Abbies appeared straight ahead, coming toward them from Main Street, one block away, and Ethan looked back just in time to see a half dozen round the corner two blocks back near the school.
He and Hecter covered the last thirty feet through Maggie’s yard.
Up the steps, onto the covered porch.
Jerked open the screen door.
Hecter beginning to lose his grip.
Ethan turned the doorknob, put his shoulder into the door, and rushed inside.
“Lock the door!” Ethan yelled as Hecter stumbled inside. “Stand halfway up the staircase and shoot the shit out of anything that gets in.”
“Where are you going?”
Ethan doubled up the stairs.
Screams audible through the walls.
At the top he turned right and raced toward the closed door at the end of the hall.
Smashed through without slowing.
Yellow walls, white crown molding.
Soft curtains, drawn.
A terrycloth robe draped over the back of a chair.
A big, pillowy bed, neatly made.
Stack of Jane Austen novels and an incense burner on the bedside table.
The cold air still redolent of fragrant smoke.
Ethan hurried to the bedside table, pulled open the drawer.
Downstairs, the sound of glass breaking.
Hecter yelled something as Ethan shoved his arm toward the back of the drawer, felt his fingers graze the keys.
A shotgun blast followed.
Hecter shouting, “Oh God!”
Shuck-shuck as he racked another slug.
The spent shell falling down the stairs.
Ethan jammed Maggie’s keys into the front pocket of his jeans and started down the hallway.
No more shots.
The smooth soles of Ethan’s boots slid across the hardwood floor as he reached the top of the stairs and tried to arrest his forward momentum.
Three abbies on Hecter, one tearing at his right leg, another ripping the biceps out of his arm, a third chewing its way through the fascia into his stomach.
Hecter shrieking, pounding his free hand into the skull of the abby who was gutting him.
Ethan raised the shotgun.
The first slug decapitated the abby burrowing into Hecter’s stomach, and he shot the second one as it looked up snarling, but the third had a head start and it was airborne, talons out, seconds from crashing into Ethan by the time he got the Mossberg pumped and fired.
It tumbled back down the staircase and crashed into two abbies that had just torn through the front door.
Ethan racked a shell and steadied himself at the top of the staircase, trying to process his next move, fighting panic, the inescapable thought that it was all coming off the rails right now. His left arm was so tender from the Mossberg’s recoil it was agony just pulling the stock snug against his shoulder.
The two abbies crawled out from under the dead abby and started for him, and Ethan shot them both down as they climbed.
The house was hazy with gun smoke and for a moment the only sound was the pneumatic hiss as the femoral artery in Hecter’s leg jetted arcs of red at the front door.
The stairs looked treacherous, soaked in blood.
Hecter was groaning and shaking as he held his intestines in his hands in some kind of horrified wonder.
He was bleeding out mercifully fast, shock-white, with a cold sweat matting down his hair, giving his face a corpse-like sheen that foretold what was coming.
He stared up at Ethan with a look only a dying soldier can give the one the bullet missed.
The front door had been torn off its hinges, and through the opening, Ethan watched more abbies stream into the yard.
They would eat Hecter while he took his last breaths.
Ethan pulled his pistol, clicked off the safety.
No idea if it were true, but he said, “You’re going someplace better.”
Hecter just stared.
I should’ve let you go find the keys.
Ethan shot the pianist between his eyes. As the monsters flooded in through the front door, he was already running down the hall away from Maggie’s bedroom.
He took the second doorway on his right.
Quietly shut it after him and flicked a lock that didn’t stand a chance of stopping anything.
There was a claw-foot tub under a window of frosted glass.
As he moved toward it, he could hear the abbies through the door.
Ethan set the shotgun on the pedestal sink, stepped into the bathtub.
He flipped the hasp on the window.
Raised it two feet off the sill.
He climbed up onto the lip of the bathtub and looked out the window into a small backyard, fenced and empty.
The staircase creaked, the abbies coming.
Out in the hall, there was a great collision, like something had crashed at full speed into one of the doors.
Ethan stepped back down into the bathroom and grabbed the shotgun.
An abby screamed on the other side of the door.
Something slammed into the bathroom door.
The wood started to split down the middle.
Ethan racked a shell and shot a slug through the center of the door, heard something thunk into the wall on the other side.
There was now a slug-size hole in the door, and a puddle of blood leaking underneath it, beginning to spread across the checkered tile.
Ethan climbed up onto the rim of the bathtub.
He dropped the shotgun on the roof and squeezed through the window as another abby smashed into the door behind him.
Kneeling under the window frame, Ethan fed eight shells into the tube and then draped the strap over his shoulder.
The abby was still trying to beat down the bathroom door.
Ethan closed the window and sidestepped carefully down to the edge of the roof.
It dropped twelve feet to the backyard.
He got down on his hands and knees and lowered himself over the edge, clutching the gutter until he’d managed to extend himself fully and reduce the drop to five feet.
He hit the ground hard and let his legs buckle to absorb the impact, rolled, and quickly regained his feet.
Through the panes of glass in the back door, he could see things running inside the house.
Ethan jogged around the brick patio, his muscles, his bones, every square inch of real estate on his body caught in a trajectory of increasing agony.