Still numb, but not from the explosion, I picked myself up, dust falling to the ground, stepping over the body, pulling Ryan up by the arm. I led the way down the stairs, ears ringing, my view on the world swimming like jelly. I didn’t stop to check left and right, didn’t look for the dead searching us out. With my view fixed on a patch of white panel, the letters down the side I’d clung to for so many years, I trudged, hand clasped around his, pulling, dragging as he stumbled by my side. In my periphery I saw cars shunted, their windows smashed, the cacophony of alarms coming into the focus, the great fire consuming the woods, the spay of wooden shrapnel everywhere I placed a foot.
I saw movement, saw creatures, their bodies covered in red, skin torn off, stripped bare with the wave of energy. They saw us, walked our way, stumbling no more, no less than before. Ryan gripped my hand tight by my side as he built his strength and we dragged each other, both knowing our direction as the pace built to a level we could barely manage, our course steered only to avoid the debris, the cars blown in our path, shards of fist sized wooden splitters peppering each body panel.
I took no notice as a dead soldier, or at least the half remaining, reached out to grasp as I stepped over. Ryan pulled me to the side just out of its reach, my face not reacting, mouth not turning from the thin line, as numb as my body and ahead I trudged on, relief barely breaking the surface as I saw the van was too far from the blast to break out the windows.
The keys were in my hand in an automatic action, without a memory of my fingers reaching inside my jacket where I must have put them. The realisation came as I pushed the thin metal into the lock, the handle clicking when I pulled up and the clawed fingers reached through the gap, a foul odour rolling out, waking me from my trance. I stumbled backward, slamming hard to the hastily erected metal fence.
I’d forgotten all about her. The woman we’d picked up, the woman who’d helped me rescue Toni. Toni had turned on her in the back of the truck. At the time I’d accepted the accident in the heat of the moment. The suffocation as we’d tried to evade those in authority, tried to prevent ourselves from being trapped again. But now I knew it wasn’t the full story, there was more to her than I could have known. Now was again not the time to process this new information as the woman fell from the back of the van drew up to her feet to exact her revenge. I stood, staring on, watching the last of my days flash back, trying to test each of her words, each of her actions from a whole new perspective.
Ryan charged in from my side, pushing the woman down to the ground, lifting a pistol from a soldier’s hand, without the top half of his head he had no use for it, and slammed two rounds to shatter her skull. The explosion woke me from my daydreaming to Ryan’s concerned stare, his wide eyed look asking a question. Was I broken beyond repair?
I answered his question; I owed him that much and more.
“Thank you,” I said. “This is fucked up,” I added and he gave a slow nod in reply. “We’d better go,” I said looking to the sky, hoping the dot on the horizon wasn’t another jet, looking to the woods, knowing the blackened smoking creatures walking towards us were exactly what I knew them to be. He nodded again after following my view, slamming the door behind him as he climbed in after, sliding the bolt as he followed me to the passenger seat, both of us holding our hands over our mouths in a futile attempt to keep from breathing the stench she’d left behind.
The engine started and I almost gagged as the breath of relief came and I turned to the window, but knew I couldn’t give them even a crack to get their clawed fingers into, so I sucked down the bile and heaved the steering wheel to avoid the car pushed up against the bumper.
I closed my eyes as the engine pushed the van backwards and tried not to think of the crushing bones the suspension couldn’t mask as it pitched us one way and then the next, bumping into the fence, slamming us to a hard stop as the bumper banged, the sound resounding like a bass drum. Swapping glances with Ryan, I could see his knuckles white on the armrest and door handle either side and was ready to shout him down if he so much as offered to drive.
Moving forward I couldn’t pretend it was just a bumpy road, despite my attempts. We could see the bodies, those of dead soldiers and residents, those who had died and stayed dead and those who had not, before the great tyres rolled over in vain of my best efforts to avoid. I guessed there were at least half of the creatures left alive by the blast as they swarmed towards us and I checked my door was locked more times than I could have counted while we rolled along watching the horizon for an opening in the fence, watching the skyline for the dot in the centre growing bigger with every moment.
It was then we realised at the same time we hadn’t thought this through. Yes, we were safe in the van despite the surrounding crowd, but we had nowhere to go, had no chance to get away from the next missile surely on its way. I stopped with the bonnet of the van almost at the fence, then let it drip forward, nudging into contact with the metal. There was a pop, a grind of metal as we made contact, but we stayed firm, as did the fence, my mind’s eye on the other side and the great concrete blocks sat on the wide feet at its base. I looked up, the dot was growing, hands slapped at the windows but neither of us jumped. Hands slapped at the panels as the engine revved with the dot growing larger.
I turned and asked his down-turned face a question.
“Is this how it ends?”
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.