As Sarah and Georgie followed Jack out of McDonald’s and back into the gas station convenience store, past a stand of postcards and keychain trinkets, a horn began to blow from outside in a combination of short and long blasts.
“Shit, that’s Father,” Jack said, removing the Kimber pistol from the back waistband of his jeans. He walked to the glass entrance door and looked out at the parking area and the gas pumps. Father remained parked by the front door, and Jack could see he was pointing toward the professor’s van.
Jack looked over at the van, still next to the gas pump island. Past the van, where a tanker and a few semi-trucks were parked so that long-haul drivers could get the sleep they needed before getting back on the road, were three spasmodic zombies walking toward the van, like dog ticks drawn to warm hairy regions.
“Quick, get your stuff and get in the car,” Jack said as he grabbed his bag of booze from the counter. The glass bottles clanked together as they ran to the car where Father had it already shifted into drive, his foot quivering on the brake pedal.
“They’re having trouble closing the cargo door,” Father said, watching as Tony and Professor Dillon pushed on the van’s rear double doors that would spring back at them, rather than latch closed.
“They got too much shit in that van,” Jack said. “Drive behind them and position my window so I can target those poor bastard truckers.”
Father punched the gas and swung Old Nelly around so Jack could get a clear shot at the lumbering flannel-clad people who were now at the van.
Tony had just managed to close the cargo doors when a zombie with a greasy T-shirt stretching only over the top half of its potbelly, grabbed the professor’s arm before he was able to get into the van. The other two zombies lumbered slowly toward Tony, who had backed away while pulling the rifle from his shoulder.
“Get closer, and then stop,” Jack commanded Father as he rolled down his window.
Father drove the car within spitting distance of the overweight zombie who was having difficulty keeping its balance as the professor kept pushing it away. It was almost like watching two sumo wrestlers, but Jack would never tell the professor that the thought had come to mind.
Using both hands and the weight of his body, the professor was able to force his opponent away at such velocity that it stumbled and fell backward. Now Jack could take his shot. The bewildered fat man was momentarily stuck on its back, like a turtle lying on its shell, unable to flip over. Jack held his Kimber steady and pulled the trigger. The bullet missed the man’s bald head, spraying pieces of gray concrete into the air.
Jack aimed and shot again, this time hitting the protruding abdomen, causing the zombie’s limbs to jolt and tighten like it had been shocked with a defibrillator. Dark coagulated blood oozed out from the entrance wound and from underneath it before ceasing to move anymore.
While the professor got into the van, Tony had completed a half circle, arching out into the open lot where, if any bullets passed straight through the bodies, no one else would be behind them and take a hit.
When he had the two zombies with their backs pointing toward an area of weeds, near the dumpster, he fired, dropping them where they had taken their last steps.
Clare had pulled the van out from the island as Tony reached it and got in through the open door. They sped off as Father followed them past the vacant Freightliner and onto the I-94 entrance ramp.
While Georgie pulled a Snicker’s bar from his ripped plastic bag, and Willis punched into the cardboard carton of Mountain Dew, Sarah teased, “You’re not much of a shot, are you, Jack?”
Jack turned his head, and with a smile said, “Hey, I killed that zombie and saved the professor.”
“No one could miss hitting that thing’s big belly,” Sarah razzed.
“And you could do better?” Jack bantered.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Willis said, after taking two long swallows of pop.
“Don’t forget they are people,” Father said.
“They were people,” Jack corrected. “If I turn into one of those things someone better put a bullet in my head.”
“Duly noted,” Sarah chided, looking at the back of Jack’s head. The pink sunlight cast a shimmering iridescence through Jack’s hair; it looked soft and silky. She felt like running her fingers through it.
“How much longer to the observatory, Mom?” Georgie asked, with a mouth full of chocolate, peanuts, and gooey caramel.
“I don’t know, an hour or so,” Sarah answered, and then added, “Don’t speak with your mouth full.”
Georgie swallowed, and then asked, “What if our house is surrounded by zombies? We won’t be able to stay there.”
Jack turned around and said, “Don’t you boys worry, we’ll be okay. Once we get to the observatory, we may be able to get some answers as to what’s going on. Besides, the Man Upstairs is on our side, look who’s driving us?” he said, pointing toward Father Mitch.
Father spoke up. “Believe me, boys, I’ve been saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers for us.”
Sarah took a bottle of water and the aspirin from her sack, the gunshots and dead people had gotten on her nerves. She relaxed back into the corner between the seat and car door as Old Nelly tore down the highway, right behind the van. The scenery had not changed much from earlier, cars were still on the road, and people were nowhere in sight as the sun’s rosy ball of light diffused through the pink hue, creating a surreal landscape. The only thing that changed was that the red sparkles had disappeared.