It had been a long two days for Katie. She had mostly traveled alone, with only a few visits from Randy. By now she had figured out he was trying to tell her something, but she had not gotten it out of him. The last time she had told him to stop fucking around and just come out and tell her what was so goddamned important. She hadn’t seen him since.
The country was deserted. No zombies, no humans, not even any deer. The highways she was traveling seemed to be clear, with most of the wrecks pulled off to the side of the road. There was even one memorable stretch of highway where vehicles had been lined up bumper to bumper for almost forty miles. But someone had taken the time to clear one lane for the entire stretch of road.
“And that had to have been a lot of work.” Katie said to herself as she drove along the coast heading south. “Where are the fucking people?”
Not that she had gone looking for them. The only time she stopped in the towns along the way was to get gas, and twice she had just refilled the car using a plastic hose and the power of siphoning that Randy taught her.
“There are no people.” Randy said.
“Oh, you again. About fucking time.” Katie said irritably.
“You miss me? I know you did.”
Katie shook her head and smiled, “Yeah, no fooling you. Where has everyone gone?”
“I don’t know that one sugar. You have to realize by now I am pretty limited. I can’t really tell you anything you don’t already know.”
“So I am bat-shit crazy then?”
Randy nodded, “Certifiable.”
“Shit. What do I do?”
He shrugged, “Keep on going I guess, until you work it out.”
“So you can’t help me?”
“I can, I am. I’m doing the best I can here.”
“Why can’t you just tell me?”
Randy thought for a moment and then said, “Because you don’t know. You only know that something isn’t right. What isn’t right?”
It was Katie’s turn to think. She took in the highway and the seemingly abandoned country side, “No fucking people.”
“I bet that’s part of it.”
“I figure, when I was inland, that the people were hiding. I thought once I got to the coast I would see someone. I mean, it’s the coast and fifty million people live between here and Florida. But…nothing. No one. Not even zombies? What does that mean? Where are they?”
“I don’t know.”
“Lotta help you are.”
“I’m on your side.”
“Thank God my own imaginary friend is on my side.”
“Now, see, that isn’t consistent. Randy would never have answered that way.”
Randy smiled, “It just proves my point. I’m really just you, in a shell you can relate to.”
“Great. So, ‘Shell’, any more vague clues I can ponder in your next absence?”
“Something isn’t right with you.”
“You think?” Katie laughed and gestured out the window at the landscape around her, “Something is funny in dodge! That’s a good one.” She turned to look back at Randy, but he was gone. “Fucking jack-in-the-box, popping in and out like that.” She punched the side of her head angrily, “Bring him back!” When she turned her gaze back on the road she was amazed to see two people tied up laying on the pavement in front of her.
“Fuck!” Katie yelled, slamming on the brakes. The car slewed sideways and smoke started pouring out from the front tires as the car slowed down. At the last instance Katie let off the brakes and was able to veer the car around the two bodies by drifting onto the shoulder. She brought it to a more controlled stop several yards beyond where they lay.
Panting, she glanced in the rear view mirror, then out her side window, to make sure she missed the bodies.
“Probably dead anyway.” She said watching them. It looked like a pair, one man, one woman, both on the young side, perhaps in their mid-twenties. The man started moving, struggling to get his hands untied.
Katie scanned the trees for zombies or other humans. She didn’t see anyone in any of the places she would have taken up a position.
‘They might be alone. But how in the fuck did they get here?’ The obvious thing to do was to hop out and untie them. Katie put the car in reverse, when her front door was beside their feet she opened it and leaned out behind her car door. She kept the car idling, with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas pedal. Leaning out she held onto the steering wheel with one hand while she cut the plastic ties holding their feet together the other.
“If you want to live, get on your feet and crawl into the back door of the car.”
The woman lay on the ground, not moving, the man rolled to his belly and used his head to get himself into a sitting position, with his back towards Katie. His mouth was muffled, but he wiggled his hands at her frantically.
Katie cut the cord with a swift motion of her knife. His hands free, the man didn’t waste time removing his gag, he grabbed the woman and opened the rear door of the car. Tossing her on the seat, he threw himself on top of her. Katie floored the gas pedal as a shot rang out from the woods. A bullet hit the car somewhere on the body as she accelerated, but did nothing to slow her down. Another shot rang out, then a third, before Katie had driven over a small hill and out of sight.
The man had pulled his gag free and sat up in the back of the car. The rear door couldn’t shut because the woman’s feet were in the way, so he pushed her to an upright position and pulled the door closed.
“Shit!” the man exclaimed, “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“I know.” Katie answered.
“Do you have a gun?”
Katie snorted derisively, “I have many guns.”
“Do you have one I could have?”
“Probably.” Katie glanced in the review mirror. “No one is following us.”
“I need a gun, I gotta go back.”
“No way, Jose. I ain’t going back there. Just enjoy the ride, bub.”
“Just pull over and let me out. I’ll walk back.”
Katie glanced in the review mirror again, adjusting it so she could see the man’s face. He looked serious. The woman was slumped against the door, bleeding. Blood was dribbling down the side of her face to smear on the side window.
“She was hit.”
“In the head. Let me out lady. Really. They have her kids. Please.”
Katie slowed the car down to a walking pace. “Mister, for all I know you are with them, those guys back there and as soon as I stop your friends will jump me.”
“No, they were moving us, left us on the road while the three of them went back for the kids. They didn’t think anyone would be on the road. They ain’t seen anyone in days.”
“Neither have I. Until I almost ran you over.”
“You gotta stop. I need to go back.”
“One guy against three of them?”
“You could help.”
“I like killing zombies. Only three?”
“Just three. They were bringing us to a camp. Some sort of a detainment center where all the living people get dumped. I can imagine what happens to us there.”
Katie pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped.
“They your kids?”
The man shook his head, “No, hers. I didn’t know her until I was caught. It has been a couple of weeks for us.”
“They took you two weeks ago? And didn’t eat you?”
“Someone told them not to. They bled me once though, took out a pint or two. They didn’t drink it in front of me, but I know they drank it. They talked about how good it was.”
Katie opened her door and went around to the passenger side where the woman was. Slowly she eased the other door open and caught the woman as she fell out. The woman wasn’t dead, yet. But her head wound was bleeding badly and her breathing was shallow.
“I don’t think she is going to make it.” Katie said.
“You think I don’t know that? There ain’t no hospitals around anymore. She got shot in the head, she is a goner. The least I can do is go get her kids.”
“What were the names of her kids?”
“Alex and Ethan. Alex is a girl, only about six, her brother is four.”
‘Well he answered that quickly enough.’ thought Katie. She reached into the front seat and pulled the release on the trunk. She had been picking up guns as she came across them. There weren’t any people, but there were plenty of firearms lying about on the roads. Moving to the trunk she picked up an M-16.
“I haven’t tested this yet, but it should work fine.” Katie said as she handed the empty gun over to the man.
He looked at it, then at her. “Thanks. Just point and pull the trigger?”
Nodding, Katie watched as he turned and took a few steps back the way they had come from.
“Wait!” she called after him, “You’ll need to load it first.” Fishing around in the trunk she came up with a couple of magazines and loaded the weapon for him. “Did you see how I loaded it? Press this button here and you have to slide this lever back when you reload to get a bullet in the chamber.”
The man spun around and sprinted towards the small rise in the road behind them.
Softly to herself Katie said, “Sure. I’ll come along. Thanks for asking. Just let me get this bitch’s head bandaged up first alright. No. No need to wait for me to fix up the kids mom, you go right ahead without me. I’ll catch up.”
While she was muttering to herself Katie pulled out a first aid kit and scanned the sides of the road around her. Seeing nothing she went back to the woman and pulled her out of the car completely before bandaging her head. Afterward Katie reached into the front seat again and pulled out her .30-06 rifle. She started to head after the man slowly, he was now out of sight over the hill and she was listening for the conflict to begin. Nothing, not even any birds chirping. She had expected shots by now.
Shrugging she changed plans and hopped into the vehicle, starting it up she backed up quickly towards the slight rise behind her. She parked the car on the leeward side of the hill, hopefully out of sight of anything on the other side, then got out and made her way cautiously into the grass on the side of the road.
Creeping up the hill in the high grass was a piece of cake. Katie kept the shoulder of the road within arm’s length as she went. By the time she crested the hill she was crawling, below her the road was empty. Glancing behind her the highway was still deserted too.
Katie raised the rifle slightly and stared through the scope to try and spot the man who had preceded her a few minutes before. There! She spotted him at the inside edge of the woods. He was looking inwards, as if he had spotted something. Katie saw him raise the rifle and heard the sharp retort as it went off.
The fool almost fell backwards when he fired. Apparently the gun hadn’t been properly braced on his shoulder when he pulled the trigger. He recovered quickly enough and fired again. Then he started pulling the trigger as fast as he could. His gun clicked on empty and he continued to pull the trigger. After a moment he seemed to remember what Katie had told him about reloading. He turned and fled from the side of the woods as he tried to reload. He dropped the empty clip on the ground as he made his way up to the blacktop. The full clip spun from his hand as he tried to slam it home in the gun and he lurched after it as it skidded along the road. Behind the man three zombies came slinking out of the woods.
They looked about suspiciously and Katie crouched down lower in the grass, hoping it would be enough to keep her from being seen by their special zombie vision. Their gaze slid passed her smoothly and they split apart and ran up the hill after the man.
By the time they made it to the top of the roadway, Katie had the furthest man in her sights. All three of the men were dressed in stained shirts that gleamed bright red in the afternoon sun. The man had the magazine in his hands, but it looked to Katie like fear was keeping him from being able to slot the thing home. Shrugging slightly she said, “That’s the difference between yahoos and professional soldiers buddy.”
She gently squeezed the trigger and the shot caught the far zombie just above his ear, his head jerked sideways and a spray of crimson flew out beyond him in a straight line. Before his corpse had even hit the ground Katie was sighting in on the next zombie, a woman in shorts and with unnaturally pale skin. Both zombies threw themselves down, which ruined Katie’s chances to get off a quick shot. Cursing she tried to follow her target along the ground. The zombie was doing everything it could to prevent her from getting in a clean hit. It jerked its head sideways and up and down as it moved, trying to make it back into the tall grass.
As this was happening the man finally slotted home the clip and started firing. His shots hit the zombies in the torso, but didn’t slow either of them. From the woods Katie saw the two kids start to shamble up the hill.
‘Damn, kid zombies. Those bastards.’ The trio must have offed the kids after Katie picked up the adults. ‘Focus on the immediate threat first.’ The woman was almost to the grass, so Katie took the shot she had. As luck would have it, the bullet hit the woman just as her head was jerking up. There was no spray this time, but the zombie immediately fell face down onto the road.
The man was in the way of her next shot. He had run up to the remaining zombie and put himself between it and the grass. The man stood over it and fired down at point blank range. Nothing happened. He had burned through his entire clip.
“Get the fuck out of my way!” Katie yelled at him.
The man looked up at her, while the zombie used the distraction to jump him. Both of them tumbled down towards the kids, fighting and flailing with their arms and legs swinging wildly. Katie tracked the melee with her scope, but didn’t dare take a shot. The men ended up in a pile at the kid’s feet and the fight ended there. The children lunged into the melee and Katie watched for a few more moments before she started to back down the hill towards the car.
‘No way had he survived that. If the zed didn’t get him the kid zombies did. Bit was infected; infected was dead. Fucking waste.’
Katie made her way back to the car and didn’t bother to pick up the woman as she continued down the road. The next sign indicated she had only a few miles to go until she entered Florida.