Martin took the squirming bundle from Mrs. Kenny and balanced it on top of the others in his wagon. It was a good thing that this was the last house on his route since his wagon was full, overfull in fact. He would have to go easy to keep from losing any of his cargo.
“Thank you, dear,” the old woman said, ruffling his hair. “I have something else for you…hold on.” She hobbled back inside, emerging moments later holding out two cookies. “They’re chocolate chip, except there’re no chips. I ran out, and well, you know…”
Yes, Martin knew—when the town’s supply of something ran out, if they couldn’t make or grow it, there’d be no more. “I’m sure they’re fine, ma’am.”
“Take one home to your little brother,” she said.
“I will, ma’am. And thank you.” He slipped the cookies into his shirt pocket. “I’d best be getting on, not long till dark.”
“You do that, Martin. And be careful.”
“I will, ma’am.” He settled his spear more comfortably over his shoulder, turned away, and pulling his wagon, started down the sidewalk.
“See you Sunday in church!” Mrs. Kenny called.
He waved over his shoulder.
He turned off Maple Street, cutting between Mrs. Kenny and the Fillmore’s place, the last one on the block. No need to check them; everybody who’d lived there were gone. And he headed for Shoat’s Pond.
To the west, the sun was nearing the horizon. Martin’s long shadow followed in his wake, joining the ones cast by the large oaks that populated Miller’s Woods. Up until four months ago, this had been Martin and his friends’ playground, a place of forts and western towns, cowboys and Indians, astronauts and space aliens. Now it was a place of potential danger, especially at night.
Cicadas and tree frogs started their nightly chorus. A lot of things had changed in the last few months, but nature went on as if nothing had happened.
Martin snagged one of the cookies from his pocket and bit off half. The sugar burst on his tongue, and he moaned his pleasure. The other half quickly followed. Then the second cookie. As he chewed, he silently asked Jesus to forgive him for eating the cookie meant for his little brother. Better ask again on Sunday, just to be sure, he thought.
He came out from the trees, and across the field, almost to Shoat’s Pond, he saw another kid and their wagon. Looked like it might be Lily. He was about to call out, but thought better of it; no telling who or what might be within earshot. The men patrolled the streets regularly, but out here, not so much so.
He continued on across the field, the well-oiled wheels of his Radio Flyer making only the slightest hiss as they rolled through the damp grass. And as he drew closer to Shoat’s Pond, he made out the familiar long, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. It was Lily, alright.
Martin’s chest felt tight; his stomach jittered. Lily always had that effect on him. He wanted to ask her to be his girlfriend but knew she didn’t think of him that way. She was twelve, two years older than him, and as such thought he was a little kid. But she was always nice to him.
“Hey, Martin,” she said as he pulled up his wagon beside hers. “Got quite a load there.”
“Yeah, more than I expected,” he said. “Ten today, twice what I picked up yesterday. How many you got?”
Somewhere out in the pond, a bullfrog’s deep-throated croaking started up. A fish splashed. A swarm of dragonflies danced above the darkening surface.
Thinking he had never seen a more beautiful girl, Martin watched Lily watching the dragonflies. When I’m older, I’ll ask her if she’ll be my girlfriend…maybe when I’m twelve…
Lily sighed. “Well, we’d better empty our wagons and get home. They’ll be worrying about us if we ain’t home before long.”
“Guess so,” Martin said. He laid his spear on the ground and turned to his rounded wagon. He loosened the knot on the string tying the burlap sack that Mrs. Kenny had given him.
“Be careful,” Lily said, peering over his shoulder. “Don’t put your hand in there.”
Martin felt a touch of irritation. He had been transporting cargo for two months now; he knew what he was doing.
Grasping the sides of the burlap, Martin widened the opening. The bag quivered.
“Can I do it?” Lily asked, her blue eyes wide and bright.
Martin would let her do anything she wanted. “Sure.” Anything.
Lily picked up the sack, and keeping her hands clear of the opening, turned it upside down and shook it.
A head plopped onto the grass.
“Who is it?” Lily asked.
Martin picked up the head by its curly, dark hair, staying well clear of the snapping teeth. “Mrs. Kenny’s granddaughter, Amy.” Who’d been fine when he had seen her three days ago, playing on the porch with her dolls. But Martin knew that life was precarious in these strange times, here today, undead tomorrow.
He held up the head, looked into the milky eyes. “Rest in peace,” he murmured then tossed it as far as he could into Shoat’s Pond.
He and Lily continued opening the bundles, tossing each into the pond after the required “rest in peace.” Some they knew, others were strangers who had wandered into their town. All were undead, but to the residents of Hallelujah Crossing, they were still God’s children, and as such, couldn’t be killed because murder was a sin.
“Do you think that Jesus will be able to find them in the pond when he comes back?” Martin asked Lily as they pulled their wagons back across the field.
“Well, sure,” Lily answered. “Reverend Clark said that He knows everything.”
Martin hoped that was so. He hated to think of Amy at the bottom of Shoat’s Pond forever and ever.
©️2020 KT Workman