The UPS Kid

Posted: June 27, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
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Tate drove for nearly an hour before she could find a place to stop the rig after leaving the horrors of bloodied horde. She parked on an overpass with a clear view of the road ahead and behind. She imagined the steep incline on either side of the road would give her plenty of time to jump back in the truck and escape any wandering infected.

She climbed out of the rig and down to the road. She walked to the side of the asphalt and squatted in the dirt. Once the pressure of her bladder was relieved, she buttoned her pants and walked away from the stench of the infected clinging to the rig. She pulled her cell from the truck and tried to call her mother, then her sister. As before, all the circuits were busy. She didn’t have a number for her cousin, Randy, but had directions from State Road 180 and Pine Canyon Drive north of Van Horn.

She paced back and forth wondering what to do next. She had food and water for several days and nearly a full tank of gas. But where should she go? The radio still advertised refugee camps north of Austin, Waco, Wichita Falls and Navasota. Where would her family go? Would they know to go to Randy’s? Or would they be bussed to one of the refugee centers?

Tate climbed back in the truck and opened the navigation screen. She expanded the screen view until she figured out she was approximately sixty miles southwest of San Antonio. Houston was evacuated. No point in trying to go east. She had told Charlie she’d be going to stay with Randy. In the end, that was her decision.

The last time she had seen him, Randy had acted really strange. He was talking about the end of the world. When his mother passed away, he sold the family home and everything in it. He had moved to land that backed up against the Guadalupe National Part and moved into a cabin. She didn’t even know if it had running water. The closest town was Van Horn a town of two thousand people. Van Horn would be lucky to have a Quick Stop and a liquor store. She was four hundred miles from the little wide spot in the road and normally, that would be only an eight or nine-hour drive. Now, all bets were off.

She picked up Charlie’s state map and looked at the warren of side roads that got fewer as the further west she looked. She figured the major roads were probably choked with traffic and the infected. The narrow asphalt road she was on seemed clear enough for now. She could travel from one blacktop to the next always heading north and west until she got to Van Horn. From there she could drive straight north to find Randy’s place or she at least hoped she could.

As she pondered her situation, she climbed back out of her truck and walked around the front. She cringed at what she saw. Remnants of human bodies were wedged into the grill and brush guard at odd angles. She walked back to the tool box and pulled an old pair of gloves on. She spent the next ten minutes pulling limbs from the gap between the guard and the front grill and from around the bumper. She wished she had the water to wash away the remaining blood and gore, but she didn’t. If she found a stream she’d use a towel and try to clean it better.

Satisfied she had done all she could to eliminate the smell clinging to the truck, Tate got back in the cab and pulled the basket of cold chicken and biscuits from the back of the cab. She picked up a wing and tore off a mouthful of cold meat. She chewed while she studied the road ahead. She saw rolling hills and granite outcroppings in the distance.

She would be driving through limestone and granite formations with massive boulders and a thin layer of topsoil that could only support: yucca, prickly pear cactus, cedar scrub, and Texas live oak. Several tributaries of the Colorado River including the Llano and Pedernales rivers crossed the region. The area also included a number of caverns; the deeper of which formed aquifers which served as a source of water for the region.

Tate tossed a bone outside and opened a gallon of water. After a long drink of tepid water, she capped the bottle and cranked the big rig engine. She clutched and shifted until she was doing a sedate forty-five miles per hour on the narrow blacktop road.

She turned on the radio and after a few minutes only found one station still transmitting and it was repeating evacuation instructions. Nothing seemed to be broadcasting active reports. She leaned over and turned down the radio and turned on the CB radio.

At first, all she heard was static. She made sure she was on channel 19 and adjusted the squelch. The static began to clear and a faint voice called out.

“Infected blocking….”

“out of fuel…crushed.”

“fucker bit my leg. Gonna run over as many of the bastards as I can before I turn….”

“Breaker 1-9 for a 10-33, breaker 1-9 for a 10-33…”

“Go ahead 1-9” A deep male voice answered. Tate leaned closer to the receiver. The voice pulled at a memory. It sounded familiar.

“Emergency one mile west of intersection 16 & FM 46. There’s a kid on top of a UPS truck. Got eyes on him, but I can’t help him. He’s trapped by a dozen or so infected. ”

“I wish I could help.” The deep voice responded. “I’m out of commission, man. Sorry.”

Tate waited for someone to jump in, but there was only silence. Finally, she picked up the mic. “Breaker 1-9. I’m 10-51. Three minutes east of FM 46 location.”

“Who is that? Tate?” The deep voice called back through the speaker.

“10-4. Is that you, Doyle?” Tate asked with a hint of excitement in her voice. Someone she knew?

The deep voice laughed. “Yep. I’ll be damned. Little girl, you take care picking up the kid.”

“I’ll get back with you when I have the kid. You gonna be around?”

“Got no choice. I’m out of fuel just outside Bandera Falls.”

“Maybe I can help with that situation when I’m 99.”

“3s and 8s, Tate.”

Tate left the CB turned on, but laid down the mic. She had just passed state road 46 and knew she was getting close. Up ahead, she saw dozens of vehicles scattered across the road in a traffic jam. In the middle was a brown panel truck. She downshifted and slowed the rig.

She studied the collection of vehicles around the panel truck. The infected milled around the truck staring up at a figure sitting cross-legged on top of the panel truck. The kid was rocking back and forth with one arm stuck out and the other strumming air.

“Dipshit’s playing an air guitar,” Tate mumbled. She picked up the mic. “Not sure this dipshit is worth saving. He’s sitting on the van roof playing an air guitar while a dozen infected look up at him like he’s a big Mac.”

Doyle came back. “10-9. Come back?”

“Never mind,” Tate answered. “I see the kid. Give me a few. If I don’t get back to you in half an hour send in the Rangers.”

Tate dropped the mic. She studied the trail of vehicles leading up to the panel truck. Left of the red car, right yellow, between the white and black, around the blue to the right. Tate grinned to herself. Then pull alongside close enough for him to climb in the window. And mow down any infected that get in my way. It ought to work since it looks like someone else cut a path through the vehicles before I got here.

She stomped the clutch and shifted as the truck gained speed. Tate blew the air horn. The kid looked up as the rig rolled toward the collection of vehicles ahead. He pulled white earphones from his ears and waved his arms above his head and jumped to his feet. He began jumping up and down, his arms flailing and obviously shouting. The infected grew even more agitated. They were frantic to get to him. Tate blew the horn twice more and he stopped dancing around to watch her approach.

The Orange Bitch rolled down the hill and clipped the back fender of the first vehicle, a red hatchback with a flat tire. The little car skittered out of the way just in time for the truck to smash into a yellow Camaro and ripped the back quarter panel off as if peeling an onion.

Tate threaded the Bitch between a white sedan and a black SUV then rolled over half a dozen infected that had turned and made their way toward the truck.

She down-shifted, easing the truck into the back of a blue sedan sitting next to the panel truck. She used the guard to push it to the edge of the road and out of the way. Tate stepped on the break and came to a stop. She shifted into reverse. The engine whined as she backed up to stop next to the panel truck. Tate pushed the button to lower the window a few inches.

The kid grinned. “That was way cool. Shit, you’re a woman.”

“No shit, Sherlock. Are you bit?”

“No. Hell no. Been sitting on that truck since last night.” The kid answered. “You jacked my car, back there. The red one.”

“Get in. I got another dumbass to rescue.” Tate ordered as she opened the window all the way.

The kid slid to the edge of the panel truck and eased down until his feet landed on the open window. He stood there for a full minute shuffling his feet and trying to figure out how to get into the cab.

Finally, Tate called out. “For Christ sake, grab onto the mirror, slide down on your ass and get in here.”

With a little maneuvering, he did what he was told then flopped into the passenger seat with a sigh of relief.

Tate raised the window to block out the moans and stench of the infected. “Okay, what’s your story? How did you end up on the truck?”

“I tried to go around this mess last night. I ran over something and got hung up and my tire went flat. Before I could get away, the creeps showed up. Actually, I think they were already here. I just didn’t see them.”

Tate shifted into first and the rig began to move forward. She stepped on the clutch and shifted again. She maneuvered around a pickup and a sedan, then around the back end of a panel truck. She shifted again and clipped a caddie, taking out the tail light on the driver’s side. After clipping a green van and brown sedan, they were through the maze.

Tate stopped the truck and watched the three remaining infected continue stumbling after them. She opened the door, pulled her handgun from the holster and raised the site to the closest monster. She took a breath and fired. The first infected, a woman, still wearing green scrubs, fell to the ground. After two more shots, a teenage boy with black hair and an old man in dress pants and blood-stained white shirt lay on the asphalt.

She holstered her gun and turned back to the kid. “What’s your name?” Tate asked.

“Ben. Ben Lawson. Hey, you mind if I plug in my iPod. The thing is almost dead.” Barely taking a breath, he continued. “Is this your truck? What’s your name? I’ve never seen a woman drive a truck like this. It’s sure got cool seats.” He slid his butt around on the leather seat. “Smells like chicken in here. You got food and some water to spare. I haven’t had anything to eat in two days. I was scared to stop and get….”

“Christ!” Tate interrupted. “You keep talking and I’ll take you back and put you back on that truck.”

“Sorry.” Ben looked longingly at the charging port.

“Yes, you can plug in your iPod. It’s my truck and my name is Tate Hamilton. That’s drinking water in the jug at your feet. Don’t backwash. The food is in the basket behind the seat. Help yourself.”

Tate got the rig moving again, slowed as she neared the intersection with a sign pointing toward the south. Bandera Falls was less than three miles. She turned up the volume on the CB and picked up the mic. “Doyle, you still out there?”

“Sure am little girl. Did you collect the kid?”

Tate laughed as she looked over to see Ben wolfing down his second piece of chicken and third biscuit. “Yeah. I got him, but I don’t know how long I can keep him, he’s eating me out of house and home.”

A voice interrupted. “You got him? Thank you. You don’t have to keep him. He’s my nephew.”

“Uncle Phil?” Ben asked.

“Yeah, kid. I saw you and couldn’t do a damned thing about it.” Phil answered.

To Tate’s look of confusion, Ben clarified. “Uncle Phil lives on the hilltop not far from Bandera Falls. He’s in a wheel chair. I was headed there.”

Tate held up her hand. “Okay. I’ll see you get there, but not until I lend a hand to a friend of mine.” She clicked on the mic. “Doyle, I’m 10-51. Where exactly are you?”

“If you’ve turned toward Bandera Falls you’ll see my truck two-point-four miles from the turnoff. Can’t miss my rig alongside the road.”

“Hang tight, Doyle. We’ll figure out something when I get there.”

Two minutes later Tate pulled up next to the red GMC rig Doyle had been driving the last time she saw him. She waved at Doyle and he stepped out of the cab with a beer in hand.

“Well scrawny girl, I never expected to see anyone I knew again,” Doyle commented.

Tate jumped from her cab and into Doyle’s arms. “It’s good to see you, you ol’ goat.”

Doyle laughed and set Tate back on her feet. “Interesting hair color. Is that in honor of the fucked up world or to match your truck?”

Tate shrugged. “Before the world got screwed. It was just a wild hair while I was in San Antonio.”

With a big smile he asked. “Well, kid, what now?”

“Let’s see if we can get you some diesel,” Tate answered. “Bandera Falls is close. Have you seen anyone?”

Doyle chuckled. “Nope. After what I saw in Taco Town, I was hoping someone would drive by this morning and give me some idea what’s going on around here. I haven’t seen anything since I barreled through that cluster-fuck back up the road.”

Ben jumped from the truck cab. “My uncle has diesel. I’m sure he’ll help you.”

“Well, let’s head there, then.” Doyle laughed. “Sooner I get some fuel, the better. I don’t like leaving my rig on the road.”

“Let’s get going,” Tate answered.

The trio got back in the truck with Ben still chattering.

“When I was a kid, we used to come up to the cabin and Uncle Phil had all these neat toys for the kids….”

“Stop!” Tate raised her hand. “All I want to hear out of you is how to get to your uncle’s place.”

Sitting on the edge of the sleeper mattress, a little more subdued, Ben guided them down the blacktop to a gravel road.

Tate turned on the gravel road and followed a narrow path as it wound around the perimeter of an uplifted outcropping at least half a mile in diameter. As they drove the last hundred yards the overhanging vegetation opened up to expose cleared grounds surrounding a fenced compound.

An eight-foot hurricane fence enclosed half a dozen buildings. Two of the buildings looked to be barns. One building was a metal shop with an open front and another was a multi-door garage with what looked like an apartment on the end. One of the last buildings was a two-story log house with a tower above the second floor.

Tate downshifted at the sight of the compound gate. When she got the rig stopped, she turned to Ben. “Well, where do we go from here?”

“I got this.” He jumped from the cab and walked to the keypad and entered a code. The gate began to roll back with the rattle of chain and wheels on a rail. Tate drove through and the gate began rolling back into place.

Ben jumped the cab step clinging to the mirror and window. He pointed toward the house where a man was rolling a wheelchair down a ramp. With the rig barely moving, Ben jumped to the ground and ran to the man in the chair.

Tate stopped and killed the engine. She and Doyle stepped to the ground and walked slowly toward the reunion.

Tate smiled when she saw the old man wipe tears from the corner of his eyes. The man had a broad chest and strong muscled arms despite the wheelchair. His gray hair was thick and had been slicked back exposing his weathered face and sparkling blue eyes. He showed no sign of decline despite the wheelchair.

“I’m glad we’re able to help,” Tate stated.

“He’s family.” The old man answered. “I can’t repay you two for this.”

Doyle chuckled. “Wasn’t me. She did it all by herself without any help from me.”

Ben grinned. “She’s kick ass, Uncle Phil. She killed all those creeps. She ran over ‘em then shot the ones that were left.”

Phil nodded. “I saw it.” He turned to Doyle and Tate. “Please, come inside so we can talk. I could use any information you folks can share.” He turned on the back wheels of the chair and led them inside.

Once in the house, Ben raided the fridge and brought out a bottle of soda and three bottles of water. “Where is the family, Uncle Phil? Without even waiting for an answer he headed for the back of the house. “Can I shower? I really stink. I still got some clothes upstairs, right? I’m so glad to be here, really, I am. I’ll be back in a minute. Okay? Well, later, folks.”

“Go on boy. Make it a quick shower.” Phil answered at Ben’s retreating back. “We’ll discuss the family later.”

Phil turned back to his guests. “You folks come from the city?” At Tate’s nod, he continued. “Can you tell me about it?”

Tate spent the next ten minutes telling Phil and Doyle what she had experienced. When she was done, Phil turned to Doyle.

“Where were you heading?”

Doyle laughed. “I didn’t really have a place in mind. My ex-wife was in Houston, but I really hadn’t thought about where I was heading to as much as what I was running away from.”

“I can relate….” Tate commented.

Phil leaned closer. “Where ARE you two planning on going when you leave here?”

Tate squared her shoulders. “I got family out west. They evacuated Houston so I’m hoping my mother and sister will end up at my cousin’s place at Pine Canyon.”

“What about you Doyle?” Phil asked.

Doyle cleared his throat. “Find diesel and get my truck.”

At Phil’s puzzled expression, Doyle explained how his rig ran out of gas on the highway heading into Bandera Falls and was still sitting there.

“No problem,” Phil stated. “I’ve got a tank of diesel out by the tool shed. You can fill a couple five-gallon cans to get back here to fill it up. It’s the least I can offer, after getting my nephew here. If you want, you’re welcome to spend the night.”

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