“I don’t believe what I’m seeing,” Jack said, lowering his binoculars. He handed them to Sarah. “Is that what I think it is?”
Sarah took the binoculars and looked at Walmart’s bay door. A white-tailed deer was repeatedly ramming into the closed garage door as if it was on a rampage. “I’ve never seen a deer do that before.”
Noticing Sarah, Jack, and Willis looking at something, Professor Dillon climbed out of the van and walked to the end of the building where they were standing. “Let me see.”
Sarah looked at the professor’s red neck and cheeks. “You should be lying down in the van.”
The professor took the binoculars and held them to his eyes. “I think I know what’s going on.”
“What?” Jack asked, watching the professor study the deer.
“Remember those cocoons at the nuclear power plant?” the professor asked, lowering the binoculars.
“How could I forget,” Jack said.
“Well, I think those stalks sprouting from the base of their skulls, matured and released spores into the air,” the professor began. “We’re downwind from Palisades and I think those spores are affecting animals that come into contact with them.”
“Great,” Jack said, clenching his teeth in frustration. “We’re just not getting out of here fast enough.”
Clare walked over and stood next to the professor, her hand resting on her holstered Smith and Wesson .44-mag revolver. “We need to get into that building and get the guys, Dad’s medicine, and then high-tail it to the compound.”
“I agree,” Sarah said. “But how are we getting inside when they have the doors guarded and probably locked?”
“We can lure them outside,” Willis said, looking at the two main entrances through the scope on his short rifle. “I see the little kid guarding one door and the girl guarding the other.”
“Lure them outside with what?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know,” Willis said, shrugging.
“It’s possible they forgot to lock all the doors,” Sarah said. “We could circle around to the back side of Walmart and check the doors there.”
“They’re probably in the garage,” Jack said. “They mentioned a Hummer and needing a mechanic.”
Georgie and Dawn began yelling from the van and pointing toward a flock of large birds that were circling above them in the hazy sky. Little Miss Foo began yipping. The teacup wanted to jump out of Dawn’s arms but she held it tight. Jibber was already outside the van, barking at the winged intruders.
“My God,” Sarah said. “Not more spider drones.”
“Not drones,” the professor said, running back to the van, “seagulls. You’d better get inside.”
They ran back to the van and climbed inside as the gulls swarmed and began to dive-bomb them. One landed on Jack’s back and began pecking at his flesh as he jumped into the van’s open door. Willis grabbed the bird from Jack’s bloody T-shirt and forced it outside as he slammed the van’s door shut. The birds’ wails were loud and harsh as they flew their bodies against the van’s windows, attempting to get the prey inside.
“This hurts like hell,” Jack said, tearing off his shirt. He looked at the holes and rips that the birds had pierced through the cotton with their beaks. “Let me guess, infected birds.”
“Let me look at your back,” Sarah said as Clare handed her the first aid kit. She wiped the blood from his back, applied antiseptic, and Band-Aids. “I think you’ll live.”
“The birds are flying away,” Georgie said, looking out the window.
“Here’s one of Tony’s T-shirts,” Clare said, handing Jack a wrinkle olive drab shirt.
Jack took it, held it to his nose, and handed it back to Clare. “Smells like a used one.”
“It is,” Clare said. “But at least it doesn’t have holes and blood on the back.”
Jack began putting his T-shirt back on. “I think I’ll stick with mine.”
“Gulls are carnivores,” the professor said, holding his throbbing head. “They are predators and scavengers . . . flesh eaters.”
“This puts a monkey wrench into our plan to circle the building and find an unlocked door,” Sarah said, closing the first aid kit. “Now we have to protect ourselves from raging deer and flesh eating seagulls.”
“You know,” Willis said. “At some point those kids guarding the doors are going to need to use the bathroom, and then the door will be unguarded.”
“We also can’t forget that they said they would kill Max, Tony, and Father if they saw us come back,” Sarah said, handing the kit back to Clare.
“Looks like we’ll have to wait until dark and take something with us to get under, in case those seagulls return,” Jack said. “We can shoot deer, but shooting at attacking birds isn’t going to do much good.”
“One of those wheeled garbage cans could work,” Willis said. “When the birds come back all we have to do is flip it upside-down and get inside.”
Jack shrugged. “That might work. So if Tony isn’t able to get Max and Father out of there by dark, I’ll move in.”