We surged forward and I took my cue, dropping into the rear compartment, watching wide-eyed out of the dusty rear windows as the pack of monsters continued to gain. It wasn’t long until the distance between us stopped shrinking and eventually we had the upper hand. I let my breath even out, let myself feel the ache as I loosened the grip on the handgun. Still, the creatures continued their onward chase, but they were no match the horses under the bonnet. A warm touch found my arm and I turned to the dim light and saw Cassie’s wide smile. I couldn’t help but dive into her open arms.
Clinging together for what seemed like an age, I felt the short bristles on my cheek warming against her soft skin. For a moment I forgot the drone of the engine, my heart racing for a whole other reason, only pulling apart as two deep voices swore from the front. Sitting back on the hard bench, my left hand holding her right, we turned to the windscreen and the wreckage of the Land Rover that had raced off, its nose folded around the stub of a tree that reminded upright, leaving the sprawling bare branches blocking the road.
Together we repeated their expletives, my head snapping behind to the distance, hoping once we left their sight, turning many a corner, the creatures would have slowed, dispersing to worry other folk. I turned as we slowed, looking to the driver and McCole, waiting for their plan, but they were doing the same to other.
“Can we push it out of the way?” I said. The driver and McCole swapped looks, each nodding as the Land Rover continued to slow. Cassie and I made room as McCole scrabbled into the back compartment and stood up through the roof with his rifle, aiming the way we’d come. I scrambled into the front seat, watching the steam rise from the crashed Land Rover as we came level, fingers of wood already scratching and snapping, protesting at our advance. As the front grill bit down hard into the protruding branches, the glass in the headlights smashing, I looked across and saw the other driver, his head lolling forward, leaning over the deflated white airbag. At first I wasn’t sure if he was dead, but as his head moved, fear spiked he’d just come alive again.
As our Land Rover continued to make slow progress, I pulled open the door and jumped to the road, ignoring Cassie’s worried calls. With the gun in my right pointed through the window, I gripped the door handle and pulled. His face turned and I knew I had to make my choice. His jaw hung slack and wide, with no blood he looked like he’d been punched in the face. I pushed the gun into my jacket pocket, grateful he didn’t lunge as I gripped him around the waist and helped him to the ground.
The scrape and crunch of wood had stopped, but the engine’s roar had not. The mass of branches was too much for the Rover without a running start. The rear doors opened and Cassie jumped to my side, pausing as she stared down at the soldier, weighing the decision I’d made only moments earlier. Eventual taking my place, she helped remove his helmet as he squinted through the pain. I ran around to the back of the crashed Land Rover and pulled open the back doors, reeling back as I found the space filled only with two camouflage rucksacks. The passenger and his long rifle were gone.
Pulling the heavy bags by the shoulder straps, I stood back beside the soldier as Cassie knelt. With his helmet on the road, I watched him peer around, trying to make sense of what had just happened. By the time our Land Rover had given up my plan and was backing up, metal scraping, wood snapping as it withdrew, the chaotic sound was overshadowed as McCole gave a great call and the report of his rifle rattled an assault.
All eyes twitched behind us to the three creatures who’d carried on their chase. My reaction was instant and matched Cassie’s, grabbing under the guy’s arms, dragging the soldier over the sheared end of the tree trunk. McCole’s rifle stopped and another took over. I glanced back to see by the time the driver’s shots were done, McCole was out on the road and kneeling down to reload. The driver ran around his back, performing a well practice role.
We were soon over the long trunk, dragging the soldier despite his fight for us to stop. Doing as he begged, he climbed to his feet, his sidearm out, popping off bullets into the frenzy. We ran, not able to watch, not able to hope the two creatures still running wouldn’t last long enough to leap into the air and make their deadly attack. Still, I twisted around as we ran, looking back as a pained scream lit up the air. A curtain of doom fell around with its grating call, knowing when I turned to face forward, a monster from our nightmares would block our way.
I was right and stopped dead in my tracks as standing on the road was a woman who’d died mid forties, her face still bright with colour, rouged cheeks and lips I guessed were the same underneath the blood and sinew dripping from her mouth, running down her sweet, daisy covered white dress, the outlines still visible underneath the dark scarlet apron.
Sweeping Cassie behind my back, I was firing before the gun was level, my hand waving wild with each recoil, bullet after bullet veering wide until the click of the empty chamber echoed in the sudden quiet. I watched the skirt billow as she crouched, not pausing as her legs flung her high in our direction.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One