“Mostly just bottled water, and a couple bottles of vodka,” Blue said. “How about you?”
“Cherries, olives, water,” I shrugged. “It wasn’t that great, but we can always use the water.”
“Check it out.” Lazlo leaned forward between the seats. He plucked a perfectly tied cherry stem from his mouth and held it out for me. “I tied that with my tongue. You know what that means?” He waggled his eyebrows at me, I’m assuming in an attempt to be seductive.
“That you’re an idiot?”
“Whatever. I’m awesome,” Lazlo leaned back in his seat, looking mildly defeated.
“What does it mean?” Harlow asked, giving him a perplexed look.
“How about some more driving music?” Blue suggested.
Before anyone could disagree, he turned up the stereo, causing “You Give Love a Bad name” to come blasting out of the speakers. I settled back into the seat, preferring Bon Jovi to conversation.
We sped past what little remained of a booming human society. It was still a strange thing to get accustomed to. Knowing that most of the human race was dead or infected. I lost my appetite and handed Harlow the rest of the jar of cherries.
I tried to get some sleep as the city scenery gave way to more vacant desert, and the sun moved across the car. Even with the safety of being in a moving vehicle, I couldn’t sleep.
We stopped at a gas station just before the sun set. Getting gas was a hit or a miss. As quickly as the pandemic hit, some stations had instantly run out of gas, never to be refilled, while others had lost all their customers before they had a chance to run out.
We were lucky this time, and Lazlo went inside to steal beef jerky while Blue filled the SUV up.
Blue got in the passenger seat, and I took a turn driving while he rested. Eventually, everyone managed to fall asleep, which seemed pretty amazing to me considering how loud Ripley snored. Harlow twitched a lot in her sleep, jerking and occasionally moaning. I thought about waking her, but I decided she needed the rest more than she needed to escape her nightmares.
I’d been driving for quite a while when I saw something that made me think I was hallucinating, so I slowed to a stop. I sat there, blinking at it.
“What’s going on?” Blue asked groggily and sat up straighter. The car stopping had woken him. “What happened?”
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the road in front of us.
“It… it looks like a tiger.” Blue sounded just as confused and uncertain as I was. “What the hell is going on? We’re in Nevada, not the Sahara. Where are all these animals coming from?”
“I don’t know,” I shook my head.
I drove around the tiger, giving it a wide berth. A little ways down the road, at the mouth of a long gravel driveway, another tiger stood. Half a mile down the driveway, I saw some kind of ranch.
And almost as shocking as the tigers, all the windows were lit up. With glowing yellow light. Like they had electricity and inhabitants.
“What do you think?” I looked over at Blue.
“It wouldn’t hurt to check it out,” Blue shrugged.
Like every other bad decision in my life, I went against my gut feeling, and turned onto the driveway.
– 7 –
Vehicles were parked around the ranch, mostly large trucks, including a semi with a short trailer. The main house was long and dark brown with a porch in the front. It would’ve looked normal, with its rocking chairs and a shot gun propped up next to the door, if it wasn’t for the massive white tiger sprawled out on the porch.
Shadows moved behind the window, peering around the curtain to investigate our approaching headlights. A bright spotlight lit up on the porch when I stopped the SUV next to the house.
Ripley rumbled with a low growl. Two tigers had gathered closer to us. They circled the SUV slowly and deliberately.
“What’s going on?” Harlow asked, instantly alert and afraid. She and Lazlo woke up at the sound of Ripley’s growl. “Where are we?”
“Should we let this cat out?” Lazlo leaned forward in his seat, so he was closer to me and further away from the lion. “She looks like she’s about to bite someone’s head off.”
“No. I don’t know.” I didn’t know what the hell was going on here, and I had no idea how dangerous the tigers might be, either to us or Ripley. “Maybe we should go.” I turned to Blue
Blue looked away, his face mirroring my own uncertainty. People were here, with electricity, and they might know something about a quarantine. He chewed his lip and nodded once.
“Someone’s coming out!” Harlow shouted and pointed at the ranch.
Instead of acting on my chance to escape, I turned back to see a man walking out the door. Tall, with dark hair slicked back, he strode toward us with a sense of purpose. He waved his hand, almost thoughtlessly, and the tigers backed down.
He held his hands out to us, palms up in a gesture of peace. Even though he smiled at us, I had a strange feeling that something sinister lurked behind it.
“I think we should still leave,” Lazlo suggested behind me. In my rearview mirror, I could see him. He had kept his voice even, but his dark eyes betrayed his anxiety.
“No way!” Harlow cast a confused glare at him. “They have electricity! That means they could have running water! And real food! Why would we just leave without even talking to them?”
“She’s has a point,” Blue said, shrugging helplessly. “They might know where your brother’s at. Or he might even be here.”
Ripley growled in the back again, and I felt everyone looking at me, waiting. Somehow, the decision had fallen on me whether we stayed or went.
This didn’t look anything like a government facility, but Blue was right. I was driving blindly to find Max, and I needed all the help I could get.
Sighing, I turned off the car and opened the door. Lazlo grumbled something I couldn’t understand, but he followed suit.
The man walked towards me, his smile widening, and Blue walked around the car to stand next to me. Harlow hurried around to meet him. Both Blue and I moved so we shielded her a bit, and Lazlo stepped closer to her.
“I wasn’t sure if you were going get out for a minute,” the guy laughed.
“We were just making sure the tigers were gone.” Blue kept his voice light and smiled. I felt relieved having him here. When I was nervous, I looked nervous, but he did a good job of covering it up.
“They’re mostly harmless, unless you’re a zombie,” he laughed again, then extended his hand to Blue. “I’m Korech, and this is my home.”