The zombies behind them were lumbering around the corner of the jailhouse. The zombies in front of them were moving awkwardly around the stalling pickup as if the noise from the dying engine was evoking their curiosity. Sarah stayed close behind Jack as they crept forward, stones crunching under their feet.
“Here we go,” Jack said, looking briefly at Sarah’s terrified expression. He ran ahead, swinging the billy club, making blunt force contact with the heads of the possessed who were standing in the way, obstructing their path to the driver’s door.
Sarah would have held on tight to Jack’s coattail if he had one. Instead, she stayed back far enough to not accidentally be hit as the nightstick swooshed through the air. The sound of the club striking skulls was sickening and saddening, these people were normal only hours ago, sleeping soundly in their beds or soothing a crying baby.
The zombies stumbled, unable to keep their balance as Jack cleared a path to the cab. “Get in,” he shouted.
Sarah ran to the driver’s door, flung it open, jumped inside and slammed it shut, all in what seemed like slow motion rather than the few seconds it actually took. She put her foot on the gas pedal, giving the motor just enough octane for a high idle to keep it running.
Jack worked his way around to the passenger door, with Jibber barking at his side. Blood and mucus streaked through the air as his club cracked heads like a bat striking a pumpkin.
Sarah slammed the shifter into drive, one foot on the gas, the other ready to release the brake. Jack opened the passenger door. Jibber shot in ahead of Jack, who was yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”
“I can’t, there are people in front of me,” Sarah said, inching forward, not wanting to run over anyone.
“Backup then,” Jack said, turning and looking at the infestation behind them.
“I can’t, they’re behind me, too.” Sarah’s breathing increased as if the oxygen was being sucked out of the crew cab.
“Then run ‘em over, floor it!” Jack demanded, looking at a panicked Sarah. Her hands were shaking as she gripped the steering wheel. “They’re not people; they’re zombies and I don’t intend to die today. It is them or us.”
Sarah closed her eyes for only a moment, trying to make the nightmare go away. When she opened them, they were surrounded by bodies pounding on the windows and doors. The pickup rocked as Sarah sat there frozen, unable to decide what to do.
“Damn it, Sarah, if you’re not going to do it then get out of the driver’s seat and I will,” Jack said, reaching for the steering wheel.
Sarah floored it, not giving herself time to think about what she was doing. A thin man in a white T-shirt followed by a woman in a pink nightgown were the first to be swallowed by the charging truck. She did not look back as the tires squealed and occasionally lost traction on something lumpy and slippery. They bounced around from the bodies underneath the truck, acting like speed bumps. The pickup screamed out of the parking lot and down the road. Sarah took the entrance ramp to the highway so fast it felt like they were going to tip over.
“You can slow down now,” Jack said, pushing Jibber off his lap and into the backseat.
Tears streamed down Sarah’s face as she eased up on the gas. “I can’t believe I just ran over those people,” she said, her voice quivering.
Jack looked at Sarah as she wiped tears from her red cheeks with her sleeve. Slightly confused by her reaction, he said in a soft, reassuring voice, “You did what you had to do to save us.”
She wiped her runny nose with an old tissue stashed inside the armrest organizer and looked at him with puffy red eyes. “Yeah, I guess so,” she said as her voice cracked.
The only life on the highway was them as they headed east to get Sarah’s sons. Abandoned cars and trucks sat motionless in haphazard positions, causing Sarah to swerve in and out around them. Some were sitting on the shoulder, leading Sarah to wonder if some people had time to think about what was happening, while others just stopped in their lanes, causing cars to run into each other.
Jack laid the billy club next to his leg on the seat. “So what did you see when you followed those . . .” he paused, “things?”
Sarah kept her focus on the darkened road; her tears had stopped. “There was a light beam coming from the sky and it seemed to be drawing people to it. They would walk inside the blue light, and I could hear them make sounds like they were getting pleasure from it, like they were moaning like in ecstasy as if they were . . .” she let the sentence trail off.
Jack looked at her smiling. “Like they were what?”
She glanced at him with a frown on her face; she knew what he wanted her to say. “You know.”
He sat back on the cloth seat, clasping his hands behind his head. “Like they were having an orgasm?”
She looked over at him coyly. His five-o’clock shadow and broad jaw line were attractive to her. A tattoo of a beautiful bird with gold, red and purple feathers, rising from a fire, gracefully curved around the muscles in his arm. Sarah recognized it as a Phoenix, symbolizing rebirth. She looked up at him. “Yeah, something like that.”
Jack looked back at Jibber, who was sitting calmly on the seat, her panting less labored. “So, Sarah, where are we headed?”
“I’m going to get my kids, they’re with my ex-husband right now and I’d just feel better if they were with me.”
“How far away are they?”
“About a hundred miles, we’ll be there in a couple hours if we don’t run into any more problems.”
“Is your ex going to be okay with you taking the kids at three in the morning?” Jack sounded skeptical.
“Probably not, so I don’t know what to do about that,” she said, shrugging. “I guess I’ll solve that problem when I get there.”
They sat in silence for a while as they drove down the highway. Cars on the road were thinning out as they left the city. The sky glowed red in the darkness like embers from a fire as Sarah looked for signs of life, or death.
Sarah broke the silence. “Do you have a family, Jack?”
“Nah, not me, too busy,” Jack said, sounding as if it only slightly bothered him.
Just then, Jibber began to whimper, raising her head to look out the window.
“What’s wrong, Jibber?” Sarah reached over to pet the dog’s head, but it would not stop fidgeting.
Jack looked left and right out the windows. “I don’t see anything.”
“I wonder if she needs to pee.” Sarah slowed the pickup; the only vehicle in sight was a stationary, jack-knifed semi truck a half mile ahead.
Jack scanned the area before opening his door to let out the anxious dog. “I don’t see anyone; it should be okay.”
Jibber jumped out and vanished into the darkness.
“How much gas do we have?” Jack asked, sitting with the passenger door open, looking into the dried cornfield where Jibber had run.
Sarah looked at the gas gauge. “Just under half a tank, that’ll get us there but not back home.” A cool breeze penetrated the cab from Jack’s open door. Just in case he was wondering, she added, “I don’t want to turn the truck off because it might not start again.”
“Well, we’ll just drive it until we find gas or can’t drive it anymore. We might have to siphon gas if there’s no power anywhere.” Jack stepped outside, breathing in the crisp fall air.
“I don’t see any signs of power,” Sarah said, looking for lights in the distance.
Jack got back into the cab, rested his foot on the running board and turned the radio on. He scanned through the static until he heard a distant voice through the crackling. Jack tried to get a clear signal, but all they could make out before it was all static again was, “If you . . . shelter . . . Jackson . . . infected . . . stay out.”
“Shit,” Jack said, hitting the dash. “Did he mean there’s shelter in Jackson, or did he mean there’re infected people, stay out?”
“I don’t know, but we will be going through Jackson,” Sarah said, rubbing her tired face. “Maybe it’ll come in better when we get closer.”
“I hope so,” Jack said, picking up his club and stepping outside. “What’s taking that dog so long?”
Sarah got out and walked over to the shoulder of the road where Jack was standing. They stood side-by-side looking at the motionless field of dry cornstalks; only an occasional rustle of brittle leaves rubbing against each other could be heard as the breeze pushed over the landscape in waves. “It sounds strange, like something’s missing.”
“Crickets,” Jack said, turning toward her. “I don’t hear crickets.”
Sarah’s breath appeared as pink fog in the cold glow of the sky. She called out, “Here, Jibber. Here, Girl.” She heard nothing. “Here, Jibber.”
“We shouldn’t call too loudly,” Jack said, his voice low. “Those zombie things might hear us.”
Sarah nodded in agreement and walked down the curve of the shoulder to where the dog had run. The weeds were wet and slippery. She stopped when she heard the cracking of dry stalks getting closer. She backed up, not knowing if it was dog or demon heading in her direction. “It sounds like something is being dragged.”
Jack went back to the pickup and rummaged through the glove compartment. “Where’s the flashlight? Do you have the one from the jail?”
“Uh, I kind of dropped the one from the jail . . . while I was running for my life,” she said, reaching into her cross-shoulder purse. “But I do have a penlight.”
While Sarah pointed the almost useless bit of light in the direction of the sound, she backed toward the truck. Jack found a flashlight under the backseat and shined it into the field. “This doesn’t work worth a damn,” he said, banging the dim light against his hand.
The sound got closer. Sarah stood by the pickup while Jack went in the direction of the sound.
“Be careful,” Sarah said, with a loud whisper as Jack disappeared into the field. Her hearing was heightened as it searched for any sound that would give her reason to jump into the cab and lock the doors.
She turned her light toward the pickup to make sure nothing was coming up from behind them. That is when something in the grill of the truck caught her attention. Hanging in between the metal slits was a blood-soaked, jagged piece of pink nylon. A tuft of gray hair and a hunk of scalp were crammed around a headlight; parts of the people Sarah had run over. She bent over and began to dry heave.
“It’s Jibber,” Jack said as he emerged from the stalks. “She has something.”
Sarah stood and rested her hand on her sick stomach. She watched as Jibber dragged a large object from a row of corn into the moist ditch.
Jack approached Jibber and her prey. “Go, Jibber, get away!” he commanded, trying to get the dog to move away from the limp form.
Sarah moved away from the disgusting mess on the truck and up to Jack and Jibber. Jack knelt down for a closer look as Jibber released her grip from the clothing and growled. Sarah slid to a stop when she noticed the body. “Oh my God, is that a zombie?” she gasped, raising her hand to her mouth, her stomach reeling.
Jack stood and nudged the body with the bottom of his jail sandal. He looked back at Sarah. “I believe Jibber caught us a dead zombie.”
Sarah looked away in disgust while Jack began unlacing the work boots and removing them from the zombie’s feet.
“They fit good enough,” he said, smiling at Sarah as he tossed the jail shoes into the weeds and stuffed his feet into the oil-stained boots.