A Tourist Again, Pt. 19

plaza

It's been quite the hiatus as I wrapped work on the Topaz re-issue and The Estafru Messiah, but I've finally returned to a state of glorious, uninterrupted composition and intend to finish A Tourist Again by the end of December. We don't look back, only forward, so let's watch Elizabeth step up to the first major turning point in her character arc.

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Continued from A Tourist Again, Pt. 18...

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Elizabeth woke to a bang she first mistook for gunfire. She snapped upright, the stainless steel prep table shaking as she groped out for Dad’s rifle, still thinking she was at the rest stop. As the Taco Bell kitchen regrew in familiarity, she swung herself around and to the floor as another bang sounded off outside.

“It’s a car backfiring,” Andersen said in a monotone.

Her gaze found him across the room, also on the floor beneath the table he’d used for a bed. Much of his former demoralization was chiseled upon his hard face, and though he spoke with little energy, Elizabeth could see the leavings of deep fear at the fringes of his every action and expression. He had apparently neglected to sleep it off.

Lifting her gaze from Andersen, Elizabeth peered through the kitchen, beyond the rows of prep stations and past the order counter to the dining room beyond. Through the spaces formerly occupied by plate glass windows she watched as a car came screeching into the rotary an unfathomable speeds. It was one of those muscle cars Dad always associated with men who weren’t endowed with anything particularly spectacular beneath the belt. Elizabeth had no idea what make or model it was, but its front half was longer than the rest of the car, which typically meant the engine was built for performance. In any event, this black and green needle-dick-mobile hauled around the rotary, tires squealing as they left streaks of black across the pavement.

Elizabeth’s gaze returned to Andersen, who’d moved to the balls of his feet in a crouching position for a look of his own. He was already shaking his head in dismissal as the car circled a second time and a third, it’s engine roaring, exhaust popping, and tires squealing. “Idiots dicking around,” he said, settling back to the floor as he’d apparently seen enough. “No more cops to stop boys playing with their toys. Dipshits are gonna draw the attention of the wrong person one of these days.”

Better them than us, Elizabeth thought. She considered saying it aloud but could tell by his tone that Andersen wasn’t interested in conversation. He didn’t seem interested in much at all as he leaned back against the reflective leg of the table he’d previously occupied and stared absently at the wall. Elizabeth continued watching the car until eventually its tires ceased squealing and it roared off down Route 202 toward the seacoast.

“Fucking good ole’ boys,” Andersen grumbled. “The world’s their playground now.”

-     -     -

They found the car later that night, its black and green exterior now freshly pocked with bullet and shot holes of all sizes. Not a single window remained intact. It had bottomed out in a tree-shrouded ditch just off Northwood where Route 202 surrendered to Route 4. The idiots who’d been driving it had made it ten miles from the traffic circle where Elizabeth and Andersen had spent the daylight hours. Not the best run by any stretch.

“What do you think happened?” Elizabeth asked, stepping over to the wreck and peering in through the glassless windows. Despite the state of the car, there were no bodies inside. She searched the shadows for anything of use inside as Andersen responded.

“Ambush probably,” Andersen grumbled, coming across inconvenienced by her question. His tone bit at her in a way that left her more than irritated.

“Looks like they picked the car over.” She stepped away cursing herself for being hopeful that something useful – like a map – might have remained in the vehicle. Squinting in the moonlight, she tried to isolate disparities in the monochromatic tones of shadows occupying the driver’s seat, looking for blood. But it was too dark, and she wasn’t about to feel around inside and risk touching someone else’s blood. It was an irrational fear, but one nonetheless driven into her head by Dad and countless teachers on the playground.

“Of course they did,” Andersen grumbled. “You’re surprised?”

Again with those insufferably bleak undertones. Elizabeth thought she’d been annoyed with him when he was bursting with equal parts naivete and whimsy, but this darker, condescending side might soon fetch him a bullet if he didn’t check it.

In the end she ignored him and stepped away from the car. Onward they went.

Elizabeth passed the hours in quiet thought, assembling the various oddities she’d observed since departing Clairmont; the fact that Clairmont been emptied of people, leaving no corpses at all, the jet crossing the sky as she sat in the grass outside the youth center… the quarantine signs from the lieutenant governor. All of these items paired easily with Andersen’s theory that it had been an inside job, that we’d effectively done this to ourselves. She continued circling around everything in her head until she realized that the sky was beginning to brighten.

They’d passed a sign two or three miles back informing them that they’d entered the town of Barrington. Though she’d spent little time in Barrington – she and Dad made trips to Calef’s Old Country Store ahead of Easter every year to buy a block of their incomparable snappy cheddar – Elizabeth had always associated it with forestland. The majority of the town’s land was choked with pine, leaving various pods of commercial and residential activity separated by miles-long stretches of wooded highway.

They crested a last hill and stopped to gaze down a sloping roadway that cut three quarters of a mile down through the forest and ended in another rotary. The horizon beyond was flat as a tabletop and burning with the fiery colors of the sun’s first light. For a moment Elizabeth believed she could see the ocean, but quickly convinced herself it was a trick of the eyes.

Andersen stepped up beside her and they stood abreast, gazing downward. She could almost feel his aura coming off of him, speaking the blackest truths about their new existence, none of which Elizabeth needed to hear. She was already painfully aware of how bad things were. Her travel partner’s incessant negativity, even when he wasn’t even saying anything, was wearing on her fast.

She didn’t need a map to know that Durham lay beyond the rotary at the bottom of the hill. Beyond Durham would be Dover, then Rollinsford, then they’d enter Maine. That she’d made it even this far was something to celebrate, yet all she could think about beyond the confounding things she’d observed in and just outside of Clairmont was Andersen’s dwindling morale. Particularly biting were the comparisons she couldn't help drawing between his behavior and her own when they'd first met at the rest stop. A part of her felt responsible for his mental state.

“We should find a place to sleep,” she said, at last taking her eyes from the road ahead. She examined the shoulder on both sides, noting several gravel roadways jutting off into the woods, no doubt toward private homes.

Andersen said nothing.

Elizabeth felt her fingernails dig into the meat of her palms as she swiveled toward him, eyes narrowed to the point where you couldn’t pass a dime between them. Sensing her gaze upon him, Andersen slowly turned to face her, his face a blank canvass.

“What?” he asked, seeming genuinely confused.

“You tell me,” she snapped. Andersen’s eyes lowered to where she absentmindedly thumbed at the safety on Dad’s rifle. For the life of her she couldn’t recall un-slinging it, let alone shouldering the thing. She didn’t care, nor did she swivel the muzzle away from Andersen's feet. “Why the hell are you even still with me? I should have left you at the Taco Bell – wouldn’t have made tonight any harder, but it certainly would have made it easier on my mind. Are you Bipolar or something? I seriously won’t take another night of this shit.”

“Me?!” he fired back, suddenly more alive than he’d been in over 24 hours. She could tell by the way his face contorted progressively tighter that he'd wanted to interrupt her long before she'd finished. “Me?!” he repeated. “Take a look in the mirror and you’ll see the fucking poster child of New World hopelessness. I’m just acclimating behind you. I’ve been locked away, remember?”

“You… have… got to be kidding me!” She took a couple heavy steps toward him, almost bouncing in anger. “I’ve got, what, a week on you at most? And I had to learn about all this—” she gestured frantically around at the brightening world “—all alone! I could have left you at the rest stop! I could have shot you at the rest stop, but instead I let you tag along because I felt sorry for you!”

He flinched as if cut by her words. His narrow arms folded across his chest in a way that suggested he was bracing himself instead of obdurately digging in on his side of the argument. His mouth cracked open as though he was going to say something, then quickly snapped shut. Elizabeth used this moment to offer her ultimatum, sensing that she’d easily seized the higher ground.

“Snap out of your shit if you want to keep traveling with me. If you can’t do that, there’s plenty of empty road out there.” A spike of remorse registered like a tiny nail being driven into her heart, but she repressed it. Well, she convinced herself she’d repressed it. As she stood there on her side of the fading double yellow lines, clutching Dad’s rifle like the lifeline it was, she forced her gaze to harden further upon him.

You’re doing the right thing. This voice was simultaneously hers and Dad’s, only she wasn’t sure she trusted it. Yet she remained firm even though very much aware of the disparity between what she thought and what she felt on the matter.

At first Andersen said nothing. His gaze detached from hers and went back down the highway toward the rotary and the burgeoning daylight beyond. Elizabeth watched his attention move to the various gravel driveways reaching off the road and into the trees, though it didn’t remain there long before snapping back to her. All at once that hard face of his returned, the corners of his lips drooping in an odd scowl/frown hybrid.

“Fine,” he said, all at once storming off down the sloping road, leaving Elizabeth standing there, dumbfounded. It was all he said as he hastily built space between them.

Elizabeth’s mouth fell open but no words emerged. She only drew a deep breath and watched him go, his figure shrinking until all at once the sun peeked over the horizon, swallowing him in its blinding light. She’d thought with every fiber of her being that he’d just straighten up and stay with her. Instead Andersen was off to parts unknown.

Elizabeth’s gaze fell to Dad’s rifle as he urged her along, unconcerned with Andersen’s fate. Get out of the light, little girl. Game face on. You’re well beyond the 50 yard line now.

Football metaphors, she thought will a rolling of her eyes. Walking toward the road shoulder, she worked to push Andersen out of her mind and hoped with everything she had that there was food and fresh water wherever she ended up for the day.

Without pausing for a single glance toward the rotary, Elizabeth made haste toward the nearest driveway.

-     -     -

She made it partway down the gravel road before a white colonial house began to take form through the thinning trees. The house was textbook New England, black shutters and flower boxes adorned every window. Elizabeth approached at a measured pace, gaze searching the windows now reflecting the rising sun for signs of movement.

Still fuming over Andersen in a way that felt awfully childish given how quickly the New World had aged her, she endeavored to put him out of her mind as she pressed down the winding road, crushing gravel beneath her feet.

She stopped as a rusted out beater of a truck took form in the driveway, immediately reminding her of Dad as her gaze sharpened on a yellow bumper sticker with a coiled snake reading Don’t Tread on Me.

Oh, Dad, she thought as the rapid patter of automatic gunfire sounded off through the trees. Elizabeth spun, fingers white-knuckled on the rifle as she disengaged the safety. The shots had come from the road. More specifically, in the direction Andersen had stolen off.

All of the sudden their little argument seemed more trivial than ever.

Elizabeth sprinted back toward the road, legs howling in protest. Dad’s rifle felt heavier than ever and grew more cumbersome with each footfall. Yet she pushed through it, and as she neared Route 4 she veered off, edging her way into the woods. No further shots rose up to disturb the New World silence as she reached the brush-clotted shoulder and peered down the hill into the sunlight.

At first she struggled to make anything out against the glare. It left residual dabs of purple light across her vision. Then the scene playing out off the traffic circle some 1500 feet away took form.

A trio of all terrain vehicles idled in an arch formation around Andersen, who sat sprawled across the pavement from what Elizabeth could see. The men straddling the ATVs were parked with their backs to her, indicating they’d seen Andersen pass and gone after him. Of the three, the one in the middle stood upright with a rifle aimed at Andersen while those flanking him remained seated with pistols aimed. Though she wasn’t sure if Andersen was injured, it was at least comforting to see him moving.

That would have been both of you if you hadn’t let him go.

Right as always, Dad, but that’s not exactly helping here.

He’s gone. There’s no hope for him now. If there are three there will be more.

Her gaze sharpened on Andersen as one of the pistol men detached from the trio and stepped toward him. The nose of the gun remained on Andersen as the man shook the weapon at him, barking inaudible commands that Andersen seemed to have issues complying with. She watched as he struggled for a few moments but was eventually able to get to his feet. At this she breathed a long sigh of relief, though she wasn’t certain why. It wasn’t as though she stood any chance of liberating him, and as Andersen was directed at gunpoint toward the rightmost ATV, Elizabeth’s hope dwindled further.

I know it’s hard, but your best bet is to move on. Forget him. Dad’s voice barely registered as she watched the ATVs circle around each other and double back. She went to retreat from the brush at the shoulder, but was spared the effort as the gunmen turned into a shopping plaza just off the rotary. The vehicles shrank to dots as they maneuvered a parking lot peppered with derelict cars and coasted to a halt outside the glass facade of the Barrington Market Basket.

Another grocery store.

Such was the preferred sanctuary of New World ne’er-do-wells. She watched them direct Andersen inside the store without incident, grateful she wasn’t forced to watch a repeat of the events outside the Newport Walmart.

You never know, they might be good people.

Bullshit. There were no good people left. And why was Dad trying to talk her out of going after him? It wasn’t like she was actually entertaining the idea.

Was she?

-     -     -

Elizabeth spent the day in the colonial where she found, among other oddities of fringe politics, an entire corner devoted to George H.W. Bush. His official portrait hung adjacent to a framed print of the former president posing in a jet cockpit as a young man. Beneath it was the United States Marine Corp crest pressed into a sheet of reflective metal and embossed on the wall.

Dad had always urged Elizabeth to approach service-people on the street, shake their hands, and thank them for their service if they were wearing fatigues or a hat commemorating a war like Vietnam. Top among these most anointed of figures in Dad’s eyes (not that she’d ever seen him shake a single hand) were the veterans of the Great War, World War II, but these folks were in short order and thinning by the day.

She studied this corner shrine for most of the day as she considered her options with Andersen. It became increasingly more apparent that she was going after him as the strips of sunlight painting the walls traversed the room. It would be well after dark, of this she was certain, but whether to go in with Dad’s rifle spewing bullets or sneak in with the intention of liberating him in secret remained up in the air.

She found sleep only after concluding that she’d adapt her approach onsite after evaluating the situation. Mom and Dad help her, she’d played too big a part in driving her travel partner away to leave him there.

It was time to see how the apparent majority of humanity lived in the New World.

-     -     -

The clock on the wall opposite the H.W. shrine was a battery-powered grandmother clock whose pendulum still swung despite the lack of power. It left Elizabeth wondering how long it would be before batteries such as the one powering the clock would become a hot-ticket item to the murderous denizens of the world. She didn’t linger on the thought for long as she noted the time of 10:42PM and thanked her watchful parents for helping her find lengthy, restorative rest.

She was out the door and hurrying toward Route 4 in a flash, though her pace was stunted briefly as her eyes adjusted to the moonlit darkness. Not even the slightest aura of man-made light penetrated the night, contrasting greatly with the shanty town they'd barely avoided. Those occupying the Barrington Market Basket seemed more conservative in advertising their presence, which made the most sense to Elizabeth. Not a single light burned as the shopping plaza sat in the pale light like the Old World relic it was.

Elizabeth made haste toward the plaza. That she'd managed to wait out the daylight hours while Andersen could have been in the throes of death or torture was enough to light a fire under her ass, but there was also the need to continue on to Ogunquit. This helped her fight through the soreness toward the grocery store.

Well, she fought through it as well as she could while also gazing around the shadowed lot for signs of movement. Sure enough, as she reached a line of cars, some resting on their rims with deflated tires pooled around them, the flash of a small flame winked in the darkness off to her left. Elizabeth lunged behind the nearest derelict car, a minivan that seemed plucked from another time with baby blue siding and an anachronistic wooden trim.

Slowly, she rose just enough to peer over the hood at the source of light. Though the flame was gone, the burning cherry of a cigarette sagged in the darkness, burning brightly as its owner took a long drag. Her eyes stayed on the man as he walked past the smashed-in window of an Agency Liquor Store, seeming not to have noticed her in the parking lot. Swiveling on the balls of her feet, Dad’s rifle in-hand, she surveyed the rest of the plaza in search of others but found only the one passing unhurriedly though the darkness. Minutes passed as she studied his movements. The man seemed unconcerned with anything but drawing on his cigarette until all at once he flicked it to the yellow curb where it exploded in a plume of red embers. With this the man paused, produced another cigarette and lit it, and moved back off toward the liquor store.

One guard, she thought.

Don’t underestimate them, Dad cautioned.

Keeping the lone guard in her sights at all times, she carefully navigated the shadows toward the edge of the lot where the terrain dipped drastically toward a fenced-in pond fringed with chunks of granite. She navigated grassy slope, keeping beneath its hump to avoid the eyes of the guard. It wasn’t the easiest of tasks, and the weight of Dad’s rifle threatened constantly to pitch her toward the business end of the decline, but she made it to the darkened foyer of the Market Basket without being spotted. From there she beat feet to the side of the building and stepped into the thick patch of darkness it cast over a vacant side lot.

She thumbed off the saftey.

Remember to brace yourself when you fire. Mind your footing. She's gonna go all kinds of wild on you after the first few rounds.

Elizabeth remembered her last session with the rifle at least a year ago. They’d been down at the gravel pit and she’d been made to shoot from a crouched position. She’d barely popped off a few shots before she was on her ass in the dirt. Dad pressed her to try again, but she wouldn’t have it. Now she wished she’d gone along with his program.

Sidestepping toward the corner, she stopped and angled her head so she could peer into the unlit glass foyer. Her first look was a glance, a glimpse really, just enough to ascertain that the plexiglass door had been shattered. Going back for a longer second look, she noted the location of the inept guard they’d placed (now walking back toward the far end of the plaza) before turning back to the darkened corridors of the store and searching for signs of life. But aside from the shattered door there was nothing of note. Even the grocery carriages remained lined up along the lot-facing windows, which were monopolized by pictures of Santa Claus from a yearly contest they ran, colored-in with varying degrees of skill.

This, the Walmart, and especially the shanty town spoke volumes regarding the audacity of men. Here these murderers had set up shop in clear view of the surviving world, complacent and seemingly unable to entertain the idea that others might come knocking. Others who had more people.

Others who had more guns.

Her gaze stayed on the guard as she rounded the corner and hugged the shadows of the building on her way toward the foyer. Once inside, she alternated her attention between her footing and the unlit aisles as she moved  into the store proper. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. This grew all the more eerie as the wind suddenly whipped up outside, whistling along the eaves and spaces where glass had been smashed in. She could hear leaves rattling as they were swept across the parking lot.

Shouldering Dad’s rifle, Elizabeth pressed into the den of the enemy.

-     -     -

The first thing she did was sweep the aisles, starting in the produce section (cleaned out apparently by the noticeably absent store-dwellers) and working her way down to dairy (coolers also emptied) at the other end of the store. Wherever these people were, they’d obviously made their living quarters in one of the spaces formerly restricted to the shopping public. Elizabeth paused and opened her ears, straining to hear anything that might spare her the task of searching blindly through back rooms and warehouses.

All remained silent but the wind howling outside.

She nervously fingered the trigger on the AR as she started toward the back of the store, keeping as close to the unlit coolers of the dairy section as possible. As she reached the end of the aisle she hesitated. Peering around an endcap stacked with DIY gingerbread house kits, she noted without surprise that the meat cases had also been cleared out. The folks who’d made this place their home were obviously there to stay, and Elizabeth had no intention of challenging them. If she could get in and out with Andersen without making her presence known she’d surely count it as a win and commit to never repeating the experience again.

Elizabeth started to step toward the meat cases, eying a pair of two-way doors occupying the wall halfway down, but halted and nearly tripped over her feet as she shrank back behind the endcap. Emerging from the rows of aisles was the guard from outside, or at least that’s what she assumed from what she could see of him. He walked languidly, as if deeply put out by his duties as he veered toward the set of double doors. As he pushed through, soft light could be seen within. It cast a strip across the white and orange floor that vanished in an instant.

Mystery solved. And that marked twice the inept guard had failed to spot her. Oddly enough, the next thought that joined her was that the man would probably catch a bullet before summer’s end. If not sooner.

She stole silently across the back corridor, crouching behind a meat case ten feet from the doors. Here Elizabeth waited for Dad to tell her how to proceed, but after a half minute spinning her wheels trying to conjure him, Dad seemed remiss to speak. When another minute passed without activity or sound from the other side of the doors, she began to grow anxious. Her impulses drove her to retreat, and she was already in the process of convincing herself Andersen was dead when the double doors were heaved suddenly open, thudding against the wall so loudly that the noise rolled like thunder through the empty store.

A man passed briefly through the back corridor, clearly distressed as he muttered inaudibly to himself. It wasn’t the same man as before, this made clear by the size of his body. From what she could see of his silhouette he looked to have been stung by a giant bee. Every part of him bulged.

The guard shift had obviously changed.

Watching him vanish down one of the farther aisles, Elizabeth counted slowly to 100 in her head without omitting a single Mississippi between. When no additional bodies came through the door, crashing or otherwise, she forced herself slowly to her feet, wincing at the currents of pain shooting through her thighs, and made her way in a crouch-walk toward them, hugging the meat cases for cover. She paused, still crouched in the last remaining strip of cover and counted once more to 100. Not because she had to. Because she needed to. Even as she passed fifty she had yet to mitigate her body’s trembling. Gazing down to Dad’s rifle, it shuddered so violently in her hands that she feared she might drop it.

Closing her eyes, Elizabeth worked to dispel her anxiety, pressing herself up against the meat cooler as if trying to meld with it. In her mind she sent herself to Ogunquit. She could see the billboard for the summer Playhouse passing by Mom’s car as they rolled hurriedly into town. Rodgers' and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Starring Sally Struthers as Aunt Eller. The car pitched up and down as it rolled over a series of hills before curling around the Meadowmere Resort and into town. The square took form farther down, teeming with pedestrians in various stages of beachwear and inundated by a far-reaching line of idling traffic.

One hundred. The end of her count was marked by Dad’s voice.

Elizabeth opened her eyes and gazed down at the rifle, not entirely still in her hands but noticeably steadier. Her eyes lifted to the double doors and she forced herself to her feet with one quick glance around to make sure the fatter guard hadn’t returned. Moving up so that she was almost flush with the left side door, she pressed her toe against its scuffed and dented plastic and eased it open just enough to get a look inside.

It was a warehouse as she’d expected. Pallets were arranged against the far wall, most piled with boxes of shrink-wrapped dry goods. While this arrangement had once occupied the entirety of the wall, a space had been carved out in the middle and the pallets pushed off toward the far end of the room. In this space were half a dozen people, all men. Most slept on lengths of stacked cardboard, their upper bodies draped with their jackets, though a couple of them (one had to be the guard from before) sat awake and speaking quietly over the soft white glow of a propane lantern on the floor.

Elizabeth tested the door by toeing it open a few more inches, listening for the squeal of overworked hinges but breathing a sigh of relief as the door swung silently. Ready to pause at the first hint of noise, she pushed the door open just enough to slip inside and behind the row of pallets occupying the opposite wall. She listened to the men speak from the shadows, their voices growing clearer as she drew closer, undetected.

“…more will come eventually. That Mustang yesterday and now this kid today. The snow is gone, Mike. We gotta accept the fact that everyone is coming out of hibernation and looking around. Might be the next person who rolls through will have a gun.”

“It’s Barrington, New Hampshire, Kenny. Barrington. It’s not like we’re on the outskirts of Chicago or something.”

“No cops mean no laws. You’d be surprised how quick a blue collar fuck with 20 years at the local bank can pick up a gun and start erasing heads.”

A pause, followed by a long sigh. “What do you want me to do, Kenny?”

“Start recruiting.”

“That means more mouths to feed.”

“We probably won’t be able to keep this place forever. I’ve been thinking about it. If we had more men, more guns, we’d go through the food faster for sure, but we’d still get more out of this place.”

Another pause as the one Elizabeth assumed to be the leader, whose back was turned to her, seemed to think this over. “We got seven guys and a gun to go in every hand. How big a group you think we’ll see now that the water’s killed off pretty much everyone?”

“I doubt it’s killed pretty much everyone—”

“I won’t get into this again with you, Kenny. We’ve survived this long because we’ve stayed small and kept hidden. We can’t keep hidden if we don’t stay small. This is the way it is, and if you don’t like it you can go off to the seacoast like the others.”

Elizabeth’s gaze sharpened on the one called Kenny, unsure if he or Mike was the one from outside. His face creased in the white light of the propane lamp, etching lines across his forehead and eyes. He drew in a deep breath, mouth cracked open as if he were about to say something. Only the man seemed to understand that his argument fell on deaf ears. Elizabeth marveled at the power one man was capable of wielding over another, especially when the subordinate was obviously a more capable leader. All of these people would die before summer’s end.

“So what we gonna do with the kids we picked up the last couple days? More beef stew with human beef?”

Mike shook his head. “No. We aren’t doing that again until we have to.”

“Thank god for that at least. I kept trying to convince myself those little girls should have tasted like something familiar, but no matter how much I closed my eyes and pretended it was veal, that flavor was uniquely… human.”

Elizabeth felt her fingers tighten around Dad’s rifle.

Don’t let them get you—

Too late, she thought as images of these horrible men butchering small girls for food flashed through her mind. She thought back to the Newport Walmart, to the boy who’d been unable to speak or cry out as the gunman murdered him in a carriage corral in front of his mother. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that the boy had probably been a special needs child. Mute, probably deaf. What must it have been like for a mother who’d in all likelihood put all she had and more into raising the boy, only to be forced to watch as some monster devoid of morality stole that life?

She was out of the shadows before she even realized her feet were moving. Her mouth dropped open as she unleashed a feral roar, though nobody could hear her over the spray of bullets from Dad's rifle.