May 22, 2016

Prologue 2

Rickett adjusted the driver’s seat to make room for his long legs. He sucked in another deep breath, expanding his stomach in hopes to slow the adrenaline, but before he could exhale, a cough ripped through his throat. He quickly stifled it with the crook of his elbow and the thick gray sweater, fumbling the revolver into the passenger seat. Keeping the sweater pressed to his mouth, he secured the bat, handle up, next to the gearshift.

Rickett slid the key into the ignition and hesitated. Tendrils of smoke climbed up and over the car as the nearby fires continued to consume and move closer. I left them him in there to die, he thought to himself. Rage overtook him and he slammed his fist against the steering wheel. I could have tried. I could have done something—anything—other than run away!

“Coward,” he growled through clenched teeth. “Damned coward.” Rickett slammed the side of his fist repeatedly into the passenger seat’s headrest until guilt replaced the rage. He let out a deflated sigh and sunk into the driver’s seat.

We made it this far, looking to rescue her, Gavin’s sister, and now I sit alone in her car while everyone else gone. Now what? What’s left when the world around you burns? He knew that turning the key would bring the biters to him. Not igniting the engine only prolonged their assault. What do I do now? I have no clue where I am or  who else is out there.


He pushed on the brake and turned the key. The engine came to life. I just have to keep moving. Someone has to be out there. Maybe Addison’s still out there. And if she is, someone needs to let her know how hard her brother fought for her. How he sacrificed everything for her.

And like a volcano, the smoke induced coughing fit he feared erupted and burned his chest, throat, and every muscle between them with each paralyzing hack. Harder the coughs came, and Rickett dry heaved at the end of each brutal eruption, doubling over the gearshift and coughing harder and faster and more violently until his body seized and slumped, and his sight filled with exploding blue and yellow lights before tumbling into darkness.

***

“Wake the fuck up, old man!”

The yelling echoed in his head and jolted him awake. His vision was blurred, so he flailed his arms around, unsure of where he was, banging his hands against glass, plastic, and cloth. When the voice dissipated, a sharp ringing in his ears remained.

With blurred vision and his throat afire, Rickett called out to the disembodied voice. “Benny!” The name stumbled over his lips in a coarse the whisper, the coughing fit having stolen his voice, and he groped wildly, longingly, into the passenger seat. But Benny wasn’t there. He knew no one was there, that no one could be there. Not here, not now, and maybe not ever. Benny’s voice was left over from trauma, trauma that seemed to have no end.

Thuds and groans overlapped static from the car’s radio he had switched on when flailing. Fluid shadows slithered across his watery vision. Blinking was not helping, and neither did rubbing the heels of his palms into his eyes. Although he couldn’t see clearly, he knew the hive had found him. The only thing that protected him from their hunger was the shell of a small, yellow Volkswagen beetle.

When his vision started clearing, he saw their broken, jagged teeth scraping against the windshield first. His sight expanded to include their taught, bruised salivating mouths and emaciated faces. Finally, their milky, mucus covered eyes rolled violently around in their sockets looking for the prey. Looking for him. But could they actually see him? He wasn’t so sure.

He looked to both sides of the car, and the teeth and eyes were there, too. Even behind him. He had been swarmed by a hive of hunger. Hundreds of teeth, snapping jaws, and searching eyes all honed in on him.

“Shit!” he hissed. Fingers raked against the soft top covering his head. He had to go now; if he didn’t, there’s no telling how long the top would hold out against these creatures. He would have to make some room, and that meant ramming the car into numerous bodies. Why didn’t her parents get her an SUV for graduation? he asked himself, shaking his head. He shifted into reverse and stomped on the gas.

He felt the contact through the car’s vibrations: bones breaking as the car forced itself backwards into the biters. He heard growls and groans, thuds and wails. Bodies slid from the car’s hood. When the car wouldn’t move anymore, he shifted into drive, the headlights highlighting the gaunt faces and milky-white eyes. Those that slid from the hood struggled to rise under the crushing weight of the hive’s second wave of biters. They would do anything to consume, even if it meant crushing others. While they amassed in hives, their motive was individual, singular: devour to sustain forward motion.

He pounded the gas again, thrusting the car into the bodies awash in the headlights’ yellow glow.  More vibrations, more sickening noises. He turns up the radio’s volume, blasting the white noise to drown out the sounds.

Again he shifted into reverse and accelerated. And again he shifted into drive, this time closing his eyes so he wouldn’t have to watch the gore. Even though these things wanted to eat him, they were human at one point. Sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters. Parents. At some point in time, they all wanted to make it to the next day like him. He already had enough human blood on his hands, so he didn’t want to watch more spill across the parking lot and the car. But when he closed his eyes, his mind returned to the hallway, to the dying boy mouthing the word “help” over and over.

Reverse. Wheels grinded bones and bodies. Drive. More bones and more bodies. Rickett repeated the process over and over until he was able to break free.

Once he broke through the outer layer of the hive, he turned off the static and maneuvered through the parking lot as well as he could, given that he didn’t know his way around the campus and the thick smoke obscured his vision. Rickett’s anxiety and urge to escape accentuated every bump, and when he turned, pops and clicks from the front wheel well echoed like thunder in his ears. He should’ve known the car couldn’t handle running over numerous bodies, but he didn’t have a choice. The car was his only way out, but he was worried his getaway vehicle wouldn’t get him very far.

Rickett did his best to weave through the lighter patches of smoke when he felt like he was on an open road. He didn’t know how many more creatures inhabited the smoke or if any of the local militia were lurking in the night beyond the fires.

After a few turns, Rickett entered a thick patch of smoke, spotting the glow of fire to his right. He slowed down to a crawl, unsure of where the road ended on each side of him. The world outside the car was smoke and fire, orange and ash.

Suddenly, silhouettes appeared to his left and he knew what they were by their shambling movements. If the biters were on his left, and the fires were on his right, he knew he needed to be on the other side of the flames. He remembered the fences of fire from the trip into Lincoln, how they contained the biters.

He sped up a bit, closer to ten miles per hour, hoping to accelerate his escape. The smoke thinned before Rickett came upon a crudely made barrier that had yet to burn. Orange construction barrels with reflectors showed bright in the headlights. The barrels, along with a mixture of wood and chain link fencing, stood between him, the fires, and the hive of biters. He could chance driving through it, but the car had sustained a good bit of damage already, as had Rickett. He didn’t need to take any more hits to the body; he would need to keep what strength he had left. Have to keep moving, old man, as Benny would say.

He cut the engine and pulled the keys from the ignition. He shook them around in his hand as he considered his next move. On the ring was a small silver tennis racket, a potential keepsake for Addison, but for Rickett, these keys were the only thing he had left to remember his purpose: to keep fighting like the boys had. To keep searching. He closed his hand and shoved the keys into his pocket before grabbing the revolver and bat.

Rickett breathed deeply. No more cowardice. Guilt and rage and anger and hate are all fine, but no more cowardice. Gavin and Benny didn’t know shit about guns or surviving, but they pushed on. And so will I.

Rickett opened the door, and with weapons in hand, he approached the poorly built but stable barrier. It was about shoulder high, and he scaled it with ease. He looked back briefly, wondering if and when the biters would eventually overtake the barrier and escape this particular containment area. He thought about all the bodies left behind, both human and biter. Yes, there is guilt and anger, and that’s human. To be human is all that’s left, and I won’t let the world take that from me.

He turned away from the college campus and entered into the night, this time with a renewed sense of purpose, similar to that of the bees, the biters: sustained forward motion.