Dan was the first to hear the radio on Zeke’s belt going off. Zeke showed no sign of hearing Hunter’s static-distorted voice, but when he reached over, the madman simply glared at him. Thinking it best to keep all of his fingers intact, Dan slowly withdrew his hand as the Drifter unclipped the radio from his belt and held it up to hear better. Arching an eyebrow, he stared at the small gray box for a moment before tossing it to his companion.
“It’s for you, Dandelion.”
“Hunter?” Dan asked.
“No, I’m the fucking Radio Fairy. Stick your radio under the pillow and you’ll find a zombie head in its place by morning,” Hunter snapped.
“You’re starting to sound more and more like Zeke,” Dan muttered without pressing the ‘talk’ button.
“Are you really in an ammo truck with Zeke headed for the gates, or is Punk just getting high somewhere?” Hunter asked.
“Yeah,” Dan replied, pressing the button hard to make sure Hunter could hear him, “and don’t ask why. I’m still working it out myself.”
He paused. “Wait, did you say this was an ammo truck?”
“What did you think it was, the Popcorn Wagon? Look, you’re maybe three minutes away from the gates. They open on King’s order. Now would be the time to bail,” the Drifter leader explained.
“And how the hell do you propose I do that?” Dan snapped. “Zeke’s going—damn, the speedometer is busted—too damn fast for me to have any chance of jumping out the door and surviving!”
Beside him, Zeke gave him a thumbs-up before turning his eyes back to the road. Dan groaned and realized he was still pushing the talk button. If Hunter was trying to tell him anything, he wasn’t being heard. He released it as if it were on fire.
“—about a minute, alright?”
Zeke snatched the radio from Dan. “Negatory, compadré
. Call back later!”
That said, he hurled the radio out the window before turning to flash a giant grin at his companion. Dan glanced at the wide-open space beside him, where the door should’ve been. Maybe jumping out now wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
A loud grating noise cut through his thoughts of an undoubtedly suicidal leap from the truck, and he looked up ahead to see the giant metal doors beginning to slowly part in an outward arc. Almost immediately, the undead began to claw their way through the gap, though fire from the sniper tower where Hunter and King were stationed thinned their numbers down to a more manageable number. Zeke looked somberly at Dan.
“End of the line, good buddy. Play a sad song for me on your banjo, one last time,” he wailed.
“You can’t play a sad song on the banjo, Zeke,” Dan sighed.
The madman sniffed. “It’s okay, dear. We’ll always have that night in Mexico!”
Dan stared at him. “What night in Mexico!?”
“Not you, Danielle! I was talking to Vicki!” Zeke snapped with a scowl. “I wouldn’t take you to Mexico if you were the last Dan on Earth!”
Dan’s retort was caught in his throats as he looked ahead at the gates. “Um, Zeke? The doors are stuck.”
Both gates had halted in their tracks with a sizeable opening between them. The undead were streaming through at a rate that couldn’t be suppressed by Hunter and King in the tower or the ground forces that had just arrived. In hindsight, Dan should’ve seen this colossal fail coming long before he got in the truck. He could say for certain now that his judgment was terrible and, as his mother had told him long ago when he’d tried to fly off the roof using his blanket for wings, his lack of common sense would get him killed one day. Of course, she probably hadn’t meant it, but it certainly seemed to be the case now.
Zeke arched an eyebrow. “Well, that sucks. Guess we’re dead meat after all.”
“I should’ve known this wouldn’t work,” Dan groaned.
“Relax, I’m kidding! We’re fucking immortal, in the non-rotting-flesh way! We’ll be fine!” the madman cackled.
Dan tried to fight off the waves of despair that were coursing through him. They were so close. Hell, Zeke’s plan (if there was a plan and not just random madness) probably would’ve gone off without a hitch, had he not stopped to pick up the unlucky newcomer to Hunter’s little family. Fate really seemed to have it in for him. Bitch. Zeke brought him out of the dark little corner of his mind by slapping him upside the head.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said, not a hint of madness in his voice.
The madman was wearing a determined expression Dan had never seen before, and for a moment he forgot Zeke was bat-shit crazy. He simply swallowed, nodded, and set his sights ahead on the gates. Then, he proceeded to soil his pants when he saw they were no less than five feet away. Bracing himself for impact, he envisioned his body rocketing through the windshield as the truck came to a very sudden stop, halted by the thick metal of the doors.
Instead, there was a deafening ‘bang’ and only a slight slowing of the truck’s progress as the heavily armored front end slammed into the gates, pushing them open further. Both rear-view mirrors were snapped off and the driver’s side door threw up a shower of sparks as it scraped against the edge of the thick door, but the rest of the vehicle and trailer pulled through. The horde was scattered, and zombies bounced off the windshield and disappeared under the hood even as the two riders were jostled back and forth by the undead bodies being crushed underneath the tires. As soon as they were out in the middle of the horde, Zeke slammed on the brakes and pulled into a sharp turn.
Dan felt weightless for a brief instant as the truck rolled onto its side. Then gravity kicked back in and pulled him back to earth. He cracked the driver’s side window on impact, though Zeke had pressed himself against the seat and avoided his falling companion. Grabbing Vicki, he pulled himself up and out, blowing the head off of one of the approaching undead. Reaching down for a moment, he grabbed Dan and pulled him roughly up onto the truck.
“Follow me,” he ordered before running out onto the back of the truck.
Hesitating only for a moment, Dan followed after, pulling the Desert Eagle out of his waistband and putting a bullet in the skull of a zombie that had come a little too close for comfort. Behind him, he heard the sound of the windshield shattering as the Wandering Horde pressed up against the truck, trying to get their next meal. Only a few feet ahead of him, Zeke was firing repeatedly at a bulletproof glass window set into the side of the truck. As Dan approached, it shattered, giving the madman access to the ammunition inside. He disappeared into the hole leaving Dan to fend for himself on top of the overturned vehicle.
The undead were beginning to work out how to climb up via the cab of the vehicle, and already one was sprinting towards him, mouth wide open and a hollow moan ripping from its throat. Dan steeled himself, raised his firearm, and fired. The zombie dropped and rolled across the top of the van, leaving a trail of blackened blood and grey matter behind. Two more were right behind it, giving Dan no time to celebrate.
“Any time now, Zeke!” he shouted down the hole as he brought one down with a shot to the head.
Unfortunately, the second one had come to close for him to squeeze off a shot with any hope of accuracy. Growling, he took a step forward and firmly planted his fist in the monster’s face, knocking it over. A few quick stomps to the head, and it went limp. He lined up a shot on one that was just climbing up from inside the cab, but an empty click told him in no uncertain terms that Fate wasn’t done shitting on his day just yet.
Jamming the empty weapon back in his waistband, he pulled up his trusty crowbar and stared the zombie down as it ran towards him with a limping gait. Crying out savagely, Dan brought the crowbar down on the abomination’s head, the hook on the end stabbing deep into the brain. The creature’s face went slack and it’s body limp. With a boot on its chest, Dan tugged sharply on the crowbar, ripping it out savagely just in time to swing at another zombie in range. This one flew off the side of the truck, sporting a new dent in its skull.
“Hey, it’s Andy! And he has kids
!” Zeke shouted from below.
“And here I was hoping he’d been scared sane,” Dan grumbled as he kicked one of the corpses off the van.
Zeke popped up out of the window. “Too bad, so sad, your dad. Now hold these.”
Without warning, he tossed a belt of grenades to Dan, who caught them instinctively. He was tempted to ask what Zeke was going to do with them, but eventually decided against it, instead slinging the belt over his shoulder and brandishing his crowbar at an approaching trio of the damned. Zeke pulled himself out of the truck with ease, leveled Vicki at them, and tore their apart with a single blast. He grabbed Dan by the arm and dragged him towards the end of the truck, jumping off the back and landing heavily on one of the undead.
“Zeke, we’re surrounded!” Dan shouted out, but the madman paid no attention, dragging him back towards the city even while fending off the Wandering Horde.
“Just remember, Dan-Dan: Count to three. Not four, but three. Five is right out, for the count shall be three, and only three!” he cackled as he took down another zombie. “Three, then run!”
Dan looked at the grenade belt that was still on his shoulder and understood. Muttering a brief prayer to any deity that was listening and wasn’t dead-set on making his life miserable, he pulled the pin on one of the grenades and threw it at the truck as hard as he could. There was a hollow ‘thunk’ from somewhere inside; he’d actually landed the belt through the window. He wanted to celebrate, but suddenly Zeke was pulling him along at breakneck speed, whooping and hollering and firing Vicki all at the same time. They came within range of the city, and the remaining snipers kept the undead off their backs. Dan counted down the seconds. Three…
The explosion was surprisingly quiet, it seemed. The wave of heat that washed over him, however, was far from subdued. He was dimly aware of being hurled forward by an overwhelming force, Zeke flying past him with a grin that said he was both ecstatic and terrified to the point of hysteria. The madman mouthed the word ‘boom’ before hitting the ground. Something struck Dan in the head, knocking him out before he, too, fell victim to gravity and landed on top of the insane Drifter.
“Do you think he’s going to be alright? You know, when he wakes up?”
“Hell, did you see the hit he took to the head? If he’s not a vegetable, he’ll be just like Zeke!”
“Not helping, Punk.”
“Oh shit, that backfired! Can you imagine two Zekes
? The Wandering Horde can take me before that happens!”
“Great, we’ll just call them back, then. Because, you know, it’s not as though we had much trouble with them before.”
Dan gradually opened his eyes. He felt like he’d just been hit by a truck, and the loud voices of Alma, Hunter, and Punk weren’t helping his headache at all. The two men were standing by the door, almost to the point of a shouting match, while Alma was seated directly beside his bed, staring down at him. When she saw he was coming to, she made an excited squeak that quieted the other two and brought Dan’s eyes wide open.
“Did you just squeak?” he tried to ask, but all that came out was “Buh?”
“I knew it. He’s a vegetable. Not much of a change from before, really,” Punk teased.
Hunter punched him on the shoulder. “That’s enough out of you.”
He turned to Dan. “How are you feeling?”
Dan eased himself back onto the gurney he was lying on. A quick glance around revealed stark white surroundings, and a quick whiff of the air filling his head with the sterile scent of rubbing alcohol; either Heaven’s sheets were scratchy, or he was in an infirmary. He let out a deep sigh before answering Hunter’s question.
“You’re alive, and that’s what counts,” Hunter replied with a light smile.
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind while I wait for the pounding in my head to stop,” Dan retorted dryly.
“Good. Might keep you from overdosing on morphine,” Hunter answered. “We’d better go. King wanted to see us about something.”
They left, leaving Dan and Alma alone. There was dirt and some other dark substance Dan wasn’t so sure about smudged on her face and clothes. He had a hard time believing that the nurses and doctors had allowed her through the doors like that, but when he saw she still had her rifle slung across her back, he understood. No doubt the hospital staff had been persuaded to look the other way.
“How long was I out?” he asked after a moment of uncomfortable silence.
“Three weeks,” Alma answered.
!?” Dan choked, sending Alma into a laughing fit.
“Sorry, sorry. I couldn’t resist. It’s only been three days,” she replied between fits of giggling.
Dan calmed down, but only a little. “Still… Three days? And you’ve been here the whole time?”
She nodded. “I was worried. Sue me.”
“I might. You look like hell. Not exactly the best sight I’ve woken up to,” Dan retorted.
She punched him playfully on the arm. “Careful, or I might make sure you stay here.”
“That might not be such a bad thing,” Dan answered, closing his eyes.
They descended into silence a moment longer.
“That was really stupid, what you did,” she said after a moment.
“Getting into the truck with Zeke? No shit,” Dan muttered.
“I mean, if you were looking to prove me wrong, you could’ve just killed some stragglers,” she went on, though he got the impression there was something else on her mind.
“And miss the explosions? Not in a million years,” Dan answered sarcastically.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for what I said…” she said quickly.
“Hell, I needed a slap in the face like that. Don’t worry about it,” Dan said dismissively.
“I’m…I’m glad you got out okay.”
Dan sat up and looked at Alma. Her face was flushed a bright shade of red, and she wouldn’t meet his eyes. This was a startling development. Sure, he’d woken up with her in his sleeping bag, and he’d felt that they’d had their moments, but he wrote it off as his desperate, overactive imagination. Apparently, he was wrong. He started to laugh, and though she looked shocked at first, so did Alma. They continued until they ran out of breath and their ribs ached.
“So am I,” he replied. “So am I.”