Rebellious teen Robin "Robbie" Willette thinks her life sucks.
Her grades aren't the greatest. Her dad hates her "older" boyfriend. And her mom keeps Robbie on a short leash after her straight A, perfect, older sister gets pregnant and has a baby. As the tension builds in her family, Robbie runs away with her boyfriend Lane only to wind up sleeping on the sofa of her ostracized sister.
But it's not all that bad. Robbie has a taste of independence. She's working on getting her diploma through night school. She has a job--not a great one but it's legit. And she's finally beginning to figure out that her relationship with Lane is a dead end. For the first time in a long time, Robbie Willette is getting her life together.
Just as her life is improving, the world around her begins to crumble. Literally. A plague crawls over the planet, mutating humans into blood-lusting zombies that help spread a deadly fungus. It isn't long before society collapses. In fact, in less than a year, all of society’s norms are gone. Robbie quickly finds herself separated not only from her family, but from all humanity. Hoping to reunite with her sister and niece, Robbie sets off with the most loyal companion she's ever had: a yellow Labrador she names Yuki.
The road she travels is not easy. She must confront personal fears, untrustworthy humans, and aggressive mutants. Will Robbie fulfill her dream of finding her family, or is the world just too dangerous a place to discover what she needs most--hope?
A low watt bulb burns in a pull lamp at the foot of the daybed. It casts a yellowish glow over the narrow room. The bare bulb reflects against one of the panes of glass above and beside me. Night shrouds the world beyond the panes of glass. The small sunroom is quiet. There’s something comforting about my surroundings. I don’t feel alone here, but I don’t feel safe, either.
One of the windows is open. I can hear music outside: A man sings and plays a guitar. Someone accompanies him on a harmonica. It’s an old song, and I can pick out some of the words. When it gets to the part everyone outside knows, the crowd joins in with the guitar player. It sounds like there is a party going on in the backyard.
A cool breeze rolls past the loose screen in the window. I watch the meshing undulate, as if the house is breathing. Campfire smoke drifts past. It is summer and it is night, and somewhere under the stars there is a bonfire. Tiny tears sting my eyes. There were so many nights like this back home. Friends gathered around the flames, laughing, singing, dancing.
And Lane was there. Lane with his bad boy pout and black leather jacket with the knife cut on the right shoulder from that night at that concert. The faded skull painted on the back. Lane was there and I felt safe with him. I cry and I hate myself for being weak. I haven’t thought of Lane in a long time. The dream re-awakened how alone I’d been feeling.
There is a dull ache in my head. I feel slightly nauseous. I want to sit up, but I’m a little uncertain. Every now and then it feels like the daybed is floating on rolling waves. I need fluids, I think, but I can’t get up to get them. Not yet, anyway.
The partiers out back cheer and clap. Another song starts up and everyone sings along. It’s another song from days gone by. The songs from the new days have yet to be written. I don’t want to say it, but even if someone somewhere finds a cure for the rash, I don’t think the old world will ever return. In the thirteen months since the outbreak of the rash, I’ve seen the collapse of the old world—and I don’t see it ever returning.
The song outside ends. The cheers aren’t as loud as they were for the first song. When the applause stops, someone speaks. He starts with a greeting to the crowd, and the crowd mumbles one back to him. I can’t completely pick up what he says, but he reminds me of a guy I saw on one of the cable channels on the far end of the programming guide. He’s not exactly preaching, but he sounds a lot like the guy I saw proselytizing.
I decide it is time for me to get off the daybed. The people I’ve met have already threatened to shoot me, even before they drugged me. There is no doubt in my mind that there was something more than artificial flavoring in the lemonade Aubrey gave me. It is not a safe environment for me in the house the boys have brought me to, so I have to leave.
My legs are sore from the hike that afternoon. They are also a little rubbery. I put my feet on the dusty wood floor, but it doesn’t feel like there is anything below them. I’ve got pins and needles in my legs all the way down to my toes. I’m afraid there might be someone in the house, so I don’t stamp them. Instead, I pinch my legs in various spots, trying to wake them up. I don’t know how much time I have before Aubrey or Matt returns to check on me.
I’m assuming it will be one of the boys. It could be anyone. I hope it’s not Auntie Alice or the bearded man who called me Sunshine. Watching Auntie Alice beat Matt with the spine of her book freaked me out. And the bearded guy was just downright freaky.
When I stand up, my head feels like it’s going to explode. I take a couple of steps and knock into the pole lamp. It clinks against the window. The bulb must be old because no sooner does it hit the glass then there is a flare and a pop. The bulb goes out. I don’t have time to consider what that might mean. All I can concentrate on is getting out of the room and then the house.
There doesn’t appear to be anyone in the house. Also missing from where I last saw it is my hiking pack. That means no tent, no supplies, and, worst of all, no wrist rocket. This, above all else, upsets me the most. I’ve gotten good at using it. I prefer it over guns and crossbows and knives. Even if I ran out of pellets, there are projectiles all around me. Rocks, screws, nails: the world is my arsenal.
I go back down the narrow hall, my hands on either wall. It is narrower than I remember, but then again, I was carried down it last time. There’s wainscoting. The upper half of the walls are painted a muted, mustard yellow. Framed photographs hang on the walls. I catch a glimpse of the family that used to live in the house.
I basically spill out of the hall. My hands flail for the wooden banister of the staircase. I have to stop for a minute, catch my breath, clear my head. I look back over my shoulder at the dark sunroom. The hall is ridiculously short, but it felt a mile long just now. I want my legs to carry me out of here. I look at the door and I tell myself it’s as short a trip down the porch, across the walk, and to the gate as it was going down the sunroom’s hall.
When I get to the door, I think of my hiking pack. It’s a crazy thought, but I’ve named it Baby, after all, and I don’t feel right about leaving it behind. I don’t have the luxury of searching for any of my belongings. The wrist rocket. The hand axe. The tent. I’d hate to be out on the road without those items. Maybe I can rebuild my war chest. Maybe I can’t.
Something inside me is telling me I need to get out of the house.
I look over my shoulder at the kitchen door. It’s closed. No light spills out under the door.
I am forgetting there is an iron gate out front with a row of spear tips running along the top of the entire fence. When we arrived, there was no lock on the gate, but that could be different now that it is night and everyone is in the compound. All I can do is go out and hope for the best.
But it’s the worst possible scenario. The gate is chained and padlocked. I look over my shoulder. No one is following me. I put my hands on two of the spear’s tips, hook my foot into the lower railing to get a boost, and my heart sinks. I am in no condition to attempt a climb over the fence. I lose my footing and the tips of the fence spears will pierce me.
The revival out behind the house continues. The man doing the speaking is in a frenzy now. He’s going on about climate changes and the end of days, about the living left behind by those who were sworn to protect. The dead are reborn. We are approaching a war with nature, and man has never toppled nature.
A wave of dizziness sweeps over me. I fall down against the gate, leaning my head back against the metal bars. I should be careful, I think, so my head doesn’t slip between the bars. I laugh at the thought; would it be possible to have my head on the sidewalk and body in the yard? I laugh harder. I might as well go back in, wait until my head is clear and my legs remember how to support me.