There was barely any room to edge around the truck and Bill swore as he slowed down to maneuver around it. He grabbed the CB mouthpiece. “We got an obstruction in the road. We’re going around.”
There was loud static, then a voice said, “We’re moving up to rendezvous.”
She gripped her head in agony and turned away from the view behind them, unable to watch the horde getting ever closer as the Durango slowed down to cautiously creep around the overturned semi.
“Baby, you’re going to be okay.”
“But if anything happens to you, I can’t bear it.”
“Kit-Kat, if anything happens to you, I can’t bear it. I can’t. We’re going to be okay. We’ll get around this truck, then we’ll be fine.” Bill risked letting go of the steering wheel so he could grip her hand and kiss it.
It was then that the driver of the truck made his appearance. Darting out from behind the truck, he struck the window with a wrench held tightly in one hand.
Reacting on pure impulse, Bill jerked the wheel and the Durango clipped the guardrail then bounced off to hit the edge of the back of the semitruck.
Fighting to gain control of the wheel, Bill swore. Katarina fell back into the back seat headfirst.
Greta’s voice over the CB was cut off as the Durango plowed into the station wagon directly behind the semi. The rending of metal and the scream of the tires filled their ears, then Bill and Katarina were tossed about inside the Durango as it flipped over and slid down the street.
“Get out! Get out!” Bill shouted, Katarina scrambled for the door, shoved it open, and climbed out.
Tumbling out onto the road from the overturned vehicle, she dared to look back. The horde of zombies was beginning to come into view behind the semi. Bill climbed out behind her. His forehead was gashed and he wiped the blood from his face as he looked back toward the zombies.
What he saw that Katarina did not was that the accident had freed the rest of the undead family inside the station wagon. They were scrambling out of the ruins of their car, decayed and wretched, and fiercely hungry.
She turned and ran. Pulling his gun from his holster, Bill was obviously in pain as he ran after her. Katarina ran as fast as she could on her banged up legs. Meanwhile, the freed family and the semi-truck driver moved with a swiftness that was terrifying. They weren’t runners, but they were fast enough.
Out of the corner of his eye, Bill saw something lurch up off the side of the road and reach for Katarina as she ran. Without a second thought, he tackled the thing. He crashed into the brush, the thing under him hissing and growling as it snapped its teeth at him.
Katarina started to turn, but Bill’s voice urged her keep running. She heard a gun shot and felt a sense of relief.
The helicopter slowly descended in front of her like some great bird. She sucked air into her burning lungs through bruised lips and ran toward it.
“Keep running, honey!” Bill urged her, more gunshots sounding behind her.
The helicopter came down to hover over the road. Katarina forced her body to move those last few steps and she collapsed into Kevin’s arms. He swung her up into the safety of the bird. Turning around she saw that Bill was not running toward the helicopter, but firing into the quickly advancing crowd.
“He’s bit,” Kevin’s ragged voice said in her ear.
Bill turned and smiled at her in that special way that made her heart beat faster. Giving a short wave with a badly mangled hand, he turned back to firing into the advancing horde of undead.
Katarina felt her heart lurch in her chest as she was pulled backwards from the door by gentle hands.
“No! No! We’re getting married! No!” She kicked and fought to get away, but Linda and Curtis held her firmly back from the door.
Ed moved to the doorway as the helicopter lifted up and took aim with his rifle.
“Ed, please, don’t! We’re getting married! Bill just fell! We had an accident! He’s not bit!”
Kevin and Ed both averted their eyes as Ed lowered the gun and the helicopter swung about.
“No,” Katarina said again weakly. “No! You don’t understand. We’re getting married.”
The sound of the helicopter’s enormous blades slicing at the sky filled her ears as Katarina lay sobbing on the floor beside Bette and Linda. The two women were trying to comfort her, but there was no comfort to be gained.
Her insides felt like they’d been torn out. Katarina felt like throwing herself from the helicopter and joining Bill.
Through her blurred vision, she could see Ed, Curtis and Kevin speaking.
Beyond them, in the cockpit, Greta was flying the huge beast, whisking them to safety. Another figure appeared, sliding out of the seat beside Greta. The big, lumbering form of Bill moved past the three men talking softly together and moved with absolutely no grace to where she lay.
Mesmerized by her fuzzy vision, she didn’t dare move or blink her eyes for fear of him vanishing.
Slowly, he knelt down next to her and took her hand gently in his. “I need you to know something before I go on, baby.”
“Bill,” she whispered, more tears filling her vision.
He shifted his weight and sat next to her on the floor. “When Doreen died there was nothing I could do but watch that cancer eat her up from the inside out. I sat on the Internet at night looking for alternatives, trying to find that magic cure for her. She was a spry thing but the cancer was too mean, too fast. It ate her up and when she died, she was so sad she had lost that battle. She had been so determined to win. If I could have taken her place, I would have. I would have given my life to save her.”
Katarina didn’t dare blink, but her eyes were so full of tears she could barely see him.
“Today, that thing came at you out of the brush and I didn’t think twice. I knew I could die right then and there, but I knew you would get away. I knew it! Don’t get me wrong, I tried hard not to get bit, but it got my hand pretty bad. I’d rather be going home with you than moving on. But I had a chance with you that I never had with Doreen. And I took it. And I’m glad for it.”
“She’s right, Kit-Kat,” Bill assured his bride-to-be. “I’m at peace because you’re alive. The fort needs you and you need them. You keep them strong and sure as the battle rages. You can do this. I know it. I’ve been damn lucky in my life to love two strong women. You keep strong, Kit-Kat. I love you.”
“Bill,” she whispered again. The tears slipped out of her eyes and his blurred image vanished. All that was before her was an empty space on the floor.
Sobbing anew, she covered her face with her hands, his presence still close to her. Bette and Linda leaned over her, trying to soothe her, stroking her hair and back.
“Oh, Bill,” she cried again as she fully realized the depths of his love for her. Without a doubt, his last act in his life was to show her how much he loved her.
* * * * * The door slid open and Kevin leaped out of the helicopter followed closely by Ed. Katarina appeared next, her face and eyes swollen, her expression grim. Linda helped Bette out, Ed joining her to lift her down.
Charlotte arrived with a wheelchair to take Bette to the clinic to set her arm. The Reverend moved forward to greet each person, whispering a soft prayer of thanks as he touched each one. When he reached Katarina, he held her in his arms and wept with her.
Travis reached out to Kevin and they clasped hands tightly. They stood in silence, their expressions tormented, then walked on together.
“You guys peeled off at least half of the undead. They’re on a steady trek away from here. What remains has slowed down slightly. Some are still turning back and following the others into the west. I think we confused them.”
Travis looked back to where Katarina was talking to the Reverend.
“Losing Bill is one of the hardest hits this fort as ever taken. Everyone is important, but Bill...”
“I know what you’re saying,” Kevin responded with a weary sigh. “Damn, it feels good to know we got a good portion of the zombies diverted, but losing Bill and the others doesn’t make it feel like much of a victory.”
As they walked through the different gates to get into the old construction site, the two men found themselves lapsing into silence. The people on the street gave them wide berth at the sight of their stooped shoulders and somber expressions. The word had spread quickly about the deaths that had occurred in the world beyond the walls.