“Oh, God, it looks terrible.”
Sky had her face pressed to the glass window of the RV, staring out at the lifeless town around her. For a moment, Kris wondered what Maine looked like. Then he realized thinking about such things was probably a bad idea.
“It doesn’t look nice, that’s for sure,” Arthur muttered from the driver’s seat.
“But we made it at least,” Kurisu chimed. “I mean, it’s gotta be safer than Chicago.”
“One would hope,” Sky said, seemingly to herself.
“So where’s your house?” Arthur said. “Not that I need to ask. Only about ten houses in this whole damn town, anyway.”
Sky pulled her face from the glass. “Shut up, Art.” She stood behind Arthur’s chair and pointed. “Go four blocks that way and take a left.”
“I’ll wake Jamar,” Sky suggested, making her way to toward the bedroom.
“Careful!” Kurisu called. “He likes to sleep naked!”
“Oh, does he now?” Sky teased before bursting into the bedroom.
Arthur brought the RV to a halt. Kris saw a barricade of broken down cars blocking the road.
“I can’t get through that,” the veteran muttered.
“So we’ll walk,” Kurisu said.
Arthur leaned forward and scanned the horizon. It looked as abandoned as Kurisu’s parents’ neighborhood did—before the hordes of zombies showed up, that is. He threw the RV into reverse and parked it in a nearby driveway.
“Alright. If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it the right way,” Arthur said.
Sky walked back toward the front of vehicle, followed by a half-naked Jamar who was wrestling a shirt over his head.
“Sky,” Arthur barked. “How far’s your house?”
She leaned forward to get a decent view of the area. “Just a few blocks. Why’d we stop?”
“The road is blocked,” Kurisu said.
Sky looked at Arthur with a quizzical expression. “So find another road, then.”
“Take a look at that,” Arthur said, pointing at the cars blocking the road. “They ain’t there by accident. Someone parked ‘em like that.”
It was true. Kris could see how someone had lined the cars up across the road, barricading the neighborhood.
Arthur pointed farther down the street. “Same thing down there. Someone’s fortified this place.”
“That’s a good thing,” Sky said. “That means there’s survivors. Maybe even my parents!”
“Hold your horses, kiddo. These survivors could be anyone. We need to be cautious. We do this right or I’m drivin’ us right outta here.”
“What do you suggest?” Jamar said.
“We’re not just gonna waltz up the street; might as well paint targets on our backs. We’ll stick to alleys and backyards. I need two pairs o’ eyes on the rooftops at all times. ‘Cause of my experience sniping, one of those pairs is mine. The others are forward, to the sides, and behind.”
“Got it,” Sky said with a nod.
“We do not speak or make noise of any kind. I shouldn’t so much as smell a fart from you.” His eyes fell on Kris. “You see something, anything, you tap my shoulder before firing a shot. We clear?”
“Clear,” everyone said together.
Kris double-knotted his boots, made sure his shotgun was fully loaded, and stuffed extra ammo into his pants pockets as the others prepared. Arthur handed his pistol over to Sky. With Jamar’s already in hand, that made two.
“Ooh,” she said, holding both guns out straight. “Am I Lara Croft now?”
“Who?” Arthur said, sounding annoyed.
“Make sure you lock this thing up,” Jamar said. “Don’t want our shit gettin’ stolen.”
“Yeah, right,” Kurisu said with a roll of her eyes. “Like a locked door is gonna stop thieves now that the world has ended.”
“Couldn’t hurt,” Jamar shrugged.
Once the group was prepped and loaded, they stepped out onto the street. The late-morning sun blazed down on them from a cloudless sky. The air felt sticky and thick with humidity. Kris was suddenly aware of how much he—and everyone else—could use a nice, cool bath.
“Jamar, I want you watchin’ topside with me. Snipers could be nestin’ in any o’ these two-story houses.”
“Are you kidding me?” Sky said. “Dude, there’s no one here.”
“Kurisu,” Arthur continued, ignoring Sky’s outburst, “can you cover the rear?”
Kurisu saluted. “Yes, sir.”
“Kris, you got our three and nine.” Kris assumed that meant he was in charge of covering the sides when Arthur finished with, “And Sky, you got the front.” Arthur cocked his shotgun. “Ready?”
They nodded, and Sky led the way forward.
The town was nice. It reminded Kris of Rosemont. Victorian-era and ranch-style homes with only slightly overgrown lawns lined the empty roads. True to Mr. Caldwell’s plan, they stuck close to the houses and buildings, ready to use them as cover in an emergency. A couple times they had to hop wooden and chain-link fences to cross backyards undetected by whatever invisible adversaries Arthur imagined were out there.
Eventually suburbia was replaced by Aberdeen’s dismal downtown. It was old looking but pretty, with red, cobblestone bricks for a street and antique lanterns instead of modern streetlights. It only lasted a block, though, and they were back in another neighborhood.
“Not much farther,” Sky whispered back at them. Arthur put his finger to his lips.
Kris wondered how worried Sky must’ve been getting. He’d expected to see at least someone by now, but the town seemed completely abandoned of both the living and the dead.
Sky crouched behind an oak on a terrace in the middle of the block and pointed across the street at a brown, two-story house. “That’s it,” Sky said, looking at Arthur.
“That their only car?” he asked. An olive Buick sat in the driveway.
“They’re home, then,” Jamar said with uncertainty.
“Or they were home before a horde rolled through, taking everybody out,” Sky said.
“Don’t be so pessimistic,” Arthur grumbled. “That’s my job.”
Sky stood and took one step onto the street before Arthur yanked her back down.
“Use your head, girl,” he whispered. “Just ‘cause we’re feet from your house doesn’t mean we’re any safer than we were when we started.”
“Would you cut the shit, Art?” Sky said impatiently. “There’s nobody out here! This whole place is a ghost town!” With that, she stepped onto the road, but an unfamiliar voice from behind froze her in place.
“When will children learn to respect their elders?”
Arthur spun on his heel, his shotgun already braced against his shoulder. The lawn inches in front of his feet exploded seconds before Kris heard a deafening bang! somewhere to his right that sounded an awful lot like Arthur’s sniper.
“Ah, ah, ah!” chided the invisible voice.
Kris looked around in every direction, as did the others. They stood in place, afraid the slightest movement would signal another sniper shot. Kris saw others—no, he felt them—rise around him. Two appeared on a porch three houses down. One walked from behind a tree across the street. He spotted the lens flare of the sniper—one of them, at least—from a second story bedroom. They were surrounded.
And then he emerged from the shadows behind them, a silver pistol gleaming in his tanned hand. His slick, dark hair was pulled into a thick knot at the back of his head, and his heavy mustache glistened with sweat.
His voice was cold and heavy. “Drop the weapons, or the next shot won’t miss.”