“Is that Georgie’s backpack?” Sarah asked, pointing toward the open closet where a knapsack sat perched on a basket piled high with dirty clothes.
“Yeah, that’s his,” Willis said, pulling a smudged canvas backpack from under the bed. “This one’s mine.”
“Put your clothes and things in it, like you’re going on vacation,” Sarah said, opening dresser drawers. “Don’t forget underwear and your toothbrush.”
Willis groaned in jest. “In case we get into a car accident, right?”
“Hurry it up, you guys,” Jack said, still looking out the window. “Unless you feel like hoofing it home.”
Sarah zipped Georgie’s overstuffed pack and slung it over her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait,” Willis said, picking up the teacup and placing it in the front pocket of his backpack. Its little fluff-ball head poked out, looking around as if it was used to being placed in unusual spaces. “We need to take Miss Foo.”
“It’s so cute.” Sarah smiled and reached over to pet its quivering little head.
“Looks like a rat to me,” Jack said, leaving the room. Then he mumbled, “I can’t believe we have another dog to take care of.”
Jibber was waiting for them outside the house door. They ran back to the sputtering truck with Jibber at Willis’s heels. Willis took Miss Foo out of its secure compartment before they flung the bags in the truck box. Jack got into the driver’s seat, Sarah in the passenger, and Willis, Jibber and Miss Foo in the backseat.
“Which way is that skating rink?” Jack asked, shifting into reverse.
“Go down this street and there’s an old driveway that goes back to it.” Willis pointed in the direction of the long abandoned roller skating rink. Then he noticed a blue orb hovering above the hill where the roller rink sat. “What the hell is that?”
Sarah looked back at Willis and thought about whether to say something about his language, but instead decided instead to ignore it for now and just shrug. “I don’t know, but don’t go near it.”
Jack drove down the narrow street to where Willis was pointing and where the orb was emitting blue light, like a beacon calling them in. When they reached the stop sign, Willis said. “The drive is over there.”
Jack turned the headlights off and drove slowly down the overgrown path that led up a hill to where the skeleton of a long deserted outdoor roller skating rink once occupied local teens. The floor of the rink was cracked. Weeds filled the breaks, causing sections of concrete to heave up, breaking the rink into unskateable sections like broken floats of a melting iceberg.
The old road dead-ended into a weedy gravel parking lot. Jack turned the truck around so that it was facing out for a quick getaway. He put the truck in park and looked at Sarah. “So what’s the plan?”
The corner of Sarah’s smile pinched into her cheek. “Get Georgie. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but that’s my plan.”
Jack nodded with a smile. “Let’s go.”
The three, including the dogs, got out of the truck. Sarah and Jack pressed the doors quietly closed while Willis tucked Miss Foo inside his zippered hooded sweatshirt. It poked its little head out just under Willis’s chin. The group followed a wooded trail toward the blue glow emanating from the orb. In the distance, and growing louder, they could hear chanting as they got closer.
“Sounds like witches around a cauldron,” Willis said, snickering.
“We’d better get off this trail before they see us,” Jack said, dashing into the woods, jumping over fallen branches and dodging trees.
They slowed their pace when dozens of people, old and young, came into view. Jack held out his arm and signaled for them to crouch behind a fallen decaying tree trunk. They watched as the distant group stood inside an ecchymotic fog as if mesmerized and totally entranced, chanting.
“What are they saying?” Willis whispered.
“I don’t know,” Sarah answered. “It sounds like a foreign language.”
Jack moved closer to Sarah. “Do you see Georgie?”
Willis and Sarah scanned the crowd.
“There he is!” Willis pointed toward a boy who was seated on the ground away from the beam of light, weeping.
Jack whispered to Sarah. “Can you sneak up behind him, get his attention, and when no one is looking grab him and get the hell out of there?”
She saw no smile on Jack’s sweaty face. “Sounds like a plan.” She did not smile, either.
“I’ll go with you,” Willis said, starting to move in Georgie’s direction.
“No,” Sarah said, reaching for him. “You wait here and make sure Jibber doesn’t follow me.”
Willis took Jibber by the collar as Sarah quietly crouched through the trees and brush until she reached a spot about twenty feet behind Georgie. The disoriented group of people was not looking in Sarah’s direction as they sang a foreign canticle, their heads turned upward following the indigo beam of light.
“Georgie,” Sarah said in a loud whisper. Georgie did not seem to hear her.
She brushed leaves aside on top of the damp soil, feeling for a stone or something to toss that would make him turn around. Her fingers felt a pebble; she tossed it in Georgie’s direction. Again he did not move, his head was down, resting on his hands as he sobbed.
The blue haze rolled along the forest floor like dry ice. Sarah moved up a few more feet, making little noise. She did not want to startle Georgie and cause him to scream and draw attention in their direction.
“Georgie it’s Mom,” Sarah whispered.
Georgie’s head moved.
“Don’t look back,” Sarah warned. “Can you hear me? Nod your head.”
Georgie’s head nodded.
“When I say so, slowly turn around and sneak toward me.”
She looked at the clumsy mass of people engrossed in the light beam. Just as Georgie began to turn and move toward Sarah, Larry turned and was facing their direction. He cocked his head and raised a stiff arm while pointing toward them and yelling, “Konda!”
Everyone turned and looked at Georgie.
“Run!” Sarah yelled, running up to Georgie. She grabbed his arm and pulled him along with her as they ran back to Jack and Willis, who were motioning for them to run back to the truck.
The mob was chasing them, and not far behind. Sarah could hear twigs breaking from the force of their movements as they ran awkwardly through the woods.
“To the truck, now!” Jack yelled, swinging his club at the approaching zombies.
Jibber barked and surprised Sarah by becoming vicious toward the pursuing bodies. A true guard dog, she thought.
Sarah, Georgie, and Willis reached the barely running truck ahead of Jack. Sarah shifted it in gear, ready to floor it once Jack was safely inside.
“Hurry, Jack!” Sarah yelled as Jack cracked a zombie in the head with his billy club. Thick blood glowed like radioactive plasma as it sprayed through the purple haze.
Willis opened the door for Jack who quickly jumped in, locked the door, and shouted, “Go! Go!”
“What about Jibber?” Willis yelled. He looked down and felt his sweatshirt for Miss Foo. She was missing. “Miss Foo is gone! We can’t go!”
The truck was being surrounded by an angry pack. Before they could get in front of the truck Sarah hit the gas, the tires spun, pelting the zombies with gravel.
“Jibber, I don’t see Jibber!” Willis said, voice cracking. “We got to get her and Miss Foo!”
Sarah felt Willis’ sadness. She began to slow the truck. “We’ll go back for them.”
“No, we’re not,” Jack said firmly. “Those people will kill us if we go back there. Plus we are almost out of gas; we have to keep going.”
“We can’t leave them,” Willis insisted.
“They can fend for themselves,” Jack said, turning toward the boys bouncing around in the backseat from Sarah speeding over potholes and dips in the abandoned drive. “Besides, I don’t think those zombies are interested in dogs because if they were, little Miss Foo would already be dead. And I think that the big dog will take care of that little dog, they do that you know.”
“We should still get them,” Willis said. He looked back; the zombies were lost in the dust.
Sarah looked in the rear view mirror. “Are you okay, Georgie?”
Georgie still had tears in his eyes. “Yeah,” he said quietly.
The red undulating sky gave way to pinkish red sparkles as if mirrored particles were reflecting the rising sunlight. Sarah pulled onto the highway and went full speed toward Jackson while Jack tried to pick up reception on the radio. Bits and pieces of words broke through as they neared the city.
Then the radio blurted, “Broadcast ending soon . . . At Saint Joseph . . .”
“I know where that’s at,” Sarah blurted out.
The broadcast continued, “Hurry . . . before it’s too late.” Then the station was gone, replaced with fine crackles.
“Okay, then,” Jack said. “Drive like a bat out of Hell.”