Rachel tried the key a second time, but there was no response from the starter no matter how hard she turned it. Turning the ignition back to the off position, she pulled the key out and reversed it, reinserted and turned. Still nothing. The dash wasn’t even lighting up. She sat back in the seat and stared at the gauges, finally pounding the steering wheel in frustration.
She didn’t know what to do. Getting out and opening the hood wouldn’t help her unless there was something incredibly obvious that was causing the problem. Something as obvious as a part dangling in front of her face with a flashing sign hanging from it saying “I’m causing all the problems.”
“Shit!” She muttered under her breath, leaned down and pulled the hood release lever.
The hood popped up a couple of inches and she climbed down, Dog hopping out behind her to see what was going on. Rachel lifted the hood and peered into the dirty engine compartment. Never one to care about cars, other than as transportation that was supposed to work when you needed it, she had no idea what to check.
She knew that cars needed electricity to start and run, and decided the best idea was to check every wire she could find. The Bronco had been working just fine, so she suspected something had simply vibrated loose. If she could just find the right wire, she felt confident she could reconnect it and fix the truck.
Rachel spent twenty minutes identifying and tracing wiring. But every wire she found appeared to be solidly connected, or disappeared into a piece of the engine that she had no idea what function it performed. She gave it another ten minutes, then decided to try the ignition again. Not bothering to climb back behind the wheel, she reached in and turned the key. The vehicle was still completely dead.
Slamming the door, she turned and surveyed her surroundings. There was some heavy construction equipment that had apparently been used to dig the trench that had saved her from the tornado, and the same vehicles she had checked earlier when she found the Bronco were still sitting where they had been. The only possibility was the Mercedes. It hadn’t had keys in the ignition when she’d checked it, but maybe they were somewhere inside the vehicle.
Walking over, she opened the door and started searching. Looked under the seats, in the center console, the glove compartment, pockets molded into the doors. She didn’t find them. Frustration growing, she slammed the door and kicked it, leaving a large dent.
Looking around again she thought about trying to get one of the pieces of construction equipment started and use it to drag the truck out of the ditch. Once she got it back to ground level it wouldn’t be difficult to get Jackson’s body out of the cab, and she knew the keys were still in the ignition. Then she remembered that the truck was sitting in several feet of water, and even if she could manage to get it out of the ditch it was most likely damaged beyond repair.
Frustration was starting to become despair when Dog bumped her with his muzzle and growled. Adrenaline surged and she looked in the direction his nose was pointed, but didn’t see anything. Regardless, she wasn’t about to discount his warning. If he was seeing or smelling something he didn’t like, she was instantly ready to trust him.
Not knowing what to do, but certain that standing out in the open was a bad idea, Rachel hoisted her pack onto her shoulder and ran for the flooded field where she’d hidden from the car that had passed earlier. Dog ran next to her, and in less than a minute they were back on the muddy slope of the field. Rachel lay on her stomach, only the top of her head visible above the edge as she watched the road.
She watched for a long time, but nothing appeared. A check of Dog kept her on edge as he was still on high alert, eyes glued to the east. Finally, after what she estimated was another five minutes, Rachel saw several figures materialize on the horizon. At first they were too far away, but after another five minutes she could tell they were approaching.
Another five minutes went by, the figures continuing to draw closer. They didn’t seem to be in any hurry as they calmly walked down the middle of the westbound lanes of the Interstate. Another couple of minutes and she could tell it was four men. A minute after that and she could make out the barrels of their rifles pointing skyward from where they were slung across the men’s shoulders.
Rachel would have liked to trust them. To run out and meet them and ask for their help. But there wasn’t anything she could think of that would make her trust a man that was a stranger. Not after all that she had seen and what had happened to her. When they were still about two hundred yards away from the abandoned Bronco, Dog growled again.
Turning to look in the new direction, Rachel caught her breath when she saw two large animals moving across the muddy field directly to the east of her. She didn’t know what they were, but they were big, and they were moving fast. Their destination was the small group of men, and they were approaching at an angle, behind them. None of the men had seen them yet.
The animals had heavy front shoulders and big heads. Even from a distance, Rachel could see the gleam of white tusks or fangs protruding from their mouths. She couldn’t be certain, but each of them looked to be easily twice the size of Dog, maybe even larger than that. Fear coursed through her as she watched the beasts swiftly close on the unsuspecting men. They were terrifyingly fast, covering ground at a ferocious rate. Frozen in place, Rachel could only watch the attack unfold.
One of the men walking at the back of the group finally heard something and looked over his shoulder. For a second he froze in place, gawking, then he shouted and started to turn and pull his rifle off his shoulder. He never completed the turn, the lead beast charging in with head lowered. Reaching the man, it slammed into his legs and using its powerful neck, slashed upward into his body.
The man screamed as he was torn open from groin to chest, then the razor sharp tusks hooked on bone and he was lifted into the air and tossed over the animal’s back. The second beast, running a few steps behind the leader, attacked and stomped on him with heavy hooves while slicing open his throat.
When the first man had shouted the other three had reacted slowly, looking to see what the commotion was before bothering to unsling their rifles. The first animal to arrive still had momentum on his side and slammed into another of the group, tearing into his body. Blood jetted from severed arteries and the animal squealed as it attacked. Rachel was stunned and terrified to her core by the speed with which two grown men had just been torn open and killed.
By now the two surviving men had their rifles up and started shooting. The reports from the weapons were deep and loud and Rachel could tell they were firing a much heavier bullet than she had in her rifle. Even with the heavier caliber hunting rifles, neither of the animals went down easily. From her vantage point, Rachel didn’t think they went down until they were shot in the head.
Both animals on the ground, the men slowly advanced on them, rifles aimed and ready to fire if either one twitched. After a quick check, one of them slung his rifle and pulled a large revolver. He fired a shot into each of the brutish heads from only a couple of feet away. Rachel wanted to cheer his actions. She did not want to see either of these things get up again.
The two survivors checked on their friends, who were both apparently already dead. The men just stood and stared at the bodies. Rachel could tell they were talking to each other, but they were too far away for her to hear anything that was said. After several minutes, they pulled packs off the bodies and began rummaging through them, taking several items which were then stowed in their packs.
Ready to proceed, they took the time to raise their scoped rifles and start scanning their surroundings. Rachel ducked below the lip of the berm she was lying on, making sure Dog was also hidden from their line of sight. She gave them plenty of time to check the area before carefully sticking her head back up.
They had finished their scan and were just walking up to the Bronco. Where before they had been walking casually, rifles slung, they now moved with their weapons in their hands. Both were constantly checking their surroundings, frequently looking behind to make sure there were no more surprise attacks.
“Let’s check that one.” She clearly heard one of them say as he gestured at the Mercedes.
They walked over and while one stood guard the other opened the door. After checking the ignition he searched the vehicle for the keys, but didn’t have any more success than Rachel. Except for the Bronco, all the other vehicles in the area were obviously disabled. Rachel had left the hood up, but that didn’t deter them from checking.
Again, one stood guard as the other opened the door and leaned inside the vehicle. Rachel could see him reach in and by the way his arm moved knew that he had turned the ignition. He didn’t have any better luck. Stepping around the open door he moved to the front and peered under the hood.
“What the fuck was that, Mike?” The man on watch said. The near panic in his voice was clear to Rachel.
“Don’t know, man. Never heard of a razorback attacking like that for no reason.” Mike reached deep into the engine compartment and grunted as he applied force to something. A minute later he straightened up and wiped his hands on grubby jeans.
Rachel had lived in the southeastern United States all her life, and while she’d never seen one before, she knew what a razorback was. Her dad had hunted them when she was a little girl, and she remembered stories about how dangerous they were when cornered. How they could tear open the dogs used to hunt them with just a single slash of their tusks. She shuddered and looked around to make sure there weren’t any racing up on her, even though she knew Dog would warn her long before she could detect them.
The sound of a starter followed by the rumble of a big engine snapped Rachel’s head back to the front. Son of a bitch! It had taken him all of a minute to find the problem and fix it, and her transportation was about to drive away without her. Did she approach them and ask for a ride? Was that less of a risk than being stranded out here with murderous razorbacks running around? She couldn’t decide.
They looked OK. Looked like nothing more than survivors that were trying to make it to the safety of the west. Everyone couldn’t be just looking to hurt their fellow survivors. Could they? Rachel lay watching them, and her indecision became her choice as they got into the Bronco and drove off to the west without even knowing she was there. Dog looked back to the east and growled deep in his chest.