Stay Alive

Posted: June 18, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
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“Damnit, Liz!” Harry cursed as he stepped away from her. “That wasn’t a kid. The kid died when one of those monsters tore out his throat.”

John looked at her with real pain on his face. “You did him a favor. Trust me. If it happens to me, I’d want you to do the same thing. Blow my fucking brains out.”

Liz nodded. “I know, but I can’t help, but think of my girls. It’s making me crazy.”

Harry turned back to face her. “Your daughters are fine. They’re with three men that are better equipped to survive this than anyone else I know. Our job is to stay alive until we find them.”

After an impatient swipe at the tears streaking her face, she nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

They searched the back roads the entire afternoon and when it started to get dark they decided to spend the night in an abandoned gas station.  At first light they headed out again.  Despite Wandering the back roads they saw no trace of the Humvee. By mid-afternoon, they were exhausted and back on a two lane back-top stopped to discuss where to head next. They stood around drinking warm water and eating energy bars.

Harry commented.  “I think we’re ahead of them.  It’s the only explanation.”

“There hasn’t been any sign of the Humvee.” Liz answered. “Maybe….”

“Shush. I hear something.” John interrupted.

All three stood with their heads cocked to listen beyond the normal sounds of chirping crickets and birdsong.

“Motorcycles,” John commented. “At least a dozen heading this way. Coming fast.”

“John, give me your jacket,” Harry ordered as he handed Liz her helmet. “Keep the helmet on while we talk. Liz, tuck your hair inside the jacket. Don’t speak until we find out what we’re dealing with.”

Harry reached into one of the saddlebags and drew out a sleeveless denim vest with a Harley emblem on the back. He threw it to John. “Put this on.”

“What do you want my jacket for?” John asked as he peeled out of his leather. “It’s way too big for her.

“That’s the point.” Harry took it and gave it to Liz. “I don’t want anyone knowing she’s a woman.”

Liz twisted a band around her hair and set the helmet over her head. She slipped into the jacket and then settled behind Harry on the bike. They took off fast heading west on the narrow blacktop.

“We can’t turn and outrun them. Slow down and follow my lead.” Harry called out to John. “John, try to look tough. “ Within minutes, they caught their first sight of the gang racing toward them fast.

John turned back with a fake looking scowl on his face then burst out laughing. “Mean enough for yah?”

Harry scowled. “Man, get serious. This could be bad.”

Liz’s heart raced as the first biker on a custom Harley Davidson soft tail motioned for his fellow riders to spread out. The road ahead of them was blocked by a dozen and a half bikers. They all looked rough and mean.

Two of the bikers pulled up in front of John and Harry. They sat facing the Spyders gunning their engines letting the gang surround them. When there was no escape, they killed their engines.

Liz clutched at the front of Harry’s jacket. He gently eased her hands free of the leather.

“Hang tough, kid,” Harry whispered through the helmet mic. “Whatever happens, don’t speak.”

Liz loosened her grip and straightened up on the seat. She glanced around and counted a total of sixteen riders surrounding them.

They sat quietly, turning off their engines. The gang facing them suddenly began moving apart to let a single rider approach. The rider was a bear of a man with wild black hair barely controlled by a do-rag covering the top of his head. He pulled aviator glasses from his face and studied Harry, John.

Finally, he commented with a sardonic grin. “Hell of a good day for a ride.”

Harry pulled his helmet off and rested it on the gas tank in front of him. “If you don’t mind all the dead bodies walking around, I guess.”

“Right.” He made a loud guffawing sound. “No fucking joke. My name is Willie Ryder. Most people just call me Ryder. Where’d y’all come from?”

“East,” Harry answered. “You?”

“A lot of places,” Ryder answered. “Who you got riding with you on that tricycle?”

Harry’s face reddened by the remark. “My kid. He’s only fourteen. He saw his maw get her throat ripped out by the fuckin’ neighbor.” Harry continued. “I found him in a closet and he hasn’t spoken since.”

Ryder eased his bike up between John and Harry and slammed a fist into Liz’s shoulder. “Gonna have to man up, kid. It’s a rough world out here.” He ignored the flinch of pain and continued. “Where you headed?”

“Way the hell away from here,” Harry growled. “We got family in Montana.”

“You got supplies to go that far?” Ryder reached out and grabbed a bottle of water from the back of John’s bike.

John snorted a protest. Harry answered before it could cause offense. “Hey, not likely. Thought we would scrounge what we needed as we go. You lookin’ for supplies?”

Liz looked over her shoulder behind them. Several of the rough looking bikers had trailers attached to their machines. She raised her hand to Harry’s side. He pressed his arm against her hand in response.

Ryder pointed to the men with a wave. “Fuckers eat a lot. We can always use more supplies. You got anything to share?”

“We can’t carry much, but we passed a jack-knifed trailer outside of Boseman near a railroad overpass. It had pallets of food inside. We took a few things, but the trailer was loaded with stuff. I can tell you how to get there.”

Ryder laughed. “We aren’t real good with directions. I think maybe you need to take the time to lead us to the place.”

“Fuck no.” John blurted out.

“That wasn’t a request.” Ryder pulled a handgun from his waist and pointed it at Harry. “We need supplies, you know where they are. So to make sure you don’t try to double cross us, turn over your weapons.”

“Hey, man, no need for that. We’re glad to see you get stocked up then we’ll part ways. None of us will be the worse for the detour.” Harry answered with a forced grin.

Ryder held out his hand pointedly.

With half a dozen guns pointed at them they had no choice but to comply. Afraid they would search her if she didn’t produce a weapon; Liz pulled the pistol from her waist and handed it to a greasy little man with bad teeth.

“Turn around and let’s go,” Ryder ordered.

Harry made a quick nod and cranked his bike. In orderly chaos, all the riders cleared enough space for Harry and John to turn their bikes around and head back the way they had come.

With helmets back on and the roar of bikes to cover their voices, Harry spoke to John. “Hey, you have to take it easy, John. Don’t give these guys any shit or we’re dead.”

“Pricks!” John interjected.

“Yeah, but we have to deal with them. Liz, if we stop, keep away from the group and your head down. Keep the jacket on and the collar pulled up. You’re small enough to pass for a kid. Don’t speak if you can help it.”

Liz tapped his side to let him know she understood and whispered. “Got it.”

“When we get a couple miles down the road, John try to ease up on the gas. We’ll try to work our way to the back of the pack. I don’t want to be up front when they hit the pack of dead that was following those soldiers if they’re still hanging around the trailer.”

“Got it,” John answered.

Silent tears slid down Liz’s face as she imagined her girls being driven further and further away. They were losing a full day of travel going back to the trailer. Whatever prayer they had of finding the soldiers in the Humvee disappeared as the sun began to sink into the west.

Liz was exhausted by the time Ryder decided to check out a massive fueling station near an interstate intersection. He ordered three of his crew to keep an eye on their guests while the gang cleared the facility. They charged off amid the roar of bikes as if it were a two-wheeled rodeo. Whoops and hollers rose above the sound of the bikes and sporadic gunfire.

Liz was appalled as she whispered into the mic. “They like this?”

Harry shrugged. “Definitely, not the cream of society. We have to be careful, here.”

“We’re so fucked.” John chimed in.

The gunfire grew more sporadic then faded to silence. Ryder reappeared at the edge of the road. His gang stopped amid a volley of curses and laughter when he raised his arm to call a halt.

The biker closest to Harry nudged him in the ribs with a rifle. “Get moving, pops.” He nodded toward John. “You too, shithead.”

Harry and John cranked their machines and moved out with their escort on either side and behind. They accelerated up the ramp leading into the fueling station. The front riders flocked around the fueling islands, each taking turns at the pump. The escorts guided Harry and John to do the same. Once all the bikes were fueled up, they were escorted to the front of the novelty shop.

Harry made a wide turn and walked his three-wheeler bike next to John’s ride facing away from the building. When he cut the engine, he stepped off the machine and turned back to Liz, but she brushed away his hand. She climbed off the bike and stepped behind Harry. The escort guided them into the novelty shop and nudged them toward a bank of tables and benches at one end of the room.

Harry grabbed bags of jerky, cheese sticks and bottles of water as he walked by a display. They walked to the furthest table and Harry nodded to the bench facing away from the room. He guided Liz inside then fell in beside her. John slid into the seat facing the room.

“We’re lucky the electric service is still on,” John commented.

“Won’t be much longer,” Harry answered.

The men removed their helmets while Liz sat still without following suit. Harry nudged her with his elbow and she removed it. She made sure the collar of the jacket jutted up to near the top of her ears.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” She whispered.

John stood and whispered. “Let me check it out.”

He crossed to the hall with a sign overhead proclaiming the restrooms and was halted by one of Ryder’s men. The bearish sized man stood at the hall entrance his massive shoulders blocking the way.

“Where yah think you’re going, dickhead?”

John jabbed his thumb toward the sign. “Unless you’d rather I piss on your boots, no matter to me.” He made a show of going for the zipper of his pants and the guy stepped aside.

The man stomped away with a scowl on his face. “Get in, get done then get your ass back to the table.”

“Got it,” John answered with a wave. “No problem, big guy.”

When he got back to the table, he whispered. “Everyone is ignoring the family bathroom off to the right. You can walk down the hall and she can dodge in there. She can wait until you come out of the men’s then come out and both of you head back this way.”

“Might work,” Harry commented. “They’re all hitting the beer pretty hard.”

Harry stood and stepped aside facing the rowdy gathering. Liz slipped out of the seat and stepped behind Harry. He strode toward the restroom without looking back. He was not challenged at the hallway entrance so he strode forward without glancing at the gang members celebrating the cache of alcohol. When he got to the family restroom door, he hesitated while Liz stepped around him and slipped inside.

She pushed the door closed and activated the lock. She quickly used the toilet and then looked in the mirror over the sink. Her hair was a dead giveaway. She fished in her pockets until she found the Swiss Army knife she had been given by Harry at the bar. She pulled out the longest blade and checked the edge. It was surprisingly sharp.

Liz dropped the jacket and finger combed her hair around her face. She grabbed a handful of locks at the side of her face and slid the blade down the strands. A few seconds later, she was holding a handful of hair. She let it slip from her fingers into the toilet then repeated the procedure until she could finger comb the remains around her face. She worked at the back resulting in the ragged hair brushed at the top of her collar. She gave the front a last brush toward her face then closed the knife.

When she was finished, she used a damp paper towel to wipe what she could of hair that had slipped from her grasp and dropped it into the toilet. She glanced around one last time then flushed. With a push of the handle, the water rose and swirled as Liz watched her past disappear in the blast of water from the tank swirling into the bowl.

A gentle knock on the door interrupted her musing as the water washed away her life. She opened the door and saw Harry’s shoulder.

“Enough time?” Harry asked then his eyes opened a bit wider when he noticed her hair. “Oh?”

Liz slipped on the jacket. “Well?”

Harry winked. “I got a good lookin’ boy.” He chuckled. “Try to keep your head down, though. No telling how many perverts in this bunch.”

Liz chuckled softly. “No problem, dad.”

They made their way back to the table where John was now making sandwiches. He had a loaf of bread, lunch meat, mustard, mayo and bags of chips. He also had several bottles of drinks, everything from water to a collection of sodas.

Liz slipped in the booth and accepted the offered sandwich. It was all she could do to muffle a sigh. The bread was getting stale, but the thick globs of mayo and mustard made up for the dryness. She ate half of the sandwich and then drank a big gulp of water.

Around a mouthful of sandwich, she mumbled. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

Harry nodded as he reached for the makings of another sandwich. “It’s going to get ugly in here if they keep drinking.”

The party cranked up a notch in the novelty shop when two of the bikers started taking pot shots at the mounted deer heads on the walls amid the open rafters. One bullet took out the left eye of the mounted head. Both men laughed and jabbed at each other.

Ryder walked up behind the shooter and cracked him on the head with the butt of his handgun. The other man stepped away quick enough to miss the same assault. Ryder followed and slammed his fist into the man’s face breaking his nose. The man fell to the floor with blood spilling from his face.

“Stupid fucks.” Ryder turned away and crossed the dining room to within a few feet of Harry and John. “It’s hell having to control a bunch of stupid fucks.” He took a swig of beer. “Well, kid, are you getting enough to eat. Looks like you could use some meat on your bones.”

Liz kept her head tilted down and answered trying to lower her voice. “Yes, sir.” She cringed at the squeak at the end of her answer. She ducked her head even lower.

Ryder reached over and slapped Liz on the back. “God damn, kid. It’ll get better. Give it a year and you’ll sound like a man.” He tousled Liz’s hair then nudged Harry. “I can see why he don’t say much. Little shit sounds like a fucking pussy.” He walked away laughing.

Harry’s breath exploded from his mouth. “You okay?” He asked Liz.

She nodded as she gaged on the bite of sandwich. A tear slid down her face. She struggled with the bit of bread and meat, wallowing it around in her mouth until she took a long drink of water and swallowed.

Finally, Liz whispered. “Fucking asshole.”

By dark, Ryder had found the breaker box and turned off the electricity. He said it was to keep from attracting attention, but Harry figured it was to shut down the party. Strategically placed emergency lights left the interior of the building with dim light scattered throughout the building.

Ryder had his men duct tape posters and newspapers over the lower portions of the windows then upturned tables against the glass. Harry, Liz and John helped then settled at the table again.

Darkness shrouded the interior of the store when Ryder posted guards outside the building after securing the back door. Harry and John and Liz stayed at the table opting to stay as far away from the rest of the gang as possible.

Harry mused. We’re as secure as we can be inside of a building with a glass front.”

“That’s not saying much considering whom we’re in here with,” Liz answered.

Harry, John, and Liz moved to the back of the room tried to get comfortable at a table shoved up against the back wall. Liz folded her arms in front of her and leaned her head down. She could no longer fight the exhaustion. John propped his head on one hand and soon settled into slumber as well. Harry slid around to watch the gang members as they settled down for the night. A couple of the bikers settled on the carpet in the eatery with them.

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