Chapter 19: Uninvited
The temperature had dropped since Elderton and Martha had arrived at Taco House. A fog had arisen in through parts of the town. The air was moist. A rain was coming from beyond the mountains. Most of the storms Tipton received developed out over the Pacific and came in from the beach. They would be heading directly into whatever was coming their way. But perhaps the rain, fog and more would aid them in their escape. And the way Elderton saw it, they would need all the help they could get to make it out alive.
The four hurried out of the building. They gathered behind the trash bin which was conveniently under a tall tree. They knelt and checked their surroundings. There was lots of noise through the city. Screaming, gunfire, growling. It was hard to tell where any of the noise was coming from, it sounded like it was all around them. She was in front, leading their squad of survivors. Mandy and Maggie were in the middle behind her, Martha was in the back. Mandy and Maggie were each entrusted with handguns and as many clips as their jackets could hold. Their pant pockets were laughably feminine and could only hold one clip per back pocket, half of the clip sticking out the top of each.
“Screw the patriarchy,” Mandy had scoffed while trying to find space in her pockets.
Elderton motioned for them to move with her and they all ran in a straight line. They crossed the street and made for the Aldi. They lined up against the side of the building where a light had been blown out for several years. They used the darkness to edge down to the back of the store. They could hear a great deal of commotion coming from behind the store as they approached. When they got to the back, Elderton motioned for them to stop.
She peeked around the corner and saw a small group of soldiers tangling with several of the townsfolk. Her instinct was to run in and help her neighbors, but then she noticed the familiar traits. One was covered in blood from previous feasts, growling and drooling for another bite. A soldier caught him upside the head with the butt of his rifle, the man fell to the pavement. He hissed at the soldier who put two bullets in his head. The other townsfolk were in similar states. One was her next-door neighbor, a staunch Catholic and busybody named Maude. She had once called the police on her, because she saw a black man knocking on her door. It was Elderton’s cousin paying a visit. Maude was still in her nightgown and robe, but the gown had been torn to shreds and for the first time she was seeing her old, saggy breasts flapping in the wind. It was a sight she’d take a lifetime trying to forget, assuming she lived through the night.
She assessed the situation and liked the odds. It was an even match between the soldiers and Aggressors, a name they had all agreed to call the infected. She turned back to the group behind her and explained the situation. They would cut across the back of the lot, through a patch of trees, and into Mrs. Hinkley’s award-winning garden. If they were quick and quiet enough, they could avoid detection by both parties and continue their journey for the church—their halfway point.
They ran for the back of Mrs. Hinkley’s yard, Martha keeping an eye behind them to make sure they went undetected. It was looking good until Maude looked up from gnawing on a soldier’s neck. She sniffed about and spotted them. She growled and started to sprint after them.
They all ran into Mrs. Hinkley’s sunflowers. They dropped down to the garden floor to take cover. Martha grabbed Elderton by the shoulder. “Maude spotted us, she’s coming.”
Elderton could see the silhouette of Maude running haphazardly towards them in her slippers. “I got this. Stay down, stay quiet,” Elderton said. She slid her shotgun around her back with the strap. She pulled out a pistol with a muzzle on it. She waited for the opportune moment.
She stood up and took one shot in the dark.
A flash from the gun lit up the area just long enough for everyone to see that her single shot entered between the eyes of Maude. Elderton was back down in the sunflowers before Maude had even hit the pavement. They all waited to see if she got up.
They waited to see if anyone else from the group noticed the shot.
After a moment of stressed silence, Mandy leaned in to Elderton, “Damn girl,” she whispered.
The clouds opened and a mist began to spray them and the lot behind them. The ground let up steam, still warm from the day. Between the fog and the steam, the air was thick as a shower curtain. They continued walking underfoot Mrs. Hinkley’s garden. Around the house, through a rusted gate, and into the front yard. They rested beneath an old oak tree her great-great-grandfather had planted so many years ago. She bragged about it to anyone who dared pass her house while she was on the porch. People eventually learned to cross the street to pass her house. But sometimes that wasn’t enough, sometimes she’d just yell at a person not knowing if they’d hear a word she said or not. But assuming they did. Assuming they gave two shits and a nickel.
It was two blocks from Mrs. Hinkley’s house to the church. They could see it on the corner, well-lit by streetlights. A group of townsfolk came running down the street, screaming. They appeared to be uninfected. But just as they were crossing the intersection in a frenzy, a military Hummer came plowing through at a fast pace. It ran over half the people and screeched to a halt. A soldier popped out the top and used a 50-caliber mounted gunner to take down the rest. Limbs and blood flew everywhere. A head exploded. And then there was silence. The soldier surveyed the carnage.
One person was trying to crawl away without his lower half.
Not satisfied, the soldier pulled out a pistol and shot the man three times. Dead. He tapped the top of the Hummer and it drove off.
They paused for a moment, leaned against the sturdy oak.
Elderton knew what they were all thinking about. That could be them in a matter of moments. And even if they made it fine, they’d have to walk right over them to get to the church. Nobody wanted to move from that oak. The rain began to pick up, their body core temperatures were dropping. But nobody moved.
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