Ye Shall I walk Through The Valley of Death.
The night closed in on us, surrounding the truck like a blanket. The road out of town was choked with cars, but Paddy bundled through them, not caring about damaging them. The rules had changed; you could say there were no longer any rules – except maybe don’t get killed.
The meal I had eaten sat undigested in my stomach; it felt as if a rock was sitting in there. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, letting my face touch the coolness of the window. I was tired, more tired than I had ever felt in my life – but I didn’t trust myself to fall asleep. I wouldn’t give in, until I was in safety at the stadium surrounded by the army and National Guard. I looked to my right; Sally was asleep, her head resting on Paddy’s shoulder. I smiled. It was sweet, but also a little disturbing. Sally had known him less than 2 hours and she had already entrusted him with her life, and perhaps even a little of her heart. I wished I had someone to care about, but after Dylan had left me and moved overseas I had concentrated on my work and didn’t think about making personal attachments.
I closed my eyes, trying to get the images of Shelby and Jenny out of my mind. Jenny was one of them, and Shelby would become one of them, it was only a matter of time. How many of my children had succumbed? How many of them had turned like Jenny into one of those...well Zombie’s for want of a better word? Would the country be over-run with the walking corpses of our children? I thought grimly. I listened as a baby in the back of the truck started to cry. I hadn’t noticed her and her mother climbing into the truck. I wondered how I could have missed them. I felt a little guilty sitting up front in relative comfort and safety, while all they had between them and the dead was a canvas covering.
Paddy watched the road, the high beams of the headlights illuminating the old trucking road we had turned on to. He turned to me and smiled, looking down at Sally’s sleeping form.
“So what’s your story Sarah? What brought you out to this backwater?” I sighed pulling my jacket around me.
“I was an army brat. I moved around the country and the world so many times I lost count. This was my first job since leaving college. I loved this place; it was home to me, more of a home than anywhere else I had lived in my life. My Mom and Dad live in Guam. I’ve not seen them in over 10 years.” Paddy smiled.
“I don’t know why, but I guessed you must have been an Army Brat. You were just too cool while all this shit was going on around us.” I laughed scornfully.
“Not cool, just terrified and good at hiding it. My Dad didn’t allow any weakness when I was growing up. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. He…he was strict.” Paddy nodded turning onto a new road. The truck bounced around for a few seconds as it connected with the new surface.
“Sounds like you had it tough.” I nodded.
“My Father is an asshole. So what about you?” Paddy shrugged.
“Nothing to tell really. I grew up in New Jersey, lived with my Grandmother until I was 15 when she died. I signed up as soon as I got out of school. I’ve been in the army ever since. I didn’t always do too well though. I was demoted last year after striking my superior officer. I got 3 months in the brig and lost my stripes. I was a corporal before I hit that bastard. Still being a Private ain’t so bad.” I smiled.
“So what do you think our chances are?” I asked bluntly. Paddy sighed and focused his eyes on the darkness ahead.
“I think we’re fucked.” I fought hard to stop the tears that were threatening to flow down my face. It took me a moment to compose myself enough to answer.
“Nothing like optimism in the face of death hey.” I managed to say flippantly. Paddy smiled and turned his face to me.
“Just before we left I heard San Diego got hit by it, the infection is heading in from both sides of the country. We’re going to be squeezed in the middle like a big fuckin zit, with nothing to look forward to than being one of em.” His words disturbed me; there was none of the bravado of our earlier conversations. He was scared.
“You get some sleep Sarah, its another couple of hours to the drop off point; you don’t know how long you’ll need to stay awake.” I nodded settling down, my head on the window. As soon as my eyes closed, I fell into an exhausted sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The loud squawking of the radio woke me suddenly from my sleep. I looked groggily around the cab, noticing that the first fingers of dawn were breaking through darkness.
“What’s the matter Paddy?” I said sleepily. Paddy turned to me his eyes wide in panic.
“The stadium was over-run. Everyone’s infected. We can’t go there!! Oh Shit!! We’re fucked!” His hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles went white. It was then that I noticed that the truck was stopped.
“Sergeant do you have new co-ordinates? Over?” Paddy said, trying to keep his voice steady.
“Negative not at this time Soldier. Await further instructions.” The radio went silent. I turned to Paddy my eyes wide in terror.
“We’re sitting ducks out here!” I screamed at him. Sally stirred from her sleep.
“What’s going on? Why have we stopped?” I looked across at her tears forcing themselves from my eyes.
“The stadium was wiped out. We’ve got no place to go!” I managed to say before I clamped my hand over my mouth. Sally grabbed Paddy by his shoulders looking into his eyes.
“Is this true?” Paddy nodded, grabbing the sides of his head.
“We’re fucked!” He started to rock back and forth in his seat. I looked across into Sally’s eyes wide in terror like my own.
“There’s got to be somewhere we can go!” I said finally, I scrabbled around the truck looking for a map. I found one on the floor of the cab, dirty and in bad condition. I laid it out on the dashboard.
“Ok – where are we?” I asked Paddy. He took a deep shuddering breath and pointed to a place on the map, deep in a National Park. I scanned the places around. We were basically in the middle of nowhere – there was nothing around here for miles…apart from a zinc mine 20 miles further into the forest.
“Ok, head here.” I said stabbing the map with my finger. Paddy nodded, and started the engine. Sally glared at me.
“Are you crazy? You don’t know what you’ll find there!” I took a deep breath and turned on her.
“We’re fucked Sally, the army have deserted us. All we have is this truck, and it’s running out of gas! We need to find somewhere we can fortify before the infection gets to us. This is the only place I can think of in a 50 mile radius that might offer us some hope.” Sally closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The sun was now rising fully. The rays hit the side of her face, making it glow with a golden light.
“Ok. Lets do this.” Paddy turned back onto the logging road and drove quickly along it; pushing the inevitable branches out of the way as he drove. The road was in a bad state, and we bounced around in our seats. I felt pity for the people in the back of the truck. They didn’t know what was happening, hell for all they knew we were still headed to the Sports Stadium. I studied the map intently, feeling the lessons that my Father had drummed into me coming to the fore.
“I can’t understand why there’s a zinc mine here.” I said finally. “The rock strata and composition of this area doesn’t usually have pockets of zinc.” Sally sighed.
“Do you have to know everything Sarah? Maybe they found a great vein of zinc and they’re mining it. It’s been known to happen you know!” Paddy didn’t participate in the discussion at hand; he kept his eyes on the road.
We sat in silence watching the road as intently as Paddy was.
“How much further?” I said after a few minutes, but only to end the crippling silence. Paddy smiled broadly.
“Not far at all – Look!” Ahead of us was a chain-link fence with an “Eagle Mining Corp” sign on it. A CC-TV camera stood high on a pole panning across us. We got out and walked up to the gate. The small intercom buzzed into life.
“State your business.” A clipped voice said. I stepped forward and pushed the intercom button.
“Please, let us in. We’ve come a long way and we’ve nowhere else to go. Our town was overrun by the infection.” The CC-TV camera panned around again.
“Please leave, this is a restricted area.” Paddy swore loudly walking to the truck and climbing inside.
“Fuck that! I am not going to die out here!” He put the truck into gear and ploughed through the fence. Sally and I looked after him in disbelief. We ran to catch up with him and climbed back inside the truck.
“You know there’s going to be hell to pay don’t you!” Sally said in awe. Paddy shrugged a big smile on his face.
“Ahh fuck it! I was never any good at following orders anyway.” The road led on almost another mile before the trees opened out into a huge compound. Paddy stopped the truck and we climbed down. I looked around me, noticing the buildings. There was no refining equipment. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t a zinc mine.
“Ah crap!” I said pounding my hand on the door of the truck. Paddy was jubilant and he turned to me frowning.
“What’s the matter?” I stopped frozen in terror as the barrel of a gun pushed my cheek. Armed men surrounded us on all sides.
“I don’t think they take kindly to party crashers here.” I managed to grind out before the butt of a gun hit me on the back of the neck and I crumpled to the dusty ground.