Willis stood motionless at the open basement doorway while everyone bolted down the steps to see what had just happened. Was it a dream, a nightmare, or was it real? His mind could not comprehend the event; he wanted to block the whole thing out. He felt Jack grab his shoulder and turn him around.
“Willis, what the hell just happened?” Jack shouted. He let go of Willis and looked out the door. There was nothing there.
Willis did not answer. He stood there while Clare took the rifle from his trembling hands.
Jack turned back toward Willis. “Answer me. What did you just shoot at?”
“I thought.” Willis started speaking, but the words were caught in his tight throat. “I thought there was a zombie, but it was Jibber. I think I shot her.”
Jack walked out the door a few feet into the grass. “I don’t see Jibber.”
Willis hesitated, and then walked into the yard. He looked around, his eyes prepared to block out anything bloody and painful. His voice cracked, “Here, Jibber. Here, girl.”
They were all outside, listening. In the distance, they could hear a high-pitched bark coming down the driveway.
“That sounds like Miss Foo,” Willis said, running around the house toward the approaching sound.
They watched as little Miss Foo ran down the driveway.
Willis ran up to the dirt covered teacup poodle. Its curly white hair was brown, the pom-poms looked like mud boots, and its little pink bow was missing from the top of its head. He picked up the panting pooch. Miss Foo began to lick his face as he carried her toward Jack, Clare, and Tony.
“I can’t believe it,” Jack said, shaking his head. “That little dog was able to make it all the way back here?”
“Jibber probably helped her,” Willis said, handing Miss Foo to Clare. He wiped his moist eyes. “We have to find Jibber; she might be hurt.”
“The gunshot probably scared her into the woods,” Jack said. “We’ll find her, she couldn’t have gone far.”
Willis was unable to hold back his tears any longer. “I hope she’s not dead. I hope I didn’t kill her.”
Jack put his arm around Willis. “Jibber wasn’t hurt too bad, she was able to run and hide.”
The group split up as they began searching for Jibber. Miss Foo was trying to squirm out of Clare’s arms so she put the determined dog down. The poodle ran to the shed’s open door and began to bark. Out walked Jibber with her head down as if she had done something wrong.
Willis ran up to her. He hugged her and felt all around her warm body for wet blood or gunshot wounds. “She’s okay, I didn’t shoot her,” he called to the others as they walked over to Willis and his dog.
“I hate to break up this happy reunion,” Tony said as he walked back toward the house. “Willis, grab your rifle so we can get target practice in before heading out. This is likely the only time that being a bad shot was a good thing.”
While Tony and Willis shot at beer cans and plastic pop bottles, Jack and Clare repacked the van with the gear they had taken out for the night, and the things needed to get over the security fence. Jibber and Miss Foo were upstairs, cuddled on Willis’s unmade bed, afraid to leave the house.
“Are you guys ready to go?” Jack yelled over the loud gunshots echoing through the trees.
Willis loaded his gun from the bandoleer across his body and climbed into the van. With Tony in the driver’s seat, they headed toward their target on Lake Michigan. Tony drove slowly through South Haven, now a ghost town. Colored flags on storefronts waved to empty sidewalks. The smell of burning meat flowed through the dash vents as they continued through town to the pier and lighthouse.
“Maybe we should park here,” Clare said when they reached the park on the lakeshore. “If something happens and we have to find the van, we can just follow the lighthouse beacon.”
Jack laughed. “So you think we’re going to be out here ‘til dark?” He looked at the sandy beach. Swings hung empty, beach chairs lay on their side, not even a seagull to pick at abandoned food. There are no birds here, either, he thought.
Tony circled around empty parked cars and back up onto the bluff. “We’re too far away from Palisades. I think we should stick to our plan and go to the state park right next to it.”
They drove a couple miles south, following the state park signs until they passed the ranger station and entered the empty off-season parking lot. They got out and looked around. Lake Michigan was visible between tree covered sand dunes and a tourist building with pop machines and bathrooms. Clare handed Jack one of the carpet remnants, a plastic step stool, and a pair of binoculars to go around his neck while she took the other remnant and a plastic garbage can.
“Clare and I will cut through the woods to the plant while you and Willis take the beach,” Tony said.
“Sounds good,” Jack said, handing Willis the stool.
Jack and Willis began walking down the path to the shoreline. It was difficult to walk in the yellow sand; sinking into the sugary granules was tiring. When they finally reached the compact sand along the shore, the steam from the nuclear reactor could be seen rising into the hazy sky. A light breeze caused the waves to gently roll up onto the sand and then back down.
They walked along the shoreline, leaving footprints in the wet sand. Willis would occasionally pick up a stone, examine it, and then try to skip it across the water. Jack was quiet, concerned and anxious about what they were about to do. Then they came up to a warning sign on the beach. They stopped and read the bold red and white words. WARNING, PRIVATE PROPERTY. THIS AREA PATROLLED BY AN ARMED SECURITY FORCE. TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.
“We’re right out in the open here; it would be easy for security to spot us,” Jack said. “This is one time I’d be happy to see a zombie.”
Jack set down the rug and brought the binoculars to his eyes. “I don’t see any movement. I think we’re safe along the beach until we get a little closer. Look through your scope, what do you see?”
Willis raised his thirty-thirty and looked through the crosshairs. “All I see are trees, steam, and lots of sand.”
They continued walking along the shore, guns in hand until they got closer to the complex.
“We’d better get out of sight. I think if we climb that hill we’ll have a good vantage point to see inside the plant,” Jack said, pointing to a sandy hill covered with brush.
They climbed up the dune, taking two steps forward while falling one-step back as the sand gave way beneath their feet. When they reached the top, they fell to their knees, out of breath from dealing with the unforgiving hillside. Jack looked through his binoculars while Willis laid down with his elbows on the soft sand to support the Winchester. He brought the riflescope to his eye.
Willis rotated the focusing control until he found his mark. “Oh my God. They look like gray people with weird eyes.”
Jack refocused on the people inside Palisades. “It’s almost as if they’re half human and half alien.”
“Look to the right at that gray warehouse building,” Willis said. “Looks like it has bodies inside and they’re clamped onto something and covered with string.”
Jack lowered his binoculars. “What the hell’s going on? It’s almost like they’re breeding with us and are storing human bodies.”
“I think they did,” Willis said, looking up at Jack. “They’re half-breeds. They talk about them on Coast to Coast.”
Jack pulled out his phone and sent Tony a text. Where are you?
We are by the entrance, do not see guards but see aliens, Tony texted back.
Yep, Tony texted. Razor wire fence here we will go in through the roads open gate.
Lucky bastard . . . Don’t think I can get over fence, Jack texted back.
Heading toward gray warehouse with open door, Tony texted.