A Good Soldier: Over the Hill (Ch. 34)

Trees

Cal cursed me as I walked away and trampled a path through the wet bushes and muddy ground ignoring his words. The hill wasn’t overly tall but there was a fairly steep incline and the ground was still sodden from the rain making it a harder to climb then it should have been. I turned back just before hitting the rise on the top and saw Cal carrying Marco again. I hoped this wasn’t how our travel was going to continue. Cal would be exhausted in no time if he kept carrying the kid everywhere.  As it was he laboured up the hill stopping every few step to readjust before continuing. I turned away and finished the climb too annoyed to watch his sluggish approach.

The other side of the hill was nearly identical with the same muddy ground but fewer trees. While I waited for Cal I checked the surrounding area half expecting the forest below to be moving with throngs of zombies.  It didn’t and I felt a surge of relief that grew stronger as I looked at the gravel road running horizontally between the banks of the trees. It could have been a logging road or a backcountry trail for hikers and campers but all it meant to me at that moment was a viable way out of the woods that wasn’t likely to be overrun by monsters due to the isolation of the area.

“Looks like we might be able to find a way out of here without getting swarmed.”

Cal panted beside me nodding but too breathless to say anything. I started to move but stopped when as he sat down beside me struggling to catch his breath.  It wouldn’t do us any good if he was this exhausted and not alert to our surroundings.  Just because I couldn’t see any threat now that didn’t mean the surrounding area going down the hill wasn’t infested. Marco stood beside us stock-still looking out at the world. He seemed so much slighter than Hunter, more fragile and I could see why Cal had opted to carry this waif of a child.

The morning was quickly turning to afternoon and sun soaked into my already sweat saturated body uncomfortably. Cal picked up Marco again and started down the hill before me. He still panted, not quite back up to snuff but he was able to keep his gun at the ready with one hand while carrying Marco cradled in his arms. Going down was messier and we slipped a few times but we moved quicker and were on the gravel road in a short time and started heading east. Marco finally walked on his own and kept pace for the most part however, the boy’s legs were small and he tired quickly. We walked for 30 minutes at a stretch, and then stopped for 20 minutes to rest. There was no way around it and I gave up being frustrated.

It must have been 3 or 4 in the afternoon when I spotted it – an abandoned car on the side of the road, the green front end sticking out of the trees. The heat from the sun, the trauma of the previous days and a poor sleep on a cave floor were taking their toll on all 3 of us and dark would be coming soon. It seemed like the abandoned car had sprung up at just the right time for us find shelter for the night.

“Cal, I think we should check out that car. Maybe call it a day and hole up there for the night.”

“I didn’t even see it there.” Cal perked up a bit as he looked toward the vehicle. “I agree. Let’s call it a day. After we clear it.”

We told Marco to stay at the side of the road and if anything came out that wasn’t us to go to the opposite side and hide in the ditch, and if we didn’t come out at all to run back up the hill. I think he knew if we didn’t come back there was no point but he just nodded and crouched on the side of road making himself as small as possible. The area was silent. No sound of anything living, dead or otherwise could be heard. A thin layer of scum covered the car probably from the elements, making it difficult to determine how long the Honda had been there. Wiping away the dirt we checked through the windows and did a quick look around the car in the surrounding bushes. Nothing. No one. It was clear and when I popped the driver’s door handle it opened. I didn’t dare to hope that things were going to be getting better. I had lost Marla, Hunter and Heidi. Until I found them I would not dare to think everything would turn out okay.

Marco started crying shortly after dusk. We had found some old granola bars in the glove box (they were crunchy at one time I’m sure) and a 4 litre bottle of stale water in the backseat. Not a great meal but better than using what little supplies we had left in our packs. I didn’t think it was the food making him sob and I didn’t try to talk to him about what was wrong. It was obvious. The world had turned into his worst nightmare. Cal sat in the back trying to comfort him to no avail before giving up and moving to the passenger seat after laying his jacket across the kid.

We were so far out in the middle of nowhere that all we could see were the stars in the sky through dirty windows and the moon slowly making its way across the darkening night. Cal didn’t say anything the rest of the evening after Marco shot down his attempts at conversation. I was grateful for the quiet as it helped me to listen. I wasn’t sure I would be able to hear anything but I wanted to be as alert as possible. We still didn’t know for sure that the woods around us were uninhabited but I hadn’t seen any sign of life since we got into the car. No lights in the distance either. It left me feeling uneasy but not enough to keep me from falling into a fractured and extremely uncomfortable slumber.

Sleep came with images of death and monsters and I sprang awake several times disoriented before falling back into fitful nightmares. When morning came I awoke to foggy windows with dull beams of sun trying to shine through and the sound of snoring, human noises of rest, and it was downright peaceful. Cal didn’t stir and proved to be the source of the snoring. Looking into the backseat I saw Marco wide-eyed and staring at the dusty back window. I looked and saw no indication of movement, nothing that would cause such a look of fear. That didn’t mean there wasn’t anything outside the car.  I grabbed my gun off the dash and as quietly as I could opened the car door.  It wasn’t quiet enough and Cal snapped up almost immediately wearing confusion on his face before he remembered where he had slept. I put a silencing finger across my lips, holding up the gun and pointing to the rear of the car.

I left the door ajar not wanting to make any noise and alert or startle whatever had left Marco shaken. Mist hung in the air dampening my face and hands and sending a chill throughout my body. I stood quietly listening but there was still nothing to hear, not even morning bird song. Moving forward slowly, it seemed that every one of my steps was louder than any sound I had heard before. The closer I got to the back of the car the more at ease I felt as nothing appeared to be there, just the trunk and trees beyond.  I straightened and moved to the end of the car then froze.

It no longer moved. The It had been a person, probably a man judging by what little remained of the bare torso. The face was gone along with the top part of the skull, rotten looking meat, brains, oozed from shattered bone over the gravel and dirt. I figured it had been a zombie losing the lower part of its body during an attack and then…shit all I could think was a bear or cougar had attacked it. A disturbing thought brewed – what if this virus or plague could be spread to animals? I shook it off and took a minute to listen again but still didn’t hear or see anything. There were no animal or human tracks around the torso, just bloody drag marks from the corpse. It still had its head when it reached the car so how did something kill it without leaving a trace of its presence?

Walking back to the driver’s side door I decided that we needed to get the hell on the road and try to find a non-infected civilization. Soon. I didn’t know and couldn’t begin to guess what attacked the zombie or if whatever it had been was still around and I didn’t want to take any more chances. Cal asked what had been at the back of the car and my simple reply: it was no longer anything. He understood my meaning and just nodded while getting out of the car and arranging his pack. I had no idea what Marco had seen in the night or early morning from the back window and looking at the kid, this little kid, huddling in the backseat I decided to let it go and not press him to remember or relive it.

“Let’s get going. This road has to lead out of the woods. There has to be something, some people out there doing something or containing this mess.”  I sounded desperate and I certainly was by this point.

quill

© 2015, Denise Pasutti

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