Jenni was reloading again when she heard the fast slap of feet on the pavement and instantly knew what that meant.
The fast zombies came from behind the van. Their freshly killed bodies glistened with blood in the cold sunlight. Gaping wounds, terrible and grotesque, decorated their torsos and throats, but their limbs were still intact and they were fast.
The slower zombies were now secondary as the group concentrated on taking down the runners before they reached the line. There were at least six zigzagging up toward them.
But people were panicking. Runners were so swift it was hard to hit them with a killing shot. The line broke up and Jenni gripped her ax and yanked it off her back as her pistol clicked empty. She had no time to reload and shoved her weapon into her belt before gripping the ax handle tightly with both hands.
Runners were now coming up off the side of the road. Men, women, children, their faces snarled into hungry expressions. The gunfire was rapid now. People were firing and reloading as fast as they could.
Jenni met the first runner as Curtis ducked out of the way to reload, not realizing she was on empty. She swung the ax as hard as she could, the blade slamming hard into the thing’s neck. It scrabbled at her, its fingers skidding along the leather of her jacket. She shoved it back with one foot, jerking the ax out of its flesh. Blood spewed over her as she slammed the ax back into its neck, this time decapitating it. The head rolled away as the body fell.
Another zombie was almost on her. It was a woman this time, her frizzy, blond hair matted with blood. Her face was partially torn from her skull, and her throat was nothing but strips of flesh and spine. Jenni pivoted on her hip, bringing her elbow up to clip the zombified woman’s chin hard.
The creature was in mid-scream and the impact of Jenni’s blow, shoved her jaw upwards, clipping off the tip of her tongue on her bloody teeth.
Shoving the dead woman as hard as she could, Jenni got a little distance between them. Swinging the ax, she neatly decapitated the zombie.
Jenni looked over to see him on the ground, his arm lifted defensively. A zombie had a hold of his forearm and was shaking its head back and forth, trying to bite through the thick leather of Curtis’ jacket. Jenni slammed the ax blade down onto its head, splitting it open. It fell lifeless off of Curtis.
Chaos was around her, but the zombies were dying. She could see them falling under machetes, spears, and bullets. Nearby, she saw one of the fort people struggling to get a runner off his back as the thing gnawed away at the back of his neck. Blood rained around the man’s terrified face as he screamed.
The words had barely left her lips when someone fired two shots, killing both the runner and Bob.
Jenni twisted around as she felt something brush her shoulder. It was Felix tripping over a body at their feet. He recovered quickly and fired two shots into the face of a slower, decayed zombie trying to grab him. The runners were down, their blood making the road slick. Their remains were tripping up the rest of the zombies shambling toward the fort people.
Feeling the heat of battle in her veins, Jenni marched toward the slower zombies, ax poised. Felix fell in beside her, Ed on her other side, and together they decimated the stumbling creatures. The zombies were slow and stupid. As long as she didn’t let herself get cornered, it wasn’t too hard to get them off their feet and down on the ground. Once there, it was easy for her to plant one boot on their decaying body and slam her ax down on their head.
Felix kicked the feet out from under a zombie and shot it point blank in the face. “I hate these things.”
Jenni looked up from the zombie she had just dispatched. A bit of its nose and brain were still sticking to the ax blade, and she shook it off. The road was littered with the dead. She took a few deep breaths and instantly regretted it due to the stench. Jenni felt her heart beating hard in her chest. Suddenly, she was aware of her uneven breathing and her arms aching from the blows she had administered with her ax. When she had been fighting, she had felt nothing but the exhilaration of killing the damned things. Now she hurt all over.
The grizzled older man turned, looking over the people scattered along the road. Katarina was standing over Bob, a sad expression on her face.
“I said, is anyone bit? Look yourselves over.”
Up on the van, Jenni saw the people they had saved getting to their knees.
They had been lying in a heap, holding on to the luggage rack for dear life.
There was an older Indian couple, two small children with the biggest and darkest eyes she had ever seen, a huge man with dark hair and unruly chops on his cheeks, a slender young man in Indian garb, and an older woman dressed in a flowing skirt and blouse.
“No one is bit up here,” the big man answered her. He was heavily muscled and looked like a wrestler.
The gore around the van was making Jenni’s stomach heave. The man she had seen fall from the van was consumed down to the bone. Only his head was partially intact with his skull gleaming under strips of flesh. She was drawing close when she saw the jaws open and close.
“That’s fucked up,” Felix decided in a trembling voice, then shot it.
“It’s brain was intact,” Jenni muttered. She felt her stomach roll over and she stopped in mid-step. Gore surrounded her and the stench of death was unbearable. Felix rubbed her back and she closed her eyes, regaining her composure. She heard the little kids on the van crying and she shoved her discomfort away.
“Let’s get you guys down,” she said, reaching up.
Behind her, Ed and Curtis were checking out the people from the fort. A bite was lethal. There was no cure. Whatever revived the dead was carried in the saliva of the zombies and it always turned their victims if the brain remained intact. But victims didn’t always just die and come back. On several occasions, people bitten merely turned and attacked.
Maybe a scientist could explain why this sometimes occurred, but as far as anyone knew, the scientists were all dead.
The huge guy jumped down from the van and barely caught himself from slipping on the blood and guts. “Damn. Messy. Poor Jacob.”
Jenni reached up to help one of the kids down, but the little girl shied away, hiding her face in the folds of the older woman’s sari.
She looked over at Curtis and shook her head.
“I need to check. Fort rules, you know.”
Sighing, Jenni lowered her hands and stepped away from the van.
Holding out her arms, legs spread, she let Curtis check her. He even looked behind her ears. With a curt nod, he moved on to check on Felix.
Turning, she reached up again. This time, the grandmother muttered a few words to the little girl and scooted her to the edge. As Jenni’s hands went around the child’s waist, she looked up into the enormous, black eyes fearfully gazing down at her. “It’s okay,” Jenni promised.
“Jenni, her hand,” Felix said, his voice ragged.
Her eyes fell from the girl’s face to the tiny hand clutching the thick leather of Jenni’s jacket. Blood was seeping from a wound just below the little finger. A chunk of flesh was missing.
Looking up, she saw the little girl’s dark eyes growing dimmer. Beneath her hands, she could feel the tiny heartbeat growing fainter.
The woman with the flowing skirts and blond hair prepared to jump down off the van. “What’s wrong?”
The Indian grandparents began to reach down to grab the little girl.
Jenni saw the fire, the spark of life, the spirit, or whatever it is that makes a human something other than a monster fade out of the girl’s eyes. With a scream of anger and fear, she threw the girl away from her.
The child hit the ground and rolled.
Her family cried out in angry tones in their own language.
Then the little girl sprung to her feet, twisted around, and snarled.
Rune had been on the road a long time and was anxious to lay his head down for a much needed rest. The big Harley under him roared with power as it raged over the weed infested road. He adjusted the goggles over his eyes and tucked his long braid of white hair into the collar of his leather jacket.
The darkened sky and barren hills were not welcoming. He had a bad feeling the day was going to get worse fast. He was on his way to meet up with his old buddy, Dale, and a bunch of other people who had escaped a rescue center outside of Waco. Since the zombie rising, he had been on the road nearly nonstop. He had been by the rescue center once before, and it had seemed safe enough. Barely any zombies had been stumbling around in that town. But on his last cruise by the old center, he had nearly been dragged off his bike by a throng of zombies. A few grenades into the crowd had cleared his way. His helmet and leathers had kept him safe from hungry mouths and grasping dead hands. It had been a fluke that he had seen the spray painted message and map on a billboard outside of town.