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Authors: Edwin Page

Blood Cult (9 page)

BOOK: Blood Cult
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‘Do you think we should give it a try?’

Bob stared out of the passenger window beside me for a moment and then
shook his head. ‘Too many trees, and if we run across a stream we’re screwed.’

My eyes narrowed at his use of language and he glanced at Chrissie in the
mirror, finding her attention fixed on the stationary traffic ahead.

‘No one’s getting out,’ she commented.

I scanned the lines of taillights and found that she was right. Not one
single person had exited their vehicle. I’d been in enough jams to know that
usually at least a couple of people would exit their cars in order to find out
what the hell was going on, but no one was taking the risk, unwilling to leave
behind their families or belongings.

‘Did you hear that?’ asked Tyreese in a whisper.

I listened intently, but heard nothing but the idling of engines ahead.

‘What was it?’ asked Bob.

‘I thought I heard gunshots in the distance.’ He stared at the
taillights.

‘You don’t think they could have been at the border?’

A blaze of light suddenly caught my attention and I turned to stare out
of the rear window with pulse beginning to race once again. A wall of
headlights was approaching fast on both sides of the interstate.

‘Bob!’ I looked over to find him already staring in the rear-view with a
worried expression.

‘Tyreese, go and put your hazards on and keep pressing your brake
lights.’

He quickly made his way back to his car as Bob turned on the engine and
began to rhythmically press down on the brake pedal, the warning lights quickly
flicked on in the hope of alerting the mass of approaching vehicles.

‘Mommy!’

I turned to find my fear reflected in Chrissie’s wide-eyed expression as
the interior of the Falcon was starkly lit by the oncoming tide. ‘Don’t worry, Honey,
we’ll be fine,’ I reassured, forcing a tight-lipped smile as I glanced out of
the rear window.

To my relief the vehicles began to slow and finally drew up behind us. I
watched, waiting to see if anyone would leave the safety of their cars, but saw
no sign of activity other than headlights being turned off as people conserved
battery life and fuel.

‘What are we going to do?’ asked Chrissie.

‘We’re going to wait,’ stated Bob, looking at her in the rear-view. ‘With
all those vehicles turning off, we should be on the move again soon,’ he
stated.

‘Are we going to take the turn too?’ I asked as I glanced out of the
window by my shoulder and saw that the flow of traffic was steadily increasing
on the seven to the west of us.

Bob looked ahead. ‘That depends.’

‘On what?’

‘On what we find up the road.’

I followed his gaze, thoughts turning to Tyreese’s comment about hearing
gunshots. My stomach twisted and I tried to concentrate on keeping my shoulders
and neck loose. I was feeling drowsy thanks to the tablets and didn’t want to
be forced into taking more for fear I wouldn’t be able to fight the onset of sleep.

‘What do you think’s happening at the border?’

‘Your guess is as good as mine, but with this amount of traffic I’m not
surprised there’s delays.’

Bob reached for the radio and turned it on. The repeating message filled
the interior for a moment before he turned the dial, searching for any other
broadcasts that might give us more information. Static was all he found.

‘How long will we be waiting here?’ asked Chrissie, stifling a yawn.

‘However long it takes,’ said Bob dismissively as he turned the radio off
and frowned.

‘Don’t worry, Honey, I’m sure we’ll get going again soon,’ I said into
the back. ‘Try and get some rest.’

She brought Ollie up to her face, cuddling him to her cheek as she began
to suck her thumb. I opened my mouth to admonish her, but decided against it in
the circumstances. We’d been trying to get her to stop sucking her thumb for a
long time, but I knew the action brought her a sense of comfort and was willing
to overlook it for once.

Settling back into my seat, I brought it back to an upright position in
the hope that would discourage sleep. ‘We could put some music on,’ I suggested
into the hush.

Bob didn’t respond, but started the engine and shifted into gear. I
looked ahead and saw lights being turned on as the traffic began to creep
forward. I stared out of the windshield, glad for the sedate pace and at the
same time feeling trapped by the vehicles surrounding us.

Our lane began to move quicker than Tyreese’s and his car slowly fell
back.

‘We’re losing him.’

‘He’ll catch up again,’ stated Bob, eyes on the cars ahead.

‘What if he doesn’t?’

‘We wait for him at the turnoff for Route Seven or on the other side of
the border.’

I frowned and sat back as we moved forward at a crawl, the engine idling
momentarily as Bob coasted and then gently pressed the accelerator. I turned
across to the traffic in the southbound lanes, seeing drawn faces, vehicles
crammed with bags and boxes. This was an exodus. This was an attempt to escape
what lay at our backs, but I knew that what lay ahead may not be the sanctuary
we hoped for.

15

I stood on the
sidewalk in front of the main doors to the church. There was an ear-to-ear grin
of satisfaction upon my face as I stared at my sandwich board in the dull dawn
light, toxic clouds still filling the sky above Yonkers. It was standing on the
asphalt before me, the final word written in fresh blood red lettering.

‘“The end is here”,’ I read allowed, my grin broadening. ‘It sure is,’ I
added, looking to the street as a car roared past.

I watched it diminish as it sped north between the low-rise buildings,
glancing at the Hudson between the apartment blocks on the far side of the road.
My thoughts turned to those who’d got the fuck out of Dodge after the news of Montreal
had broken throughout the encampment. Other than the beatnik couple, only a few
others had snuck out during the early hours, but there were still a couple of
hundred people gathered at the church after being persuaded to stay and wait
until daylight came.

I turned to the sound of the doors opening, finding John bulging his way
out of the vestibule. He waddled his way down the set of three concrete steps
and came to a halt before me, fat cheeks reddened and puffed by the minor
effort. He was one of a small group of die-hard supporters that the Reverend
had gathered to him in the hope of counteracting my own group of followers,
Peters starting to show more backbone in the face of my challenge to his
leadership.

‘Pick a card,’ he stated, holding a spread of playing cards in his stubby
fingers.

I looked down and pondered. Dodge and a Jamaican woman called Jacqui had
been sent to collect a few decks from Time to Party after discussions about
leaving had come to a close during the night. There were to be four breakfast
sittings in the church, Peters conducting an open communion at each one with
wine that had also been collected on the card run. The suit of the card you
picked denoted which sitting you’d be attending.

I took a card and turned it over. I laughed and showed it to John. It was
the Ace of Spades.

He nodded, his multiple chins limiting the gesture. ‘Fourth sitting,’ he
stated.

‘The last man standing,’ I commented, knowing God was at work once again,
sending me signs and omens. ‘Am I serving at the other sittings?’ I asked.

He looked at me with unmasked disdain, glancing at the sign stood upon
the sidewalk and his frown deepening. ‘What do you think?’

‘I’ll take that as a maybe,’ I said with a grin.

John sneered and began to make his way to the parking lot alongside the
building. I watched him puff along the sidewalk and pass between the two school
buses which had been parked side-on to the street, enough space for vehicles to
exit left between them.

Looking down at the card in my hand, I had no doubt it was another sign
from the Lord. It marked me out as chosen and I was certain God would soon
provide me with the inspiration that would lead to the entire congregation being
convinced of my divine guidance.

Despite being about as welcome as a dose of the clap in a whorehouse, I
walked up to the doors and entered. Passing through the vestibule that spanned
the front of the building, I entered the gloomy interior. A few people were
scattered about the pews, their heads bowed and the whispers of their prayers
rising to the eaves, prayers that I bet would go unanswered, and with an ace in
hand, I knew it was a safe bet to make.

I took a seat at the back, one of the boarded windows above me and
shadows gathered about my shoulders. I watched as Reverend Peters exited the
vestry and went to a foldaway table placed along the wall beside the pulpit. A
selection of wine bottles and packets of unleavened bread rested there, along
with the glasses that were used every Sunday for the performance of the
Eucharist.

My gaze settled on what he was carrying in his hands. It was the
gold-plated chalice that he used to lead the ceremony. It gleamed. It shone
with a light greater than I’d ever seen before. I couldn’t tear my gaze away as
I watched him set it down at the head of the table.

God began whispering to me as Peters went back to the vestry door. He
granted me the inspiration I’d been seeking. I suddenly knew how to deal with
the Reverend and his small group of supporters, and I also knew how to help
bring about judgement to those in Montreal that had escaped the effects of the
bomb.

‘But not for long,’ I stated under my breath, filled with His glory as
the certainty of what I must do filled me, the illumination of His presence
almost blinding in my mind.

My gaze moved to the grail held in St Michael’s hand in the stained glass
window and I realised why it had glowed. God had been showing me the way.

I nodded to myself and looked up to the high ceiling. ‘Thank you for this
blessed insight,’ I stated with a reverential bow.

I slowly rose to my feet, filled with His grace and knowing that I would
be acting under His instruction. With a smile on my face, I made my way back to
the doors in order to find Shane and the others. The fourth sitting for
breakfast was going to be a doozey and for some it would be the last supper.

It was then that I knew, the rider on the pale horse was me.

16

‘Leah.’

I woke to the sound of Bob’s voice, feeling groggy and a cramp in my
neck. I opened my puffed eyes and found the grey light of dawn spilling into
the interior of the Falcon as I faced him. ‘What is it?’

‘Look,’ he said, nodding forward and a stern expression on his face.

I turned and stared out of the windshield. The interstate was cordoned off,
forcing the traffic onto Route Seven. Large signs stood beyond the plastic
bollards on both the north and southbound sides.

‘“The border is closed”,’ I read aloud.

‘There’s no choice but to turn off,’ he said as the train of traffic
peeled off to either side, heading up the ramps.

‘What does it mean?’

Bob shrugged. ‘Maybe there was trouble. Maybe they were overwhelmed by
the amount of people trying to get to Montreal and were forced to shut it. All
I know is we’ve got to find another way to get there.’

‘You think the other crossings will be open?’

‘There’s only one way to find out. I’m sure as hell not going to head
back to Burlington now we’ve come this far.’

I glanced back to the right, seeking out Tyreese.

‘There’s been no sign of him for some time,’ said Bob, noting the
direction of my gaze. ‘He’s back there somewhere, we just have to wait. We’ll
pull onto the verge by the off ramp.’

I nodded as he indicated to move into the outside lane, one of the cars
behind sounding its horn and flashing as he forced his way into the slow-moving
traffic. Bob then slowly drew the Falcon to a stop on the grass, the ground
falling away beside the car.

‘I need to visit the trees,’ he stated, reaching for the glove box and
taking out the pistol.

‘Do you really need to take that?’

‘It’s not for me,’ he said, holding it out.

I stared at it in horror and surprise. ‘I don’t want it.’

‘Leah,’ he said, drawing my gaze to his. ‘We’ve already seen what some
people are capable of. This is insurance. It’ll make me feel much better to
know you have it and can defend yourself and Chrissie if you need to.’

‘I couldn’t shoot someone,’ I said breathlessly.

Bob glanced in the back to check that Chrissie was still sleeping. ‘There
may come a time when you have to.’

‘I just couldn’t,’ I reiterated with a shake of my head, hands remaining
firmly upon my lap as he continued to hold the gun out.

‘You need to take it.’ His words were firm.

I turned my gaze back to the handgun and slowly reached for it, taking
the weapon by the handle. It felt unnatural and cold in my grasp.

‘That’s the safety,’ he said, pointing at the catch.

He looked to my face and softened when he saw my fearful expression.
‘Don’t worry, you probably won’t have to use it and if you do, I’m sure you’ll
be just fine.’

‘You’ve got more faith in me than I have,’ I replied, holding the pistol
as if it was a venomous snake ready to strike.

‘You’ll be just fine,’ he repeated, briefly resting his hand on my
shoulder. ‘Keep an eye out for Tyreese.’

He opened the door and climbed out. ‘And keep the doors locked,’ he added
before shutting it and passing around the hood, walking down the grassy slope
to the trees below.

I reached over and pressed the lock down before laying the gun on the
driver’s seat, hopeful that any potential assailants would be deterred by its
presence in plain sight. I glanced back at Chrissie, who was soundly asleep
with Ollie on her lap. I wasn’t sure I could use the gun to defend my life, but
knew that if it came to the crunch I’d be able to pull the trigger to protect
my daughter. As long as I had breath, I wouldn’t let harm come to Chrissie.

I turned away from her peaceful countenance and looked out of the driver’s
window, watching the vehicles peeling off the intestate at a crawl. I looked
for any sign of Tyreese, feeling the presence of the gun in the back of my
mind.

My gaze attracted by movement, I found Bob striding around the front of
the Falcon. Reaching over, I unlocked the door.

‘No sign?’ he asked as he opened it and remained standing just outside,
bending to take up the gun.

I noted his expression as he picked up the weapon and knew he wasn’t
happy that it had been abandoned on the seat, though he was choosing not to put
voice to his disappointment. ‘Nothing,’ I replied.

He straightened and looked back at the rows of traffic pulling off the
highway. Narrowing his eyes, he searched along the outside lane. ‘I think I see
him a few hundred yards back,’ he stated.

I nodded despite the fact that he was still looking south rather than at
me, grateful for the fresh air that was reaching into the car and helping to
make me feel more wakeful. ‘Do you think we’ll have enough fuel to…?’

My question was interrupted by the roar of an engine. I turned around to
see an RV gun straight towards the bollards blocking the northbound interstate.
It knocked a pathway through them and then smashed aside the sign beyond, the
metal board sent spinning and then toppling to the asphalt.

Other vehicles that had been moving onto the ramp quickly turned back to
the route north and followed the RV, the bollards scattering as they were
repeatedly hit by the onrushing cars. A small truck on the far side of the
highway decided to follow the RV’s lead and burst through the cones, hitting
the other sign, the leg of which became embedded in its front, sparks rising as
the feet of the stand scraped along the road.

The truck veered to the left in an attempt to shake it loose. One of the
legs dug into the surface and destabilized the vehicle, sending it down the far
embankment. It vanished from sight and the grind of metal followed as it
smashed into the trees, the tops of which shook violently with the impact.

‘What’s Tyreese doing?’ said Bob as he watched our neighbour’s light
green car join the growing number of vehicles pouring through the ineffective
roadblock.

I turned to look as the car joined those heading north.

‘What the…?’ said Bob as we both spied the young beatnik couple seated in
the front of the vehicle.

‘Are you sure that’s his car?’ I asked, watching as it drew closer.

‘Yeah, that’s his plate.’

It passed in the stream of traffic, the couple inside staring straight
ahead, their faces drawn and dark shadows about the woman’s eyes.

‘Is everything okay, Mommy?’

I looked back and found Chrissie watching me, her face by the window
after waking and watching the chaos on the highway. ‘Just sit tight, Honey,’ I
responded, still confused by the sight of the couple in Tyreese’s car.

‘We passed them at the side of the road a ways back,’ stated Bob as he
crouched in the doorway. ‘Their station wagon must of broken down or run out of
gas.’

‘What about Tyreese?’

He shook his head. ‘I have no idea.’

I glanced at the diminishing car as it head north amidst the flow. ‘What
do we do now?’

‘Wait,’ he replied.

I turned to him questioningly.

‘He wasn’t in the car and so it follows that he could be on foot. We’ll
wait for a while and see if he shows up. It wasn’t far south that we passed
them and so it shouldn’t take him long to reach us.’

‘What if…?’ I stared at Bob meaningfully, leaving the question unfinished
so that Chrissie wouldn’t become alarmed.

‘If he’s not here within thirty minutes we head off,’ he said flatly,
looking back down the highway.

‘In which direction?’

‘Maybe that question will be answered by the time he gets here. If
there’s no way through at the border then everyone heading that way will have
to come back south.’

‘How?’ I glanced out of the windshield. ‘There’s no way they can make it
back this way through all that traffic.’

Bob looked at the constant flow heading north. ‘We’ll just have to wait
and see,’ he replied, his telltale expression revealing that he knew I was
right, but didn’t want to admit it.

He climbed into the driver’s seat and closed the door, locking it with
his elbow.

‘Aren’t we going to Montreal anymore?’ asked Chrissie.

‘Yes.’

‘Yes we are going or yes we aren’t going?’ she asked in response to Bob’s
curt reply.

‘Yes, we are going but maybe not this way,’ he expanded, looking to the
rear-view in the hope of seeing Tyreese, but finding no trace of him, concern
evident in his grey eyes.

He reached for the radio and turned it on, unable to sit still due to his
state of agitation. He turned the dial, nothing but static issuing from the
speakers.

‘It’s gone,’ he stated.

I looked at him questioningly.

‘Montreal has stopped broadcasting.’

‘What do you think it means?’ I asked.

The chatter of machinegun fire filtered in to the car and we both stared
out of the windshield. Bob wound down his window a little, the sound gaining in
volume.

Two deep thuds mingled with the gunshots, an explosion following.

‘Bob?’ I asked fearfully.

‘The military,’ he stated. ‘Maybe tanks.’

‘Tanks!’ My heart thumped with sudden urgency.

A couple more repercussive thuds sounded, the machinegun fire pausing and
then restarting.

‘They wouldn’t, would they?’

Bob simply shook his head as he stared north, dark smoke beginning to
rise into the sky about a kilometre away.

Rhythmic thumping began to pass through the car. A cluster of helicopters
were visible as mere specks above the interstate, their silhouettes growing
larger against the backdrop of the low clouds until I was able to make out that
they were Canadian military gunships.

‘I’m scared,’ stated Chrissie from the rear.

‘Everything will be all right, Honey,’ I said over my shoulder.

‘Oh shit!’

I turned back to the view and was horrified to find the road before the
helicopters erupting in balls of flame, vehicles being blasted aside or lifted
into the air by the strength of the explosions.

‘Get out of the fucking car!’ yelled Bob, unlocking his door and
scrambling out.

I stared after him in shock as Chrissie began to wail, her father’s words
and actions serving to heighten her growing panic.

‘Get out, Leah!’ he shouted, reaching in to unlock Chrissie’s door and
then yanking it open violently. He gathered her up into his arms and then hurried
around the trunk towards to the grassy slope as the screech of numerous tyres
rose into the air.

‘LEAH!’

I undid my belt and pulled on the handle, barging my shoulder against the
door as the explosions ripped along the highway in front of the approaching
helicopters. Wincing with mild pain as the door remained in place, I fumbled to
pull the lock up, my heart desperate and body filled with the pulse of
adrenalin.

Pulling on the handle again, I almost fell from the Falcon, getting to my
feet and heading down the embankment. I could feel the tremors of the missile
strikes rising through the soles of my sneakers as I broke into a run, my knees
weak and legs tremulous with fear.

‘Over here!’ called Bob from the trees ahead and to the right, crouched
beside a trunk with Chrissie buried against his chest, his hands covering her
ears as the combined noise of the rotor blades and explosions became almost
deafening.

I reached them and turned, falling to my knees as a couple of secondary
explosions sent debris into the air, gas tanks igniting in the carnage which
was thankfully mostly hidden from sight beyond the rise of the embankment.

The helicopters approached the interchange and stopped firing. The throb
of their close proximity penetrated to the bone as they banked west, passing
overhead and stirring the treetops as they turned and headed back towards the
north.

As their pulsing steadily decreased the sound of agonised screams rose
into the air from the highway. Bob kept Chrissie’s ears firmly covered as we
stared in silence for long moments, plumes of dark smoke rising into the air
all along the interstate north of the junction.

Another secondary explosion sent a plume of fire into the air a couple of
hundred yards along the interstate. The screams fell silent.

I watched as people who had manage to scramble from their cars and down
the side of the highway slowly straightened, looking to the scenes of
devastation as they hesitantly climbed back towards the asphalt. The smell of
burning rubber and gasoline drifted on the breeze, catching in my nostrils.

Chrissie’s sobs drew my gaze and I found her with her arms around Bob,
crying against his chest and small body wracked by tremors of misery. I moved
close and put my arms around them both as we sat amidst the long grass in the
tree-line.

After long minutes, I sat back on my heels and looked back to the Falcon
as it rested beside the off ramp. ‘I can’t believe they bombed civilians,’ I
stated quietly.

Bob cuddled Chrissie as she sniffed and hid her face against the comfort
of his presence. ‘You’ve watched enough end of the world movies with me to know
what governments will resort to,’ he stated. ‘Remember in
The Walking Dead
when the military dropped napalm in the streets of Atlanta?’

‘This isn’t some fictional zombie apocalypse,’ I responded, surprised by
his apparent flippancy.

‘No, it’s about as real as it gets,’ he replied, stroking Chrissie’s
hair. ‘All I’m saying is that you should be prepared for things like this.’

‘Prepared! How the heck do you prepare for this?’ I asked, waving my hand
at the interstate.

‘Okay, maybe that was the wrong word,’ he conceded. ‘You should
expect
this.’

‘I’m supposed to expect to see innocent civilians blown apart by the
Canadian military?’ I shook my head and stared at him in disbelief.

‘Look, you’re upset.’

‘You’re goddamn right I’m upset. What the hell else do you expect?’

‘Calm down, Leah,’ he said, glancing down at our daughter meaningfully.

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