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Ryan Westfield





“We’ve got to get another vehicle,” said Max. He was sitting up front in the passenger seat. He spoke his words with difficulty. His face was starting to swell up badly. “We’re not going to be able to store enough gear in here. We’re going to have to split up and take two vehicles.”

“No shit,” muttered Chad.

Chad, Mandy, Sadie, and James were crammed into the back of the Ford Bronco. It wasn’t really big enough for them. Especially not with the gear left over from the Bronco’s original owners.

Neither Georgia or Max had explained exactly what had happened. They’d just said that they’d gotten out alive. That was the important thing, said Max.

“Say something useful, Chad,” said Mandy. “If you’re going to say anything at all.”

They’d left the granary and were headed into Albion, the tiny town in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. So far, they hadn’t seen anyone. No people and no vehicles. The town, so far, seemed empty.

But they hadn’t yet gotten into the center of it.

“This is weird,” said Georgia. She was driving. “I can’t believe there’s no one here.”

“They could be inside their houses,” said Mandy.

“There aren’t any cars either,” said Georgia. “It’s like everyone’s fled.”

“Could be,” said Max. “Let’s keep our eyes peeled.”

It was nerve racking, driving through the abandoned streets. There were houses all around them. They looked empty. But Chad knew that behind every window there could lurk someone with a gun. At every side street, Chad looked up and down both ways. His heart was pounding. He was just waiting for the attack that he knew would come.

“We shouldn’t be driving into town,” said Chad. “We’ve got to get back out into the rural areas. Isn’t that what you’re always saying, Max?”

“We need another vehicle,” said Mandy.

Why was she always sticking up for Max and his ideas?

Chad’s mind wasn’t in a great place. He realized it, too. He realized he was getting bitter about Max making all the calls. Logically, he knew that Max tended to make the right decisions. It made sense that he was “in charge,” if you could call it that. Still, Chad’s mind was sinking into a dark place, and he couldn’t shake the bitterness.

Chad knew he needed to calm down. He felt like his skin was crawling. His feet were freezing even though it wasn’t cold out. The adrenaline was coursing through him.

They’d been through so much already. Who knew when the next attack would come. Who knew what terrible obstacle they’d have to face next.

And Chad knew he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready for any of it.

Chad was sitting with his hands around his bent knees, trying his best to look out the dirty Bronco windows.

James and Sadie were talking about something. Chad wasn’t sure what. He wasn’t paying attention.

Chad had lost the thread of the overall conversation between the other adults. They were probably taking about getting another vehicle.

The answer came to Chad by accident.

Georgia took a sharp turn. Something rolled out underneath Max’s seat.

Chad knew right away what it was. He’d developed hawkish eyes for pills and drugs. After all, he’d spent most of his life high or trying to get high. By whatever means necessary.

It was a prescription pill bottle of Vicodin, Chad’s favorite drug. It was the drug he’d been addicted to for years. He didn’t even know how many. Max had given Chad’s Vicodin to the dying man, and Chad had suffered horrible withdrawal. He’d enjoyed being clean. He really had. He’d been a different person.

But the stress was too much.

Chad palmed the rolling orange prescription bottle before anyone else even noticed it. His hands shook as he undid the safety cap. He shook a couple pills into his hand surreptitiously. He didn’t bother to count them.

He had a moment of pause before he swallowed the pills. After all, the logical part of his mind told him not to do it. He couldn’t go back to that place, that disgusting filth that was the addiction. He’d beaten it. He really had.

But while Chad had gone through withdrawal and gotten clean, he’d never developed the coping skills needed to get through a stressful situation clean and sober.

And there couldn’t have been anything more stressful that the collapse of modern society.

And the collapse wasn’t over.

Hell, it might have just been beginning.

Chad swallowed the pill dry.

Almost instantly, Chad felt relief. Of course, he knew that the drug wouldn’t actually get into his system for about another thirty minutes. It was mostly just placebo. Psychological relief, and nothing more. But Chad would take it.

His heart rate calmed down. His body became warmer. He felt ready to deal with whatever was coming. With pills, he could do anything.

Except when he could do nothing.

Chad knew the pills would come back to bite him in the ass. Probably in the worst possible moment. But that was later. And he just wanted to feel better now.

“There isn’t a single car,” said Georgia.

“Let’s turn around, Mom,” said Sadie.

“We’ve got to find another vehicle,” said Max. “We have to keep going.”

They were in the center of the town. Georgia had stopped at the main intersection.

Everything looked normal for a small town. There was a barbershop on one side of the street. A butcher. A small grocery store. Even a gas station.

But there wasn’t anyone there.

And there weren’t any cars. Not a single one.

“Let’s drive through the rest,” said Max. “We’ve gotta find a car somewhere. Even if everyone fled in their cars, there’s bound to be one left over.”

“Yeah,” said Mandy. “Aren’t there like five cars for every American or something?”

“Something like that,” said Georgia. “Do you really think we should keep going, Max? Maybe we should head out. I’m getting a weird feeling from this place.”

“If we don’t find a vehicle now,” said Max. “I don’t know where we’re going to get one. This is perfect. Seems completely abandoned.”

Georgia drove on through all the side streets off the main drag. The houses were small and tightly packed together.

This had never been a wealthy town. The houses had been for steelworkers, until the industry had changed. The economic devastation was palpable. The houses were in disrepair. The shutters were old and the windows cracked. The lawns were often neat and tidy, but the grass had died in patches, and there’d been no money to replace it or time to water it.

Chad was starting to feel really good. The Vicodin was kicking in. He felt warm and fuzzy inside. This was the feeling that he’d been craving for so long. He felt like he was on top of the world, like he could accomplish anything.

Of course, he knew that his reflexes would be slowed. His thought process would be muddled. If a crisis came, he knew that he couldn’t rely on himself to make the right decision. Unfortunately, the drugs would trick him, and he’d think he knew what he was doing. A dangerous combination.

“There aren’t any cars,” said Georgia.

“Try the next street,” said Max. “We’ve got to keep looking.”

Chad’s anxiety had left him. He felt happy for the first time in a long, long while.

Sure, it was a trick. It was just deception. But he didn’t care.

“Look down there,” said James, as they turned down a narrow street packed with houses. “There’s something on one of the lawns.”

As they got closer, they got a better look at it.



2011 - 2018