Tina panted as she turned the last corner, a little wider than planned because of the trailer — fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic — and stood to power up the driveway to the house.
She hadn’t seen Kelly along the way… oh shit, she thought, slamming the bike up her driveway and skidding to a stop in front of the garage door, nearly hitting it, gasping for breath.
Through the garage door: “Mom! Help!”
“Get away from it, Kelly! I’m coming!” The garage door opener was in her car, if it even existed anymore, but there was an entry at the side of the garage — locked and deadbolted, of course. “Kelly! Can you get the side door open?”
“Noooooooooo! I won’t!” Tina wasn’t sure if her daughter was speaking to her or the truck. She could hear it whispering even out here.
She ran to the side door. “The key! Drop the key! Get rid of it!” Tina got the deadbolt unlatched; more precious moments wasted to switch keys and unlock the doorknob.
Kelly shrieked, and something banged the garage door. Tina yanked the door open, and Kelly nearly bowled her over.
“Mom!” she sobbed, clutching Tina harder than she had in years.
“It’s okay, honey,” Tina said, hugging her daughter and catching her breath. “You’re fine now. Come on outside. Where’s the key?”
“I — I threw — it at the door,” Kelly gasped. “Oh God, Mom, I thought it was going to get me.”
“It can’t, now,” Tina said, hoping it was true. “Let’s get the groceries inside. Do something else, you’ll calm down.”
“Whoa, Mom,” Kelly said, still shaky, looking at the bike. “You’re set for a cross-country trip with that thing.”
Tina laughed. “We should get one for you, too. Maybe we could find a place where nobody drives those… things.”
Kelly shook her head and unhooked the cargo net. “I think it’s everywhere, Mom.”
“Me too. Is the power still on?”
“Yeah. Do you think it will go off?”
“Well, it takes people to run the power plants and maintain the lines,” Tina said. “It might run by itself for a long time, but when the power plants run out of fuel or a storm knocks down the lines, there won’t be anyone to fix it.”
Kelly hefted a pair of bags. “Jeez, Mom, what is this stuff? Lead?”
“All bottled water and canned stuff, hon. We’ll use up what we have in the freezer first, but then it’s all cans and jars. I also got charcoal and a new grill, so we can cook if the power’s out.”
“It’s a gas stove, Mom.” Kelly opened the front door and held it for Tina to bring her own load through.
“But the gas comes from somewhere, too. Right?”
“Oh. You thought about this, didn’t you?”
“Not really. Just a hunch.”
“Well, if we don’t have electricity, and we don’t have gas, how are we gonna keep the house warm? It’ll start getting cold in a month.”
“I hadn’t thought of everything yet. Here, let’s get the rest of this stuff inside.” Tina stepped across the kitchen and closed the door going to the garage.
“What are you going to do about… about the garage?” Kelly asked over a late lunch.
“I think if you get rid of the key, it can’t talk to you as well,” Tina said. “I meant to tell you, I saw a guy at the grocery store get in one.”
Kelly goggled. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
“I tried. He said something about being done fighting it and got in.”
“Mom? What do you think happens to people who get in a truck?”
“I don’t know, honey. But I don’t think I want to find out. All I want to do is get rid of that key.”
Tina looked into the garage from the kitchen. The white pickup — formerly Kelly’s green Civic — stood waiting across from her.
“I hear it again, Mom!”
Be one with us. No struggle. No trouble.
“I hear it too. Is it bad?”
“Okay.” Tina hit the garage door opener, then closed the kitchen door. “I’ll just pick it up from outside.”
“But if the key is what does it, how are you going to keep it from getting you?”
Tina reached into a grocery bag and brought out a pair of BBQ tongs. “Maybe if I’m not touching it myself, it won’t be as strong. And I’ll put it in one of these,” she said, pulling an empty grocery bag out of another bag.
“Be careful, Mom.”
“I will. But you need to come with me, just in case.”
Kelly sighed and followed her mother out the front door.
The whispering got stronger when she picked up the key with the tongs, but not so strong as at the grocery store. She dropped it in the bag without incident, then went inside.
“Where are you going?”
“Same place I always go when I come through the front door in the evening,” Tina said, and went down the hall to the guest bathroom. She upended the grocery bag over the toilet; the key plopped into the water and made a soft clink as it hit the porcelain. “And now… it’s Gwinnett Water and Sewer’s problem,” she said, flushing it away.