The police cruiser shifted sideways on the highway, not an unexpected event. Max had noted a debris field indicating they were coming up to yet another accident in the road. What was unexpected was the sudden lurch to the right that the cruiser made as two of its tires blew out. The driver of the car, Jane Stewart, brought it to a controlled stop along the shoulder, near the crest of a small hill. Max groaned out loud, “Not again!” Then he slammed on the brakes of the minivan he was driving, the brakes were of the anti-lock variety and he slowed to a stop while keeping control easily. He hoped he had stopped before hitting whatever the cruiser had hit.
Beside Max, his son Nick sat staring intently out the window.
“I don't see what they hit. I can't see anything.” Max had been relying on his son to help him avoid any debris on the highway, in fact, whoever sat in the shotgun seat had to keep an eye on the road as well. Even going twenty to thirty miles an hour they still ran over some things. There were times the entire highway was closed off from wrecks and as they traveled along highway seventy-six they had also come across one bridge that looked liked it had been blown up on purpose, an ominous sign that Max took to mean they were behind enemy lines. Skirting the destroyed bridge had caused them to detour about thirty miles out of their way, but they had lucked out and found another wrecked state trooper vehicle, which they had taken three good tires off of.
Stopping well shy of the cruiser. Max went forward to check on Stewart, and Tom, who was in the shotgun seat of the cruiser. He had to wade through a field of clear broken glass and he couldn't tell what kind of vehicle it has come from but there were lots of shards everywhere. The scrub on the side of the road did not offer any concealment for anyone to hide, something Max kept a ready eye on these days. This was good, some of the zombies seemed to be more intelligent than others and it could have been an ambush. Oh yes, the zombies had grown clever, they were hard to kill, requiring almost the complete destruction of their brain to send into the afterlife, again, and they had an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Max had even reasoned with some of the smarter ones, who seemed to remember their past. Thinking, fast moving and nearly indestructible zombies made for pretty fierce opponents and Max was not sure how humanity was going to survive the war they had been thrust into.
Nuclear weapons seemed to be on the table, if that was any indication of how bad things had deteriorated in such a short time. Max had been in Arvada, a suburb of Denver, two days ago when the government had dropped a nuclear bomb out near the International Airport. The bomb had gone off on top of a radio station or close by it at least. The deejay, Blake 'the snake,' had kept up broadcasting in the week since the zombie infestation had started, living off of bottled water and the station's vending machines. His co-workers had deserted him one by one until he was left alone. Blake had barricaded the doors to his building and to the floor of his building too and kept the whole place running on generators. Unfortunately, some of the more intelligent zombies had heard his broadcasts too and they had surrounded the place. For some reason, the smarter zombies seemed to attract the less intelligent ones around them in droves and the constant efforts by people to rescue the deejay attracted the food to them. The last effort, by the Colorado National Guard, had involved a whole convoy of troops, they had humvees, tanks and even a helicopter. The zombies numbered in the tens of thousands, the convoy numbered in the hundreds. The 'snake' had given a play by play of the fighting, including accounts of the smart zombies using rifles of the fallen guardsmen. The convoy was bogged down, then surrounded then almost completely wiped out. A single column of troops got away, although Blake reported that individual soldiers could have escaped too. The zombies relished their victory and the station was mobbed by ever more of the things. Finally, when they realized no one else was coming to save Blake, they broke into the building and the radio audience listened as Blake gave his last program. It ended in static and a white flash of superheated light; the feds had set off a nuke with the station as ground zero.
The morning the bomb fell Max watched his wife succumb to a zombie bite and turn into one of the enemies herself. Through a series of mishaps he ended up leaving her in the attic where she died, Max had been lucky not to break his neck when he fell out of the attic access. With his companions, he fled Denver, passing not too far away from ground zero themselves. His traveling companions were Jane Stewart, a former police officer, Tom Eby, a computer administrator for MAC Co. where Max had worked before the current crises and Amelia Bryon, an administrative assistant, also from Mac Co. That rounded out the adults, who were all wounded and tired, but so far, bite free. They also had Max's kids, Nick, who was ten and Jessica, who was seven and Amelia had brought along a boy she found along the way, Cory, who was also ten. The last girl they found sitting in the police cruiser, weeping silently. Her wrist had been cut and bandaged and she appeared to be twelve or thirteen years old. So far she had not been too talkative, but Amelia had coaxed her name out of her – Erin.
The drive from Denver had been extremely stressful on all of them, one moment they were driving at a walking pace through smoky burning suburbia with no one in sight, the next they were hitting the gas and driving far too fast for conditions trying to get away from zombie mobs that seemingly sprang up from the very ground. Every place they stopped was empty, quiet, like an old western movie just before the big gunfight. It didn't help matters that Max thought there would be gunfire at the end of every one of those silent scenes. The zombies seemed to be attracted to the living in the usual ways people were attracted to each other; noise and sight; light in the darkness was a dangerous thing now. In addition, they seemed to smell their prey and it was almost as if they could somehow sense them through walls too, nowhere seemed to be safe. Max had been getting good at recognizing where the zombies were, over the last two days the group had all grown to respect his ability to know when they were being watched, sometimes he even seemed to be able to home in on where the packs of zombies were at. Stewart called it his 'gut' instinct for survival and said she had known cops like that, who seemed to have a natural talent for knowing when trouble was coming or for finding people who might not want to be found.
Stewart and Tom drove the point car, Stewart's police cruiser, and stayed about fifty car lengths ahead of Max in the minivan, which also carried Amelia and the kids in it. Amelia switched off with Nick from time to time and kept all the kids in line. Everyone in the group had seen enough horrors over the last two days of travel to remove any doubt that this was a full blown catastrophe. They were tentatively traveling to North Platte, where Tom's parents lived on a farm outside of town. After that Max wanted to move on to Iowa, where he had a friend with a large house and some land. They had not received any news from anyone so far. Their cell phones had stopped working two days ago, and they could get nothing but static on any televisions they tried or on the car radios.
Tom was proving to be a handy resource in an odd variety of ways. For instance, he had come up with a pump and hose that operated off of the electric power of the vehicles, because electricity was spotty now. No power meant no way to pump fuel. An hour of poking through the zombie infested remains of a small prairie town brought Tom out with an electric pump. He said he learned all about such things on the farm growing up and was now very glad he has some practical knowledge that could help them out. They could keep the cars fueled, so long as they could find a gas station and get the storage tanks opened. They also grabbed a dozen two-gallon fuel cans from a big box store and had them filled up and strapped on top of the van, with two more in the cruiser. They had a tarp over the ones in the roof rack, but Max was still nervous about driving around with all that fuel over his head.
After dropping Tom off in North Platte, Max planned to move on to Iowa, where he knew his friend Bill would welcome him and anyone he brought with him with open arms. Bill went way back with Max, they grew up on the same street when they were kids and attended the same schools, albeit Max was four years younger and had not ever gone to with Bill at the same time. However as the only two boys on a street full of girls the two were bound to become friends despite their age difference. The friendship born in primary school continued through high school and even prospered into college and beyond. After college Bill had moved around a lot, returning to Denver from time to time until finally settling down with his wife, Trisha, in Iowa. Still he and Max took turns hosting each other's families on alternate years and everyone got along very well together. The annual get together in Colorado or Iowa was something both families had grown to love.
Unlike Max, Bill had started his family early, barely out of college and he had five children now, the oldest was seventeen and they alternated in gender down from there every two years. Max had kidded Bill that he and his wife were like machines, you could set a clock by the birthing of their children. Bill worked in technology as a computer programmer, but he was always spouting off about "Armageddon" and being prepared for whatever life threw at you. He was heavy into Boy Scouts of America as well, his oldest son had made Eagle Scout a year early and his other boys were involved in camping, hunting and fishing all year round. The only complaint Sarah had about Bill was that he seemed way more focused on the boys of the family than the girls. On more than one occasion she had heard Bill say he took care of the boys and his wife, Trisha, took care of the girls.
Max felt, in some way, Bill would be more prepared for the storm of zombies than he ever would be. He knew with the financial markets fluctuating so badly over the past few years that Bill had been planting extensive gardens on his land, learning how to preserve meat by drying it out and teaching the boys to hunt and fish as more than a hobby. Max was hoping his perception was not off and that his friend would be the rock in the storm that he needed him to be right now. Somewhere in the back of Max's mind there was a little nagging thought that things might not go as planned, Bill could get fickle when his families welfare was on the line, would he treat Max as family or as a drain on the family resources? It was a small disturbing thought and Max resolved to show up to Bill's house with as many resources as he could cram into the van if that meant driving seven hundred miles with gas cans on the top of the car, then that was what he would do.