breeze, as it swept a few leaves across the square. In the thirty pairs of shoes, all pointing up
at the grey sky.
Emily took another step closer. She could hear her blood sloshing in her head, like
she was underwater and she moved back again, turned away to watch Song. Sparrow started
to fuss: even she could tell something was wrong. Very, very wrong. For once, Emily had no
interest to investigate, no need to see what they could scavenge. She just wanted to pack up
her children and run.
“Aaron,” she hissed. He was walking down the line of corpses, his shoulders stiff
with anger, or grief, or maybe shattered faith. “Aaron!”
For the first time since their first days together, Aaron was a wall. He didn’t turn
back to her, not until she was almost stomping her feet and biting her lip to keep from
screaming. His gaze was blank when he did.
“They were executed.” His voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a
A shiver ran down her spine, and she found herself reaching for him. Her hand stilled
in mid-air as though she’d only just noticed that he was much too far away. The breeze stirred
the hairs on her arm and she let it sink, cradled her hand around Sparrow’s tiny head in a
vestigial instinct to shield her.
“How… how do you know?” she asked, voice hardly loud enough to travel across
He breathed in so deep, she found herself worrying about his ribs, imagined them
crackling under the strain. He shook his head, nodded towards the ground.
“Hands are bound with zip ties,” he said eventually. “Looks like they were beaten
“Come back here,” Emily said again, more urgently this time. “Please, baby.”
She could have been watching a movie, or one of those terrible war reports she
remembered on the news from Before, the ones she would switch off before Song had time to
understand what they were about. It occurred to her, then, that Aaron could have been one of
those soldiers in the reports she was lucky enough to switch away from, replace his face with
Big Bird, with John Cleese.
“There’s more behind the house,” he said in a monotone. She didn’t follow his gaze.
“Must have been the entire neighborhood.”
“But… why?” Emily shook her head at herself almost immediately. Annika had been
right: she had gotten cocky. She had forgotten all the things she’d seen after the end, before
Aaron had made her forget that humans could be a disease upon the world, far more
dangerous than the dead.
She sent one long last glance at Song, then she stepped out of his line of sight,
hurried to Aaron’s side as quietly, as quickly as she could. She reached for his hand, squeezed
Her eyes were drawn downward almost against her will. They hadn’t wasted bullets.
She stared at a line of fifteen gaping slits in fifteen throats, like fifteen twisted smiles. “They
haven’t been dead for long, have they?”
He tipped his head back and seemed to peer directly into the bare late autumn sun
before he looked back at the blood at their feet. “A week maybe,” he said. “Probably less.
Hardly decomposed at all.”
She tightened her hold on his hand, tugged once.
“We can’t stay here.” She enunciated every word, slowly, quietly, trying to get
through to him. They had slept peacefully, less than half an hour away from this spot. They’d
had no idea. “Aaron. We can’t stay here.”
He didn’t respond right away, and it made her heart pound harder in her chest. There
had been a night, years before, when he’d told her he’d never really talked about his time in
the desert, that he’d never seen the point, and though she’d disagreed, they’d never spoken of
it again. She wanted to kick herself now.
“Aaron,” she said, voice terse. “Song and Sparrow.” He finally stirred with those
“Get ‘em back in the trailer,” he instructed.