Authors: Stéphane Desienne
She checked the sun visor. Nothing. The marine clenched his jaw as the first of the creatures jumped up onto the hood. The rocking of the truck gave them an adrenaline rush. The hollow eye sockets of these emaciated beings made her stomach ball up, but she had nothing but bile to bring up. She felt about under the seat, without success.
Stumps of flesh banged against the window a few centimeters from her. Sliding along, they left bloody marks. Elaine let out a tiny cry of relief: the keys were in the door side compartment.
She hurried to put them in the ignition. Her hands were shaking. When she heard the motor hum, she regained assurance. She slammed down the gas pedal, clinging to the steering wheel.
Masters freaked out. “Holy shit! You're going to throw us into the water! Watch where you're going, for God's sake!”
The cracking and grunting that she heard when running over the creatures proved that she had been right to close her eyes. She wouldn't have been able to stand the carnage that she had just caused. As soon as she felt sunlight on her face, she lifted her foot and turned right. The truck swerved and the bed hit a carcass. The motor stalled.
“This isn't the right direction!”
“I’m not going to leave them to die!”
The colonel was in a rage. He closed his fists and smashed the dashboard. “You won't save them! You won't be able to drive this out-dated engine through that horde!”
“You... are right.”
Her eyes searched through her surroundings, looking for an alternative. Elaine put the truck into first and restarted it. The truck got going again and without pause, she accelerated in the direction of the neighboring warehouse. Between the two buildings, a sufficiently large space allowed her to pass through. She went for it without hesitation. On the other side, they reached a smashed up dirt road which re-joined the administrative sector. She was unable to avoid the many bumps, and not to mention the holes which put their backs through a tremendous ordeal. Masters held on as best as he could, hands pressed to the ceiling. They only passed a few infected, the majority of which were meandering around former lawns turned mini-savannahs.
“Over here,” Masters indicated.
The path separated into two. According to the road sign, the left branch would take them to their destination. One hundred meters later, they reached asphalt. The driver floored it. The over-revved motor seemed on the brink of exploding. The truck lost its front bumper to a treacherous pothole. The colonel let loose a string of curses. Fingers gripping the wheel, Elaine examined the white façades, marked by insolent purity in the heart of hell.
They arrived too late.
Less than twenty meters from the main entrance, Elaine slammed on the brakes. The Ford reeled and left a thick black mark on the asphalt. They made out four mobs of infected, which meant four invisible victims. Those who had been unable to reach the scramble for the spoils, attracted by the screeching of the tires, were coming towards them. Elaine looked at Masters, questioning him with her wide open eyes.
“We go around them,” he proposed. “The survivors would have been able to take refuge inside. We need to act quickly; they won't hold out much longer.”
A tide of creatures hurried towards the porch. She put the truck into reverse and followed the road which ran alongside the building. Sweating, she wiped her face with her bare forearm and almost ended up crashing into a tree. Masters found an old rag in the glove compartment. “Thanks,” she stammered, holding the steering wheel with one hand.
She imagined herself a maniac who had escaped from a mental hospital. She made herself breathe deeply to calm down.
To the right, beyond the fence, houses torn to pieces stretched out into infinity over a vague terrain transformed into a new-age favela. The high grass had invaded the passenger seats of cars and SUVs and had reached the roofs of abandoned houses. Wild nature was taking back her former territory.
Upon arriving at the end of the alley, they turned right and found themselves facing the horde. The infected went after them. They got back onto the road. Elaine put herself in the middle and put the truck into reverse. “Hold on!”
They hit the wall full force. The end of the flatbed bent under the violence of the impact. She continued to go backwards until the Ford was far enough inside. Then, she got out and hurried towards a meeting room covered in rubble. In the back, a gaping hole led to a hallway which ran the length of the building. She saw two shadows running.
She repeated her call again and again, moving her hands. The two survivors sported horrified expressions. She helped them jump onto the bed. The grunts were approaching, heard over the sound of a sputter of voices. Five people hurried, visibly lost and in a panic. One of them stumbled. She didn't manage to get up. In front of her, a silhouette slowed down. In her proximity, Elaine distinctly heard a masculine voice. “You can't do anything more for her! Hurry up!”
Elaine closed her eyes. The infected launched themselves on the unlucky woman, and her shrill scream tore open the air. Masters shook his head and led the three newcomers to the truck. The fourth arrived.
“Where are the others?” she asked him.
“We got separated. I don't know anything about them. They’re coming from everywhere.”
After his confusing explanation, the man headed towards the vehicle. In the middle of the hallway, she saw a mass of bodies in a frenzy. The gurgles reached her, mixed with the rattling sound of death.
The horn sounded behind her. Masters was signaling to her through the rear window. She re-joined the group.
“I hope we can get out of here.”
“How many of them are there?”
“Less than half. We have to find the missing ones!”
The colonel had placed himself in the driver’s seat. He placed a coarse hand on her arm. “You already saved six. Believe me, that's better than I've been able to do.”
The marine got going. The wheels skated on top of the debris, climbing over bricks and torn off boards with difficulty. The soldier didn't stop for anything. Brusquely rid of the debris, the truck bounced in the road. It swerved before descending in the direction of the quay.
“This time, there's no choice. We're rushing in.”
Masters yelled at the passengers to hang on. Elaine closed her eyes. The first infected person that he struck flew away like a puppet without strings. The second remained clinging to the hood for a good fifteen meters before disappearing from his field of view. The colonel hung on to the steering wheel while keeping his foot down on the accelerator to open up a path in the middle of the horde. The Ford left a wake of blood on the battered asphalt. Suddenly, the pick-up shot up and crashed down brutally. She heard yells from behind. In the rear mirror, she saw a survivor rolling on the cracked tarmac.
“I'm not stopping!” shouted Masters. “Or else we'll all die!”
Elaine couldn't look away from the mirror. The unlucky man in distress raised his hand as a creature seized his leg. One second later, a dozen of them tore his body to pieces. Then he disappeared, overtaken by their number.
On a downhill section, the truck gained speed. The pier appeared before them and further on, the white hulls were lit up by the morning sun. They had crossed successfully.
The quay revealed itself to have less blockage, and despite the large amount of debris, relatively possible to cross. The colonel asked for news of the passengers. Without warning, Elaine yelled, “Stop!”
Masters slammed on the brakes without thinking. The Ford froze after a short slide.
“What the fuck do you think you're doing?!”
“Look, in front of you.”
At a first glance, he could have been taken for a disoriented one of the infected. He moved around in a strangely similar way, dragging his feet, head covered with a baseball cap. However, his less-slumped shoulders and his more stable walk were noteworthy differences. Masters took his 45 out of its holster and leaned out of the door side window. “No!” Elaine yelled again.
She got out of the vehicle and went up to the Asian-looking young man. He stopped when she blocked his way. Elaine spoke to him, asked him to come with her. His shady eyes, covered by think bangs, enhanced his juvenile features. She didn't take him for much older than twenty. Most likely younger. He didn't look at her, deaf to her petitions. Masters got angry and told her to hurry up if she wanted to catch the boat.
Hector maneuvered to orient himself in front of the channel. He wasn’t taking long to leave the port.
The decision presented itself clearly. She grabbed the Asian by the waist and lifted him up to take him to the truck.
He was less heavy than her nephew
, she told herself. She put him down on the bed. “Don't lose him.”
Then, she got back in the passenger seat.
“What on earth are you thinking?” Masters muttered while getting moving.
The quay was extended by the pontoon of cruise ships. These giants were almost three hundred meters long. The road ended at half that distance. Just like on arrival, Hector was forced to pass close to the stern of the luxury leviathan.
“There,” Masters indicated. There was a ladder on the roadside. Because the hull was resting on the ocean floor, it was possible to use it to reach the lowest part of the deck.
It might have even been used for this before
, thought Elaine, nodding her head.
“OK. We're going down here.”
As soon as it stopped, Elaine jumped from the vehicle. She retrieved the Asian, who showed himself to be cooperative. One of the survivors, dressed in a red t-shit, helped the colonel to move and then place the metal ladder against the ship. The others, haggard, looked more lost than doubtful.
Elaine summarized the situation. “The port and city are infested, We can't stay. The Colombian is our only chance. We’re going to climb and reach the back. From there, we’ll jump into the water and swim to his boat. Remember, he’s forced to take this narrow passage.”
Nobody objected when she cut short. “Let's go. No wasting time!”
“There might be L-Ds in there,” said the main in the red t-shirt, worried.
The nickname “Living-Dead,” initially called “Lima-Delta,” had emerged at the beginning of the pandemic. Her response was brief. “Do what you like.”
She brought the Asian with her. Masters opened the way. Once he was on top, he put his thumb up. “All clear. You can come up.”
Elaine squatted and took hold of the boy's arms. “We're both going to climb up. I'll be right below you. You’ve nothing to be afraid of. Do you understand what I'm saying?”
His mouth didn't move. What did that silence mean? Nonetheless, he showed encouraging signs in placing his hand on a rung. Elaine congratulated him. “Great! Don't forget; I'll be right behind you the whole way. Don't look down. Keep your eyes on the colonel.”
The boy started to climb up. He went slowly, but didn't stop. Once he arrived at the top, Masters helped him climb over the guardrail. Elaine rewarded him with a smile. “You we're perfect.”
The Marine sent her a suspicious look and then took charge of the other survivors of the shipwreck.
The entire group headed towards the stern. The gangway resembled a garbage dump. Refuse covered the torn up wooden flooring, revealing its metal frame. A hatchway showed signs of bloody handprints. The broken portholes opened up onto the scenes of chaos inside, with furniture and dishes left in pieces. On the other side, the view was a macabre panorama. Bodies whitewashed by their prolonged stay in the water were strewn about the basin. In the distance, the moving mass of infected creatures stretched from the administrative buildings to the quay.
“Can you see your friend's boat?” asked Masters.
Elaine leaned on the railing. “He's going to cross. We have to hurry. And he's not my friend,” she added.
She took the Asian by the hand and told him to speed up. The other survivors did the same. Once upon a time, this interminably long deck had most likely been loved by obsessive joggers looking to burn the calories of their dinner. Elaine panted. They passed the pools, filled with floating wood debris and plastic of various shapes and colors, some of it half-sunk. She even noticed a beheaded corpse.
They reached the far end of the liner at the end of an exhausting race. In front of them, the black bow of the second ship cut their view into two universes: on one side, the basin; on the other side, open sea. The envious glances lingered to the left.
Hector appeared on the right. He hurried to cross the channel. He stayed upright, the butt of his shotgun in his armpit. His signal was quite clear to her: the Colombian was daring them to come back on board.
Familiar noises reached their ears. When they turned around, half a dozen infected had appeared out of nowhere and were advancing along the bridge. Masters put on a frustrated expression. He drew his 45. “No plan B, eh?”
apturing humans didn't present notable difficulties. The use of drones facilitated operations and increased captures. The technical details, regarding the respect of regulations and merchandise, had been studied well before the invasion. The engineers had favored massive tracking campaigns. Their strategy was based on the abundance of healthy products which just needed to be scraped up, using a sort of revolving beater via airships.