第 １５ 話
"Fuck! Go, go, go! We gotta get higher ground!"
"Goddamn it! Where the fuck is the nearest hill?"
"Go straight and the road up to Ro-po should be steep enough!"
"That might be too far!"
"Floor it! Fucking floor it!"
The soldiers were all yelling at each other while the others strained to see what was coming. Chuck was accelerating hard, swerving frantically through abandoned cars and other obstacles, causing everyone in the van to sway side to side as if they were on a fair ground ride. Mari grabbed onto a handle above the window beside her seat, and tried to steady herself enough to turn and look through the open window at the back of the van.
Mari couldn't see clearly with only a small portion of the lights in this part of the city still functioning, but there were enough large white water splashes catching light to make out what was coming. It wasn't a large wave coming at them like a wall, it was more like the city was filling up like a bathtub. The water would crash with a huge spray of white water when it hit street light, bus stop, corner of a building, or any other stationary object in a street, giving no doubt as to its impending force. But it was more rising than rushing, filling one end of the street first and moving down the road toward them. Cars and debris were getting caught up, and wouldn't be knocked over, but lifted and carried forward, bumping into other cars, and then becoming part of a larger clutter. The water was so dense with debris that it looked almost as if the city itself was flowing toward them. To watch it from their perspective from the van, it didn't look like the tsunami was moving that fast, and yet at the same time the gap between the edge of the water and the van was closing rapidly.
They moved through a large intersection, the road on the left went uphill, but it was blocked off with angled metal barricades on wheels, two of the blue and white police vans, cones and flashing lights, and a few bodies strewn about on the ground but otherwise the barricade was abandoned. The road on the left also went uphill, but also over a portion of canal, and water was crashing upwards and flowing out. Both directions didn't offer great options, and at the speed Chuck was going it was unlikely he would be able to turn the van without it rolling over.
"Fuck!" Chuck yelled and started to brake hard.
"Don't fucking stop! What the fuck are..." Mike yelled out as he turned from looking behind the van at the impending water to see what Chuck was doing. When he was turned so that he could face forward, he stopped speaking as the situation became apparent to him. They were rapidly approaching another large intersection, with highway overpasses, and multiple smaller roads, all coming together in a complicated, multi level web.
In front of them, though, filling the intersection and down most smaller roads in the area, were thousands of people. They were a mass of shadows, hard to distinguish from one another in the moonlight and what little light from signs and streetlights remained. But there was no mistaking that every one of them were infected. They seemed to be aimless, standing or walking without any purpose or direction, but some of them were already turning to run at the van as it approached them.
"We won't make it through!" Chuck yelled.
"Should I shoot at... try to clear a path...?" Mike said, completely without any conviction in his voice.
"Just fucking go!" Rafe yelled from the back. "We can't stop!"
Chuck let out a wordless yell, like a battle cry, as he gripped the steering wheel with two straight arms, as if pushing through the wheel would help pierce through the crowd ahead.
"Fuuuuuuuck!" Mike yelled as pulled his machine gun in toward his chest, and rolled up his window. He curled his arms around his rifle, and turned his face away from the windshield as if he fully expected it was going to explode inwards. Jessica wrapped her arms around Tom's torso tightly, shutting her eyes hard while Tom spread his arms and legs out, grabbing onto the seats and bracing himself as much as he could. Mari grabbed on to the handle above her window with both hands and turned her head away from the window.
The van hit the first person with a loud and dull thud and the body fell out of the way without seeming to change the momentum of the van much. Quickly after that, another, and another. Each beat against the van increasing like an oncoming rainstorm. The van shook violently and with every hit started to bounce off its wheels more, going over bodies as much as through them. Everyone in the van could feel the van losing traction, wheels skidding against blood and flesh, the collective weight of bodies in front starting to push back and forcing the van to turn in directions where there was no room to go. Chuck frantically turned the wheel one way and then the other to try and compensate for every change in direction, but with every passing moment, the direction the van was going and the direction he turned the wheel had less and less to do with each other. The front windshield cracked in multiple places and partially popped out of its frame. A side window, on the door across from Mari, shattered, and Mari screamed. Rafe in the back was yelling words of panic and fear incomprehensible to everyone else. Just under the constant pounding of bodies against the outside of the van, Jessica could just barely be heard praying with urgency.
The van swayed to the left, then sharply to the right, coming fully perpendicular to the direction they had been travelling, and the tires on the right side came up off the ground. The van leaned to the left for a moment that held still in time, a weightless moment where no one could tell if the van was going to fall completely over. Then it came straight down onto its wheels again, and sound and time resumed. There were suddenly dozens of hands banging and slapping against the outside of the van, with more coming. Faces contorted in rage pressed up against the glass. A man just outside of the window beside Mari was pushed into the window, his lips and nose bleeding, blood and spittle smearing on the glass as he stared at her and through her. She screamed and turned and saw that some infected were trying to climb through the broken window on the door just on the other side of the van from her. Their progress was slowed by the mass of so many of them trying to do the same thing all at once. Mari slid down to a space on the floor in between her chair and Mike's chair in front of her. Suddenly there were explosions of blood and bone and flesh as Mike fired his machine gun from the front seat into the side window. The noise of the gun was so loud it made everyone's ears ring and Mari clasped her hands over her ears to keep out the painful sound as much as possible. Bodies slumped and formed a momentary barrier against the ones behind them pushing to get into the van.
Machine gun fire erupted from the back as well, where Rafe was being overwhelmed by infected people coming in through the frame where the back window had been. He was killing the people immediately beside him, but the people behind would push their bodies forward so that he was getting trapped under their dead weight.
"Give me a gun! Goddamn it, someone give me a gun!" Tom yelled out. Mike produced a large matte black pistol and both men had to strain to reach to pass it over. Tom made some quick adjustments, habitual motions to confirm the gun was ready to fire, then started shooting at the infected coming in through the back window. At point blank range, and with decades of experience, he was able to efficiently target each one precisely, shooting straight into one person's forehead at a time, dropping them instantly. Jessica was pulling at Rafe, while Rafe yelled something about Tom's gun going off so close to his head. Chuck was revving the engine, changing gears, and turning the wheel, trying to get some kind of traction or momentum, but the van only vibrated ineffectually with all the effort the engine made. It felt inside the van like its walls might crumple under the pressure of people from outside. The sheet metal of the outer body of the van could be heard making popping sounds as it dented and bent. The front windshield compressed inward with all the people pushing against it, but, surprisingly, it held. Mike put a foot up, using the heel of his heavy combat boot to try and brace it by pushing it back.
Mari decided to close her eyes. She had been through so many moments of impending death on this night, she had a certain clarity now about how she wanted to handle it. She closed her eyes, tried to let the experience, the sounds, the horror, flow through and around her without her participation, similar to the meditation she had learned. The closer she felt to the moment when something would give, when a hand would grab her, or perhaps she would be cut by the window above her shattering, or be pulled into a crowd with biting teeth and clawing nails coming at her from every direction, she would be ready by not being there. Her body would suffer, but she would try as hard as she could to be apart from that.
Mari felt herself being lifted suddenly, as if the floor of the van were the hand of a giant raising her up. She opened her eyes to see everything tilted at an odd angle. Water was splashing through the windows, and more might have come in except there also seemed to be as many bodies as water, so it was like a flow of people as much as anything else. The van was now moving, floating rapidly forward as if it had no weight of its own, rocking back and forth, side to side, and turning, causing everyone inside to lose their balance. The motion was awkward and was out of sync with what their eyes expected, so everyone was off balance, a form of dizziness, everyone moving as if trying to stay upright on a tilting ship.
Mari rose up slightly, bracing herself between her seat and Mike's seat in front of her. Across from her, the window that the infected had been trying to come through was now mostly clear. A man in a business suit, soaking wet, grabbed on to the edge of the window frame, and then suddenly a large white sedan flowed past, scraping along the side of the van and crushing the man, pushing him away and under the water. All around Mari could see a chaos of movement, vehicles, benches, a post office box, trees, metal barricades, and anything else you might see on a street, flowing along with thousands of thrashing people, drowning, flailing, and yet still hostile. They didn't grab onto anything for safety, they didn't try to swim, they only tried to move in spastic and uncoordinated motions directed at the van. The vast majority were too far away and unable to cross the distance to get to the van, but the van was moving forward, constantly bringing it within reach of more and more infected.
Looking back Mari could see that Tom and Jessica were pulling at Rafe frantically to try and get him over the seat they were on, to get him out of the back. There were bodies around him, but none of them moving of their own accord. They were just corpses, bodies shot and without motion, awkwardly piled on top of him, and now being covered in water as it splashed in large swells through the back window. In front of her, Chuck and Mike were unbuckling and pulling together their gear in preparation to get out of their seats and do something else.
Below her, Mari felt cold water swirl around her feet. It wasn't just the water that splashed in through the windows, which wasn't as much as Mari at first feared. The van seemed to be buoyant to a degree that the surface of the water was just under the bottom edge of the windows. But, the van was in no way waterproof, and water was seeping in through unseen crevices under the carpeting. The van was only just above the road below, and every now and again the wheels of the van would scrape along the asphalt underneath, causing it to catch and lurch awkwardly, and everyone would lose their balance for a moment. Infected being carried by the current would try and take hold of one of the open window edges if they could. Some were unable to overcome the water and would continue flowing by, splashing frantically with their arms as they did. Some would manage to grab on, but then be knocked off again by one of the vehicles or large debris that were constantly banging against the van. If they weren't, Mike, Rafe, or Tom, would shoot them and they would fall way to be replaced by another.
The van came to an abrupt halt, slamming against a large delivery truck that had itself previously crashed into one of the large pillars holding up the highway overpass. The cab in front was bent and twisted around the concrete pillar, but the container in back wasn't significantly damaged except for minor denting caused by other vehicles bumping into it as the water pushed them along.
"This is our chance, we gotta move!" Chuck yelled to everyone, though no one was exactly sure what he meant. Though it was clear that something had to be done. The van, no longer being carried along by the current, was now taking on more of the rising water around it. Soon the cabin would be too full of water for anyone to move around effectively. "Help me get this out of the way!" Chuck said to Mike, indicating that he wanted to get the front windshield out. It was already partially dislodged from its frame, cracked and shattered. It was treated with a coating that prevented the glass from breaking into fragments, which also made it not bend or pop entirely out of its frame, in spite of the two of them pushing and pulling at it. They worked at it frantically, and only when the two of them decided to brace themselves against their seats and kick their hardest did it give way and fall into the water. Almost immediately some infected were there at the front of the van to attempt to climb in, but both Mike and Chuck were able to hold them back, using the butt of their rifles to knock them away. It seemed just as effective as shooting them, as any one infected, once rebuffed, didn't have enough coordination to swim back again.
"Come on! We gotta go up this way!" Chuck yelled again, and while he continued to keep the infected from coming in the front window, Mike turned around to Mari and held out his hand to pull her forward. Mari hesitated, glancing back toward Tom and Jennifer, feeling in this moment that it was out of place for her to be first out and possibly to safety. She wasn't really a part of this group, was she?
"Let's fucking go !" Mike abruptly yelled at Mari. His tone was severe, but there was no mistaking, this wasn't about anger, or anything to do with social graces. This was about survival, orders that have no room for ambiguity, and no time for hesitation. Mari flinched reflexively at his sudden intensity, but immediately fell into line. She jammed the phone that Jessica gave her into a pocket in her shorts, and took his hand. He pulled her along, and awkwardly shifted her through the two front seats, where Chuck took over guiding her to go through the front window frame and up to the roof of the van while trying to keep close to the roof edge of the frame and out of the reach of infected reaching with grabbing hands. As she came out into the night air, it seemed like a different world and she wanted to try and stop to assess her surroundings, to get her bearings at the very least. Before she could take in anything of her new circumstance beyond her reach, she heard Mike firing his machine gun, and could see bodies and spatters of blood falling away from the side of the van that was now to her left. The urgency of gunfire kept her focus narrowed, and she scrambled to get onto the top of the van, away from the front so that she wouldn't be in the way of whoever was next.
Mari kept in a crouched position, because even though the van was pressed up against the truck by the pressure of the current and wasn't moving much, it somehow didn't feel stable, like it might dislodge and head off again. There was also spray in the air from random splashes, and water on every surface, making everything slick. At any moment, one of the other cars or trucks swirling around like bumper cars might knock the van in some new direction. From the top of the van, it was possible to reach the top of the truck and she assumed that's where Chuck intended for her to go, but she waited, and scanned around her. It was a chaos of cars and debris, and in between them all were bodies thrashing, like fish in water too shallow to swim.
They were on one end of a large intersection, almost completely covered overhead with criss crossing supports and on-ramps that led up to the elevated highway above. The water had moved farther down the road in the direction they had been heading, its front edge now lost in the darkness beyond. She could make out in the darkness that the road started an incline upwards only a hundred yards or so from the intersection, and it was likely that the water would be stopping somewhere around there, even though she couldn't see exactly where. What she could see of the water and its motion was that it was more chaotic now. The water was still relentlessly moving in from the direction they came, but the water was also filling into the large roads on either side of her, and there was so much debris and clutter, and infected, in and around the pillars that held up the highway overpasses ahead, that the water was swirling in multiple random directions.
Jessica appeared at the front of the van, and Mari scrambled forward to help pull her up. Right behind her was Mike who was as much pushing Jessica up as he was climbing himself. Once Jessica was sufficiently out of the way, Mike was pulling Tom upwards, and then soon after, Chuck appeared.
"Come on! Come on!" Chuck was yelling down to Rafe, who was still in the van fighting not only the infected reaching in, but working against the water that was now up to his neck. Chuck was reaching down, and Mari could see Rafe only partially through the crowd, and it seemed Chuck was holding onto his arm. "Get these people onto the truck!" Chuck yelled, glancing back toward Mike only for a moment. Without any hesitation, Mike clipped a strap on his rifle to a strap across his chest, then jumped at the truck, grabbing onto the top edge. In spite of all his gear, he pulled himself over and onto the top in a movement that was surprisingly quick. He turned back and reached out his hand, and Tom manoeuvred Jessica so that he could hand her off to him.
Just then, a dark blue SUV slammed into the back of the van, prying it slightly away from the truck. Everyone crouched to get low to the roof of the van for stability, including Jessica, who was partially holding Mike's hand and had one foot braced against the side of the delivery truck. She lost her balance and fell between the two vehicles so that the only thing holding her out of the water was Mike, but the sudden change in weight caught him by surprise and she slipped from his grasp, falling into the water.
"No!" Tom yelled, and fell flat against the roof of the van so that he could reach with both hands toward Jessica. The gun he was holding fell into the water beside her. As soon as she was in the water, two infected that had been pushed into the gap between the van and the car were on her, waving their arms over her and creating a chaos of white water that made it hard to discern what motion was her and what was them. She couldn't help but scream, but she could only be heard for a moment before her voice was consumed by muffled gurgling as water filled her mouth.
The sudden jerking of the van also caused Chuck to let go of Rafe as he put both hands on the roof of the van to prevent himself being thrust forward and over the edge. Rafe fell back a little and then he was being pulled backward into the van.
"Fuck! Fuck!" Rafe yelled out, his last words being partly obscured by water, and then his voice couldn't be heard.
"Mike! Shoot off his three! The side window!" Chuck was yelling as he was scrambling to position himself in such a way as to be able to reach back into the van, while simultaneously pointing to the opposite side of the van from Mike so that Mike would know where to shoot.
"Everybody out of the way!" Mike yelled as he unclipped his rifle. Mari was the only one not already engaged, and she shifted to the corner of the van still closest to the truck so as to be out of the way of any bullets. Mike fired in crisp bursts, but it was clear he had no clear targets. He was just shooting into dark splashing water, hoping to maybe hit some the infected that were potentially heading into the van to go after Rafe. But even if Mike hit any infected, it was just as likely that Rafe would drown, trapped in the water under the roof of the van. Bullets wouldn't do anything to save Rafe from the rushing waters.
The SUV shifted so that it was being pulled away from the back of the van and around, which in turn caused the van to shift again so that the gap between it and the truck started to close again.
"No, no! God no! Jessica!" Tom was yelling frantically. He could no longer see her, and had nowhere to reach. Instead, he got up to his knees and tried as hard as he could to push against the truck and prevent the two vehicles from closing over her. The weight of the water and the vehicles pushing into them was on a scale beyond anything a human could counter, and the gap between the two vehicles closed as if he hadn't been pushing at all. "No... Don't..." Tom's voice trailed off. Jessica had disappeared below the water, and an infected, above her, could be seen being crushed between the vehicles as it too disappeared down into the blackness.
Chuck turned, and looked up to Mike who paused firing. Chuck waved his hand to indicate that Mike should stop shooting. Rafe was also gone.
"Goddamn it!" Mike yelled. "God fucking damn it."
"We gotta keep going," Chuck said as he stood up. His tone was flat, a resolution to himself as much as an order to everyone else. As soon as he was standing, he grabbed Mari by the arm and was guiding her mechanically toward where Mike could reach down to grab her. At the same time, Tom scrambled over to the back of the van to look around for any sign of Jessica. Chuck lifted Mari up to Mike and then turned to Tom. There was a moment, just a second, where Chuck looked at Tom and paused before saying what he had to say.
"Come on," Chuck said, his voice calm, reassuring, with one arm reaching out. Tom didn't respond. "She... she wouldn't want you to die here."
Tom stood up, still looking down at the water. He turned slowly, his shoulders slumped. As he did, he opened his mouth, wanting to say something, but without any words to express what he felt, he just closed it again. He started to move toward Chuck.
An infected jumped up from the water, making it up just high enough to grab Tom by the ankle, catching his back foot just before he took his weight off of it to step forward. With a firm grip on his foot, the weight of the infected's body did the rest of the work as it fell back again into the water. Tom fell forward and slammed into the roof of the van. He managed to get his hands out in front of himself, but his head hit the back of his hands as hard as they would have hit the van, and he was stunned and disoriented. Immediately he began sliding off the roof. He had enough instinctual awareness to frantically try and find something to hold onto. But there was nothing but wet and smooth sheet metal, nothing to help him.
"Fuck!" Chuck yelled and dove toward Tom, but as he tried to slide forward while not losing his balance and slide off the van himself, he was unable to keep up with the speed that Tom was being taken away. Tom went over the edge and there was a large splash. Chuck made to the edge of the van, and only looked over for a second or two before assessing that the situation was beyond help. As he stood up and backed away, another infected started to climb up to the top of the van from the front, and it wouldn't be long before they would come up from all sides. The wet and smooth surface of the van prevented most infected from climbing up, but as more and more kept trying, they might find traction, possibly by climbing over each other. Chuck levelled his gun and shot the infected at the back of the van, in a motion that was almost an afterthought before he turned to make his way to where Mike and Mari were.
Chuck jumped to give him some momentum in climbing to the top of the truck. As he came over the edge, Mari and Mike, on either side, grabbed him by the arms to steady him and help pull him up.
"Motherfuckers!" Mike yelled, and fired at indistinct masses of infected splashing around the van. Chuck let it continue for few seconds, knowing there were some moments that needed to happen, that soldiers are also people. Then he calmly put his hand on Mike's shoulder, causing Mike to stop.
"We gotta keep going," Chuck said. He didn't say it like an order this time. Just as a fact.