I gave up on waiting for her and went downstairs. Blue made a fire in the sink and held a skillet over it, cooking meat-type patties. It was the first almost cooked food I’d had in ages, so I ate happily.
Harlow came downstairs wearing another skirt and strappy tank top, pairing it with her usual combat boots. Her hair was pulled back nicely, accented with some diamond clips she’d found in the jewelry box.
“I have fantastic news,” Blue grinned. “I poked around the house this morning, and I found an SUV in the garage. The keys were on the key rack, it’s gassed up, and ready to go.”
“You mean we don’t have to walk?” Harlow’s eyes sparkled. “And we can actually take stuff with us?”
“Honest?” I asked, fighting to contain my happiness. I thought I was going to spend the next month walking to Wyoming. “Did you test drive it and everything?”
“Well, I started it to make sure it ran,” Blue said.
“It purred like a kitten,” Lazlo added.
“It’s in the garage?” I asked, already backing away.
Before Blue could say anything more, I rushed out to the garage. It was dark, but I could still see the bulky shape of a massive gas-guzzling SUV.
I hit my hand against the garage door opener, which naturally didn’t work since there wasn’t any power. But I didn’t care. I was too excited. I had to pry the garage door open myself, but my happiness empowered me.
With the sunlight shining in, I got my first good look at it. It was black and damn near brand new. Cupping my hands, I peered in and admired how spacious the interior was. There was even plenty of room in the back for Ripley.
“It is pretty exciting,” Lazlo smiled, coming out to the garage to inspect it with me.
“No, it’s more than exciting. This is life changing. This…” I was on the verge of tears I was so happy. In the months before Max and I had gone to quarantine, we had found exactly two running vehicles with keys, and they both sustained traumatic injury. “When are we leaving?”
“As soon as we’re ready, I guess,” Lazlo shrugged.
“If I had known about this, I wouldn’t have slept last night.”
“Wow.” He looked at me with awe. “I don’t think you’re kidding.”
“I’m really not,” I admitted.
I ran back into the house, hurrying to gather up all my stuff so we could get out of here. I even packed Harlow’s stuff to speed the process along. Our messenger bags were filled with essentials. If we had to leave things behind, we’d still have everything in a carry-on size.
We loaded up the SUV, and I felt almost optimistic. Sure, I still didn’t know where my little brother was, or even if he was alive, and man-eating zombies still roamed the hollow shell of the earth, but god dammit, we had a car!
It took some cajoling to get Ripley into the back, but I did not want to leave her behind. She’d be an invaluable resource against the infected, but more than that, I kind of liked her.
Thanks to a can of tuna, she eventually got in, and once she settled in amongst the bags and realized she was free to sleep, she seemed okay with it.
I called shotgun, and Lazlo scowled. Blue got to drive because he found it, but he promised me that I’d drive the next leg.
When he started the SUV, and I heard the rumble of the engine, my heart soared. We backed out of the driveway, turned on the road, and drove away from the abandoned house.
“How about some driving tunes?” Lazlo suggested.
“There aren’t radio stations anymore,” Blue said, but he fiddled with the radio.
Static blared out. The GPS kicked in and told us it couldn’t locate the satellite, but Blue hit another button and shut it off. He hit something else and smiled.
“Eureka! A CD player!”
Bon Jovi wafted out of the speakers, and we all exchanged a look.
“I don’t know. That’s kind of really unexpected,” I said.
“Not bad, but really unexpected,” Blue agreed.
“I think it’s kind of bad,” Lazlo said. “But it could be worse.”
“Yeah, it could be your CD,” I said, and Blue laughed.
“Ha ha.” Lazlo rolled his eyes and sunk lower in the seat.
“Who is this?” Harlow asked.
“Somebody who’s probably dead,” I said and looked out the window.
The burgeoning development started giving way to more established homes, and the houses got older and less nice. It wasn’t until we’d been driving for a while, and houses turned into buildings looking sad in the desert sun that it dawned on me where we were.
We turned on the strip, which should’ve been glittering with garish bright lights but instead looked like a dusty ghost town.
A reproduction of the Eiffel Tower had fallen on its side. Cars were crashed or simply left deserted up and down the road. A massive fountain was filled with stagnant water and floating bodies. Trees on the boulevard were wilted and dead. Several rotting corpses lined the sidewalks, and carrion birds circled in the sky.
“Oh my gosh.” I leaned forward, looking at the broken marquees that hung in front of towering hotels. “This is Las Vegas.”
“Yeah. Where did you think we were?” Lazlo asked.
“I didn’t know. I just knew desert.” I had spent so much time isolated in the quarantine that it never occurred to me how near we were to a city. “We should stop.”
“What for? You in the mood to gamble?” Lazlo asked.
“These are really nice hotels. I’m sure the suites and kitchens are loaded with non-perishable food,” I said.
Blue slowed down. He rolled up over the curb, driving around the deteriorating decorative features to pull right in front of the doors.
“We won’t be able to get up to the suites because they’re on the top floors and the elevators are broken, but there has to be stuff on the main floor,” Blue said and turned off the SUV.
“So we just started on this road trip, and we’re stopping?” Harlow raised an eyebrow at us.
“We should stock up while we can,” I opened the door and hopped out. “We don’t know when we’ll be able to again.”
I went around the back and opened the door so Ripley could get out, and I grabbed the handgun from Harlow’s bag and shoved it in my waistband. The sun was blinding and hot, making me even more thankful for the vehicle and its air conditioning.
Blue and I walked into the casino first, with Lazlo and Harlow following. I didn’t like the idea of them being together, because Harlow froze and Lazlo was an idiot. I wanted to get in and out of here as quickly as possible.