Chapter 12: Strangers on the Road (excerpt)

At the first working traffic light, Mr. Nunios stopped. They were near a ragged cluster of two-story apartments with sagging balconies.

“Look at this,” Mr. Nunios grumbled. “Some crooked real estate developer puts up a bunch of cheap apartments and then when nobody buys them, he declares bankruptcy and lets them go to pot.” Mr. Nunios sighed and shook his head sadly. “That’s what’s wrong with this country.”

“Really, Dad?” Michael scoffed. “That’s what’s wrong? Do you even watch the news?”

Mr. Nunios wrinkled up his face. “Okay, Walter Cronkite, maybe there’s a few other things, too.”

“Walter who?”

Mr. Nunios laughed. “And you want to be a journalist?”

“You know,” Alison said, “it’s kind of weird how this traffic light is red, but there’s no power anywhere else around here.” She squinted out the window. “Look how dark it is out there.”

Looking out the window, Olivia noticed three large men in long, hooded ponchos coming out of one of the nasty, broken-down apartment buildings. They seemed to be heading toward the minivan. All she could see under the hoods were thin, pale chins.

“This light is taking forever,” Michael complained. “I’m starving.”

“What else is new?” Alison drawled.

“Where’s that leftover chicken?” Michael asked.

“I had to toss it.” Mrs. Nunios shook her head. “There’s no fridge and it’s been out since lunch.”

“I’d have eaten it,” Michael said. “How long is this light? We’ve been here forever.”

“The light is probably busted,” Mr. Nunios suggested. “You know, from the storm.”

Olivia was only half-listening to their conversation. She could not take her eyes off the three large men walking straight toward the minivan. They moved slowly, hobbling with a strange, rippling rhythm.

“This light is definitely broken,” Michael declared. “You should just run it, Dad.”

“With the broken windshield and the speeding ticket?” his father said in disbelief. “If a cop sees us my insurance will go through the roof.”

Olivia’s heart beat faster as she watched the men shamble purposefully toward the minivan. She couldn’t see their faces under their hoods. Little bubbles of fear gurgled in her stomach. Run it, Mr. Nunios.

“There’re no cops here, Dad. The light is broken,” Michael insisted. “I’m telling you. Just run it.”

The three men got closer to the window, and Olivia could see how big they were. Michael was about six feet tall, and these men would tower over him. And they were freakishly wide. Like professional wrestlers. Olivia still couldn’t see their faces under their hoods. Please run it, Mr. Nunios.

“That’s a bad idea,” Mr. Nunios insisted. “I’m not doing it.”

“Will you just run it already, Tommy?” Mrs. Nunios insisted. “It’s broken. You said so yourself.”

“I said it was probably busted,” Mr. Nunios explained.

Alison finally joined in. “We have been here forever, Dad.”

Olivia swallowed hard and clawed Alison’s thigh as the three men lunged toward the back of the minivan.

Tonio Favetta is the author of Falling From the Ground, a Y/A SciFi adventure. He also teaches high school English.

Posted in Falling From the Ground

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