Chapter no 5

Five Survive

Reyna turned the engine off and the night grew too quiet, only the sounds their own bodies made, Red’s breath catching in her throat.

“I’ll go first.” Oliver stood up, pushing past the others as he walked over to the door of the RV, just beyond the sofa bed. His steps were heavy, shaking the ground. He opened the door and let the outside in.

A wash of cool night air hit Red in the face as she watched Oliver take the four steps down to the outside world.

Maddy went next, sliding out of the booth to follow her brother.

“You okay?” Arthur asked Reyna, who was standing up from behind the wheel, stretching out her neck.

“Yeah,” she said, the slightest tremor in her voice. “I don’t understand what we could have hit. There’s nothing on the road.”

“Let’s go see.” Arthur gave her a kind smile and then turned, heading out the door, Simon trailing closely behind him, slightly less steady on the steep steps.

“After you,” Red said, gesturing Reyna ahead of her. “I’m sure it’ll be okay.”

“It will be all my fault somehow,” Reyna said to her, a secret flash from her deep brown eyes. “Just you watch.”

Was she talking about Oliver? Red knew that feeling, but she didn’t know Reyna had felt it too. The two of them, Lavoy-adjacent but not Lavoys and didn’t they know it. Except lots of things were actually Red’s fault. This, even. “No, it’ll be fine,” Red said as she scooped up her phone from the table.

Oliver couldn’t blame Reyna; they were happy, they were perfect, small touches and soft voices.

Reyna’s shoes tapped down the stairs and then it was Red’s turn, her legs aching from sitting down too long as she took each step. One, two, three, four, and by the end, as her sneakers scraped against the dirt road, she was wondering whether Reyna had seen a dead body yet, as part of her studies. Maybe she could ask if they still looked like the people they once were. Or whether it was true that blood was sometimes blue, not always red.

Red followed Reyna, who followed Simon, walking around the front side of the RV, into the too-bright light of the high beams, dust from the road floating upward through them.

“Oh fuck!” came Oliver’s voice. He was already there, crouched down beside the wheel, lighting it up with the flashlight on Reyna’s phone. “Definitely punctured.”

“You sure?” Arthur asked as he stepped out of the blinding high beam. “Yes I’m sure. I was actually downplaying it: there’s a huge fucking hole

and a giant tear in the tire.”

“What from?” Maddy said, crouching down beside Oliver as Red came around the corner of the RV and saw the tire for herself. There was a large split in the rubber, about the size of her hand, the two sides peeling away from each other. No air at all, the bottom pooling out under the weight of the RV. Thirty-one feet long, but how heavy?

“I don’t know,” Oliver said, searching around with the flashlight, running his hand carefully over the road. “Maybe there’s glass here, or a sharp rock. Maybe a nail. Reyna?” He pivoted to look up at her, shining the light in her eyes. “You didn’t see anything?”

“No, I didn’t see anything,” she replied, exchanging a quick look with Red.

“Well, you must have driven over something. Why weren’t you looking?” Oliver returned to his search, a harder edge to his voice.

Reyna had been right. Well, she did know Oliver better than Red did. “None of us saw anything. It’s pitch-black outside.” That was Red’s best

attempt at helping, but the small sideways smile on Reyna’s face showed that it was appreciated all the same.

“I can’t find anything. Maybe it got thrown by the wheel. Or maybe it was just a piece-of-shit tire that broke over nothing.” Oliver stood up, shining the light on Simon now. “Does your uncle ever get this RV serviced?”

“How the fuck should I know?” Simon hiccupped. But, really, how the fuck should he know, especially in his current state.

“Well, how long has your uncle owned the RV?” Oliver pressed. “I don’t know.”

“How do you not know that?” Oliver’s voice sharpened.

“Because he’s drunk,” Maddy said, an apologetic glance at Simon, swaying on his feet.

“Listen,” Arthur said, “we’ve driven over five hundred miles on the tire today, and it’s been fine.” Defending the tire or defending Simon, Red wasn’t sure.

“It doesn’t really matter how it got punctured,” Reyna said, stepping forward. “What matters is what we can do about it.”

“Someone call Triple-A,” said Maddy.

“There’s no signal, remember?” Oliver looked down at her, Reyna’s phone raised in his hand.

“The police?” Maddy tried again.

“Still need service to call them, unfortunately,” Arthur answered this time, much softer than Oliver had.

“Does anybody have any service at all?” Oliver turned to the group. “Check your phones.”

Red pulled hers out of her jeans pocket, the screen lighting up the underside of her face. No bars. No 3G or 4G or GPRS. Nothing. Except 67% batterywhich, hey, was pretty good for her.

“Nothing,” she said for good measure.

“Who are you with?” Oliver asked, in a way that sounded as though Red could only give him wrong answers.

“AT&T.” She glanced down at the unchecked box scrawled on her hand. “Shit,” Oliver said. Yep, see, wrong answers only. “That’s what me, Reyna

and Maddy are on. Arthur, you still got nothing with Verizon?” “Nothing,” Arthur confirmed, showing Oliver his home screen. “Everyone has zero bars? Simon?”

“Yeah, I’m the same. T-Mobile. Nothing.” “We must be in a dead zone,” Red said.

“Okay, so calling for help is out.” Reyna looked at them all. “We—” “—Maybe not,” Oliver cut across her. “We could walk back to that small

town we passed. Ruby. Find a landline there to call for help if there’s still no service. It was only a few miles back.”

“More like five miles,” Reyna said. “That’s too far.”

“Well, maybe we’ll find a house or a farm or something with a landline on the way,” Oliver said.

“It’s really dark,” Maddy said in a small voice. “And we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“Not all of us have to go,” Oliver replied. Neither of the Lavoys were volunteering for walking-in-the-dark duty, then. Red had another idea.

“Why can’t we just sleep here tonight?” she suggested. “I bet no one else will be driving this way until morning, and then we can get help once it’s light.”

“No,” Maddy said, and Red was surprised. She’d assumed Oliver would be the one to shoot it down. “If we wait till tomorrow to fix the tire, then we won’t set off in time, and we’ll be late getting to Gulf Shores. Everyone else from school will be there and we’ll miss the first night out with everyone.”

“Not to just swoop in and save the day here, but I’m gonna,” Simon said, leaning his elbow on Red’s shoulder. “Can’t believe I’m the observant one here, but: there’s a spare tire on the back of the RV.”

Maddy’s face rearranged, her relief obvious even through the darkness that separated them. She gave Simon an amused smile, and Arthur gave him a pat on the back, the vibration passing through Red too.

“Yes,” Oliver said. “I was just going to ask you whether there was a spare.”

Of course he was.

“I assume there’s a jack somewhere?” he asked.

“I’m a Simon, not a Jack,” Simon replied, with a wry smile that Oliver clearly hadn’t noticed.

“I mean the device to lift the—”

“Oh right, that jack,” Simon said in an exaggerated tone, miming smacking himself on the head. He really did belong on a stage somewhere. “Yeah, I think there’s probably one in those lower storage units.”

“Right, okay.” Oliver clapped and it was too loud, echoing through the quiet scrubland, patches of grass bristling at the intrusion. “Let’s get this done as quick as we can, then get back on the road to that fucking campsite.”

The darkness held its breath, listening as they made their plans. Then the wind let go, dancing through Red’s hair, and the grass chattered and the trees whispered, and Red wondered what it was they were saying to each other.

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