Short Story Winner: "The Drive" by Chris Bannor
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
“Gina, how long until we get there?”
“Really?” Exasperation colored her words, and she rolled her eyes. “It’s the zombie apocalypse, and kids are still asking that question?”
“Give me a break,” Kylie said in the passenger seat beside her. “It’s not like the rest of us know where we’re going, and you’ve been really tight-lipped. Are we talking hours? Days?”
Gina gripped the steering wheel tight as they drove through the hilly back roads of the Ohio countryside. She’d never intended to get so far away from home, but one thing led to another. The hordes had driven her further afield, and when she picked up Kylie the search for her sister had turned into a three-year trip. She’d not once returned home in all that time.
Now it was their only chance.
“Days, maybe a few weeks depending on the roads. Hell, years if everything screws up bad enough.”
“Let’s stick with days,” Kylie huffed.
Gina nodded. “When we get settled tonight I’ll let you girls take a look at the map, show you where we’re heading.”
“Why now, all of a sudden?”
It was a real question that deserved a real answer, but no one would like the right one. “It’s time to go home,” she said. Honest, but not the actual truth. “I miss my Grandpa’s porch.”
Kylie watched her, and Gina kept her eyes on the road. Her head ached so badly that she felt it all the way to her joints.
“Water?” She asked before Kylie could say more. She drank deeply, and Kylie settled back in her seat and set her eyes to the horizon. Thankfully, she let it rest as she kept a lookout.
“Five days?” Jacey asked as they sat at a broken-down table in an abandoned restaurant. The nights were still warm, and the window had holes, but it wasn’t completely shattered. It let in a breeze, which kept the rotting smell to a minimum. Gina appreciated that more than she would admit. Nausea twisted her gut all too often the last few days, and she didn’t want to tempt it now.
“Best-case scenario, but you guys know how often that happens.”
Sarah laughed, and Jacey rolled her eyes from her chair where Bunny was already asleep on her lap. None of the girls belonged to Gina, but she’d picked them up along the way, each wandering on their own until she’d found them. It wasn’t the family she’d lost, but it was one she was keeping together.
Somehow she would keep them together.
She’d marked the road they planned to take in heavy black ink. “A lot of these roads I’ve already driven, so I know they were clear of cars when I passed that way. We shouldn’t have any trouble getting to my Grandpa’s place.”
“You really think it’s safe?” Kylie seemed skeptical about the drive, but she’d been with Gina the longest.
“As safe as anything can be. It was a small farm, so the place was fenced off and the soil was good. We should be able to grow some crops year-round.”
Jacey looked up at the mention of crops, since she’d been devouring every book they found about gardening. They were all too thin, but Jacey had been nearly starved before Gina took her in. The idea of growing her own food gave her hope, and Gina would stop in every damn bookstore from there to California if it helped her keep it. Jacey wouldn’t talk to any of them except to comfort Bunny occasionally, but Gina thought it was only a matter of time before she started.
She hoped nothing changed that.
“It’s a lot of back roads. We could run into trouble on any path,” Sarah reminded them. They all knew it, but Gina could only prepare them so much. Sarah and Kylie had both been learning to drive, and how to read the maps well. At 15 and 16 they were the oldest two, and had taken a lot of responsibility for keeping them on the road. Jacey had her own path of learning, but she did most of it while caring for Bunny, their precocious 6-year-old.
“We’ll deal with it as it happens,” Gina reminded. “Just so long as we keep each other safe, that’s all we can do.”
Day one saw clear roads and a lucky find. A cab of dead men was nothing new, but under the canopy had been a truck bed full of gasoline tanks.
Day two saw detours when Kylie caught sight of a horde of zombies to the northeast and they had to turn around. Sarah did a damn fine job steering them back on track, and they’d only lost a few hours. Gina’s fingers were stiff-knuckled at the end of the day when she let go of the steering wheel though. She stretched tired muscles, biting back the pained moan stemming from her from aching joints. She had to stop from scratching her side, no matter how bad it itched.
Day three had them speeding away from their campsite when humans tried to overtake them and steal their stores, and thankfully Bunny and Jacey always slept on the floor in the back seat of the SUV. Gina worried about the trailer behind them as they hit speeds it shouldn’t, but it held and so did the ropes and canvas that were tying their supplies down. Kylie had a nasty cut on her thigh, and Sarah earned her first notch on her knife handle, but they were okay. Sarah wanted to puke, but Kylie praised her ‘little sis’ for her quick thinking and doing what had to be done.
Gina choked on her water as she tried to drink, but no one thought it was anything more than water going down the wrong pipe.
Days four and five passed with little to remember. Gina drove where Kylie told her to, and missed the pointed looks the girl gave her. Kylie didn’t miss anything. Not even the sweat on Gina’s brow, the sleepless nights, or the increasingly difficult time Gina had driving.
Day six dawned, and the farm had never been more lovely. The small valley was surrounded by a river that left only two entrances in and out, and the riverbeds were slowly churning as they carefully drove over the planks on the old wooden bridge. When Kylie successfully crossed Gina pulled the slabs back, leaving only the courageous a way to pass. Thankfully the zombie hordes wouldn’t try climbing the thin metal rails or jumping the holes in the wooden platform. They might try to cross once the riverbeds dried up, but they had already started to plan a way to block up the other side of the shore for that possibility.
The house was dusty, and cool, but in good shape. No one had disturbed it since Gina had left. Her grandparents' graves at the back of the property had grown grass, and wildflowers swayed in the breeze when Gina sat on the patio.
It was the most beautiful place in the world. Her girls would do well there.
She tried to leave before dawn without fanfare, but Kylie waited for her at the bridge.
“I left you a letter,” Gina said, unable to say the other words that wanted to float over her tongue. Kylie nodded. “You already know.” Kylie nodded again.
“Be good to each other.” She carefully climbed her way to the other side of the bridge and looked back.
“Thank you, Gina,” Kylie called over the gap between them. “For finding us, for bringing us here. For making us a family.”
Gina felt tears in her eyes, but she couldn’t afford to stop now. It was too close, there was too little time. “Take care of yourself, and take care of them.”
“We’ll remember you, Gina. I’ll make sure they remember you.” Kylie’s voice quivered as she spoke.
Tears threatened to spill, so Gina turned around and stiffened her back as she walked away. She made it into town and found a car with its keys still in the ignition and gas still in the tank. People here had tried to stay it out. There was no mass exodus, just a bunch of folks who got taken out slowly but surely. Their loved ones turned, then turned on them.
She was an hour out when her throat began to spasm again. Vomit covered her chin and the front of her shirt, but she couldn’t smell it. She didn’t remember where she was going or why, but she knew she had to keep going. She had to keep driving.
When seizures took her, the car crashed into a shallow ditch and smashed into a tree on the other side.
She didn’t move for a few minutes, but when she tried to get out of the car something held her in. Clumsy hands took thirty minutes to claw open the seatbelt, and when she got out she began walking again.
She didn’t know where she was going; just that she had to get away.
She didn’t have a name. No family. No friends. Nothing filled her head but brutal hunger and a never-ending ache in her bones. She didn’t have money or jewelry, nothing worth trading or bartering for. She was a zombie. She didn’t even have a name.
All she had was the urge to get away.
About the Author
Chris Bannor is a science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer who lives in Southern California. Chris learned her love of genre stories from her mother at an early age and has never veered far from that path. She also enjoys musical theatre and road trips with her family but is a general homebody otherwise. You can follow Chris on Facebook @chrisbannorauthor or at www.ChrisBannor.com
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