The glass bottle shatters one step in front of the three twitchers and blankets them in fire. Sprawling and wailing, the three manage to spread the flames to three others by the time I pack the second bottle and light it up. Leonid has us moving at a fast run now, hopefully fast enough.
I crack the second bottle on the wall of a maintenance shed just as another clump of twitchers round the edge of it. The burning liquid fans out in a delicate spray, like a phoenix tail, licking the fetid skin of twitchers. Their tortured screams draw more attention. I toss three more and prep the last two bottles, but a quick count identifies three dozen targets, and growing.
I spin around to see the armored vehicle clacking toward us on a parallel track still three hundred yards away. “The switch. We’ve gotta’ get there first.”
“Less than a hundred yards. We’ll make it. There’s a smash bar.”
“Got it.” I drag my legs across the handcart platform and yank the heavy bar from its moorings. The Jeffery appears to pick up steam. I look behind us and see why. Twitchers are swarming, maybe fifty of them. Even if we hit the switch we’ll be dead. “Keep going.”
“Just do it, Dammit!” I light the last two bottles and chuck them in rapid succession, both of them barbecuing twitchers so close I don’t need to aim. Without a second to spare I grasp the smash bar and lunge toward the switch. It connects solidly, sending electric vibrations through my arms and neck, and lifting me from the cart’s platform.
“I love you!” I speak the words as my shoulder collides with a railroad tie, my limp legs folding over the top of me. With a grunt I right myself and grip the 12-gauge in both hands. A click followed by a roar, and the air bursts into crimson. I pull the second trigger, cutting two twitchers in half. Another lunges head first forcing me to drop the shotgun and roll to my left. The animal cracks his skull on the base of the rail behind me and falls limp while another bulls me over.
I tug a knife from my bandolier and plunge it into his heart. Before we can stop rolling my legs snag something solid. Heaving the dead twitcher off my chest I find two more, faces buried into my calves, snapping bones with their teeth. I spin the .44-40, still strapped to my shoulder, until it’s barrel first and scatter their brains amidst the gravel.
I roar into the oncoming ocean of rotten twitcher flesh and spit burning hot lead as fast as I can roll the lever, parting the onslaught like a lighthouse in a storm. Every devil I drop is one less to haunt my children, one less to threaten my beloved sons.
Until I roll the lever and hear nothing but an empty click. Slow motion overtakes me. In a moment of crystal clarity I see all my strengths and faults meld together into the broken body of a dying, forty-year-old man. A man blessed to mend his worst mistakes before his death.
Falling to my back, I feel the ground shake beneath me. And then thunder and lightning crack open the sky above me as the .50 caliber cycles through its belt of ammunition. I feel the concussion of each shell igniting, powder expanding the air around it, buffeting my brain, propelling lead into spoiled bodies, poisoned gradually by a toxin born by man and belched into the soil intentionally. Ridiculous, all of it.
For a split second I swear I see blue, before my view is eclipsed by the flying silhouette of my second son, Pyotr, swinging his ax as if to split the earth.