Chapter 2

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Alex sits up in bed. He thinks he has heard a knock at the door but isn't sure. Maybe it was a dream. Darkness presses against the windows. It is late. He hears the knock again. The front door opens and his mother cries out. Alex jumps from his bed and rushes to the top of the stairs.

Standing on the porch, flanked by a plain-clothed detective and a uniformed officer is Alex's father. The boy's heart thumps wildly. He wants desperately to bolt down the stairs and embrace his father but is frozen by fear. Mr. Dash looks very different than the last time Alex saw him. He has been missing for two days.

In a dusty-looking police uniform, Alex's father seems tired and broken. Hollow, somehow. There is a pause as Mrs. Dash stands in the foyer, staring through the doorway. She is holding her cell phone. It drops from her hands and crashes to the floor. Alex decides she is probably in shock. She rushes into her husband's arms, weeping.

As they embrace, Alex watches from his place atop the staircase. Mr. Dash looks over his wife's shoulder at the boy. He motions for Alex to come down.

With watery eyes, the boy gingerly descends, as if his father might suddenly disappear again if he rushes his approach. It seems a silly idea, but it holds him hostage, nonetheless.

Mr. Dash is crying. The sight of his father's tears encourages Alex to spill his own down his chubby cheeks. The father drops down to one knee. "Hello, son."

Alex jumps into his father's arms and sobs. He is eight years old.

                                                                                             *********

"Not too far Annabelle," Alex called to his sister as she skipped along the interstate. Henry ran after her, darting in and out of the broken white lines along the pavement. Alex had stopped the bike to search some abandoned cars for any supplies. The twins exited the sidecar. Potential threats loomed around each corner, concealed within the silken depths of every shadow, and still the children somehow found the will to play.

Alex sometimes allowed them to play, albeit quietly; they did not want to draw the attention of anyone that happened to be nearby. He motioned for them to keep quiet and they both nodded.

The first car yielded nothing but an empty medicine bottle. The second was a dark blue Dodge Ram, similar to what his father had driven. Here, Alex found a small knife, the blade still sharp. No food, though.

Alex recalled his father and how different he was after returning to them. He became preoccupied with "prepping," by stockpiling rations of non-perishable goods. Often, he would spend weekends depositing hidden caches in the region around the family's home. Sometimes he would take Alex with him and on more than one occasion, they drove hours away.

By the time Alex was fifteen years old, his father had taught him how to deal death. A hunting rifle had been his birthday present. Equipped with a scope, Mr. Dash feverishly taught his son the techniques of a hunter: how to lure prey, track them down and how to kill them. He explained everything Alex would need to survive on his own and the boy eagerly digested the knowledge. In little time, Alex was targeting deer, stalking them through the forest greenery. And then came time for Alex to pull the trigger. And he did it. His father had been proud.

His father had said to him, "I'm showing you this Alex, not because this is what it means to be a man...but because this will prepare you for the end of the world."

Henry chased Annabelle in a tight circle, and she giggled. Alex discovered that he was smiling and indulged in a bit of optimism.

Easy Alex, don't let your guard down. Danger is everywhere.

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