Read Scavengers Online

Authors: Christopher Fulbright,Angeline Hawkes

Scavengers (21 page)

“Get in, get in!” he yelled as they reached the bird. His side screamed with pain. He ripped off the gas mask and threw it inside. Crisp morning air flooded his lungs and cooled his sweat-damp cheeks. Shaun scrambled in and helped pull Dejah from David’s back into one of the rear seats, where he plopped down beside her and applied the oxygen at once.

David fired a few shots into the crowd before pulling the pilot’s  door shut. He quickly worked the fuel cut off and fuel boost, opening the throttle slightly, praying that no one had tampered with the machine while he’d been inside. Then he closed the throttle and depressed the engine starter. He closed his eyes and just for a moment he was back in Iraq, under fire, and needing to keep his head and
get them the hell out of here alive
.

Kathryn laid down a volley of fire with her M-16 before coming around and hopping into the passenger seat of the copter. She strapped in.

“Please God,” David muttered a prayer. The engine fired up. “Yes!”

“Let’s get this thing moving,” Kathryn yelled.

David slowly depressed the fuel cut-off and rolled on the throttle to increase RPMs.  When the gauge read 1500 he used the clutch switch to engage the rotor blades.

The group of zombies had grown, moving en masse toward the copter. They were thirty strong now. Beyond the tattered group of infected, more emerged from the woods. Kathryn fired at them but only succeeded in knocking a few back. The group kept coming in an unrelenting wave.

Guns continued to fire toward the helicopter. A volley of bullets peppered the cockpit.  The glass cracked and filled with holes. Kathryn and Shaun screamed.

“Get us out of here!” Shaun yelled. In the mirror, David could see him cradling Dejah’s unconscious form, the oxygen mask pressed firmly to her face. The young man’s eyes shot between the group of gunmen shooting from the church, and the infected coming from the woods.

The rotors reached flight speed just as the shambling zombies reached the makeshift helipad. The blades of the main rotors sliced off the tops of six or seven heads before liftoff, and they cheered at the gory fount of destruction wrought on the group of infected as they lifted off.

Bullets peppered the cockpit once more. One zinged by David’s head through the window next to him: it was a miracle he wasn’t dead. The ground receded rapidly.

The chopper swayed in the air currents, and David felt that familiar thrill of being in the air, of flying in battle, something he hadn’t felt in years. The exhilaration came back to him instinctively. He was more reckless than usual with the news chopper, taking them up fast, and taking them away faster.

The EC-145 rose into the morning sky as the sun broke the horizon, glaring through the bullet-damaged front glass. David grinned through his pain. He motioned for everyone to follow suit and don the flight helmets under the seat so they could communicate. He put on his shades, which were right where he left them seven days ago after the last traffic report he’d likely ever do for the rest of his life, and tried his headset to contact anyone with a radio who might be listening.

They flew northeast, and left the hell known as the Church of the Risen King behind.

 

CHAPTER 31

 

“How far’s the airport?” Shaun spoke into the microphone connected to the helmet.

“It’s about 25 miles or so. We’ll be there before you know it,” David answered, eyes on the airspace around them. “We’re flying blind with no air support up here.”

Kathryn chuckled. “I doubt there’s much competition for air space.”

“Let’s hope not. How’s Dejah?”

Shaun checked the oxygen mask on Dejah’s face. “Looks like she’s starting to come-to.”

“Good. Maybe there’ll be some place she can lay down for a bit at the airport once we get into Rockwall.” David peered through the cracked cockpit, studying the highway below. Cars packed the lanes. The bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard was jammed with derelict vehicles. A few infected could be seen moving around between the abandoned cars. Boats bobbed free on the waves of the lake, unattended. A handful of sailboats bashed into each other with each crest of the waves. Another sailboat was crashed against a concrete bridge upright, its mast broken, sail torn and rippling in the wind.

“If I had a boat,” Shaun said. “I’d pack it full of food and park it right out there.”  He pointed to a span of open water below. Only a few gray naked treetops protruded from the water. “I bet the Sickies can’t swim.”

“Might be a good plan until you ran out of food and water,” Kathryn said.

“Yeah, that’s the hole in all of the wait-it-out plans: running out of food and water. It’s like being under siege in a castle. You were good until the food was eaten and the wells got poisoned,” Shaun said. “Then you were screwed.”

“You know your history,” David said, glancing back.

“Not helping us much now.”

“Don’t underestimate the lessons we learn from history. You never know when some tidbit of information is going to be just the morsel of knowledge you need.” David turned the helicopter slightly.

“How are you doing?” Kathryn asked him. “You look pale.”

David gave a sideways nod and swiped cold sweat from his forehead.  His wound was pulsing pain up and down the left side of his body. “I’ve been better.”

“Is that it?” Kathryn asked, tapping the glass. A small airfield came into view below them.

“Yep.” David prepared for their landing.

As they got closer, it was clear the Rockwall airfield was abandoned. Planes were left where their owners had last put them. Employees of the airport were nowhere to be seen.

“Now when we fly into Majors Field in Greenville, I’m sure the place will be hopping with military. The airport is close to H-Systems, and by now the military has appropriated the place for their purposes.” David flew the copter in closer to the ground. “On the other hand, this landing strip looks utterly forgotten.”

“I thought we’d have some children of — uh — zombies to contend with,” Kathryn said. “Surely there was someone around. People waiting for planes, or hobbyists tending to their planes or planning to fly out of here when the infection hit.”

“Well, looks like no one’s home,” Shaun said hopefully as the helicopter grew closer to the landing pad.

“A deserted airfield could be in our favor,” David said. “But, just so we’re on the safe side, no one gets out of the bird until I give the word.”

The helicopter touched ground with a bump. Once David cut power to the engine, the blades began to slow with each rotation. He exhaled in relief, touching his side, and wincing a little.

Dejah sluggishly looked around the cockpit and out through the tinted windows. Questions animated the expression on her face, but she was too groggy to ask them. David turned around and assessed her situation. He reached out and removed the helmet from Dejah’s head, careful not to disturb the oxygen mask strapped around her face.  “She seems to be coming out of it all right.”

Shaun nodded.

David and Kathryn looked around the landing pad, surveying the surrounding buildings and field through the bullet-pocked glass. The area looked clear of people, infected or otherwise.

“I’m going to refuel the chopper. Kathryn, would you take Shaun and go see if there are any snack machines, water, food?  Bust them open if you have to. Let’s load up with whatever we can find. But let’s work fast. Everyone meet back here in no more than twenty minutes.” David put his helmet beside his seat and opened the door. 

Dejah stirred in her seat, and fidgeted with the oxygen mask, pushing the elastic straps behind her ears. Then she reconsidered and tried to pull it from her face.

“Are you okay?” Shaun asked, helping her remove the oxygen mask. He folded the strap around the plastic mask and pushed it beneath the seat into a mesh bag.

“I think so. Got a killer headache.” Dejah rubbed her temples.

“There’s a first aid kit under my seat. Should be some Tylenol or something in there,” David said before exiting the chopper.

Kathryn arched an eyebrow at Shaun: “Let’s go kid, we need to get moving. I’m uneasy with staying here any longer than necessary.”

“Go on,” Dejah said. “I’ll be fine. Going to close my eyes for a few minutes.”

Shaun scowled, but leapt from the door Kathryn held open. They passed David, who was clutching his side, heading for a fuel service truck nearby. He waved them off as he hopped in and started the truck, pulling it around to refuel the helicopter.

A long corrugated metal building stood to the right of the landing strip, not too far from where they’d landed on the helicopter pad. From the looks of things, the building must have been the main facility for employees and visitors. There was a small house off in the distance with a car parked in front and a three-story control tower, but other than that, the smattering of other buildings were small, a few trailers. Gazing back up at the round-top corrugated building, Shaun tried to shake off a vague sense of unease. The main door swung freely on its hinges, papers and debris swirling around in the wind.

“Someone left in a hurry,” Kathryn said, gun pointed inside of the building. Shaun stayed behind her. He covered their backs with his pistol as they went inside.

The building contained what looked like mostly administrative offices with a break room area, and one door in back with a window that looked into the hangar. The place still had electricity. A bank of fluorescent lights near the entrance flickered, but it was mostly well-lit. “Ah, good. Lights.”

In one corner, next to some olive-green vinyl sofas stood two snack machines and a soda machine. Shaun stood in front of the soda machine listening to the motor whirling, keeping the drinks chilled. “How are we going to open these things?” He felt the depressed lock with his hands. A little square button swiveled some, but didn’t open the door.

Kathryn disappeared into a small office nearby.  She rummaged through the desk and returned holding a jangling ring of keys. “These might help.” She tossed the keys to Shaun. “They were in the drawer of the desk.”

“Genius,” he said, and inserted the key into the nearest machine. He pulled open the heavy illuminated doors. “We need some sort of bags to put the stuff in so we can carry it to the helicopter.”

“Should be some trash bags around here somewhere. Maybe in a janitor’s closet.” Kathryn walked into a shadowy hall and yanked open a narrow door. “Bingo!” Rummaging around on a shelf she procured a roll of black bags and returned to the snack machines. “Here we go.” She ripped a few from the roll and handed them to Shaun.

They emptied the machines in short order. Shaun popped the top of a Coke can and gulped the bubbly drink. “Might as well have a cold one,” he said to Kathryn, who looked as though she might protest, but then grabbed a root beer and followed Shaun’s example.

“How far is the Greenville airport? What did David say it was called?” Kathryn asked. “I’ve never been past Rockwall County.”

Shaun’s eyes widened and he suddenly felt worldlier than the armed woman at his side. “Majors Field, and it’s not far. Only takes about a half hour from here by car, so it shouldn’t be long in the air.” Shaun lifted the bags ensuring they were all light enough to carry. “I imagine David won’t want to stay here long. He’ll want to get into Greenville while we have plenty of daylight.”

“Yeah, last thing we want to do is fly into a strange place in the pitch darkness these days. I know he’s hoping there’ll be military up there, but I’m skeptical myself.  I think there’s a good chance the quarantine goes one heck of a long way out.  We could fly into the place and find it’s just like here … or worse.”

“That’s what I was thinking. But you never know.” Shaun tied knots in the bags and tossed as many over his shoulders as he could carry. “You ready?”

Kathryn slung bags over her back. “We’ll have to come back for the rest.”

Shaun nodded and left through the door. On the landing pad, a fuel hose ran from the service truck to the chopper as David inspected its underside.  They opened the helicopter’s side doors and began storing the food wherever they could find a secure place.

“Found some goodies?” David joined them.

“Yeah. We’ve got to go back for the last couple bags though. The drink bags are heavy,” Shaun said. “How’s Dejah?” Her eyes were closed and he didn’t want to take the risk of waking her.

“Just talked with her. She seems fine.” David watched Kathryn secure a bag of snacks under a fat elastic strap connected to the interior side that was once used for securing camera equipment.

Dejah smiled and waved. “I’m alive. Thirsty though. Y’all take care of David. He’s the one with the stitches on his gut.”

“Don’t worry, we’re keeping an eye on him.” Shaun winked at David. “We just loaded soft drinks. What sounds good?”

“How about a Coke?”

Shaun opened a knotted bag and dug around until he found a red can. He popped the top and handed the cold can to Dejah. “Here you go. Still cold.”

“Thank you so much! I didn’t know we had delivery here.” She laughed. “Such quality service. Do you have steak? Maybe a nice New York strip and baked potato with butter?”

Shaun grinned.  “How about …” he dug around in a second bag, “some Hot Skins Pork Rinds and a bag of Lays? Top of the line, for the lady, of course.”

“Of course,” Dejah gave him a groggy smile.

“You coming with me to get the other bags, Romeo?” Kathryn asked, a bit of impatience edging her voice. She stood, one hand on her hip, outside the helicopter, waiting. Dejah looked past Shaun with a questioning look.  He realized Dejah hadn’t known anything about Kathryn before now, but there’d have to be time for introductions later.

Shaun turned to Kathryn. “Sure. Hey, Dejah, we’ll be back in a few minutes. I need to help Kathryn get the rest of the food.”

“Go on, I’ll be fine.” She leaned back in the seat, drinking her soda.

As soon as they were away from the helicopter, headed back toward the main building, Shaun scowled at Kathryn. “That Romeo comment was out of line. I’m not in love with her or anything. She’s like a mom. She saved my life.”

Kathryn shrugged. “She seems to need a lot of attention, that one.”

“None that she wants. All Dejah wants is to get to her daughter. The rest of this crap just keeps happening to her. It’s not her fault.”

“Whatever you say, Romeo.” Kathryn rolled her eyes and stepped up the pace to the metal building intent on retrieving the final bags of snacks and sodas.

Once inside, Kathryn seemed antsy. Shaun noticed her discomfort.  She was eyeing a unisex restroom just down a side hall, next to a drinking fountain. 

“I hate to do this, but it’s gotta happen. I’m going to have to use that restroom while we’re here,” Kathryn said.

The side hall where the bathroom was located was well-lit and decidedly without menace.  Still, the quietness in this place seemed pregnant with dark possibilities. They couldn’t see all the way to the end of the hallway from this angle, but it was close enough to the door they could get out if a zombie horde emerged from the back of the building or one of the offices. So far so good, but there were no guarantees their luck would hold.

“Okay,” Shaun said, voice heavy with trepidation.  Since he’d chugged that soda, he felt the urge too. 
Damn it, maybe not such a smart idea.
“I’ll keep an eye out while you go, then you can stand guard for me.”

Kathryn nodded and walked the hall.  She slowly pushed open the door to the restroom. The door closed behind her.

He listened for a moment.  He couldn’t hear anything inside the bathroom.

“Is it okay in there?” Shaun shouted.

Kathryn didn’t answer.
Maybe she didn’t hear me
. Shaun sat, alert and ready, on the edge of the sofa, not really expecting any trouble, but not entirely trusting they were safe either. He felt a surge of relief when he heard a toilet flush.

Kathryn emerged, drying her hands on paper towels.

“Your turn.”

Shaun slipped inside the room. Light bathed the room in the bright glow of florescent magic. The bathroom was the average public facility: metal stalls, low to the ground porcelain toilets that had seen cleaner days. Two sinks were grimy and edged with rust. One of the faucets dripped, echoing in the room. He grasped the metal pull on his zipper.

He was taking a piss when the
drip drip drip
of the rusty sink was drowned out by unmistakable sound of gunshots.

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