With a string of twitchers still following in our wake, I put Pyotr on the back, giving him firm orders to stay onboard until we stop. Leonid rides on the right, Mykola on the left, while I mow a path with the .50 cal.
The darkening sky smells of sulfur and cooked flesh. The only sounds in the air are those of death and a lust for it. My body screams with pain, my legs oozing blood. Yet, sweeping filth out of the dust zone from the back of the Jeffery while fighting side by side with my sons, fills me with an emotion I can only describe as peace.
As the sun begins to set we hit the outer ring of the hunt, a writhing wall of twitchers frenzied beyond normal and continually fortified by newcomers. The rising cacophony of their ungodly shrieks combines with the numbing thunder of the machine gun to arrest my senses and nearly freeze time. The air fills with flying fragments of poisoned bodies once human, and the road beneath us is paved with bones.
With a sharp jerk of the wheel and skidding tires, we lurch to a stop beside the military wagon, forming a triangle of Browning M2 machine guns. Mykola and Pyotr instantly join the defense of the haggard survivors while I cover them from atop the Jeffery. Leonid’s job is to find the leader of the shrinking band and explain our next steps, quickly.
Even with the third machine gun, we’ll run out of ammunition before twitchers. And to get away clean we need to punch a bigger hole than the Jeffery can make.
Leonid grips my shoulder from behind and yells into my ear. “You’re in charge.”
“That was fast!”
“They’re almost out of ammo. Now or never. They’ve got a dozen grenades left.”
“Perfect.” I swing the M2 to cover Mykola while he reloads. “Have ‘em stack all the explosives in the wagon and clear out. Keep one grenade for yourself and join Bertha. We do it now.” The hunt ring slowly closes on us as my belt of ammo shortens. I spin the gun to a temporary stop in order to be heard, “Time to go! Load up! Bertha, get ready to push!”
Pyotr and Mykola grab handholds as Bertha slams the Jeffery into reverse and pops the clutch. I straighten the last few feet of ammunition and pulse the M2 back to life, but the twitchers’ ring has pushed so close that I’m nearly aiming straight down. The Jeffery jolts as we bump the wagon, pushing it in front of us.
The remaining survivors clamor around the armored car for hand holds. Those with ammunition left join Mykola in keeping the seething ocean of twitchers at bay. Empty clicks replace the jarring pulse of the .50 caliber as the last of the ammunition runs through its chamber. “Bertha, we gotta’ go!” She guns the engine until we’re bouncing at nearly 30mph. I lean over the driver’s seat and yell, “do it! Do it!”
Leonid chucks the grenade into the middle of the munitions pile on the wagon while Bertha slams on the brakes, sending the wagon careening into the ring of twitchers by itself. I roar above the fray, “wait until you see the blue flame and make for the opening!” But things are quickly getting ugly.
Screams crowd me on my perch as I realize we’re completely overtaken. Men are fighting back twitchers with rifle butts and bloodied knuckles. But in a barroom brawl the average twitcher is three times stronger than a uninfected man. Pyotr tucks Mykola in behind him and creates a flashing wall of death, the setting sun glinting off his spinning ax.
Twitchers encase the Jeffery on three sides, and still nothing happens—no fire-storm-causing explosion. Leonid recognizes the problem first, “Dud! It’s not gonna’ blow.”