Chapter 38: Dead End Drive
Within minutes they had woven through the increasing crowd of zombies and pulled off the main road into the nearest neighborhood. Despite what Aliyah had said only moments earlier, the number of zombies out on the main road convinced them to play it safe by driving a short distance into the neighborhood before pulling to a stop in front of one of the houses.
They all quickly climbed out of the vehicle, thankful for the chance to stretch their legs and eager to be on with their work. Aliyah looked around at the area, frowning deeply.
“We’ve drawn too much attention,” she said. Eli turned to look and could see that there were a number of zombies that had followed them through the neighborhood. Most were already starting to break off and head in random directions, but a few were still plodding on towards them with single minded determination.
Not only that, but the neighborhood around them was not entirely empty of the undead, either. While there were no immediate threats, they had clearly gained the attention of several of the creatures that had previously been simply roaming about the neighborhood.
“Jay, Eli, you stay out here and clear the rabble,” Aliyah was saying. “When you’re done, siphon as much gas as you can get from any nearby vehicles.” She pointed to the driveway of the house where a big white SUV and a small blue sedan were still parked as though the world had never ended. “The rest of us will go inside and clear out the rooms before gathering any supplies we can find.”
“I suppose,” Gabriel interjected, “that I should remain here and watch our car.”
Aliyah eyed the preacher up and down, a doubtful expression on her dark features. “We’re not gonna have an issue with you when it comes to fighting those things, are we?”
Gabriel seemed completely unfazed. “I’ve released my fair share of tortured souls. I will not be an imposition. I just think it pertinent that someone guard our only guaranteed means of escape.”
Aliyah consented, though clearly not without some degree of distaste. “Whatever,” she muttered, turning away. She motioned to the others. “Come on, let’s get inside. And remember,” she turned and pointed in the general direction of Jay and Eli, “no guns. We don’t want to attract any more attention than necessary.”
“Ay ay, captain,” Eli said, throwing a mocking salute. Aliyah simply rolled her eyes and walked away.
Eli smiled at Jay as he pulled two bats from his bag. “You ready?”
Jay held up a crowbar and a rubber mallet. “Let’s do this,” he said.
Eli tapped the crowbar in Jay’s hand with one of his bats. “Those things are surprisingly useful.”
“Yeah,” Jay scoffed, as though Eli had just said something incredibly obvious, “I know.”
Without another word they turned and began the rather gruesome work of clearing out the nearby zombie infestation. The creatures had not had a chance to form a pack, and most were just wandering about by themselves. Eli and Jay worked in unison, one person crushing the skull of a zombie while the other watched their backs, and then they traded off. Before long they had worked their way through pretty much all of the approaching dead. Red faced and short of breath, they made their way back to the car, where the other group had clearly had similar success.
Eli stood and watched as Mac and Daina lugged out a body from inside the house and tossed it out on the lawn, where several other bodies already lay. “This everybody from inside?” he called to them.
“Appears to be,” said Daina, wiping the sweat from her brow.
Eli frowned as he looked over the four bodies on the lawn. Two of the bodies had clearly been adults, while the other two looked to be younger. “It looks like the whole family was holed up in there.”
“Well, didn’t stop them from turning,” Mac replied bitterly as he stepped back inside.
“Yeah, I guess not,” Eli agreed quietly.
Daina offered a shrug and headed back inside after Mac.
Eli turned to see that Jay had gathered up a couple of gasoline canisters, some tubing, and what looked like a wire hanger. “Here,” said Jay, shoving one of the canisters and tubes at Eli. “We’ll need to gather as much as we can. Come on.”
They headed first for the SUV. Jay pulled at the cover on the gas tank, but it was locked in place. Next he moved to the driver’s side door, but it, too, was locked. “Do we need to move on to the next one?” asked Eli.
“Nope, that’s what I brought this for,” Jay explained, holding up the wire hanger. He slid it against the window and down into the inside of the door.
“You know how to pop locks with that thing?”
Jay smiled. “You’d be surprised what you can learn after the world ends.”
Eli let out a short chuckle and moved around to the back of the SUV. He stood there for a moment, looking around. None of the remaining zombies in the area seemed to be moving in any closer to them. He turned back around and looked at the back of the car. Mostly it was unremarkable except for the bottom left corner of the rear windshield where a lone decal sticker broke the emptiness.
“Huh,” said Eli, staring at the sticker. “It’s one of those stupid family decals.”
“Those what?” asked Jay absently, his face locked in concentration.
“You know. One of those sticker sets everybody was putting on their cars for a while. The ones where you have a sticker for every member of the family. You’d have like dad stickers and mom stickers and boy and girl stickers and baby stickers. Sometimes they’d be just regular people, but sometimes they’d be like, other things that were supposed to represent those members of the family. Like various sized spaceships from Star Jump or something.
“Oh,” replied Jay.
“Ironically, this one is a family of zombies. A dad zombie, a mom zombie, two child zombies, and a baby zombie.” Eli shook his head. “It’s almost like they knew.”
For a moment he continued staring at the decal, and something started to not look right about it. From around the side of the car, they could hear the “thunk” of the lock finally popping up.
“Ha-ha!” Jay cried triumphantly.
Eli turned and looked at the bodies lying on the ground in the front lawn, then back at the decal, then back at the bodies and then back at the decal. “Wait a minute,” Eli said, looking between the two a couple more times. “Wait, Jay, where’s the baby zombie?”
Eli turned to look at Jay, who already had the car door open and was looking for the lever to release the gas tank cover. “Wait, Jay!” he cried.
“Huh? What?” Jay started to look up, but it was too late.
From inside the vehicle, something suddenly moved. It sprang out of the back seat, grabbing at Jay. He cried out and tried to jerk away, but in the awkward position he was in this just caused him to hit his head on the open car door. He collapsed onto his back on the hard cement.
The creature stumbled out of the car, its mouth already snapping at Jay. He got his hands up just in time to keep it at bay. With one hand he pushed back against its shoulder while he wedged his other arm into the thing’s neck between the chin and the clavicle in an effort to keep back the snapping jaws.
The creature was tiny. In life she couldn’t have been a girl of more than five or six. Yet in undeath she held a surprising amount of power at her call, and it took all he had for Jay to simply hold her at bay.
“Eli!” he cried, frantic. “Eli! Help! Come on, man! Take her out!”
Eli stood stock still, dumbfounded by the sight unfolding before him. “She… she’s just a little girl,” he protest, voice weak and quiet.
“No she’s not she a zombie now take her goddamn head off!”
“Do it now!”
With that Eli seemed to finally shake himself awake. Taking a step forward, he swung his bat with all of his strength. There was a sickening crack as the bat crushed the girl’s rotting skull, and she slumped over, lifeless.
Jay tossed the now motionless corpse to the ground and quickly crab-walked away from it, as though afraid it might still come back to life yet another time. Chest heaving from the exertion, he turned and glared at Eli.
“What the hell, man? Took you long enough!”
“That… that thing could have bitten me!” Jay snapped, cutting him off. He pointed at the corpse for emphasis, as though there could be any doubt he was talking about the zombie.
Eli stared at the little girl, but he couldn’t even see her anymore. All he could see was Sara, lying in a dark crypt, black blood running from an open head wound…
He slammed his eyes shut and turned away, feeling suddenly very sick.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. “I just… I just couldn’t.
Jay lurched to his feet and grabbed Eli by the front of his shirt, forcing him to turn back and face him again. Clearly misreading Eli’s hesitation, he demanded, “Are we gonna have a problem, man? You can’t do this. You can’t humanize them. They are pure, living embodiments of danger. It doesn’t – it can’t – matter what they look like. They. Are. All. Zombies. You have to treat them that way or people die.”
“Yeah, okay, I got it,” Eli said, pushing away Jay’s hands. He took a step back and adjusted his shirt. Out the corner of his eye he could see the others had gathered in the lawn to see what all the commotion was about. “It won’t happen again.”
“It better not,” said Jay.
Amber stepped over to them and grabbed each of them by the arm, hard. “Cut it out, you two,” she hissed. “You’re attracting unwanted attention.”
Eli turned and looked around. Sure enough, several zombies from down the street were now facing in their direction. Some were just standing around, heads swiveling this way and that as though looking for what had drawn their attention in the first place, but still others were already making their way in the group’s direction.
“Let’s just get back to work,” Aliyah said. “We don’t have a lot of time left. We need to gather as much as we can and get the hell out of here.”
“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Eli sarcastically, but he didn’t argue beyond that.
The first group went back inside, and Eli and Jay got back to work siphoning gas. When the SUV ran dry, they moved onto the blue sedan. Before opening any doors, Jay peaked inside all the windows as best he could and even tapped on the glass to make sure there was nothing moving inside the vehicle.
Once they were all finished, they moved on down to the next house. They were forced to clear out more zombies before continuing, but this didn’t take long.
When they had both gas canisters, and their own vehicle, full to the brim, they joined the group inside. They had already moved on to the second house in the line, and before long went onto a third. Mostly all they gathered was just canned foods and drink containers, but they also grabbed clothing and cleaning supplies or various other items if anything looked useful. In one house, Amber found several boxes of bullets for her gun, which seemed to be her prized find for the day.
Once they had gathered as much as they considered useful, they packed all the bags away into the back of the SUV and then climbed back inside to continue the journey.
The sky above them was beginning to drop into a darker shade of blue as the sun skimmed along the tops of the trees. They drove for the neighborhood exit as quickly as they dared. They wove through the streets until they reached the far end of the neighborhood, and back to the heavily wooded main road. Aliyah, who was driving again, made a quick, stomach-lurching turn around a bend, but then immediately was forced to slam on the brakes.
“What the hell?” she muttered.
Everyone turned to look. Across the road lay a fallen tree. It was big and thick, with still plenty of foliage, and it barred across both lanes. There was no way they were driving over it or going around it.
“Aw, hell,” Aliyah said. “We’re gonna have to move it.”
A chill ran down Eli’s spine, and he started looking around frantically left and right. Something – he wasn’t exactly sure what, but something – seemed oddly familiar about this situation. Something was not quite right. There was something about the tree, and the lay of the land around them…
“No!” Eli said, leaping from his seat. “Back up! Back up now! Get us out of here!”
“What?” he heard several confused voices call to him. “What are you talking about it?”
“Trust me, just do it!” he demanded. “Back out of here. Now!”
“Okay, okay!” Aliyah said, not willing to argue. She threw the gear into reverse and began backing out.
Suddenly, from all around them, there came several loud roaring sounds. The sound of engines igniting. From around a nearby hill and gaps in the trees came several vehicles of various types. The cars roared up onto the road and circled them in, until any potential escape was complete cut off.
“What the hell is happening?” shouted Aliyah angrily.
Amber’s gun was in her hand, but a look of terror lit her face as several men popped out from behind the tree and exited the vehicles. Every single one of them was holding a gun, and they were all pointed directly at the SUV.
A tap came from the driver’s side window, and Aliyah turned to stare straight down the barrel of a shotgun.
“You’re gonna wanna step out of the car, sweet thing,” said the man holding the gun. “And I don’t recommend doin’ anythin’ stupid while you’re at it.”