The road out of the area had been travelled enough to make it passable. Alex took a wrong turn early on and brought them south on 219, instead of east as he wanted. Soon, they caught up with others fleeing the area. The road narrowed to two lanes, and they continued in a tight convoy. Alex considered pulling over to find a place to stop, but he also thought about the potential safety that came with numbers.
A glow rose on the horizon. At first, Alex wondered if it might be the rising sun. Soon, the pinpoint of light grew to an oasis. A city, it seemed, but he was not sure which one or if they might have crossed the state line into Pennsylvania. Shadowy structures came into view. Abandoned vehicles, concrete barriers, and barbed wire littered the road. His phone began to bling and buzz in the cupholder. Alex unplugged the charger cord and set the lit phone on his lap.
The display scrolled as notifications piled up. One message in particular stood out. Dividing his attention between the road and his phone, he ran a thumb along the edge of the screen. A text from Ivy. Alex cleared the tightness in his throat and set the phone down on its face. He put both hands on the wheel and pulled into the queue.
An older sedan passed the barricade, and a lone soldier stepped forward to halt them with one hand out. In addition to the standard uniform, the checkpoint guard donned doubled-up nitrile gloves and a cotton bandana tied over his nose and mouth. His rifle pointed at the ground with a finger hovering over the trigger. He stood well back from the vehicle, eyes darting across and around it.
When the driver’s door opened, the soldier hurried forward and kicked it shut. Shouting, he raised his rifle. The brake lights on the car went dark, and the engine revved. Without hesitation, the soldier squeezed the trigger. Sharp flashes of muzzle fire lit his face. Lurching forward, the car veered away from the crossing before settling in the deep snow. Soldiers flooded in from the shadows and surrounded the car. They opened the doors and pulled bodies to the ground.
Alex shifted the SUV into gear, cranked the wheel hard to the left, and pressed his foot to the floor. He fought to move in a straight line as he accelerated north and away from the light.
Eileen stirred in her seat. Her good eye fluttered, and she moaned. Alex eased off the accelerator and lifted an open bottle of water from the console. He put it in his mother’s unsteady hand. She gripped it and raised it to her lips. After swallowing, she held it in her lap. “Where… where are we?”
“On the road. Don’t worry, I’m going to find a safe place to stop.”
Eileen’s head bobbed once before she lowered it to her shoulder and closed her eyes.
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