The argument raged for over an hour – if one person screaming and the other refusing to answer could really be called an argument. Jessie ranted, raved and sobbed, hurling accusations and curses at Vinnie, before falling finally, blessedly into silence.
All of this seemed to be happening at an impossible distance, the loudest shouting little more than a blurred murmur. Maddie sat alone in the ambulance bay, awash in misery. She knew she should go back upstairs – the concrete floor was cold, and she felt uneasy knowing that the undead were likely still outside. But she couldn’t yet stomach facing her sister, or Vinnie.
How could I be so stupid?
She looked back at everything Vinnie had said or done – his reluctance to disclose who he’d been with before her, his repeated insistence that she stop caring about his prior relationships, even his pointed comment to Jessie, “I don’t want you” – and saw it all as confirmation of Jessie’s claim. She did briefly wonder why Jessie had kept it to herself until now, then pushed the question aside; perhaps she’d been sparing Maddie’s feelings, and Caleb’s death had simply been too much for her.
He should have told me. He should have said something. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. I should have known.
The sound of footsteps on the concrete pulled her from her thoughts. She tensed, straining to see in the dark, instantly angry with herself for failing to re-load the handgun in her pocket.
A voice came out of the darkness. “Madelyn?”
Hannah. Maddie wiped her face again and steadied herself. “Over here,” she called back, wincing at the waver in her voice.
The older woman shuffled toward her, groping until her hand fell on Maddie’s shoulder. She eased herself down next to Maddie with a groan. Once seated, she reached out and grabbed Maddie’s hand, gripping it tightly in her own.
“Are you okay?” Hannah asked quietly.
Maddie shook her head, forgetting for a moment that Hannah couldn’t see her. “No,” she whispered, fighting not to cry. “Are you?”
Hannah sighed deeply. “I–” She stopped, seeming to choke on the words. “I tripped,” she said raggedly. Her pain was palpable. “I tripped.”
Maddie wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. “An accident,” she said. Hannah turned her face against Maddie’s shoulder and wept. “You didn’t mean…it was an accident, Hannah.”
Hannah pressed a hand to her mouth and sobbed. Maddie held her, rocking gently. “It was nobody’s fault,” she whispered, not believing the words even as she said them. Hannah had tripped, and that had been an accident. Caleb had fallen from the roof, and she felt that that too had been a quirk of bad luck. But who had hit him with the bar? Who had hurt his knee in the first place, setting him on the path that had led to his death on the sidewalk outside? No matter her reasons, or what she’d believed at the time, she’d been the one to start it all.
I’m the one at fault. And I deserve every terrible thing I feel right now.
After a bit, Hannah stopped crying; she sat up, sniffling, and gave Maddie’s leg a pat. They sat in silence, still holding hands, until the older woman awkwardly cleared her throat.
“Do you think she was right? Your sister?” When Maddie stiffened, Hannah hastened to add, “About the roof. Did Vinnie drop him on purpose?”
Maddie immediately said, “No.” She didn’t believe that for a moment. “I think Caleb slipped, or let go before Vinnie was ready. I don’t think he meant to hurt the kid.” Me, on the other hand…
Hannah took a breath, as if to speak, then simply sighed deeply. “I think…” She swallowed, loud enough that Maddie could hear it. “I’m scared. I think that we’re never going to get out.”
Maddie didn’t know what to say to that. She thought, in her secret heart, that it was probably true – they were all going to die here, one after the other, and she was never going to see her mother or father again.
I wish I could just run. She closed her eyes, considering the wonderful possibilities. She could leave her sister behind, and Vinnie, and all of the hurt and baggage that the two of them carried. She could stop trying to get out, and instead find a place – a safe place – where she could hide. The house had been that, until they’d screwed it up, and what had been the cause? They’d been out, looking for a way to leave. If we’d just stayed inside… That was her fault too, she knew it, another weight added to the already towering pile of guilt and blame she carted on her back. Run away, and leave all of them behind.
A useless dream. She had no idea where she would go, or how she would get there; moving through the city alone, on foot, was the exact opposite of safe. Vinnie’s car was out of commission, stuck as it was in the flooded street, and she doubted she could steal it from him, even if it was useable. That would be going way too far.
What I need, she thought dreamily, is a boat. Then I could just sail away.
She sat up so suddenly that Hannah gasped beside her. “What is it?” the other woman whispered urgently. “Did you hear something?”
“A boat!” Maddie cried, gripping Hannah’s hand so hard she could feel the knuckles grinding.
“You heard a boat?” Hannah asked, skeptical.
“What? No, no. We need a boat.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Come on.” Maddie got to her feet, hauling Hannah up beside her, and dragged her across the garage toward the stairs. Her anger at Vinnie and Jessie was gone, swept away in the mounting excitement she felt.
We should have thought of it before. She took the stairs two at a time, releasing Hannah’s hand so she could bound up ahead of her. They wouldn’t need much – a small sailboat, or even a pair of waverunners. It wasn’t a foolproof plan – the Navy was no doubt patrolling the waters around the city, watching for escapees – but it was certainly better than sitting around waiting to be eaten.
Jessie and Vinnie both looked up, startled, when Maddie burst back into the loft. She quickly explained her idea, repeating herself three times after excitement made her difficult to understand. Jessie immediately shook her head, her mouth set in hard lines. “No way,” she snapped. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Hannah, surprisingly, was also hesitant, though fear had nothing to do with her reticence – she objected, of all things, to the theft.
“We can’t just take someone else’s boat!” she argued. “Maddie, that’s stealing.”
“You can’t be serious.” Maddie waved her hand around, encompassing the whole of their situation in the gesture. “Who do you think is going to care?” she asked. “They’re bombing us.”
Hannah crossed her arms. “I’ve never stolen anything in my life.”
Forgetting for a moment that she hated his face, Maddie turned to Vinnie in mute appeal.
“Hannah.” His voice was so quiet, his tone so gentle, that Hannah couldn’t resist meeting his gaze. “It’s been almost a week. If there’s anything left – if we find something we can use – odds are that the owner isn’t coming back.” He raised an eyebrow. “Can you steal from the dead?”
Hannah wrinkled her nose, but said nothing. Maddie turned her attention back to her sister. “Jess-”
“No.” Jessie shook her head again, emphatic. “I want to stay here.”
“We can’t. Jessie, there’s nothing here! We don’t even have any water!”
Jessie’s eyes narrowed. “Then let’s go back to the house. It might be empty now.”
The thought of returning to the house made Maddie’s stomach clench. Their reasons for staying – the storm, Shawn’s possible return, Caleb’s injury – were all gone now, and she couldn’t stand the idea of being stuck there again. Even if the dead that had infiltrated had somehow lost interest and left, she wasn’t willing to set foot back inside.
“We can’t go back,” she said firmly. “I won’t.”
“No, you’ll just follow him again.” Jessie sneered. “He’s a liar, and a murderer, why can’t you see-”
“Enough!” She glanced at Vinnie, whose expression remained impassive. “This isn’t his idea,” Maddie said. “It’s mine. The three of you are free to make your choice: stay, or go. I’m done arguing. But as soon as it’s morning, if the way is clear, I’m leaving.”
There was a long silence, and then Vinnie nodded. “I’m going,” he said. “It’s a good idea.”
Hannah hesitated for a little longer, but finally she nodded too. “Okay. But,” she warned, “I can’t sail.”
“I can,” Maddie assured her. She’d been out on various boats in her lifetime, first with her father, then later with Jack and his friends. She wasn’t sure she could handle a full-on sailboat by herself, with the boom and the jib and whatever else, but few people had those in the city; most of what she’d seen at the docks had been speedboats, which she felt more than capable of sailing.
Jessie refused to say anything, but Maddie was confident that when the rest of them made moves to leave in the morning, her sister would come along. She was stubborn, not stupid, and she wouldn’t want to remain in the city alone.
They stayed awake for another hour, refining the plan. Vinnie suggested that they start with the harbors and piers on the eastern side of the city, as far from the bridges as they could get; if the military was blowing them up, that must mean they were being over-run, which wasn’t good for their little group’s safety, nor for the odds of them escaping undetected by anyone who could stop them. They had no map to guide them, but Maddie was confident that they could find something along the way – every gas station in the city tended to carry tourist maps, marking out where visitors could go to rent everything from waverunners to call girls.
She continued to think, long after Hannah and Jessie had succumbed to exhaustion and fallen asleep; her mind ran on obsessively, searching for each flaw or potential danger in the scheme she’d devised. When Vinnie placed a gentle hand on her arm, she jumped.
“You need to sleep,” he said quietly. “We have a lot of walking to do.”
She looked at his hand without speaking, staring until he removed it. He looked sad as he pulled away, though she pretended not to notice.
“Sleep,” he said again. He got to his feet. “I’ll keep watch.”
He moved away from her, deeper into the shadows, and she watched him go. Part of her wanted to call his name, bring him back to her side and make him explain what he’d done, and why he’d lied about it. Instead she dragged herself over to the remaining empty sofa and collapsed down onto the cushions. She didn’t think she would sleep; her mind was too full. She was surprised, then, when she rested her scratchy eyes for just a second, and in the next moment found herself squinting as the first pale streaks of morning light penetrated the dark loft.
Blinking, she peered around the room. The others still slept – even Vinnie, who had stretched out across the top of the stairs, one hand resting on the shotgun at his side. Maddie narrowed her eyes, uncertain of the wisdom of falling asleep while on guard duty, then realized it made no real difference: the only way into the station was through a giant metal door, and the noise of anything coming through it would have woken them all anyway.
Thinking of the door, she frowned. She hadn’t heard any noise at or near it all night – which meant, perhaps, that the horde that had crowded around it the night before hadn’t returned after being drawn away by the explosion. Would they eventually come back? What had brought them to the station house’s doorstep in the first place?
She hadn’t had much time to consider what she’d seen when she and Vinnie had crouched in the street, or to explore the impression she’d had, that the behavior of the undead crowd had looked and felt familiar. Now, giving the others a few more precious minutes of sleep, she mulled these things over. She saw them again, in her mind’s eye: milling before the door, a few stumbling into the metal before bouncing off and back into the crowd. There had been no frenzy, no sense of urgency or desperation; they hadn’t been swarming, like the group of undead that had overcome the door to Shawn’s house and swept inside like a flood. They had been…waiting. But for what?
Her knowledge of the undead was gleaned entirely from movies, and one half-forgotten documentary about the so-called zombies of some tropical island, who weren’t zombies at all but rather drugged and kidnapped people used as slaves. Drugs had long ago ceased to be a viable explanation for what was happening – which left the varied and conflicting information she’d learned from Hollywood. Nothing she could remember indicated anything other than violent, animal-like behavior on the part of the dead; they had no direction, no thought processes, and no focus outside of food. Yet that hadn’t been the behavior she’d seen the group exhibit.
What were they doing? She felt again like the answer was just beyond her grasp.
She didn’t have long to ponder things; before too much time had passed, Vinnie stirred on the floor, and together they woke the other women. Jessica groused and threatened to remain behind, posturing that lasted until the others had trekked down the stairs and prepared to leave; then, as Maddie had suspected, she dragged herself down to join them. Vinnie made them all stand back a good distance from the door before he raised it, held it a foot from the ground, and waited.
No hands darted under to grab them; no shuffling feet appeared in the gap, and no moans drifted in to the bay. The dead had yet to return to the station, if they ever would. The way was clear.
Vinnie threw the bay door all the way open; the metal roar of the door ratcheting up echoed off of the building across the street and crashed back at them, impossibly loud. Maddie glanced at the others, saw her own fear mirrored on each face, and forced herself to breathe.
We can do this. She curled her fingers around the gun in her pocket, comforted by the feel of the metal against her skin. We can do this.
With her heart in her throat, Maddie stepped out into the morning light.