“Looks like Jack’s driving a car to the front door, I think he has Father with him,” Clare said, alerting the others in the classroom. She turned away from the small opening between the window frame and the edge of the blind and took off her sunglasses. She wobbled as she took a step forward. Looking through the tiny slit, one eye at a time, caused a momentary bout of double-vision. “Hurry, gather the gear.”
“I’ll let them in,” Tony said, positioning his saddle leather rifle sling comfortably on his shoulder. He left the classroom and descended the stairs. The hollow echo of his boot tread on the concrete stairs filled the stairwell with the lonely sound of a school abandoned, ready for the wrecking ball. He heard two muffled thumps from Jack’s billy club as he pounded the thick wooden door. Tony unbolted the door, and Jack squeezed inside, not waiting for Tony to finish pulling it open.
“Father’s in the car,” Jack said as he brushed past Tony. “The professor will be bringing the van around front in a few minutes. You, Clare and Dawn will go with him.”
“Sounds good,” Tony said, re-bolting the door. He followed Jack up the stairs. “I’ll bring our gear down, so it’s ready to go.”
Sarah sighed with relief when Jack entered the classroom, until she noticed he had no signs of his protective equipment, not on his face, in his hands, or in his pockets. “Jack, where’s your isolation stuff?”
Jack looked at the boys as they fumbled taping the bags on their feet. “Oh, yeah, Father and I decided it wasn’t necessary.”
“Stay right there, Jack,” Clare said, motioning for Tony and Sarah not to go near him. “What do you mean, you and Father, what about Dad? Is he in agreement?”
Jack lowered his head and looked up at Clare, like a dog caught relieving itself on the basement floor. “Well, not entirely, but he’ll come around. This whole isolation thing isn’t going to work, and we’re probably immune anyway.”
Clare exhaled a breath of irritation. “You don’t know that, and where is he?”
Jack stood where he had stopped. Everyone was looking at him as if he belonged in a leper colony. “According to the professor, those sparkles are more than likely spores, and all of us have already been exposed to them, and if we were going to turn into zombies, or whatever those things are, we would’ve done it by now.” Jack knew he exaggerated a little, but he wanted to get the hell out of there with Sarah and the boys, not stand around negotiating about what to do next, there was no time for that.
“So we’re immune?” Sarah asked, standing by Willis and Georgie, who seemed to be more entertained rather than frightened by the events in the classroom.
“Looks like it,” Jack said, checking his pistol again. “And if we all turn into zombies you can blame it on the professor.”
“Hilarious,” Clare said, then asked, “Where is Dad?”
“He’s right behind me. He’s going to be pulling up in the church van to get the rest of you any second, so be ready to go with the gear.”
Tony passed close to Jack on his way to look out the window, not bothering to put on sunglasses. He moved the blind aside a few inches to look out the window. “I don’t see him, but he could be in front of the school, in the blind spot. What was he doing when you left him?”
Jack stood in the same spot, unsure whether to move. Tony seemed convinced that protection was pointless because he did not put on sunglasses when he looked out the window, but he was unsure if he had convinced Clare. “He was getting ready to get into the van. He should be out there right now.”
“I wonder if something happened to Grandpa,” Dawn said, with a quiver in her voice.
Willis moved away from Sarah and sat next to Clare. With a voice softened with genuine concern, he said, “I’m sure he’s okay. We’ll find him.”
Sarah felt a momentary twinge of separation, like a prick of a needle. Willis was seventeen, a young man. It was only natural for him to leave the security that Sarah had always provided, and be drawn toward a lovely young female for whom he seemed to be attracted, and she for him.
Clare repositioned her camouflage cap over her brown bob. “I’ll check from one of the windows on the first floor.” She walked past Jack, stopped in the doorway and turned around. “Okay, Jack, you win. But if anyone gets sick I’ll . . .” she paused.
“Kick my ass?” Jack said, finishing her sentence.
“You can count on it,” Clare said as she left the room.
Jack walked over to where they had ammunition stored. A metallic gun case and two smaller strongboxes sat ready to go. Jack ejected the seven round cartridge from his Kimber and inspected it. Two rounds were loaded. “Tony, do you have cartridges and extra magazines for this?”
Tony opened a strongbox and handed Jack a box of .45 ACP cartridges and a couple magazines. “You’ll need to fill them.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have a holster for this, would you?” Jack asked as he loaded a magazine.
Tony re-locked the strongbox. “Nope, but I do have a double magazine carrier,” he said, pulling a saddle leather carrier and belt from an olive colored tactical duffel bag.
Jack put the full magazines into the carrier and then threaded the belt through the loops of his jeans, before attaching the carrier. He filled the Kimber’s magazine, seated it in the pistol, racked the gun, and returned it to the back waistband of his jeans. He picked up his billy club just as Clare came rushing back into the room.
“I didn’t see him anywhere,” Clare said, out of breath from having run up the steps.
“I’ll go back and check on him,” Jack said. “Sarah, you and the boys come with me. The rest of you stay here, we’ll be back for you.”
“Thanks, Jack,” Clare said, walking over to the window. Same as Tony, she did not put on the sunglasses as she pulled back the blind to look onto the pink-dusted courtyard and the church next to it.
“Do we still need these bags on our feet, Jack?” Willis asked, extending a leg for closer inspection of the black plastic bag and his sloppy tape job.
Jack only briefly looked at Sarah, hoping she would not override his decision. “No, take those ridiculous things off.”
The boys cheered as they kicked the clumsy protective bags from their feet. Dawn smiled as she followed suit.
Jack motioned for Sarah and the boys to follow him. Willis and Georgie already had on their backpacks and Sarah had her cross-shoulder purse, as they ran swiftly down the stairs to the main entrance, Tony right behind them.
“I’m locking this behind you,” Tony said.
Jack nodded as they exited the school and ran down the slippery, sparkle-covered concrete steps to the aged sedan parked at the curb. Father Mitch was looking at them with a wrinkled smile from the front passenger seat window as he unlocked the doors and popped the trunk with the key fob that Jack had left in the car.
“Put your backpacks in the trunk and get in,” Jack said as he ran around to the other side of the car and climbed into the driver’s seat. “Lock your doors.”
Jack looked out the back window while Sarah and the boys got into the backseat. There was no sign of Professor Dillon. He looked over to Father, who was greeting the newcomers to the vehicle. “We have to go back and see what’s keeping the professor.”
“Good idea, Jack,” said Father as he turned forward in the seat.
Jack did a U-turn, drove past the church, and then turned the corner around the rectory. He slowed as he approached the paved driveway behind the parsonage.
“Shit,” Jack said, stopping the car in the middle of the road. In front of the garage were two haggard men pounding on the closed garage door. Their shirttails hung out as they pushed and banged on the steel panels. One man was missing a boot, standing lopsided and tipsy as if a light breeze would cause him to lose balance and drop like a rotten bag of potatoes to the ground. The other appeared to be the same one with the Parkinson’s shuffle they had seen earlier.
“Are those zombies?” Georgie asked, leaning over Willis to get a better look out the side window.
“Get off of me,” Willis said, pushing Georgie back to the middle of the seat. “Yes, those are flesh-eating zombies.”
“Stop it, you two,” Sarah said, sliding toward the door to give more room for Georgie to sit.
“Looks like the professor is trapped in the garage,” Father said. “Any ideas what we should do?”
Jack started blowing the car horn to get the zombies attention. It seemed to work as they turned toward the car and began an awkward walk in their direction. “Everyone, hold on,” he said.
Jack blew the horn a few more times as the zombies lumbered closer. The arms flailed on the one trying to keep its equilibrium as it stepped from the curb, onto the road. Jack put the tired car in reverse; it stalled. “Don’t tell me I just ran out of gas.”
“You have to baby Old Nelly,” Father said. “Start it up and gently, I emphasize gently, give it gas and she’ll be as loyal as any old mare, or pit bull.”
“She better be acting like a pit bull in two seconds if she doesn’t back us out of here,” Jack said, frantically turning the ignition key. He pulled the lever on the steering column into reverse and very gently pressed on the accelerator. Old Nelly backed up without hesitation as Jack slowly lured the zombies away from the garage.
“Look,” Sarah said, pointing toward the garage. “The professor is opening the overhead door.”
Everyone, except Jack, who focused on keeping his distance from the odd couple in front of him, had their eyes peeled on the garage door as it rolled up, and the van became visible.
Father gasped. “Jack, I don’t want to add to your troubles, but there’s a zombie holding onto the driver’s door of the van.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Jack said, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other draped over the back of the seat as he twisted to look out the rear window; increasing his speed and distance from the zombies.
The squeal of tires was heard as Professor Dillon roared out of the garage and spun around on the crystal-coated pavement in front of the garage, the limp zombie held onto the driver’s door handle with a death grip.
Father picked up the billy club that Jack had laid in the seat next him. “I’ll go knock that thing off the professor’s van so that we can get out of here.”
After Jack had processed the absurdness of what Father had just said, and then rationalized the necessity of it, he asked, “Are you strong enough for that?”
“I have to be because we need you to drive the car.”
“I can drive the car,” Sarah said.
“I can drive the car or knock that thing off the van,” Willis said, volunteering for any manly duty.
“We don’t have time for this,” Father said, placing his hand on the door release. “Stop the car, I can run past those two.”
Jack backed up a little further and slammed on the brakes to let Father out of the car. He moved swiftly to the now stationary van and began yelling nonsense at the zombie while poking his club into its mushy side. He could hear the professor shouting something through the window, it sounded like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’
The zombie turned and looked at Father while releasing its grip on the door handle. Father stepped back a few feet, stumbling momentarily on a piece of loose pavement. The thing had an odor, like a dead rat caught in a wall. He held the club out and began swinging it as, what appeared to be a corpse, lunged at him. One of Father’s weak blows made firm contact with the thing’s shoulder, causing it to stagger to the side where it fell over a small statue of Saint Francis that Father had in the autumn leaf covered flower bed next to the drive.
Father saw Jack pulling up in front of the driveway from the other direction; he had apparently gone around the block. Father ran toward the car where Jack already had the passenger door open. Everyone in the car was yelling for Father to hurry. The two zombies that Jack had lured away were returning, and the one that fell on the leaf-covered chrysanthemums was returning to a somewhat erect position, as erect as a scarecrow type body could get.
They watched as Father ran like someone who should have a cane, not a billy club in his hand. When he reached the car, he got in like a tiger jumping through a hoop, landing partially in Jack’s lap. He sat up immediately and slammed the door shut. He locked it just as all three zombies ascended upon Old Nelly, causing her to rock back and forth from the force of their bodies.
“I’m impressed,” Jack said, with a smile of admiration. Everyone cheered with excitement.
“Go!” yelled Sarah.
Jack burned rubber, leaving the zombies behind in the black smoke. Professor Dillon was in front of them, already pulling up in front of the school where everyone was running out the front door with their gear.
“The zombies are coming!” Georgie yelled as he looked out the back window.
Jack pulled to the side of the van, rolled down the passenger window, and yelled out to Professor Dillon, who was getting out to help the others. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” he yelled back. A streak of blood ran down the side of his face.
“He’s bleeding,” Sarah said as the professor turned away and opened the back doors to the van. “I hope one of those things didn’t do that.”
“Me, too,” Jack said, glancing back at Sarah. “You know how things turn out in the movies.” He was only half kidding.
Sarah watched as the professor’s gang loaded the van with such speed that they must have practiced it. She turned back and saw the zombies almost on them once again, this time seeming more enraged than the listless cadavers they had first seemed to be. Sarah was suddenly pressed into the vinyl seat from the force of the sedan speeding off to its destination, Kalamazoo’s Owl Observatory.