Chapter 22: The underpass
We traveled in silence. I tried to cry for all those people who, with brutal indifference, their own government had massacred. I couldn’t. Even with the knowledge I would have known people inside the mall, I found myself unable to grieve. There were too many, too long dead, too unreal, and with too violent an end to elicit any emotional response.
I gazed ahead to see what in better times would not have been an extraordinary sight: tire tracks. Now, though, these tracks were very unusual and perhaps dangerous.
“Dad, we’re not alone,” I whispered over the radio.
“There’s a set of tire tracks on the road.”
“Everyone stay sharp,” was all Dad had to say.
“The tracks turned down the road on our left,” I said a minute later when we passed the road and left the tracks behind.
“Speed up, Theo,” Dad’s voice squealed over the radio.
Theo made the truck go a little faster, but it proved difficult. He had to avoid moaners buried in the snow while at the same time stay on the road. We reached the bottom of the hill and the road veered to the right. Flat and free of moaners, we picked up the pace.
“There’s our way out of here,” Theo said. An embankment overshadowed the road to our left.
The railroad was on top of the berm. Soon it would reach street level, and that’s when we would turn onto the tracks.
The road tracked upwards toward the razor thin outline of light on the horizon. The railroad tracks parted ways with us as it kept to its straight course.
Theo turned onto the service road. The moonlight illuminated the expressway overpass, congested with vehicles of every description. All discarded with such utter finality. Dozens of snow-covered vehicles clogged the ramps, squeezed together like sardines in a can. This wreckage of the old world blocked the underpass. Theo skidded to a stop, turned his spotlight on and began to search for a way through.
“There,” I said. Close to the overpass support beams, a small gap opened in the otherwise packed road. “You might have to widen it a little.”
“A little,” Theo exclaimed.
“Trouble?” Dad’s voice came across the radio.
“When we stop again, I need you, Susan,” I said into the walkie-talkie.
Silence, then more silence.
No reply. Teeth clenched, I spoke into the radio. “Would somebody -- please -- wake Susan up?”
At last, Susan said, “Yeah, Annabel.”
“I need you--” I paused; my hand clutched the receiver tight. “To come up here and join me.”
Not finished with my instructions, I pursed my lips and resumed. “After we stop again. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, sure, sure, Anna,” she said, her yawn evident over the airwaves.
Theo stared at me, hand ready on the stick. I pointed toward the concrete embankment that secured the overpass. “Get up close to that red truck.”
“Yeah, sure, sure.” He grinned.
The wrecker inched forward. He weaved forward until we reached the guardrail.
Theo stopped. “What do you have in mind?”
“I’m going to put these cars in neutral so you can push them out of the way.”
“Right,” Theo replied.
Before I could step out of the truck, Susan stood at my window. I explained what I had in mind. “I’ll get those two first.” I pointed toward a station wagon. Behind the wagon sat the small red truck which had smashed into it.
I stepped onto the snow-carpeted highway. “Cover me.” My teeth chattered.
I rummaged around the back of the wrecker for anything useful to sweep snow from the windows. Broom in hand, I walked to the station wagon. A pull on the door handle found the door locked, much to my irritation. I used the broom handle and struck the glass, twice. A splinter and a few curse words later, the window remained intact.
While I attended to the sliver of wood stuck into the palm of my hand, a car door slammed. With my teeth, I removed the splinter. I sucked on the wound when I glanced up and saw Theo walk toward me. He carried an aluminum bat.
“Need this?” he asked.
“No,” I lied. “But since you have it.”
I wrenched the bat from him. Careful to close my eyes upon impact, I swung and broke the window. The noise of shattering glass disturbed a flock of birds on the overpass. They took flight with an unwelcome explosion of cawing.
Relieved, I grinned at Theo and leaned in to unlock the door. I recoiled in horror. Hand over my mouth, I backed away from the vehicle in such haste I wound up ass deep in the snow.
“What’s wrong?” Susan yelled.
I kept one hand over my mouth and pointed to the car. Theo came over, offered his hand, and helped me get back on my feet. I kept my mouth and nose covered.
Susan peered into the window and after a moment, said, “Ugh, I seriously wouldn’t have worn that.”
I made the mistake of removing my hand from my face and screamed, “Really? That’s what you noticed?”
“Well, she doesn’t smell very nice either.” She grinned at me with a wicked smile.
I turned to Theo, tried with batted eyes and pouted lips to convince him to take pity on me and finish the job.
Theo, no fool, knew right away what I attempted to pull. Laughing, he replied, “No can do. Me drive, go bang, bang.”
“Great. I’m surrounded by assholes.”
I reached into my boot, removed a knife and walked to the car. I thrust the knife into the woman’s eye socket and pounded it deep into her skull with the bat. She would not offer up any more surprises. My hand on the knife handle, I reached past the steering wheel and found the keys. I turned them.
Nothing, no crank of the engine, nothing. Not that I expected it to start. I pulled on the shifter and tried to force it down. It wouldn’t move.
“Got to step on the brake first,” Theo said.
I backed away from the vehicle, and exhaled. “You could help you know. Or are you just gonna stand there and be a major fucking asshole?”
“No problem.” He unlocked and opened the door. “All you had to do is ask.”
I waited for Theo to get into the car. I stared at him while he stood there with his hand on the door handle like some chauffeur waiting for his passenger.
“Fine,” I huffed. Dad and Chris arrived.
“Susan, you and Chris go up on the freeway and have a look around. We’ll handle this.”
“Sure, Dad,” she said. They trudged toward the overpass.
Hmm, maybe Dad planned to help. Nope.
I placed my foot onto the brake pedal. One hand on the wheel, I used my free hand to advance the shifter. I hurried out and took several deep breaths of fresh air.
“Nice knife work,” Dad said after he pried my knife from the eye socket.
“Must have turned and couldn’t get out,” Theo said while he shined his flashlight into the car.
“Ah geez,” Dad exclaimed. He pulled me away from the station wagon.
“What?” I yelped.
“Let’s get out of here. You don’t want to see this,” Dad said while he pushed me from the vehicle.
“Must have been the whole family,” Theo muttered while he retreated from the car.
Bat again in my grasp, I walked over to the small red truck and found it unlocked and empty. A stick shift, I reached in and popped the truck into neutral. I motioned to Theo to commence with his work. Dad joined me and we stepped aside to let Theo get on with his job. We walked under the overpass, and toward the next obstacle.