The van moved through the woods, bumping along the rutted muddy road, eventually turning to asphalt at some point which I barely noticed. Tony passed out shortly after being tossed into the van; he hadn’t even stirred when I cut away the leg of the bloody scrubs and poked around his injured knee. I wasn’t a doctor but the damage looked pretty severe and possibly beyond any medical attention we could offer. Heidi drove with tears in her eyes and said he was the doctor and if he woke up, he would be able to tell us how bad of an injury he had sustained. She also confirmed what I had previously thought, she was a nurse but she had mainly worked in palliative care and only been out of school and actively nursing for 6 months. She had no surgical experience and would be just as useless as the rest of us to help him, which I didn’t want to believe. Tony was going to need real help from someone with proper medical training and the confidence to step-up that Heidi lacked and my basic first aid wouldn’t cut it.
Marla sat in the front passenger seat with Hunter on her lap and an arm wrapped around him; the protective embrace of a Mother and her cub. Neither of them spoke as Heidi explained her medical prowess, they both just stared out the window at the darkening sky. Cal had curled up away from Tony and me, his face a window of fear and sadness. Heidi stopped talking and when the silence became too much, I flat-out asked Cal if he felt any guilt about being responsible for Kelly’s death and Tony’s injuries. It was cruel to point the finger solely at him and that was why I did it, to be cruel and release some of my frustration at not being able to help them. I expected him to lash out, wanted him to but he didn’t; his mouth opened and closed, no words came out, then he just cried.
I felt like a dick as I watched this grown man breakdown. My apology was mumbled and rushed and didn’t make a difference. The others remained quiet, letting me linger in the discomfort of my words. The silence and soft sniffling were too much and I wanted to break it but Heidi beat me to it. She screamed fuck and slammed on the brakes. The van started to slide and the smooth road felt like it was disappearing as we continued to turn out of control. I could see Heidi struggling to get a hold of the wheel to no avail and felt the van slam into something that was likely a ditch. I tried to brace against the seats but it was no use and I went head first into the side window. I had a second to think – seatbelts – before blacking out.
I woke to the rapid fire sound of guns popping and voices yelling incoherently. Bursts of flashlight beams bounced everywhere glancing over the woods and the frightened faces of people I didn’t know and the ghastly visages of many zombies. I tried to get up but pain flared everywhere on my body and I fell to the ground stifling a scream as my back filled with hot sparks of agony. My vision flashed in and out, coming from either the flashlights or the throbbing pain in my head.
So much noise surrounded me I couldn’t make sense of what was happening amid the shouting, crying and the growls and wails of the dead. I added to the noise, yelling for Marla and Hunter before a big hand, wet with god knows what, slapped down on my mouth and stale breath wafted across my face, a deep voice telling me to shut the fuck up. I was hardly in a state to fight back and did as I was told. Moments later the hand dropped from my mouth, leaving a trace of salty, coppery fluid on my lips, the big hands grabbing my jacket at the shoulders and pulling me backwards. I wanted to protest but thought better of it. I didn’t know who had me and decide that wherever he was taking me would surely be better than this place of cacophony and confusion.
I let the stranger drag me along the ground until a rock jabbed into the small of my back and I screamed out, pulling my arms free and pushing myself forward on my knees. Heidi fell next to me, grabbed me under my arms and whispered get up, get up. She pulled with all her strength and I pushed myself up, the world uneven, and my torso and shoulder burning. I wanted to push Heidi away but I didn’t. I had enough sense to know that danger was everywhere so I sucked up the pain and let her pull me away from the chaos.
I couldn’t see where we were going, Heidi just moved us forward going further into the dark until we finally stopped at a massive tree. She pushed me behind it and I nearly fell on top of Marla and Hunter. Heidi moved behind me and whispered in my ear to stay down. That was easy to do as I fell to my knees, exhausted and gritting my teeth against a steady throbbing in my left shoulder. Behind the sounds of blood rushing in my ears, I could still faintly hear screams and gunshots from where we had come and wondered who was still out there. There were too many voices for it to be Cal and Tony, the only other people I thought it could be.
The curiosity slipped from my mind as I edged closer to unconsciousness, my eyes heavy with days of exhaustion and the knock my head had taken in the accident. I felt myself falling forward, only waking from the haze as a light exploded to my right and raced forward, illuminating the trees and tangles of bodies before hitting the van. The shot was damn good and must have hit the gas tank as the dull thunk of the impact erupted in a thunderous roar and the van exploded. The sound and light ripped through the night with flames and pieces of sharp metal raining down upon the forest. The sound and fury brought me back to full consciousness and I saw fire blazing in the night as it quickly spread through the underbrush, up the tress and coated the flailing bodies of anyone that had been in the vicinity of the explosion; their forms a deadly shimmer of orange and red.
I had never wanted to encounter the smell of burning bodies again after the village but the flare, I figured that’s what it must have been, set off a fire and now it was there again, the horrific aroma of seared flesh and hair. I didn’t have time to let it consume me too much as Heidi and Marla pulled me up again, moving us away from the morbid bonfire. As we left, I had a terrible thought that the smell was like that of burning ham and Christmas trees. I tried to laugh but it was more of a strangled cry of despair as we ran through a forest of death and flame.
© 2015, Denise Pasutti