Mostly Dead – Book 3 – Chapters 1 – 3

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Mostly Dead

To be or not to be…

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

 

Chapter 1

To eat or be eaten is the question. William Shakespeare had nothing on me.

Days. I had days to live. Hours, really. And a long ass drive with Dominic riding my tail didn’t sound like the best way to spend that time. I could think of much more satisfying activities involving Heather.

I leaned across the front seat of the freezer truck and shook Brian’s shoulder. “Hey, you okay?”

He turned toward me, his pupils dilated and his eyelids suspiciously red-rimmed. He was too new to have discoloration. He could have been crying. I didn’t mention the redness and risk embarrassing him. I’d been talking for a good five minutes without any response. He’d stared and stared into the darkness outside the cab. But nothing was out there.

The only thing on my radar for the last forty-five miles was Dominic’s headlights. And the frozen zombies in the box – but I couldn’t see them.

Euphoria slithered through me. I hadn’t been able to let go of the strange freedom that accompanied accepting my upcoming death. Facing the truth that in a day or two I’d die had been altogether uplifting – at the risk of sounding loony. Or like a girl. Could a boy be too sentimental?

Brian lifted his gaze to meet mine. Monotone, he answered, “Yeah?”

“Dominic is being really quiet. He knows I’m up here. What do you think he’s planning? Should we pull over and confront him?” If we could find a shoulder off the side of the road or a rest stop minus the walking dead, maybe we could ambush him and save the girls.

He wiped his eyes. “And what? Eat or be eaten?”

I laughed, a little surprised. “I was just thinking that.”

Pursing his lips and narrowing his eyes, Brian nodded. “I know.”

Right. Adrenaline pumped through me and must have shoved the thought to the back of my mind. He could hear my thoughts under my control. Unfortunately for Brian, he couldn’t forget and I couldn’t make him. “Okay, so, what do you think? Would it do any good?”

He shrugged, a habit of his that would drive me crazy before too long. “I think we’re stupid to think anything with Dominic would do any good.”

And I agreed… to an extent. I clenched the steering wheel. Dashboard lights made it next to impossible to see into the inky night. Red radio buttons connected us to Dominic, taunting me. But he needed something we had – desperately.

I avoided Brian’s eyes. I had an ulterior motive. I just didn’t want to admit it. “Well, if we don’t ambush him, maybe we could suggest a deal or something. Maybe a trade? I don’t want to have anything to do with him. But he has quite a few girls back there that aren’t infected. He’s keeping them alive for food.” Embarrassed, I muttered. “I think we should try to save them.”

If there was a syndrome that caused a person to believe they were a superhero, I had it. Why else would I run around thinking I could save every girl in trouble? What Dominic did with them shouldn’t bother me, and yet, their life or death situation bugged the hell out of me. Rape didn’t sit well with me. Women trapped in a truck while they waited to be eaten didn’t either.

Since Dominic had made it out of the road trap, I had to assume the girls did, too.

Thankfully, I didn’t need surround sound. Brian’s words didn’t carry far. “How? We aren’t superheroes. We’re walking dead.” He pressed his hands on his upper thighs. “I don’t know that they’re safer with me than with him.”

Eating humans wasn’t on my wish list either. I’d made it so long without eating any and then bam! twice in the same day. Could I guarantee I wouldn’t cave to temptation either?

Brian coughed a rusty laugh. “If you’re not sure you can abstain, then I know I won’t be able to. Let’s just ditch Dominic. Those girls will be dead one way or the other. Let’s just get away and do what we need to do.”

I considered his suggestion. Damn, I’d left one version of hell for another. I scratched the side of my face, my nerves maintaining some semblance of normal and not quite so sensitive yet. I didn’t need food. At least for a bit.

Another mile or two passed in silence. I’d faced my mortality and found myself to be less morbid than I’d assumed. I wasn’t willing to trade my integrity for a full stomach and end my unsatisfied longings. Yet.

And I had longings. Heather leapt to the front of my mind. She lingered in the back, her image waiting to pop into view at the most inconvenient times. Had she fixed her hair where Brian had chopped the chunk out? Was she okay after being bitten? Hell, was she okay, period? My brother, James, escaped with her. He had more time than I did. More time. To impress her. To love her, if he wanted.

And why wouldn’t he? Who wouldn’t want to be with her?

I loved her. I’d fallen for her.

I just couldn’t have her.

Ever.

My teeth dug deep into the flesh of my inner cheek. The sting stopped tears from pricking my eyes. Odd, but it worked. I’d be eighteen soon. Well, I wouldn’t live long enough for that, but an almost-eighteen-year-old doesn’t need to cry over a girl he’d never get to be with.

No electricity left the lights black on the northbound highway. Our truck sliced through the night, the path lit up ahead and from behind. The fact that Dominic was so close applied pressure between my shoulder blades. We would need gas and sustenance soon. To get away from Dominic, we would need a severe advantage. Or he would need a flat tire. Or to die. Whatever.

I’d give anything to catch up to Heather, see her home, have her see me before I started falling to pieces. Best not to focus on the impossibility of that situation.

“Last fall, I sat behind a girl in English I swore I’d be taking to prom.” Brian shifted in his seat. He blew hot air on the window and traced a line with his still peach-colored finger. “I copied a sonnet and passed it to her. Told her we were star-crossed lovers.” He glanced at me and tilted his head in my direction. “Sorry. But you’re making me melancholy with your whiny thoughts about Heather.”

“Whiny?” Dickhead. I’d tried showing him nothing but compassion – okay, not really, but somewhat. Jeesh. “Do you really want to go there?”

We both shut up. I tried emptying my mind, but found myself running through various scenarios between me and Heather, possibilities if only I weren’t infected or she weren’t immune. Try as hard as I could, I couldn’t bring myself to hate the virus that had changed me. I had met Heather because of it. Dominic had forced me to kidnap her. Oh, yeah, I still hated him.

Plains spread out on either side of the highway. We rolled forward during the darkest part of the night – just before dawn – and in our case the most dangerous. Zombies didn’t need light to find food, just smell. And we’d eat anything that moved. Or didn’t move.

“Can you stop thinking? Just stop. My head feels like it’s going to explode. It’s crowded in here enough without adding you to it.” Brian’s growl took me aback.

Laughter escaped me before I could reign it in. “Really? You’re trying to tell me you have so much going on in your head, that you can’t handle a few extra thoughts?” I rolled my eyes. “I find that hard to believe.”

Cutting across his reply – if he had one in the works – hell, according to him, his mind was too maxed out – the cell phone rang. He picked up, answering with a subdued tone. “Yeah.”

Beep. Beep. The radio interrupted my eavesdropping efforts. How flipping annoying. “Paul. You there?”

I grabbed the handheld mouthpiece and snarled. “What do you want, Dominic?” He didn’t need to know we’d just been discussing options. He didn’t need to know he was even in the picture.

“I want my army back. But since I can’t pull them from those people’s mouths, I want what’s left.” Static filled his pause.

The dark road ahead absorbed my glare. Too bad there wasn’t some way to put his ass in front of my truck. I’d gladly run it over, turn him into a zombie pancake. Then I’d climb out and roll him up into a Dominic churro. And feed his ass to the mindless zombies roving the countryside. “I’m not stopping. Do you think I’m stupid?”

Dominic didn’t reply. I caught the end of Brian’s sentence. “…I don’t think that’s important. We’re headed that way. We’ll just pick you up on the way north.”

Pick up someone? We already packed an unknown number of male popsicles. No way in hell was I going to add to that. Where were they going to sit? Back with the undead? Sheesh. I pushed my irritation toward Brian, hoping he picked up the pissed off vibes.

Finally, Dominic spoke. “I don’t care if you’re stupid or not. You’ll stop eventually. Your rig eats through gas. It’s not diesel. Only mine is. When you need fuel, we’ll talk.” The menacing promise was there, like he breathed down the back of my neck.

A sigh escaped me. Of course. Diesel. I was screwed with the freezer unit running and all the weight in the box. I’d run through my gas in no time. I couldn’t turn off the freezer or Dominic could mentally order those damn zombies in the back to eat my ass. Thanks, but no thanks.

If I could get a bite on each of the boys in the back, they’d be my army – not Dickhead’s – and then I could make them eat him. That’d be awesome. As soon as Brian got off the phone, I would tell him my plan. I’d have to find the freezer on/off button to start the thawing process. Biting frozen zombies may or may not spread my saliva.

Brian hung up the phone. He turned to the window. “That was James. They’re stuck.”

“What? Where?” I swerved the steering wheel to the right and then corrected. James and Heather couldn’t stop. Getting north was the most important thing. Zombies would be surrounding them, grabbing Heather. Mauling her. Eating her. Killing her. “Did you tell them they couldn’t stop? My hell, Brian.”

I stomped on the gas pedal, pushing the truck past the fifty miles per hour speed limit. The truck climbed past sixty, sixty-five, up to seventy, abandoning Dominic’s in the dark.

“What are you doing?” Brian’s eyes grew wide. He stared at the speedometer as it rocketed to seventy-five. Eighty.

“We can’t help her sitting on our asses, can we?” She needed me. We needed to get away from Dominic. And, thanks again to the bastard, I was going to see her before I died… sooner rather than later.

Had I mentioned how much I needed Heather?

Chapter 2

Brian held onto the phone like a magic cord that was going to yank him from the mad-man-driven-truck. “James said they were at the rest stop off exit one-thirty-three. We should be there soon. We just passed one-hundred-and-twenty when I was on the phone.”

I gritted my teeth. Mile markers would have been easier to gauge. An exit could come out at you before you knew it was there. I’ve been known to pass exits before. Road trips suck. Fleeing seemed to be my new MO. I hated looking like a wimp. “Watch for the exit. Did he say what happened?” My plan to claim Dominic’s minimal army as my own flipped out the window. I didn’t have time to thaw out the boys, even if I did bite them frozen. They wouldn’t do me any good frozen stiff.

His grunt could have been a laugh or a cough, either way he’d better be careful. We were talking about my brother, after all. “I couldn’t understand some of what he said. The signal wasn’t solid.”

Dominic’s lights faded behind us. The radio squawked and his voice filled the cab. “Trying to escape me, Paul?” Was that fear in his voice? I had to be mistaken. The asshole I knew didn’t understand fear, at least as it applied to him. He had a serious control issue.

Just in case, I let him sweat it out for a minute. For good measure, I pushed the truck for more speed.

Palming the CB radio’s mouth piece, I pressed the talk button. “I was going to ask if you changed your mind. Kind of slowing up back there, huh?” Our truck shuddered at ninety. I dropped back to eighty-five after tossing a glance at Brian. I grimaced. That’d be my luck, getting stranded in Dominic’s path on our way to save Heather and my brother.

I waited for Dominic’s answer. How in the hell was I going to pull this off? Goals included rescuing Heather and James, maybe saving the girls, and getting away from Dominic, all while avoiding rogue zombies eating their way through the countryside. Oh, and for good measure, I should ditch the zombie pops in the box. Success required a better vehicle, or at least one that didn’t freeze the passengers.

If I could switch Dominic trucks we could be on our way. If I could switch Dominic and somehow give him a damaged truck, it would buy some very valuable time in our favor. I gnawed on my lip. I hadn’t eaten in about two hours. The hunger crept up on me, would be there before I knew it. But I could hold off until we reached Sandpoint. I had to. Hmmm. Could zombies have eating disorders?

“You know, that’s not a bad idea.” Brian turned to me, a serious slant to his mouth. He’d been in my head again. “No, actually, I don’t go into your head. You dump your thoughts out there like garbage and I can’t help hearing them. And please stop picturing Heather in a shower stall with a bunch of other girls. She’s supposed to be my sister.”

Oh, right. Sick. “Should I focus on keeping you out or something? I’ve never done this.” Screaming in his head wasn’t my intention.

Brian scrunched up his face, his lips screwed into a smirk. “And I have?”

“Enough. I’ll work on it.” I stared into the night, unable to register any present details. “You were going to say something wasn’t a bad idea?”

“Switching Dominic trucks and giving him a gimped out one.” He tapped the dash. “Heather wouldn’t stop talking about you in the kitchen at her grandma’s and your mom mentioned something about you being a grease monkey. Said you know about cars and stuff. Can you disable the truck?”

Heather talked about me? A fierce glow warmed my stony heart. Knowing that she cared about me was one thing. Hearing about her affection from someone else hit me between the ribs. Made her feelings real.

Slowly the glow faded. There was no cure. She was doomed, if she liked the walking dead. I was the walking dead. The thought sobered me. I focused on Brian’s question. Smothering the possibilities of me and Heather would make surviving the next few days much easier.

The truck. “Disabled how bad?”

“Enough to keep him from following us too close.” And as if on cue, the pinpoints of Dominic’s headlights reappeared in my side mirror.

I tapped the steering wheel. “I’d need a few minutes under the hood. There isn’t a lot I can do with such a short amount of time.” We needed Dominic’s truck, too. “It’s not like he’s going to just roll over and give us his truck, you know?” I lifted the radio piece to my mouth and pretended to push the button. “Dominic, Paul here, I’d like to give you a crapped out truck and take yours. What do you say, ole buddy?”

Brian rolled his eyes.

I lowered the mouthpiece. “Precisely. He’s never going to give us his vehicle.” Why would he want my truck? I didn’t want the damn thing.

In unison, Brian and I spoke. “The cargo.” Our grins matched.

Excited, I pressed the button for real and spoke as calmly as possible. “Dominic, there’s a rest stop coming up. I’d be interested in trading trucks.”

He took his time answering. I didn’t blame him. He had to be asking himself what I wanted with his truck, besides the girls. Then his next thing would be wondering how he could feed all those frozen boys without the girls in the back of his truck. Then, knowing Dominic, he’d try to figure out a way to keep the girls and ditch the boys. But last and, of course, the most important, he’d work on a way to screw me over and, again, try to get me to rejoin with him. The last would never happen, but I was getting used to the flattery of his attempts.

I curled my lips. I’d give anything to be in his head right then.

He waited longer. Exit one-hundred-and-twenty-seven passed. Answer already.

At exit one-hundred-and-twenty-eight my headlights rebounded off a set of eyes, then another. The gleam in the dark didn’t match a deer’s eye shape. The slouch of shoulders as the large male crouched over something he tore into gave away his species. Red blood coated his chin and dripped down onto a flannel shirt. His partner evaded the glare of my lights. I zoomed by, not slowing.

Brian didn’t react, but I know he saw. The attitude in the truck had changed, filled the air with resolution.

Dominic’s lights glowed brighter in my mirror. Small text on the glass indicated items in mirror were closer than they appeared. I had to hurry to exit one-hundred-and-thirty-three. I pressed the gas and inched closer to ninety without actually touching it. Skirting the limits of the large truck emboldened me. I pressed talk again. “I’ll trade you the boys for the girls.”

His laughter shrieked into the truck before fading. “Oh, Paul, that was funny. What are you going to do with them? You don’t eat humans and I sincerely doubt your attraction to girls.” He chuckled, the sound grating on the glass. “Please, tell me what you plan on doing with them.”

I clenched my jaw. Calm down. He didn’t know he was getting to me. Don’t give it away. I breathed in and out, the fire dimming inside me as I struggled to tamp it down. Once I gained control of my anger, I forced a smile into my voice. “I’m going to let them go. Do you want me to light this truck on fire? I can run back to Sandpoint. Not that I’d have to. You’d be out an army and coming all by yourself. Nothing for us to be afraid of, you know?” He didn’t know the cure was fake. He didn’t know Heather was up ahead, either. “Before dinner tomorrow I could have the cure and be back to normal in no time.”

“Are we just going to switch trucks, then? How do I know you didn’t destroy my boys?” Suspicions targeted the wrong way.

“I haven’t had time, have I?” Nimrod. Jeesh. But at least his attention was on the boys. “They’re intact, Dominic. We can switch at the next exit.”

I hung up the small hand piece. He’d take some time. Dominic didn’t like being given the options. He preferred delivering ultimatums and scaring the crap out of people. Power hadn’t completely shifted, but at the same time, it had. I didn’t need the girls to complete my goals. It’d be nice to help them out, make me feel less animalistic. But my survival and Heather’s didn’t depend on whether they made it or not. If Dominic didn’t realize that, more power to me.

We rounded a curve in the road, the box swaying with the momentum. I hung on to the wheel, pulling tight against the speed and inertia sucking us toward the guardrail. “You need to find Heather and James when we get there. Do it as fast as you can and then hide them by the exit of the rest stop. You’ll have to stay with them, in case…” I left the possibility that they might meet up with the uncontrolled zombies unspoken.

“How long do you need to work on the truck?” Brian had closed his eyes. Boy would probably piss himself on a motorcycle with me. He all but whimpered, “Are you going to yank out the spark plugs?”

Spark plugs? Only someone who wanted to sound like they knew what they were talking about would suggest spark plugs. “You don’t just yank out spark plugs. But no, I’m going after something a little less obvious and much faster.”

“Can you try calling James or Heather and warning them?” The steering wheel shook in my hands. I might not have to incapacitate the truck at the rest stop. The rate we were going, the truck might break apart before then.

Brian punched in the numbers but a loud beep rejected the connection. He looked close at the screen. “There’s no reception.”

“Huh? Are we that far from any towns?” I pursed my lips. Dominic’s lights drew closer. If I was pushing the speed limit close to ninety and he was gaining on me, then that meant his truck was capable of going much faster than the measly eighty-nine I claimed.

“No. I’m not sure. We had reception here on the way down.” Brian messed with the phone.

“Not that surprising. If there is anyone still human out there, they’re most likely worried more about keeping their flesh than about what kind of reception people have.” I couldn’t think of a single way people would be able to hide from the flesh eaters. There was a distinct smell associated with the uninfected – like copper and earth. Change the copper to a rusty smell and a musky odor to overtake the earthiness and you had the smell of the infected. Rotten eggs and milk stench followed the dead ones.

Hmm. My own stench had to be similar to an expensive cologne. I wouldn’t accept anything less.

Brian snorted.

“I must not be doing too well focusing my mind, huh? Sorry.” But I really wasn’t sorry. Honestly, I didn’t care.

“You’ll care when you’re alone with Heather and you don’t want me to hear everything you want to tell her but don’t have the balls to say.” Brian watched out the window. What he should have been watching was my fist. I let it fly across the seat and plant firmly in the ball of his bicep. He gripped his shoulder and moaned. “Dammit. You gave me a dead arm.”

A dead arm? The laugh burst from my mouth like a bullet. I couldn’t contain it, if I wanted to. “Pun intended?”

He thought about his word choice and laughed, too.

I didn’t like him, but I wasn’t thinking about shoving his ass out the door, either.

Heather. We’d be seeing her soon. I swallowed. I couldn’t wait to see her. And yet… “Hey, Brian? Can I ask you for a favor?”

He waited for me to go on.

“I… I don’t want Heather to know I ate those people, you know? At least not yet. I’m going to tell her, I just don’t want to right away. She’s… well, she’s going to be disappointed in me and I’d rather have a few more hours without that, you know?” I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t want to see the humor or derision on his face that I know was on mine.

Dominic’s voice broke through the radio silence. “I’ll take that deal, Paul. I get to keep one girl, though. I have urges that need to be fed. Meet you at the rest stop. Turn off the truck. I want the boys to start thawing.”

Perfect. The exit loomed close. We passed one-hundred-and-thirty-two, an exit minus the zombies. The sign boasted the class of one tavern-and-more stop. People would be nearby. Real flesh and blood people. Where there were people, there would be zombies.

Heather wasn’t far from there.

And Brian never answered me. He’d do what I told him to do, but would he try to get around it?

I would.

Chapter 3

A green reflective sign marked exit one-hundred-and-thirty-three. The white numbers taunted me as Dominic’s lights barreled down behind us.

I took my foot off the gas and let the engine slow us down.

We careened into the parking lot, avoiding two semi-trucks parked at angles to each other and an abandoned SUV that was most likely my old one. I couldn’t look at Brian. For some reason, I felt like I asked him for a favor, when in fact I was saving his life. We only had moments, so I rushed my directions. “When you get out, run. I’m only going to have a second to do this. If I get it wrong and he suspects something, don’t wait for me. Get Heather and James out of here. I’ll pick you up when I’m out of his sight.”

The drivers of the semi-trucks could be eaten, dead, or undead. Honestly, I didn’t give a damn which. “Keep your eyes open.” I pointed at the open doors on the two large trucks. Something had gotten there before us.

If James was in the area, he’d be able to hear me, or feel me, or whatever the hell it was. I focused on James and thought, James, we’re here. Stay hidden. Brian is coming to you. I’m going to switch trucks with Dominic. No way would Heather survive. Someone had to watch for animals like us.

James’s answer screeched through my skull. I jerked back like he stood in front of me and yelled with a bullhorn. Brian is right. You need to work on that. I’ve heard you for a while now. Quit being a pervert about Heather and get us that truck. He’d gotten in my head – like Brian – and I hadn’t had the control to keep him out.

Heat flooded my face. The cover of darkness saved the evidence of my physical embarrassment, but Brian could hear everything I projected. The whole thing was a flipping mess. How would I ever get free of them? It was almost worth the idea of asking Dominic to bite their asses again, just to get my head back to its original ownership.

Brian harrumphed in the corner.

On the opposite side of the brick building, a section for picnicking caught the light when I careened around the edge of the restroom. The position would give me an advantage. He’d have to find me when he pulled into the exit. Every second counted.

Brian didn’t wait for my command. He jumped down, slamming the door behind him.

In the dark, tree-shrouded bench area, I slammed on the brakes and twisted off the headlights. Nothing in the truck had value for me. I shut off the engine and popped the hood. Scrambling from my seat, I closed the door to keep the light off in the cab. The hood took some muscle to push up. Light shined from the top like a beacon. Of course, I would get the truck with a stupid under-the-hood light. Damn. I had to hurry even faster. Dominic didn’t need help finding me any more than I needed to eat a donut.

The fuel pump relay should be right… there. I jerked the large fuse-like device from its position and slammed the hood. Silence crowded out my heavy breathing and the fierce pounding of my heart. Sharp corners of the fuse reminded me I was alive… at least for the moment.

But holding on to the damn thing wouldn’t help me in any way. I tossed the rectangle over my shoulder, a small click and rattle as it fell on the pavement. I’d be pissed if Dominic found it.

If I was smart, I’d run and never look back. Dealing with Dominic was never a good idea. Never. The last time he surprised me was by turning my brother into a zombie for crying out loud!

The faint rumble of an engine just past the bathrooms pushed me around the side of my truck. But I stopped. I couldn’t run from him. I needed his truck. A hand anchored me to my vehicle instead of letting me run like a bat out of hell into the woods.

I could breathe, if I really tried.

The metal cooled under my fingers. For the briefest moment, I had a connection with the truck. I was used, sucked dry, fading, running from each refueling to the next. But this time, I would force myself to run on empty until I found something safe to eat. Safe, meaning not human.

Noises not natural to the forest whispered across the pavement, underneath the rumblings of Dominic’s diesel truck. Large creatures sniffed and sought meat in the dark. Zombies. I couldn’t picture them, but the sounds were familiar. They could smell a change in the air. Even I could smell the newness Brian and I had brought.

The bastard, Dominic, rounded the building in his truck and I shivered. I hated him. I really did.

But Dominic got me. For some strange-ass reason, the bastard understood me. I did crave the freedom to run rampant through the streets, tearing the flesh from hot ass girls. While a part of me got that it was the virus changing my most basic desires, another part of me wanted to leave my logical side behind and welcome the growing craziness in my nerves. Dominic got that. He understood it. And, hell, he was exploiting the shit out of it.

I wiped at the sweat on my upper lip. The faint scent of oil lingered on my palms. If I touched him, or got too close, he’d suspect I’d been tampering with the engine.

His lights lit me up as I reached the back of my truck. I shielded my eyes and pretended to stumble. Catching myself on the ground with my hands outstretched, I made sure to wipe them on the dirt and gravel. Standing, I rubbed them together as if dusting them off. He couldn’t miss the dirt darkening or the faint red marks where the gravel had bit into my pale skin.

He drew up behind the truck I had parked. I didn’t touch the back door of my rig. If his zombies thawed too fast, Dominic would have an army ready to do his bidding, with or without food. As it was, we were just about evenly matched. I’d never considered if I could take Dominic. He’d always seemed too old. Now with the virus running through both of us, our physical power had exponentially increased. I just didn’t know how much his strength had been affected and how much constant human food had helped him.

He cut the engine.

I watched closely as he slid down from the cab. He would have to be Superman to pull off some sort of truck killing move, like I had. Hell, I wasn’t Superman, but the idea was nice.

The lights dimmed as the truck switched power sources to the battery. Dominic’s shadow didn’t reassure me. He couldn’t do anything to the truck, but he didn’t approach me right away either.

“Paul? Where’s Brian?” He sidled closer, his arms tucked to his sides.

“He didn’t want to see you.” I scratched my ear to show my hands were empty, maybe calm him down. I lifted my chin. “Can you blame him?”

Dominic shrugged and crossed his arms. He walked toward me, stopping near the front bumper. Raising a hand, he knocked on the metal door. The double bang piggy-backed into an echo. “I wonder how long it will take for them to thaw. Hmmm.” He eyed me, a smirk edging out suspicion for Brian. “Do you think they’ll be ready when I reach Sandpoint?”

I bit my tongue. Hell, the things I wanted to say. And do. I wouldn’t eat him, no, that’s just gross. But I could tear him apart, piece by piece, and let the unruly zombies have him. The snuffles and grunts grew louder. They’d reach him before they’d reach me. But how long until they found Heather?

“Is it ready?” I stepped toward my new truck. No sounds came from the back of the stolen U-Haul. He wanted to take a girl. I didn’t know how long Heather, James, and Brian could hold off the feeders searching through the woods. “Did you still want a girl?”

Dominic crossed his arms. “Yeah, I’ll take a girl.” He leaned on the truck. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay with me? It’s only a matter of time until I have the cure.” He looked me up and down. Something sinister in his gaze gave me the creepy-crawlies like spiders on my skin.

I clenched my jaw. “Time you know I don’t have.” Insensitive jerk-off. “Let’s get this over with.” I spun on my heel and stomped beside the new truck. His sauntering step followed.

But I stopped, holding up my hand. A scratch, scratch, scratch had beaten me to the back. I suctioned myself to the side of the truck and glanced at Dominic. He held his hands out at waist level and froze, leaning his head forward like the few centimeters his jaw jutted out in front of him would give him the hearing edge he needed.

Multiple scratches turned to screeches like metal on glass. Moans filled the air. The wild zombies tried opening the truck like a sardine can to get at the girls.

Nothing was keeping me there. I grabbed the driver’s side door handle. Movement across the front seat startled me. I looked into the thick-film covered eyes of one like me. The gray of his skin had sunk deep into the shadows of his features. Not like me. At least not for a couple more days.

I crouched down and turned toward Dominic. I offered the smallest shake of my head. He moved beside me and lowered to all fours. I didn’t move. He held up five fingers, snapped his hand closed, and then held up three more. Eight. There were eight rabid monsters. And only the two of us. Not that we were on the same team, but survival had thrust us together. Again. Survival sucked.

The spring-loaded door opened with a pop. Well, if nothing else, U-Haul’s new slogan could be “so easy to open, a starving zombie could do it”. The moans rose an octave, maybe two. And then the screams started mixed with smacking and tearing, thuds and bumps. A bloodied hand clenched the side of the truck, the fingers petite and pale. Matted and clumped hair poked around the corner. A woman clung to the truck and dangled with her feet on the edge of the bumper as if she were about to jump the three feet to the ground.

A large arm shot behind her and clutched her by her hair, dragging her back into the carnage.

My stomach roiled, while my mouth watered.

Dominic wasn’t getting his choice of anything. And I wasn’t sticking around to see more of the massacre.

The zombie in the cab banged on the window a few feet above my head. The shock reminded me of a starter’s gun at a track meet. I bolted. My open sprint carried me out of the circle of light by the trucks. I hadn’t noticed it before, but a full moon offered more than enough light to see by.

I rushed past the disabled truck. Dominic could try to salvage it, or hide in it. I didn’t really care.

The dark wasn’t as complete as I’d assumed. The pavement had just a tinge darker shade of gray than the cement curbing and sidewalk areas. I followed the tightening funnel to the exit.

Screams behind me reached a crescendo and then one by one silenced. The oddest sensation like I listened to a soundtrack of people falling and hitting the ground washed over me. If I turned around, I’d be in a movie theatre, watching a sick horror flick. I’d never been a fan of the occult. I was a Bruce Willis/Vin Diesel kind of guy.

My feet pummeled the ground. Gasps, more from desperation to escape than exertion, filled my ears. But then, the engine of my truck turned over. I pumped my arms faster. And faster.

A minute, that’s what I needed. But I got mere seconds. The engine turned over, chugged, chugged, and then cut. I closed my eyes for the barest second, but opened them rather than bite the gravel – literally. I hit the curve, still running.

Dominic ratcheted the starter, once, twice, hell, a third time. I almost made it to the trees when his bellow of rage silenced the ravaging moans and eating sounds. It sounded like my name. Oh, damn. He’d add revenge to his list on me, if he made it out alive.

“Paul!” James’s whisper might as well have been a shout.

I stopped, just past the point where Dominic would be able to see me in the moonlight. But I couldn’t see James. The bushes weren’t that thick. Tree boughs didn’t reach all the way to the ground. “Where are you?” I looked back toward the trucks. “We have to get out of here. Now.”

“Catch Heather.” James’s voice came from above. They’d hidden in the trees. Smart asses.

Before I could fully prepare myself, I caught Heather with a slight grunt. Well, I wasn’t ready and she fell like forty feet – okay, only like ten, but it could have been forty.

I couldn’t see her expression under the cover of the trees. But her nod and quiet thank you boiled inside me. The comfort of her weight in my arms would definitely be easy to get used to. She was safe, if only for a second, but in my arms and safe. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Unless it included a way out.

But we didn’t have the time for me to consider all the ways I was grateful to have her in my arms.

Thump. Thump. James and Brian fell down beside us. Brian watched over my shoulder. “Where are we going? Our truck is back there.”

I let Heather slide down my body to stand. Hell yeah, I did. A moment like that needed to be taken advantage of. Who knew if I’d get another chance to have her body against mine. I may have only two days left, but I was still a teenage guy with, shall we say, urges?

“Enough of your cravings, Paul. Stop.” James slugged my shoulder. “What do we do?”

“Let’s hit the highway.” I ignored his remark. They would already know I struggled with going back to the truck and scrounging for any leftover meat. The coppery smell of the blood had chased me as thoroughly as Dominic did. “It won’t be long before they smell Heather. Let’s not be around for that.”

We followed the exit to the empty highway. Not one car was in sight which meant not one person was in sight. But that didn’t excuse the relief flooding me. I don’t know if I could handle the temptation of another human. I worked on not thinking too hard about it, but the temperature, which hadn’t bothered me before was cooling off and my toes had begun tingling. Thank goodness for the dark night.

But damn, Heather smelled good. In more ways than one.

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Author: Chelsea Paulson

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