Chapter 22: A Lonely Road
Ben jumps up heading to the front of the van Locket shoves past him from behind. He looks to out from Chip’s window coming up to the edge of the road is a thick dense overgrown cornfield. Ben peers to Jamal's side of the van but his view is blocked by the back of Private Locket's head. "Crap it's the same thing over here Mr. James." The late summer untended cornfields encroach the thin two lane road way on both sides. "Alright we need to do this quick and easy." Locket calls moving back into the van yanking the magazine from her rifle. "Carson you and I cover the back Mr. James you, your son and neighbor cover the rear. We keep the doors open, move fast and quite." She slaps the ammo clip back into the black M4 as Carson moves in kneeling besides her at the rear doors. "Hey ... hey "Ben scurries in behind Locket. “Locket this isn't a police state you don't order us around and we don't have to take orders from you." He says producing the pistol from his waistband. "Actually Mr. James I was simply taking the lead as we are the best trained to protect you in this situation." Locket informs Ben James of his oversight. "Also technically you do have to follow my orders if that was my desire. The day of The Event the President declared martial law which essentially puts the entire country under military jurisdiction." Ben James stares at the girl their eyes lock inadvertently he blinks first cursing himself under his breath. Ben retrieves the gas can and positions himself behind the two soldiers. "Jamal can you work that rifle?" Ben points through the cab at the gun propped on the wheelchair between the seats. Jamal grabs the gun clumsily pulling back the slid checking to see if a round has been chambered. "Yeah ... yeah I think I can." He responds his voice cracking slightly. Ben narrows his eyes "Either you can or you can't Jamal I need to know now." He snaps at the young man. "I… I can Mr. James." Jamal fumbles displaying a complete lack of confidence in his own abilities. "Mr. James what about your son this only works if we have a quadrant set up." Ben presses in close on Locket and Carson "My son can't walk or did you miss the wheelchair." He whispers harshly. "I'm sorry Mr. James." Locket replies. "Don't be sorry He's not." Ben tells the soldiers.
Carson grips one door handle while Locket grabs the other. "Ready people?" Locket's breathing slows to a steady rhythm. Ben holds up a hand to Jamal who is looking back from the front. Locket slaps Carson across his back "Go." She says flatly as the both twist their handles in unison. Early afternoon sunlight floods the back of the van the trio steps cautiously from the James and Sons cargo van. The sound of the wind washing through the thick green cornfields is all that greets them on this eerily calm day. The breeze shakes the dry brittle corn stalks the sound like a rattle snake’s rattle but magnified a hundred fold. The events of the last two days have seemingly left this desolate stretch of road unscathed. Ben comes down behind the pair of soldiers who fan out before him. They use hand signals to communicate with each other then Locket ushers him to the side of the van. The fear that Ben had experienced as he'd walked to his Father in Laws front porch settles back into his gut. Ben feels like he's being watched by predators as if he's a field mouse running circles underneath a barn owl for exercise. He stabs his pistol into his waistband there's movement at the van's front. Ben assumes its Jamal taking up his point position. He moves with a purpose unscrewing the gas cap then driving the nozzle home tilting the can up feeling its life saving fuel start to drain into the empty tank. Carson turns staring past Benjamin James' he sees that a corpse has walked from the cornfield and stands swaying looking up at the sky. He kneels down quietly pulling his combat knife free standing to his full intimidating height Carson steps forward knife at the ready. The rustling of the wind against the corn has stopped Carson feels Locket's hand slip around his thick neck covering his mouth. His eyes meet hers in shock silently she purses her lips to quiet Carson. Locket cocks her head to the side sharply Carson's grey eyes follows her line of sight.
Carson’s heart flutters each side of the road is suddenly lined with the undead swaying in place same as the corn once had. They moan softly looking skyward oblivious to the humans present. Carson nods choking on a lump embedded in his throat. Behind Benjamin James where one zombie stood now dozens stand lining the road. Locket releases Carson slowly pulling her hand free she makes a move for Ben. She takes one step then notices Ben glaring at her in terror his eyes wide. Ben shakes his head "no" closing the gas cap painfully slow so as to avoid making a sound. Ben cuts his eyes underneath his arm he notices the van's front door is closed. The gas cap sealed Ben James moves on feet weighted like cement blocks measuring every painful step. In the van he sees his entire family along with the Fullerton's pressed as far up into the van as they can go. He also notices Jamal is in the van as well which means he never got out to begin with. Carson and Locket back down to the open van bay their guns held high. Ben climbs in like a large toddler one big knee at a time. Each of the soldiers takes a door watching the dead sway in place. Carson swings his door shut causing Locket to flinch. Locket shivers as the zombies upturned heads drift down from the sky in unison Locket’s eyes meet those of a ragged female zombie. The two stand frozen in time the female zombie blinks her dirty orange vanilla sherbet tinted eyes. With a lurch the zombie moans and the others up and down the roadside act in sync as if they were following orders. Locket slams her door the time for stealth long since past as hundreds of zombies set upon the stalled van. Ben is already on the move scrambling to the van's front. "Jamal what the hell happened to you?!" he asks. "Mr. James I saw that zombie wander out onto the roadside. I couldn't signal without drawing its attention." He utters his sheepish pleading retort. Ben knows the young man is correct but right now they have bigger problems. "That wasn't the wind rustling through the corn dad." Chip says flatly staring out the window watching the horde advance. "I know son I know." Ben tells his son placing a reassuring hand on the boys arm. "Now turn the van over easy son." He says calmly not taking his eyes off the faces crowding the roadway ahead of them. "We can't let them box us in son or they'll flip us okay?" Chip nods his head slowly indicating his understanding. He cranks the key in the ignition listening to the engine choke then chug without turning over. Benjamin squeezes the boys arm to snap him out of his panic "Easy son don't flood it one more time please." The first blows connect with the van's white exterior. Like a hail storm the first few pelts soon give way to thundering blows battering the van from outside. The wails from the dead fill the air around them. Chip calmly turns the key in the ignition feeling the van's engine churn buck under the hood like an animal caught in a trap. He relaxes his grip on the key just after the engine catches roaring to life. Chip looks up to his burly father and smiles "Good work son now take it slow. The van moves cautiously at first bumping zombies tossing them backwards into the mass of their gathered kin. Ben notices the road thickening with undead as they pour from the cornfields materializing like fog on the once open road. “They are trying to pin us in using their sheer numbers.” Ben realizes “Punch it son…” He yells as the van is rocked violently for side to side. Once all four wheel catch on the pavement the van’s tires squeal gaining traction. “Aim for the clear spaces between clusters son.” Ben tells his boy who drives with more conviction than fear this time. The beating on the van’s side fades replaced by bumps as the dead are plowed under the van and crushed. The zombies begin to thin out and soon the road is clear except for the occasional wreck. They pass a green sign with white lettering along the side of the road it reads. “Clow Falls 60 miles, Population 502.”
The van packed with weary survivors of what was now being called “The Event” motors down the two lane road. They are heading into the small town of Clow Falls. The morning has passed into late afternoon with no further bumps in the road Chip James is feeling weak from the exertion of the last few days. The lack of eating and sleeping coupled with the extremely physical nature of their new reality weighs on him. No matter how normal he felt, how normal he tried to act. Benjamin James Junior knew full well the bevy of medical ailments that came along with his partial paralysis. He knew he was pushing his body to the limit but he'd risk everything to see his father smile at him again. To protect his mother and siblings Chip pushed the functioning top half of his body to a new limit. "Jamal could you please get me something to drink and munch on." He asks his Iranian navigator who obliges immediately after seeing the sweat bead up on the boys forehead. Jamal weaves his way into the back of the van to the group seated about on the floor. "Excuse me Mrs. James can I please have something for Chip to eat and drink?” Anne's face changes as if a shadow has passed over it. "Is he alright Jamal?" She scoots back against the wall meaning to stand. The Senior James grabs her arm easing her back down to the floor. "Ben ... what?!" She shouts angrily. "Ben he's been going and going all day you know he can't do that." Benjamin James normally would allow his wife to have her say when it came to the kids. He knew when it came to being a mother Anne James skills were beyond reproach. Ben however took a fatherly approach he was keenly aware of his son's preconceived notions of what it meant to him to be a man. "Relax honey you're embarrassing him. He's doing this for you for me for all of us we need his confidence intact agreed?" Ben whispers discreetly in his wife's ear Anne recoils in anger "Benjamin do you think I give a damn about any of that?" Anne snaps back her voice not quite loud enough to be heard by everyone but definitely not a whisper. "I know you don't baby doll..." Ben leans into his wife making sure that not even the Brandon and Belinda sitting like bookends at her side can hear what he has to say. "...but he does honey." Anne relaxes a bit "deal Ben" she whispers furiously in his ear as they looks around the cabin becoming noticeably more uneasy. Anne stretches behind her husband reaching for a bag that she knows contains food. She produces a couple of granola bars and a bottle of water. "Here you go Jamal." Anne true to her character scans the faces all staring at her. "Anybody else hungry we don't have much but please feel free." She opens the bag like a mother at Halloween standing on the porch before a crowd of "trick or treaters." Now her caring nature Ben knew was useless to argue about with her. Jamal looks to Ben who nods his head then the young man quickly grabs a protein bar. Jamal rises and moves forward as Anne begins to distribute the food. "Benjamin James you make sure our son is healthy and that is not up for debate." She says just above a whisper. Ben rises from his wife's side then trails Jamal into the van's front. Ben is initially concerned upon seeing his son's face. He knows the boy is willing himself onward. "Hey son how are you feeling buddy.” Ben asks pressing his mass down between the seats. "I'm ok dad just tired I guess." The boy glances down at the food Jamal had given him. "Ah I see your problem Chip." Ben says with a big smile. "You can blame me I never taught you how to drive and eat. That was going to be our next lesson." He chuckles cracking open the bottle of water sitting in the cup holder. He hands it to his son before taking the bars he rips both wrappers off. By the time Ben looks back to his son the boy is crushing the plastic bottle tossing it aside. "Wooooo son slow down and we need to keep these bottles in case we get a chance to refill them." Ben turns back into the vans crowded belly. "Hey folks let's save these bottles in case we get a chance to refill them." He tells the oblivious group munching away in the back. "Hey Locket, Carson..." He calls to the soldiers. "Your friend is awake." Ben points to Private Carlita Medina on the floor she's looking up at the roof in a clear state of confusion blinking every now and then.
Well our survivors are finding their encounters with the dead more and more unnerving. They are now coming to understand that the days of leisure they'd known hunkered down to be a thing of the past. What will the survivors of The Event find in the small town of Clow Falls? Will it be help, shelter, answers or just more zombies?
Comeback the week of February 3rd to find out for yourself.
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