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datatime: 2022-09-29 02:59:41 Author:lzykXXAp

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.

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

Something moved at the corner of his vision. He looked to the side, and something small-a jackrabbit? he wondered-darted out of sight behind the ruins of the caf®¶.

Something moved at the corner of his vision. He looked to the side, and something small-a jackrabbit? he wondered-darted out of sight behind the ruins of the caf®¶.

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

"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.

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

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

"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."

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

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.

Sullivan, Josh thought. Whatever Sullivan had once been, it was dead now.

"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."

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

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.

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

Sullivan, Josh thought. Whatever Sullivan had once been, it was dead now.

"If you don't mind, we'll just go on our way."

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

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 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.

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

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