Ray drove down the street, inching along slowly. The streets were filled with debris and it was clear no one was coming to clear it out. The rows of neat suburban houses had been gutted by fire and many were still burning. He raised his collar with one hand to shelter himself from the smell.
Chloe and Vivian lay in the back covered by a tarp, along with their stores of canned food and bottled water. Neither made a sound as Ray struggled along the streets, except for Chloe who wept continuously. He had tried to comfort the two girls, tried to be the brave Alpha male who investigated crashing sounds in the night, but words were useless now. The world had gone mad and nothing was going to be the same again.
He remembered when he was a boy, terrorists destroyed the twin towers. Everyone had been shocked and scared then and maybe they made decisions that history would consider regretful, but society had remained intact. People bonded together and tried to make the best of a horrible new reality. He could remember holding his parents' hands as they went down to the blood bank to donate blood, how he and his classmates made cards for people hospitalized by the disaster. In spite of the horror, society managed to survive, but things were different now. The terrorists or God or whoever did this hadn't just succeeding in taking people; they'd ripped out the soul of the world.
Chloe continued to cry. "Will you be quiet?" Ray snapped. He was tired of her tears, tired of tears all together. He wanted his old life back with his old job piloting planes, his wife, his son, and his vivacious daughter, not this broken shell who wouldn't stop crying.
"Piss off." Vivian snarled. Immediately he regretted his words. He shouldn't have snapped at Chloe, not when he had spent most of his time in a hidey-hole crying. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't of said what I said."
"Damn right, you shouldn't of," Vivian said. He sighed. He shouldn't be surprised that her nerves were as frayed as his, but there was so much he needed to know if he was going to help Chloe, so he decided to ask the question, even though he had a sneaking suspicion of the answer. "Vivian, just how did you and Chloe get all the way from Stanford to here?"
"How do you think," Vivian said. Her sneer softened and took on a haunted cast. "How do you think two young college girls with little money and valuables got across the country? We whored ourselves. We'd take turns, me on one ride, her on the next, sleeping with whatever sleazy creeps would give us a ride. It wasn't that big a deal, mostly one or two guys here and there, but the last stop..." She took a deep breath. "I think twenty guys had her."
Ray felt the air leave his lungs. He had known the truth even before he'd asked, but still hearing it...He stepped on the brakes and gasped. The church was gone, reduced to burned rubble. Only its steel frame remained and from it, the remains of Bruce Barnes hanged.
There was little left of the pastor who had greeted him with a shotgun, just bones and pulp covered in spray paint. Ray immediately felt ashamed. Why hadn't he been here? He should have tried to help the young pastor who was so desperate to protect his flock from the marauding gangs. Bruce, who showed more courage and compassion than his boss, Vernon Billings, could ever know.
He wondered if Bruce ever had a chance to fire his shotgun at the marauders or if they got him completely by surprise. Did Loretta or any of the others make it out alive? He knew what Bruce would have done. Bruce would have held them off as long as he could in order to help his flock escape.
But as he sat there, pondering Bruce's fate, a young hoodlum stuck his face through where the driver's side window used to be. "Whaddya think you're doing here?" he said.
The kid looked to be about sixteen tops, but it was hard to tell with all the grease and spray paint on his face and the mad gleam in his eye. He started yelling and screaming like a banshee, trying to force the door open. Ray thought only of the girls in the back and reached for his gun and fired.
The kid fell to the ground, a red blossom forming on his chest. Ray felt sick. What have I done? This was just a kid, desperate and starving like everyone else, and I shot him. But he was a threat. If he knew about Chloe and Vivian...But what if he was just driven mad like everyone else? Ray could feel his undigested Dinty Moore threatening to resurface, but whatever had happened, there was nothing he could do. The kid was dead and he had to move on if he wanted to keep Vivian and Chloe alive.
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