When Melissa walked outside again, she squinted against the bright sunlight. After taking her backpack purse off of her shoulders, she removed a pair of sunglasses, put them on her face, then slung the backpack purse over both shoulders. Walking with Tamara to rejoin their group, Melissa saw that one person was missing. “Where’s John?”
“He’s still getting his stuff,” Rob said.
“I hate to be the one to point this out,” Dillon said, “but he’s really going to slow us down.”
Melissa frowned. Though she’d thought the same thing, she didn’t feel right about leaving John behind.
“What are you suggesting?” Tamara asked.
“I want to get home to my family as fast as possible, and like it or not, he’s going to make it take twice as long. I don’t know about you,” Dillon said, looking directly at Tamara, “but I’d rather get home before it gets too dark. If we have to go John’s pace, there’s no way that will happen.”
“What are you saying?” Melissa asked. “That we should just leave him here?”
Dillon shrugged, but his thoughts were clear. Leave John behind.
“That wouldn’t be right,” Melissa said. “He’s as much a part of this group as any of us.”
“Sorry,” John said a moment later as he came bustling out of the door, already a bit out of breath, a backpack on his shoulders.
Melissa shifted her gaze to Dillon, who looked away from John and rolled his eyes at Rob. Rob’s lips were pressed into a straight line.
Not wanting to get bogged down in this early dispute, Melissa said, “Let’s get going.”
The five of them crossed the parking lot and made a left, heading toward 700 East. The first thing Melissa noticed were the cars stopped in the middle of the street. Some had people sitting inside, but many had been abandoned. As they walked, she saw small clumps of people standing outside of other buildings, talking.
“Wonder how long it will take them to figure out what happened,” Rob murmured.
Melissa turned to look at him, then shrugged. “Maybe we should tell them.”
“We can’t stop and talk to everyone,” Rob said with a scowl. “That will slow us down even more.”
True as that was, what if more people could join their group? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Without asking how everyone else felt about it, Melissa said, “Just give me a minute.” Then she trotted off to a group of seven people—four women and three men.
The people looked her way as she approached. She smiled. “Hey.”
They smiled in return. A woman who looked like she was in her forties and was dressed in a skirt and blouse stepped forward. “Do you know what’s going on?” She held up her cell phone. “I mean, the power went out, but our phones aren’t working either.”
Melissa explained her EMP theory. After listening to their shocked responses, Melissa gestured to her group. Rob’s arms were crossed over his chest and Dillon had his hands on his hips. Ignoring their obvious impatience, Melissa swiveled back to face the people she was talking to. “We’re walking home. Heading south. Do any of you live that way?”
Two of the men and one of the women said they did.
“If you want to join us,” Melissa said, “you can.”
“Sounds good,” said one of the men, who looked like he was in his forties and seemed fit. He wore dress slacks and a button up shirt.
The other man, who wore a suit, nodded. “Yeah. I’ll come.” He was older, maybe late fifties.
The woman glanced at the high heels on her feet. “Not exactly the best shoes for walking.”
Melissa nodded. “Still, what other choice do you have?”
The woman eyed the people who hadn’t spoken yet. “I’m going to stay here. See if the power comes back on.”
Holding back a sigh—no point in trying to convince her it wasn’t coming back on—Melissa nodded. “All right. Well, good luck to you.”
The men who had been with the woman tossed her a smile, then walked with Melissa toward her group. When they reached them, Melissa noticed that Rob’s lips were twisted into a deep frown. Ignoring him, she turned to the two men, introducing everyone from her group.
The man in his mid-fifties nodded. “Nice to meet everyone. I’m Curtis.” He smiled at Melissa. “Thanks for including me.”
“Yeah, thanks,” the other man said. “I’m Tyler.”
“Let’s get going,” Rob grumbled.
Melissa looked at Tamara, who seemed fine with the stop, and shook her head.
As they walked, Melissa asked the two newcomers what they did.
“We’re both attorneys,” Tyler, the younger man said. “What about you?”
“I’m a project manager,” Melissa said, remembering the PowerPoint she’d been working on. If this was truly an EMP, then the PowerPoint wouldn’t matter. Nothing she’d been working on would. All that would matter was surviving. The thought was sobering.
The group was silent, everyone lost in their own thoughts.
Soon, they reached 700 East. They turned right—south—and continued on.
As they walked, they passed through a residential area. Some people were outside talking to neighbors, but everyone was calm. That gave Melissa hope that they wouldn’t run in to too much craziness. Then again, did people understand what had happened? She kind of doubted it.
They kept plodding along, passing house after house and stopped car after stopped car. Some people were milling about. Others were walking like they’d given up on getting their cars to start and needed to get somewhere. Several people had children with them. Melissa felt sorry for those people. It was hard enough to walk a long distance with only herself to worry about. If she had little ones too, that would make it so much more difficult.
They passed a park. It was too early in the year for the leaves to bud, but the trees were beautiful, nevertheless.
Melissa’s right baby toe was rubbing against her shoe. Worried that she would get a blister so early in her long trek, she tried wiggling her toes from time to time in the hopes that would keep a blister from forming.
An hour later, the discomfort on Melissa’s right baby toe was becoming unbearable. She knew she’d gotten a blister from her stupid boots—stylish, but not meant for long walks. Which is also when she saw a shopping center.
Hoping against hope that she would be able to fix the issue with her feet, she turned to the group. “I need to find some comfortable shoes.” She grimaced. “My feet are killing me.”
“I could use some different shoes too,” Tamara admitted.
Glad she wasn’t the only one, Melissa said, “Maybe one of the stores in here has shoes.”
Expecting the others—or at least Dillon and Rob—to look annoyed, she skimmed over their faces, but everyone seemed like they were ready for a short break.
“Maybe I can get more water,” John said, holding up his nearly empty water bottle.
Then Tyler, the lawyer who had joined their group, gestured with his chin toward the shopping center. “We may have a problem.”