Nevaeh screamed, and I tackled her, sending her flying back on the ground. She did nothing to defend herself, and I felt sorry for her. I punched her in the face, but not as hard as I could. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I had to do something to distract Korech.
A sharp pain hit the back of my skull, spreading a blind white light across my eyes. Korech had slammed the butt of the gun into my head, and it was frighteningly effective.
I never lost consciousness, but I completely lost focus. I couldn’t really see or hear or feel anything but shooting pain.
When it relented enough where my vision could clear, I heard Nevaeh crying. I wasn’t on top of her anymore, and instead, I was kneeling on the ground. Someone had a painful grip on my arm, trying to pull me to my feet, but my legs were reluctant to cooperate.
“Remy! Move!” Lazlo shouted. He was the one trying to drag me up.
I looked over to see Korech lying on the ground. Blood spilled from his abdomen, and he made unintelligible sounds. Nevaeh stood, blood running down her face from when I had punched her, screaming her head off.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I grabbed the gun and shot him,” Lazlo said absently, so apparently, my distraction had worked.
My body finally functioned again, and I got to my feet. Lazlo led me back to the SUV, but I pulled away from him. I got the gun off the ground. We could use another weapon, and it was only a matter of time before Nevaeh’s shock wore off, and she grabbed it herself.
“Hurry up!” Lazlo yelled.
He waited for me, so I ran to him, and we rounded the back of the SUV. A tiger stood there, summoned by all the commotion.
We both stopped cold, unsure of what to do. The tiger growled at us and bent low, preparing to pounce. Belatedly, I remembered I had a gun. I fired a warning shot in the dirt next to it, and that freaked the tiger out enough to back off.
“Go,” I told Lazlo and nodded for him to go around and get in the SUV. “I’ll be right there.”
He pursed his lips. I knew he wanted to argue, but for once, he just listened and hurried around to the passenger side.
I opened the back of the SUV, throwing the gun inside with all our bags, and called Ripley. Everything had fallen silent after I had fired the gun, and Ripley came flying around the corner of the ranch. She dove into the back of SUV, slamming into our bags, and Lia let out a frightened yelp.
Nevaeh wailed and threatened the wrath of God against us. Some of the other girls had come outside. They milled around Korech, crying and yelling.
I ran around the side, where Lazlo was half hanging out the car door. When I got close, he reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me into the car and onto his lap.
Before I could even shut the door, Blue threw the SUV in reverse, and it lurched backwards. Through the windshield, I saw Ruth had another gun, and she pointed it right at us.
“Go, go, go!” I shouted, pressing my hands against the dashboard to steady myself.
“I’m trying!” Blue said through gritted teeth.
A shot fired overhead, but it missed us. Blue sped the SUV around, tearing off down the gravel road in a cloud of dust. Ripley growled, and the whole vehicle swayed. He almost lost control whipping around like that, but he managed to correct it.
It wasn’t until we were on the highway that everyone seemed to relax a bit. Blue didn’t slow down, and nobody said anything, but it got easier to breathe. I leaned back, then realized that I was sitting on Lazlo’s lap and leaning into him, so I straightened back up.
“You saved my life,” Lazlo said. From the corner of my eye, I saw him looking at me admiringly.
“Well, we can call it even.”
I got up off his lap, climbing over the center console into the backseat. Lia, Vega, and Harlow were already sitting back there, but I squished in between Harlow and the car door. They were all very skinny, thanks to the end-of-the civilization starvation, but it was still a tight fit.
“Whenever you get a chance, can we stop, Blue?” I asked, looking out the window at the blank landscape around us. “I need to change back into real clothes.”
“Sure thing,” Blue said. “I just want to get farther away.”
Blue pulled over on the side of the road about an hour later. I changed in the red glow of the taillights, and instantly felt better in a pair of jeans. I pulled my hair back up, and Harlow changed back into her regular clothes without saying anything.
“I’m really sorry we had to leave like that,” I told Harlow as I slid on my tennis shoes. She had her back to me and pulled on her shirt. “I know you really like it there.”
“We all do what we have to do, right?” Harlow replied flatly.
“Right,” I said uncertainly.
I wanted to say more to her, but she walked around the SUV and hopped back in without saying another word. She hadn’t said anything since we left, and I’m not sure how this was all sitting with her.
Blue and Lazlo wandered a little ways away to pee. Lia and Vega wanted to get dressed too, so I gave them some of my clothes. They changed in the back together, and I waited at the side of the SUV, next to the open passenger door for them.
Lia finished changing, my smaller clothes revealing her slender midriff. Her back was to the SUV, and she stared off in the direction of the ranch, not that she could see anything from this distance.
“Do you think they’re alright?” Lia asked.
“They’ll be fine,” Vega answered offhandedly, pulling a shirt over her head.
“With Korech injured…” Lia trailed off. “What if he dies?”
“It’s up to God what happens after he dies,” Vega said. “‘He whosoever believeth in me shall not perish but have everlasting life.’”
“I know, but what about everyone there? How will they survive without him?”
“Lia, be serious.” Vega gave her a hard look. “We’re the ones that did everything. Korech spouted gospel and took advantage.”
“I guess,” Lia said but she sounded unconvinced.
Vega shook her head and rounded the SUV. I stopped her, shutting the door partially so Harlow wouldn’t overhear.
“Hey, what was he like?” I lowered my voice.
“I thought he was the Messiah,” Vega said quietly. “I thought he was going to save the world from the end times. Then after a while, I started thinking he might be the antichrist, but he has no power. Not for good or evil. Not even marked of the Beast.”
“What?” I shook my head, not understanding.