Authors: Macaela Reeves
“I picked up a distress signal from the city.” I filled him in on what I heard and what I thought. His face darkened as I spoke; no doubt the topic had stirred up his own memories of the outbreak.
“Council know?” He demanded in that big brother tone, I rolled my eyes.
“Like we have time for bureaucratic rhetoric.”
“We have rules for a reason these days.”
“Whatever, if you want to go back and check in with them go ahead. I
m headed north.”
...” He tried to put his hand on my shoulder. I rolled out of the way.
m not going to go sit on my thumbs while someone is eaten alive out there. You know what it's like.”
“No I don
t.” He snapped at me, jabbing his index finger in my shoulder. “Neither do you. No one has been that far north since the military pull out.”
.go around that graveyard. Not through it. You sure you heard right?”
m not crazy Cole.” I growled at him. I knew where
this was going. Next thing they’
d be asking me to sit out rotation. A week later I
d be washing clothes in the yard. He held his hands up, in defense.
“Not saying you were. Let
s just slow down and think about this.”
“You can think all you want. I
m going.” I pivoted and kept walking down the road toward the wall. With Cole instep right beside me.
“What are you doing?” I glared at him, keeping my pace up. His hand went to his
, before I could protest he was relaying to post. I shut my eyes, thinking it was game over. He was going to report my attempt in, I would be dragged home. Then, adult or not I was going to
hear it from my Dad. Hell, maybe even the council. All the while those people were trapped in the city, if not dead by then.
“J, not feeling well, call in a replacement till nightfall. I
m headed home. Over.” His words caught me by surprise. I flipped my lids open to see him repositioning his
on his leather belt.
m going with you.” His blue eyes met mine with that eerie conviction of a man who had made up his mind. In that moment he truly looked much older than his years.
I breathed a sigh of relief, genuinely appreciating the gravity of what he had just done. He had put his position at risk for me. Hell, his life. A second pair of eyes would be useful. He was right after all, no one had been up there in ages. I nodded and gave him a half smile.
We didn.t really talk the rest of the way to the wall. Finding the right timing to get up and over without being spotted by the north guard was a bit difficult. The only thing we had going for us was speed. The guard towers did a slow scan, not only because our problem was slow moving but because they had grown pretty secure with our nighttime protectors.
We kept crouched down low in the tall grass until we were up against the wood. The closest station was a good half mile west from this peg point, so we could see the outline of the on duty. Greg, if I recall his name, was lazily looking out into the distance. It wasn.t my shift so I
t as familiar with the folks.
When Cole thought the timing was right he hissed at me. “Move it
That was all I needed. I reached up grabbing the first peg just over my head. Pushing off on the wall I climbed against the wood. Swinging my short legs hard to the left for momentum I grabbed the next upward peg. Then the next.
Two more and I was able to swing my legs over and drop down. Hitting the grass hard I rolled to the side and sprung to my feet. In my peripheral I caught the dark blur of Cole behind me.
This is where it gets interesting. Our location was at the heart of the plains. The biggest geographical feature of the region was never ended flat land. Trees were mostly found separating cropland after lessons learned in the 1920
s. For us, that translated into moving quick and low.
We had to stay among the tall grass and avoid being spotted by the lookout. Last thing we
d want would be our own men calling in our extermination. As we moved
along in the weeds I felt the panic rise in my chest.
Every step I pictured a half mangled deadhead reaching for me in the grass; the steel grip of a leathery hand. My breathing pattern changed the more I obsessed on the visual. After all, we had three by the marker just earlier today. If those damned bloodsuckers aren
t doing their job who knows how many other
were out here? Tens? Hundreds?
Perhaps this was a bad idea. Maybe we should head back.
Cole, who had wiggled into the lead, turned back to look at me.
“Hanging in there
?” He whispered. I read the undertones of his statement. The question was a challenge; did I really have what it took to do this?
Looking up toward the sky, I drew in a lung full of air. Since the outbreak my lot in life had been the protection of the living. Granted that noble charge was with a pretty big safety net.
That net wasn
t always there was it? It wasn
t over the wall. It wasn
t there when I took out those three earlier today. It was just Me. And Them.
The answer was yes. I could manage. I would manage. Lives were depending on me, now was not the time to get weak in the knees. With a deep exhale, I tried to put my fears to bed. I knew if I spoke my voi
ce was going to waiver, so I just nodded like a
Once we were out of lookout range, we moved upright. Didn.t go much faster though until we hit the pavement, grass was still a potential camouflage for grabbers.
As soon as our boots hit the asphalt we laid eyes on the
Shop. The H had
a lawn ornament at some point, resting next to the front door like a double pointed arrow
elcoming guests. Aside from naming confusion, the building was pretty well maintained. Considering it was still in questionable use I wasn
t surprised. The vehicles that were sold here Junction used for emergencies. Any fuel we could find was stockpiled in the sheds out back.
Walking up the drive from the paved display lots along roadside, we saw the traces of life that had been through in the last few months. A few discarded cans, some wood left by the fire pit. Convoys would overnight in the parking lots if they needed. It was the closest place they could
rest to town. There was no way to get vehicles through the wall, part of the design. Even if we could,
t really trust outsiders so there was a potential it would end poorly. Stranger danger; another symptom of village mentality.
The front double doors were unlocked; pushing them open brought forth the wonderful aroma of stale motor oil, dust and air that had not been filtered in almost a decade.
“Yeah it's pleasant in here.” He commented.
“I feel like we just unearthed the tomb of motocross.” I managed to utter while commanding my lungs to behave. Cole laughed.
After an initial sweep of the floor and adjoining offices, Cole grabbed a set of keys from the counter and we started the hunt for the matching set of wheels.
“Do you know how to ride one of these?” I asked him, running my hands over the handlebars of an incredibly dusty black bike that said shadow on the tank.
“Well it can
t be that hard right?” He quipped, jumping on the back of a red bike that screamed college guy on the prowl. The key in his hand went into the ignition. With a smug grin he turned the key. The roar of the motorcycle echoed in the dead quiet of the building. With the flick of his wrist the bike lurched forward.
Without its rider.
The cherry red bike slid and clattered across the concrete floor while Cole landed wide-eyed on his ass.
At that point I lost it. I laughed until my sides ached.
“Hey! Knock it off!” He scrambled to get back on his feet. Brushing off his jeans, his face was the color of the metal. Cole was stiff walking back over to his wheels, I
t doubt for a moment that probably hurt like hell. And not just pain of the ego variety.
He got back on the bike, checking for signs of damage. When my reaction had quieted down to a snicker he grumbled at me.
“You know it’
s not like we had drivers
what just happened.” He did a few slower practice circles around the showroom. I
m sure he would have continued to practice had I not started tapping my foot with impatience. We had maybe three
hours of good ligh
left, and we hadn.t even left yet. I propped open the front double doors so he could ride out. Once the building was secure, I carefully climbed onto the back of the bike.
It was harder than expected. Not only as I had to dodge his katana to hold onto his back, but keeping our joined balance leaning into turns. With my tight grip around his waist, some little voice in the back of my brain registered the fact that he had no fat on his abs at all. I was holding onto a wall of muscle.
Cole turned the handgrip and we flew. It startled me at first; I held on tight and closed my eyes, fully prepared to be thrown off into the grass.
A few minutes went by and I had registered no pain, just the wind whipping against my face. Slowly, I opened my eyes.
s what it reminded me of.
It has been so long since I had been near a car, my mind had nearly forgotten how fast the trees flew by or how the wind felt through an open window. This was ten times that. This was freedom. The winding grey of the manmade road surrounded by the overgrown effects of nature. I was surprised how quickly the earth reclaims the untended farmlands. Another decade and one might wonder if man ever walked these parts.
To get to the city, we had to go through the main road of three larger towns then Junction. That was a big feat on a good day, so we took the long route down the county roads. We didn.t see any deadheads on the ten mile stretch between rural route 52 and Interstate 5.
There were unfortunately the after effects of plenty of last stand attempts along the way. This road was your typical country mix of farmlands with their four-generations-and-counting homes and the rich city boy who wanted to buy a hunk of land and plop a suburban castle
on it. A lot
f windows were boarded up on the ground level. One was half burned down. Whomever thought of that bright idea did not deserve a medal.
t fall when burning. You just ended up with deadheads on fire shambling in your direction.
About a half mile from the on ramp, some panicked driver had put his Lexus through the bay window of his oversized home. Pity, the four car garage was just to the left.
I tightened my grip on Cole as we banked right up the half circle on ramp. On the freeway that had lingered above us rested the abandoned vehicles of countless number. Lucky for us, the lanes leaving the city were jammed metal to metal.
On our side of the divider, cars were stalled out chaotically along the road. Most had the good sense to
move away from metro area
s, or at least try to, during the outbreak. It appeared a few brave souls had attempted to return for loved ones.
Across the tall concrete divider I saw a lot of cars with doors wide open. Folks had apparently taken to fleeing on foot. A few miles in, a SUV sat with a giant hole through the driver side window. Then a station wagon without a windshield. It was pretty obvious at that
point this area of the jam was stalled out when the deadheads came through. The poor folks inside either too panicked or surrounded to try to make a run for it.
I shuddered and held tighter onto Cole.
Ahead I could see the Exit 99 sign. And a big problem.
Looked like some folks had tried to force the metal blockage to move, the divider was broken. A mangled semi was flayed across both directional lanes, along with the chopped remains of small sedans who had tried desperately to squeak past.
We pulled up alongside it. Cole killed the engine on the bike. I hopped off and started to look around, perhaps we could move some of mess out of the way.
“Well what now?” He asked, looking at the wreckage.