“Do you see anything yet?”
“No,” she says.
So I make a sweep of the entire town, driving around 25 miles an hour. There’s a huge, green park in the middle of town that’s empty of everything except green grass, trees, a playground and sculptures. No humans anywhere. I turn left, and we’re on the smaller side streets, lined by older trees and small houses, some of them from the fifties and some of them maybe a century or older.
“Maybe,” I admit. “But did they all instantly give up at the first news? Shouldn’t there be some blood somewhere?”
“Yeah,” she says softly, as I turn once again back onto main street. I drive us back up the main drag once more, past a family restaurant and a coffee house.
“Let’s stop at the playground.”
“I want to play for a bit, duh,” Cassie says.
“Cassie, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I say, but I’m talking to air, because she’s opened the door, jumped out and is running towards the gorgeous green grass, leaving the door and my mouth wide open.
Okay, that’s getting really annoying. She just runs, off, repeatedly, whether it’s a good idea or not.
And there goes the dog out the open door too.
I scowl, shut the door, and pull the Jeep to a parking spot. I grab my bat and slam the door but it doesn’t grab Cassie’s attention. She’s on the merry-go-round with Sunshine following alongside on the ground, barking.
I stand there with my bat in hand and wonder what to do. The town is empty, so we’re probably alright, but it still makes me a bit nervous.
I take a deep breath, tell myself to relax for once, and drop the bat on the ground. I haven’t a good run in weeks – okay outside of running from zombies, but that doesn’t count because I was all stressed out. I haven’t had a run that was for exercise, that stretched my body and left me feeling good inside.
I stretch for a few minutes, letting myself warm up, and then I start to run along the outer edges of the park. I fall into that stride that feels like I could go for hours. I breathe in and out, relaxing into the motion, concentrating on just running. Eventually I hit that sweet spot where it just feels good to run, and I smile.
I’d been thinking about joining the running team next year, but I was worried that competition would ruin this, ruin this joy that I feel when I run. Little did I know.
The funny thing is that I’ve never been good at sports. I think it’s partially that I don’t like things coming at my head, and a lack of coordination, and I just seem to hesitate. That’s what it is – hesitation. Will I act at the right time, will I do the right thing? Other people seem to know what to do all the time – the girls playing baseball or soccer, the guy facing down the bully, my Mom stepping in to protect me from zombies.
I always freeze. I miss the soccer ball headed for me, because surely that’s not for me? I mean really, should I kick it, or is someone else going to get it? And that mean guy, if he’s talking to me, surely I’ll get hurt if I say something back?
I come to a stop. I think I might be a coward.
I remember instances, now that I think about it, instances from throughout my life where I probably could have stood up, or stopped, or something. Yes, Cassie runs into every situation, but I always seem to be on the sidelines somewhere. When it was smarter to keep my mouth shut, or let someone else take the risks, I did. When people came after me, I ran. When people came after me and Mike was around, he took the hit for me. It was the same way in school – if I had friends around then they took the hit for me.
I never acted when there were other people around who could take the action.
I never stood up for anyone, not when Tonya was in trouble, and definitely not when Mike was in trouble. I saw the drug use long before my parents did and ignored it. Sure, I had the excuse of hurt feelings, that Mike stopped hanging out with me, but I never tried to get him to stop.
Maybe I am as much to blame for our family falling apart as the others?
Or maybe just a smaller part?
I kick the dirt with my shoe and then look in Cassie’s direction. And then all my self-absorbed thoughts fall away, swept clean like dishes off a table, at a sight I never would have expected.
There are children and teenagers scattered throughout the park, like they were coming to play and then stopped, all of them in disarray, and each of them a zombie.