Judgment Day: Part 23

A moment of spinning confusion, strange clear thoughts, and the release of terror. Maximum Overdrive. Daryl was thinking of the Stephen King movie with a strange feeling of artificial calm settling in. Everything moved so fluidly, but he couldn’t quite come back to focus. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, not unlike being startled from a light sleep, reality intruded. The van was dead, their pursuers were closing in. He looked over at Molly, unconscious and bleeding. “Please don’t leave,” he muttered to her, tears in his eyes, his mind chattering, his body still moving at 75 miles per hour. He gripped the wheel with both hands and stared forward at the open service bay of the gas station. A corpse was lying on the ground by the payphone. It didn’t care about anything anymore. The police car pulled up alongside, a grinning man with a gun leaning out of the passenger side door.

“I’m sorry,” Daryl said to Molly. The high-pitched sound of the semi’s brakes filled his ears. The truck sat there in the road. The two grinning bastards stood beside the police car, watching, waiting for him to get out. Like they were playing some goddamned game. What did they want? What kind of a joke was this?

Daryl turned slowly. He reached over to Molly and put a hand against her chest. Still breathing. The rain whipped into the car though the broken rear window. A thin trickle of blood seeped down her forehead and across her face. He touched her face, wiped the blood away, then stared shakily at the palm of his hand.

He bit his lower lip, tears spilling from his eyes, his hand taking Molly’s, “You just stay,” he said, having trouble with the words. Then he opened his door and swung out onto the pavement, pulling the hunting rifle out with him, he clicked off the safety and opened up on the two grinning bastards without hesitation. They hadn’t been expecting that. One of them, holding his shotgun like a hillbilly sheriff, jerked backwards and fell. The other lunged to the pavement behind the police car. Then Daryl spun and fired two shots, at what he hoped was head level, into the window of the truck’s cab. The gun clicked on the third try.

“Just like in the fucking movies!” he shouted, running towards the man he had killed, grabbing the shotgun in an awkward run and continuing in a blind stumble towards the open service bay. He threw himself against a little Honda that was being serviced and stood there, gun ready, staring out into the rainy silence. He went onto one knee, genuflecting for death, and let the shotgun move from the police car to the idling truck. The cab of the truck opened and four creatures piled out, then started walking across the pavement towards him. They moved calmly, each of them wearing the remnants of their clothes, but one, a child, was in a black jumpsuit with markings on the arm. Some sort of uniform. This one took the lead, all of them moving with a cold, calm, grace. The rain didn’t seem to bother them; nothing seemed to bother them. The survivor from the police car rose up and watched the creatures in motion with almost the same mixture of fear and awe that was on Daryl’s face.

The one in uniform had been a 12-year-old girl, before the apocalypse. She was still dressed in some sort of school uniform, but her skin was coated in mud and a bad bruise scarred her face. Had they been fighting earlier? Did that mean there were other survivors? Then he realized – this was a hunting party. They’d been out here snaring people who were fleeing the city. All the bodies along 270 who had been struck down in mid-run, mutilated, came rushing to his mind.

Daryl shot the kid. The creature’s face was blank, yet malevolent. This wasn’t a kid anymore. The girl took the blast and fell, awkwardly, onto her backside but, without hesitation, she stood up again and continued moving towards him. The other creatures spread out, flanking her. Her belly bled the grey-green ooze, but she seemed unaffected.

Daryl fired again and hit the girl in the head. She snapped backwards rigidly and hit the ground. This time, she stayed down. With a collective howl that sounded like it was whipping off an alien desert, the creatures all raced forward, encircling Daryl. He stepped back, deeper into the service bay, but they had him trapped. The other survivor walking behind them and watching the way one would watch paramedics taking away an accident victim.

Then the larger of the three remaining creatures, what used to be a man in his mid-forties, lunged towards Daryl. He raised the empty gun and swung it towards the creature’s head in mid-run. The creature’s skull connected sharply and Daryl’s arm went numb. The thing slumped to the ground, that strange jelly stuff leaking from its destroyed skull. The others moved towards him and two pairs of hands dragged him out of the bay and onto the tarmac. All of the creatures moved wordlessly, gracefully, eyes fixed and mouths tight. They were going to tear him apart, and that was no problem for them. There was nothing left of what they had been. He fought back as best he could, pushing away the clawing hands, trying to squirm this way and that, rolling into a ball and trying to keep them away from his face the throat. But once one of them had a firm grip, it was impossible to get free. Then, surprisingly, the creatures hauled him to his feet. Two of them held him firm while the man from the police car walked over, still grinning. The third creature, a young woman, watched silently. The 12-year-old creature, her chest a mass of that green jelly blood, lay on the ground by the cop’s feet. Then she sat up, slowly, and turned her mangled face in Daryl’s direction. So much for a skull shot. But it had worked at his house, and with the ones at the subway station. Or had it? Maybe they had gotten up and brushed themselves off as soon as he and Molly were out of sight.

“He shot me,” the little girl hissed in a voice that was partly rambunctious child yet entirely inhuman. Dry, distant. A voice without breath. It almost sounded as if someone were speaking through her with a microphone. What was left of the girl’s face was mesmerizing – purest evil coupled with ivory girl innocence. Daryl felt helpless. More so than he had ever felt since that fireball filled the subway tunnel and swallowed his train. This was impossible. The left side of her face was in tatters. These creatures were more than he had imagined. They weren’t mindless zombies, they weren’t automatons. They could think. They could work together. They could speak. But the girl was hurt bad. Her remaining eye rolled up in her skull and the cop gently lowered her to the ground. He looked up at the young woman creature and shook his head. She didn’t look down at him, but took a step towards Daryl.