End of Days Page 64

The implications hit me.

The bridges are in pieces from the earthquakes. Even if we manage to gather all the working boats and planes, only a tiny fraction of people would be able to get off the peninsula before sunset.

I’d assumed that because the hunt wouldn’t start until tonight, we’d be free to run until then.

‘The fire is moving up north,’ says Dee. ‘It’s like they’re corralling us.’

‘They are,’ I say. ‘They’re herding us for their hunt.’

‘So we’re sitting ducks,’ says someone in the crowd. ‘That’s it then?’

‘The best we can do is run and hide and hope they don’t find us?’ There’s an edge of anger in their voices.

Everyone starts talking at once.

An anxious voice rises above the noise. ‘Can somebody take this girl?’

We all look at the man in the crowd who yelled out his question. He’s a skinny man with bandages across his shoulder and arm. Two girls about the age of ten stand beside him.

He pushes one girl behind him and the other in front of him. ‘I can’t feed and protect her if we have to go back out on the road.’

Both girls begin crying. The girl peering around behind him looks just as scared as the girl being pushed forward.

Some of us watch with quiet sympathy while others look on in horror. But even the most compassionate hesitate to step forward to take on the responsibility of feeding and protecting a helpless kid when everyone is either predator or prey.

Not everybody looks like their heart is being wrenched, though. A few watch the girl with cold, crafty eyes. Any second now, one of them will step forward to claim her.

‘You’re giving away your daughter?’ I ask, stunned.

He shakes his head. ‘I’d never do that. She’s my daughter’s friend who came with us on vacation to California just before the angels invaded.’

‘Then she’s your family now,’ I say through gritted teeth.

The man looks around at the faces around him. ‘I don’t know what else to do. I can’t protect her. I can’t feed her. She’ll be better off with someone else. My only other choice is to just abandon her. I just can’t keep my family alive and her too.’ He wraps his good arm around the crying girl behind him as if wishing he had hid her before he caught everyone’s attention.

‘She’s your family too,’ I say. I’m so angry that I’m shaking.

‘Look, I’ve kept her alive all this time,’ yells the father. ‘But I can’t do it anymore. I don’t even know how I’m going to keep me and my daughter alive. I’m just desperate and doing what I need to do to try to protect me and mine.’

Me and mine.

I think about the dying man Paige found in the department store. What happened to his people? If we scatter now, are we each going to find ourselves dying alone in a dark place with no one to care if we’re eaten alive?

The only thing that man had left was a crayon drawing made by a kid he loved. It dawns on me that in that moment, that kid, Paige, and the dying man were part of a spiderweb connection that spelled family. That’s what saved the man from being eaten alive. That’s what reminded Paige to fight for her humanity.

I finally understand what Obi was telling me. These people – these vulnerable, bickering, flawed people – are my family too. I want to curse Obi for making me feel this way. It’s been hard enough trying to protect my sister and mother. But I can’t watch my own people splinter off and die and maybe tear each other to pieces while they’re at it.

‘We’re all your family.’ I echo Obi’s words. ‘You’re not alone. And neither is she.’ I nod toward the trembling girl standing in the middle of the yard with no one beside her.

‘Take a deep breath,’ I say, trying to sound the way my dad used to sound when I was freaked out about something. ‘Calm down. We’ll survive this.’

People look at me, then at the rest of what’s left of the Resistance. There’s a whole world of emotions swirling in the crowd.

‘Yeah?’ asks one of the fighters. ‘Who’s going to save us? Who’s crazy enough and strong enough to hold everyone together while we ram our heads against this impossible enemy?’

The wind flaps the jackets of the dead around us.

‘Me.’

Until I say it, I hadn’t really believed it.

At least they don’t laugh. But they stare at me for an uncomfortable amount of time.

I shrug. It’s awkward talking about yourself. ‘I know more about angels than just about anyone else alive. I have an . . .’ I remember I don’t have Pooky Bear anymore. ‘I’ve made friends with . . .’ Who? Raffe? The Watchers? They’re going to hunt us like animals. ‘Anyway, I have one hell of a family.’

‘You have brains, and you have a family,’ says a man with a gash on his head. ‘That’s your special power?’

‘We can all go our separate ways and die alone.’ My voice becomes firm, and I try to inject steel into it. ‘Or we can stay together and make our final stand.’

Whether I want to or not, I’m going to lead what’s left of Obi’s Resistance.

‘Instead of scattering and hiding, we’re going to work together. The healthy and strong will help anyone who has trouble moving. We’ll collect as many boats and planes as we can, and we’ll begin getting people across the bay as soon as possible. We need volunteers to drive the boats and help get everybody across.’

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