Peter wiped the sweat from his brow, shoveling the snow from in front of the shopping carts wheels. He smiled as a snowball flew past him. “Hey, watch it!” He called out. He expected the apology to come from Kyle, in his blue jacket and black gloves, but was surprised when Sarah voiced it. He bent over and scooped up a ball of snow in his own bare hands, packing it before launching it towards the group, knocking Zachariah’s fedora off.
Zach spun, throwing a snowball of his own, which exploded upon impact with Peter’s chest.
“Sorry,” Zach said sheepishly.
Another snowball flew through the air, hitting Zach in the back of the head.
“Got you,” shouted Kyle, laughing.
Amy walked up and took the shovel from Peter, resuming digging the cart out.
“I’ll get it, I was just taking a break.”
“Which you deserve, this is the third stop we’ve had to make today, and you dug us out the last two times. Take it easy,” she said, scooping more snow from in front of the cart.
“I just wish it would work up enough that the snow would melt completely. I mean, we’re going to have to chip the ice from the wheels again tomorrow morning.”
And they did, just as they had done for the previous three days since leaving Jud and Aubrey’s. They had made it five miles without encountering any Others, the only obstacle mother nature.
“Could it be,” Zach said, as he sprinted ahead. “There used to be a bait shack down that road there,” he pointed towards a dirt road that headed off to the right when the rest of the group caught up with him. “It might be a mile down, far enough into the woods that it may not have been touched.”
“Do you think that kind of delay is worth it? Don’t you think your parents might have hit it?” Peter asked.
“Tell you what, you guys keep going. Brian and I can make good time and rejoin the group in a couple of hours, just stick to the highway.” Zach replied.
Peter looked to Brian, who shrugged and then checked the shotgun hung over his shoulder.
“I’m game.” Brian added.
“Ok, but first sign of trouble, you guys run for it. A few extra supplies aren’t worth your lives.” Amy said, squeezing Peter’s shoulder.
“Yes mom,” Brian rolled his eyes and laughed.
“Hey!” Peter snapped at the two retreating men. “Be careful!”
It was Zach’s turn to laugh, “Yes dad.”
“I’m serious, it’s not worth your lives.”
Rocky barked after the two men, wagging his tail and beginning to run after them, but Kyle called him, and obediently, the mutt returned to the rest of the group, walking along side the boy.
Peter turned his back on them, forcing himself to believe that they were both mature enough to avoid anything truly dangerous.
Kyle began to pull the wagon Brian had been pulling, following behind his mother, Julie, who began the trek westward again. “They’ll be fine,” she said aloud, to herself as much as everyone else.
They began the long push-pull up a steep slope, the protesting creak of the wagon’s wheels the only sound. Halfway up, Kyle began to whine about how heavy the wagon was, piled high with the canned goods they had managed to scrounge, and Sarah stepped in, taking the handle from the boy.
“Thanks.” He said, running to catch up with Amy and Peter. “Wow!”
They had crested the hill finally, and Peter could only echo the boys sentiment. He looked at Amy. “I had forgotten…”
“Yeah, me too,” She looked down upon the crater in the earth. “There.” She pointed at what had once been the cab of a tanker. “It must have been full,” she said, surveying the hole that spanned all four lanes of asphalt. “It looks to be at least ten feet deep.” She said as she started her descent of the hill, using her weight to slow the pull of gravity on the cart she pushed. After a few feet, she turned sideways and began to zig zag down the incline, looking over her shoulder as everyone followed suit.
Peter reached the edge of the crater just in time to grab Kyle, who came running down the hill followed by a barking Rocky. “Careful.” He said as he set the boy back on his feet and watched as the dog skidded to a stop mere inches from the edge of the hole.
“Yeah, sorry Peter.”
Julie mouthed a silent thanks and grabbed the boy, holding him close as they stood at the edge. “I think that way,” She pointed off to the left, where some of the highway’s shoulder still remained intact, “Would be easier.”
“I agree,” said Amy, turning and pushing her cart in the indicated direction.
They were halfway around the depression when a sharp retort broke the silent air.
“That sounded like a shotgun!” Peter said, letting go of his cart, and then grabbing it again as it began rolling toward the hole. “I’m going back.”
“No, we need you here. We’ve got to give them a chance.” Amy said, crowding behind Peter. “Keep going.”
Peter started to protest, but the look on Amy’ face silenced him. “Yeah, alright.” He said as he pushed forward, finally managing to push his cart back onto the road proper. He stood looking back across the pit, waiting for the rest of his group to finish making their way around it.