We quickly covered the final distance to the bus and rushed through the open doors. Betty was waiting behind the wheel and leaned into the lever to close the doors as soon as we were aboard. I stumbled with my burden in the center aisle of the bus when Betty hit the gas and would have fallen to the floor except for the hands of the kids that reached out and grabbed me and held me upright until I got my balance back. Moving to the back of the bus I gently laid the girl across one of the back seats and collapsed onto the other. Rachel dug around and found a small towel that she draped over my privates, then dug some more under a seat and found a rough woolen blanket that she used to cover the girl’s body after removing my rifle and laying it on the floor under the seat. That task completed she looked over the bus and after appearing to count heads twice reached out and placed her hand on a boy’s shoulder.
“Jared. Where’s the boy with the lighter. I’m sorry, I don’t know his name.”
“Trey,” one of the girl’s volunteered.
“He was lighting the gas tanks like he was supposed to and one of them went out. He went back to re-light it and just when he got to the side of the truck it exploded.” The boy answered her question. Rachel cursed and lowered herself into the seat next to the boy. I glanced around the bus and did a quick head count. There were now only six surviving kids. I wanted to know the details, especially about the girl who had been killed rescuing me from the pit, but that could wait. Climbing to my feet I held the towel over myself and side stepped, bare assed, up to the front to check on Betty.
“How we doing, Betty?” I asked, stepping down onto the first exit step so I could talk to her without bending over. There was also a short bulkhead there that shielded me from the rest of the bus. I’m hardly what you would call a modest person, but I didn’t particularly enjoy running around in front of a bunch of teenagers with just a small towel covering my crotch.
“If I was only 20 years younger we’d both be doing a lot better.” Betty glanced sideways at me and grinned with the familiar twinkle in her eye. “We’ve got half a tank of gas and those crazy people don’t have any vehicles left to chase us. We’re going to follow this road for a bit then turn north to Murfreesboro. Should take us about an hour if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”
I couldn’t help but grin when she used one of my mother’s favorite sayings. Leaning down I kissed her on the cheek and headed to the back of the bus. Resuming my seat I was surprised to see a large boy walk up and sit my pack down on the floor next to me. I thanked him and dug through, finding a spare pair of underwear. After the third time I dropped them on the floor Rachel helped me get them over my feet and up in place. For not the first time in my life I was amazed at how much better it feels to have some clothing on. Modesty restored I plopped back onto the seat as Rachel reached out and took each of my arms in her hands, holding me by the wrists as she examined my damaged hands.
“We’ve got to get these cleaned and do something to stop the bleeding.” She said and bent down to dig the medical kit out of my pack. The first thing she held up was a morphine auto-injector, but I shook my head. As bad as the pain was I couldn’t afford to be loopy on morphine if we ran into another fight. Shaking her head in doubt she put the spring loaded syringe back in the med-kit and spread the rest of the items out on the seat next to her. Waving one of the girls over Rachel handed her a small flashlight that she aimed at my hands.
This was the first good look I’d gotten at my hands and I was shocked at how bad they looked. The nails they had driven through me had been large, so large in fact that when they were removed the wounds failed to completely close back together and I could look all the way through each hand. Worried that my earlier assessment of the degree of damage may have been optimistic I experimentally made a fist with each hand. I can honestly say the pain was the worst I’ve ever experienced in my life. Worse than a dislocated shoulder. Worse than a broken jaw and nose. Worse than getting shot. I leaned my head back on the vinyl covered bench seat as Rachel started to work.
If I thought my hands had been hurting it was nothing like the experience of having alcohol poured into the wounds to sterilize them. How I managed to not jerk my hands away I can’t really say, but somehow I was able to hold them out as the alcohol burned its way through my raw flesh and sweat poured off my body. What’s the expression? Sweating like a whore in church? If that’s the case I had been a very bad girl and the preacher was on a roll. As I watched, Rachel repositioned the light and peered at my palms then started using tweezers to remove debris. Finally satisfied she doused me with alcohol again before slathering antibiotic ointment into the wounds. Thinking the worst was over I was ready to relax until she unwrapped a suture kit. Fuck me.
Half an hour later Rachel trimmed the final stitch, applied a thin coat of antibiotic ointment then started wrapping my hands with gauze. I made her adjust and redo the bandages a couple of time so that I would have at least minimal use of my hands. When everything was as good as it was going to get she packed everything except a fat syringe and a bottle of yellow liquid back into the med-kit. Sticking the not very small needle through the rubber top on the vial she pulled out the plunger and the syringe filled with some of the liquid. All of this was done right in front of my face and if I didn’t know better I’d swear Rachel was enjoying messing with my head. Needle ready she motioned me to stand, pulled down the back of my underwear and after swabbing a spot clean with an alcohol pad she jammed the needle into me.
“OK. That last was a high dose of antibiotic.” She said. “Do you know when your last tetanus shot was?” Actually I did. I had gotten one as part of routine vaccinations for international travel just a year ago.
“Good. I don’t think there’s any significant damage but there’s no way you don’t have some degree of nerve damage. The good news is you can open and close your hands. There may be some numbness and weakness, but we’ll have to wait and see. The biggest danger right now is infection. Those bandages need to be changed twice a day so we’ll keep a close eye for a while.”
“Thank you, mother.” I said, receiving a nasty look in response as she busied herself with cleaning up and repacking the med-kit in my pack. While she was in the pack she dug out pants, a shirt, socks and a pair of athletic shoes for me and helped me dress. I had no boots and had lost my vest. Retrieving my rifle from the floor I checked it then slung it over my head and cut a big chunk of the heavy vinyl upholstery from one of the bus seats. Rachel started working on it to make a sheath for my Kukri while I went back up front to check on our progress with Betty.
“How we doing, sweetheart?” I asked as I reached the front of the bus.
“Oh listen to how you talk! We’re almost to the highway that goes north to Murfreesboro. We were a little farther away than I thought, and I’m having to keep this old pile of junk under 40 or it feels like the whole front end is going to shake itself to pieces.” Betty never took her eyes off the road, leaning slightly forward to peer into the gloom that was as good as the weak headlights could do. As poor as they were I was kind of glad the speedometer only read 35. A cheap, dollar store compass was stuck to the dash and it showed we were driving directly south, but less than a mile later the road curved and swung around to the east. At the very edge of the lights I could just make out the stop sign that must be at the highway we were looking for.
Turning my head to check on Rachel and the kids I didn’t see the female infected that ran right at the front of the bus, bouncing off the right front fender. The sound of the impact jerked my attention back to the road and brought gasps from the kids. Rachel rushed forward and stood next to me, peering through the windshield. Ahead the road we were on ended at a T intersection, connecting with a state highway. A small green sign that read ‘Murfreesboro’ pointed to our left, but no distance was indicated. Betty hit the brakes and Rachel and I had to brace to keep from being thrown into the dash and from the back of the bus I heard a yelp of protest as Dog slid off the seat he was sleeping on. The old bus shimmied to a stop 30 yards shy of the stop sign and we all stared through the cracked windshield. The lights didn’t do a good job of lighting up the highway we wanted to turn onto, but they were good enough for us to see the hundreds of infected marching along it in the direction we wanted to go. We were immediately noticed and dozens of males and females peeled off from the group and headed in our direction.