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datatime: 2022-12-08 14:56:33 Author:EQsLDEqo

But he was already moving again, heading into the edge of the dense forest.

The mailbox, supported on a crooked pedestal, was painted white and had what appeared to be an eye, with upper and lower lids, painted on it in black. The hand-lettered name was Davy and Leona Skelton. Josh walked across the dirt lot and up the porch steps to the screen door. "Swan?" he said. "Wake up, now." She mumbled, and he set her down; then he tried the door but found it latched from the inside. He lifted his foot and kicked at its center, knocking it off its hinges, and they crossed the porch to the front door.

It took Sister about two more seconds to make up her mind. "Wait a minute" He stopped. "Okay. We'll come with you, Mr.-"

The wind was still shoving mightily at his back, but after what seemed like eight hours of walking yesterday and at least five today, he was about to topple to the ground. He carried the exhausted child in his arms, as he had for the past two hours, and walked stiff-legged, the soles of his feet oozing with blisters and blood in shoes that were coming apart at the seams. He thought he must look like a zombie, or like the Frankenstein monster carrying the fainted heroine in his arms.

"I'm sorry," Josh repeated. He saw the woman's gnarled finger on the trigger. "I don't have any money," he said. "I'd pay you for the door if I did."

They had spent last night in the windbreak of an overturned pick-up truck; bound-up bales of hay had been scattered around, and Josh had lugged them over to build a makeshift shelter that would contain their body heat. Still, they'd been out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wasteland and dead fields, and both of them had dreaded first light because they knew they had to start walking again.

They had spent last night in the windbreak of an overturned pick-up truck; bound-up bales of hay had been scattered around, and Josh had lugged them over to build a makeshift shelter that would contain their body heat. Still, they'd been out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wasteland and dead fields, and both of them had dreaded first light because they knew they had to start walking again.

"You broke my screen door," a woman's voice said in the gloom. The pistol did not waver.

"I'm sorry," Josh repeated. He saw the woman's gnarled finger on the trigger. "I don't have any money," he said. "I'd pay you for the door if I did."

"No... we've got some corn, and green beans, and boiled potatoes."

"We ought to go with him," Artie said to Sister. "I might bleed to death"

"Why'd you think the door was locked, then? This is private property"

"St. Johns, I guess. Hazleton's the nearest town of any size, and that's about ten miles south of St. Johns. There may be a few people left, but after that flood of refugees washed in from the east I'd be surprised if you'd find much in any town along I-80. St. Johns is about four or five miles west." The man looked at Artie, who was dripping blood onto the snow. "Friend, that's going to attract every scavenger within smelling distance-and believe me, some of those bastards can sniff blood a long, long way."

The woman was silent. Josh could see the outline of her head, but not her face; her head angled toward Swan. "A little girl," she said softly. "Oh, my Lord... a little girl..."

Josh had just put his hand on the knob when the door flew open and the barrel of a pistol looked him in the eyes.

They had no choice but to hurry after him. Artie looked over his shoulder, terrified of more lurking predators coming up behind him. His ribs ached where the beast had hit him, and his legs felt like short pieces of soft rubber. He and Sister entered the woods after the shuffling figure of the man in the ski mask and left the highway of death behind.

"What's the nearest town?" Sister asked.

The woman was silent. Josh could see the outline of her head, but not her face; her head angled toward Swan. "A little girl," she said softly. "Oh, my Lord... a little girl..."

"Leona" a weak voice called from inside the house. "Leo-" And then it was interrupted by a strangling, terrible spasm of coughing.

They had spent last night in the windbreak of an overturned pick-up truck; bound-up bales of hay had been scattered around, and Josh had lugged them over to build a makeshift shelter that would contain their body heat. Still, they'd been out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wasteland and dead fields, and both of them had dreaded first light because they knew they had to start walking again.

"Why'd you think the door was locked, then? This is private property"

"No... we've got some corn, and green beans, and boiled potatoes."

"I doubt it," the man countered. "Not from a scratch like that. It'll freeze up pretty soon, but you'll have a blood smell on your clothes. Like I say, they'll come out of the mountains with knives and forks between their teeth. But you do what you want to do; I'm hitting the trail." He shrugged into his pack, wrapped the cord around his shoulder and picked up his rifle. "Take care," he said, and he started gliding across the snowy highway toward the woods.

"I'm sorry," Josh repeated. He saw the woman's gnarled finger on the trigger. "I don't have any money," he said. "I'd pay you for the door if I did."

"I doubt it," the man countered. "Not from a scratch like that. It'll freeze up pretty soon, but you'll have a blood smell on your clothes. Like I say, they'll come out of the mountains with knives and forks between their teeth. But you do what you want to do; I'm hitting the trail." He shrugged into his pack, wrapped the cord around his shoulder and picked up his rifle. "Take care," he said, and he started gliding across the snowy highway toward the woods.

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