“Well, gun it,” Brenda said. “Before they change their mind.”
To Thomas’s relief, Lawrence did just that; the van shot forward and he didn’t slow down. The Cranks lining the walls stared at them as they sailed past. Seeing them close up—the scratches and blood and bruises, those maddened eyes—made Thomas shiver again.
They were just approaching the end of the group when several loud pops sounded and the van jolted and swerved to the right. Its front end slammed into the wall of the alley, pinning two Cranks against it. Thomas stared in horror through the windshield as they screamed in agony and beat bloody fists against the front of the vehicle.
“What the hell?” Lawrence bellowed as he put the van in reverse.
They screeched backward several feet, the vehicle shaking horribly. The two Cranks fell to the ground and were immediately attacked by the ones closest to the front of the van. Thomas quickly looked away, filled with a nauseating terror. On all sides, Cranks started thumping the van with their fists. At the same time, the tires were spinning and squealing, unable to gain traction. The combination of noises was like something from a nightmare.
“What’s wrong?” Brenda yelled.
“They did something to the tires! Or the axels. Something!”
Lawrence kept switching the van from reverse to drive, but each time it only went a few feet. A lady with wild hair approached the window to Thomas’s right. She was holding a huge shovel in both hands, and he watched as she raised it over her head, then swung it down against the window. The glass didn’t give.
“We really need to get out of here!” Thomas shouted. Helpless, he didn’t know what else to say. They’d been stupid to let themselves fall into such an obvious trap.
Lawrence kept shifting and gassing the van, but they merely jerked back and forth. A series of familiar thumps sounded from the roof. Someone was up there. Cranks were attacking all the windows now, with everything from wooden sticks to their own heads. The lady outside Thomas’s window didn’t give up, smacking her shovel into the glass over and over again. Finally, the fifth or sixth time she did it, a hairline crack shot across the window.
The growing panic made Thomas’s throat constrict. “She’s going to smash it!”
“Get us out of here!” Brenda said at the same time.
The van moved a few inches, just enough to make the woman miss with her next swing. But someone slammed a sledgehammer into the windshield from above and a huge spiderweb blossomed like a white flower in the glass.
Again the van jolted backward. The man holding the sledgehammer tumbled onto the front hood before he could slam the glass again and landed in the street. A Crank with a long gash on top of his bald head yanked the tool from the man’s grip and got two more whacks in before a group of other people started fighting him for his weapon. The cracks in the windshield almost completely obscured the view from inside the van. The sound of breaking glass came from the rear; Thomas spun around to see an arm wriggling through a gash in the window, the jagged edges tearing its skin.
Thomas unbuckled his seat belt and squirmed into the back of the van. He grabbed the first thing he found, a long plastic tool with a brush on one end and a sharp edge on the other—a snow pick—and crawled over the middle row of seats; he slammed the thing into the Crank’s arm, then again, then a third time. Screaming, whoever it was pulled their arm out, knocking pieces of glass onto the cement outside.
“You want the Launcher?” Brenda called back to him.
“No!” Thomas shouted. “It’s too big inside the van. Grab the gun!”
The van lurched forward, then stopped again; Thomas smacked his face on the back of the middle bench, and pain shot through his cheek and jaw. He turned to see a man and woman tearing away at the remaining glass in the broken window. Blood from their hands oozed down both sides of the hole as it got bigger.
“Here!” Brenda yelled from behind him.
He turned and took the gun from her, then aimed and fired, once, then twice, and the Cranks fell to the ground, any screams of agony drowned out by the awful noise of the squealing tires and overworked engine, the pounding of the Cranks’ attack.
“I think we’re almost loose!” Lawrence shouted. “I don’t know what the hell they did!”
Thomas turned to look at him; he was covered in sweat. A hole had appeared at the middle of the spiderweb on the windshield. Cracks completely lined the other windows—almost nothing outside was visible anymore. Brenda held her Launcher, ready to use it if things got completely hopeless.
The van went backward, then forward, then backward again. It seemed to be under a little more control, was shaking less than it had been. Two sets of arms came through the big hole in the back, and Thomas let off two more shots. They heard screams, and a woman’s face—twisted into a hideous scowl, her every tooth edged with grime—appeared at the window.
“Just let us in, boy,” she said, her words barely audible. “All we want is food. Just give us some food. Let me in!”
She screamed the last few words and pushed her head through the opening as if she actually thought she could fit. Thomas didn’t want to shoot her but held the gun up, readied himself in case she somehow managed to get inside. But when the van bolted forward again, she fell out, leaving the edges of the broken window covered in blood.
Thomas braced himself for the van to go backward again. But after a short, jolting stop, it went forward several more feet, turning in the right direction. Then a few more.
“I think I’ve got it!” Lawrence yelled.
Again forward, this time maybe ten feet. The Cranks followed as best they could—the short moment of silence as they were left behind didn’t last, though. Soon the screams and thumps and bangs began all over again. A man reached through the hole in the back with a long knife, started slashing left and right at anything and nothing. Thomas lifted his gun and fired. How many had he killed? Three? Four? Had he killed them?
With one last long, terrible squeal, the van shot forward and then didn’t stop. It bounced a couple of times as it ran over the Cranks who’d been in their path; then it smoothed out and picked up speed. Thomas looked out the back, saw bodies falling off the roof and onto the street. The remaining Cranks gave chase, but soon they were all left behind.
Thomas collapsed onto the seat, lying on his back, staring up at the dented roof. He sucked in huge, heavy breaths, tried to regain control of his emotions. He was barely aware of Lawrence turning off the one headlight that hadn’t been smashed, making two more turns, then slipping through an open garage door that closed as soon as they cleared it.
When the van pulled to a stop and Lawrence shut off the engine, silence enveloped Thomas’s world. The only thing he heard was the rush of pumping blood inside his head. He closed his eyes and tried to slow his breathing. Neither of the other two said anything for a couple of minutes, until Lawrence broke the silence.
“They’re out there, surrounding us, waiting for us to get out.”
Thomas forced himself to sit up and face the front again. Outside the broken windows, it was totally dark.
“Who?” Brenda asked.
“The boss’s guards. They know this is one of their vans, but they won’t approach us until we get out and show ourselves. They need to confirm who we are—I’d guess we have about twenty weapons aimed at us right now.”
“So what do we do?” Thomas asked, not ready for another confrontation.
“We get out, nice and slow. They’ll recognize me soon enough.”
Thomas crawled over the seats. “Do we get out at the same time, or should just one of us go first?”
“I’ll get out first, tell them it’s okay. Wait until I knock on the window to get out,” Lawrence answered. “Ready?”
“I guess,” Thomas sighed.
“It would really suck,” Brenda said, “if we went through all that just to have them shoot us. I’m sure I look like a Crank right about now.”
Lawrence opened his door and Thomas waited, anxious for his cue. The loud rap on the frame of the van startled Thomas, but he was ready.
Brenda eased her door open slowly and stepped out. Thomas followed her, straining to see in the darkness, but the room was pitch-black.
A loud click sounded and the place was instantly flooded with bright white light. Thomas threw his hands up and squeezed his eyes shut, then, shielding himself, squinted to see what was going on. A huge spotlight mounted on a tripod was pointed directly at them. He could just make out the silhouettes of two figures on either side of it. Scanning the rest of the room, he saw that there were at least a dozen other people, all holding various types of weapons, just as Lawrence had said there would be.
“Lawrence, is that you?” a man called out, his voice echoing against concrete walls. It was impossible to tell which person had spoken.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“What happened to our van, and who are these people? Tell me you didn’t bring infecteds in here.”
“We got jumped by a huge group of Cranks down the alley a ways. And these guys are Munies—they forced me to bring them to you. They want to see the boss.”
“Why?” the man asked.
The man cut Lawrence off. “No, I want to hear it from them. State your names, why you forced our man to come here and destroy one of the few vehicles we have left. And it better be a good reason.”
Thomas and Brenda exchanged a look to see who should talk and Brenda nodded to him.
He returned his gaze to the spotlight, focusing on the person to the right of it. That was his best guess at who’d been doing the talking. “My name is Thomas. This is Brenda. We know Gally—we were with him at WICKED and he told us about the Right Arm and what you guys are doing a few days ago. We were on board to help, but not like this. We just want to know what you’re planning, why you’re kidnapping immune people and locking them up. I thought that was WICKED kind of stuff.”
Thomas didn’t know what he’d expected, but the guy started to chuckle. “I think I’ll let you see the boss just so you get the damn idea out of your head that we’d ever do anything like WICKED.”
Thomas shrugged. “Fine. Let us see your boss.” The man seemed sincere in his disgust with WICKED. But it still didn’t make sense why they’d taken all those people.
“You better not be blowing things out your butt, kid,” the guy said. “Lawrence, bring them in. Somebody else check the van for weapons.”
Thomas kept silent as he and Brenda were led up two flights of dingy metal stairs. Then through a weathered wooden door, down a dirty hallway with one lightbulb and wallpaper peeling from the walls, then finally to a large space that might’ve been a nice conference room fifty years earlier. Now all it held was a big, scarred table with plastic chairs scattered haphazardly around the room.
Two people sat at the far side of the table. Thomas noticed Gally first, on the right. He looked tired and disheveled, but he managed a slight nod and a small smile—nothing more than an unfortunate wrinkle in the mess that was his face. A huge man was next to him, more fat than muscle, his girth barely contained between the arms of the white plastic chair he sat in.