Come Out Swinging
When I got right up to the hole, I could see Beth, two men that had been arguing with the cop outside of the grocery store, and one more man. The men were all carrying rifles.
What is she doing here?
There was no time for wondering about that. She headed for the open door.
One of the men called to her. “Wait!”
The other two raised their guns.
I wanted to call out and warn her. I opened my mouth and stopped. Those guys will probably start shooting.
She entered the door.
I heard myself call out. “Don’t go in there!”
The three men spun around, searching for the source of the sound.
I ducked down and fumbled in my cargo pants for my pocket knife.
One of the men shouted. “Watch out, there’s a group of them coming!”
I tried to piece together what was happening as my shaking hand tried to jam the knife in the door mechanism.
“Beth, what is it?”
Sounds of movement.
“Paul, turn around and help us out!”
“She found Bill!”
“Get back into the corner!”
“Dad, do something!”
“I can’t get a clean shot!”
The mechanism clicked and I pulled it open a crack. Then I grabbed my bat and swung the door wide.
Two men were shooting at something down the street. The third man sat frozen with his gun raised to the back of the “U.” The infected man I had worried about all night was in between him and Beth. Beth stood flat against the bay door at the bottom of the “U,” eyes wide and gasping for air. No one noticed my arrival.
The infected man lumbered toward Beth.
No time for thinking. Only action.
“Go time.” I mumbled to my bat. I ran at the infected man.
He was almost to Beth now.
I sprinted with the bat raised in my right hand.
Another gunshot or two rang out.
The infected was closing in.
Beth finally saw me. She dropped to her knees and covered her head.
The infected man reached out for her.
I swung with everything I had. “C’MON BECKY!”
A loud crack rang out as the bat splintered and broke on the back of the infected man’s head.
I felt a muscle tear in my chest. The impact spun me clockwise and I lost my footing. I was going too fast to stop myself before I hit the door anyway.
The side of my legs collided with the crouched girl.
My shoulder and then head slammed into the big metal door with an echoing clang.
The infected man crumpled to the right.
I fell right on top of Beth, which was by far my softest landing in the last two days. Which is not to say that it was really all that soft.
The impact had taken my breath. I rolled off Beth onto my knees and tried to suck in some air.
“Are you OK?” Beth reached out for me.
The man watching us lowered his rifle. “Are you OK, Beth?” He started for us.
I looked up and finally got a look at what was happening in the street.
The two men had barely noticed the commotion on our end. They were shooting into a crowd of five or six infected folks that threatened to trap us in.
I raised an arm, pointed and was able to squeak out, “Help them.”
Beth looked up and pointed, too. “Dad, go help them!”
He spun around and jogged toward the others.
I looked over at the crumpled mess of the infected man.
He lay perfectly motionless.
Each breath was a little easier than the last. I looked back at Beth.
She was now staring at me and her face showed a mixture of bewilderment and gratitude.
I looked back into her eyes and gave a weak smile.
She smiled back. “Thanks.”
The sound of gunfire snapped me out of the trance.
I looked back to the firing line. The infected were getting close. Their bodies were riddled with holes.
The memory of being chased from the lab building flashed through my mind. The infected woman landed on her head.
I glanced again at the newly fallen infected and saw the damage my bat had done.
In my mind, it finally clicked into place. “The heads! Aim for the heads!”
I extended my left hand. “Beth, let’s get moving.”
“Oh, so you remember my name now.”
She grabbed my hand and we helped each other up.
“Of course, I always did.”
Another gunshot and out of the corner of my eye I saw an infected woman drop backwards.
Beth started to move and gave my arm a tug.
“Whatever, you just called me Becky a second ago.”
More gunshots and another two infected fell.
We spoke in between gunshots, keeping an eye on the battle ahead.
“Becky was my bat’s name.”
“You expect me to…”
I lifted up the broken half that I still clutched in my right hand and showed her the bottom.
“See, it says ‘Becky’ right there in permanent marker.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Why would you name your bat ‘Becky’?”
“Ex-girlfriend in high school. I’ll tell you the story some other time.” I tossed the useless piece aside.
I pulled on her and we jogged across the courtyard toward the open door.
The three men finally brought down the last two infected as I reached my backpack.
Then the three turned to face me, guns still raised.
One of them spoke. “You! Get away from my niece and explain yourself.”
Beth let go of my hand and jumped in front of me. “No! He’s OK. He’s a friend of mine, Uncle Carl.”
The three lowered their weapons.
Then I remembered. Before I saw him at the grocery store, I’d seen his leathery face all over the place. I’d seen it on campaign posters all around town. He was Carl Cooper, oldest of the four Cooper brothers. As in the Four Brothers who owned so much of Oasis. He had run for mayor and lost a year or so ago.
Now he was glaring at me. “He may be a friend, but he’s still not coming with us.”
Can Corbin convince Carl to let him come along? Read on in: “Chapter 20: Munitions Transport Convoy“