Sodden selfishness protects me from sharp-edged guilt that should be cutting deeper. I bury this dangerous bundle carelessly into the depths of my flimsy cardboard mind so I can concentrate on driving.
The route becomes more familiar with each turn. As the need to focus on the route lessens, self-pity increases. Numbly selecting gears on cue, I glance occasionally at the child. The truck’s vibrations and harsh suspension try her patience. She digs deeply into a large repertoire of screams and cries, in yet another detailed critique of my driving skills.
I’m powerless to quieten her; too engrossed with steering to provide a moment of comfort. The crying becomes a background noise until an extended period of quiet breaks me from a daze. Her little hand has found the furry fake rabbit’s foot attached to my pocket-knife. It has never brought me luck. If it keeps her amused she can have it.
As if cued by superstitious portents, a pure white cat crosses the road in front of us. Is that some sort of twisted symbolism? Can a white cat signal a reversal of our failing fortunes? Or is it just a scared moggy, running from humans who once nurtured it? Owners who now attack warm-blooded creatures on sight.
I’m too tired and jaded to read anything more into this rare sighting. The disinterest clears my mind. We’re nearly there. Our home’s fence line unspools on our left. An already irregular heart-beat hippity-hops at the damage human hands can inflict on steel. Sections of mesh are crushed and stepped into the ground. Its valiant resistance before total surrender is told by ragged scraps of clothing that flutter in broken wire hooks; trophies clawed from passing Creeps who’d found its weakest link and then trampled it down.
I turn in and idle at the untouched gate, grimacing at the grey facility in its encroaching ocean of greenery. Swiping the proximity card allows us entry and I’m silently grateful for the Creeps’ ignorance about our reliance on electricity. Their strategic damage of our machinery would have brought us undone well before now.
On the way up the driveway my darting eyes work overtime to populate the wild foliage on both sides with moving figures. Every movement tugs at my peripheral vision, though each occasion is belatedly dismissed as a waving tree branch or a shifting shadow. The false alarms stress my core resolve to save Kristine. Every part of me wants to flee this city; to drive far away from the treachery and pain I seem to deliver and receive without end. And sadly, it’s only the cold, logical part of me, knowing we lack the fuel and energy to do so, that stops me from running.
By force of habit I back the truck onto the dock, pushing the sun-glasses over my brow when shadows fold around the windscreen. The mirror reflects my worry and fright back at me until I tilt it away. Rear bumper meets rubber stoppers before I’m ready and the engine stalls.
A cold breeze moans around the dock. Fine dust, carried on its breath eddies across laser beams of late sunlight. The warm rays are erased by a cloud the moment I touch the door handle. The bare skin of my butt unpeels from vinyl with a tearing sound. If that was unpleasant, hopping to the ground provides the agony needed to stoke an angry fire. At least rage keeps me from collapsing. Shoving the huge dock gates crashes them shut. They lock automatically with the sound of a condemned man’s cell-door slamming for the last time.
The thin shell of courage I’ve relied on to keep me going develops cracks at that thought. Denying myself an escape route is almost as bad as leaving them open.
A convenient wall supports me on a slow journey to the dock steps. A forgotten baby senses abandonment, stalling me halfway with muffled bawling. She also reminds me I’ve left the shotgun and keys in the truck. Shit!
Returning, I retrieve two desirable items and one that isn’t. In the absence of pockets, and before I run out of hands, I clamp the swipe-card between my teeth. The attached keys stab my chin and cheeks as I violently twist my neck to check every possible hiding spot around me. I’m on high alert for an ambush.
I tuck the fragile baby beneath one arm, and the gun under the other. Each is held with the same amount of force and both stay fairly quiet, even with rough handling. Mounting the dock involves a mountainous trek of singly taken steps. I look up gratefully from the fifth and last one, preoccupied by the logistics of juggling this load and unlocking the outer doors. Uh oh. The keys aren’t needed.
A stupid riddle pops into my head: when is a door not a door? When it’s ajar! Hundreds of muddy footprints on the white-painted concrete embellish the groan-inducing answer with a chilling gut punch. The Creeps are inside!