Chapter 19: The Escape
Kerri ran hard, her breath puffing a cloud of frozen air in front of her with every pump of her legs.
An excited yipping rose on the air and she skidded to a breathless halt, turning on the spot as she tried to listen. The sound of scree shifting in the distance seized her chest, though, and she sprinted to the south once more, feet flying over the uneven, rocky landscape.
“I’m at Darren’s chopping block,” she panted as she ran, recognizing the clearing where she’d had her first disturbing exchange with the man, the morning after his encounter with the Unnamed.
“I’ll call in the chopper. Keep moving.”
Kerri pushed herself harder, lungs burning with exertion and cold until she felt like she needed to throw up.
Chopper blades sounded in the distance, and Kerri’s heart soared. Despite the fire in her chest, a wild grin spread across her face as she burst through the trees, running for her life toward the approaching helicopter.
A crashing of brush and scree jerked her attention to the rise high over her left shoulder.
Darren crouched among the distant vegetation, feline teeth bared. Eyes tracking her as she ran, he let out a snarl and launched himself from the rocks, disappearing among the scrubby trees below.
Kerri pushed herself harder, boots slamming into the ground as she forced herself to run faster.
The chopper was lowering itself toward the shore.
A rescue cable was being lowered.
Another sound drew her attention from the other direction.
Parker and Trey, the two survivors of the supply team, were tearing out of the dense growth near the water’s edge.
Kerri spun in the other direction. She couldn’t hear Darren anymore over the heavy percussion of the chopper blades, but she knew he was gaining on the clearing. One minute? Less? There might be time for her, but for all three?
Extending her legs, she dropped her head and pushed herself harder than she ever had before, tears streaming from the corners of her eyes as she sprinted straight past the hanging rescue cable.
She slid to a gasping halt at the bow of the slaughtered Bugout team’s boat. Someone was hollering at her to go back to the chopper. It could have been Jim, could have been one of the responders. Either way, she ignored them, vaulting instead into the gore-strewn boat, searching frantically through the massacre for one of the rifles she knew had to be there.
Her fingers closed around the familiar slim length of the Remington bolt action, yanking it from the carnage.
Parker and Trey had reached the chopper and one of them, Trey, she thought, was being lifted to safety. A flicker of motion among the rocks to the east told her Darren was nearly at the camp.
Scrabbling at the bolt with gloved fingers, Kerri finally used her teeth to rip it from her hand, drawing up and back on the bolt to find the chamber empty.
Her eyes swept the interior of the boat, but there was so much wreckage and gore she couldn’t get a fix on an ammo box. Giving up, she tossed the empty rifle aside, extricating another one from beneath a ravaged body, quickly followed by another. Working to keep her churning stomach under control, she ejected rounds as quickly as she could, loading them into the other gun until its capacity was full.
Levering the bolt down into place, she checked the rescue chopper. The cable was being lowered back down and Parker was waving frantically at her to hurry.
Slipping and skidding on the mass of blood and entrails, Kerri braced one hand on the edge of the boat and flung herself over, racing for the lowering cable, staggering under the buffeting winds from the rotating blades.
Her hand closed around the sturdy cable and she scrambled to shimmy into the canvas sling, working it down to wrap beneath her hips, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on the far tree line.
The cable went taught, and she felt herself being lifted free of the pebbled shore. But no sooner had her feet lifted from the ground than Darren, bestial and crazed, burst through the underbrush on the far side of the camp.
He was running fast, but she was halfway up. Jerking her eyes to the winch above her, she saw the responder leaning out through the doors, watching her, oblivious to Darren racing across the clearing.
He was nearly halfway to them, gaining momentum as he raced to close the distance.
Shit, he’s not planning on throwing rocks this time. He’s going to jump!
The winch stuttered and Kerri felt herself being pulled inside. Tossing her rifle to the floor, she struggled out of the rescue harness, tossing it immediately back out the open door. One of the responders began attempting to check her over but she pushed him away, reaching once again for the gun.
Positioning herself at the open entrance, Kerri braced herself against the door and lifted the rifle to her shoulder. Leading Darren a bit in her sights, she fired.
Blood exploded just right of center on Darren’s chest, knocking him back and earning Kerri a savage yowl, audible even over the whirling blades. Turning back, he started running again.
Working the bolt in one smooth motion, Kerri fired again, striking him just below her first shot and causing him no more distress than had the first.
Frantic, Kerri looked down, Parker was leaping and reaching for the rescue harness, but they couldn’t pull away yet.
Below, Darren was nearly upon them.
A bead of sweat ran into Kerri’s eye as she lined up for one last shot, the sting of ash causing her to swear and blink. Then, seeing the white smear come away as she dashed her fingers over her eye, she acted on wild inspiration.
Pulling up and back on the bolt, she withdrew the next round and dragged the icy surface of the Winchester .308 through the ash beneath her eye.
Please work, she prayed as she loaded the round back into the chamber and slammed the bolt home.
Darren had reached the shore.
Kerri lowered her eye to the sights.
Darren coiled and launched himself at the hovering aircraft.
Time seemed to still.
Kerri let out a slow, steady breath.
Darren’s head whipped back as Kerri’s round took him between the eyes and he fell like a stone to the lake shore.
Breath held, Kerri leaned out. Darren wasn’t moving.
He had landed face down with one arm twisted impossibly behind his back, the damage to the back of his skull filling Kerri with a macabre sense of relief as Parker was pulled into the safety of the helicopter.
Her world tilted as the chopper angled off toward the city, picking up speed as they left the Cold Mountain of the Unnamed behind. But not before Kerri caught a glimpse of Tiponi, the fierce Hopi woman, standing on a rise with her blade in the air, tongue rolling an unheard ululation of victory.