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datatime: 2022-10-03 08:42:55 Author:iUpYJSav

"Money?" She hawked and spat past him. "Money ain't worth nothin' no more I'd blow your damn head off if I wouldn't have to clean up the mess"

Josh was stiff with cold, and he knew Swan must be freezing, too. She held onto that Cookie Monster doll like life itself and occasionally flinched in her tormented sleep. He approached one of the houses but stopped when he saw a body curled up like a question mark on the front porch steps. He headed for the next house, further along and across the road.

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.

"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.

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

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

"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."

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

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

"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.

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.

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

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.

"Uh... I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't think anybody was here."

Josh was stiff with cold, and he knew Swan must be freezing, too. She held onto that Cookie Monster doll like life itself and occasionally flinched in her tormented sleep. He approached one of the houses but stopped when he saw a body curled up like a question mark on the front porch steps. He headed for the next house, further along and across the road.

"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."

"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'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."

"Sounds like the makings of a stew to me. My cabin's about two miles north of here, as the crow flies. If you want to go back with me, you'll be welcome. If not, I'll say have a good trip to Detroit."

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.

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.

"Uh... I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't think anybody was here."

"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."

"Money?" She hawked and spat past him. "Money ain't worth nothin' no more I'd blow your damn head off if I wouldn't have to clean up the mess"

The dark town-just a scatter of wind-ravaged buildings and a few widely spaced houses on dusty lots-beckoned him onward. He saw no cars, no hint of light or life. There was a Texaco station with one pump and a garage whose roof had collapsed. A sign flapping back and forth on its hinges advertised TUCKER'S HARDWARE AND FEEDS, but the store's front window was shattered and the place looked bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. A small caf®¶ had also collapsed, except for the sign that read GOOD EATS Every step an exercise in agony, Josh walked past the crumbled buildings. He saw that dozens of paperback books lay in the dust around him, their pages flipping wildly in the restless hand of the wind, and to the left were the remains of a little clapboard structure with a hand-painted SULLIVAN PUBLIC LIBRARY sign.

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