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datatime: 2022-12-04 20:35:09 Author:zeyWRNlu

"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.

Josh had just put his hand on the knob when the door flew open and the barrel of a pistol looked him in the eyes.

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.

"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.

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

"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 outlines of small, blocky one-story buildings and red brick houses began to appear from the deepening scarlet gloom. A town, Josh realized. Thank God

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

"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"

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.

"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"

"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."

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."

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

"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"

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.

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

"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"

"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."

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

"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."

"Leona" a weak voice called from inside the house. "Leo-" And then it was interrupted by a strangling, terrible spasm of coughing.

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