I had a teacher once, she said that people who used cuss words were too ignorant to think up anything better to say. What she failed to realize is that sometimes there is nothing else to say. Sometimes, a curse word is the only kind of word that can properly describe a situation. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets the sentiment across.
McMurphy is awake, and he’s screaming. The wind muffles it a little, but you can still hear him. Getting your arm torn off by a zombie dog and then having it soldered shut without any sort of anesthetic, that apparently hurts quite a bit. Of course, he had been unconscious through most of that, but I guess waking up after a situation like that wouldn’t be a bowl of cherries, either.
“We have to do something,” Sarah says from the back. Her voice sounds all messed up, what with having her cheek flapping all crazy when she talks. I sewed it shut while she was out, but I didn’t do I very good job of it. You know that fat kid in grade school? That one that never really had any friends, he always smelled kind of funky, and when he talked, he always spit all over your paper? That’s Sarah, except for without the fat, and instead of being spit, it was blood. Every time she says anything with a “p” sound, she splatters blood all over the back of my neck…which makes it extra unfortunate that she keeps calling me a prick.
The serial killer sitting next to me just looks out the window and continues to whistle—I think it’s Air Wolf, but I always get that one confused with Night Rider. I know for sure it’s the theme song from some ‘80s TV show involving a cool vehicle.
I seem to be in pretty good shape, except for the fact that I’m surrounded by these people. Oh, yeah, and that I’m covered in blood—some of it mine and some of it belonging to monsters—and I’m driving a Suburban through hell. The Hummer had given out a few miles after plowing through an exceptionally large group of Shufflers. That was what woke up McMurphy, I think, was stopping for a new ride. He kicked out the driver-side window of the Suburban when we attempted to tie him up on the luggage rack, which is why I can hear him scream as I drive down the highway.
“What would you suggest?” I ask her. “We have no idea if he’s going to turn into one of those things or not—not everyone changes right away.”
“It’s been like four hours—if he was going to change, he would have changed by now.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Okay. But here’s what I do know. I know we’re in Nevada, in the middle of the fucking desert! I know that it’s almost noon, and if we leave him up there much longer, we won’t have to worry about if he’s changing or not, because he’ll be cooked alive!”
Cupcake smacks his lips loudly. “I could go for some Irish food.”
Sarah makes a horrified little gasping sound and then settles back into the back seat to sob a bit. I look at Cupcake for a second, trying to decide if I want to say anything. The dude’s a complete asshole, but he kills people like Eminem raps—fast, hard, and holy shit, man. I have never seen anything like this guy; he makes ninjas seem geriatric, and he makes Jabba the Hut look like a Slim-Fast model. But the thing that really sucks about him is that he’s completely unpredictable—he’ll be laughing at a joke you just told and then whip a knife out of nowhere and tell you to watch what you say.
“You know, you seemed kind of nice at first,” I tell him.
“And you seemed like you might have the bollocks to pull through this. First impressions aren’t always so accurate, now, are they?”
“You’re a dick.”
“Sticks and stones.” He goes back to whistling.
“What are we going to do about McMurphy? I think Sarah’s right—I don’t think he’s going to change into one of them.”
“You’re probably right, but I’m taking no chances.”
“Look, man, I’m not just going to leave him up there—without him we nev-”
You ever see people dancing with a strobe light on? One second they’re one way, the light goes off, it comes back on, everyone’s standing an entirely different way? Imagine that but without the light going off. That’s how fast he moves, man. My mind doesn’t even register that he’s moving and there are already eight shots fired up through the roof.
He blows the smoke from the barrel, just like in the movies, and replaces the gun into the holster, staring at me the entire time. My ears are ringing, but I’m pretty sure I can hear Sarah screaming. And I’m pretty sure that I can hear McMurphy not screaming. Just like that.
Blood begins to trickle down through the bullet holes in the roof.
“I guess we’ve solved that problem then, haven’t we?” He turns and looks back at Sarah. “Quit that screamin’, sweet cheeks, or we’ll see how many it takes to shut you up.”
The guy’s a homicidal maniac and a complete dick, but I have to give him props—it’s the only thing so far that’s made Sarah shut up when she felt like making noise. But that’s beside the point. He just killed a teammate. McMurphy wasn’t exactly what I would call a friend, but we counted on him and he counted on us, and this fat bastard with a penchant for neon just blasted him off the planet.
“That was messed up,” I mutter.
“How so?” He asks me, leaning against the door and hanging his arm out the window.
“He was part of the team, man. We were supposed to be on the same side, and you betrayed him.”
“Your values are out of place in this new world, my friend. He was a one-armed man in a world of violence, we had nothing to keep infection away, and he was strapped to the fucking roof, turning finger-licking good. I did him a favor.”
“Yeah, well it should have been his choice, you asshole. Not yours. Do you understand me? Not yours.”
“You people are so sensitive.” He laughs. “I hope I find some of the cool kids to hang out with in Vegas.”
“I can drop you off out here,” I tell him. “I promise you won’t have to wait long for them to come find you.”
“Not my kind of party, I’m afraid. Speaking of which, I suggest you quit staring at me like a scorned lover and get your eyes back on the road, where they belong.”
“We’re in the middle of the desert, in an abandoned world,” I say, still staring at him. “I doubt we’re going to get a ticket.”
“Look out!” Sarah screams from the back. I swivel my head around just in time to see the pile of wrecked cars in the middle of the road. I jerk the wheel to the left, trying to control my panic, trying to maintain, trying to perform a gradual turn that will take me safely around the blockage. I fail miserably, and the road swims out from under me like an asphalt eel. I feel the right front tire catch, and I curse it as I feel the back of the Suburban begin to rise.
“We’re rolling,” Cupcake says. For a guy without a seatbelt, he’s taking it pretty calm.
“We’re not rolling,” I tell him. “I’ve got this.” And the crazy thing is, it kind of feels like I do have it. I’m actually getting the front of this bastard under control, and if I can hold it for another couple of seconds, the ass end will settle back where it needs to go. And then the wheel snaps off, and part of the axel buries itself into the highway, a demonic pole vault competition that no one will ever see.
And then we’re gone. Up in the air, flipping over and over, faster than you can imagine, like a toy car that’s been flicked through the air. I don’t even know which way is up until I feel the top of the Suburban smash into the sand and crumple under the weight of the vehicle.
I’ve always heard that people speed through the desert. Long stretches of nothing to look at, it gets pretty boring. Plus, there’s nothing around to serve as a point of reference—if there’s nothing around to make it look like you’re driving too fast, it doesn’t really feel like you are. Back when the world was real, the only thing that kept people driving at anything close to a safe speed was the fact that there might be some cops around.
I don’t know how fast I was going, but even as we fly, I see that the needle is still buried up past the 120 mark. We bounce a few more times, and then land on the roof a final time and slide across the hardpan of the desert.
I hear a noise as I stare out the broken windshield at the upside down scene before me, and it takes me about three seconds to realize that it’s Cupcake. He’s laughing.
“Good heavens, my boy! That ride couldn’t have been a better ride if you had planned it!”
“Just…just shut up. Please. Just shut up.” I suddenly realize that I hate this guy. I draw my knife and lean over to stab him, but everything is in slow motion. Except for him, I mean. Cupcake laughs a little more and plucks the blade from my hand. I think for a second that he’s going to use it to kill me, but instead, he just slides it back into the sheath on my leg.
And then he pulls himself out of the Suburban. I want to just go to sleep. Too much, man. Too much. I close my eyes, the bright colors of the Cupcake’s wardrobe blurring and fading into darkness. And then I’m jerked out of the vehicle.
For a second, I think that I must have gone to sleep, that I must be dreaming, or in some sort of a coma. I seem to have fallen into the movie Road Warriors. The men and women around me, they look like maniacs, barely dressed, and what they are dressed in is mostly black leather. We’re in the middle of the desert, for Pete’s sake! Black leather?
I start laughing, and Cupcake is laughing, too. And then the stock of a rifle hits me right in the face, and I crumble to the ground, pissed. How many times have I had my nose broken in the past few months? Three? Four? I can’t remember.
My legs tense, and I realize that I’m about to fight all of these freaks, whoever they are. Nothing matters anymore except setting things as straight as I can set them before I die, and if the only thing that means is that I get to kick the guy that just broke my nose right in the balls, then so be it.
But before I begin my attack, I hear a noise. It’s like thunder, but inside my head, louder, and terrifying. All the shit I’ve seen and heard and felt since the world came to an end, none of it has put this kind of fear in me. I scream, and I realize that I’m not the only one screaming. Everyone is. I glance at Cupcake, just to see what’s going on, and I see that he isn’t smiling, he isn’t laughing. He’s just staring at me.