Book: Transmission

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Next: 14. 1

 

I slowed when I saw the sign for the West Memphis Airport.  Would Rachel and Jackson have gone back there, even though they knew it had already been evacuated?  I didn’t think so, but I couldn’t ignore the possibility and not check.  Taking the indicated exit, I rolled down the ramp, slowing to steer around a small, foreign sedan lying on its side in the middle of the road.  There were no other vehicles around it and I wondered if the tornados I had been told about had turned it over, or maybe even dropped it there.

The two-lane road at the bottom of the exit was obscured with muddy water that had washed onto it through a break in an adjacent dike.  The heavy Lexus navigated the axle deep water without any drama, wrapping me in the luxury of its air conditioning and ventilated seats.  This was the most comfortable I’d been in quite some time, but I’d trade it at the drop of a hat if I got to the airport and found Rachel waiting impatiently for me.

I drove past the airport before I realized I had arrived.  The tall control tower was the landmark I had been looking for, and not seeing it, I hadn’t recognized the area.  Slamming on the brakes, I reversed and took the access road that cut across a muddy field.  I could see the single runway, but there was nothing else remaining.  No control tower.  No hangars.  Nothing other than some twisted steel and small piles of debris where the structures had been.

Coming to a stop, I sat and stared in awe at the total devastation.  A tornado, or perhaps more than one, had literally wiped the airport off the map.  Anything that was more than a couple of feet tall had been ripped away.  Letting off the brake I allowed the SUV to idle forward, steering onto the tarmac.  I was looking at the damage, not where I was driving, and was surprised when first the right front, then right rear tire hit a big pothole.  Stopping, I looked in the mirror.  There was a chunk missing out of the asphalt!  How powerful had these damn storms been?

There was little point in wasting any more time at what had been the airport.  I could see for a very long distance in every direction, and other than debris, muddy fields and pools of dirty water, nothing was visible.  Hooking a U-Turn, I left on the same road I had come in on, turning back to resume my eastward trek on I-40.

The total destruction of the airport disheartened me.  If they had been caught by one of the tornados, they were dead.  There was no getting around that.  My only hope was they had somehow been able to either avoid the storms, or find shelter.  Maybe in West Memphis?  If West Memphis was even still on the map.  Time to find out.

Reaching the entrance ramp to I-40 east, I slowly accelerated up onto the freeway, dodging big potholes where pieces of the asphalt were missing.  Shaking my head, I avoided another wreck by driving into the median.  The SUV’s four wheel drive came in handy.  I was sure a two wheel drive vehicle would have dug into the soft earth and gotten stuck.

I had only driven a few more miles when I noticed a cluster of vehicles scattered across the westbound side of the freeway.  Approaching slowly, I spotted the bodies of two men and two razorbacks sprawled on the pavement.  Then I passed a large Chevy truck, on its side, and hit the brakes when I saw movement.  Four razorbacks were circling a Mercedes.  The largest one was at least 300 pounds, probably more like 400, and the other three were each well over 200.  They noticed me and stopped circling, the whole group moving to stand between the car and me.

I stared back at them for a few moments, then decided to continue on before they charged.  It was doubtful they could damage the Lexus severely enough to disable it, but there was no reason to take the chance.  Starting to accelerate, I had only gone a few yards when I heard a car horn.  What the hell?

Stopping, I looked closely at the Mercedes.  I couldn’t see through the glass because the windows were fogged over.  That meant someone was inside!  And it might be the someones I was searching for.  Even if it wasn’t, I didn’t particularly like the idea of leaving someone to die, trapped by the small herd of razorbacks.  Now, how to rescue them?

The sound of the horn had agitated the hogs, and they started attacking the car, slamming into its sides with their heavy shoulders.  The large one rammed a tusk through the fender and with a powerful jerk of his head tore open a foot long rent in the sheet steel.  Fuck me, but these things were strong.  And all I had was a rifle with relatively small caliber bullets.  Yes, I still had a few grenades, but I couldn’t use them anywhere near the vehicle without endangering the occupants.

I pushed the button to lower my window and stuck the rifle through the opening.  The razorbacks were only 50 yards away from where I had come to a stop, an easy shot, but I needed to be spot on with my shooting if I wanted to put these things down.  Hunching forward, I pulled the rifle stock to my shoulder and looked through the scope.

Wishing for a heavier caliber, I aimed for a spot just behind the shoulder of one of the smaller hogs that had come to a stop.  Pulling the trigger in burst mode, I sent three rounds into the beast.  I was guessing at razorback anatomy, hoping to blow out his heart and lungs with the shot, but I’d never hunted wild hogs and had no idea if this was the best target location for a quick kill.

When the bullets struck, the animal squealed, snapping his head to the side to see what had just attacked him.  Not immediately seeing anything he started to snap at one of the other hogs, but his legs wobbled.  The wobble almost immediately became a buckle and a second later he fell to the ground and stopped moving.   I smiled to myself and targeted the razorback that came over to sniff his body.

Another pull of the trigger, another dead hog.  Two down, two to go, but the leader’s attention had switched to me and he stood facing my direction.  The other razorback was behind him, mostly shielded by his body and the front of the Mercedes.  I debated trying a head shot, but he was just so damn big I didn’t have a lot of confidence the 5.56 mm bullets would penetrate what had to be a skull as thick as armor plating.  He made my decision for me when he charged.

Shit!  I yanked the rifle back inside the SUV and stomped on the gas.  The Lexus surged forward and the razorback changed directions, angling for the driver’s side door, but despite his frightening speed I pulled safely away.  Watching in the mirror, I was dismayed to see him stop pursuing and return to the Mercedes.  Slowing, I turned the wheel to point the nose of the vehicle to the west and came to a stop.  The large hog was stationary on the far side of the sedan, the smaller one still circling.  Time to thin the herd a little more.

Switching the rifle to semi, or single shot mode, I targeted the smaller razorback and started putting rounds into him.  I was aiming for the same spot that had successfully brought the first two down.  My first shot broke his shoulder, the animal stumbling to a stop.  I followed up with two more quick shots to the same area and a moment later he slumped the rest of the way to the pavement.  Three down, but King Kong was still sheltering behind the car.

I waited patiently for a few minutes, but he wasn’t coming into view.  Was he smart enough to understand the danger of showing himself, or was he running on instinct?  I didn’t know, and at the moment didn’t care.  The day was wearing on and ominous clouds were building to the north and west.  I had no idea if that meant more tornados, but I wanted this over with so I could get back to my search.

Removing my foot from the brake, the Lexus idled forward.  I steered to the side, trying to gain a vantage point from which I could fire on the beast, but as the big SUV moved, so did he.  I stepped on the brake and cursed.  He had kept the car between us, moving when I moved.  OK, then.  What now?

I was only coming up with one idea, and I didn’t particularly like it.  Get out of the SUV and fight the damn thing on foot.  He was faster and stronger, but I was willing to bet I was more agile.  I was only a little over half his body weight and should be able to maneuver better than he could.  I hoped.  Turning the SUV so the passenger side was facing the razorback, I took a deep breath and opened my door.

The passenger window afforded me a clear view of his location, and I kept my eyes locked on that point as I stepped out and brought my rifle up.  Moving to the front of the Lexus I stopped, rifle trained on the sedan; ready to adjust depending on which side he came around.  I was 30 yards from the Mercedes, and from what I’d seen he could cover that distance in about two seconds.  What the hell was I doing?

We stood like that for close to five minutes, neither of us moving.  This didn’t bode well.  The hogs may be infected, and it certainly appeared the infection was driving them to find and kill humans, but it hadn’t taken over their minds the way it had people.  This razorback was exhibiting patience and cunning in abundance.  By now an infected human would have charged.  Well, maybe not the smart females, but that was different.  Or was it?

Mentally slapping myself, I dismissed all of these thoughts.  The last thing I needed to be doing right now was to get lost in thought and not be ready to react the instant he moved.  But he wasn’t budging.  I could hear him grunting occasionally, and he was making the same, odd popping noise the one I’d killed earlier had done.  It was going to come down to who was more patient.  Me or him.

With little doubt that I could outlast him, I risked a quick glance up at the sky.  The clouds were still gathering, black on the bottom and the sky actually looked green.  I’d never seen that before, and didn’t know what it meant, but doubted it was a good thing.  The weather might force my hand.  Push me into action.  I sure didn’t want to have to fight the razorback in a storm or after dark.  The conditions would heavily tip the scales in his favor if I waited too long.

I was so focused on the hog that I made a rookie mistake that nearly cost me my life.  I didn’t maintain awareness of the surrounding environment for other threats.  The charging female would have wrapped me up in a tackle if I hadn’t heard her feet on the asphalt and immediately moved forward toward the razorback.  If I had turned to see what the sound was, she would have taken me to the ground, but by moving forward I was partially protected by the SUV and she was only able to graze my shoulder with her hand.

She screamed as she flashed past me, scrabbling for traction to turn and press the attack.  At the same time the razorback squealed and charged around the back of the Mercedes.  Knowing I only had time to get one shot off before both of them were on me, I rolled the dice and put a round into the female’s leg.  The bullet shattered her knee, but she didn’t go down.  Dashing for the rear of the SUV I rounded the corner as she screamed, turning once I was safely behind the vehicle. 

The female was still screaming as she tried to hobble after me, then the razorback arrived.  With a blindingly fast movement he lowered his head when he reached the female, slashing upwards as he slammed into her body.  She was lifted into the air and flipped over his back, crashing to the road like a rag doll as he stopped and spun around to finish her off.

For a moment I was stunned into immobility at the amount of damage the hog had inflicted with that one slash.  Both tusks had pierced the female’s body at groin level, and the upward slash had completely eviscerated her.  She was torn open all the way to her neck, blood fountaining into the air from at least two severed arteries.

The razorback ran to the body, stopping and lowering his head to tear open her throat.  The shock wore off and I sighted on him, flipping the selector switch to burst.  I pulled the trigger, and kept pulling it until I had burned through a full magazine.  I think I pulled the trigger a couple of more times after the bolt locked open, but I’m not sure.  All I’m sure of is I wanted that damn, monstrous beast dead.

When I lowered my rifle and looked, the hog lay on top of the female’s head, body twitching as he died.  She was motionless, and infected or not, her body had been so thoroughly destroyed by his attack that she had not lived more than a few seconds.  I stood looking at them for a few, long moments, then shook myself back into motion.  First I loaded in a fresh magazine, then with rifle ready to go I stepped out from behind the Lexus and started moving toward the Mercedes.

I had only covered a few feet before the back door opened and another beast started running at me.  I damn near shot Dog when he first appeared, and barely had time to safe my rifle before he slammed into me and knocked me to the ground.  He stood on my chest and wouldn’t stop licking my face until I finally wrapped him in a bear hug and rolled him to the ground where I scratched his chest and pressed my face against his.  I was grinning like an idiot.

When Dog calmed down, a little, I was able to climb to my feet.  Rachel had been standing there, watching our reunion.  As soon as I stood she threw herself against me, arms around my neck.  Without so much as a thought, my arms went around her waist and pulled her tight to my body.  Our lips met and the kiss quickly became much more than a greeting between two friends.  It went on and on, only stopping when we had to come up for air. 

We held each other, Rachel leaning back slightly to get my face in focus.  She smiled a bright smile and laughed. 

“Miss me?”  She asked.

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Next: 14. 1