Chapter 24: Vic
Roseston Park, Washington
It was just a scratch. Just a scratch. At least, that's what I wanted to believe. This mere scratch had caused me to go berserk- I had almost killed the mayor because of it. It was the rakes that did it, the ones who attacked me. One wound, no matter how small, caused by them would turn you hostile to everyone and anyone. Some petty disappointment would manifest itself into a full blown rage that would send you on a quest to kill the nearest life form. I had woken up the bed of a truck, parked in the driveway of some house on the edge of the sea. I had jumped out and ran as fast as I could away from the city, knowing that if I stayed the scratch might make me attack someone innocent again. There was no hope for me now; I was already infected.
When I had fled from the truck a week ago it took me till nightfall to reach my current location. I just on the edge of Roseston Park, about 200 yards from the main road (if I had to guess). Despite my vicious attack earlier the universe had been kind to me and had led me to a school bus newly abandoned on the park's dirt road. What it was doing here I had no idea. A field trip gone awry maybe? Either way it had given me shelter for the night and all the nights to come, up to now.
The keys had been left in the vehicle so I had full control over it. I didn't need to worry about being too hot or too cold, thanks to the state-of-the-art air conditioner. There was one thing I was worried about though; food. I had found enough berries here and there out in the woods to survive, but I couldn't stay out there for long- something didn't feel right. Every time I came back in I had to pass that back rearview mirror. I couldn't believe how gaunt I was, how my hair was so stringy and greasy, how my clothes had started to become too big for me. But hey, that's what a week of near-starvation will do to you.
As I lay down on the long back seat of the bus I tried resting my hands on my stomach. Even the slightest touch shot pain through my body and I cringed in disgust as I felt the soon to be very defined ribs sticking out from my shirt. The hunger made me feel nauseous but I knew the loss of stomach fluids wouldn't help my case at all. I was just starting to get comfortable on the seat for my afternoon nap when a tapping on the front door got my attention. My eyes shot open and my heart skipped a beat. Despite my weak body my senses were still sharp- although I had a feeling that they wouldn't be that way for long. The knocking came again and I sat up, crawling over to the window so that I could see who was out there without being seen myself.
It was a young girl with dull black hair, much like my own. She seemed skeptical of the possibility of someone residing in the bus but she continued to knock anyway. I clenched my teeth in sudden pain as the wound on my shoulder began to pulse, sending waves of anger into my brain. No, no I thought, Try to fight it! Seeing as the girl was still there, I tried to ignore my urges to leap through the glass and attack her, and instead steadily made my way over to the front. In a sudden lurching motion I grabbed hold of the lever that would open the bus door. I pulled back hard and the doors swung open, much to the girl's surprise.
I must've looked worse than I thought for it looked as if the girl was trying to suppress her true feelings of disgust, "Are you okay?" she asked, taking a tentative step into the bus.
I laughed a little nervously and took a few steps back into the aisle, "I'm so sorry," I said, my voice coming out ragged, "I never should've let you in here," the girl looked at me with concern, "I don't want to," I gasped out, my breathing becoming even shallower now, "But I'm going to have to kill you," I screamed and took my hand away from my shoulder wound. Everything became filtered through a red light as I lunged for the girl. Terror ruled in her eyes until she saw the scratch on my shoulder. As I reached out for her desperately she shielded my eyes and pushed my head back with one hand and grabbed onto my infected shoulder with the other. I screamed again, this time in agony rather than rage, as her teeth bit down in my wound.
I thrashed at first, but my punches and kicks and claws were hitting nothing but air and I was still blind. After a while though, both the pain and the rage started to ebb away. I could feel my eyes becoming less bloodshot and by body became more relaxed. The girl must've sense this too for at that moment she lifted her hand away from my eyes so I could see her better. Oddly enough, it looked as if she was sucking at my bloody shoulder and then spitting the blood on the bus floor. She did this for a few more seconds and then stopped. I realized that during the brief attack we'd both been propelled to the floor and she was now lying on top of me. I watched as she got up and dusted herself off, wiping away a small train on blood residing on her right cheek. I looked down at my shoulder and saw that the scratch- while still there- was considerably less red and irritated.
Despite the situation, my geeky self came out and I couldn't help but ask, "Are you a vampire?" The girl smiled and laughed, shaking her head. She held out her hand to me and, still dumbstruck, I took it and found myself standing up right again.
"My name is Yuki," she said as she sat down on one of the bus seats. I sat down across from her, still in awe.
"What did you do?" I asked.
"You were infected," Yuki replied, "So I got the…venom out of you."
"Yeah, but," I was at a loss for words, "How did you know what to do? How did you know I was infected?"
"I've seen enough," Yuki replied, obviously enjoying the fact that a nineteen year old man was sitting there in awe of her younger self, "I spent a week in Reyesent undetected. Hungry, yes, but still unknown by the general population. I got someone to pass food to me every once and a while, but that was about it," a looked of sadness crossed her face for a second, but she quickly dismissed it, "I saw a few people that had been scratched when the rakes were still around. I saw how they were affected; some sooner than others, yes, but in the end, unless their wound was somehow magically healed, they all turned rouge. Like you," I blushed a little, ashamed at what I'd done, but relieved to know that it wasn't really me doing all of that. "So who are you? And what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I'm Vic," I answered. After explaining how I'd gotten here I added, "I know I've got to look like a mess right now," I rubbed my unevenly shaved chin, "I've been kind of stuck out here for the past seven days and life hasn't exactly been easy,"
"What do you mean you've been stuck out here?" Yuki asked, puzzled, "You've got a bus with the keys still in it. Unless it's out of gas, there's nothing stopping you from returning to the city."
"Yes there is," I replied, "Or at least, there was, until you came along," I added with a smile. "Hey, that reminds me," something suddenly occurred to me, "What are you doing out here by yourself? I hate to be that guy, but don't you know it's dangerous?"
A shadow crossed Yuki's face, "At this point," she said, "I think it's more dangerous in the city. This kid Preston's been running the only grocery store in town that hasn't been raided and he's not exactly one to share. I-" she paused for a second, then continued, "His girlfriend was killed and it seemed as if he couldn't care less. I'm beginning to think he's a sociopath."
I nodded gravely, "I see," I replied. The two of us sat in silence for a moment. "You know what?" I said suddenly, "I bet you we could do something with this bus."
"Yeah?" Yuki asked, "Like what?"
"Well," I thought for a moment. What could we do with a bus? "Maybe if there's trouble at the grocery store like you said, we could use this huge bus to pose as a makeshift store. Think about it; we steal some food, drive with it to the other side of town, and spread the word. That way we could not only get food for ourselves but everyone else," A smile began to spread across Yuki's face as she nodded.
"But wait," she said, her smile disappearing as it was replaced by a look of concentration, "There's no way we could get enough food with it being just the two of us. We'd have to get other people to help.
"Well do you know anyone who would do that?" I asked, surprised at how impatient I had suddenly become. We'd better find a supply of food, and fast, before hunger gave everyone the effects the infected wounds had.
Yuki thought for a moment, then shook her head, "No," she said, "But I'd be very surprised if everyone in town was fine with what's going on. I'm sure we could find someone to help us." My spirits were slightly lifted as Yuki finished her sentence.
"Yeah," I said, starting to get excited, "Maybe this really could work!" I laughed and clapped my hands together, thinking of the taste of a warm, juicy cheeseburger in my mouth.
"Well?" Yuki asked, breaking me out of my fantasy, "What are you waiting for?" She gestured toward the driver seat and it occurred to me that I was the only one out of the two of us who knew how to drive.
"Oh, yeah, right," I said as I got up and headed over to the front. I closed the bus door and grabbed the keys that were lying on the dashboard. I plunged them into their slot and felt a wave of satisfaction and relief wash over me as the engine roared to life. Yuki slid into the seat behind me and leaned forward into the aisle in anticipation, watching the view in front of her. My brain was fuzzier than I had thought it would be because of the lack of nutrition, but after a few seconds of remembering the knowledge of a how to drive came back to me.
After we got off of the dirt path in the park and finally began to feel the smooth pavement under the wheels Yuki spoke up, "How about some music?" she asked. I was about to sing when I noticed she was referring to the bus's radio.
"Oh, okay." I reached over and switched it on, seeing as it was already set to 87.7, the only station worth listening to. But to my disappointment we were just met with silence.
"Are you sure you turned it on?" Yuki asked.
"Yeah, I'm sure," I replied, a little exasperated. "See, the light's glowing red, of course it's turned on!" I pointed to the little red light on the dashboard indicating that the radio was indeed on.
"Then why is nothing coming out of it?" Yuki asked. But something was coming out of it. It was soft at first, but after a while it was too apparent. It was a male voice and it was laughing. Laughing a maniacal, crazy laugh that stood alone in the silence of the reception. The laugh turned from full out cackling into a childish giggle, as if enjoying the cities' expense. "Vic, turn it off!" Yuki yelled, but I didn't hear her. The laugh captivated me and I could feel my body slowly start to relax again, the fingers that were gripping the steering wheel begin to turn loose and I let them slide off. "Vic, the road!" I jumped at the sound of Yuki's voice and realized almost too late that we had begun to drive off the road.
I shook my head to clear it and grabbed hold of the wheel, yanking it over to the right as the left side of the bus scraped against the short metal wall of the highway. I was glad Yuki had woken me up- the barrier that we'd almost broken was the only thing between us and a steep, rocky ravine. As soon as we were back to driving in a straight and steady line I reached my hand over and turned off the radio. The laughing immediately stopped and the only sound was that of the tires running across the pavement. My heart was racing as I tried to get my breath back under control.
"Vic," Yuki spoke up, "The light's still on," I looked down at the radio light and saw that she was right; it was still glowing red. A second after I looked it flickered and the light died down until it was nonexistent. I refrained from looking at the light or the radio and tried to concentrate on the road in front of me. Smoke still hung over the city, even after a week, but the silhouettes of wrecked buildings were still visible.
We didn't say anything as we drove the next few miles that would take us into the safety of Reyesent and the future end of hunger.