finally discovered my rhythm. Stabbing became a semi-natural extension of my body, though I knew I’d be foolish to assume I was an expert yet. The tree didn’t move or bite.
Zeds were a different story.
An engine rumbled in the distance. I sheathed my blade, grabbed the canteen, and took a long drink of water before setting off toward the house to meet Clutch at the driveway. As the engine noise grew louder, I slowed. Whatever was coming down the drive wasn’t nearly as hearty sounding as Clutch’s throaty truck.
Setting down the canteen, I pulled out my pistol and moved cautiously toward the drive. A familiar red SUV emerged from the tree line. Several boxes were still on top, and it looked like the back was piled full of clothes and bags. The SUV stopped abruptly in front of the house, and two boxes tumbled onto the ground. I warily holstered the .22 when I saw the driver.
He didn’t look so good.
Frank’s teenage son sat, shoulders slumped, with both hands gripping the wheel. The kid stared at the house. He was covered in blood, though most of it was crimson, not thick and brown like that of zeds. The painful realization hit me that, with Clutch gone, the responsibility fell on me to prevent the kid from turning.
I waited. After a moment, he wiped his eyes and then opened the door and stepped out. He was a tall kid for his age, about the same height as Clutch. But, where Clutch was filled out with muscle, Frank’s lanky son was still very much a boy.
“You’re Jase, right?” I asked. “Call me….” I’d first thought to give him my real name but realized that Mia Ryan no longer existed. Who I’d been died four days ago during the outbreak. “Call me Cash.”
He held out his bloodied hand, noticed it, and pulled it back. He simply nodded instead. “Where’s Clutch?” he asked.
“He’ll be back later.” I took in a deep breath before speaking my next words. “I hate to ask this, but I have to.” I paused. “Are you bit?”
He looked down and shook his head. “No,” he croaked, and he cleared his throat. “I’m not bit.”
“That’s a lot of blood for not being bit,” I countered.
He shook his head harder this time. “It’s Betsy’s.” His voice cracked again, and he glanced back in the truck, running a filthy hand through already mussed sandy blond hair.
The poor kid looked like he was about to break. I wanted to make Jase take off his shirt to prove he hadn’t been bitten, but instead I kept one hand near my pistol and put the other hand on his shoulder. “Well, let’s get you cleaned up then.”
He wiped his nose and then nodded, taking a few steps with me toward the house. Then he stopped and pulled away. “Wait. I can’t leave Betsy…”
Frowning, I watched as he went around to the other side of the SUV. He returned, carrying what looked to be a small collie. Much of the fur on her back was matted with blood, and her eyes were glazed over. Whenever Jase moved, she whimpered.
I grimaced. Betsy looked in bad shape. With the amount of blood on her fur and covering Jase’s shirt, I doubted even a vet could help.
When we reached the house, I didn’t open the door. “Listen, Jase. You know how contagious zed blood is. You and Betsy can come into the mudroom, but you can’t come inside, not until you’re both cleaned up and in the clear. Got it?”
Jase nodded and sniffled again.
“All right.” I opened the door and he stepped inside, cradling the dog to his chest.
Inside the mudroom, I rummaged through the cabinets until I found where Clutch kept his rags and cleaning towels. I grabbed the thickest one in the pile and made a nest on the floor. Jase carefully set Betsy down on the towel, but she still yelped at the movement, her back legs kicking out. He collapsed next to her, keeping a hand on her, and making small cooing sounds.
I left them, locking the door behind me. It took some time, but I found a disposable plastic bowl that would work. I returned to