Chapter 20: Come Together
Chip drives his father’s white paneled cargo work van containing his family and neighbors blindly through tears heading in the general direction of the highway at his father's request. His mother's gut wrenching wails of heartbreak at the loss of her parents have slowly subsided. Now from the rear of the van he hears the soft clogged nose sniffles of his younger two siblings. Jamal Mohammed sits to his right silently scanning the road from the passenger seat. The van rounds the corner of an indiscriminate suburban block guided by the wheelchair bound teen. He is vaguely aware of the devastation that greets him no matter which direction he turns his head. He hasn't seen any of the fast infected since last night when their neighbor Nate had attacked their house. Thus far today the boy believes this is the only good thing to have happened all day. There were zombies milling about moaning at the sight of the streaking van. He observes the same reaction every time. First the dead moan as if to signal each other that fresh human meat is present. Then they lurch into action feebly attempting to catch the van and its occupants. "Chip ahead of us is the bridge we need to cross over to get out of town.” Jamal says softly from his navigators perch. "How does it look guys?" Benjamin James calls from behind them still cradling his wife. "Not bad Mr. James the bridge has some abandoned cars on it, but we can maneuver around them if we take it slow." Jamal replies craning in his seat to get a better view of the surrounding area. "The highway is packed and impassable." Chip mutters keeping his eyes on the wreck strewn streets. "Do we see any?” Ben hesitates as suddenly. Things aren't as jovial as they were when his family initially had left their house they were detached from all the worlds suffering. "....any of them about." He finishes his thought set in the belief that maybe if he doesn’t mention them the zombies would simply cease to exist. The closer they drive to the freeway's entrance the easier it is to see the carnage. "Yeah dad the freeway is one mass of tangled vehicles." Chip tells his father as Jamal unbuckles his seat belt. He gets up on one knee in his seat taking care to avoid bumping Chip’s wheelchair and the rifle Anne’s father had given Ben both of which are propped between the two seats. "It looks as though we can also determine what has become of the passengers of said mangled cars." Jamal chimes in staring in disbelief at the moving mass of corpses on the freeway below. "They look like marauding ants marching about with no orders." He says in shock. "Best to do this as quickly and quietly as possible Chip would you agree?" Jamal asks taking his seat his hands shaking as he fastens his seat belt. Chip James nods his silent agreement.
Jamal unlike the James and Fullerton families had seen the undead up close and personal in the days after "The Event." On his way home from Southern California with his dorm mate John. Watching zombies tear into someone from a distance left you removed from the trauma. He unlike them had been close enough to hear the sounds a human made when the life was stripped from their throats. While his body was hidden his ears were left open and exposed to the gut wrenching sounds. Chip begins to decelerate closing in on the bridge he aims the bulky van for the center of a four car pile up. To his left and right he watches the dead draw a bead on the white van as if it has a dinner bell attached to its front. The dead swarm after them like children moving with glee for an ice cream truck on a hot summer’s day. Chip's heart pounds its way up from his chest lodging in his throat to his right he listens to Jamal mumbling a prayer. Raking his tongue across his lips Ben junior decides to do the same. As the van inches its way though the narrow opening Chip notices the tops of heads bobbing up and down. The first dead have made their way up the embankment on the far end of the bridge. Chip drives past the point of no return realizing he can't possibly back the van up through the opening with his lack of driving skills.
Chip catches movement alongside the van from his window. Cutting his eyes to the left his first thought is that there's a zombie keeping pace with the creeping van. Turning further to investigate the body he sees what turns out to be a young African American girl dressed in military fatigues carrying a large rifle. The young woman is wearing gore covered fatigues with a large pack on her back. She's desperately attempting to get his attention waving her hand briskly in front of her face and the pointing forward with her whole hand like she's mimicking a shark’s fin. "Uh daaaaad." Chip calls out in alarm. "There’s a soldier walking besides the van carrying a huge gun wearing a bloody uniform." The boy squirms in his seat hearing his father leap up in the vans claustrophobic rear. "There is one on my side too and he's carrying another soldier I think." Jamal blurts out as the soldier on his side with a fresh bandaged splint covering the bridge of his nose moves in to pound the window with the back of his fist. "Let us in now!" The big man with the other soldier on his shoulders shouts leaning so close his breath condenses on the dirty glass. Ben comes into the picture from the back pressing his bulk over Chips back. "Dad." Chip protests swerving gradually to his left. "What are they doing?" Ben demands glancing nervously to his left and back over to the right in an effort to take in the scene. "Mr. James should we let them in the van? So you know there are a lot zombies walking up from the opposite end of the bridge headed this way.” Jamal begins to move his hand for the lock on the door. "No." Ben cries freezing Jamal's hand in midair. Gunfire erupts from the female soldier on the Chips side as she engages the dead alone. The girl drops to one knee measuring her shots methodically. She takes on the advancing corpses before them each round she’s fired so far is a clean head shot dropping one of the scattered zombies in stride. "Get to the back." Ben pounds the window over Jamal's head stabbing a meaty finger in the air as if the soldier couldn't tell where the back of the van happened to be. The sound of the gunshots instantly brings screams of terror from baby Cammy nestled in Bianca’s arms. Anne who is still copping with the weight of losing her parents in such a horrific manner does not hesitate to motion for Bianca and her children. Bianca Fullerton scrambles over to the cluster of James' against the vans wall dragging Dakota roughly as she goes. "Stop the van junior." Ben bounds past the women and children hunched over in the vans rear to the back doors. Without pausing he throws the doors wide bringing his pistol to the ready. However the sight that greets him he is in no way prepared for.
It seems as though every shambling zombie they had past by this morning tracked the dingy white van like literal bloodhounds as it drove. The dead were a mass reminiscent of the crowd one sees when looking from the stage back over hundreds of concert goers and their numbers grew by the minute. The horde of living dead was so massive that it generated enough noise to attract aimless zombies from blocks away. The first ragged corpse was no more than ten to twenty feet back of the van with stragglers scattered about in advance of the main herd of flesh seekers. "Dear God." Ben chokes on his words the pistol in his hand dropping silently to his side. From his left the large soldier with his comrade draped over his shoulders appears. He is less focused on the dead and more concerned with quickly relieving himself of the weight on his shoulder. "Pull her in” the he orders laying a young Hispanic looking girl with a nasty head wound at Ben’s feet. Ben James grabs the girl by her uniform straps then drags her further into the vans belly. In that time the boy with the name "Carson" emblazoned on his military fatigues has unhooked a black rifle. With a flick of his thumb he disarms the weapon’s safety taking two long steps over to the side where the girl was steadily firing her gun. "Locket we gotta go let's go!" He screams around the corner getting no response. Ben stares at the boy seeing the fear in his grey eyes over the nose splint. Ben's mouth feels dirty as he prepares to speak. He wonders briefly if his kids can see the fear in his eyes. "Hey get your friend this is a pick up not a delivery we’re leaving.” Ben checks the girl lying unconscious at his feet for bite marks or other suspicious wounds. "Damn." The soldier boy peeks around the corner then back out the advancing crowd of zombies. "Just wait sir please." Carson props his black assault rifle on his shoulder. He pours an entire clip into the zombies coming for the exposed rear of the van. Aiming high Carson increases his head shot count zombies topple back slowing their ever advancing kin. Dropping the gun to his side he flips a second identical gun up holding up his index finger to Ben pleading for a few more seconds. Carson closes the distance between himself and Locket with two great strides. He doesn't give a second thought to grabbing the focused young woman from behind in all the chaos. Carson had done his stint in basic training with Locket and he'd seen her get like this once before. She and their squad leader were competing for bragging rights and Locket had tunnel vision. She didn't snap back to normal until her last spent shell clattered about on the concrete floor at the shooting range. Carson is stunned by the sheer number of dead converging on the van. The slightest noise something heard thousands of times a day magnified by the sounds of daily life and all it took was the sound of one car engine to draw the attention of hundreds of zombies. He snatches her up in one quick motion "Locket it's me whatever you do don't stop shooting." There was more room separating the dead from the front of the van than behind it. Carson spins about bringing Locket's attention to the greater threat with her held in a tight bear hug. Locket steadies her sights on the dead as best she can while begin jostled in Carson‘s embrace. Her shots are far less accurate with this volley. She hit’s more limbs and body trunks which the dead simply shrug off continuing their advance. "Holy shit when exactly were you planning on telling me we were being flanked?” Locket stammers as they round the van. Carson simply rolls eyes in annoyance he doesn't look back as he heaves Locket into the open bay. The first hand grabs his pack from behind tugging him backwards.
On instinct Carson lashes out blindly with a wicked elbow. He feels something wet crunch against his elbow then the sound of something heavy and meaty dropping to the pavement. Locket is up grabbing Carson along with Ben yanking him forward. She jabs her sidearm out over Carson's shoulder preparing to pull the trigger inches from her team mate’s ear. Locket presses the barrel to the forehead of a zombie bearing its rotten splintered teeth like a snake ready to strike. She squeezes the trigger then dispatches another six zombies before Cody Carson gets his balance. Private Carson flexing his long legs lunges into the van tackling both his rescuers driving them to the floor. "Go boy." Ben screams to in terror to his son as the dead mount the rear bumper ready to follow them into the vehicle through the opened doors. With no regards for his earlier trepidation Chip presses the gas pedal to the floor with as much strength as his stringy feeble legs can muster. The cargo van fishtails forward slinging the dead off en mass. They clip two burnt metal car husks with the back bumper. Speeding forward the panicked boy slams headlong into a female zombie tossing her twisted form up and over the wildly careering van. Chip swerves to avoid a dense pack of zombies at the end of the bridge. Trying desperately to compensate for his quick turn he slams the vans right front into the back of an overturned school bus. Tools and other assorted materials fly from the shelves in the rear of the van pelting those huddled helplessly on the floor the van picks up speed rocketing forward down an almost deserted frontage road.
Chip is griped with such deep seeded fear he doesn't hear the screams of pain behind him. One of the van flailing doors claps shuts while its companion continues to swing back and forth. Before them the road on the other side leading to the bridge is clear except for the dead flocking to it in droves. Chip is driving faster than he'd ever dare in the course of a normal life "handicapped" or otherwise. "Slow down some Chip." Jamal snaps his fingers from the passenger seat attempting in vain to get the boys attention. Anne moans in agony to Ben’s right he tosses the muscular soldier off his chest in one quick motion. Coming to his wife's side "Honey what's wrong baby?" Anne rolls off her children having shielded their two youngest with her body when tools began raining down on top of them. "My foot … my foot ... my foot." She wails in pain. Rolling over sitting against the wall she cradles her injured left foot. The brown skinned female soldier rights herself before she fearlessly leans out the back of the speeding van. With one hand clasped around a shelf in the back of the cargo van Locket reaches out snagging the wayward open door pulling it closed. Anne places a hand to her mouth stifling a scream before speaking to her husband. "Something big hit my foot and it hurts like hell.” Ben scans the floor of the van as they hit a pothole causing everyone to duck and cover on instinct. "Chip slow down son and watch where you're going we can't afford another crash." Ben yells over his shoulder gently holding his wife's foot he slips her shoe off after untying it. Flecks of blood stain the outside of her sock which he then rolls down and off revealing a thin cut on the top of Anne's small foot. The entire top of her foot is a beet red bruise and shows signs of swelling. Sitting next to Anne is their overly concerned youngest son Brandon resting his hand on a rusted length of pipe. The offending item essentially a collection of joints he'd cut from a customer house months ago during a basement reconstruction weighing twenty pounds easily. "It's busted pretty bad honey." He tells his wife as she grimaces through gritted teeth. "Would you guys happen to have a first aid kit I can use?" Benjamin James speaks to the soldiers huddled panting out of breath over their comrade. Private Sara Locket looks up perplexed furrowing her brow. "Well hello to you too Sir.” She says curtly. "I'm Private Sara Locket United States Army and this is Private Cody Carson." Pointing to the girl lying sprawled on the floor. "This young lady here is Private Carlita Medina. If you cared to ask us who we were before telling us you needed something." "I'm sorry please forgive me where are my manners.” Ben starts to speak moving to the middle of the packed van's belly. "My name is Benjamin James and this is my wife Anne and our children Belinda, Brandon and the young man driving is Ben Jr. Sitting in the Corner is Bianca Fullerton, her infant daughter Cammy and Dakota her oldest daughter.” The child buries herself deeper into her mom’s side after hearing her name. “Up front next to my son is Jamal Mohammed he's the son of our neighbors." Suddenly Ben's mood darkens considerably his face becoming a more serious mask of anger. "And wasn't aware that I needed to make a formal introduction or cow down to someones whose life I'd just saved before I dared to ask them for a simple favor." He slams his fist into his calloused palm in anger.
Well another week in the undead world of The Living Dark has come and gone. Our two groups of survivors have finally "Come Together." It doesn't however appear that all is going as smooth as was expected. Temper are flaring as toes are inadvertently stepped on. Come back the week of January 20th to see if the James group and the soldiers can put aside their differences.
Follow us on Twitter - @TheLivingDark
Follow us on Twitter - @TheLivingDark