Despite Jack’s attempts to converse with Jared, he remained silent, looking around each bend and curve on the way up. His nervousness increased Jack’s uneasiness and he picked up speed.
Rounding the final bend that brought the hill to the observatory into view, Jared leaned forward as if this would help speed the truck. Jack couldn’t help chuckling about it, and unfortunately failed to avoid the strip tacks coming up. The tires instantly deflated.
Thump... thump... thump...
It almost sent them crashing into the hillside, with Jack fighting to keep the truck on the road. When it skidded to a halt, Jared jumped out first. Scarcely noticing the shredded tires with a glance, he raced up the hill to the observatory.
“Jared!” hollered Jack.
But the kid ignored him, and a moment later disappeared around a corner. Damn, he’s fast! Jack wanted to chase after him, but didn’t want to leave Brice alone either. In his experience, you didn’t go running into trouble, you let trouble come to you. And when it did, you were prepared. And something—or someone—was looking for trouble.
Whoever laid this damn strip definitely had thrown down the gauntlet.
For an older guy, Brice still moved well. He was up and over the side and stood next to Jack. They spotted the sprinting figure of Jared running in the direction of the setting sun. Despite being only about an eighth of a mile away from the observatory, neither man could sprint like Jared. The foolish kid had left his rifle in the car, and Jack spotted a few zombies up ahead. Jared paid them no attention, obviously focused on reaching the building’s main entrance. If the undead didn’t get to him, whoever had put out the tack strips was likely waiting nearby.
The two men almost didn’t hear the zombies creeping up from behind. Brice turned in time to shoot a tranquilizer into one. It did no good.
“Well, shit,” he said. “I should have known....”
Jack quickly handed him a spare pistol, and splat, splat splat. Goodbye zombies. More were coming, but from further down the road. They didn’t have time to get them all.
“Come on,” urged Jack.
“No, you go get Jared,” he said. “I’ll hurry as fast as I can. I can hold these fuckers off.”
Jack had little choice but to trust him. He threw him a rifle, grabbed the other and prayed Brice would survive.
Jack ran for the building. Brice followed as quickly as his arthritic bones would let him. Jared had reached the door and banged frantically. Only then did he seem to notice the zombies within close proximity. Jack was too far away to shoot accurately without stopping to aim. And he didn’t want to stop. Not yet.
At thirty yards he had to take a shot, for the zombies were almost upon Jared. Jack dropped to his knee. Waiting this long endangered Jared, since he could hit Jared just as easily as his assailants. Jack’s hands shook, while seconds of safety melted away. It was now or never.
Jack took aim and fired and three of the bastards fell. He pulled the trigger again. Click. No more bullets. Son of a bitch. He’d left the box Carla gave him in the truck.
Jared banged on the door harder.
Where the hell was everyone?
“Jared, run!” shouted Jack. Jared turned to him, and Jack waved his rifle in the air. “Move out of the way!”
Jared ducked in time to avoid the outstretched hands of what had once been a young man—a kid who was now a night walker desiring human flesh. Jared juked another, and sprinted back down the steps and toward the others. They pursued him, but he eluded them with his speed. Jack had a few bullets left in his pistol, but not enough for all of them.
When Jared finally reached him, Brice was also hurrying to catch up. Still another forty yards away, the zombies pursuing him were falling further behind. They trudged up the road, and hadn’t reached the truck yet.
“I need bullets,” said Jack.
“They’re still in the truck?” Jared said, catching on. Shit!”
“You think you can beat them to the truck?”
“I’ll have to,” said Jared, before either man could stop him.
But Jared’s speed allowed him to beat the slow-moving monsters. Although, when he reached the truck, he had to jump inside and roll up the windows.
“Shit, now what’s he going to do?” Jack lamented to Brice. Meanwhile, two dozen zombies closed in on the pair from all directions. Between the two of them, seven bullets wouldn’t save them.
But Jared did what the others should have done in the first place. He started the engine and drove through the zombies, flat tires and all. Jack and Brice jumped onto the bed of the passing truck, and Jared shoved the box of bullets through the back window. Brice and Jack loaded as quickly as they could, and started firing.
It was over in under a minute. Only in the silence that followed did they hear something else—
Banging, from somewhere. Followed by something else. Muffled sobbing. Coming from nearby.
“What the hell is that?” worried Jack.
“I don’t know,” said Brice, pointing to the public restroom. “It’s coming from over there.”
“You think it’s one of them?” asked Jack.
“No, the woman doesn’t sound crazy. She sounds scared... maybe hurt.”
“Shit!” hissed Jack. His heart felt like it would come up through his throat. Was it Carla? He couldn’t be sure. “C’mon,” he said, jumping out of the truck bed and running to the restroom.
“Wait!” Jared call to them, once Brice joined Jack. “We have to make sure Anna is safe!”
Anna was indeed top priority. But someone had obviously done some serious planning here; the strip tacks, whoever was held in the restroom, and the pounding on the door to the observatory. Another muffled voice resounded from inside the restroom, this time a man’s.
“I’d swear that’s Mike,” Jack advised.
“Who cares?” Jared replied angrily, and then caught himself. “I didn’t mean it like that. But we know they’re likely not in danger of dying immediately. Right? But we don’t know about Anna.”
“Which is why we have to be smart,” said Jack.
“I’ve had a feeling all day....” Jared’s voice cracked and he slammed his palms against the steering wheel. “And you didn’t listen. Something’s seriously wrong, Jack It feels like a setup.”
“All the more reason to be cautious... maybe Mike can tell us what’s going on.”
“You’re wasting time!” Jared jumped out of the cab, shaking his fist at Jack.