The weather was bad. Jasper and his group were moving slowly because of it. Every kilometre was a struggle. It had turned cold a few days ago, and then colder still. The pelting rain meant that all of them were soaked to the bone, bundles of sodden misery. The bridge was close though. They had spotted it from a high point a few hours back, before the rain got really, really bad. Now the visibility was terrible, limiting their world to a small sphere, the bridge far outside of it.
Jasper was shivering, a deep bone chill setting in. It was sapping his strength, almost sapping his will to live. Days like that are awful when you have a place to go, shelter, warmth. When you have no respite, no hope of respite, it’s so much worse. They were discovering the lessons every frontier person, every homeless person has always known about how hard it can be when you are exhausted and chilled to your bones, you are hungry, tired, always so tired, dirty, at the edge of your resources. Jasper wanted to lie down. Wanted maybe wasn’t the right term. He looked at level patches of ground with longing, like a long lost lover, like the source of all hope and light and truth in the world.
The finally hit the point where the bridge was visible again. Very close, agonizingly close. There were a few zombies clustered around the entrance, but the entrance itself was blocked. For the thousandth time, Jasper wished he had his sword back, or even better, Snow padding along silently next to him.
“Hold up. We need to wait until the rain lifts, or morning, something. I can’t take any zombies right now.”
“You got it boss man,” Matt said, “Morning it is.”
They found a sheltered spot on the approach to the bridge where they could hole up for the night. It wasn’t much, a small overhang. The rain wasn’t falling directly on them at least. They huddled together for warmth. They didn’t want to set up any kind of shelter because it would attract zombies, and they didn’t have nearly the energy to fight them.
They spent a miserable night huddled together. They were sheltered enough that they were getting warmer instead of colder, but barely. The next morning dawned still grey and empty. The zombies at the bridge had wandered off in the night, losing interest in whatever had kept them there.
They got themselves ready. Setting a fire was challenging with the wet conditions, but Jasper had carved out some heartwood and some tinder on his way, and he had taken a lighter and some cotton balls and Vaseline from one of the farmhouses. The fire breathed new life into them. Sleep had been scarce for days. At least it looked like the barricade was keeping the bridge zombie free.
They climbed over. Some of the scattered zombies headed back in their direction, but they were over long before the zombies could reach them.
The bridge was long. It had high concrete walls along the entire length, meaning that most of the time you couldn’t really see the ocean if you were walking, although you could glimpse it a fair ways distant. The bridge also curved, fairly gently. It was clear of obstructions at first. After the barrier at the beginning, there were no vehicles to contend with. They walked in silence.
After a few hours of walking, Jasper spotted a second barricade. A monstrous tower of vehicles in the middle of the bridge, three cars tall. A gunshot rang out, Matt dropped like a sack, blood spurting from his thigh. There was no cover at all, just the flat deck of the bridge. Jasper ran forward, zigzagging as best he could. The rest of the group followed.
Shots kept ringing out, and Sasha fell. Then they hit the barricade. Jasper could see the rifle through a car window. He reached in and grabbed it, his heavy gloves sparing his hands from burning on the hot barrel. He pulled forward and the gun came out in his hands. There was yelling from the other side, and a second gun barrel came down over the top of the barricade. Candice,small and lithe, surged up and grabbed that gun as well. The gun came down with her, and the owner came down too. He hadn’t been braced properly. Jasper recognized Steve from the camp. Candice drew a hunting knife across his throat, blood spurting along the line of the blade.
It was Robert obviously, and whatever remained of his forces. Of course, it was. As soon as Jasper stopped to think about it it was obvious. They were headed to the same place, they were mounted, they made it sooner. Hell, he’d seen them pass. If only he hadn’t been so exhausted and overcome with hope at seeing the bridge he would have expected it, would have taken precautions. He should have been prepared, should have had weapons at the ready. He knew better, knew not to let his guard down. Now Sasha and Matt were wounded, maybe dying, maybe dead.
He looked back, saw Matt crawling forward. Sasha wasn’t getting up. Naomi was at the barricade, down against the ground, using the barricade itself for what little cover it could provide.
It occurred to Jasper that if this barricade was designed against zombies some of the doors might be unlocked. He found a car in the bottom row and tried the door. It didn’t open, so he tried another. The third one came open in his hands. The frame was bent and warped from the weight of the cars above it, but it opened! Jasper ducked in, holding the stolen rifle in his arm. Candice appeared to be doing the same thing, but through an open window in the second row of cars. He peered through the far window. The other side of the barricade had a bus, and five people. Mona was one of them, and Robert was another, deteriorated even further since the last time Jasper had seen him. The last three were guys he didn’t know very well, other than from when they had grabbed him at the camp. All three of them looked exhausted, although Mona looked worse than any of them. Her face was badly bruised and she was back to the weight she had been when he first met her, if not even thinner.
He took aim at Robert, careful not to let the barrel stick out past the window. The angle was terrible. The roof of the car being as crushed as it was meant that he couldn’t really sit up, he had to half crouch to bring the rifle barrel around, and Robert was well off to the far side of the barrier. Finally, he had the shot lined up. He took it. Robert moved just as his finger squeezed the trigger, and the shot missed - by slightly less than it would have if Robert hadn’t moved. Jasper was inexperienced with guns and the shot was badly off target.
After that, things really went to hell. Robert moved in while his men opened fire. Jasper ducked down into the passenger side, as close to the floor as he could get. Bullets ripped through the side of the car, the roof, everywhere. He felt a stinging burn in his left shoulder. Finally, the bullets stopped. Jasper slowly moved up, peering through a large hole in the door. His adrenaline was coursing, making everything seem clearer, sharper. The pain in his shoulder was distant, almost a non-concern. Robert was standing, rifle aimed in his direction, clearly waiting for movement. He decided to wait it out, make them come to him. After a few minutes with nothing happening, Robert said, “Go check it out. I think we got the motherfucker. Let’s see you come back from that one asshole!”
One of the men went to check on Jasper’s car. The man made his way up the barricade.
Jasper drew his knife and waited. Hunched over the blade so his bloody shoulder showed, and the knife was hidden. He hoped he would look like a corpse until the man was too close to do anything.
The door opened. “Hey, we got the fucker. He’s dead”.
“Make sure,” Robert said.
The soldier started poking Jasper with the barrel of his gun. Jasper stayed limp even though the hot metal burned him. The soldier moved the barrel aside and reached out with his left hand to check Jasper’s pulse. Jasper spun up and slammed the blade of his knife into the man’s windpipe while grabbing his rifle. He gurgled and foamy blood started to trickle down his throat. Jasper backed out of the car, taking the extra rifle with him. He was worried about Candice. He hadn’t seen or heard anything from her since she made her way into the car. Nothing he could do though.
The barricade was a great defence against zombies, but poorly designed for human opponents. It didn’t exactly give Jasper and his group an advantage, but not a major disadvantage either. All the car bodies that became murder holes when dealing with the undead were just cover with openings on both sides when dealing with humans carrying guns.
Jasper made his way along the surface to the same corner Matt had crawled to. Naomi had made it over to Matt as well. Sasha was still down, not moving.
They heard movement from the other side of the barricade. Matt was breathing ragged and shallow, lending even more urgency to Jasper’s mind. Jasper realized that he only had one play left. He needed another car with an open door and a gas tank on his side of the barrier. He found one after a few minutes. The door didn’t open, but the window didn’t exist and it was enough. He climbed in, silently and popped the gas tank. No idea how much gas was in the vehicle, but if there was anything it should work.
He moved slowly, painfully slowly, to get out. He could hear climbing on the other side of the barricade, he knew he needed to be faster than them. He got out and called to Candice, “Get the fuck out of there. NOW!”.
She did as he asked, dropping to the bridge deck quickly. Jasper took out a lighter and piece of cotton ball he had coated with Vaseline. He lit it and dropped it into the gas tank. It sounded like whoever was climbing was almost to the top.
For a minute it seemed like nothing was going to happen, then he heard a whoomph and flames shot out of the tank. A second later they shot out of the hood, catching the fill material. The smell was horrible, an overwhelming odour of chemicals burning. The acrid smoke spread fast. Jasper grabbed Matt and started pulling him away. The flames spread fast. In minutes half the cars were on fire.
There were a few small explosions, not big Hollywood ones, just little ones as gas heated and the pressure blew the tanks. A few cars fell on each side, still burning. The flames kept growing hotter and hotter, they had to back off. Once they reached Sasha Candice checked her pulse. Nothing. She was dead already. They left her there and backed off even further. Matt was shot in the leg, but he was bleeding heavily and showing symptoms of shock. Jasper did his best, put pressure on the wound, tried to wake him up enough to get some sugar into him. In a few minutes Matt’s breathing took on a different tone, then it stopped.
There was no way they could get to the barricade. The flames were hundreds of feet high. There was also probably no way back. All the light would attract zombies, and while they probably couldn’t get through the barricade at the shore side of the bridge anytime soon, they would be clustered around it, in huge numbers. Eventually, the barricade would fall by sheer weight of numbers, and they would need to be gone by then.
The fire burned for hours. Jasper stayed close enough to be warmed by it. Luckily the wind was carrying the smoke away from them, over to Robert’s side of the bridge. That also meant that providing it burnt out before the zombies got to his group he should be able to make it across, Robert would have to back off if he survived the smoke and the firestorm. They waited because there was nothing else they could do.
Darkness fell, but the barricade still burned. Lower now, but hot. So very hot. At some point in the night, they heard a cracking sound, and part of the deck under the barricade failed. Chunks of concrete fell, surrounded by glowing steel. This bridge, another marvel of the modern age, spanning twelve kilometres of open ocean, was failing just months after humanity did.
Cars fell as the pile shifted, sliding off the ends into the ocean. The barricade was thinner, more tenuous now.
When the fire finally went out it got cold. The rain was still falling, unrelenting. Jasper had been ignoring the wound in his shoulder so far, but it was hurting, burning, on fire with pain. “Naomi. I need you to check my shoulder. I don’t know how bad it is.”
The bullet had passed through muscle, but it was bleeding. Naomi bandaged it as best she could with what they had.
They approached the former barricade. The surface asphalt was burned off in many places, and the concrete was so badly warped from the heat that you could see through to the ocean in many places. As they approached the vehicles they felt the heat still radiating from them. The ground was hot. They used that, found a point where it was warming them up, and waited for the heat to dissipate. That way they slowly made it to the barricade. At one point a piece of decking fell as they stepped near it, so they slowed down even more. They could see the rebar in many of the gaps, set close together. They followed the path of the rebar, using it to help ensure they wouldn’t fall through if some of the deck failed. Finally, they climbed over the burnt out shells of the vehicles.
On the other side, the bus had burnt as well. It was no more than a shell of a vehicle. Probably too close to the barricade, which wasn’t much of a barricade anymore, although still a good zombie deterrent with the missing pieces of deck and what amounted to pit traps leading straight into the ocean. The burnt out shell of a bus didn’t offer much in the way of warmth, and they were rapidly freezing to death. It was a few degrees above zero, and the rain was mixed with sleet. The cold was once again their biggest enemy.