Second Dead

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Chapter 29: The levee

“It’s called a book. My mom gave it to me, if you must know.” I glared at Theo, irked by his tone.

“No. That.” He pointed down the tracks.

We approached another levee. The same height as the berm we traveled on, they formed another perfect t. What excited Theo and now caught my eye were the two trucks parked where the levee and tracks intersected.

“Papa bear. Vector tango. We have problems,” Theo barked into the walkie-talkie.

“What you got?”

“Two angry chickens and the coop is closed,” Theo answered.

Silence.

“Susan, err, Bravo reports footprints in the snow. Look alive,” Dad said.

Jane’s voice crackled over the radio. “Lock and load, people. We’re headed for the playground.”

Two men stepped from behind the trucks. Dressed in hunters’ camo, they were carrying weapons like they meant business.

“Screw the footprints, these guys are armed to the teeth,” Theo yelled. He unholstered his pistol and rolled down the window. Frigid air rushed into the cab.

I opened my window, checked the clip in my AR-15 and flipped the safety off. Ice-cold wind stung my face; the pain was close to unbearable.

“Think they mean --” Dad never finished his sentence. The short man on the right raised his shotgun and blasted a hole in the snow right in front of our truck.

“I’m going through them,” Theo screamed into the walkie-talkie.

He dumped the radio into the cup holder, grabbed George and thrust him down onto the floor at my feet.

“Stay there,” he yelled. “And you -- Use that thing.”

Theo pointed his pistol out the window and three pops thundered through the truck. He stepped on the accelerator and the wrecker slid dangerously in the snow. He took his hand off the wheel and shifted into a higher gear. We gained speed.

Foolishly, I fired one handed and nearly broke my wrist. I put one knee on the seat, leaned out the window to use both hands and fired. I sprayed bullets all over in an attempt to frighten the men. Behind me, other weapons opened up.

The two men in front of the trucks scrambled for cover. Five more stood up from behind the vehicles and let loose a volley. One of the men spun around and fell. The others dove for cover. Muzzle blasts lit the shadows under the trucks. Two men popped up from behind the truck, squeezed off a few rounds and ducked.

Bullets punctured the side of the truck. Buckshot pelted the bumper. A round zipped past my ear. Copper and lead whizzed by.

Glass shattered. I jerked back into the truck, my rifle dangerously close to dropping. I leaned out past my damaged mirror as far as I dared and squeezed the trigger. Bullets slammed into a tire one of the men fired from.

“Hold on,” Theo shouted. He pulled me in from the window. We sped toward the trucks parked across the tracks.

Theo pressed me against the seat. He screamed and gave the wrecker all it had. The men behind the trucks scrambled for safety. I closed my eyes and gripped the dashboard.

“Aaaaahhh,” I shrieked.

The screech of metal rent the air. Broken glass pelted the windshield. I slammed against the console and fell knee first onto George. He whimpered in pain.

The truck closest to me tumbled over the levee. It flipped several times before coming to rest at the base of the embankment. Our wrecker shuddered while Theo downshifted and struggled to maintain control.

I glanced back and saw all of our vehicles make it past the blockade. Klara stood up through the sunroof of Mom’s SUV. She used both of her pistols and blasted at the men who, with their quarry escaping, still fired on our convoy. The Spells SUV, the last truck in the convoy, now took the brunt of the assault.

“Mother fuckers,” I yelled. I leaned out my window and squeezed off several short bursts. Three bullets slammed into a boy’s chest. He dropped to the ground.

A slight buzz in my ears quickly turned to deafening roar. My head pounded to the beat of my quickened pulse. Each throb hammered harder than the last.

I continued to fire, powerless to exert control over my finger. My eyes followed the boy tumbling down the berm to leave the snow red in his wake.

I screamed. My rifle discharged bullets into the hillside. The boy slid to a standstill at the base of the levee. Limbs askew, he did not stir. At last, the rifle didn’t recoil against my shoulder.

The world sped past. My finger again mine, I eased off the trigger. I fell back into the truck.

Theo grabbed my collar. He shook me; his lips formed words I could not hear. I stared about. I slapped my ears, trying to stop the god damn ringing. He let go and mouthed into the walkie-talkie. I felt nauseous and dizzy.

The wind howled through my open window and battered my wet cheeks. We moved fast and the wrecker rattled as it sped across the railroad ties. I pulled George off the floor and helped him onto the seat.

“Are you hit?” Theo asked.

I shook my head, handed George my rifle and leaned out the window. I vomited. Long after there was nothing left to expel I continued to heave. At last, I fell back into the wrecker.

Chris yelled over radio, “Klara’s checking now.”

Theo looked at me, his eyes filled with concern.

“I killed one,” I cried.

“Shit,” he muttered. He looked back at the road as he fought to maintain control of the truck.

That was it, shit. The word summed it up. No high five, no whoops of excitement, not even an atta girl. He just looked troubled. He returned his gaze to me and looked even sadder, if possible.

“Are you okay?”

’Yeah,” I moaned.

Dad’s voice boomed over the radio. “Everyone stop. We have to take care of this. Now.”

Theo skidded to a standstill. We were at least two miles past the levee already. I doubted the men behind us had any more stomach for a fight. I stumbled from the truck, dizzy and unsure of my step.

Dad leaped from his vehicle, ran down the line past Mom’s SUV and headed straight for the Spells. He carried his pistol, Susan close on his heels. Chris jumped out and followed them. Dad yanked the driver’s door of the Spell’s vehicle open.

“Get out. Get out now,” he yelled with his pistol pointed into the vehicle.

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