17:35

“This place is a dump.”

“Yeah, and that mobile home we camped out in last night was so much nicer.” Rubbing her eyes, Mara looked up at the townhouse. A small window covered with dark curtains indicated the second floor, and for a moment she thought she saw something move. “We should at least stay the night. See if there’s anything we can salvage here. There’ll probably be running water, too.”

“There’ll probably be nothing in there but a bunch of filthy dishes and dead bodies. Again. If we’re lucky.”

“At least it’s a place to sleep,” Mara argued wearily, her voice already rough with the lack of sleep from her watch the night before. “And I would really like to take a bath. Or even just a shower.”

“I agree,” Seth said as he took off his cap and smoothed down his hair nervously. “A shower would be nice. Besides, we can just see what’s in there.”

“Big surprise, Seth agrees with Mara.” Disgusted, Eric folded his arms over his chest.

“Do whatever you want. You will anyway.”

“Just shut up, all right?” Finally leaving behind the last shred of his patience, Jack pushed his way past all three of them and put a hand on the doorknob. “I’ll be more than happy to break down the fucking door myself just so I don’t have to listen to the two of you bitch any longer.”

“Don’t hurt yourself, Jack. Let me see if I can break in first.” Turning her attention away from Eric, Mara reached into her pocket and withdrew a slender piece of plastic. While she and Jack began fumbling with the door, Seth rubbed his forehead. She might have been a handful, but he had discovered that if nothing else, Mara was quite resourceful. It was a big part of her charm. “Got it.”

“I don’t want to know where you learned it, but I’m glad you did,” Jack said as she tucked the library card back into her pocket with a smirk of triumph and pushed the door open.

“You know that if the door was locked, there’s a good chance that someone is actually holed up in there.” As if to make his point, Eric chambered the shells in his shotgun.

“I’d get my gun if I was you.”

“Don’t you think we’d have seen broken windows or something where they got out if they couldn’t figure out the lock? If there’s anyone dead in there, they’ve probably killed themselves. None of the houses we’ve found have had anything even vaguely related to living in them.”

“Always a first time. You should at least know that much, college boy.” Pushing Jack aside, Eric made his way into the growing darkness of the house.

“I shouldn’t be surprised that it came out of his mouth, but I’m still nauseous,” groaned Jack, shaking his head as Mara motioned for him to go inside. “Shouldn’t you be the cowboy in this group?”

“Just let him make himself feel like the big man. If he’s right and there’s a pack of lunatics in there, or even just some nutjob defending the homestead, it wouldn’t break my heart for him to depart the crew.” She looked back at Seth, who was lagging behind.

“Coming with us?”

“Yeah. I was just kind of lost for a second.”

“Don’t do that,” Mara said gently, reaching back and taking his hand. “It makes me nervous. And we don’t want to be around after dark. Just because their vision has improved doesn’t mean mine has.”

“Right.” Seth closed the door behind them and threw the deadbolt to prevent any further intruders. Improved vision or not, they apparently still didn’t have the motor skills it took to figure out how to lock and unlock a door. “Some vacation, huh?”

“Oh yeah. Best I’ve ever had.”