Sep 20 2012 4:00pm
Besieged and attacked, a mother and her children must escape a post-apocalyptic nightmare world of cannibals and betrayal
Jack Murphy thought he’d found the perfect escape for his family from a world gone horribly mad. He thought wrong. Matthew Costello's Home begins mere minutes after the terrible sacrifice made by Jack to save his family at Paterville Camp. Barely escaping, Jack’s wife, Christie, and two children, Kate and Simon, must accept that their lives and their future have changed forever.
In this intimate and human survivalist horror story, the three of them will face even greater dangers, as well as yet-unknown horrors, to simply stay alive as together they search for a road “home” in this intense and original postapocalyptic thriller.
After being stopped by the Highway Authority, Christie and her two kids get back onto the highway…back to their home.
Kate and Simon both had questions. What did the officer want? Why were they talking so long?
And then the last, eternal question from Simon…
“Mom? How long till we’re home?”
She actually smiled at that one.
As if maybe, perhaps, some things would never change.
“About two hours,” she said. "Maybe a bit more.”
Then, for added assurance: “It won't be long.”
In the quiet, she drove in that same steel-armed position she had held since they escaped the camp –two hands on the wheel, slightly hunched over, as if that increased alertness.
She tried to take stock of…herself.
First, there was the pain. A dull ache in at least four different parts of her body. Though she worked out –the government ran ads promoting the importance of being in shape…
When you might need to run, to be fast…
—still, her upper thighs hurt, too much sprinting, clambering. She didn’t know. The ibuprophen didn't seem to do anything. (And she had to be careful—she didn't have a lot of that. She didn't have a lot of anything.)
And her arms, shoulders, all achy. Was that from the kick of the gun as she fired, or just the incredible tensing of those muscles as she blasted at the things that attempted to grab them as they raced – still a family, still together – through the woods, down to their car?
She rolled her head, a relaxation exercise, hearing the tiny cracks of the stretching muscles as she did so.
And then she asked herself a question.
And inside? Inside my head?
How is my thinking? Is it clear? What about — what the hell — how about shock. Am I in goddamn shock? Are my kids in shock?
And if I am, what do I need do? What do I need watch out for?
She thought of how Jack had prepared their SUV for the trip, all that armor. The weapons he had told her about, and then the ones he didn't. He did the same with their house, with the roll down metal windows at night, the reinforced basement doors and windows. Trying to make their home a fortress even though their development was surrounded by a fence that would toast a Can Head in seconds.
The big question…
Can I think like Jack?
She knew one thing. Doubting herself wouldn't help. No, she needed to stay focused. All the time.
She nodded at that. That would be her mantra. Stay focused. One thing at a time.
She rolled her head again.
And in mid-roll, she heard the explosion.
The Honda immediately swerved violently to the right, into the far right lane and nearly onto the side of the road. She quickly over-corrected, and nearly sent the Blair's beat-up car streaming into the guard rail on the left.
From the back seat, squeals, yells, and the ever-present shouting...
A loud clatter accompanied the car's swerving, a thunka-thunka-thunka sound that now only took her seconds to identify as she began to slowly apply the brake.
“It’s a blowout kids. Just a tire.”
Do. Not. Need. This.
Now she steered the tilted car, limping on what was left of a blown left rear tire, to the right lane. And then — the car crawling at fifteen, ten miles an hour, off to the side of the road, onto the brown crunchy grass.
She felt the tire's rim dig into the dirt as she got the car fully off the highway.
Another few feet, and she was off the road.
But she had her hands still locked on.
She reminded herself –so soon! –of her mantra.
Stay focused. One thing at a time.
And now that one thing was checking that the kids were okay.
She released her hands from the wheel and turned around.
Kate looked at her mom, and then she turned to Simon.
When she had felt the car seem to sink to the left, Kate had yelled, as if her mother had done something wrong.
Simon had also screamed and he quickly turned to her.
Turned to me, Kate thought.
As if I could –what?– protect him?
But Kate looked back to her Mom, her dark eyes, looking right at them.
She looks so different, she thought.
Something different in her eyes. She’s still my mom, Kate told herself. But a lot of things have happened.
Things like running away. Like killing the Can Heads that had attacked.
Kate reminded herself of one unbelievable fact.
I killed one.
I used the gun. I shot it in the head. And then it stopped.
Simple. Easy. Just like Dad taught me.
(And I could do it again.)
And she had this thought, though not clear what it meant…
Simon had seen it all too. Had seen us shooting, fighting our way out of there. My little brother had seen me kill one of them.
So—if my mom's eyes are different — that shouldn’t be surprising at all.
“Mom. What happened?” Simon said.
Kate noticed that her brother's voice sounded different. It always used to bother her, so loud, so whiny, always wanting things. Now it seemed quiet. Just asking a question now and then again.
She wanted the old Simon back.
“Well, we just had what's called a blowout. A tire blew.”
That's not supposed to happen, Kate knew.
She had heard her father talk all the time about how strong the tires were. How they couldn’t get a flat.
But this wasn't their car, the one Dad had made so strong.
And even that car hadn't been strong enough to save him, Kate knew.
Mom had gotten them out of the camp...but when she heard the explosion, she knew.
They'd never see their father again. It was just the three of them.
Kate had been glad that they drove in the darkness so she could, for all those hours, sit in the back and cry quietly, hidden from her mother, muffling the sounds, the pain twisting so hard at her insides.
Now it was morning.
A new day.
“How'd it happen?” Simon asked, his voice unable to hide his concern.
“I don't know, Simon. This—isn't our car. Maybe the tires weren't that good. I—I—”
Kate rushed in to fill the gap, suddenly afraid that her mother might lose it.
“Mom, there’s got to be spare, right? We can put the spare on, and—”
Then Kate did something that felt so natural but – if you had asked her – she would say that she had never done it before.
She smiled at Simon, making her face bright, a slight smile, widening her eyes that had squinted closed with tears all night—
“We can just…get the spare on and get going again.” Back to her mother. “Right?”
Her mother nodded.
“I’ll help,”Kate added. “I’ve seen Dad—”
That word again.
Her mother looked as though she was about to say ‘no’….but Kate held her mother's gaze, her eyes tight on hers.
Then a nod. “Okay—we can all do it. Just stay close.”
And her mother turned to open her door. A look at the nearby woods, and in the distance, sections of the highway fence.
The door popped open.
“C’mon, Simon,”she said to her brother, and they got out of the backseat.
Christie used the key to pop open the trunk.
“Now stay close. I've done this before, but this isn't our car. Just stay near me, okay?”
She looked towards the woods. Quiet. No breeze. The air warming as the sun climbed higher.
Maybe the kids would be safer in the car?
But if they wanted to help, to be part of this—maybe that was a good thing.
She looked down into the trunk.
Three or four different sized bags, one purple, another red, one black, one small and filled with ponies the color of rainbows.
The Blair's bags.
She said nothing.
But she grabbed the heaviest bag and lugged it out of the trunk.
At least when it hit the grass, it had wheels, though the small rollers didn't seem too effective in the crumbly mix of dry grass and dirt.
Kate had already grabbed another one, and with a big oomph pulled that out as well.
And then, sweet God, Simon grabbing the one with ponies.
“Look at this! Who’d want a dopey bag like this!”
Christie almost laughed at...Simon being Simon.
The pink bag with rainbow ponies.
That belonged to a little girl who a terrible thing had happened to…
Simon didn’t ask though.
Who’s this bag belong to? What happened to them?
Some magic wall that kept him from those next few thoughts, those terrible questions.
About what might have happened to the people whose things they had just pulled out of the trunk.
Christie quickly grabbed the last bag, and tossed it to the side.
“Okay. Thanks, kids. Now, let me see—”
No tire visible; probably, she thought, under the trunk’s floorboard.
The tire, the tire iron, the jack.
She looked around again. Everything so still around them. That's good, she told herself.
But then, why doesn't it feel good?
She leaned into the trunk and started running her fingers around the edges, digging her nails under the trunk's matting, until she made a gap and could get both hands in and pull the trunk floor mat up.
To see: a tire.
“The spare,” she said.
“Doesn't look so good,”Simon said. “Sure it’s okay?”
Good question, Christie thought. She leaned close and felt the tire.
Nice and firm.
“It’s fine. Just got to—”
She grabbed a large bolt that kept the tire in place under the trunk. At first, it wouldn't budge.
Going to have to get stronger, she thought.
No man to depend on to turn and twist the hard things, to lift the heavy things, to do all the goddamn—
She stopped herself again.
The screw loosened, and spun off.
She reached in, and though the tire and rim were heavy, she could lift the spare out and place it against the back of the car.
She looked for the jack.
Kate came and stood beside her.
Sensing something wrong.
“Mom, what is it?”
Christie leaned in again, and began feeling all around the bottom and sides of the trunk, nearly her whole body in the trunk, thinking that the car's jack had to be fixed to the side, or hidden in the back, somewhere...
But it wasn’t.
“There's no jack,” she said dully.
A quick look around.
After all — she had been rooting around in the trunk for a good minute or so.
She thought of those old nature programs, showing African animals at a water hole. How they'd lean down for a sip, then raise their heads, look left, right, then another cautious sip.
“What are you going to do?” Kate asked. “Can you do it —”
Christie had begun shaking her head.
“No, I can’t. You can’t get a car off the ground…without a jack.”There was a bite to her words which she immediately regretted.
Simon. Where was he?
But then she saw him at the front of the car.
“Simon. Back here. Now.”
He came back.
(Don't cry, she thought. Please. No matter what.)
Then a sound.
They all turned, the three of them standing close together, the luggage strewn around them, the sun beating down hard, the clouds all burnt away.
As a car headed down the highway…right towards them.