Another two of the cocktails made their graceful descent. These ones cleared the fence to smash onto the train track, one of them exploding a bare few steps in front of Ali and Dan. It went up with a loud
“whoosh”, black smoke rising into the air. They used it for
cover even though it slowed them down.
Ali pulled her arm out of the big guy’s grasp and ducked down, gun in hand, searching behind them. Finn ground his teeth. Two of the bastards were trying to follow in their footsteps by climbing up onto the tracks, but someone was also back on the riverbank.
“Don’t stop!” Finn fired a few shots at the top of the mound, forcing the two bastards to keep their heads down. “Al!”
She either ignored him or didn’t hear, pausing to fire off a few rounds at the trees. Her bruised face the picture of concentration, but her shots going wild because her aim was shit.
They might have ideally wanted her alive, but even these dickheads had their limits. Someone shot at her from the bank.
“Fuck’s sake.” Finn sprinted for her, heart jammed in his throat. He jumped boxes and rubbish and the thick steel train lines. He didn’t turn at the smash of glass behind him, nor the rush of warmth from the resulting fireball, hot on his tail, warming his back.
The smoke started to dissipate around her. She fired again and a bellow of outrage could be heard from the riverbank below. Al had managed to hit someone.
Her face broke into a self-satisfied grin as Daniel’s arm scooped her up and dragged her off.
The two bastards had made good on the threat of clearing the top. Bullets flew wild, care of the smokescreen, but a breeze stirred, their cover dispersing.
The big guy charged straight ahead with Ali tight against him, struggling to keep up. Her feet barely touched the ground.
Whatever had derailed the train lay up ahead. Here, the cars had buckled and tumbled, spilling their cargo of coal. The crash had wedged two big trucks together. Going over would leave them open and exposed. Going under was the only way.
The others had apparently reached the same conclusion.
Ali dropped to the ground and proceeded to burrow, pushing lumps of coal aside to make a tunnel between the wheels.
“You’re next.” Finn ducked down on one knee beside Daniel, making for a smaller target. He took another shot at the two who had climbed the mound, kept them tucked behind a beam.
“Nope, I win most likely to get jammed, so I go last,” Dan answered. Ali’s feet disappeared beneath the wagon and the big guy reloaded and fired. “Keep her close, Finn. You hear me?”
Finn nodded, then pushed his pack through the gap ahead of him.
The clearance was abysmal, and the going slow. He got a grip on the far railway line, dragging himself through the tight space. His fingers fought to keep their hold on the metal bar, and his shoulder throbbed in time with his heart. Coal dust choked him, making him cough. He tried to spit it out but it did no good. Everything in front of him was a dirty haze. The chances of Dan making it through were minimal to nil.
“This side’s clear.” Al grabbed his pack and pushed it aside, took a step back as he squirmed low on his belly between the bridge and the wagon. Something hanging low scraped painful y along his spine.
“Keep watch.” His foot caught on a beam, and he pushed off hard with the other, sending himself surging forward. His bad shoulder rammed into the edge of a metal wheel. Fireworks exploded through him. The world flashed white for a long, tense moment. He was not passing out. “Oh, you motherfucker.”
“Come on.” Her hands wrapped around his good arm and tugged, prying him out. Finally, his torso cleared the truck and his knees came into play. “Finn, you’re bleeding again. Take the shirt off. We’ll tie it around your shoulder.”
“Yup. Just a sec.” He really wanted to refrain from crying in front of her. Easier said than done. He covered the wound with his hand and applied pressure. It didn’t feel beneficial but had to be better than bleeding out beside the train wreck. “Okay.”
“You two get moving,” the big guy yelled from the other side. “Right now.”
Ali dropped onto hands and knees, gun clenched tight in her hand. “Come on, Daniel.”
“The kid barely fit. I’l need to go another way. Get moving, I’ll catch up.”
“No! NO!” Al screamed, skittered forward, then stopped as guns fired up on the other side. There was the sound of someone hitting the water, an almighty splash followed by shouting from the bastards left behind.
“He jumped in the river,” a helpful soul called out.
They heard the bastards shooting at the water, calling out to someone to come join them on the bridge.
Ali didn’t breathe. Her shoulders hunched over like she was drawing inward, protecting herself from harm. The woman grew smal er before Finn’s eyes and there wasn’t shit he could do.
“You heard the man. Let’s move.” He grabbed her shirt, dragging her back. There was the sound of an engine revving up on the other side. His heart beat harder, faster, rattling his rib cage. “He’l catch up. Move, Al. They’re going to be searching for a way around.”
She stared at him with eyes blank as the dead. The material in his fist stretched and strained, ready to rip. The woman didn’t move an inch.
“Al. I need you to keep it together.”
Her gaze slid back to the wreck. A fine tremor worked through her, taking her over till she shook like she held a live wire in her hand.
Finn grabbed her chin. Beneath the dirt her cheekbones stood out starkly, as if the life was being sucked out of her. She bucked against him, trying to turn away. He got up in her face and prayed she understood. They didn’t have time for this. Not now. No time for pain in his shoulder making him dizzy. No time for her to mourn. “Listen to me. We have to go. Now. Do you understand?”
“No. Now!” he snapped.
“Yes. Alright.” Her movements were sluggish, deliberate. She lugged his backpack up onto her shoulders, her back bowing beneath the weight, but her feet moving forward.
He kept her in motion. People had survived worse, she would too.
They stumbled along beside the tracks until a break in the fence gave them their exit. Smoke drifted overhead, the smell of burning wood and worse filling his head. He just needed to get them clear of the scene. Then they’d be fine. Clear of the scene and clear of this fucking city.
No sound of engines getting closer. Nothing stirred. The sun had barely risen any further than when they had started out.
She was looking back. Not the wisest thing to do. Didn’t she know how that had worked out for Lot’s wife?
The sun rose over a black wasteland, the remains of the city smoldering still. In the distance the fire raged on, consuming everything.
Eerily similar to after the bombings, complete and utter devastation.
“If the wind had turned …” Ali took it al in with a mix of numb wonder on her dusty face. “They’re going to have trouble getting back to the highway. It should give us some time.”
Finn nodded, couldn’t speak. Yes, they were going to have a shit of a time. She spoke the truth.
Finn bent double and dry heaved.
Finn was asleep. Ali had watched him for hours, less a few minutes spent running an errand. She had split her attention between him and the laundry door, and was guarding him, if the gun in her hand counted. At least it wasn’t shaking anymore.
Finn hadn’t moved, not since she’d re-bandaged his shoulder and he had popped a magical pain pill. They spoke very little.
He slept upright, his bare back propped against a concrete pillar, head canted back. The stark white bandage was bright against his tanned skin and the dark smudges of dried blood.
The garage stank of old oil stains and laundry detergent. The back door had been open, barrel bolt intact, the roller door undamaged and locked down. It made for a perfect hidey-hole.
Except for that one infected upstairs. Every now and then it would move. The sound of a dragging footstep or two would break the silence. Creepy. Happily, there was no internal staircase for it to come visiting.
Between the infected and the biker assholes, they could easily get trapped here, sitting and waiting. They should be on the move.
Despite their various injuries they could be hot-footing it across the countryside, getting to a safer place out of reach of those assholes, right now. Finn hadn’t needed to say it. She knew it.
But she waited for Daniel. Apparently it hadn’t needed saying either. Finn had opened his mouth, looked at her face and shut it again without a word uttered. End of conversation. And so, they waited.
Her mind wouldn’t stil . The adrenalin surge from this morning had crashed, leaving far too much of everything bubbling around inside her brain, none of it good.
Daniel would find them. He would. Deep down inside it almost felt like a test of faith or some such. She just had to believe and be patient, find something to occupy her mind.
Not fixating on the door would be a positive start.
There was a rainwater tank outside. A big modern number; the type everyone had scrambled to install during the drought. She pondered the basin beside the washing machine, the pipe jutting out from the brickwork above it. They both needed a bath after lying in the dirt last night and crawling beneath the train this morning.
“You should try to sleep.” Finn’s eyes were open, half-lidded, but he hadn’t moved otherwise. He watched her with a preternatural stillness and a calm most probably fake. Guilt slid through her.
“Hey,” she said.
“It’ll be okay, Al.”
“He’ll be okay,” she corrected.
Finn gave no response.
For a long, tense moment silence reigned supreme, almost as if they were giving the dead a minute’s tribute. Only Daniel wasn’t dead.
Not even a little.
She wrestled the panic back down, subduing it one more time.