You cringe at the sound of your boots hitting the pavement and look around quickly to gauge the scene. So far so good. The old bus’s door squeaks closed behind you, shutting you off from your only shelter and setting your body in high alert. The wind blows quietly from the west, waving your long red hair in your eyes and you quickly pull it back to clear your vision. Cars are piled over the horizon you’re scanning, their wreckage hiding dangers you know are sitting in wait. The woods on each side of the highway are empty, but you know it’s only temporary. A distant moan startles you, setting you into motion toward the two waving figures ahead. A soft click behind you is a reminder of the armed man watching over you. You take a deep breath as you wade into a graveyard of vehicles and dead.
You start forward, bending your knees to duck down below the tops of the wreckage. Each hulking form blocks the breeze, keep your scent close and out of the reach of the hungry dead hiding yards away. The once distant shuffling of corpses creeps closer with each of your hurried steps. You constantly eye your surroundings from left to right as you keep a steady, fast pace toward your target. Every few cars you stop to lean against the safety of cold steel and aluminum and listen. With no unwanted sounds nearby, you start forward again. Two figures atop an RV lay low in wait as you close in.
As you pass a large SUV, something suddenly yanks your shirt, pulling you backwards toward a rotten stench. It’s moan sends a shiver up your spine, and the front of your collar digs into your throat sending nausea and fear to your gut. The sound of its clicking teeth echoes in your ear as you struggle to pull forward from its grasp. Your left hand pulls against your shirt to give you leverage against its firm grip while your right hand reaches for the cool steel stored against your hip. Just as your pistol comes free, a loud bang rings throughout the landscape and the pressure instantly releases from your neck. A quick look reveals the wasting woman at your feet, her dirty nurses uniform more evidence of her actions while dead than any living act of heroism. You turn toward Mike and give a quick thumbs up before sprinting toward the RV.
The reinforced camper housed the young couple who had waved you down when they heard the bus’s motor approach. You saw them sitting on the camper, arms waving silently, frantically, in hopes of rescue, and you knew you had to act. As you finally approach, you see evidence of their survival. Dark blood and scratches cover the sides of the RV and bodies of the dead litter the ground nearby. You smile as their feet touch the ground and waste no time turning back. Your eyes widen as you register movement all over the highway.
Mike’s shot had awakened the hibernating dead throughout the highway. The moaning, shuffling corpses bob and weave amongst the wreckage, honing in on the loud sound that disturbed their slumber. The dead wander in your path, their moans growing to a loud chorus as more begin to move and salivate at the smell of dinner. Your blood runs cold as they begin to notice the living in their midst and you immediately reach for your weapon. Aiming your pistol forward, you move toward the bus, mouthing a silent prayer and steeling yourself for a fight.
A stream of loud bangs begin as you start forward. The sounds of your steps echo over the highway, but there is no time to stay quiet. You step over the corpses grounded by Mike’s shots, black liquid oozing from the holes in each head. Businessmen, repairmen, teachers, children. One by one they drop to clear your path. A loud scream tears through the air as you whip your head around to the couple behind you. A tatter-suited man has the young woman by the arm, his gaping, black mouth inching toward her as she struggled from his grasp. Just as you aim toward its head, the corpse drops, revealing the young man bringing up the rear. A woman in military uniform has him pushed against the door of a red Cadillac, her mouth reaching for his throat but not faster than the shot that tore through her rotting head. She drops to the ground as you yank the woman forward and hope the young man follows.
Your heart sinks as you gain a clearer view of the bus. The dead crowd it three bodies deep and even from afar you can see the terror in Mike’s eyes. You see him shouting as you continue sprinting with the others in tow. Head continue to explode around you as the movement on top of the bus increases. Suddenly, you see Mike motion for you to hit the floor as a corpse falls at your feet. Yanking down the woman behind you, you drop to your hands and knees and brace yourself.
A loud boom hits, followed by a second. Your ears begin to ring as you see debris rain upon the men hugging the roof of the bus. Mike waves you forward and you hesitantly rise to your feet, waiting for some of the straggling dead to pass toward the blasts before streaking toward the bus. The door flies open just in time and you climb aboard, letting out a long-held breath and urging your heart to slow its hectic rate. Your fellow survivors begin checking you over, but you brush them off and drift in a daze toward the nearest empty seat. You drop down and lean against the back, watching the group take care of the newest members and listening to the bumps of the dead hitting and squishing beneath the bus.
Just as your eyes close, you hear someone drop from in from the roof. Mike crawls onto a seat a collapses into a tired heap. You gather your last bit of strength and go to him, laying your body upon his and taking in his comforting warmth. You lean in and kiss his lips, his eyes opening to meet yours.
“Never again, woman,” he sighs sleepily. “You’re going to be the death of me.”
You smile shyly and lay your head on his chest, the sound of the dead beneath the tires lulling you to sleep.