Along the length of the wall, a multi-colored shield rose up, slowly at first, then faster, until it met in the middle directly over the manor house, two miles inside the wall.
“What the hell is that, Max?” asked Marshall.
“I learned it from Miss Kris. I thought the people would feel better if they could see the shield. I’ve been keeping it over the town since I was a kid, I just figured out how to make it visible to everyone.”
Renee looked up over her head, then towards the middle of town, before asking, “Can the zombies see it?”
“They could always see it. Well, they could feel it. It sends them away, makes them not want to come here,” said Max. “The visible part is the only difference. I thought it might give the supers something to think about.”
“Does your Dad know about it?” Renee asked.
“No,” said Max. “You know Dad. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, right?”
Renee grinned. Her nephew sounded exactly like his father. “Let’s get back to the house.” She was down the ladder in a flash. Marshall and Max watched the grass sway as Renee ran through the waist-high field on the inside of the wall.
“Reggie? You coming?” Max asked, holding his hand out. Reggie took one hand, and Marshall the other. Milliseconds later they appeared on the lawn of the house.
“Something’s not right,” Steve said inside Max’s head.
“I know. I think it might be the dome,” thought Max. “It’s like the world outside doesn’t exist. I kind of like it.”
Renee was there seconds later, having run the two miles from the wall. “I didn’t see anything on my way here,” she said when she came to a stop. Whenever Renee stopped from top speed, there was always a backlash, as if she was outrunning the wind. When she finally stopped it caught up to her, blowing her hair forward. She calmly smoothed her short hair back down before continuing, “Let’s get inside and check on Mom.”
Inside the house was utter chaos. Men were running back and forth between rooms, guns held low, making sure that each room was safe. Shouts of “Clear!” came from everywhere. Max went straight for the library, where two men stood on either side of the door with assault rifles pointed down.
“What’s the code, Max?” The first one asked.
“Alpha six four two…” His voice dropped and then reluctantly added, “Maxmonster,” said Max, turning red. His father would embarrass him to death one day.
The two men stepped aside, “Glad to see you’re okay, Max. Did you make this dome? Everyone’s freaking out.”
“Yeah. I wanted people to see that they were safe. Is the house clear?” replied the boy.
The man who asked for the code nodded to Max as he spoke into the radio on his shoulder. “All clear. The dome is friendly, repeat dome created by Paladin.”
Max turned eighteen more shades of red hearing his radio nickname. That one had been created by Jimmy, the head of house security. Max’s father was Renegade, and his grandmother was Evergreen. He opened the door to the library and stepped inside. His grandmother was reading a book, when she looked up and saw her grandson a single tear fell from her eye. Sharon quickly hid it with a scratch of her face as Max stepped towards her and hugged her. “I’m glad you’re okay, Gramma. The house is clear and we’re mopping up the grounds. We held them off. Have you seen Dad?”
“Last report was that he was passed out in the barn. I’m sure people are starving,” she said. “Children, lets go finish making supper. By the time we’re finished they’ll have all this mess cleared up and we can eat supper! Who’s hungry?”
All the kids let out a unanimous “Me!” as they raised their hands.
“I’m going to the barn then. I need to find Dad.”
“Max, wait.” said Sharon, causing Max to turn back around. “Use the door.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” said Max sheepishly. He stepped through the door of the library, down the short hall and out into the back garden before he disappeared.
Sharon took the two youngest children by the hand, looked down at them and said “Let’s go make something yummy. We’ll show those meanies out there that we’re not afraid. We’re going right back to our life, because they can’t hurt us, can they?”
“Not wif Max watching us,” said the little girl plainly. It was clearly a line little Jane Thomas had heard her parents say a number of times.
“That’s right. We have so many people keeping us safe. And now we need to go show them that we love them, and we are grateful for their hard work keeping us safe.” She shepherded all the children into the kitchen, where they finished up the evening meal. Sharon put the older children in charge of the younger ones, and gave them all a dozen cupcakes to decorate.
Inside the barn, Max appeared in the loft. “Your Dad just left,” three people said from all around him in unison.
He grimaced. “Any idea where he went?”
“He took Kris. Said he had to get her away from the farm. He didn’t say where he was going, or how he was gong to get there. He looked pretty rough,” said Addy Madison, Max’s old teacher. Miss Madison taught fifth through twelfth grades at the school.
“Thanks, I’ll see if I can find him. It’s a little weird that I can’t.”
Thousands of miles away, Kris was vaguely aware that time had passed. There was soft, warm sand between her fingertips. Just outside her consciousness, she heard the familiar sound of crashing waves and the sharp cries of distant seagulls. Jeff would be walking down the dune at any moment with a cooler full of Sam Adam’s Summer Ale in his hand. Kris hit the beach early that day and had every intention of taking full advantage of her day off. She sighed lightly and moved her arm to rest under her neck. The sun felt good on her skin and she realized it had been a long time since she was at the beach. She had been working so hard lately she just hadn’t had the time…
In the back of her mind, there was a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right – something had changed. But she was absolutely on a beach. She was certain of that.
Keeping her eyes closed in the sunlight, she pursed her lips together and tried to recall the last time she had been on a beach. After all, Tennessee didn’t have beaches and Gander Acres was always so busy, she and Alicia never had the time to…
She remembered Alicia laying on the ground, her body limp, her face bruised and bloody with a bullet through her skull. Lifeless. Never to look at her and whisper “I love you.” Her eyes snapped open and she sat up with a start as the memory returned to her. Fresh tears were rolling down her cheeks and she wrapped her arms around herself and began to sob.
“Kris,” began Victor.
“Stop, Vic. Just…stop,” she whispered through tears. “Why did you stop me? I didn’t want this. I didn’t want–” Tears took her again and she buried her face back into her arms.
“I had no right. I just had need, Kris. These fucking zombies have to pay. Then you can die. But not until you’ve extracted every ounce of vengeance from them. Not until they pay, Kris.”
She was quiet for a long time, thinking carefully about his words. “Haven’t I already paid enough?”
“None of us has paid more than you, except maybe John. He lost his wife, brother, friends, and five of his seven kids. I lost a wife, but have been very very lucky. Max, Marshall, Renee, and my mom are still with me. How much more are any of us going to pay?”
She shook her head but avoided the question. “We planned the farm so perfectly. I mean…it wasn’t flawless but it was damn near.” Kris looked over to him finally. “I never thought that other humans would have been our downfall. What kind of sick fuck betrays humanity to the zeds?” Kris trailed off, like she wasn’t talking to anyone in particular. Or maybe she was just talking to herself. Victor sat quietly and let her get it out. “And then they just…killed them like they were nothing. Stole Alicia from under me and I missed it. Missed it all. I didn’t even get to tell her I loved her.” She choked back another sob and then glanced over to Victor with big, tearful eyes.
“Everyone who ever saw you two knew you loved her. Just as we all know how much she loved you. You know in your heart she loved you, right?”
Kris nodded but didn’t reply, as Victor continued, “She died knowing how much you loved her. I know we’d all like to tell our loved ones how much we love them one last time, but she knew, Kris.”
“I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. I’m so fucking angry. I don’t know if I’m safe to be around. I can barely handle my shit right now.”
“That’s why we’re on a deserted island somewhere in the Florida Keys. That’s why I’m here.”
“Was punching me out self serving? Because it hurt like some bitch. Hope it was worth it.”
“I couldn’t think of any other way to make you stop. You were beyond words. Kris, I’ve always been straight with you. I may not have always fully explained myself, but I never lied. I need you. I need what you can do, and I need your anger. I need your power. But I waded into that inferno you created, because I care about you.”
“My power?” She scoffed. “My…insanity?” Kris was standing now and her voice was hollow like before. “You mean this?” She shouted the last word and immediately threw a shield around herself and rapidly pushed it outward. It caught her voice and magnified it over and over again until the entire island was covered. The strength and force of the trapped vibrations was stirring up the island. The sand was pressing down against the ground and all of the palm trees seemed to shrink under the weight. As she pinched the sound, she felt the vibrations permeate the trees, the sand and the ocean and fill all of the open gaps in their structural makeup. All of the palm trees began to shiver and then abruptly explode and break apart, throwing ash into the swirling air. The ocean was boiling 100 feet away from the shore and Victor could see the bodies of a few fish floating belly-up in the water.
Kris only saw red no matter where she looked and screamed until her throat gave out. And she cried. “I amplify everything, Vic.” She wailed. “When things are good, it’s amazing but when things are bad, everything is so much worse. I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. I’m not safe. I just–”
Victor drew her in close, hugging her tightly. He pushed his aura around her, enveloping her in his calm. He sealed everything out, all the noise he could. It had a much more profound effect than he anticipated. She slumped against him, sobbing.
“Oh my god,” she said between sobs. “It’s all gone. It’s normal again. Quiet like before I got bit. I can…breathe.” Kris pulled back from Victor and locked eyes with him. “Why did you do that?”
“Friends help each other, Kris. It’s the best part of humanity. It’s why we deserve to live, and they need to die.”
Her eyes narrowed and then she nodded slowly. “You’re right. Fuck them all.”
“When I let go it’s going to come roaring back, are you ready?”
“Can it last another minute,” she asked. “I forgot how silence feels.”
Victor pressed his palms to his temples and said, “I’ll hold it as long as I can, but I haven’t stopped in days. My head feels like it’s in a vice. It took me three stops to get here.”
“I hope I’ll be less weight this round.” She took a deep breath. “Okay – I’m ready.”
Victor held the shield for several minutes longer, giving her as much peace as he could. His vision started to blur. “I have to let go now.”
She nodded. “Okay. Do it,” She said, but it was already gone. The sound of the surf was roaring in her brain, she could hear crabs scraping along the rocks on the reef, and the ash from exploded palm trees hitting the sand. His heartbeat was slow, but the sound was intense and strong. It was the sound of humanity and of life. It gave her new focus, keeping the fiery rage at bay. “Let’s go fuck ‘em up.”
“I love the attitude, but I haven’t really slept in three days. Mentally, I’m toast. I don’t think I could teleport myself to the bathroom.”