The rest of the trip to my house was unremarkable. We didn’t encounter any more of the undead, but we also didn’t see any people either. The radio station that had been dutifully distracting us with Christmas music paused to mention something about the weather before fizzling out into static. Max and I waited for the signal to come back, but I eventually just shut it off when an entire minute had passed.
Finally, the car crawled into the driveway of the brick townhouse I lived in. The thin windows flanking the front door were boarded up still from this morning’s attempt to ease my mother’s anxiety. Nestled between two more houses, my home’s only other access points would be in the backyard, though that was fenced.
“I can go in and open the garage,” I told Max, glancing around to check that the coast was clear. He unlocked the door for me and looked outside into the neighboring driveways as well.
“I’ll turn around and back in so it’ll be easier for us to leave in the morning.”
“Good idea,” I chirped before getting out. I jogged to the front door, sniffling and drawing my coat closer when a particularly biting wind blew over me.
The house was cold and empty when I got inside. Sure, it looked basically the same as when I’d left. But there was an obvious sense of abandonment that I hadn’t been prepared for.
I sneezed and turned away from the empty hallway to get the garage door opened for Max. It wouldn’t be long before I was back with my family, so it didn’t make sense to get weighed down by such depressing thoughts.
Besides, it’s not exactly like you’re alone.
Max backed the car into the garage and gave me a thumbs up when he was fully inside. As the garage door slowly slid shut, I thought I saw a few plump snowflakes starting to fall.
“Is it supposed to snow?” I mumbled half to myself.
“What’s that?” Max called out from the back of the car where he was rummaging around.
“Nothing. Hey, bring Lady Liberty when you come in; I want to clean her off.”
He snickered and tugged out a duffel bag that had been under a few boxes of food. “Will do.”
I left the door to the garage open and kicked off my shoes before poking at the thermostat until it promised to heat up the house. In a brief moment of wicked rebelliousness, I even turned it up a few more degrees than my mom usually permitted. Being sick and in the zombie apocalypse called for a little luxury. Besides, I had a guest.
Max made sure to take off his shoes when he came inside. He shivered and smiled at me jabbing the thermostat. “It’s a little chilly in here.”
I sneezed and grinned back with watery eyes. “It’ll be warm in a few minutes.” I nodded at a bag in his hand while I plugged up my dead phone with a nearby charger. “What’s that?”
“Oh, I...brought in some food. I figured it’s probably best to save cans for emergencies, so I grabbed, uh…” He glanced down at the bag. “Frozen tater tots.”
I padded over to a cabinet and eagerly pulled out a pan. “You’re an actual godsend. I’ve been craving those for weeks. What am I preheating them to?”
“425,” Max replied, coming over and handing me Lady Liberty so he could prepare the food. While he spread the tots over the pan, I gave the statuette a hose-down in the sink. Her griminess washed away, leaving behind a chipped green paint job and way less diseases than before. I put her in the drying rack for now and hefted myself up onto the counter, fiddling with my gauze to make sure it didn’t get wet.
“So...Is ‘Max’ short for anything?”
He looked over at my swinging legs and chuckled. “Nope, it’s just ‘Max’. What about you? I’m guessing ‘Charlie’ is short for ‘Charles’?”
I shuddered in absolute disgust. “Unfortunately. Apparently it’s a family name, but I think it’s sinful to name a baby ‘Charles’.”
He laughed, and we were promptly interrupted by the oven dinging, signaling it was done preheating. While Max popped the tater tots in, I smiled and again felt immensely grateful that I wasn’t alone. Even casual conversation like this eased the building tension I was getting over not knowing where or how my family was.