“Your dad have any guns kid?”
“My name is Tim.”
The man shrugged and said through peanut butter covered teeth, “Yeah. I know. Tim it is.”
Tim paced around the room with nervous energy, taking long strides, stretching himself out. He inspected the wood he’d put over the windows and fingered the white caulking. Satisfied no bugs could penetrate, he turned away from the window.
“My dad has a Bushmaster .223.”
“Yeah. With a scope. The scope is zeroed out at thirty yards.”
Jason’s mouth twisted in thought, “Wasn’t that the gun used in the Newtown massacre?”
“Pretty serious gun.”
Tim wiggled his nose, “My dad wanted to try hunting. Some of his bosses at work hunted and he figured it’d be a good way to bond. Climb the corporate ladder.” He smirked, “My mother said it was a mid-life crisis and soon dad would be moaning for a motorbike and dying his hair. He never did go hunting. He joined a gun club, went to the range, and fired off a few rounds. He didn’t like it. The noise, the recoil, the little hole in the paper yards away. He knew shooting at a deer, rabbit, or whatever, he knew he just wouldn’t like it.” Tim’s eyes glazed, lost in remembrance, “He told me, after he fired it, he pictured a deer falling and him running out to it, excited at first. The deer’s legs would be kicking, digging trenches in the snow as it lay there, a big scarlet puddle growing underneath it. He told me it made him nauseous and he almost dropped the gun and walked away from it. He wasn’t against hunting or eating meat, the gun was just too deadly. He said it was like the finger of God, the way it could reach out, kill something, while he remained safe.”
“Some guys are like that. I wasn’t much of a hunter either. Um, do you know where he keeps it?”
“Yeah. In his gun safe. I know where the key is. He tried to hide it, but, well, I am a teenager. I can find anything my parents hide.” Tim squinted at Jason, a sudden nervous twinge, “Why you so interested in where the gun is?”
Jason put his hands up, aware of Tim’s growing suspicion, “I can’t stay here forever. I have…someone I want to look in on. My mom, in a retirement home. I haven’t been able to get a hold of anyone there. I have my own gun. I wanted to make sure you’re armed before I go.”
“You’re leaving?” Tim was stunned. Jason wasn’t a friend or anything, but the idea of being alone with no one to talk to sent tendrils of ice through his body.
“Yeah. I wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did if you hadn’t of fainted.”
“What am I going to do?” Tim asked.
“Well, before I go, we’re going to set you up like a king down here. We’ll bring down the TV, computer, the fridge, microwave, the wifi router and, of course, your gun.” Jason felt guilt at leaving Tim behind and while he was out, he inventoried the house and considered ideas on how to fortify it. He worried about leaving Tim behind. He’d lost so much, but he would worry more about taking him along. He wasn’t used to worrying about others and his guts twisted at the idea of it.
Tim slid a shaky hand through his hair, “How long will I have to stay down here?”
Jason shook his head, “I don’t know, Tim. There’s a storm out there and I have no idea how long it will last. I don’t think anyone knows. But, with the TV and computer, you could find out more of what’s going on out there. See how widespread it is. Pick a safe time to resurface.”
“Why don’t you wait with me? Until it’s safe?”
“I can’t. I didn’t trust the staff at the retirement home before all this. Now…I have a bad feeling they left her behind.” Jason shuddered, “If the bugs haven’t gotten her already.”
“When are you leaving?”
“As soon as you’re set up down here.”
Tim was surprised he was biting his nails. He hadn’t done that for years. He wiped his fingers on his jeans. He was frightened. Adults had been telling him what to do his whole life and even though, at the time he resented it, now he was terrified. Adults knew what to do, they had experience and Tim was really just a kid. Up until two days ago, his mother was still making his lunches for crying out loud. What the hell did he know about being on his own?
“Look, I know you’re probably scared but I’m not going to leave here unless I’m sure you’re safe down here. We’ll make it like a fortress and only you will have the key.”
“The bugs. These windows are a joke. If they want in, they’ll get in. It’s not like I have to board up the stairs or anything.”
Jason stood and placed a hand on Tim’s shoulder, “It’s not the bugs I’m worried about. It’s the people. They’re a lot of people out there, looking for shelter, food, weapons, anything they think can help them. If you got it and they don’t, well, I think they’ll take it from you. Nothing worse than scared people thinking you may have something they need.”
It never occurred to Tim that other people might try to get him, hurt him. The bugs were the only real threat he’d seen. They’d killed his entire family. Tim squeezed back a sob, thinking about his mother and brothers in the car of the garage probably ripening and ready to disgorge an insect army.
“I don’t want to be alone.”
“And I don’t think you should come with me. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want to be responsible for anyone.”
Tim, angry Jason was leaving, blurted, “Your mother’s dead.”
Jason’s hand tightened on his shoulder and Tim defiantly glared into Jason’s eyes, the seeing the hurt in Jason’s expression from his callous words. A part of Tim was glad he caused him pain. How could Jason leave him? Then Jason’s grip loosened and his exhalation ruffled Tim’s hair.
“I know you’re angry. And maybe you’ve a right to be. Maybe I shouldn’t leave you here. All I can say is I’m sorry. I have to go.” He removed his hand from Tim’s shoulder, “Now let’s see about getting you set up.”
The front door crashed open. Tim and Jason swung their gazes up the stairs. Heavy treads sounded from above. Hard nodules rose on Tim’s arms. Jason’s breath caught in his chest. Jason pulled his gun out from his sweater pocket.
Shadows moved along the wall at the top of the stairwell. Voices, barely discernible, carried to them, getting closer.
“Where’s your dad’s gun? Please tell me it’s down here,” Jason whispered.
“No. It’s not. The gun safe is in my dad’s closet.”
“Fuck my life.”
“Should we call out to them?”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“What if they need help?”
A man, dressed in black appeared, as though like magic. His bearded chin and thick hair obscured his face. One second the hallway was empty and the next, this man stood there, pointing a shotgun down at them. Teeth shined through the beard. The shotgun spat flame accompanied by thunderous noise.