Authors: Christopher Fulbright,Angeline Hawkes
Grant smiled. “I’ll call soon.”
“Okay. Take care of yourself,” Robbins said. Something in his gut told him this was the last time he would see Grant Weir alive. Grant wouldn’t have handed over classified information if he intended to be around to take shit for the crime after the fact. There wasn’t anything left to say. Robbins knew Grant well enough to trust that he understood the implications of what he’d done. He wouldn’t have done anything of the sort if it weren’t the last best chance to stop the epidemic. The gravity of it weighed him down, and he felt heavy with sadness as he walked Grant to the door.
“Thank you, Matty.”
“Being a friend.”
“Aw, now, Grant, us old guys have to stick together. There’s too much history between us.” Robbins smiled, and then he shook his finger at Grant. “And another thing.”
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
Grant laughed, and then walked to his car. Robbins stood at the open front door until Grant’s car was no longer visible on the street. He closed the door and leaned against it. “Goodbye old friend,” he said to the empty room.
He took a deep breath and reached for that phantom pack of smokes. Instead of finding cigarettes, his hand brushed against the phone in his t-shirt pocket. At the thought of old friends, he remembered Hoover and Burt.
Robbins flipped open the phone and found he had an unchecked message.
Navigating the phone’s menu, he saw it was a picture message. From Hoover.
Heart pounding, he opened the message so it displayed the image of Burt — crazed and slick with blood, coming toward Hoover as he snapped the shot and sent it off.
His heart pounding, Robbins punched in Hoover’s number. The phone rang and then automatically transferred to voice mail. “Damn. Damn. No. Aww, shit, not Hoover.” He slumped to the floor, cradling the phone in his hand.
Dejah sat in her Pathfinder, overlooking the scene that crushed all hope of making it to Greenville in any quick fashion.
From where her vehicle sat on a rise, through the windshield she could see the span of cars from end-to-end, some sideways, some crushed, some still running, their drivers motionless and possibly dead inside. Bodies littered the wreckage, which looked as if an eight-year-old had dumped a collection of Hot Wheels cars haphazardly over the strip of highway. Across the canyon of the Interstate was The Parks Mall, also a nightmare of traffic and people meandering around vacantly. As she stared at the massive shopping center, a group of twenty or so people came traversing the steep grassy hill down to the interstate. Two madmen ran at the crowd from underneath the overpass bridge, assaulting them. The figures scattered the crowd, tackling two unwitting victims, setting violently upon them. A fight erupted.
,” she whispered, her voice rasped in the cab of her SUV.
She turned on the radio. Every local station was broadcasting news on what was happening and relaying reports from government agencies in charge of disaster relief and terrorist threats:
“—close attention. This is an urgent health message from the Tarrant County Health commissioner. Officials believe there has been a serious biological incident in an extended area stretching from East to North Texas. At this time, we do not know the cause or other details about the incident. Local officials are investigating and will work with State and Federal officials to provide updated information as soon as possible. Stay informed and follow the instructions of health officials so you can protect yourself, your family and your community against this public health threat.”
“This is more than a goddamn threat.” She talked to the radio. Thomas hated it when she talked out loud to the television or radio. Damn Thomas and his opinions of her. Damn Thomas for taking Selah so far from her arms.
The news became a drone of voices thick with stress, some on the verge of panic. The sound settled into the background as she mentally ran through alternate routes to Greenville. Smaller backcountry farm roads … anything. Of course, she wasn’t even sure at this point she could make it back the way she came. Those who hadn’t yet been affected by the epidemic seemed to have the same idea she did: get the hell out of Dodge. Chances were, alternate roads out of the metroplex were just as clogged. And if people were dying from this outbreak, and it was spreading from one person to the next—
They’re going to close all major roads out of the metroplex.
The thought spurred a moment of panic, but she didn’t necessarily want out of the affected area …she just had to get to the other side of it.
Yeah, small chore.
Arlington to Greenville covers 70 miles or more, with enough cities in-between to fill twelve phone books…including Dallas. And if Arlington was this bad, Dallas would be worse.
A spiraling sense of hopelessness threatened to drag her down.
That was when she noticed some drivers in trucks were making their own roads along the sloping sides of the Interstate. She had an SUV. For the first time, the damn thing might actually prove to be a good investment.
Here we go.
Dejah maneuvered her way over the curb and steered down the slope toward the frontage road, driving at an alarmingly steep angle as she veered into the curve of the on-ramp. She gritted her teeth, toes curled as she felt the vehicle rock sideways, threatening to roll over.
Above her, a black Ford pickup launched itself into the air. Its engine roared as it jumped from the strip of highway parallel to the frontage road atop the bank down which she drove.
It flew through the air toward her Pathfinder.
She glimpsed the face of the driver in the cab, stark and sickly, wild-eyed. The grill and headlights of the truck came at her like an iron monster.
With a terrified peep, she yanked the steering wheel of the Pathfinder to the left, because it took her away from the hurtling vehicle’s promise of death. It was instinct. Unfortunately, it was also the wrong move.
Her Pathfinder had already been tipping left because of the incline. When she yanked the wheel left, she realized her mistake too late. The sudden change in direction carried her out of the path of the flying truck. It also gave the SUV just enough of a tip to send it over on its side.
The truck rolled as she screamed. Ironically, so did the radio announcer — screaming, under attack. As she was tossed, yanked against her seat belt, hair flying wild, neck jerking, the world spun into chaos. The radio announcer shrieked: “It’s eating me! God no … holy shit, oh no,
Fortunately, she hadn’t been going fast enough that the roll was devastating, but it impacted the vehicle’s roof, crunching it down. The windows broke into jeweled webs. With the second impact the windshield came loose and fell out like a steel blanket. Three, then four rolls, the world spinning, before the SUV struck another car on the shoulder of the Interstate and rocked to a stop.
Dejah shook her head. A small smear of blood dribbled over her cheek, but she didn’t feel any pain so she couldn’t tell its origin. The Pathfinder stopped driver’s side to the ground. She unlatched the seatbelt and crawled up to escape through the passenger’s side door.
As she emerged into the cool air, she smelled the scents of fuel, rubber, and something burning. There was even the vague smell of rot. Decay. She tried not to think of how long some of these corpses must have been here.
Cripes how long had it been this way? No longer than a few days, right? How did it get so bad so fast?
The black Ford F150 bounced down the hill twenty yards away and smashed headlong into three other vehicles, stirring the wreckage, adding a piece to the puzzle of confusion that anyone trying to drive this highway would have to solve.
She winced at the wreck, then surveyed the length of Interstate. There was nothing but chaos in both directions.
You’d need a freakin’ tank to drive anywhere on this road now.
Along with the cars around her, there were seven or eight bodies draped over hoods and trunks nearby, still more hunched over steering wheels or hanging out of opened doors, others sprawled on the road. She looked toward the mall, but could no longer see the group of people who’d been attacked. Surely there was safety in numbers, but large groups were also large targets.
Scanning her surroundings, she smelled gas and something burning, but she didn’t see any smoke or fire. Her eyes locked onto a potential hope for salvation: a white Arlington Police cruiser with flashing lights sandwiched between two cars not 50-feet away from her Pathfinder. She couldn’t see if the officer was inside, but she knew it was a good bet she’d find a weapon and a means of communication.
She hurried back to the Pathfinder and climbed in through the back window, frantically searching until she found her phone. She breathed a sigh of relief as she slipped it into the pocket of her jeans.
She walked down the bank and weaved her way across the road toward the police cruiser.
Dejah maneuvered around several wrecks and abandoned vehicles, deliberately not looking inside to avoid the dead gazes of their former drivers. As she approached the rear of the patrol car, she saw the shape of a man in the driver’s seat. She paused, unsure if she should hide, but the goal was to get inside his car – even better if he was alive and could protect her. Never mind the fact he was in the same fix … at least he was trained to deal with this sort of thing.
Well, not that anyone was really trained to deal with
sort of thing.
She approached the back of the car with her hands in the air. She wasn’t sure why, but she guessed the demonstration was to show him she wasn’t armed, and didn’t intend to do anything unreasonable. She zeroed in on a rifle attached to a rack above the back seat divider.
“Officer?” she called. “Are you okay? I need some help.” She came around the driver’s side of the car. The officer had dark hair and looked sick. She could see the profile of the left side of his face. He looked pale but not infected …not like
She approached the door. He seemed oblivious to her, but then, as she came in line with the window, he turned toward her, opening his door. Dejah stepped backward. Her breath caught in her lungs.
Half of the officer’s face was raked away. Wet, raw muscle shone like bloody meat on bone, his right eye bulging from its socket without the benefit of skin to hold it in. She could see behind him into the passenger’s seat. The cop’s partner, with bloody mouth and hands, had a bullet hole between his eyes and was missing the back of his skull. Brain matter clumped on the inside of the patrol car’s window.
The surviving officer stumbled toward her. His pistol was still in his right hand and he took lurching steps. His left arm cradled his stomach as if he were going to vomit.
“Help,” he gasped. His half-face stark with fear and disbelief, he fell forward on top of her.
Dejah screamed as the full force of his weight crashed against her. He knocked her against a maroon Toyota Camry; she tumbled, his dead weight pressing her to the ground. He groaned a final breath. Dejah pushed him off and tried to stand, but her foot slipped under the closest car, her pant leg snagging on the metal frame. She yanked. Her pants ripped, but she still wasn’t free. “Damn it!”
She heard stirring nearby. Something was moving amongst the wreckage and automobiles. Glancing up, she saw the gaunt figure of a whiskery man in a flannel shirt standing thirty feet away, looking at her. As soon as Dejah spotted him, a squat woman in a blue dress and disheveled hair zeroed in on her and shuffled nearer. A third figure cropped up: a woman in a business suit who was so stunningly beautiful that even with the sallow indication of the infection, she could’ve been a model. Except, perhaps, for her fully bloodshot, rheumy eyes.
Dejah, still yanking on her trapped leg, noted a total of six infected people watching her now. Her pulse increased, breath coming shallow in her lungs.
“Fuck!” she yelled. Adrenalin gave her the last burst of energy she needed to shred the cuff of her pant leg and pull her leg free. She stood, grabbing the gun from the dead officer’s hand. His fingers were stiff as she unwound them, cringing.
Pistol in hand, Dejah verified it was loaded, and then cocked it, swinging it in a semi-circle at the six — no, now it was seven – figures, some of them lumbering toward her.
“Stop,” she said. “Y’all stop right there. Don’t come any closer or I’ll blow your fucking heads off!”
They didn’t register comprehension of her command. They came for her. Some climbed over the hoods of cars. The man with the beard and flannel shirt was closest. Her heart rate was through the roof, and nothing in her could confirm this was anything but the right thing to do, but her brain screamed
as she pulled the trigger.
The gun recoiled with the shot.
The man kept coming.
She aimed again and was about to take a second shot when she felt a tight grip around her ankle and the biting gnash of teeth ripped the meat of her calf. Dejah screamed, looking down. The cop had come-to, hungry for her flesh.
She aimed at him, firing into his body. He convulsed, but didn’t stop his attack, and tightened the grip on her leg. She twisted away, blood gushing from her wound, pain screaming at her nerves.
Dejah fired again and again … and then the bolt locked into an open position on an empty chamber.
No more bullets.
Using the gun as a hammer, she beat the cop’s skull. His head recoiled with each impact. She broke the skin, blood seeping out. She kept hammering until the skin was a mashed ruin and the front of the skull cracked like a wooden egg. It began to give. Only when she’d frantically created an oozing, caved-in hole running thick with brain fluid and brackish blood did the dead cop release her.
By then, the others were close.
She bolted, lunging over vehicles, heedless of direction, concerned only with escape.
The infected people chased Dejah Corliss across eight wreckage-filled lanes of Interstate 20, but she didn’t have enough of a lead. Two stray cars on the shoulder of the road blocked her path. Black fingernails caught in her billowing shirt and yanked. A second pair of hands joined the first and they pulled her to the ground on her side. A small carnivorous mob leapt upon her. Teeth ripped her flesh. They chewed away at her calf and her left forearm. Bites tore the backs of her legs and deep into her side in a maddening cannibalistic frenzy. Muscle ripped. Blood pumped from her wounds. Pain seared through her being.
Dejah curled her hand into a claw and swiped the nearest cheek. Her nails raked away loose skin like membrane from rotting pulp. Half of an attacker’s face came off in her hand, but he came at her again, now a leering skull with chomping jaws.
Two more joined the madness. She swung a sharp-toed boot up to crack a skull, and shoved out with both legs to kick away two more. In a sheer berserker rage that would’ve made her Nordic ancestors proud, she beat off the remaining few, scrabbled from the dirty road onto her mangled knees, and, blood pouring from her fading body, escaped. In their bloodlust, the creatures fell upon each other like sharks in a feeding frenzy.