The first few miles on the arid, cracked exit to Las Vegas Boulevard was uncommonly hushed and blanketed with silence. Miriam thought it strange that no noise accompanied them on this last stretch to their destination – other than the scraping of their boots on the hard terrain.
The sound of their feet planting heavily against the unforgiving asphalt resounded around them; and was the only indication that life existed on this road. She frowned and looked up to the heavens – to the sides of the highway - behind them and saw no birds; no jack rabbits and no vultures.
An uneasy rock of anxiety settled in the pit of her stomach and she turned to find her daughter. There she walked not far behind her; grasping Jasper’s hand and tugging him along – the boy complaining of her hard grip; and whining for her to let him go. Laura Gates walked steadily to their side – looking weary; but thin lipped with determination to keep going – her eyes regarding her son fondly as Zoe urged him on.
Her dad trudged along next to Zoe – sweat rolling down the sides of his face; and she watched as he swiped away the grime about his eyes with his handy handkerchief; breathing hard, but keeping up a steady pace.
The others followed a little distance behind – Jacob and Ethan covering their backs – rifles at the ready.
All seemed still; and she could place nothing out of the ordinary – only that the deafening silence, stagnant air and absence of life scared her; and made her think they should have traveled the back roads, instead of taking the desolate exit to the Boulevard.
But it was too late for that now. There was no going back. Vega was but 2 miles away now. They had to make it. They were almost there.
Miriam caught her daughter’s eye; and smiled haltingly. The other night, as she lay next to her child in the dark– she heard her speak wistfully of Vega and gazed on her with pride as she sat up and reached out to the brightest star of Lyra.
Her daughter had a brave and adventurous soul – much like her father; and at times it pained her – but also gave her hope. His fearlessness and stubborn nature had gotten him killed and she didn’t want that for Zoe. For her, she wanted life – a decent life; one without endless suffering.
She held her daughter’s gaze a little longer; and felt her bold spirit as Zoe smiled openly back at her.
She was uncertain of their future – but knew that Vega was their only option – the only option for Zoe. There was no other way the child would survive otherwise.
Vega must fulfill its promise – she thought – it just had to.
Then all hell broke loose.
Without warning a small band of eight balls descended on them from the side of the road – flowing up from the dust; black eyed and crazed. Their teeth bared; blue veins popped out against their skin and they screeched out in tongues giving horrific sound to the previously quiet stretch of road.
Before they knew what hit them, the eight balls were chasing them down like cattle to the slaughter. Everyone took off in different directions – frantic; hysterical – screaming above the eight ball chatter.
Zoe looked to her mother; and her open smile turned to shock as she took in the scene around her. She stood stock still – Jasper’s hand in hers – unable to move. Her muscles frozen and unresponsive – as her brain commanded her to take flight.
Zoe and Jasper then startled – jumped noticeably in fright; as Laura Gates went down first without a sound to their left. An eight ball had tackled her down; and they watched as Jasper’s mother was then snatched away to the side of the road; her lifeless eyes staring at them with remorse. Blood soaked her neck; her chest; her stomach – and her arms and legs contorted at odd angles.
Zoe gained some control of herself; and pulled Jasper close – hiding his face into the crook of her shoulder and screamed over-top of his head.
She turned back to find her mom, and heard her yell over the onslaught to her grandfather, “Take the children and run!”
Suddenly granddad was at her side; grabbed them by the scruff of their necks and pushed them past Laura Gates toward the tree line. They stumbled under his firm grip – tears streaming down their faces – making it hard to see.
As they staggered and tripped along – Zoe heard the retort of gunfire as Jacob and Ethan shot dead as many eight balls they could between them – before they ran out of bullets and succumbed horrifically to the onslaught – their screams bombarding her senses.
Zoe twisted in her granddad’s grip and saw Mr. Howell go down hard unable to extricate himself from the deadly attack of teeth and blows– torn apart before he hit the ground. He never had a chance – too old to outrun them.
Making it to the tree line – George pushed Zoe and Jasper down behind a fallen limb and stood over them watching the destruction of life unfold before him. “Close your eyes”, he whispered down to them, and watched as they clung to each other – trembling with fright – the noise of death unbearable.
George peered over the top of the dead tree limb; and witnessed in sorrow as Mr. and Mrs. Murphy – having watched their two boys ravished to death – sat in the middle of the road and waited to join their fate; holding on to one another and giving a final kiss goodbye as they were savagely pulled apart and torn to shreds.
Miriam watched it all in horror – shooting as fast as she could, while her dad and the children ran for the trees. When the gun would no longer shoot; she threw the weapon at her swiftly approaching assailants and attempted to fight off the remaining two with her bare hands.
When one bit her shoulder, she screamed and fell to the ground – her world turning white with pain. As she hit the asphalt, the other bent down to finish her off – ripping at her clothes and tearing open the flesh at her side.
My God – she thought – she was going to die out here; only a few miles from Vega – with her child watching.
George looked down at the two young faces of Zoe and Jasper; and pushed them down further in the brush at the base of the limb. “Don’t move from here”, he ordered – kissed their foreheads and took off back toward the highway.
He had heard his daughter scream and would not see her die here. When he reached the road, Miriam was on the ground beneath the two eight balls. He could see her moving feebly and knew she still lived.
Blood was everywhere. If he could just get their attention – get them looking in his direction; and lure them away, he just might give her a chance. He had no weapon – nothing to defend himself with, but he didn’t need it. It would be his life for hers – he told himself; and raced toward them – screaming at the top of his lungs.
Zoe felt her granddad’s lips brush her forehead; and felt his presence leave them in the brush. She pulled Jasper in even closer and shushed in his ear hoping to temper his sobs – which wracked his body and carried out to the open highway.
George left the cover of the trees as fast as he could. “This way”, he yelled – waving his arms wildly. “Come this way!” When it seemed they didn’t hear him, he moved toward them - picked up debris from the ground; and struck them about the head and shoulders with stones and broken asphalt.
When they turned on him – he ran toward Vega – yelling for his daughter to get up and run.
But Miriam couldn’t run. She couldn’t move. Pain immobilized her; and sent convulsions through her body.
Instead she lay in the road and watched her father give his life for hers.