Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Chapter 7: Ghost

Jess and I got into the truck and backed it out of the garage just before the dead began drifting back toward us in large numbers. The worry was more about getting the thing into the street; too many dead people in the enclosed space could have wedged the truck in place. But once in the open, we were good. It takes a lot of mass in the form of dead flesh to stop a couple tons of metal from going wherever it damned well pleases.

"Where is he?" I asked, twisting around in the passenger's seat to look for Adam. Jess had thrown the supplies at the foot well on my side, and I kicked them lightly as I fumbled for a better view.

Adam was nowhere to be seen, though given the density of the approaching swarm that was hardly a surprise. A dim, distant part of me felt bad that Jess and I had hopped into the truck with the instinct to save ourselves. I paid it little mind; years of living at the end of the world had a way of knocking the sharp edges off those sorts of reactions. I'd love to say I thought about Adam's invisibility to the dead in that moment of decision, but that would be a lie. Jess and I just put ourselves first when immediate action was needed.

Jess let off the brake and the truck idled forward. It was slow enough not to awaken any more chase instinct in the zombies than was already in play, but kept us from being totally surrounded. That's a lot more dangerous than it looks, mostly because a lot of the time the damn things will get pressed into nooks and crannies and end up stuck. Indeed, as we drifted slowly forward, one of them was already that position; a zombie's hand was wedged tight into the space between the cab and the bed of the truck. Don't ask me how. The damn things were like cannibal toddlers in their ability to fuck anything up in a fraction of a second.

"There," Jess said, pointing over her shoulder. "Just saw him in the rear view for a second."

I rotated the other direction, looking where she directed. A white flash darted between bodies about thirty feet away from the rear driver's side of the truck. It became clear in a few seconds that this was Adam, but he looked much different. I had to suppress a laugh at first glance because the impression his appearance gave was that he'd been plucked from a Three Stooges routine. His relatively clean clothing was utterly saturated in white powder. Every inch of him was covered in it save for, I realized a second later, a gash on the side of his head pouring a sheet of blood across the pale expanse.

"He's bleeding," I said. "Get ready to haul ass as soon as he gets to us."

Jess nodded, fingers tight around the steering wheel and eyes scanning ahead to make sure we had a clear path away from the swarm. I felt a momentary swelling of pride that she still trusted me to give her the green light. My judgment wasn't always great, but it reassured me to know she was willing to have me watching her back--literally, in this case.

Yet the inevitable pile-on never came. Fresh blood is universally like chum in the water for zombies, and I had assumed that whatever made Adam unseen probably wouldn't hold up with any of his insides on the outside. But here was clear evidence I was wrong. The zombies paid him no more mind bleeding than they had whole, even when he bumped against them and transferred smears of the stuff onto their chests and faces.

Adam slipped through the crowd with the same even determination as he'd left with when first planning to distract the swarm for us. He wasn't an easily rattled kid, I had to give him that. After being studied and experimented on, I guess running through a crowed of dead people who noticed you as much as a living person noticed the air they breathe wasn't much of a challenge.

Jess gunned the engine for half a second and the truck leaped forward by a length, breaking us mostly free of the zombies and giving Adam plenty of room to move. Without slowing a step, the young man put a hand on the edge of the truck bed and vaulted himself up and over. Half a second later he gave a the bed itself a resounding double slap--the universal sign for 'I'm good to go, you can haul ass now.'

That's just what we did. The farm was gone, well behind us now. We were on the road with only an uncertain but also entirely open future ahead of us.

I waited until our first stop to ask Adam why he looked like Casper's older brother. Good thing I did: the story was worth waiting for.

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