“But, there’s no one—”
I lifted my finger to my lips, then patted my right hand over my left twice; it was the sign for “beware.”
Anna nodded immediately. Jared, of course, blinked in confusion. My father had lost his hearing in the military, and I had learned sign language at an early age. I had passed it on to Anna, who had picked it up easily.
She signed: All right, Daddy.
Spoken or not, I loved when she still called me Daddy.
* * *
Inside our quarters, which was just a single room, complete with a mini-fridge, a bathroom, a couch and a cot, I signed again for her to keep quiet. I hoped there weren’t video bugs in addition to the probable audio ones.
“How about we make dinner?” I said, then signed the word: house. I added, “I don’t know about you two, but I’m starved.”
Anna nodded, getting it, and Jared was smart enough to stay quiet. She said, perhaps a little excitedly, “Sounds great! I’ll make some spaghetti.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ve got a hankering for some pasta.”
Anna signed: Hankering? Really?
Oh, shut up, I signed and winked.
I gathered my first aid kit and hunting knife. I caught Jared’s attention and pointed silently to the bow and arrow hung on the wall. His eyes widened a little, but he obediently took them down.
“Just let me use the bathroom,” Anna said convincingly. She was perhaps a little too good at this lying business for my liking. Anyway, she shoved her notepad and laptop into her backpack. She looked at me and signed: Anything else?
As I glanced around, my eyes landed on a wilderness survival book. I grabbed it. I turned on the TV, and cranked it up a notch or two louder than usual.
A few minutes later, with the TV still blaring, the three of us slipped quietly out the bathroom window and made our way down through the back trails toward home.
We were hiking through the woodlands.
Anna kept wanting to tell me about what she’d learned, but there was only so much I could focus on. For some reason, I was having trouble focusing on, well, anything. I insisted on silence. I had to.
Both Anna and I, and probably Jared, too, were accustomed to listening out in the wild. I kept my ears cocked for any sound other than the nature surrounding us. Someone following, perhaps.
Or something following us.
Why that thought occurred to me, I didn’t know, but I shuddered despite the fact that my skin still felt hot. No, not hot. It felt...burned, as if I’d spent the day at Santa Monica Beach.
We continued on. I fought a sense of fatigue. I didn’t get fatigued. I could generally hike these trails all day long—and often did just that, on my various patrols.
Anyway, I figured we were lucky so far to have refuge in the Los Feliz house. The place was undisturbed when we entered through the back door. I said a silent prayer of thanks to anyone listening.
We were all starved. We had spaghetti anyway, leftover spaghetti, which we feasted on upstairs in my office so as not to disturb our guests in the cellar. No, our prisoners.
No, my brother, goddammit.
“Look, Dad,” Anna spoke through a mouthful of noodles while retrieving her notebook. “A lot of these space rocks—meteors—landed all over. And others are getting really sick, too.”
I perused her handwritten notes as I ate. “Why didn’t you just print all of this?”
Jared spoke up. “It would have been easier to track us, sir. As it was, I had to hack into another data base. I found one in Colorado.”
I nodded, impressed. But it was the notes that had my attention. A dozen people were sick in China. Some in Nepal, as well. As I leafed through the pages, I learned that this infection from space rocks was a global event.
“Look here, Dad.” Anna guided me to the second-to-last page of her notes. “I copied this from a blog from someone living in Nepal. This person reported that some of the sick ones are biting—and even eating—other people.”
I set my fork down having suddenly lost my appetite. I did my best to decipher my daughter’s scribbled handwriting:
If anyone is reading this, please help us! The infected ones are so very, very strong. They are attacking us, biting us, eating us. Those who have not escaped were eaten by our own people—by those we knew and loved. Eaten alive. If anyone can read this please...
Anna was on the verge of tears again. I wanted to hold her, except Jared did it for me. The little fucking bastard.
Calm down, I thought, surprised by the sudden flare of anger within me.
I pushed down my useless jealousy. Anyway, now I was beginning to understand the magnitude of all of this. I now knew why those agents had so desperately sought my brother and his friend.
They’re eating us...
From her notes, I deduced that the afflicted people in Third World countries had gone through the sickness, followed by a period of feeling better. Those in Germany, Australia, and North America weren’t feeling better. I chewed on that when I saw that Jared had already wolfed down his dinner.
Anna had done a good job of research, but I didn’t think all of this had hit her yet. She was mainly concerned about her uncle, except how any of this wild information could help Joe, I hadn’t a clue. At least, not yet.
“Would you like some more?” I asked Jared.
“Well, if it’s no trouble...” I sensed his fear, and I didn’t blame the kid. Hell, even I was nervous about going down into the kitchen alone—and Joe was my own goddamn brother. At least, I thought he was my brother. Eating other people? God help us. I rubbed my face. At the very least, I needed coffee. And lots of it.
“I’ll get it for you,” I said and stood.
“Be careful, Daddy,” Anna pleaded.
“I’ll be all right. I won’t make a sound.”
Once outside my office, I drew my gun. After all, I had another reason for going back down. I had to see my brother.
* * *
Since I knew the cellar door always creaked, I grabbed the WD-40 from the kitchen shelf and sprayed the hinges from the outside. I waited a minute or two to let it seep in, and then turned the knob.
No squeak. Score one for the good guys. I sidestepped the known creaky areas of the stairs and stopped my descent when I had my brother and his friend in sight.
They were both still there, thank God, standing there in the dark, motionless. A very deep shudder rippled through me. They did not look human standing there. They did not look normal. They looked like they were...waiting. Silently waiting.