The car’s slowing momentum and shift in direction jolted Sarah awake from her short catnap. She opened her eyes and sat up; they were following the professor’s van onto an exit ramp. Just ahead, a CITGO gas station and a McDonald’s restaurant shared the same building. Driving through the stop sign and into the gas station’s lot, they passed an eighteen-wheeler that appeared to have been pulling out of the station and on the road when the driver decided to abandon his rig. The cab door was open, and the diesel motor was still running, gray smoke puffed out of the exhaust stack. Jack drove past it and pulled up to a pump that did not have a car beside it and sat there. The professor did the same.
“I don’t see anyone or any thing moving around,” Jack said, twisting side to side, the friction of his jeans causing the seat’s vinyl to squeak. He could see inside the open door of the small economy sized car at the pump next him. An open purse with a wallet next to it sat on the front seat; the pump nozzle was still in the car’s gas tank. If he were unable to get gas into Old Nelly, he and the others could squeeze into one of the cars that were being fueled before the owners had departed. Unfortunately, no SUVs, vans or large luxury cars happened to stop for fuel when the aliens came to visit.
“Professor Dillon is getting out of the van, so is Tony,” Sarah said. The professor was parked the next island over.
“You guys stay here while I see if this pump works,” Jack said. He got out, closed the driver’s door behind him, and walked to the front of the pump. A big white sticker with red letters read, PLEASE PAY AT THE PUMP OR PREPAY INSIDE. THANK YOU. Jack turned around, opened the car door and popped his head inside. “Anyone have a card?”
“I do,” Sarah said, grinning with annoyance. She pulled a card from the wallet in her purse. “I can’t believe we need a credit card at a time like this.”
Jack took the card. “Oh, what is your ZIP code, I might need it.”
Sarah quickly cited her ZIP code. Jack winked at her. “Thanks.”
They watched as Jack slid the card in and out of the pump’s slot, punched in the ZIP code, and lifted the pump’s handle. He turned and gave a thumbs-up to the car’s occupants as he began filling it up.
“Pop the trunk,” Jack said, his voice muffled through the glass.
Father reached over and popped the trunk. Jack was getting out the gas can when the professor walked over. Sarah could faintly hear them discussing the observatory and getting food inside the station.
“I’m hungry,” Georgie said, returning the Kindle to his backpack.
“I am too,” Willis agreed. “Do you think they’ll let us go inside and get some food?”
“I agree with the boys,” Father said, just as an audible growl came from his stomach as if a tapeworm timed the rumble to fit in perfectly with the conversation.
Everyone was laughing when Jack closed the trunk and got back into the car. “What’s so funny?”
“We’re hungry,” Sarah said. “Can we get some food?”
“The professor, Tony and I are going to check things out inside the station first,” Jack said, turning the ignition on and shifting into drive.
“What about McDonald’s?” Georgie asked.
“We’ll see,” Jack said. He drove to the front entrance, positioning the car for a fast getaway. He handed the club to father then opened the car door to get out. “Be ready to drive, and if you see anything, blow the horn. Then, if it’s safe, we’ll motion for you guys to come in.”
“I can do that,” Father said, sliding over into the driver’s seat of the purring car.
They watched as Jack, Professor Dillon, and Tony, with guns drawn, opened a credit card stickered glass door and entered the building. No one said anything; their bodies stiffened as if they were waiting for the bloody knife-wheeling killer in a monster movie to jump out at the men, with metal blades slashing flesh. Nothing happened as they disappeared inside the store.
A few minutes had passed before Jack came back to the front door and motioned for them to come in.
“Looks like it’s safe to go in,” Father said. “I’ll stay here with the car, just in case.”
“You kids should probably stay here with Father,” Sarah said as she unlocked her door. Before she could get out of the car, Willis and Georgie were protesting. Having to go to the bathroom was one reason and taking what they wanted off the shelves was another.
“Okay, you can come in but you have to stay close to me and not get into any trouble.”
The boys agreed not to get into any trouble. Sarah followed Clare and Dawn inside the building. It was quiet, except for the machine hum of coolers and the rustling of plastic store bags that Tony took from behind the counter and placed next to the cash register.
“Were the bathrooms checked?” Sarah asked Tony as he came out from behind the clerk’s area.
“Yep, but be fast,” he answered, unzipping a partially empty duffel bag.
Sarah saw the restroom signs. “The bathrooms are over here,” she said to the boys. “Let me go in first.”
Sarah walked into the men’s room with Willis and Georgie right behind her. The pungent odor of stale urine hung in the air. She looked under the stalls before opening each door, her shoes squeaking on the sticky floor. “Okay, there’s no one in here. I’ll be in the ladies’ room.”
After relieving herself, she looked at her tired image in the mirror while she washed her hands. Her eyelids drooped from exhaustion and her lips needed balm. She splashed warm water on her face before realizing that the only way to dry it was with coarse brown paper towels or her sleeve. She chose her sleeve. Her hair was a mess, lying this way and that. She had thought about finding the comb that she had somewhere in her cluttered purse but decided ‘what the heck’ she was not entering a beauty contest; she would find her comb later. Besides, it was better to get back out into the store and gather the things they needed, in case they had to leave quickly.
Willis and Georgie were already back in the store, not far from Jack. While Sarah gathered aspirin and other medicines, she saw Jack putting a bottle of Scotch and another bottle of booze into his bag. He turned around and noticed Sarah looking at him. “It’s for later when we celebrate kicking the aliens’ asses back where they came from. The Scotch is for Father, his weapon of choice.” He smiled.
Sarah shook her head, not surprised. Then caused Jack to stop what he was doing and nod in agreement when she said, “Then you better put something good tasting in there for me.”
“You got it, babe.”
She watched as Jack put a bottle of something in his bag. Willis was, of course, gathering candy bars, potato chips, and a carton of Mountain Dew, all essential survival items, in his young eyes.
“This is fun,” Willis said. He was a kid in a candy store.
“Where’s Georgie?” Sarah said as she began looking down the aisles. Clare and Dawn were at the end of the second aisle, near stacks of Pepsi and Miller beer, loading canvas totes with bread, peanut butter and various canned food items.
“He’s not back here,” Clare said, swiftly moving items from the shelves into the bag.
Sarah looked around the gas station convenience store some more. When she could not find him, she shouted, “Georgie!”
“I’m over here, Mom,” Georgie answered, his voice was distant. He was in the McDonald’s side of the store.
Sarah went around the corner and into the attached McDonald’s. Georgie had gone behind the cashier’s counter and was studying the soft serve ice cream machine when she saw him. He pulled a cone from a metal sleeve and was beginning to fill it with chocolate ice cream from the spout when Sarah saw a slow-moving young man dressed in a black and red McDonald’s uniform coming out from the grill area. Its tongue was protruding from a lax jaw, and the head was hanging with the face pointed toward the brown tile floor. Its gait was slow, shifting unsteadily from foot to foot as if it was sleepwalking. Then it raised its head when it passed the fry baskets and looked directly at Georgie, who was more interested in the ice cream than what was coming up behind him.
“Georgie, look out!” Sarah screamed as she ran to the counter. Georgie was topping off the swirl on his cone, still unaware of what was coming his way. “Run! There’s a zombie!”
Georgie looked over his shoulder, saw the red of its bloodshot eyes, and foam oozing from the corners of its dry, cracked lips. Georgie dropped his cone; it splattered on the floor and his sneakers. He had two seconds to decide whether to run past it, and likely into it or climb through the drive-through window. He opted for the window.
Using shelves, knobs and anything that would act as a step, he was able to climb onto the counter. Paper cups and napkins flew off the metal surface as his feet slipped, and then caught traction. The drive-through window slid open and closed as the movement of his body triggered the hip level window button. He pushed his way out the window, falling to the pavement on his hands and knees. “I’m okay, Mom!” he yelled, standing and brushing tiny pebbles from his skin and blue jeans.
Jack heard the commotion and ran into McDonalds, past tables with half eaten sandwiches and toppled drinks, his pistol drawn and aimed at the zombie who seemed to be disoriented.
“Don’t shoot,” Sarah said, on her way to the exit door to find Georgie. “He’s just a boy.”
Jack lowered his Kimber. The zombie was going back toward the grill area, acting confused and listless. “I think it’s time to go,” Jack said to Sarah as the door closed behind her.
Georgie rounded the corner of the building just as a shot rang out from inside. It startled both Sarah and Georgie, causing them to stop in their tracks momentarily before deciding to go back into the McDonalds where Jack was returning from the food-preparation area.
“I had to put the poor kid out of his misery,” Jack said. His eyes welled with tears as he turned and walked away from them, back into the gas station’s carryout.
Sarah and Georgie stopped and looked at each other. There were more victims than they thought.