“We are totally surrounded! This is not good,” Ken shouted into the radio.
Dale backed up to readjust one more time when the wave of zombies hit the truck in full force. It was an unrelenting wall of flesh, bone and decay that pushed in with such force, the Durango rocked. Moaning, desperate faces filled the windows as claw-like hands scrabbled at the doors.
“Fuck,” Ken whispered into the mouthpiece, then dropped it.
The moans of the hungry zombies was deafening.
Dale reversed and tried to back up but it was as if the truck was trying to push its way through a brick wall. The zombies barely yielded and the press against the truck from all sides continued.
The Durango was now being pushed across the road, despite Dale’s attempts to floor it. There was too much pressure coming against the vehicle from the enormous wave of zombies coming up through the forest.
Sliding sideways, the truck protested as the metal groaned against the constant assault. Ken screamed as a zombie’s body pressed against his window began to pop and split apart like a ripe melon.
“Shit, oh, shit,” Ken whispered. He heard Kevin’s voice demanding to know their status, but he ignored it. Dale was cussing so colorfully Ken would have been impressed if he wasn’t so damn scared.
Then the truck was pushed over into the ditch on the side of the road. The undead in the ditch were squashed beneath the truck, but more took their place beating and pushing against the Durango. The two men inside ended up lying on the driver’s side windows, staring up at the zombies swarming on top of the capsized vehicle.
“We’re not gonna make it, are we?” Ken asked, his voice catching.
They both watched in horrible fascination as one of the zombies began to beat against the window with a rock. Cracks slowly began to spread across the glass.
Dale pulled the smaller man into his arms and cradled Ken’s head against his chest. “It’s okay, Ken.”
Ken sobbed softly into his chest.. “Lenore is going to kill me.”
“At least you know someone loved you,” Dale consoled him.
“Yeah,” Ken whispered as the glass shattered and rained down around them. “Yeah. I do.”
Ken watched Dale flick the safety off his pistol. Pressing his lips tightly together, he nodded.
“I’ll do it for both of us.”
Dale kissed Ken’s forehead gently as he brought up his gun. “Sleep tight, Ken,” he said, and fired.
Ignoring the bits of brain and blood splattered over him, Dale wrapped his arm tightly around Ken’s shoulders and took a deep breath.
“I’m right behind you, buddy.”
Just as the first of the zombies fell into the truck on top of them, Dale pushed the gun into his mouth and fired.
Despite everything going on in the outside world in the deadlands, Katie fell asleep on the couch in the communication center. She had felt drained all morning. When she had laid down on the sofa, she hadn’t expected to fall asleep, but she had.
She awoke to someone crying out.
It was Travis she saw first, his face strained and tears in his eyes. Peggy sat at the communication hub sobbing loudly, her hands over her face.
Peggy wiped her tears on the bottom of her t-shirt and again pressed down the button on the microphone in front of her. “Dale, Ken, please respond. What is your status?”
“They said zombies came out of the forest and surrounded them. It sounded like they were trying to drive away then the line went silent,”
“What’s worse is that they hadn’t left the departure point. Which means the zombies are further ahead than we thought,” Travis said in a hollow voice.
Juan stepped into the room. “We’re taking off in the other helicopter. I’ll let you know what we find.”
Peggy continued to try to raise the two missing men.
“I will be,” Juan assured him, then was gone.
Katie sat up slowly and curled up on the sofa, tears. Her arms folded over her belly as though to shield her unborn child from all this terror. The loss of life in the last few months was staggering. How much more could they endure?
“I wish Nerit was here,” Peggy said through her sobs. “I wish she was here.
She’d know what to do. No offense, Travis, but she would.”
Travis nodded grimly. “I know. But we need to keep doing our best. Once we know what is going on out there, we’ll figure out the next step.”
Peggy wiped her tears away again and turned back to the communication center. “Come in, Dale. Come in, Ken. What is your status? Repeat, what is your status?”
* * * * * “Keep going, Bill,” Kevin said into his headset. “You’ve got them following you and that’s what we need. Keep an eye on your gas gauge and keep right at the speed where you are now.”
“Can’t say I feel too comfortable right now,” Bill’s voice answered.
Kevin looked down at the bright cherry red Durango and the mass of gray, decaying people following behind it. “I know, Bill. But you’re doing a good job.”
Next to Kevin, Bette sat trembling from pain as Linda did her best to set her arm and bandage it. Curtis was a hunched figure in the passenger seat up front. Ed sat grimly with his rifle at the ready watching the horde of zombies below.
The tension was unbearable. They had all heard Ken’s hysterical voice.
There was a very good chance that Dale and Ken were gone.
As the news came in that the second helicopter was now in the air and going to check out the situation, Kevin looked down at the Durango and the following parade of the dead.
The situation was beginning to feel helpless.
3. The Pied Piper of the Living Dead
Katarina looked into the side mirror of the Durango to see her sunburned face gazing back at her from beneath her cowboy hat. Her sunglasses hid eyes that she knew must be wide with fear. Her gaze slipped slightly to one side and the undead stumbling behind the Durango came into view.
The creatures were so determined they had actually increased in speed.
Bill had to push down on the accelerator just a bit to keep ahead of the flesh eating mob.
Twisting around in her chair, she looked out the back window at the massive crowd of zombies trailing them. Her stomach heaved again and she tried hard not to vomit. Her fear was so powerful, she was trembling.
She had lost any semblance of calm quite some time ago. Her teeth were chattering and Bill kept touching her to reassure her. She was sure Nerit would be sorely disappointed in her. But this was different from being a sniper. Not since the first day had she seen the dead so close, and beyond that, so many.
Behind the walls, even the makeshift walls from the first days, she had felt safe whenever she had faced a large mass of zombies. She had faith in those walls. But out here on the country roads, there were no walls. Just endless road, trees, shrub and the unwavering dead. And out here, despite the helicopter overhead, it was just she and Bill. Bill, who loved her. She loved him so much that she was terrified of what could happen to him.
Yes, she was terrified of possibly dying under the snapping, tearing jaws of the undead, but Bill...
“About ten more minutes,” Bill answered. He was sweating profusely because of the unrelenting glare of sunlight through the windshield.
Katarina could feel sweat trickling between her breasts and she rubbed the top of her nose. Drops of tears and sweat dripped from her fingers.
“Ken and Dale are dead,” she said softly. She still couldn’t fully fathom that her two friends were gone.
“You and I both know it, Bill. You heard what was on the CB!”
Katarina shook her head. “We gotta get out of here, Bill.” Just looking at him made her even more afraid. She touched his shoulder lovingly. His fingers covered hers.
“We’ll be out of here soon enough, baby.”
Katarina watched the undead with a growing sense of dread and horror.
Her stomach rolled again. “Please, Bill, let’s just go.”
“We gotta make sure that the fort is safe,” Bill answered.
“Bill, we need to leave now!” Her voice cracked as she screamed and the sound startled her.
Bill didn’t look at her, but kept driving. He was smart not to take his eyes off the road. Just around the curve was an overturned semi-truck.