move anything from the waist down.
“Want to fuck so bad,” he stammered, sobbing now. A thick, greasy tear spilled from his eye. “Why? Why?”
I couldn’t watch any longer. I knew the pathogen was going into overdrive making Bryce crave sex, and now there wasn’t anything he could do about it. Everything below his upper torso was useless and numb. It was driving him mad.
I had to focus on something else. If I stayed here doing nothing but stare at Bryce in his misery I’d start to go mad too.
I stepped away and tried not to listen to Bryce’s whimpering. Instead, I started rummaging through the bin of military rations Chris had been living on. I’d wanted to bring Morgan something to eat from the house, but when we all had to rush away, I didn’t even have enough time to grab a jacket, let alone extra food.
I found a pouch of vacuum-packed oatmeal and a sleeve of strawberry jelly at the bottom of the bin. It would have to do. I felt awful feeding Morgan like this. It was like she was some captured beast and I was bringing her a treat. But I refused to think of her as anything but human. I grabbed one of the kerosene burners and made my way as quietly as I could toward Morgan’s silo.
When I unlocked the door, she was asleep. She was curled up in a little ball against the tin wall.
She actually looked peaceful.
It appeared as though she’d been surviving mostly on candy bars. There were wrappers scattered all around her unlit lantern. But she was breathing evenly. She was deeply at rest.
I remembered that Ian had said that she hadn’t been sleeping well. Now that she was, I didn’t want to wake her.
But I didn’t want to leave, either. I felt comforted with Morgan nearby.
So, for a long time I just sat in the silo’s quiet semi-darkness, listening to Morgan breathe, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do now.
I knew I had to go back to the house. I still had to get Jason’s pharmacy access card. Now that I was a wanted fugitive again, I had no idea how I was going to get it, but I had to. Somehow, I had to make him think I wanted to sleep with him. It was the only way. I refused to let Morgan progress to stage three. She’d be totally lost to me.
And it wasn’t just for Morgan now. It was for all the refugees who needed help.
And it was for myself, too. If it turned out Bryce had infected me, there was no way I was letting myself progress past stage one. There was no way I was letting what was happening to Morgan happen to me.
A gunshot rang out.
I leapt up, expecting to see Home Guard troops raiding the granary. But when I peered from the silo door, the granary yard was empty. And silent.
The gunshot had come from inside the granary itself.
I raced across the yard, trying not to trip in the weeds. I flung the wire-hinged door open and hurried into the dim interior.
My eyes adjusted to the light.
Bryce was still lying on the granary floor. Chris and Ian were standing over him. Ian was holding his head in his heads. Chris stood with his arms folded, staring down at Bryce, holding a pair of tweezers. Nobody was speaking.
Bryce was motionless. He was holding a small pistol in his hand. He clutched it loosely at his throat.
I stepped closer.
Now I could see that the back of Bryce’s head was missing.
A chunk of his skull had been blown off by the pistol. A mass of tiny larvae was streaming from the wound. Almost immediately each one of them writhed and died, as if contact with the open air killed them.
Chris picked up one larva with the tweezers and dropped it into a vial.
“What did you do!” I screamed. “You didn’t have to kill him!”
“Ashley.” Ian rubbed his forehead. He looked exhausted. “We have to keep quiet.”
Chris slipped the pistol out of Bryce’s hand and tucked it into a holster concealed under his shirt.
“We didn’t kill him,” Chris said. “He asked me for a gun. I gave one to him.”
Ian looked at Chris warily, but he looked too defeated to make any objection.
“What should I have done?” Chris asked.
“Not give him your fucking gun!” I struggled to keep my voice as low as possible.
“And then what?” Chris answered, angrily. “You think I could have treated him? Even if I had any more antibiotics, which I don’t—I gave the last dose to Morgan two days ago—I couldn’t do a fucking thing about his severed spinal cord. Could I? He was miserable. He asked for a gun, and I gave him one. Am I really going to tell him no? And just watch him progress to stage three, in that state? Just let him live in a nightmare for four or five months until he expires? Fuck you, I’m not doing that.”
“Where’s Lindsay?” I looked around the granary. “Where’s his son?”
“They’re in the silo with the others,” Ian said.
He stepped behind me and put his hands on my shoulders, trying to calm me down.
“Ashley,” he whispered, “Lindsay agreed with Chris about giving him the gun. We put her and the kid in the silo before he did it. Mrs. Thomas is taking care of her. Lindsay seems pretty tough. She’s handling it. The kid’s too young to know what happened.”
I turned from Bryce’s corpse and pulled away from Ian.
“Just sit down for a minute,” Ian said, pulling back the chair at Chris’s desk.
I sat. But I was afraid that Ian wasn’t acting with enough urgency. It was only a matter of time before the Home Guard discovered the granary, especially if other people already knew about it. They’d even had a name for the meager resistance movement. They’d called it the as if everyone already knew exactly what that meant. Somehow word was getting out that we were sheltering positives here.
“We can’t stay here,” I said. “They’ll find us here. They’re going to search the whole ranch.”
“No, we can’t stay here. You’re right.” Ian looked totally at a loss. “But where else? I didn’t count on having this many people. I was going to drive around looking for an empty house. Maybe someplace the Home Guard has registered as unoccupied. But finding something like that could take days.” He glanced at me, chagrinned. “I know we don’t have days, Ash. I’m trying to figure something out. I just need a little time to fucking think about the right place to hide. because just yet, I’m sorry, but I’m not coming up with anything.”
An idea that had been floating around my consciousness since last evening suddenly surfaced.
I knew of a place where we could hide—maybe.
The place I had in mind would take the Home Guard months to find, if they ever found it at all. And it was a place where we could take all of the refugees who were in the silo. Maybe even more.
The problem was, I didn’t know where it was. Not exactly.
I would have to ask my dad.
But most importantly, wherever we went, we would need a supply of antibiotics. Even the most secure refugee hideout in the world would be mostly useless if we didn’t have a way to keep positives from progressing to the disease’s later stages.
I stood up and faced Ian squarely.
“I need to borrow your gun.”
“Wait, what?” He was confused. “Why?”
“I’m going back to the house,” I said firmly. “I’m going to get the pharmacy access card from Jason.”
“You can’t be serious.” Ian looked more frustrated now than I’d ever seen him. He was so upset it looked like he thought I’d betrayed him. “You’re out of your fucking mind! That plan’s over now, Ashley! Forget it! They’ll have warrants for our arrest. Shawn wasn’t bluffing about that. They’ll arrest you on the spot. They might even shoot you on the spot. There’s no way you or I can go back to the house now. You’re just being reckless! We have to be realistic.”
“Ian, listen to me.” I did my best to keep my cool and speak as reasonably and forcefully as possible. “You want me to be realistic? Here’s realistic. There’s no other way. If we need more antibiotics, we need that access card. And I’m the only one who has a chance of getting it from Jason.”
Ian looked at me pleadingly. “I’m not letting you do this. Ashley, honestly, listen to me.” He whispered, “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you. Do you understand? I can’t lose you.”
Ian put his arms around my shoulders and drew me close, pressing my head against his chest. I felt like I might cry, but I forced myself not to.
I slipped my hands around his waist.
Then I grabbed his gun from his belt and pulled away from him.
“You’re not going to lose me,” I said. “Ian, that’s why I have to do this.”
I ran out the door before he could stop me, then I sprinted up the riverbank, clutching Ian’s gun, careful to keep under the cover of the trees.
The Home Guard was already at the house when I got there. From the riverbank, I could see Jason’s military vehicle parked in the driveway.
I sneaked toward the back of the house. On the way up the river, I’d hastily constructed a plan for getting Jason alone. I couldn’t go inside without anyone else seeing me. My only chance was to wait outside the bathroom window and hope I could catch him using it. It was risky, I knew. But there wasn’t any other way.
An old, overgrown lilac bush stood just outside the house’s downstairs bathroom window. Luckily, it still had most of its leaves. I crawled between it and the house, crouching just below the window sill. I was pretty sure no one would see me hiding there.
My mom had cooked lunch again for the Home Guard. I could tell because I could smell her beef stew.
The rangers’ voices droned on while they ate in the kitchen. Occasionally, I heard my mom’s voice pipe up, and I could hear Jason’s voice too, along with Shawn’s, but I couldn’t make out anything that anyone was saying.
So far, my plan was on track because Jason’s squad had actually stopped for lunch, just like I’d hoped they would. They had to know we were missing by now, but luckily they weren’t rushing off to find us, like I’d worried they might do. The squad was taking its time eating. But for everything to work like I’d planned, a lot more still had to go my way. First of all, Jason had to use the bathroom before he left. And I had no idea how likely it was that he actually would.
I don’t know how long I waited until someone finally came to use the bathroom. Whoever it was opened the window right away. The sash slid up right above my head. I held my breath. I didn’t move.
I heard someone peeing. A guy.
I couldn’t show myself unless I knew for sure it was Jason. But that was the problem. To look through the window I would have to expose myself for a moment, showing my face before ducking back down. If it was Shawn who was peeing right now, or anyone but Jason, and he saw me through the window, I’d be arrested. Maybe shot.
I took a deep, quiet breath. I didn’t have much time. I would have to look quickly, before whoever it was finished peeing and still had his back to me.
I started counting down from three, poised to raise my head and duck as quickly as possible.
Three . . . Two . . .
Suddenly, whoever was in the bathroom coughed and spit through the window. A mass of saliva and phlegm shot into the lilac bush, attached itself to a branch, and dripped down the bark.
Just from the sound of the cough alone, I knew it was Shawn, not Jason. I’d lived with him for a long time. I was sure it was him. If I’d raised my head a moment earlier, he would have seen me.
I held my breath.
I heard him grumbling and gasping as he struggled to wash his hands while one of them was shot through and bandaged.
Then he left.
Another fifteen minutes passed, and I heard the rangers saying goodbye to my mom.
Jason hadn’t gone to the bathroom. Fuck him and his fucking big-ass bladder.
But just when I started to crawl from beneath the window, someone hurried into the bathroom. Instantly I heard a heavy stream of piss churning into the toilet bowl.
I didn’t waste any time. I peeked quickly through the window and ducked back down.
It was Jason. I could only see the back of his head, but I was sure it was him.
I stood quietly, raised the gun, and pointed it through the window directly at Jason.
As soon as he was done peeing, just as he was zipping up, I whispered, “Those pills you gave me were fucking incredible.”
His head snapped around. His eyes met mine, startled.
I said, “You draw your gun you know I’ll shoot you.”
Now he smiled coolly. “Well, well, well. There you are. Ashley, if you shoot me, my whole squad’ll be on you in seconds flat. But I won’t draw. Not just yet. I like you.” He turned and approached the window, stepping confidently toward my gun’s barrel. He planted his hands on the sill. “You liked those pills? Fucking good, aren’t they. And now you want more.”
“You got any?”
“Not on me right now.” He laughed softly. “Jesus. What makes you think I’d give any more to you, anyway? You’re a wanted fugitive. I have the go-ahead to shoot you on sight. Did you know that? Your husband’s ready to skin your hide. He wouldn’t fuck you with a rubber on a ten-foot pole.”
“And what about you?” I asked. “How do you feel about this whole situation? You haven’t shot me yet.”
“No,” he said, smiling. “No I haven’t. Have I?” He spoke softly, bringing his face closer to mine. “I don’t like to be rash. After all, there’s such a thing as protection. Besides, you came to say hello to me. Didn’t you? That was a very friendly thing to do. You must like me after all.”
“Well,” I said, forcing myself to smile coyly while keeping my gun raised. “You’re the sergeant,” I leaned forward and whispered into his ear. “Out of all these privates, I hear you have the biggest gun. And you like to party. What’s not to like?”
“I knew you liked to party!” Jason slapped his hand on the sill like he’d just won the lottery, “I knew it. I saw you that night at the fair, and I knew you liked to get fucked up. Why you been holding out on me, Ashley?”
I pouted. “Well, my marriage isn’t exactly working out, is it?” I tried not to ham it up too much. I was pretty sure I had him, and I didn’t want to ruin it now. “It’s just getting kind of boring out here on the run,” I said carefully. “And I’m getting lonely. How soon can you get some more of those pills? I thought maybe we could hook up later on tonight. They give you time off, don’t they?”
“Ashley. I’m the sergeant.” Jason’s tone was brimming with smug confidence. “I can take time off whenever the fuck I want.”
“And you can get more of those pills whenever the fuck you want too?”
“I can get them. You fucking bet I can get them. I’ll get you some that are even better than those last ones.” He smiled. “As long as you share.”
I smiled back at him. “If you can get them,” I whispered, “oh, I’ll share all right. I’ll be at your house at eleven tonight then? You’ll be there? You better be there.”
“Whoa, whoa, Ash,” Jason said. “No. Not there. If you want me to keep all this on the down low and not arrest or shoot your tight little ass, you can’t be anywhere near my house. If anyone found out about this, I’d be fucked. Got that? If I’m doing you a favor by not turning you in and hooking you up, then we gotta do this how I say.”
“Where then?” I braced myself. I thought I’d had him, but now I wasn’t so sure.
What was I getting myself into?
“That bend in the highway,” he said, gesturing out beyond the barn. “Just past this place. Do you know where I mean? Where that little gully is? You just hang tight there tonight, and I’ll pick you up. Got it?”
I knew the place he meant. I also knew that getting into any kind of vehicle with Jason was a bad idea. I’d imagined dropping in on his shitty little house and finding him already halfway wasted by the time I got there. I’d even planned on asking Ian to hide outside in the dark in case anything went wrong. Driving around alone with Jason was completely different. He could take me anywhere he wanted, and nobody would be there to back me up.
But what else could I do? It was this or nothing.
I grabbed his collar and whispered, “I’ll be there at eleven. Don’t be late.”
As soon as Jason’s military vehicle drove away, and I was sure all the rangers in his squad were gone, I slipped out to the feed shed.
I couldn’t risk going inside the house. I had no idea what my mom or Danielle would do if they saw me. After this morning, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they turned me in. And I didn’t even know if Shawn was still there or not, nursing his wound.
But I knew my dad always fed his cattle before sundown. He did the same thing without fail every day of his life. If I waited for him at the feed shed long enough, I was sure he’d show up eventually.
I also knew that I’d bought us all some time at the granary. As long as Jason was planning on partying with me, he wasn’t going to look very hard for anybody on my parents’ property. No matter how hard Shawn pushed him to find us, Jason was the boss. And I knew he’d much rather sleep with Shawn’s wife than have to shoot me, given the options.
I laid down in the hay scattered all over the feed shed. The cattle were already milling around, waiting for my dad to feed them.
It was quiet here, and peaceful. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I used to help my dad feed his cattle. The scent of the fresh hay was sweet and rich, and it filled my lungs as I breathed in the air. It almost felt like nothing had changed. No pathogen, no quarantine. Just my dad’s feed shed filled with hay, just like it had always been.
I must have fallen to sleep, because when I woke up the sun was setting.
My dad was tossing loose hay into the troughs, and the cattle were chewing lazily. He hadn’t even seen me asleep in the dark corner of the shed.
“Dad,” I whispered.
He turned around, startled.
“It’s me,” I said. “It’s okay.”
I stepped from the shadows. When my dad set eyes on me, he looked incredibly relieved.
He gave me a long, tight hug. He even lifted me from the ground a little, like he used to do when I was little.
“My Ashley,” he said. “I’m so glad you’re okay. You have no idea how worried I’ve been about you.” He hugged me again. “The world’s all gone to hell, hasn’t it?” he said softly. “What the hell are we all going to do?”
“Well, I’m not going to stand around doing nothing,” I said. “That’s for sure.”
My dad looked at me warily. I could tell he was worried that I’d get hurt, or worse.
“I need your help,” I said.
“My help? How?”
“I just need you to tell me something.” I was sure no one else was around, but I lowered my voice. “You remember when I was a kid and we took that cross-country horseback trip? Way out in the mountains? And we found those ruins? That village carved in the rock? And you told me not to ever tell anyone about it?”
My dad looked around the feed shed. He craned his head to look out the window.
“I don’t remember anything like that,” he said. “What are you talking about? That’s ridiculous, this far north. The Anasazi never set foot past southern Colorado.”
“Dad.” I couldn’t help but laugh a little. He was this serious about keeping a secret. “No one can hear us. We’re alone. We can talk about it. It’s okay. But I need you to tell me where those cliff dwellings are. It’s important. People’s lives are at stake. I can’t tell you why, but they are. You told me once that the Anasazi built those dwellings way out there to hide from a brutal enemy. Now I need to hide, just like they did. Do you understand? And I have no idea how to get there.”
My dad sighed. He glanced out the feed-shed window one last time.
“Does Ian know about this?” he asked.
“No,” I whispered. “Not yet. But he needs a place to hide as bad as I do.”
My dad nodded. “And if you went out there, he’d go with you?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Good,” he said.
He turned to leave the feed shed. It was almost dark.
“Stay here,” he said.
In fifteen minutes he came back with a Ziploc bag. Inside was a black garbage bag folded neatly into sections.
He removed it from the Ziploc bag and unwrapped it.
Inside was a topographical map.
My dad unfolded the map’s sections, then pointed to a tiny, penciled-in X. He tapped it with his finger. Then he wrapped the map back up in the bags and handed it to me.
Suddenly, there was a scream at the house.
My dad looked at me for a moment, confused, then we both ran toward the lighted back porch.
I did my best to stuff the map into the back of my pants as we ran. I didn’t have anywhere else to put it. When we neared the porch, there was another scream.
“Get her off!”
It was Tyler’s voice, I realized now.
Through the dim screen window that lead to the washroom, I could see a commotion, but I couldn’t make out anything but shadows.
“Get her off!” Tyler shouted again in a terrified panic.
It was only now, hearing Tyler’s terrified scream, that I remembered the moment I’d left Morgan asleep in the silo. I’d heard Bryce’s gunshot, and I had rushed straight to the granary.
And I’d left without locking the door.
I had no choice but to rush to the house. I had to risk being seen by my mom or Danielle. I had to risk even Shawn seeing me, if he was there.
When I reached the washroom, I saw exactly what I’d feared. But it was even worse than I’d imagined.
Tyler’s pants were around his ankles. Morgan was completely naked. Her legs were locked around Tyler’s waist. Her arms were locked around his neck. He’d fallen onto his back against a pile of muddy boots, and Morgan’s pelvis was grinding away furiously as she perched on top of him. She was starting to moan.
They’d obviously been having sex. They still were.
“I’m so sorry,” Tyler cried, pushing at Morgan without budging her. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry! I couldn’t help it! I couldn’t help it! Now she won’t stop!”
I understood exactly what must have happened. Without another dose of antibiotics, Morgan’s infection had progressed. Maybe even as far as stage three. Without being locked inside the silo, she’d wondered to the house in a sex-crazed stupor. Tyler must have been the first person she’d seen. She’d stripped her clothes. She must have been saturated with pheromones. Even now I could feel a strange, lustful dizziness. Tyler hadn’t had a chance. He was just a fourteen-year old kid who was full of his own adolescent hormones anyway. He’d probably been tempted into letting Morgan seduce him, then he’d screamed out when he’d realized that he couldn’t get her off of him.
I rushed to the floor and tried to pull Morgan away. But I couldn’t believe her strength. Her legs and arms were locked so tightly around Tyler that I couldn’t even budge them. The rigidity of her muscles must have been some strange effect of the pathogen.
“Get her off!” Tyler screamed.
“I’m trying, sweetie,” I said. “I’m trying!”
Morgan’s moaning grew louder. I pulled at her arms with all my might, and still I couldn’t budge her.
“Morgan!” I yelled. “You have to stop. Snap out of it! Morgan!”
But she just clung more tightly to Tyler’s body. She grinded her pelvis even harder.
“I’m so sorry, Aunt Ashley,” Tyler wailed.
I tried again to pull Morgan off, but this only made her cling even tighter. She bit Tyler’s ear. Tyler screamed, but she wouldn’t let go. She just latched her teeth onto his flesh, started breathing heavily through her nose, and refused to release her bite.
Morgan’s moaning intensified.
If I didn’t do anything to stop her, she was going to climax. I remembered what Chris had told me. If she reached that point, Tyler would definitely get infected.
“Get her off!” Tyler screamed.
I stood and searched the washroom for anything I could use to pry Morgan off.
The first thing I saw was the scarf my mom was making for Haley. I pulled one of the knitting needles from the loops of yarn.
Morgan was whimpering now. She was grinding on top of Tyler with a horrifying speed. She’d locked her fingernails into the back of his neck, and she still hadn’t let go of his ear with her teeth.
For a moment I thought about the night when I’d watched Mr. Hershel raping Morgan. I remembered how I hadn’t been able to bring myself to shoot him, and how Ian had needed to take the gun from me and do it himself.
But Ian wasn’t here now.
It was up to me to act.
Morgan squealed. She arched her back. Any second now, she was going to come. There was only one thing I could do to stop her.
I didn’t let myself think about what I was doing.
I put the tip of the knitting needle into her ear. Then I jammed it inside as hard as I could. There was a faint crunching sound.
Instantly, Morgan collapsed.
Tyler slid away, backing himself into the corner of the washroom. He was sobbing.
Then, there was a loud knocking on the front door.
“Home Guard!” someone shouted “Open now!” I heard my mom shriek with relief and rush to let them in. She must have called the Home Guard herself when she’d seen Morgan prowling around the house.
But I couldn’t move. All I could do was kneel there, frozen, while Tyler cowered in the corner and Morgan’s body lay slumped against my knee.
I’d just killed my best friend.
I tried to understand this fact, but I just felt numb. I knew I needed to stand up and run, but I couldn’t.
The Home Guard’s booted footsteps pounded through the kitchen toward me.
But all I could do was look mutely at my right hand. It was like it belonged to somebody else. My fingers were still tightly clasped around the knitting needle, and covered in Morgan’s blood.