Just as I finished my sentence, the same red pickup from before came from the Fairview side at high speed, straight at the men with guns.
“Miranda!” Ashley screamed.
I gripped the steering wheel as they opened fire. The windshield of the truck broke, and then the truck veered off course, straight for our side of the bridge. It ramped over the side of the off-ramp, cartwheeled over three cars, and then came to a rest on its cab. The wheels were still spinning, making a terrible high-pitched whirring noise.
Everyone screamed, and those standing outside their cars crouched down for a second, waiting to see where the truck would go. For a while, everyone seemed confused, nervous, and unsure what to do, but once the shock of the earlier incident became secondary to the need to get home to their families, the yelling and pleading to pass continued.
“Maybe we could sneak by them on foot?” Cooper said.
Bryce shook his head. “We need a distraction.”
As if it were scripted, a white full-sized van slowly approached the bridge. The gunmen were immediately on edge. The people standing outside of their cars yelled louder, and a few of them attempted to throw shoes and anything they could get their hands on at the gunmen, but none of it made it to the bridge.
“Oh, man. Get back in your car,” Bryce said.
The driver had gotten out, and was arguing with the gunmen. He then grabbed one of the gunmen’s rifles. I wasn’t sure who shot the first bullet, but once a gun went off, they all opened fire. The man from the van convulsed while his body was punctured by bullets. When he hit the ground, the gunmen targeted his vehicle, too.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” Ashley cried.
The gunfire didn’t stop. The men with guns were agitated and angry, and the yelling from below drew their attention. The people standing outside of their vehicles on the ramp were suddenly prey, and they all began to scream and run. Following the running families, the men let their gunfire spread to everyone else trapped in the gridlock below.
“Jesus Christ!” Bryce yelled. “Get us out of here, Miranda! Go! Go!”
I yanked on the gearshift and backed into the car behind me, and then spun the wheel, shoving the Bug into drive. After a few near misses and even more sideswipes, we were under the bridge. I didn’t stop, hoping the psychopaths above would be too busy with the poor people on the south side to see that I was going to take the on-ramp on the other side and floor it toward Fairview.
“What are you doing?” Ashley said. “Hide under the bridge!”
“We’ll get stuck there!” Bryce said, knowing I was too focused on getting us the hell out of there to respond. “Keep going, Miranda! Don’t stop!”
We cleared the bridge and flipped a U-turn to catch the southbound on-ramp. The Bug caught air more than once on its climb to the top—sometimes on the asphalt, sometimes not—and finally made it to the road.
Cooper patted my seat ardently. “They’re not even paying attention! Keep going!”
We rode in silence for the next mile, but the second we were out of range Ashley began to sniff and whimper. We had left behind a massacre. Children were among the victims on the interstate.
“Has the whole world gone crazy?” Ashley cried.
Bryce and Cooper were sniffing, too. Before long hot tears were burning down my cheeks. Moments later, we were all sobbing.
Bryce wiped his nose on his shirt, and then took my right hand. “You saved our lives, Miranda.”
I squeezed his hand, unable to speak. I took a long, broken breath, and tried to concentrate on the road. We would be coming up on Fairview soon.
Eric returned quickly carrying several boards in his arms. “I found these in the shed. I took as many as I could carry because they’re really starting to gather around the church. I don’t think anyone should go outside anymore.”
“They must know we’re in here,” I said. “It’s just a matter of time before they get in.”
Gary pulled the toothpick from his mouth, frustrated. “But Eric just said we can’t leave.”
“He said he didn’t think we should,” I said, looking to Skeeter. “Doesn’t mean we can’t. It isn’t safe here.”
He ignored our discussion, and began climbing the stairs, never taking his eyes off the door.
We all followed. The silent hopes to find nothing were louder than the stairs that creaked in a slow symphony beneath our feet.
Gary gripped the doorknob and pulled, using his body weight as leverage. None of us could be sure if the walking dead had enough coordination to climb or even twist a doorknob, but just one mistake meant death. I didn’t want to take any chances, and neither did these men.
Skeeter lifted his fist, and knocked his knuckles against the door. “Hello? It’s Skeeter McGee. Anyone in there?”
Footsteps that we’d heard before had been silent for several minutes.
Skeeter tried again. “I have a gun, and I’m prepared to shoot. Identify yourself.”
“Let’s board it up,” Eric said, repositioning the wood in his arms.
Skeeter held up a hand, signaling for Eric to wait, and then he held his ear against the door. His eyes targeted me, and then he shook his head. “I don’t hear anything. Don’t tell me those things know how to hide. I’m going in.”
Skeeter put his hand over Gary’s, and I grabbed his arm. “What are you doing? What if there’s several in there? What if they overpower us and get downstairs?”
Skeeter smiled with his mouth and frowned with his eyes. “I ain’t gonna let that happen. Just like I ain’t gonna leave those things walking above us. If we’re going to ride this out in this church, it’s got to be secure.”
I sighed, and let go of his arm. “All right. Gary?”
Gary reluctantly released the doorknob, and Skeeter went in. I checked behind the door, and then my eyes scanned the large, empty classroom before they touched on what Skeeter had already seen.
A young woman, early twenties, was lying next to a fallen end table and an open window. Blood marked her trail. Her arm had been chewed on, in several spots down to the bone.
“Christ almighty, that’s Annabelle Stephens!” Eric said, rushing to her side. He looked up to us after touching her neck. There wasn’t a spot on her from her chin down that wasn’t saturated in blood.