“Get out of sight, out of hearing distance,” I said.
I felt worlds better now that I knew Anna was safe. At least physically. I was back, and I was calling the shots.
We moved to the other side of the large enclosed circle with the pendulum that counted seconds. It was a real crowd pleaser. In normal times, that is. Now, there was no one to admire it but us. Still, it was solid, and we were hidden from them on the far side.
We took a moment to calm ourselves, catch our breaths. I said quietly, semi-sarcastically, “Family meeting. Where do we want to set up a command post?”
“The office,” Carla suggested. “We’ll have computer access there.”
“No,” Jared countered. He was feeling more comfortable giving input. After all, he’d been with us for over a week now. He continued, “We could be trapped there. In case they get in, we’ll have nowhere to go.”
“Good point, son,” I said. I thought I saw a trace of a smile on his face at the endearing term.
“What about the lower floor?” I offered. “There are bathrooms down there and plenty of room to move.”
“But we can’t hear anything down there,” Anna countered. “What if Uncle Joe comes? He’ll look for us here probably.”
So far, it was the best argument. My brother Joe. I hadn’t heard from him all day, but I still had hope. Anna, of course, would never abandon her Uncle Joe. Neither would I.
“Okay,” I said. “This is going to have to be a democracy. From here on out. Ruling vote wins. If we settle in the office, we have internet. If we go downstairs, we have room. If we stay here, I think we can have both, although we’ll have to be very careful to not be seen or heard. Very careful. Shall we vote?”
“Who wants to go downstairs?” I asked. No one raised their hand. Not even me, especially after Anna’s reasoning. Yes, I wanted to know if my brother was outside. And, yes, he would come looking for me here, eventually.
“Who votes for the office?” Carla raised her hand. Alone.
“Who wants to stay here, out of sight?” Anna, Jared and I raised our hands.
“That’s it,” I said. “I say we move our stock, quietly, over to the theater entrance. We can bolt those doors closed with...” I paused, “with whatever we find.”
“We can keep watch,” Jared suggested. “There are four of us. Two, three hours each. Stay close with weapons handy.”
“Right.” I glanced at Carla. She had been a saint the last few days. I could tell she still felt safer locked up in an office.
Anna and Jared began to move our stock toward the theater entrance.
“Jack,” Carla whispered, “being in the center of this building is a mistake. We don’t know that we’re alone here. And the...zombies.” She made herself say the word. “They could come from any direction. It’s not safe. Just think, please.”
Her face held nothing but affection for me. I was a park ranger, but she was a cop. Despite my ranger training, she had more training than me.
I thought about how I should answer her, then said, “It’s my brother, Carla. Anna’s right. In the office, or down below, we wouldn’t be able to hear him, even if he did come. I couldn’t live with that.”
Carla turned away. “If you say so.”
“Don’t be like that.”
“Like what? Like saving our lives?”
“Yeah,” I said more loudly than I intended. “You all saved my ass out there. What if no one is there to save my brother?”
Carla took a deep breath, blew it out. “I might have to leave tomorrow. I can help by finding out what’s going on. Why the hell are there so many of them, so soon?” She looked me dead in the eye and said loud enough for Anna and Jared to hear, “I’m just trying to help, Jack. Because I care about you. And Anna and Jared. And your brother. Believe that.”
Too late, I realized we didn’t have any sleeping bags or blankets.
So, we bedded down for the night, jackets on and clothes strewn over us. Carla and I stayed next to Anna and Jared, for more than one reason. I knew Jared respected me, but I also knew what teens did. I had been one once.
Minus the zombies.
I’d given both Anna and Jared one of the semis I’d picked up. Made them practice switching clips until they could do it quickly. Carla took the first watch.
“Have you tried calling Uncle Joe?” Anna asked me, while we lay next to each other. Knowing she was close and temporarily safe meant the world to me.
I told her I had called, but there was no answer, adding, “But I’m sure he’s okay. Your uncle is smart and strong.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said, but I heard the concern in her voice.
“Just sleep, sweetie,” I said, and noticed she was cuddling up to Jared for warmth. Lord, first zombies and now teenage hormones. I wasn’t sure which was worse, or more out of control.
I settled myself as best I could. Soon, Anna and Jared were out. Long, crazy day for them. Long, crazy day for anyone. They held hands in slumber. I gazed up at Carla, who stood watch near the main entrance. She held her gun down, but looked this way and that and listened for any unwanted visitors.
“Carla, you do understand, don’t you? About my brother?”
“I understand what’s good for the many as opposed to the good of the one.” The line sounded like something out of a Star Trek movie.
“Do you have family?” It was the first time I’d considered this.
She looked down at me coldly. “No. I don’t.”
“I’m sorry about that.” It was all I could come up with.
I let it go. I was too tired. Physically and emotionally. I trusted Carla to watch over us. I drifted into fitful dreams. Dreams full of brains and splattered blood. Somewhere in my dreams I saw Anna. She was running for her life. I tried to follow her, but my feet were too slow and I kept getting lost.
I think I was trying to cry out when someone pushed me.
A desperate whisper penetrated the dream. “Jack! Jack! Wake up.”
I opened my eyes. Remembered where I was. Carla was shaking me. “What...?” I asked, not quite fully awake.
But her next words brought me to full consciousness. “Get up now, Jack,” she whispered. “They’re here. They’re inside the building.”