The females had apparently worked their way through the rugged terrain at the east end of the wall and with the defenders having been pulled off due to the wall being raised and an ammo shortage there had been no one there to stop them. I raised my rifle to sight in on the lead infected, lowering it with a curse a moment later. They were well over 400 yards away and moving fast. A 400 yard shot with an M4 rifle is certainly possible, but at night from a standing position at a fast moving target; I knew I couldn’t make the shots and would end up only wasting valuable ammo. Rachel had noticed me aiming the rifle and turned to look at what I had seen, also raising hers when she saw the infected. She quickly lowered the rifle and started running towards the approaching forklift, waving her arms over her head and pointing at the threat.
Jim finally got the message, but it was too late. I saw the forklift swerve as he tried to avoid them, but they were too close. Three of them leapt onto the side of the machine and swarmed the driver’s seat, but Jim wasn’t there. When they leapt he had bailed out the far side of the open cab. Unfortunately the swerve he had started was the new path the forklift followed. Despite a deadman switch for safety that applied the brakes automatically if a driver’s foot stopped pressing it, the giant machine with its massive load couldn’t stop on a dime. Slowing, but still moving at a good pace the forklift carried the container directly into a fueling area of the truck stop where we had been getting the gas for the napalm and fire trucks.
The lower leading edge of the 40 foot long container made contact with two islands full of fuel pumps at the same time, and even though the forklift was braking the forward momentum of all that mass was still great enough to shear all the pumps off their mounts and shove them along the ground in front of it before finally coming to a full stop. For a moment the scene was frozen in place, nothing happening, then I saw the first flames. I started to open my mouth to scream a warning but before I could even form a word the fire found the fuel in the underground storage tanks. The explosion was unbelievable. I’ve been on battlefields where both artillery and air dropped ordnance – bombs – were detonating, yet I’ve never experienced anything close to the force of this blast.
The entire truck stop, the container, the forklift and everything and everyone within a 100 yard radius just vanished in a searing ball of flame. This was probably comparable to the fuel explosion that had happened on the flight line at Arnold AFB, but I had been much farther away from that one. This one knocked me on my back and I would have slid over the edge of the wall and into the sea of infected if one of the defenders hadn’t grabbed me. Sitting up I stared at the column of fire and smoke shooting up from the explosion, then remembered to look for Rachel and Dog. The fire did a good job of lighting up the whole area and it didn’t take me long to spot them. Rachel was on her back, certainly having been knocked back by the pressure wave from the blast, Dog standing next to her. She wasn’t moving, but neither was anyone else.
When the explosion had ripped through the night all of the shooters on the wall had stopped firing and turned to see what happened. They were still staring at the inferno, but the infected hadn’t been distracted and were using the lull in our defense to push forward. Several females made it onto the roof and fell on the prone shooters, ripping into flesh with nails and teeth. They were quickly joined by more and I raised my rifle and started firing into faces only a few feet away. I was screaming for the shooters to get back in the fight, but they were probably as deaf from the blast as I was. Slowly they started turning back to the front, but we had given too much momentum to the infected. More shooters were falling to female leapers and all along the gap hands were now solidly grasping the edge.
“Fall back!” I screamed, running up and down the line. Every few feet I was shooting an infected that was either already on the wall or about to clear the edge. Quickly the remaining shooters scrambled backwards and started rushing down the ladders, a couple of them slipping and falling to the asphalt below where their screams of pain were added to the overwhelming sounds of the fire and the battle. Soon there was only me and three other shooters remaining on the wall, clustered in a tight group at the top of one of the ladders, facing a swiftly growing number of infected. I looked over my shoulder at the fire captain sitting high in the air at the top of the ladder, saw him looking at me and made a slashing motion with my arm. Seconds later a tightly focused stream of very high pressure water started jetting out of the chrome nozzle that was mounted at the top of the ladder with him.
The water pressure was so great that it not only knocked the infected down, it sent them cartwheeling through the air and back out into the herd. The captain controlled the placement of the water jet like a maestro and even though we got a good soaking from water splattering off of infected bodies he never touched us. In a few seconds he had bought us enough room to start down the ladder. One by one the shooters disappeared over the edge until I was the last defender standing on the wall. Waiting for the ladder to clear, I didn’t want to push my luck by adding my weight to that of the three men already on it, I shot five more infected on one side while the water jet swept through dozens of them and sent them tumbling. Finally clear I stepped onto it, grasped the outside of the ladder and moved my feet outside the rails and started a fast slide 20 feet to the ground. I had forgotten about my damaged hands, and I had just started the slide when they reminded me that they weren’t one hundred percent. Somehow I managed to hold on, but descended way faster than I wanted and hit hard enough to lose my balance and fall flat on my back. Fuck that hurt.
Forcing myself up and on my feet I did a quick check of the top of the gap in the wall, glad to not see any infected faces staring back down at me. The captain worked the water jet back and forth, aimed a few feet above the top of the wall so that any infected was blasted in the mid-section and shoved back. Shouting at everyone to run for the train station I rushed to where Rachel was still flat on her back in the middle of the street. Running up I slid to a halt on my knees and leaned over her, Dog whining as he pressed closer to her still form. Her eyes were closed and she didn’t respond when I called her name. I checked the pulse in her neck, letting out a relieved sigh when I found it beating steady and strong. She was laying in the same position you would use if you were making a snow angel and were just making the top arc of the wings. Her torso was straight and her head and neck aligned with her body so I didn’t think she would have a spinal injury. She had just been knocked flat by the pressure wave from the explosion. I hoped.
I checked around us and the water jet was still holding the infected at bay, but even from here I could tell that the rate they were now climbing into the gap was quickly going to overwhelm the captain’s ability to knock them all back. It would start with a trickle of infected leaking through the opening then grow to a stream and eventually become an unstoppable torrent that would flood the town and kill anyone still here. We were only a few yards from the ambulance that Rachel had stolen and even though I was reasonably sure her neck and back were OK I decided to take advantage of what I had available. Rushing into the back I grabbed a cervical collar out of a bin on the wall and a backboard that was clipped to the other wall. I had just gotten the collar on her when Dog sprang to his feet with a growl and leapt over me. I spun to see him collide with a female that had rushed around the side of the vehicle, tumbling across the pavement with her. Another female was moments behind the first and ran around the edge of the ambulance with a scream and dove at me as I squatted on the ground.
I had enough time to turn slightly and take the impact from the body on my shoulder, twisting to keep the female away from Rachel. The woman attacking me was big. She was probably close to my height and nearly as heavy and had a strength that came from rage. We rolled on the ground, each of us fighting for a solid grip on the other, but unlike me she was also trying to get her teeth into the fight. Still rolling I finally got a fist full of her hair and started trying to pull her jaws away from me, but she managed to get her mouth onto my right forearm and locked on tight. Her bite was strong enough to paralyze the muscles in my right forearm and all I could do was use the strength in my upper arm and shoulder to control her head. She raked at my face, opening long bloody furrows and kept clawing until she found something solid to grab.
There was a sharp pain then my left ear suddenly burned like acid had been poured on it and I could feel warm blood running across my face and neck. Releasing her hair I managed to break her grip on my ear and bat her hand away, then started pounding the side of her head with my free hand. Each blow sent waves of pain from my damaged hand up my arm, but I kept hitting, hard and fast. After several blows her bite on my right arm loosened and I kept pounding, aiming for the softer spot right at the temple. I must have hit her a dozen times before she let go of my arm. I stopped hitting her and got my left hand on her throat, tucked my legs up between us and used them to push her off me. She hit the asphalt, rolled and Dog was on her as soon as she came to a stop. He consistently amazed me at the speed and power he possessed, and this time was no different. In a flash he had landed on her chest and before she could do anything he lunged his head down and ripped her throat out, standing on her until she quit moving.
Looking around I didn’t see any more immediate threats as I scooted across the wet and bloody pavement to where Rachel still lay unconscious. When I leaned over her a surprisingly large stream of blood started pouring off my chin and onto her shirt. Not wanting to waste time but needing to staunch the bleeding I ripped my shirt off and wrapped it tight around my head and ears like a turban. Blood still dripped on Rachel as I carefully worked her onto the backboard, but there was nothing I could do about that at the moment. With Rachel fully on the board I used its Velcro straps to tightly secure her as immobile as possible. Keeping a close eye on my surroundings I was happy that Dog was doing the same, and I lifted the head of the backboard and drug it and Rachel across the parking lot to the back of the ambulance. Laying the end on the floor inside the vehicle I rushed to lift the foot, shoving the whole thing into the back before running back to where Rachel had fallen and retrieving her rifle which I tossed in back onto the gurney that was locked to the floor.
I had just closed one of the doors when the siren on the big fire truck started wailing. Turning I saw that the water cannon had stopped and females were starting to pour through the gap in the wall. The problem was readily apparent. A large piece of flaming debris from the explosion at the truck stop had landed on the big hose that connected the truck to the fire hydrant and though the hose is very tough it had finally burned through and the end was whipping back and forth as it sprayed water. The females quickly swarmed the truck and while the driver in the cab was safe for the moment they were on the truck and up the ladder like a pack of monkeys. The fire captain didn’t even have time to get unstrapped from his seat before they were on him and tearing him to ribbons. Slamming the other door I whistled for Dog and we piled into the cab of the ambulance. The keys were in the ignition and I started the engine, females slamming into the back and sides of the vehicle before I could get it into gear.
Transmission in drive I jammed the accelerator to the floor and smashed through the females that were piling up in front of me. Heading north on the highway I steered a wide path around the roaring truck stop fire, feeling the heat from the flames even inside the cab of the truck with the windows rolled up. A small mirror mounted to the dash let me keep an eye on Rachel as I drove, gunning the ungainly vehicle farther into town and away from the wall, pursued by thousands of females. The rail yard was just ahead and to my right was the station for passengers that Sergeant Jackson had used to stage the evacuation. As I turned onto the road that ran in front of the station I could see there was still a group of several hundred people waiting to board. Damn it! There was no time. The infected were only half a mile behind me and coming fast.
I felt for the police radio then remembered it was in one of Rachel’s pockets. Slamming to a stop I scrambled into the back and ran my hands over Rachel’s pockets until I found it, ripping it out and pressing the transmit button.
“Jackson! Infected have breached. That train needs to go now!” I shouted into the radio as I climbed back behind the wheel. I had hoped to make it to the train where I could get some help with loading Rachel onto a car and we could escape on the rails. Now, not only was that not going to happen, there were going to be people left behind that would die when the infected reached the station.
“Say again? There’s still people on the platform.” I could hear the chaos of frightened people in the background when he transmitted.
“You have to leave them and save the people that are already on the train. There’s thousands of females coming and they’ll be here in less than a minute.” I let out a long, slow sigh and wanted to pound the steering wheel in frustration but settled for reaching across the cab and wrapping my arm around Dog who leaned into me and rested his head on my chest. Watching in the side mirror it was only about 30 seconds before I saw the fastest females appear on the road no more than a quarter mile behind me. They were in a full sprint. I had stopped a few hundred yards from the platform and could see the people waiting to board turn all at once when the screams of the approaching females reached their ears.
“Now, Jackson! You’re out of time!” I said into the radio, then dropped it into a deep cup holder molded into the dash.
I knew we needed to start moving to stay ahead of the herd, but I couldn’t put the ambulance into gear. I was exhausted. Mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. This didn’t stop me from being able to physically drive us out of there, but I felt like I had failed these people. Most of the men and women still standing on the platform were shooters that had stayed on the wall until the last minute. Shooters I had recruited. I’ve had men under my command die before, and as I sat there I recognized it would probably happen again and there wasn’t a damn thing I could have done differently. That didn’t make it any easier and all I wanted to do was step out of the ambulance and face the approaching herd and kill every single one of the damn things.
Checking the mirror again I saw that the females had already covered half the distance and more were pouring into the street at the intersection. Looking back up I saw the train start to move. Several men in the group were actually picking up the women who had fought with them and were throwing them through the air to waiting hands that caught them and pulled them to safety on the train. Three women were saved this way as the train picked up speed, but a fourth fell just short and landed under the train car to be run over by the steel wheels moments later. After that no one else tried.
There was movement at the edge of the group closest to the swiftly approaching herd and I saw Sergeant Jackson step clear of the people around him, face the infected and rack a shell into the chamber of the shotgun in his hands. Another man I recognized as the vet who had lost an arm stepped up beside him, a fire axe swinging lightly in his one hand. As one the group turned to face the coming death, pipes and boards, anything they could find to fight with in their hands. The train continued to pick up speed as the leading edge of the sprinting females reached the ambulance and raced past me, focused on the survivors standing under the train station’s lights. With the herd only a few hundred yards away I could see Jackson raise a hand to his mouth a moment before I heard his voice on the radio.
“Thank you, Major. I wanted you to know we got two train loads of people to safety, and Ms. Betty and her kids were on the first train. There’s still people in the town, but we saved thousands. Good luck to you.” His voice was steady and strong. Less than a minute later the infected were close enough for him to fire the first round from his shotgun, obliterating the head of a female with long brown hair. I couldn’t stand to watch anymore and dropped the transmission into drive and accelerated away, females pounding on the sides of the ambulance and being crushed under as I drove. Tears streaming down my face I kept my eyes forward as I passed the massacre at the train station and sped away into the dark.