Dog growled a second time, raising his head higher and twitching his nose as he sampled the smells the strong wind was bringing to him. Rachel looked at him, then looked east again, but still saw nothing other than an empty horizon. Regretting her failure to approach the two men and be safely in a vehicle, miles away by now, she got to her knees to gain some elevation. Still nothing, and Dog continued to growl.
Growing more concerned by the moment, Rachel finally stood to her full height and moved to the higher ground near the Interstate. Dog stayed next to her, between her and whatever had him worried, pushing against her with his body. He wanted her to start moving west.
Standing still, Rachel looked again. When she still failed to see any danger she raised the rifle and peered through the scope, slowly scanning across the horizon. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw four razorbacks moving across the field no more than 300 yards away. Their black coats blended well with the dark mud and when she looked without benefit of the scope’s low power magnification she couldn’t spot them even though she knew where they were.
They hadn’t seen or smelled her or Dog yet. The wind was from their direction and was gusting, so she wasn’t concerned about scent. But did they have good eyesight? This she didn’t know. Usually the animals with the best vision were predators, and based on her limited knowledge of the wild hogs she didn’t think they had evolved as top-level predators. As far as she knew, they were herbivores, but she wasn’t about to bet her life on that.
She had witnessed a pair of them attack a group of men and kill two of them. But something about the attack hadn’t felt right. There was no stalking of their prey. They had just charged straight in and attacked with no apparent concern other than killing. With a start Rachel realized that she had just described an infected human!
Her mind went back to medical school classes. Learning about contagions and how they are transmitted from person to person. They hadn’t delved into inter-species viral transmissions, that was training that would come after graduation depending upon your specialization, but it had been discussed. The media had enjoyed frightening the public for years with speculative reports of bird and swine flu pandemics. Those reports contained enough fact to be scary, but also a lot of what ifs and occasionally outright bullshit.
However, it was quite common for a virus to mutate and jump from one species to another. Birds, swine, primates and many other mammals could pass along an infection to humans. And it worked the other way, too. Rachel knew that, and even understood some of the mechanics around how it happened. That knowledge didn’t make her feel any better. In fact, it scared the hell out of her. Like infected humans running around wasn’t bad enough?
Looking around, her eyes fell on the bodies lying in the middle of the westbound traffic lanes. Moving quickly, she walked over to the closest razorback and knelt next to its head. With a tentative touch, she lifted one of its eyelids and gasped when she saw the blood red eye. She jerked her hand back like she had received an electric shock and stood up to check on the hogs in the far field.
They were moving in her direction at a fast trot, but still didn’t appear to be aware of her presence. That didn’t matter. Their trot was faster than she could run, and she remembered the speed they’d displayed when attacking the men. She never would have guessed they could move that fast, but they did have fairly long legs for their body size, and were probably capable of running at least as fast as a dog.
Rachel turned, checking the area for shelter from the approaching beasts. She knew she couldn’t outdistance them, and had to find someplace to hide from them before they got close enough to see her. There were still the abandoned vehicles, but the only one that was still intact was the Mercedes. She knew she could get in it, but it was low to the ground and she didn’t know if the razorbacks would try to break in if they detected her. They were certainly big and strong enough to smash out the car’s windows.
Dismissing the sedan, she looked at the construction equipment. There was a big orange grader, but its cab was open to the elements, and even though the seat was 10 feet off the ground, Rachel didn’t like her odds of being safe in it. Behind the grader was an even larger backhoe. Its cab was also 10 feet off the ground, but was enclosed. Calling Dog, she ran to the machine and after a moment found the obvious way to climb up and into the operator’s seat.
Mercifully, the door was either unlocked or lacking a lock, and she quickly clambered aboard and took a seat. Dog stood on the ground, looking up at her and whining. He wanted to follow, but the ascent that was easy for a human was impossible for a canine. Rachel turned and checked on the razorbacks’ progress. They were still trotting along, oblivious, and were now less than 200 yards away.
Frozen by not knowing what to do, she stared down at Dog. His whines were growing louder as the beasts continued to close. Looking over her shoulder, Rachel saw the hogs suddenly accelerate to a full run. They had been seen. Damn it!
Reacting, not thinking, she quickly slithered down the side of the backhoe, jumping the final two feet to the ground. Bending, she wrapped her arms around Dog’s torso and lifted as he scrabbled with his front paws, trying to climb up the steel side of the machine. She gave up after only a couple of seconds. Maybe John could have lifted Dog and carried him up to the cab, but there was no way she could.
A quick glance over her shoulder and she knew she had less than 10 seconds. Abandoning the backhoe, she dashed for the Mercedes, yelling for Dog. Arriving at the driver’s door, Rachel imagined she could hear the heavy breathing of the razorbacks, and risked a backward glance. They were passing the grader and almost on her. Dog was standing between her and the swiftly approaching beasts, legs spread and head down with teeth showing, but she knew he was way out of his weight class in that fight.
Yanking the front door open she screamed for Dog who turned and leapt into the car. Rachel was right behind him, nearly slamming the door on her leg in her haste to reach the safety of the interior. Less than a second after she closed the door, the lead razorback slammed into it, rocking the entire vehicle. Rachel screamed and Dog hopped into the back seat and started barking at the window, frothy saliva flying onto the glass.
The remaining three razorbacks were close behind, the car continuing to shudder as they slammed into its sides. They began slashing, the wickedly sharp tusks making a horrible screeching sound on the sheet metal. When that didn’t work, they started circling the car, occasionally slamming a shoulder or head into one of the doors.
Rachel got Dog back into the front seat, finally calming him to a degree with an arm circled around his neck. He was taut as a bowstring and primed for a fight, but she wasn’t about to let him out of the car. As fast and strong as he was, the razorbacks would gut him in an instant and stomp him to death when he went down.
As she sat in the front seat, watching them continue to circle, Rachel was reminded of old movies about sailors lost at sea with sharks circling before attacking. The build of the animals kept their heads lower than their shoulders, and she was relieved to see that they weren’t trying to break the glass. The lead razorback was massive, his shoulders a good six inches taller than the bottom of the side window. He must have weighed close to 400 pounds and was regularly slamming into the car, looking for a point of weakness to exploit.
Rachel leaned her head back against the leather headrest and took a deep breath. They seemed safe for the moment, but what the hell were they going to do? How long would the razorbacks keep trying to break in? And even if they left, what was she going to do? They would still be around and she didn’t think either her or dog would survive on foot for very long.
She started going over ideas in her mind. Thinking about options. Equipment available to her. Anything that would either help them escape, or kill the razorbacks. There were no vehicles within sight that were still functioning. It was a safe assumption there were none to the east, otherwise the men who had fixed and taken the Bronco would already have been driving. Had the tornados caused that much devastation?
She had already searched the Mercedes for its keys, as had the men, but out of desperation she started another search. Slow and methodical. Even if she had checked a spot earlier, she looked again. Looked in spots that she knew were too small to hold even a single key, but not willing to risk overlooking something. After 15 minutes she hadn’t found them and the hogs were still circling, still slamming into the doors nearly every circuit.