AaW Chapter 44
The buses made good progress the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon. There were many cars to move out of the way, but it was apparent as they went that others had used and partially cleared the highway before them. If one side of the highway was clogged up with abandoned cars it usually meant the other side was clear, there were wheel paths worn in the grass between the two sides of the highway and the caravan had learned to stop whenever they came to one. Usually it meant that there was a wreck ahead blocking the road. After sending Becka ahead to scout time and again they started to just follow the path established by others. Zombie activity in Kansas City had been light, as long as they kept moving, once they left the outskirts of town on highway thirty five they made eighty five miles in about five hours. Becka and the others pulled off of the highway to a halt in a rest area. The place looked deserted, no zombies came shambling out of the tree line or from the visitor's building and there was plenty of space to park the buses and pickups.
Steve called the council together while everyone else took turns going to the bathroom and watching for zombies. Mary had removed the tube that gave him air and he was able to speak again now that the swelling in his throat had gone down. His voice was raspy and he continuously took sips of water from his canteen, but he could speak and breathe again. They set out pickets to keep a lookout for wandering zombies as the group stretched their legs and devoured a quick meal. From where the buses were parked Dora could just see back down the highway far enough to see the vehicles following them.
“Too bad we can't kill off our shadows.” she commented.
“I would like to. I think we could lay an ambush for them, but it would be really risky, we might lose the ambushers.”
“Worth the cost?”
“Dora! No!” said Mary. Alex shook his head too and even Steve, after a moment's consideration shook his from side to side.
“No, well I don't think so. It might cause them to drop back farther, to be more cautious. We could call for volunteers, with the understanding that we would never come back for the people.”
“So a suicide mission. I’ll do it.” said Dora.
Steve just looked at her, then his eyes slowly traveled down to Dora's belly, then back up to her eyes, they stared at each other, neither breaking away as he said in a gravelly voice, “Don't be ridiculous.” His voice was still soft and rough.
“Steve.” Dora said, with some warning in her voice.
“We don't know that it would do any good. Your speech aside our losses were closer to four humans to each super zombie. And you and Paige were really the only ones to do any killing, I don't think the others would do so well on their own.”
“Willy, he shot a few too.” put in Dora.
“Yeah. So. We don't have him any more either. I wanted to rest everyone up for about a half an hour. If no zombies show up anyway, if what Jake told us is true we only have about fifteen miles to go and,” Steve gestured with his hands towards the highway ahead of them, where smoke was clearly visible, “that looks like fighting to me. So I think his word was good.”
“So what do we do? Just bull straight ahead and hope for the best?” asked Leon.
Steve shrugged his shoulders, took a drink and said, “What choice do we have? I am hoping there are soldiers alive up there and that when they see us they push out to help us. I am not too keen to stay here and see what Tiller comes up with to stop us.”
“I don't get why he cares.” said Alex.
Dora looked back at the three vehicles sitting about a mile and a half south of them, “I don't think it is Tiller. Remember what Jake said? He had some control over the zombies he made and over weaker zombies in general? I think is happening to Tiller.”
“What do you mean.” asked Mary.
“I haven't mentioned how things went down with Andi, have I?” Dora shrugged, but kept watching the cars on the highway for any sign of movement, “She was angry, very angry at Jim Tiller, she mentioned something about not having to follow his orders, that she could do anything she wanted and no one would tell her what to do. I think, maybe, she or her sister created Jim and Waller before him. I think the girls are actually in control.”
“That makes sense, unless food has gotten that scarce?” said Alex.
“I think Tiller would have moved on by now. It’s our rotten luck the girls are the alpha zombies.”
“Why?” asked Mary.
“Well Mary if you were a powerful undead six year old and some group of bad buys just killed your sister would you just walk away? I bet she is mad and is making all the other zombies come along with her, if we could take her out I think the others would go looking for easier victims.”
“Maybe so.” said Freddy speaking for the first time, “But that still doesn't help us up ahead. Do you think the army could pick up our radio signals?”
Steve shook his head wincing as the bandages around his neck shifted, “I doubt it. The radios only have a two mile range, and I doubt the army is monitoring that frequency anyway. I am not saying not to try, by all means yell your heads off that we are alive on every channel we have, I am just saying not to expect them to come rushing out to save us.”
“Still,” said Paige, “we should set a bunch of the kids up with radios on different channels and tell them to keep yelling for help as we get closer, someone may hear us and they may send the cavalry.”
“Sure do it. Use kids in the front bus or maybe even put someone in with Bob in his truck.”
Steve shook his head again, “I think we’re not going to want any kids up front, remember we think we are going to be running into a horde up here, so there will be fighting. I want the kids as safe as possible, so we'll keep as many as we can in the second bus. You know as soon as we hit any kind of resistance those three,” Steve pointed at the cars parked on the highway behind them, “are going to come right up on our asses and take another shot at us.”
The council members all nodded agreement to this and Paige called out to everyone at the rest stop that they were leaving in fifteen minutes. The council meeting broke up and as they walked their separate ways to take care of eating and other business. Dora realized they hadn't decided much of anything at all.
“It looks like an all-out charge to the finish line then Paige.” Dora said as the two walked over to their bus.
“Yeah, but is there a finish line to get to?”
Dora laughed, “Usually you’re the optimist! I think we’ll find something and I think we will end up a little safer. If not, then we turn around and head back to Doraville.”
“Fuck that, I will just keep heading north. Canada has to be better off than we are.”
“Traitor!” Dora said with a laugh, “Still, in case you don't make it, it has been fun.” Dora held out her hand to Paige.
Paige became flustered and said, “Wh-what? In case I don't make it? Like you are a shoe-in or something?”
“Well if I were a betting woman, I think I stand the best chance.”
Paige laughed, ignored Dora's outstretched hand and turned and walked to the bus. “Load up people! Iowa here we come!”
Behind her a small smile came to Dora's mouth and she checked the new shotgun she had for the fiftieth time then made sure she had her pockets overloaded with shells.
After everyone was loaded up again they took a quick head count and pulled out of the rest area. Behind them the three vehicles paced them, getting off to a belated start, and even further back Jake's caliber started up as the super zombie tailed the other three vehicles.
First contact came outside of Bethany, Becka was cruising along slowly when a group of three zombies leaped out at her from in front of a vehicle by the side of the road. Becka turned sharply into the median and sped up to get away as supporting shots rang out from the two pickups that were behind her by only about sixty feet. The three zombies all fell, two disabled and twitching, one with his head turned to mush by a well-aimed shotgun shell.
“First contact.” radioed Bob from the truck.
Smoke was hanging in the air ahead, reducing vision to three hundred yards. Paige yelled out, “Dora! The three behind us are coming up fast!”
Gunfire erupted from Steve's pickup bed as the crew there started trying to fire at the zombies trailing them. They were too early yet and their shots had little effect. Steve was doing a good job of keeping his truck next to the other pickup, even though his seat was still loose and he had no windshield. The truck was mechanically sound even if the seating left a lot to be desired.
Paige thought she could see some sort of shimmering in the air around the truck, either debris or heat from the engine, she wasn't sure as she watched the lines in the air became more distinct. What she was seeing looked more like lines from a comic book, lines that would be drawn to indicate motion or action. These things, almost invisible lines, were colored. They seemed to be almost black where they touched objects in motion and then faded out to white and almost colorless the farther in front of the moving object that they went.
Many of the lines split apart into fragments of smaller strings. All of the lines coming from so many moving things were making a hazy cloud in front of anything that was moving. Combining the lines altogether made vision nearly impossible for Paige. It didn't help that they were starting to drive into the smoke of Bethany either. Paige waited patiently for a clear shot as the three zombie filled vehicles catch up to the trucks. The lines were getting in the way, she closed her eyes tightly, trying to clear them from her vision. When she opened her eyes again the lines were still there, even more pronounced than ever.
“Chris, do you see a bunch of lines all over everything?” asked Paige to the man riding in the tail gunner position with her.
Paige watched as the black and white lines arced from Chris's head, then his head turned and looked at her, matching up with the black lines perfectly, as the white lines faded away he said, “Lines? What are you talking about?”
“I just see crap in my way, my eyes are clouding up or something. Fuck I don't need this now.” she watched as the lines around Chris changed, before he moved a muscle Paige knew he was going to turn back towards the on-coming vehicles and raise his shot gun to fire.
“Well clear out your head out girl, here they come!”
Everything clicked in an instant for Paige, somehow the lines she was seeing matched up to where things were going to be, if the lines were darker it indicated a more sure form of movement, if they were white they were potential moves. Rising to the level of the window again, she looked at the scene behind them. One of the cars had hit the back of Steve's truck, not hard, but the vehicle was stuck between the slow moving bus and the faster moving car, he had nowhere to go and Paige saw where the impact was going to turn the truck slightly just a second before it happened, the whole tapestry behind her was woven in distortion and she was having trouble sorting all the images out. Beside her Chris was firing his gun, he yelled at Paige, “Shoot! Shoot!”, but Paige held her fire, still trying to sort through the mess.
A zombie got her over her inhibitions. Two jumped off of the trailing vehicle into the back of Steve's pickup, the other truck was having similar problems as zombies swarmed onto it from another car. Briefly Paige caught sight of the trailing vehicle, inside Tiller was driving while the remaining wonder twin was frantically jumping on the seat beside him, behind them in the back seat was a third zombie.
Turning her attention back to Steve's truck she saw one of the supers there toss out little Vince Salm, a fifteen year old that Paige had gotten on with well. The super zombie picked up Vince and casually tossed him out of the pickup bed and under car driven by Tiller, Paige noted the black lines flowing from the zombie and raised her gun aiming right for Steve's head.
The zombie turned and dived through the window right into the back of Steve' seat. Steve's eyes opened widely in surprise as he stared down the barrel of Paige's shotgun from less than twenty feet away. Then the zombie crushed him forward, seat and all into the steering wheel, a split second later Paige fired, driving the shotgun pellets through the top of his head and down into his neck for good measure. Killing the zombie was not enough to save the pickup, Steve couldn't recover from being slammed into the steering column or pull himself up and away from the newly broken seat to regain control. The truck veered off to one side and crashed into the side of a semi-trailer that had been abandoned by the side of the road. The front of the hood on the driver's side hit the trailer and spun the truck around. Only the fact that the nose was caught under the trailer stopped the truck from flipping over. The other super zombie flew out of the pickup bed and rolled to a stop against the larger tires of the semi-tractor. When one of the three trailing zombie vehicles slowed to pick up their companion Paige shot again and anticipated the zombie's dodge, hitting it through the windshield and taking off the top of the thing's head.
“Fuck. We are out of trucks. You killed three of them!” Chris said with awe in his voice, “I haven't even hit one!”
Two shots, thought Paige, I only fired twice, the other zombie near the trailer was not dead, hopefully neither was Steve, but he was on his own now. “Here they come.” she said, bringing up her shotgun.
“The trucks are gone Dora!” yelled Chris just before one of the two vehicles touched bumpers with the bus. The bus slowed drastically as Dora slammed on the brakes, this caused the zombie filled car to hit them harder than they had intended, smashing in the front and splattering the back of the bus with radiator fluid. Paige had dropped her shotgun at the last possible second and grasped the window sill at the back of the bus, she was braced for the rapid slowing and impact, Chris was not so lucky, he flew forward when Dora braked, hitting his head hard on one of the large bolts on the floor from where the seats had been taken out.
Chris was then thrown into the back wall of the bus when the zombie car slammed into it, his face slammed nose first into the metal side then he spun into the corner and lay moving feebly. He was bleeding from both the front and back of his head, Paige could tell he was alive, but he seemed unable to focus or move coherently. Paige's shotgun slid forward, then back with the impacts and the young woman picked it up casually as if she had expected it to be where she put her hand when she reached down.
“Didn't see that one coming did you fucking flesh eaters, did you?” yelled Dora, followed by, “Take it Jamie, I am going back.”
Paige looked out in time to see the air distortions converge on the bus, the little blond girl and the bald zombie in business clothing from the back seat scrambled onto the hood of the car and then leaped through the shattered windows of the bus. The girl bounced off of the ceiling and dove at Paige, but Paige had moved and the girl slammed into the wall. The bus swerved from side to side and one of the boys from the back of the bus screamed as he charged the six year old wonder twin. He had a sharpened metal stake in one hand and a pistol in the other. Paige saw the streams of distortion coming from the barrel of his gun moments before he fired and made sure she was not in position to intersect any of his shots.
The zombie girl just stood up and took three shots to the chest as the boy charged her trying to impale her with his pig sticker. The girl moved sideways with contemptuous ease and the boy's stake pierced the side of the bus and stuck there about waist height at a slightly upwards angle. Then the boy was shoved backwards as the other zombie came through the window and forced him back a step, this was the bald zombie, he twisted the gun out of the boy's hand and then shoved the boy onto his own stake, driving it through his body until it came out just below his ribs.
While he was doing this Paige jumped forward and hit him with the butt of her shotgun, not quite understanding the lines she was seeing around him. She learned soon enough when the blow didn't land, instead the zombie girl had stepped between them and deflected her attack with uncanny speed, leaving Paige to wonder why she hadn't seen the lines from the zombie girl. She realized, with a second glance, that she could see the lines, but they were moving very, very fast. Throwing her head to one side quickly Paige avoided the first fist of the wonder twin.
“You get them Mo! You kill them all!” yelled the bald zombie as it ripped out the side of the boy's neck with his teeth.
For a moment Paige was caught up in the lines around her, she knew where Mo's hands were going to be and didn't want her body to be in the way of those blows. However being able to see slightly ahead of time where the little wonder twin named 'Mo' was going to be didn't mean that Paige could avoid her entirely and she was grazed with a heavy blow against her ribs that sent her spinning into Dora's arms. The two looked at each other for a moment, eye to eye, practically lip to lip, Dora gave Paige a quick kiss on the lips and shoved her sideways to avoid a rabbit punch by the zombie girl.
“Jim Tiller says eat later. So does Mo. You stop eating Randall Craw and kill them first.” said the little girl to the other zombie in the back.
Turning, the other zombie glared at the girls back, his chin and teeth were a wet red mess as blood poured from his mouth. Behind him the impaled boy squirmed and moaned in pain as his blood drained out of the ragged tear in his neck. Dora, moving faster than Paige had ever seen pulled her revolver up and shot the zombie girl in the back of her head. Sliding sideways the girl avoided having a bullet enter her brain, she spun and kicked backwards with her little foot in a blow that would crush Dora's knee. Paige had seen it coming and knocked Dora out of the way into a pile of luggage on the side of the bus. Off balance and reeling from the head wound the girl spun and fell into Chris, who was struggling to get to his feet. He reached around the girl with his arms, trying to hold her there for a moment while Paige finished her off.
Randall Craw didn't hesitate, when he saw his mistress go down he leaped in front of her and tackled Paige back onto the floor. The front of the bus started thumping, a steady thump, thump, thump that went on and on as it plowed ahead. Dora saw Paige wrestling with Randall while Chris held Mo tightly. Her decision on who to go after was taken away from her as Jim Tiller vaulted off of his slow moving car into the back of the bus to confront her.
“Fuck, when it rains it pours.” The bus was passing through a slow moving horde of zombies. It had slowed to around ten miles an hour, not quite slow enough for the zombies to get on board, but nowhere near fast enough for Dora's tastes. She aimed at Tiller and fired as he came towards her. One of his hands fumbled at his belt for a pistol and when he pulled it out he fired at the people in the back of the bus, which caused a general panic among the passengers.
“Fucking bastard!” yelled Dora flinging her empty revolver at the man, he deflected it using his own pistol, but something from the impact must have broken part of his gun, when he turned to fire at the youngsters it exploded in his hands, sending a piece of metal spinning into his face.
Chris couldn't hold onto the girl any longer, she twisted around in his arms like a python, kicking with her little feet into the man's groin. When he saw her head bend down to bite his arm he released her and pushed her forward into the back of Jim's legs, causing both of them to go down in a heap.
Wrestling with Randall was a one sided affair, he had strength on his side, plus he was on top of her. One of the seat supports was digging into Paige's back; it felt like it was slowly impaling her. With a frantic twist and heave she managed to get the man shoved to one side of her, but she could not make use of the momentary edge she had created to do more than back up a few inches.
As Randall came at her again she raised her knee up and kept him from getting a full grip on her. When he went to bite her arm she saw it coming and tore away from him, then she delivered a blow to the center of his face with as much strength as she could put into such a short punch. He howled and lowered his teeth towards her thigh and the offending knee that was preventing him from getting close. Just as his teeth were about to close on her leg Paige pulled it back away from him. Dora's hand reached down and plucked the man away from her. She tossed him into the emergency door at the back of the bus. Randall hit it hard and the door popped open, giving the passengers a better view of the last zombie car coming up on them. The car was smoking horribly as the engine overheated and the anti-freeze from the shattered radiator burned off. One of Randall's hands caught the side of the doorway and he swung himself around the outside of the bus onto the bumper.
Dora offered Paige a hand and pulled the woman to her feet, at almost the same time Mo and Jim got themselves untangled and rose up to meet the humans. From where Dora and Paige were standing they could see the other zombie vehicle roar up to the back of the bus, then they watched as the blue Caliber Dora had left behind with Willy came up and nudged the back wheel, firing a shotgun into it as it did so. Dora was pretty sure she saw Jake driving the vehicle.
“Yes the cavalry has arrived!”
The distraction worked on Jim Tiller, but Mo was too young to understand the reference so when Dora attacked she only caught one of them off guard. In the front of the bus the volley of fire increased as the passengers continued to fire out at the slow zombies encroaching from the sides.
Paige saw Dora's intentions moments before the woman leaped and she saw Mo's as well, she knew the two were going to collide in mid-air in front of her and saw a dozen places they could end up on the ground at the back of the bus. She made her own move in that instance, diving for her shotgun, she saw the black lines of her hands intersecting the gun and knew she was going to reach it. Grabbing the gun and rolling over she aimed it at Tiller who was bending over to pick Dora off of Mo.
Randall used the distraction of the melee to climb back inside of the bus. Tiller put Dora into a head lock while Paige studied the lines. Randal scooped Mo up and put her on her feet, the girl shook him off angrily and brushed by him, leaving him open for a shot from Paige, she saw him ducking in a hundred versions of the future, but there were good shots she could take and her shell hit him in the upper right shoulder throwing him back, where he landed against the boy he had impaled earlier. A surprised look crossed his face as he saw the metal rod spring up through the middle of his chest, then his body started trembling as he lost control of his legs. Randall's body would not heal itself while he was still impaled and the angle of the metal rod made getting himself off of it nearly impossible.
Mo was around behind Tiller punching Dora in the head, Paige saw she could not do any lasting damage to the man, he was constantly moving Dora around as a body shield, then called out, “Drop it girl or I will snap her neck like a twig!”
Looking at the man intently Paige let a small smile creep to her face. Dora yelled, “Shoot the cocksucker! Shoot him! Quit hitting me you little bitch!'
Paige looked outside and saw the beat up caliber come up to the rear of the bus, the firing from the buses passengers slacked off as Jake mentally pushed the weaker zombies out of the caravan's way.
“What the fuck? Do you want her to die?”
“Kill her, you'd be doing me a favor.”
“Yeah. She bet me she would live through this and I wouldn't. So if you snap her neck then that means, for once, Dora wasn't fucking right.”
Tiller's eyes widened as Paige's finger softly caressed the trigger. The man was fast and he brought Dora's body up in an arch, lifting the woman completely off the ground as he tried to block Paige's shot, but Paige wasn't shooting at him, when he lifted Dora to protect himself he exposed Mo almost completely and the shot took her dead center just below the neck, the girl was flung back into the corner on top of Chris, where she gurgled out a wet sounding, “Jim Tiller!”
Tiller dropped Dora to the ground where she landed on her hands and knees. Paige pulled the hunting knife out of her belt and waited for a brief second. Jim Tiller scooped Mo up and leaped for the back door. Paige tossed her knife, watching the black lines converge as Dora stood up then dove for Tiller. Screaming, “Oh no motherfucker! You aren't getting away!”
Meanwhile the knife moved through the air, it was travelling slowly towards the door, spinning lazily as it over took the diving woman. Dora's hand came up in an effort to grab Jim Tiller's ankle and met the handle of the knife. A look of comprehension dawned on Dora's face when her hand hit the knife, she snatched it out of the air and brought it down through Tiller's lower leg and into the floor below. His body from the waist up was hanging outside the bus's emergency exit, pinned by his leg to the bus. Tiller tried in vain to hold onto Mo as he fell, but the girl hit the pavement and was torn from his grasp. Mo came to a rest just in front of Jake's Caliber as he screeched to a halt. The bus was also slowing down and Jamie screamed that she didn’t know how to stop it right.
Paige took a bead on Randall and blew a bowl of spaghetti into the side of his head. She pulled three shells out of her pocket and reloaded her gun while still lying on the floor. Dora picked herself up off of the ground as the bus started to come to a stop, turning she said, “I need a gu...” Her sentence was cut off by the shotgun tossed to her by Paige.
“There are three shots, that’s all you’ll need.”
Dora nodded while Paige closed her eyes and tried to block all of the lines from her vision, the white lines were fading to be replaced by black ones as she did so. The future seemed to becoming more set, with fewer options, making it easier for Paige to see. The shotgun blasted once.
“Hold still you twitchy fucker.” Another blast rang out. “Goddamn it!” followed by a third, “Got the fucker Paige.”
Ahead the rattle of automatic weapons fire heralded the arrival of the National Guard Soldiers.
A quarter of a mile behind them the Caliber came to a stop just in front of the twitching zombie girl. Mo saw the booted feet step out of the car and approach her head, where they stopped. A tall man in bloodstained, torn clothing squatted down in front of her and said, “You must be Mo. Hello Mo. My name is Jake. I knew your sister.”