I hopped off the bus, and took my last drag of smoke from the clip, tossing it to the ground and snuffing it out with my boot heel. I looked around, wondering what was taking us so long to leave, the sun was about to set and we needed to hit the road before night fall. It didn’t take a strategic mastermind, to know this position had been compromised.
I walked up to the group standing outside, and even without a head count, you could see it would be a cramped ride to wherever we were going. Their group came in a set of six, and introductions had already been made, after the initial tension was quashed. It was daunting to think of how the eleven of us, and a dog, would endure an extended stay upon the Betty.
The social dynamics were the least of our problems, as soon, our resources would be stressed exponentially, and we’d have to make three times as many pit stops, than initially planned.
Even so, These were mercenaries, and Caiden claimed they were the best of the best, only hired for high risk missions. The way he explained it, they were like a pack, all working in a tandem efficacy that was hard to match. Caiden was charting the route with the leader of the Merc team, I had assumed BloodHound was the man in charge, but once we met the one known as ‘Timber Wolf’ it was clear who the alpha of this little rag tag team of ruffians really was.
The ebony skin man stood a little over six feet, but his presence made him seem so much larger. He didn’t seem anymore tough or aggressive than the rest of them, and in my opinion, he seemed to be the most personable and agreeable of the bunch. He was handsome, hell they all were, but he stood out to me the most. Maybe it was the natural glow of his skin, or his smile, with it’s even row of glistening white teeth, framed by supple full lips.
I admonished myself for even thinking of him that way, especially with feelings of Hunter so fresh in my heart, and I was thankful my own chocolate complexion hid my flush of shame and embarrassment. Even now as I walked up to them, I had to will away a semi, and inconspicuously try to hide the hardness in my jeans.
“Hey guys, we’re losing light, don’t you think we should get a move on?” I interrupted, receiving an annoyed look from Bloodhound, who wisely kept his mouth shut. “You guys can finish charting a course as we ride out.”
“You’re right, we should have left thirty minutes ago.” Timber Wolf replied, as he flashed me one of those mega watt smiles, he turned to his second command. “Blood, round everybody up, we head out in three.”
“Yes sir, I’ll get right to it.” He started to leave but he turned back. “Have we decided on preservation of all the rations sir? I’ll start a count of our stockpiles, and see wh..”
“OUR stockpiles?” I asked, eyebrow raised, looking at the Hound like he’d lost his mind. “I didn’t see you guys bring anything aboard the Betty, you came with nothing but your weapons and your empty fucking bellies! How about you let me and my crew worry about OUR shit.”
“Loki please..” Caiden tried to interject, but Timber Wolf beat him to the punch.
“Loki, we accept humbly, any generosity you would bestow upon us. My team and I are grateful you’ve already taken on the burdens you have to help us.” He gave me a soft smile, and placed a tender hand to my shoulder. “If you prefer to keep our rations separate, we can do that, it’s not a problem.”
“I may be a bitch, but I’m not a fucking cold hearted bitch, I don’t mind sharing what we have with you and your group.” I told to him in all honesty, stuck for a moment in those cinnamon brown eyes, I pointed a thumb at the Hound. “I just don’t like this asshole, thinking he can dictate what to do with stuff he doesn’t own.”
“But sir..” Bloodhound started to say, but he was cut off by the Wolf.
“You have your orders.”
The hot headed Hispanic turned on his heel, and followed his instructions. I couldn’t help but notice how bubbly his ass was, as he walked away, and I knew there was no denying how rugged and handsome the man was. His voice was so smooth and sexy, he could have been a radio DJ, too bad he was such a dickhead. It made sense my cousin was so enthralled with him, Balthazar had an affinity for jackasses.
“I’ll speak to him, make sure he understands that we are guests in your house, and that comes with boundaries. He’s a good guy, as loyal as they come, you’ll warm up to him, I promise.” Timber said, giving my shoulder a pat, before he walked off.
“What was all that about?” Caiden asked me, as soon as the man was out of earshot.
“What, me and Bloodhound? If that bastard thinks he’s gonna run my shit..”
“No, no, no, I’m not talkin about that!” He interrupted, sounding frustrated. “I understand you protecting your territory.. I’m talking about all that eye fucking, you had going on with the Wolf!”
I quickly felt a flush of shame, I hadn’t realize how obvious I was, and if a straight guy like Caiden noticed, I must have looked like the thirstiest faggot left in the world. Hunter’s body probably hadn’t even decomposed yet, and here I was, with a hard on for another dude like our love meant nothing.
“I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, shows how much you think of me!” I said in a non-convincing rebuttal, that failed to flip the script.
“Don’t try to play that card, I’m not blind! You did that like I wasn’t even standing here..”
I turned away front him, and started walking back to the bus, I didn’t have to take this shit. Not getting very far, I felt a hard grip on my arm, and was suddenly spun around.
“I’m sick of you turning your back on me..” He growled, anger flaring his eyes. “You think you can find an escape for every problem, don’t you? Solve it all by running away!”
I never got to answer, as Timber Wolf hollered for us to hurry up, it was time to go. Caiden just sighed as he brushed past me, and he started to walk towards the bus. I didn’t know what to think of our little spat, and it seemed to come out of nowhere. I looked at the setting sun in the horizon, as a tear trailed its way down my cheek, I could hear the sound of the familiar haunted moans and groans of the dead in the distance.
Surely they were headed this way, searching for a fresh meal of tender warm flesh. I couldn’t help but picture us as a can of sardines as I made my way towards the Betty, taking one last look to the ship wreckage, as I climbed aboard.
“Well.. you guys are just going to have to rotate the top two bunks.” I said, not even looking up from the old magazine I was reading.
“You can’t be serious, there are four bunks! I don’t see why we can’t compromise..”
I finally looked at the bespectacled man, who was quickly becoming a nuisance, and I could see why they referred to him as ‘the Duck’, all he did was quack, fuss loudly, and make a racket. Jerry Goldstein was going to learn quickly, I was best left alone, the look on my face should have been warning enough.
“Jerry, two IS the compromise, now leave him alone, before he tosses you out on your ass.”
It was one of the other merc’s, and if I remember correctly, he was introduced as ‘The Saint’, short for Saint Bernard I figured. He had a slight olive tone to his skin, like he’d just been to the beach, and these grayish blue eyes that stood out vibrantly against his complexion. I was thankful he spoke up before I did, I didn’t really feel like making another scene.
Jerry just stormed off, in a huff, clearly not used to hearing the word ‘no’. I shot a thankful look in Saint’s direction, and he gave me a nod, before turning back to what he was doing. He sat at the Bar, with the last Merc I was introduced to, called ‘Husk’. He was a medium caramel color, with short cropped hair and fine regal features, and dark eyes. He was tall and lean, but was broad shouldered and clearly athletic. The two of them weren’t the most chatty, but I sensed they just happened to be the serious type, so I took no offense. The fact they were all nicknamed after canines, didn’t escape me, Caiden mentioned it was an inside joke for them, so I didn’t inquire further.
The two men sat at the bar, taking apart all the weapons for cleaning and maintenance, while Balthazar was in the kitchen area cooking up a meal for everyone. He only had one arm to work with, but he was making due. Patience was supposed to be helping out as an extra pair of hands, but she seemed too preoccupied with the weaponry on the bar. The young girl could care less about cooking, the gleam off the steel could be seen in the glint of her eyes.
I looked towards the front cabin, Bloodhound was behind the wheel, while Caiden was no doubt being harassed by an annoying Jerry. The guy was acting like this was a five star suite, and expected to be catered to like a goddamn king, he was gonna learn today.
I didn’t care that the bottom bed was unoccupied, and he was the last one that was gonna lay down in it, over my dead body. I designated the bottom two bunks for Granny, Patience, and Tzar. The Wolf didn’t argue, as he and the doctor took the first rest, I suspect he may have been too tired, we all were. Granny had decided to hit the hay as well, and last I looked she was hugged up with Buster, both out like a light. It was tight fit for all of us, but it would have to work for now. I looked back down at the PEOPLE magazine on my lap, It was a few years old, but hey, there was nothing else to read I hadn’t already read.
I had just finished skimming through another Jynx Joseph Ellison article, the guys face was literally everywhere and on everything, even on a broke down billboard we passed coming into Michigan. His multibillion dollar company Arkham inc. had just merged father’s own billion dollar corporation, Oracle Co., which made products that were a staple in everyone’s homes and businesses. They dabbled in everything from anti aging face creams and pharmaceuticals, to electronics and weapons tech. Apparently it was a hostile take over, as the younger Ellison was able to acquire a larger share in the ownership of the company.
The article was an exclusive, only a couple years past from when he was fresh from prison, after a full pardon from the President, it was the biggest story at the time. I could only imagine how much that cost, or what favor was owed, the rich just seemed to get away with any and everything. Jynx seemed like one of those ‘go getter’ types that people want to love, wanted to fuck, and hated but wanted to be.
I tossed the magazine to side, sick of reading about the glamorous lifestyles of the rich and famous, who were all probably dead now anyways. Balthazar had just finished cooking and had called me over to taste his stew, it was delicious, it didn’t even taste like it came from a can. Before I could grab a plate, I felt the Betty slowing down, so I quickly made my way to the front cabin.
After pushing Jerry out of my way I could finally see the problem, the road was blocked by abandoned cars, littering the interstate with steel coffins. The poor bastards never had a chance, their vehicles becoming like a prison during the outbreak, then as time passed it became a tomb for those unable to escape.
“We need one of those cars..” I said, causing them all to turn to me, eyeing me like I’d gone crazy.
“You go on ahead, we’ll be right behind you, friend.” Jerry replied, giving me the most fraudulent smile he could muster, I just ignored him.
“It’s not that serious, we can make do just fine with Betty, until we find something a little bit safer during daylight.” Caiden cautioned, not willing to take the risk, especially in the dark of night.
“This is our best bet to find a working ride, WITH some gas already in the tank.” I insisted, trying to reason with him.
“He’s right.. this might be our best bet, it’s worth a try.”
My eyes shot to Bloodhound, surprised he would co sign any idea of mine, and it surprised me he could be so objective. Jerry must have found this just as unbelievable as I did, and I knew he didn’t have the best opinion of me.
“You guys are going to take advice from this..” He paused, seeing the look I was giving him.
“This what?” I asked him in a sweetest voice I could muster, daring him to finish the end of that sentence.
“I’m just saying.” He continued, putting his palms in the air, and backed up to the far side of cabin. “I just think we should let the people with tactical experience handle such matters, I’m an accountant, you don’t see me trying to tell a drug dealer how to sell drugs or show a basketball player how to shoot hoops.”
Caiden and Bloodhound both tried to stop me, but I was way too fucking fast for that. I unsheathed the blade of my combat knife, and nailed his hand to the hull of the RV. He screamed bloody murder and Caiden snatched me up, dragging me to the back before Bloodhound could get his hands on me. I didn’t care, I refused to be disrespected, especially by the likes of him.
“Loki, what the fuck is wrong with you?!” Caiden asked, shaking me like a disobedient child, I tried to break free of him but it was no use.
“Oh relax.. It’s just a flesh wound.” I replied dismissively, as I finally slip loose from his grip.
I brushed past him, heading for the side door. Wolf and the Doctor were awaken by the commotion, and the woman was freaking out, watching as they were trying to free Jerry from the wall. I hopped out the Betty, and started to walk the hundred or so yards to the sea of cars. It was dark, but the moon was bold and full in the sky, giving ample light.
No infected had shown up yet, not even with all of Jerry’s hollering, but I still kept a sharp eye out. I heard footsteps behind me, and I turned to find Buster and Timber Wolf, the dog barked at me gingerly, until I rubbed him behind the ears. The mercenary just matched my stride, and followed me wherever I was going, I wondered if he even knew.
“Look, if this about what happened back there..”
“It’s not.” He said, cutting me off. “Also, from what I hear, he was running his mouth.. again. You could have handled the situation better, but my priorities are only the essentials of the mission.”
“..And isn’t protecting them apart of that?” I asked, eyeing him warily, trying to see his point.
“My mission objective is to get all priority individuals to the compound, alive, and free of infection.. that’s it, as far as I’m concerned.”
“So we’re good?”
“Good as gold.” He replied, giving me another one of those smiles.
“Why do I get the feeling, there’s more you aren’t telling me?” I asked, unable to shake my skepticism of him.
“I have to insist that I join you on your little trek here.” He answered, peering into the cars we passed, that were abandoned along the road.
“Oh? So now I’m in need of a chaperone?”
“What if I just enjoy your company, would that be so hard to believe?” He asked me with a straight face, I admit my breath caught in my chest, but then he started laughing.
“Asshole..” I muttered, giving him a swat to the gut, and fastened my pace.
“I thought you of all people, would appreciate my sense of humor.” He jest, keeping stride behind me.
“I do..” I said, grinning at him. “Just learn to pick your moments, I’d hate for you to become annoying.”
“Annoying you more than Jerry has now become my life’s ultimate goal.”
“I doubt that’s even possible at this point..”
Busters barking interrupted our jovial colloquy, and my eyes found him quickly, sniffing by a gray mid size SUV. It was a hybrid, so there was good chance the gas tank was at least half full. When I reached the vehicle, it looked to be in great condition, seeing as it appeared like the driver had spun out of control. The front seat, and passenger side were empty, so I went to check the back.
“Holy shit!” I screamed, as the woman slammed against the window, so hard that it cracked a little.
I jumped back, and almost slipped, but the Wolf was there to steady me. The infected woman, with her burning red eyes, clawed against the glass like a savage. Dangling from her mouth looked to be part of an infant’s leg, and the blood on her looked fresh, so she must have recently turned. I looked at the man next to me, expecting to see the cold hard steel, of a man used to killing and death. Yet the compassion in eyes proved otherwise, it was then I knew someone else out there, still saw these things for the people they once were.
Every time I killed one, it felt like I was committing a murder, and not just any murder, but the murder of my beloved. It was like I was pulling the trigger all over again, cursed to carry his blood on my hands and a jagged hole in my heart. It was same now, as I opened the door to quickly dispatch of the infected woman, stabbing her in the skull with the Wolfs serrated knife.
I handed the weapon back to him, and moved on to the next vehicle, as I didn’t want to dwell. It was another hybrid, only this time it was a dark blue Sedan, the cabin was empty so chances are the owner got away. I looked inside and found the key in the ignition, I pressed the start button, listening closely, as the engine hummed to life. The gage showed it hadn’t even touched its gasoline reserves, and the charge had a little juice left over.
I got out the car to see where the Wolf was, he was over by a white SUV, picking through the trunk. He found some jerky and took a bite, giving the rest of it to Buster, who was sniffing around at his feet. It was a sweet thing for him to do, but I couldn’t help feel jealous, the bastard was stealing my dog. I gave a whistle, and Buster’s head popped up, still gnawing at the succulent treat.
“Come on guys, I found our Ride.”
Suddenly Buster took off towards me, leaving the rest of his treat behind, he was barking loudly and growling. I looked behind me, to the other side of the car, and didn’t see anything. I screamed, as I felt the hand grasp tight to my leg. I tried to run, but I was pulled to the ground, and my face struck the pavement. Though thoroughly disoriented, I could still feel myself being dragged under the car.
I was barely able to scream out and call for help but I tried, yet it was too late anyway, as my head struck the side of the car. The impact left me in a daze, and I felt myself slipping away into the darkness, to suffer the wrath it held for me.