Chapter 27 – Tara Moran
“Tara, Sweetie, come away from there.”
Tara’s mother whispered through the dark. The howl had torn both of them away from their books. Once they had spotted the Empty People on the other side of the road, her mother rushed to turn off the lights. “We can’t let them see us,” she had said.
Now, as her mother begged her to join her on the floor behind the bed, Tara stared at the dark masses crossing the road. Six of them. She studied each of their forms, looking for any sign of familiarity.
Please, don’t let it be him. Please, don’t let it be him.
Nothing. None of them were in the shape of the man she loved so much. She let out a sigh of relief. Still, the lump in her throat rose, and the tears welled up.
What was she expecting? That he would come back for her? That the sight of him as one of those… things would somehow stop the pain? Why would she even want to see him like that?
Tara felt a soft hand on her shoulder.
“Sweetheart, he’s not out there.”
The tenderness in her voice was too much. Tara spun and wrapped her arms around her mother. She couldn’t hold back anymore.
“I miss him so much.” She sobbed into her shoulder.
“I know, Sweetie. Your father was a good man.” Alexandra rubbed Tara’s back before pulling away to cup her face. Her stare was deep and resolute. “But, the last thing he said to me was to take care of you. Now, you have to let me do that, okay?”
Tara nodded. Her mother pulled away and took her hand.
“Okay. We have to get away from the window. If they see us, they might come to the motel.”
Tara glanced back one more time. She froze.
“It think it’s too late for that, Mom. Three of them are already coming here.”
Her mother flung herself to the window and scanned the outside through the boards. A second later, she yanked Tara’s hand and led her to the table. She grabbed one of the chairs and laid it on its back.
“Stand on the back.” Her voice was as stern as Tara had ever heard it.
Tara did as she was told. She stood on the back and waited. Her mother brought her foot up and stomped down hard on one of the higher legs, breaking it off. She then did the same to the other. She picked one up and handed it to Tara before taking the other for herself.
“We need something to defend ourselves with. Come on.”
Tara followed her mother who had grabbed the other chair into the bathroom. Tara slammed the door and locked it, her mother leaning the chair under the knob. The two of them climbed into the bathtub and stayed quiet.
It was dark. Tara clutched her broken chair leg. Why was this happening? Would they come and take her and her mother? Would they make her one of them? Did the change hurt? Did her father hurt?
The silence was unbearable, the only sound coming from her mother’s rushed breathing beside her. The three Empty People wouldn’t be far now. It was only a matter of minutes. Which rooms would they go to? Who was it they wanted to take this time?
The phone rang, and Tara jumped in unison with her mother.
“Who would be calling us,” her mother asked.
Tara’s heart was pounding. “It’s probably someone checking to see if everyone is okay. Or, maybe someone needs help.” Tara stood. “I’ll go answer it.”
“No!” Her mother pulled her down. “Just stay here. Whoever that is will have to take care of themselves.”
What was she thinking? This wasn’t like her at all. “Mom, we can’t just turn our backs on everyone. What if someone needs help? What if it’s Matteo? Or Hadley?”
“I already told you how I feel about that girl.”
This wasn’t getting them anywhere. “Mom, if we survive by leaving the others helpless, who will we become? What would Dad think?”
“He would think we’re alive,” she practically yelled. “And that’s exactly what your father told me to do. It doesn’t matter who we become.” Her voice broke, and she brought her hands to her head.
The ringing ended.
Tara sat in silence. She needed her father. He would know how to keep them safe and still help the others. He was smart enough to do both.
Another minute passed. Barely, Tara heard long nails being dragged along wood. The Empty had made it to the motel and were only a few rooms away.
Tara’s muscles tensed as sweat broke out all over. The scratching slowly got closer. Heavy taps started against the boards, adding to the panic rising in Tara’s chest.
Then, through the door, she heard pounding on the wood.
It was close. Very close. The Empty were at her room. How long would the boards last? How long until they broke down the door?
Just outside the bathroom door, a crash sounded and wood splintered as one of the doors gave way and flew open. A few seconds later, the doorknob jiggled violently. Tara squeezed the chair leg as her mother pulled her close.
Something heavy banged against the door. The chair under the knob groaned slightly but held true.
“Ow! Son of a bitch!”
The voice on the other side startled Tara, but then a sense of hope flooded her. She knew that voice. She stood and grabbed the chair.
“Tara, don’t.” Her mother snatched her arm.
“Mom, I know who it is.”
Tara slid the chair out and unlocked the door. When she opened it, movement on the floor caught her attention. There, Bryan sat, rocking and nursing his ankle. The door to Matteo’s room was opened, splintered on its side.
Tara flew to the floor and threw her arms around him. Thank God it was him. Thank God she and her mother weren’t alone in this.
“What are you doing,” Tara’s mother’s voice brought her back to reality. She let go of Bryan, feeling some heat in her cheeks.
Bryan’s eyes went from shock to determination. “I’m trying to gather everyone into Matteo’s room. We can’t fight those things alone.”
“Well, why didn’t you call out,” Alexandra said, giving the ankle an exasperated look.
“Listen,” Bryan said as he carefully stood, “I tried calling and no one answered.” A little annoyance seeped into his voice. “We don’t have time to talk. Get in Matteo’s room.”