I woke in the leather chair the following morning as the sun was starting to lighten the eastern horizon. During the night the storm had passed, the clouds moving out and the temperature plummeting. Standing stiffly, I tiptoed to the bathroom in the hall so I didn’t wake the girls. Katie was sprawled in the same leather chair she’d been sitting in the night before, her feet up on an ottoman and a heavy blanket pulled tight around her shoulders. Rachel had stretched out on the sofa and was snoring softly, on her side facing the back.
Relieving myself, I poured water from the bucket into the bowl to flush the toilet and returned to the great room. I took a few minutes to add wood to the fire, which was not much more than coals after having gone untended for several hours. Soon it was blazing away, warming the room and I waved Dog to follow me outside. He stood, shook gingerly and sneezed twice before making his way to the back door.
He went outside with me and plowed into the freshly fallen snow. I was pleased to see that he seemed to be moving with greater strength than the previous day. Lighting a cigarette, I stepped to the side of the patio and checked the thermometer. Eight degrees! Fuck me but I missed Arizona.
While Dog took care of things I placed a quick call to Jessica. I wrapped up the conversation as Dog returned to the patio and we walked back in the house. I woke the girls, getting groans and complaints from both, but soon they were up and moving. Biological needs attended to, they set about preparing a meager breakfast while Dog and I went to the garage to check the Jeep.
Fluid levels were good, except for gas. When I turned the ignition to on to look at the gauge, I wasn’t happy to see it just slightly above the big, red “E”. The garage was large, four stalls for vehicles, and in the farthest one sat a fairly new Chevy Tahoe. I walked over and checked it, but couldn’t find its keys. Deciding it was worth the effort, I dug the pump and hoses out of the back of the Jeep and got everything hooked up to siphon fuel.
It must have been close to full as I was able to top off the Jeep, shutting down the pump when gas gushed out onto the epoxy-coated floor. Re-stowing the fueling gear I thumped the spare cans on the back of the Jeep with my finger, glad they were still full. I took another minute to check over the tires, then got on my back and slithered underneath to make sure nothing had been damaged on our trek into the mountains.
Satisfied our vehicle was as ready as it would ever be, I put the sat phone on the charger and went back into the house. Katie and Rachel had already finished eating and had all of our packs stacked by the garage door and ready to go. Two-thirds of a cold MRE waited for me on the kitchen table. Sitting down, I began eating the bland, calorie dense food.
“Did you talk to Jessica?” Katie asked.
“Yep,” I said around a mouthful of lemon pepper tuna. “Infected are mostly clear of Twin Falls. Good thing we’re leaving, too. Big Russian presence up in the mountains. Six helos looking for something. I’m just glad we’re going the other way.”
“Could they be looking for us?” Rachel asked before Katie could speak up.
“Maybe, but I don’t know how they’d know to look here,” I said, wiping my mouth and leaving the trash from my meal on the table as I stood.
With a sigh, Katie stepped forward, scooped it up and dumped it in a waste can under the kitchen sink. I just looked at her for a long moment.
“Someday we’ll have a house again, and we’re not going to start bad habits.” She said defensively.
“Yes, dear,” I grinned, grabbed my pack and weapons and headed for the garage.
Tossing my pack in the back of the Jeep, I muscled the garage door open while Katie and Rachel loaded theirs. Rachel climbed in back and left the door open, calling Dog, but he just stood there looking at her. He wouldn’t jump up. I bent and carefully scooped him into my arms and set him on the seat. Katie closed the door and got in front while I walked around and took the driver’s seat.
The Jeep started easily despite the frigid temperature in the garage. I gave it a couple of minutes for the engine to warm up before backing out. I was twenty yards down the driveway when I looked into the mirror and braked to a halt. Jumping out I ran back and lowered the garage door.
“Why?” Katie asked when I was back behind the wheel.
“Keep the infected out in case there’s other survivors that need a place to lay up for a while.”
I didn’t really think there were any other people left alive and uninfected other than the Russians, but why not put something in the bank of good karma?
Nothing was moving as we made our way into town and turned south. The snow was deep, over the Jeep’s front bumper, but somehow it managed to maintain enough traction to bull its way through. As I drove I glanced in the mirror and wasn’t happy to see the very noticeable sign of our passage that we were leaving, but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I would be glad once we were farther south and out of the snow and not creating a trail that stood out like a neon sign.
Most of two hours later the blanket of snow had disappeared as we continued to lose elevation. The temperature had climbed to just above freezing and I was finally able to turn down the Jeep’s heater. We pushed on and I increased our speed, but still maintained a sedate pace out of fear of encountering black ice on the road’s surface.
As we drew closer to Twin Falls, infected began appearing. Every one that we saw was slowly moving to the west. Occasionally one would be near enough the highway for us to get a good look and they weren’t in good shape. Both the males and females were gaunt, trudging along on their mission. Many had horrific injuries that defied their ability to still be on their feet.
“Maybe this is a good sign,” Rachel said from the backseat when we passed a female that was too weak to do any more than walk at a fast shuffle as she tried to catch us.
“What do you mean?” I asked, steering around a male that was just standing in the middle of the road.
“They don’t look healthy. Maybe the lack of food and water is starting to take its toll on their bodies.”
“Or maybe they were in bad shape before they became infected,” Katie said. Neither Rachel nor I had a good answer to that.
As we pushed deeper into the city we encountered more of the slower infected. I did my best to avoid hitting any of them with the Jeep, but occasionally had to knock some out of our path. They were thickest around the interchange with Interstate 84, giving me no option other than to push through and trust the heavy winch bumper to protect the radiator and engine from damage.
“Where’s our turn?” I asked Katie who was holding the sat phone and reading the route directions.
“Twelve point two miles south of the Interstate,” she said. I reset the trip odometer and slowed to plow through another group of tightly massed infected.
We stopped for fuel at the same station I’d used when we first arrived in Twin Falls. Katie and Rachel stood watch while I hooked up the pump and checked the oil. The Jeep was a thirsty beast when operating in four-wheel drive and churning through snow, having used over half a tank to get us down out of the mountains.
As I was packing the pump and hoses away a distant sound caught my attention. Stopping what I was doing I cocked my head and listened, but it didn’t repeat.
“What?” Katie asked quietly.
“Thought I head a rotor,” I said softly, closing my eyes and concentrating.
I gave it close to half a minute, but didn’t hear the sound again. It had almost certainly been a man made noise, but I couldn’t swear it was a rotor. With Russians in the neighborhood, however, odds were it was and the faster we got out of the area the better.