Book: Precipice

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After thinking about the situation for a few minutes I decided we weren’t going to move again until after dark.  Making room in the barn, I pulled the Jeep inside to hide it from any eyes that might fly over.  Rachel and Dog settled at the base of one of the trees, Katie and I at another as I kept an eye to the west.

It wasn’t long before I saw the first transport aircraft descend for landing, shortly followed by several more.

“Russian?”  Katie asked, having seen them when I pointed them out to her.

“Yep.  Can’t remember the designation, but those aren’t C-130s.”  I said, checking the phone’s signal again.

“You think they’re jamming?”  She asked, noticing me look at the handset for about the hundredth time.

“That’s what I would do if I had the resources available.  They’ve probably got their version of an AWACS orbiting at 30,000 feet, controlling the airlift and coordinating an aerial search.”

I turned my head slightly when I heard the faint sound of jet engines.  Listening for a moment I looked at the northern horizon.  I could just make out a tiny, black speck transiting from east to west.  Almost assuredly a Russian aircraft looking for me.

“Your boyfriend surely fucked things up,” I mumbled.

Katie didn’t say anything and after a few moments I glanced at her and from the expression on her face I knew I’d hit a nerve.

“Sorry,” I said, reaching over and taking her hand.  “I didn’t mean that the way it came out.”

She squeezed my hand in hers but didn’t look at me or say anything.  Shit, John.  Sometimes you can really be an insensitive ass.

“So we’re just going to sit here until it gets dark?”  Katie asked several minutes later.

“Unless you’ve got a better idea.  It’s wide open east of here and we’re going to stick out like a sore thumb if we start moving.”

“You think it will be better at night?  Their night vision is as good as ours and odds are they’ll be watching with thermal, too.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.  “But even with night vision and thermal, if they’re not looking directly at us they aren’t very likely to notice us.  At least not as likely as if we’re moving in broad daylight.”

She nodded but kept whatever else she was thinking to herself.  We both looked to our left at Rachel when she tossed a handful of pebbles at us.  Dog was sitting up, ears at full mast, looking north into a field.  I didn’t see anything, but wasn’t about to ignore him.

Standing slowly, I scanned with my eyes, spotting five figures moving through the rows of green produce about two hundred yards away.  Raising my rifle, I checked through the scope and confirmed they were infected.  Three males and two females.  They didn’t seem to have spotted us as they were moving due east, heading for all the noise that the Russians were making in town.

Slowly scanning behind them to the west I saw several more groups.  They were all out in the field, far enough away to bypass us, but I had a bad feeling and turned to check behind us.  Over a hundred infected were spread across the horizon, on course to pass directly through the area where we were sitting.  It was an even mix of males and females and it was just dumb luck that the females hadn’t spotted us yet.

“In the barn,” I hissed, keeping my rifle up and aimed at the approaching danger.

Katie and Rachel scrambled to their feet and dashed inside the big building, Dog breaking into a limping trot to keep up with them.  I turned a quick circle, scanning with the rifle, then followed them and pulled the large door closed behind me.  There was a simple block of wood nailed to the frame that could be rotated to prevent the door from opening and I slapped it into place.

“How many?”  Rachel asked breathlessly.

“Too many,” I said quietly.  “No noise.  Don’t think they saw us so maybe they’ll just pass on by.”

We stood in the near darkness, barely breathing, and it wasn’t long before the sound of feet scraping on dirt could be heard through the gaps in the weathered siding of the old building.  I snapped around when an impact against the back wall sounded, relaxing slightly when a sliding, bumping sound began moving along the perimeter.  A male had walked right into the barn and was feeling his way around the obstacle.

The sounds of the small herd continued for several minutes and I realized there were more of them than I had initially thought.  Lowering my rifle to hang on its sling I stepped to the door and pressed my eye to a gap between two boards.  Fuck me, I didn’t like what I saw.

Three females were squatted over the spot where Rachel had been sitting.  They were sniffing the base of the tree and the ground around it.  Well that’s a new one.  The first time I’d encountered an infected back in Atlanta I’d suspected they were hunting by smell, and had seen them test the air with their noses, but this was the first time I’d seen them get right down to the ground and scent like a dog.

One of them brushed the ground with her hand, turning her head and examining the faint tracks Rachel’s boots had left in the dirt.  Her gaze turned to the barn and she stood and began stalking towards us, the other two standing and following.  I moved away from the door and waved Katie and Rachel back before raising my rifle.

I stopped at the side of the Jeep, the girls taking up station at the bumper with Dog between them.  He growled softly and I heard one of them gently shush him.  It was quiet for a moment, then came the sound of the females sniffing the air right on the other side of the door.  This went on for close to a minute, then the left hand door banged as one of them pushed on it.

More sniffing, then both doors began bouncing against their stops as the females pushed on them.  Signaling to Katie and Rachel, I told them to get the Jeep’s doors open and Dog loaded.  I didn’t have a lot of faith that the old barn doors would hold long if the females made a concerted effort to gain entry, and I wanted us to be able to make a quick escape if necessary.  I’d rather take my chances with being spotted by a Russian aircraft than be trapped in the barn as infected flowed in.

But I had forgotten something.  The keys were still hanging from the ignition, exactly where I’d left them when I pulled the vehicle inside earlier.  When Katie opened the driver’s door a reminder alert began chiming, loud in the stillness of the barn.  There was a moment of quiet from the far side as the females listened, then screams erupted as they began tearing at the door.

I stepped away from the Jeep and made a guess at where they were standing.  Hoping for some luck I began firing blindly through the wooden doors.  If I didn’t shut these bitches up very fast they’d attract the rest of the herd.  There wouldn’t be a need to worry about the Russians spotting us driving down the road if that happened.  All they’d have to do would be investigate what had the attention of a whole bunch of infected.

The first magazine emptied in a hurry.  I wasn’t firing aimed shots, I was just intent on putting out a lot of lead as fast as I could.  Rarely is that a good idea with a rifle, but there are times when quantity of metal downrange is your friend.  As I changed mags, Katie and Rachel both opened up and between the three of us the doors quickly started disintegrating.

We all three ran dry at the same time and I told them to hold fire after they changed their magazines.  The screaming and banging on the doors had stopped.  Stepping cautiously, I moved forward until I could see through one of the gaps that had been blasted in the wood.

All three females were down, their bodies riddled with bullet holes.  None of them had died from a head shot, but I didn’t care.  As long as they were down.

Standing there looking at the corpses I nearly lost half my face when an arm suddenly snaked through the opening, a ragged nailed hand slashing at me.  Jerking back, I stumbled as I tried to raise my rifle.  Katie stepped past me, shoved the muzzle of her suppressor through the hole and pulled the trigger as the female began screaming.

The rifle spat out three rounds and silenced the scream, but by now there had been enough noise and activity to draw the attention of the rest of the herd.  There were more screams from either side of the barn, some sounding very close and others more distant.

“Let’s go,” I said, heading for the open driver’s door.

Rachel gave Dog a boost and he made it on to the back seat with her right behind him.  Katie dove in the driver’s side door and scrambled across to the passenger seat and I jumped behind the wheel and slammed the door behind me.  Turning the key, I glanced up in the mirror and saw both barn doors bouncing in and out as more bodies slammed into them.  They wouldn’t hold long under the assault.

Engine running, I shifted into reverse and held my foot on the brake.  My attention was focused on the mirror, watching as the aged and warped wood weakened by the second.

“What are you waiting for?”  Katie tried to sound calm but I could hear the stress in her voice.

“The doors,” I said.  “If they break them open there’s less chance we’ll damage the Jeep.  I don’t want to ram through if I don’t have to.”

Katie nodded, but I could tell she would be happier if I just hit the throttle and got us the hell out of there.  She sat turned sideways in her seat, staring out the rear window.  In the mirror I could see Rachel and Dog also looking out the back as I watched the gap between the two doors grow larger by the second.

Finally, there was a loud crack of overstressed wood and one of the doors flew open.  A solid mass of bodies immediately began flowing through the opening, heading for the sound of the idling Jeep.  This was what I’d been waiting for and as soon as I saw daylight I floored the throttle.

The engine roared and the Jeep shot backwards.  The large rack that held spare fuel cans, a tall jack and the spare tire plowed into the charging infected, smashing them out of the way.  I stayed on the throttle, plowing through, ignoring the bumps as we bounced over the bodies of the ones who had been unfortunate enough to be knocked under our tires instead of to the side.

In seconds we were clear of the barn and I cut the wheel and hit the brakes.  Shifting into drive I steered around a pair of stumbling males, flinching away from the side window as a female leapt onto the running board and grabbed the outside mirror.  I ignored her for the moment, bouncing over more bodies and onto the pavement.

Our female passenger was screaming and pounding on the window with one hand while she gripped the mirror with the other.  Clear of the herd and up to fifty miles an hour, I told Katie to take the wheel.  She grabbed it with her left hand and I drew my pistol and stabbed the button to roll down the window.

As the glass began descending I stuck the muzzle of the weapon through the opening and pulled the trigger when it was just inches from her face.  Her head snapped back from the impact of the bullet then she fell free to tumble along the asphalt.

“Everyone good?”  I asked.  I was shouting because my ears were ringing from the crash of the pistol in the enclosed vehicle.

Rachel and Katie both confirmed they were fine, Rachel wrapping an arm around Dog’s neck and gently rubbing his chest.

“We’re out in the open,” Katie observed quietly.

“I know,” I said.  “Keep your fingers crossed that the Russians are bored and not paying attention.

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