Quake, p.35
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       Quake, p.35
 

           Richard Laymon

  'It's your choice,' Clint said. 'Now, make it.'

  'I'm staying with you.’

  'Okay.'

  'So, now what?’

  'I'm not sure yet.’

  'Terrific.'

  Em dropped again to her hands and knees, lowered her head and scanned the area underneath the nearby vehicles. A moment later, she sprang up. 'Still there,' she said.

  Mary sneered at her. 'What did you think, they'd go away?'

  'I was afraid they might be sneaking closer.'

  'They're staying put?' Clint asked.

  'So far.'

  'Just waiting for us to walk by.'

  'And then they grab our feet?' Em asked.

  'Something like that, guess.'

  'Let's just make a big detour around them,' Mary said.

  Clint shook his head.

  'Why not?'

  'A lot of reasons.'

  'Name one.'

  'We know where these are.'

  'So?'

  'That makes 'em easier to deal with. I don't wanta waste time making a detour just so we can get jumped somewhere else. Come on.' They backtracked out of the space, and Clint led the way alongside the pickup truck. When he came to the driver's door, he stopped and faced them. 'Okay,' he whispered. 'We need a plan. Any ideas?'

  Em raised her eyebrows. 'They're hiding underneath, trucks and cars and stuff, right? So they can grab us when we go near. It's kind of like this I movie saw, only there was this monster worm-thing that came up out of the ground to get you. So what Kevin Bacon did - he and the others - they got away from it by polevaulting from boulder to boulder. That way, they stayed off the ground and the thing couldn't get them. Tremors, that was the movie.'

  Mary said, 'Do you see any poles around here?’

  'No, but…'

  'Yes!' Clint blurted. 'That's it! Em, you're brilliant!'

  'It was just a movie saw.'

  Scowling, Mary muttered, 'Who knows how to anyway? Even if we had poles, which we don't.'

  'We don't need poles,' Clint said. 'Everything's close together, we oughta be able to make it across just jumping - never have to touch the street at all. We stay above and move fast, and…'

  'Wait, wait,' Mary said. 'jump? You mean like from car to car? From their roofs?'

  'Roofs, hoods, trunks.'

  'I can't do that.'

  'Sure you can,' Em said.

  'No. No way.'

  'It'll be easy.'

  'We're wasting time,' Clint said. 'Come, or don't.'

  He pushed his knife back into its makeshift sheath in the right front pocket of his pants. Then he turned around and climbed onto the hood of the pickup truck. On his feet, he approached the other side. The space between the lanes looked clear. So far, nobody was coming out from under the van or any of the nearby cars. He waited for Em and Mary to join him on the pickup's hood. Then he stepped up onto the roof of the cab. It seemed to be about the same height as the top of the van. The two vehicles were separated by a gap that looked about five feet wide.

  Not bad, he thought. Turning around, he offered a hand to Em. She took it, and he gave her a pull as she came up onto the roof. She smiled, squeezed his hand, and stepped out of the way. Mary halted at the base of the windshield. She glanced over the side, then gazed up at Clint. He held his arm toward her, and nodded. 'Come on,' he mouthed, not speaking the words.

  Looking scared and miserable, Mary stopped clutching her blouse shut. She switched the butcher knife to her left hand, and raised her right toward Clint. They clasped hands. She planted her right foot at the top of the windshield. Clint pulled.

  She bounded up. The left side of her blouse flapped open. Her breast was bare above the flimsy material of her bra. Clint glimpsed it, looked away, then felt its firm, pressure against his chest as she stumbled into him. The moment Mary seemed steady on her feet, he backed away from her. She hadn't covered herself and they still faced the gap. The area below still looked safe. Maybe they aren't even under there anymore. Maybe they've moved on, and all this is a waste of time. Who you trying to kid? They haven't gone anyplace. Just fall, and see what happens. There's no reason to fall, he told himself. Just one stride and you'll be across. It won't even take a jump. Not a real jump. Just give it a little oomph. He stepped to the edge of the pickup's roof. He swung his right leg out over the chasm and shoved with his left. His stomach dropped away as he moved. For a moment, he hung above the gap. Then his right foot landed on top of the van. A couple of quick staggers, and then he halted himself. He turned around. Em and Mary stood side by side atop the pickup's roof. Em, smiling, gave the blade of her knife a twirl. She clamped it between her teeth, was using both hands to tuck the bottom of her blouse into her skirt.

  Clint gestured for them to come over. Em mouthed something to Mary that looked like, 'You go first.'

  Mary shook her head. Let's not dawdle, ladies! Let's move it before the creeps crawl out! He beckoned again. Em nodded. She took a couple of backward steps to give herself a running start. She switched the butcher knife to her left hand, didn't seem to like it there, and returned it to her right hand. She took a deep breath. She wiggled her eyebrows at Clint. Then she rushed toward the edge. She kicked out over the gap. As she shoved off, her left foot slipped.

  ***

  Clint glimpsed a look of disbelief on Em's face. In midair, she tilted backward. No. Her arms thrashed. Her knife waved. For a moment, it looked as if she were trying to slide into base, right foot reaching for the edge of the van's roof. Clint was going to be there to catch her. But he knew she wouldn't make it. She was almost horizontal. Dropping to his knees, he bowed his head down to grab for her foot. Caught it! The sole of her sneaker pounded the van. Gasping, she bent at the waist and swiped her left hand towards Clint. It didn't even come close. She was already dropping. Clint braced himself. A moment later, Em's back slammed against the side of the van. Clint didn't let go. He held her right ankle in a solid handed grip.

  She hung upsidedown directly beneath his eyes, leg waving about as if she didn't know what to do with it, panties showing through the wide and drooping leg holes her shorts, her body bare below her shorts, her arms outstretched to the sides, her face hooded by her fallen T-shirt. Clint strained backward, trying to raise her. 'Somebody's got my hair!' she yelled. No!

  Had an arm reached out from under the van? He couldn't see it, but he couldn't see much of anything; the Roadkill T-shirt had flopped down until it stopped by Em's armpits. It shrouded her face - her entire head - concealing whatever might be happening between her neck and the street. They could scalp her… Slash her throat…I wouldn't even know it. He saw that Em still had hold of her knife.

  'Use your knife!' he called.

  She started stabbing at the area hidden under the loose tent of her shirt. Someone cried out as if wounded. Clint tugged at her ankle. He couldn't raise her at all. She kept on stabbing. With each jab, her body jerked and twisted. Clint felt a freezing sickness in his bowels as three people came squirming out from under the van. They came out on their bellies. The hair on the backs of their heads was matted with blood. Their arms, shoulders and backs were smeared and blotched with it. Two men and a woman. One of the guys appeared to be a boy, skinny, small enough to be ten or twelve years old. He wore a T-shirt. He held a claw hammer in his right hand as he scurried out from under the van.

  The other guy, possibly his father, was much larger. Like the boy, he wore a T-shirt. He clutched a Bowie knife. Its broad, stained blade was as long as his forearm. The woman, as bloody as the others, had her hair in a ponytail. She wore some sort of top that left her back bare except for strips of cloth that tied behind her neck and in the middle of her back. In her hand, she held a hunting knife. Is this the mother? Clint wondered. We've got a family here? The family that kills together, stays together, Clint tried again to pull Em up by her ankle. This time, she started to rise. Yes! But a pair of red arms suddenly shot out from under the drooping shroud of her T-shirt, swung up and then
swept down. Their hands hooked into her armpits. Clint held on. He knew he could keep holding on. But he couldn't bring Em up. Not with someone holding onto her like this. The man was still squirming out, but the boy and woman were already clear of the undercarriage and getting to their knees. I can't do her any good up here, Clint thought. I've got to let go. Drop her on her head? I can't. Gotta. As he was about to release Em's ankle, he glimpsed a quick plunging movement directly in front of him. Was somebody leaping down from the other side? What, more of them? He looked. Mary. He couldn't believe it. Not Mary, leaping down to help Em. But that was certainly how it looked. Hair and skirt hoisted high by the wind of her descent, she landed on her feet beside the cab of the pickup truck. Her shoes struck the pavement with a clatter. The impact seemed to jolt her whole body. She staggered forward, and Clint thought she was falling. She was falling. She fell to her knees by the head of the man as he tried to shove himself up from the pavement, and slammed her butcher knife into his back. He squealed. Mary tugged out the knife and stabbed him again. The woman and boy started to rise.

  Still hanging onto Em's ankle with his right hand, Clint let go with his left. He used his left to brace himself while he bent down fast over the edge of the roof and reached as low as he could. He opened his right hand. Em dropped. As she plummeted down the side of the van, he sprang. He sprang for the boy, who was just to the left, standing but still bent over. Both Clint's feet landed on his back, driving him toward the street. He rode the kid down. He knew what he was doing. He hated it, but not enough to leap off. The boy's face struck the pavement. The sound of it made Clint wince. He stumbled off the kid's back. The woman, halting her rush at Mary, looked over her shoulder. She glared at the sprawled body. she whirled around, raised her hunting knife and ran at Clint. Her top seemed to be made of bandannas. She wore cut-off jeans with slits up their sides. From her leather belt, several things swayed. And dripped. Scalps? Clint crouched and snatched up the boy's hammer. She sprang at him, screaming, and her right arm went down, plunging the knife toward his chest. He knocked her arm aside. With the hammer, he smashed the side of her face. Her eye bulged and popped out of its socket. Leaving the hammer embedded in her temple, he turned quickly and took the knife from her hand. He jerked its blade across her throat. As blood shot out, he jammed the blade deep into the center her throat, then hurled her down on top of the boy. He leaped over them and rushed toward the place Em had fallen - where two bodies now lay in the alley of pavement between the van and the pickup.

  Mary was already there, on her knees and stabbing. Fresh blood flew up, splattering her face and neck. The way the bodies were tangled, Clint couldn't tell who Mary was driving her knife into with such fury. He couldn't tell one from the other.

  'Stop!' he gasped.

  Mary stopped. Huffing for air, she backed away on her knees, then rested her knife-hand on her thigh and gazed at the two bodies. The one on top was completely shirtless and had a dozen gashes in its back. It wore jeans, not shorts. As Clint told himself this couldn't be Em, the body rose, tipped sideways, and tumbled. When it rolled onto its back, he saw that it was a boy. Randy's brother, he supposed. The handle of a butcher knife protruded from his side, just below the left armpit. Em's knife? Em lay on her back, panting. Knees up, limp arms outspread, she looked like a long-distance runner after the end of a race. But bloody. So much blood. Her hair, skin and shorts were splashed and spattered with it.

  Can't be hers, Clint told himself. Not much of it, anyway. She's gotta be all right. Gotta be. Em raised her head enough to see what she looked like. Without comment, she fumbled at her T-shirt and drew it down to cover her belly. Then she propped herself up on her elbows. She turned her head toward Clint, then toward Mary. 'We're all still alive?'

  'So far,' Clint said. 'Thanks mostly to Mary.'

  'Thanks, Mary,' Em said.

  Mary raised her bloody face. She stared at Em. She shrugged her shoulders.

  'Are either of you hurt?' Clint asked.

  Keeping her elbows on the pavement, Em lifted her right hand and wiggled its fingers at him. 'Somebody dropped me,' she said.

  'Sorry about that. I had to.'

  'I figured. It wasn't so bad, though. Mostly, I landed on top of the guy. I think I hurt him pretty good. Not as much as when I stabbed him, though. Boy, that sure took the wind out of his sails, the dirty rat.'

  Nodding, Clint turned to Mary. 'How are you doing?'

  'Okay. I guess.'

  'You really saved our bacon. I couldn't believe it when you jumped down like that.'

  'Neither could I.' She struggled to her feet. 'Are we gonna get going?'

  'We'd better.'

  'Yeah,' Em said, sitting up. 'Let's am-scray to kill another bunch of loonies.'

  Clint stepped over to the dead man, crouched and picked up the Bowie knife.

  'What do you want that for?' Mary asked. 'You didn't use the knife you had.'

  He looked at her and saw a smile. Not a smirk, an actual smile - weary, but friendly. He waved the Bowie knife at her and said, 'This is bigger. Want it?''No, thanks.'

  'The gal has a good hunting knife,' he pointed out. She shook her head.

  Em, squatting and about to pull her butcher knife out the boy's side, looked up at Clint. 'Yeah?' She stood up turned around, 'Her?'

  'It's in her throat.'

  Em walked toward the woman, and abruptly halted. 'Oh my God,' she muttered. 'Her eye.'

  'You don't have to study her,' Clint said. 'Just grab the knife.'

  Her back to Clint and Mary, Em crouched beside the woman's body. She reached out. Suddenly, her back went rigid. She leaped up and staggered backward.'What?' Clint asked.

  'She's got…!' Shaking her head, she continued to back away. Then she turned around. Her face, still painted with blood, was twisted with disgust. 'Did you see what she's got?’

  'The scalps?’

  'Yeah!'

  Mary grimaced. 'Scalps?'

  'She's got 'em,' Em said. 'Five or six of 'em, anyhow. They're hanging off her belt.'

  'God, how sickening.'

  'I wonder…' Em reversed her direction. She approached the woman's body slowly, knees bent, back hunched, like a kid trying to sneak up on someone.

  'What're you doing?' Clint asked.

  'I want to see if she's got Caspar's hair. Or Loreen's.' Standing over the body, Em shook her head. 'Doesn't look like it. Looks like she preferred blondes.'

  All of a sudden, Em crouched, grabbed the hunting knife by its handle and jerked the blade out of the woman's throat. She hurried backward. Then, turning around, she met Clint's eyes. 'Okay,' she said. 'I'm ready.'

  'Okay,' Clint said. 'Let's start by seeing if we can find the Blotskis.'

  'Might be in there,' Em said, and nodded toward the van.

  'I'd bet on it,' Clint said.

  He glanced at the bodies. From the look of things, a family had been massacred here. No one was likely to realize that they had been a family of savages. Not without a close inspection. A glimpse of the woman's trophy belt should set them straight.

  'Okay,' Clint said.

  He led the way to the rear of the van, and stepped up to it. The double doors were shut. Each had a rectangular window near the top, but he could see curtains on the other side of the glass. Clint switched the Bowie knife to his left hand. With his right, he reached for the door handle.

  'Wait,' Em whispered.

  For a moment, he thought she might be planning to go down for another look under the nearby vehicles. She stayed up, and stepped quickly past the corner of the van and swung her head to the left. She gazed in that direction for a few seconds, then glanced the other way before returning.

  'First off,' she whispered, 'nobody's over there. I know, it's not like we're about to get attacked. Unless somebody's hiding under something, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the thing is, I mainly wanted to check on the van. There aren't any windows over on that side. What is there's one of those big sliding doors.'

/>   'Is it open?' Clint asked. 'Huh-uh.'

  'Guess I'll try this one,' he said.

  Mary put a hand on his arm. 'Maybe you shouldn't' she said. 'What if somebody's in there? Not just Loreen and Caspar. Maybe more of them.'

  'I don't think so,' Clint said, and pulled open the door. He was wrong.

  ***

  Barbara had tried not to look at the remains of the scavenger and the body from the grocery cart, but there'd been no way, short of shutting her eyes, to avoid catching peripheral views of the gory messes. There'd been no way to miss Earl's comments, either. 'Oh, Lordy, look what they done to him. Ouch! Oooo, makes me hurt just looking… Watch out there, Banner, don't step in her… Ugh, those guys musta been hard up. How'd you like'm doing that to you?'

  'Hey,' Pete had said, 'shut up.'

  'Ha! Sorry, sorry.'

  There had been more bodies, later on. Whenever Barbara spotted one in the distance, she fixed her eyes on the pavement at her feet. But she saw enough, and heard enough from Earl, to know that the people had been stripped naked, robbed of everything, and usually mutilated in horrible ways: breasts and genitals had been cut off, eyes gouged, scalps taken, patches of skin peeled off (for the tattoos, Earl had suggested), teeth torn from mouths. According to Earl, everybody had been raped. Men as well as women. But maybe he was exaggerating, just to make things sound even worse than they really were. After all, he was the only one who went up close to the bodies and studied them. Pete and Barbara stayed together, dodged the remains and never paused to inspect them. Several times, Earl had said, 'Come on over and look at this,' or, 'You gotta get a load of this!' or, 'You don't know what you're missing, folks.'But they'd refrained. Though Barbara didn't keep score, she guessed that they had probably walked past at least twelve bodies - and that was after leaving the scavenger and shopping cart guy behind. Earlier in the day, the alleys had seemed like fairly safe havens. Now, she hated them. But she knew that the streets were much worse. Each time they came to one, they hid and checked carefully before crossing. At the end of almost every block, the streets were jammed with halted vehicles. Most of the cars and trucks appeared to be abandoned, but a few people always seemed to be sneaking among them. They saw bodies in the streets, on the sidewalks, on lawns, sometimes dangling from tree limbs or tied to fences. They saw looters hurrying out of houses and apartment buildings with full arms. They saw armed gangs that looked like hunting parties in search of prey. Not long ago, they'd watched a fat, bald man get surrounded. The gang had closed in on him, and his screams had been joined by wild shouts and laughter. Though the alleys were awful, the streets were insane. Barbara dreaded the end of every alley and what she might have to see when she came to the street. But she especially dreaded the sprint to reach the alley on the other side; you just never knew who might spot you dashing across. Who might come after you.

 
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