Judgment Day: Part 21

March 21st

Sugarloaf Mountain

Interstate 270 was one of the main feeds into Washington, connecting the Beltway with I-70 up in Frederick, which stretched westward through the country.  Sugarloaf Mountain was near the halfway mark between DC and Frederick.  At rush hour, though, the road was a nightmare.  A lifeline to the northern suburbs, a highway that fanned out to twelve lanes in Rockville.  All that traffic was a frozen river now, but Daryl was able to do well by dancing from the shoulder to the inbound lanes.  The traffic leaving Washington was harrowing to look at.  All those cars, all those people.  Corpses in the rain, now.  Headlights burning out, a few cars still idling here and there with thin lines of exhaust rising in the air.  Groups of people had gathered at points along the road, the final panicked moments of the doomed.  Daryl and Molly didn’t speak, as if they were standing in a mausoleum. The world was reduced to the sound of the van on the wet pavement and the day’s rain.

The groups of people who had left there cars didn’t make it very far.  Their corpses were huddled along the median or the shoulder.  A few had run, or so it seemed.  They were scattered here and there, broken and bloody.  They hadn’t died of the virus, or whatever it was.  They’d been killed in their tracks, brought down like animals hunted for sport.  Even with terrified cobwebs in the head and the grey rain all around, that much was obvious.  Daryl swerved around a body, shattered face staring up at the passing van.

“My God,” Molly whispered.  “How many of those things do you think there are?”

“We know it only takes one.”  He felt her eyes on him and looked in his rear view mirror self-consciously, not sure what he was looking for.  All that he saw behind him were bodies and cars, the dead highway.  “I wonder how they survive.”


“Do they eat like us?  Do they need water?  Rest?”

“What’s it matter?  They’re killers.”

“But if they have a weakness, it’d be nice to know it.  Will they be dead in a month?  Used up?   Can they multiply?  Infect us?”

“A weakness?”

“If they need sustenance, water, rest, it’s a weakness.  Anything human is a weakness.  And we can use it against them.”

He felt Molly’s eyes on him again, then she sniffed and tapped the dashboard, “North, Daryl, north.”

She didn’t want to spend a night on this road and he agreed with that.  At the current rate, the relatively short distance to Sugarloaf would take the rest of the day.  But there was no way around that on the crowded highway.  Her voice had an edge in it that made him think of how he felt on the neighbor’s lawn, crouched in the living room, looking down at the collection of an infected girl’s insane mind.  They had the rest of their lives to find answers, to survive, to study the fate of those who did not die one night in March of 2002.

He was already beyond exhaustion.  He felt like he could sleep for weeks, a lifetime.   The city-bound HOV lane was clear enough for him to get some speed, which helped clear his head a bit.  Sugarloaf Mountain was a popular day-trip for many Washingtonians,  but it closed at dusk so, perhaps, they could escape the dead for a little while.  As long as what awaited them wasn’t a part of the evil that had so violently entered their lives.

But if Martin and Azizi were okay, Sugarloaf would be the perfect spot to intercept other survivors fleeing the city.  Who had fired those shots last night?  Who was racing desperately through the streets of Wheaton?  There certainly were others out there.  They’d have to leave, and north was the best route.  The fastest way out of the metropolitan sprawl and into the anonymity of the countryside.

He glanced at Molly, who alternated between playing with the radio and staring at her hands.  She seemed to retreat into her own world as the buildings fell behind them and the highway narrowed down to four lanes.  She had stopped looking through the windows, keeping eyes downcast. Good thinking, he wished he could look away from the dead highway as well.

He edged onto the shoulder and kept up the speed, splashing through puddles and keeping an eye out for signs of life – any life.

“There’s nothing out here…” Molly said after a while.  She glanced out the side window as they passed a semi which had jack-knifed and rolled off into the young forest beside the highway. “But, we’re doing okay, right?  There’ll be others who are strong, right?

Daryl shrugged.  There weren’t any good signs now.   She nodded and looked at her own hands for several minutes, then looked back out the window and watched the trees roll past.

“So is it a disease?” she asked after several quiet minutes.

She was nervous, scared.  She needed to talk.  Needed to hear someone talk to her.  Fuck, he was feeling the same way.  He wanted to scream for the rest of the day, scream and punch things and melt down to nothing but a shuddering, terrible despair.

“I don’t know,” he said at last, slowing down to ease between three cars that had crashed into each other, the van gently bumping against the jersey wall.

“Could the dead…” Molly cleared her throat, “Could they wake up later?  Like in all those movies?”

He smiled, though it felt false, “See, you’re a movie junky, too.”  He patted her knee and she grabbed his hand with both of hers, making a strange noise in the back of her throat.  He wanted to hug her, but he had to keep moving.  Had to leave all this behind.  Stop and they would die.  Stop and let the breakdown hit and they’d never get off this road.  He shook his head.  There were no answers.  Nothing he could say.  He didn’t think she expected answers, anyway.  If it was a disease, they had certainly been exposed to it.  There was no guarantee that they were immune, no promise that whatever had happened to everyone else wouldn’t eventually happen to them.  There was a whole nest of thoughts he wanted to avoid, so he focused on the way her hands felt, her scent, and the rainy day directly ahead of them.