River Of Night – Snippet 22

River Of Night – Snippet 22

“Maybe a third of the place,” he growled. “Up ahead a few blocks.”

“Let’s just do the sweep and move on,” Eva said, adding, “I want to get back before dark.” 

Biggs nodded and raised his fist over his head, pumping it once. The line of forty or so men waiting next to the parked convoy left their vehicles and began sweeping through the outlying homes of the abandoned town. Korbish took station on the side furthest from the leader.

As the line of armed men combed through the town, the labor gang of fifty chained men were lashed into position. As they reached each successive abandoned car they would release the brakes and push it clear of the road. Locked vehicles were dealt with simply by smashing windows. Tangles of vehicles were either pulled apart or shoved by main force using the reinforced winches and bumpers of the semi tractor wreckers salvaged by the Gleaners.

The occasional single zombie lurched into view, stirred to action by noise or disturbed by scavengers, only to be dropped at close range.

On the second block, they hit pay dirt.

A whoop went up, and one of the men came outside, carrying a middling sized child under one arm. The girl fought and kicked ineffectually as the sweeper brought her over to the center where Biggs and Eva waited.

“Fresh as a daisy!” exclaimed the man, presenting his find to the field boss as Korbish trotted up, drawn by the commotion.

“Well, that’s not too bad,” Biggs said, his eyes alight. “Anymore like this?”

“Nah, boss, just the one.” the sweeper replied as his boss took possession of his prize.

Eva considered the young girl at close range. She was remarkably clean and her blonde hair was tied back in two braids. Perhaps ten years old, she kept swinging her fists against Bigg’s leg and side, but the thick clothing and armor mitigated her ferocity.

“Man, this one is a peach!” Biggs crowed. “Just the right size for the rec hall. Betcha she smells good enough to eat!”

He leaned down to sniff the girl’s hair.

The short girl reared back and unhesitatingly latched onto his ear, blood spurting from her lips.

Biggs screamed and straightened, raising her into the air even as his gloved fists struck her loose. The little girl was thrown several feet away, but hit the ground and rolled to her feet. She immediately began to sprint away, towards the center of the uncleared town.

Eva laughed into her fist as Biggs clapped his right hand to his bleeding ear, and clumsily tried to cross draw his pistol with his left. Korbish smiled appreciatively. Even the sweeper was laughing, but he turned to recapture the girl.

Biggs finally made the draw and aimed his pistol at the small form darting between two houses and fired several rounds.

“FUCKING LITTLE BITCH BIT ME! F-FUCKING KILL HER!” Biggs screamed as Korbish grabbed the pistol hand and forced it down. The two men struggled for a moment before Biggs shook free, glaring.

“Don’t shoot her, you idiot!” Eva yelled. “The kids belong to Green. We’ll run her down, she can’t get far.”

She turned to the rank-and-file Gleaners that were hovering a few feet away, having paused when the shots were fired.

“Well? Get after her!”

###

Kaplan had drawn the hardware store and asked Vinnie to accompany him. The place was thoroughly picked over.

They were examining a foot operated inflatable pool pump to determine its suitability for fuel recovery when they heard shots.

“Come on!” yelled Kaplan. He sprinted back towards the cars.

Exiting the front of the store he surveyed the scene. Concerned faces looked first his way, and then towards the grocery as Smith and Worf exited. One of the teens pointed down the street where a small figure was sprinting hard. Another figure hove into view, then another and another. They were all clothed, and presumably, not infected. They chased the runner.

Kaplan snapped his M4 up and flipped the 3x magnifier into place behind his red dot Aimpoint. The figures jumped in size.

A little blonde girl chased by… dudes in fireman’s coats?

Armed men in firefighter turnout coats.

“On me.” Kaplan ordered his wingman and ran across the street.

###

Hank was a loner. Despite his study of country music, playing football, and some bitching tats, he had never made any strong friends after high school. When the zombie plague came, he got sick, just like Mama and Pop. But they died while he lived.

The few survivors in his little town had still kept their distance when he emerged, gaunt, and starving. Popular he might never be, but Hank was canny. Pop’s old M1 carbine did for the occasional zombie until the new folks showed up a month back.

When the Gleaners rolled through and offered him a probationary place in their new world he’d said “Fuck yeah!”. It wasn’t the vaccine they held out since he figured he was immune now. But to be part of something, maybe something big?

Oh, hell yes.

So when the top dog got his ear bit by the itty bitty girl and that scary bitch Eva said fetch! – well, Hank was gonna fetch.

Little girl had some wheels on her, that was for sure.

Suddenly he spotted movement ahead of her. More Gleaners?

Wrong clothes.

And better guns.

###

Risky was standing next to the second Suburban when she heard the shots.

“Where did that come from?” she snapped, dropping her right hand to her rifle’s grip. “Anyone see anything?”

She watched Durante grab a radio but before he could make the call, movement in the grocery revealed Tom and Worf stepping out.

She followed Katrin’s pointing arm when the ‘tween pointed out the window at a small speeding figure being chased first by one, and then three adult men. The running shape resolved into a small girl in blue jeans. Risky watched the runner cover the last twenty-five meters, the girl’s braids snapping like short bullwhips in her wake.

And then the little girl ran straight to Risky and grabbed her by the waist.

“Don’t let them touch me!” she wailed.

###

Tom’s head was on a swivel. Every minute an additional armed fireman, or whatever they were, was joining the armed gathering a couple short blocks away. There was a lot of gesturing and pointing. One of them had a radio.

“Everyone behind the vehicles.” he ordered briskly. “Drivers start the engines. No one shoots.”

He turned to Risky.

“What’s going on?” he demanded.

Risky was squatting on her heels, trying to talk to the incoherent little girl. The girl’s face and collar was covered in blood.

“Is she infected? Smith asked, alarmed.

“Shh, shh little one.” said Risky, crooning to the sobbing child. “I’ll protect you. What’s wrong? Why do you run?”

The little girl didn’t release the adult, but buried her face in Risky’s hair, bloodying it in the process.

“Shhhh. Look at me.” Risky took the girl by the shoulders and examined her closely, checking her eyes and hands for the tell-tale tremors of H7D3. Seeing none, she tried again.

“What’s the matter?

“They’re going to take me away!” the girl replied, still sobbing.

“What?” asked Risky, suddenly intent. “Who?”

“The bad firemen! They killed everyone and came back to take me. The big one said I smell nice, but he’s mean!”

A loud yell carried from down the block.

“Hey you. In the cars. Give us the girl!”

Risky looked directly at Tom. Her eyes looked like something a gazelle might see, just as a lioness closed the distance.

###

Hank held the radio a little further from his ear.

“What do you mean, you don’t have her?” came Biggs’ voice. “Why the fuck not!?”

“There’s more people,” the new Gleaner said, stammering. “Strangers. They got her!”

“What?!” the radio blared. “Who? Never mind! I’m on my way!”

This was not according to plan.

Maybe if Hank got the girl back…

“Hey, you!” he yelled. “In the cars. Give us the girl!”

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