To start reading “The Last House in Levittown” from the beginning, click here.
To see a chronological list of all excerpts published so far, click here.
Chapter 2 (cont.)
Penny rose from her chair and lifted the baseball bat, giving the barrel a few shallow spins in the air. A pair of headlights grazed the living room through the venetian blinds and glinted off the steel blade of the axe resting next to the front door.
The weight of the bat tugged at her abdominal scars and she bit her lip in pain, but this would finally make all of that right. She stared at the glass-mosaic front door and could still make out the pattern in the dark, having stared at it all day. Then the headlights retreated, leaving Penny alone once again.
Penny’s palms sweat around the bat handle and she wiped them on her pants, one then the other. She trembled. Either her father had arrived home and was just waiting her out outside, or it hadn’t been her father at all. In which case—who was it? She waited another minute and still heard nothing. Not even the hollow wind that sometimes blew at night across the island.
After some inscrutable length of time, she crept toward the front door. She imagined that the darkness was a live thing, changing density and shape around her. She wondered if ghosts were real, if one was waiting now to off her in the dark.
From the front of the house, she peeked through the blinds. If the car was still out there, it had turned off its engine and was cloaked in darkness, waiting for her. If her father was out there, he wasn’t moving, either. There had been no car door opening or shutting, unless it had happened before she woke up. She scolded herself again for falling asleep on the job.
It occurred to her that it could be the delivery of rations Jimmy had promised to send the day he had left. Their supplies had been dwindling for months—they had had to discard about a hundred cans of tomato soup that had gone rancid, which had felt like digging their own graves. That had been the day Jimmy decided to leave her, for their mutual survival. He could send her rations from the Indoors with the salary he would make on a Science crew, since the law forbade her from ever joining him. Her fucking father.
That’s how he had framed it, at least. “For their mutual survival.” Or was it just a gentle letdown?
Her stomach growled. Without Jimmy there the past few months to help scavenge, she was starting to starve. The two of them together had been much more efficient than if they’d each been working by themselves, and now Penny only even had half of that.
The abandoned wells they’d depended on since they had arrived in Levittown ten years prior were all drying up, too, forcing them to go further and further out in search of more water. Last week, she had come upon a vagrant, bent over at a new well she had stumbled upon, his pistol gleaming in a leather holster around his hips. He either never even saw her or had let her run away. She had dropped her good canteen in her panic and had had to leave it.
She needed a gun.
Taking a deep breath, she turned the porch light on. Propane was another supply that was steadily dwindling, to the point that Penny had become almost afraid of electricity. Her grandmother had refused to go solar, against the fashion of her time, which was both a blessing and a curse. Early on, vandals had ransacked the solar panels off of the neighborhood homes that had them, which would have left Penny without power at all. Her grandmother had been something of a prepper, hoarding propane in her garage for years. But even so, it’s hard to plan very well for an event that even you don’t expect to ever actually happen.
Peering once again through the blinds, she still saw nothing—until she looked at the mailbox. The red flag had been turned upward, the opposite signal from the old days. After the post offices were disbanded, people only put the flag up when they made a delivery.
To continue reading Chapter 2, click here.