There was no more droning. No more gray sky. No more shores of bone and ash. No more beasts or man left to suffer. No more blood or strange limbs. No more inverted sun devouring what made this place a place. There was no more void.
Danny was left to walk in darkness–his bare feet against a cool, slick surface. I don’t miss the void, thought Dan. But this might be worse.
Chapter 20: Drowning in Fire
Three engines rumbled as one, barrelling north on Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway. Dan rode up front while Cassie and Erica covered his flanks. Wood rode in Cassie’s sidecar with a machine pistol hidden below the seat. Each rider was armed with goods they had stolen from the motels they captured, and Dan was unsure the supplies would last them to Leek Denaa. One step at a time, thought Dan as he spat out more bugs.
They had packed for every consequence–each bike’s saddlebags were loaded with two rifles, a sidearm, ammunition for both, hand grenades, rations, and rolled up sleeping bags. Their transformation into the hunters they killed was complete with cargo pants, boots, and ill-fitting military-style jackets. Dan wondered if any unused supplies would be necessary as a peace offering to Leek Denaa. Char would vouch for us, wouldn’t she?
Erica was the first to point out Noah up ahead. Dan could barely see him among the trees of Clallam Bay, even with his arms wavering above his head. There’s our point man. The bikes turned onto a dirt path and slowed down into a secluded area. They dropped their kickstands next to Noah’s bike before killing the engines.
“Is this another pit stop?” said Erica.
“Not this time,” said Noah with a grin. “This is the place.”
“Now what?” said Danny.
“We wait and listen for the plane,” said Cassie. “Let’s dig in to the rations, too.”
One by one they unfurled their kits from the saddlebags except for Dan. He paced about the area checking for signs of recent travelers.
“I know how to secure an area,” said Noah. “We’re safe.”
“I know that,” said Dan. “I just don’t feel like eating.” Dan took a seat on a log to hide his nerves. He breathed in the salty air as he watched Cassie divide the food between them and help Wood with his utensils. “Tell me again about this contact.”
Cassie continued to feed Wood as she answered Dan. “Nothing’s changed since the last time I explained it. Riding through the checkpoints is, and always will be, a bad idea. Flying is the safest way in and out of Leek Denaa. Thanks to our Erica, we not only found a pilot, but Howard Fettel’s direct line.”
Erica listened with a proud look on her face. “Daddy talked about him all the time– ‘Mr. Smiles’ this and ‘Mr. Smiles’ that.” Erica’s long jacket sleeves extended several inches beyond her hands and she whipped them about as she spoke.
“Can we trust him?” said Dan to Cassie. Erica was quick to answer for her.
“His name is ‘Smiles,’” said Erica as she rolled up her sleeves before eating. “He must be very nice.”
“My name’s ‘Bully,’ does that make me mean?”
Erica nodded with a mouthful of food.
“That settles that,” said Cassie with a laugh. “We should hear him coming. His plane will land in the bay in about twenty minutes.”
Dan stared back at Cassie waiting for her to answer his question.
Cassie placed her food down in front of her and templed her fingers in annoyance. “Dr. Gunther Smiles is a professor with a pilot’s license,” said Cassie. “He has an in with the military guarding the checkpoints in and out of Canada, so he’s able to circumvent jurisdiction laws. My father always wondered how Fettel and his product could move so fast and so far without anyone getting wind of it. Now we know. Man doesn’t come cheap, but when I told him we were from The Bedlam Complex, he gave us a generous discount.”
“I’m sorry, Cassie,” said Dan. “I don’t doubt you. It just all feels too easy.”
“That’s what plan ‘B’ is for,” said Cassie.
“No more talk of plan B,” said Noah. “Smiles will come through.”
“No sane wolf wants to sail three-thousand miles through a hot zone,” said Cassie, “but it beats riding through the checkpoints, and Makah Marina is just a few minutes west of here.”
“I heard stories of wolves that can’t go to heaven because they’re trapped at the bottom of the ocean,” said Erica.
“That won’t happen to us,” said Dan. “Noah’s right–Smiles will come.”
Twenty minutes grew to an hour, and the sky over Clallam Bay remained undisturbed. The Sangradores sat in their makeshift camp as hope started to fade. Cassie walked over to Dan and whispered in his ear, “we need to talk.”
It’s time for plan ‘B,’ thought Dan.
Cassie led him away from the camp. “It’ll be getting dark soon,” said Cassie. “We need to get moving if we want to make it to the marina by–.”
“No one is going on a boat,” said Dan.
“We don’t have a choice, Dan. Do you hear any plane? Smiles fucked us.”
“We have weapons. We have explosives. Those checkpoints have to have some kind of blindspot.”
“We’ll get shot on sight if anyone finds out we’re armed. Best chance we have there is to walk up to the gate unarmed and hope they take us to the nice isolation center.”
“If our boat gets scuttled by the coast guard we die slowly at the bottom of the ocean, our bodies shutting down and gasping back to life for decades! At least we die quickly in my plan!”
“Is that where we’re at now?” said Cassie, “Deciding how we want to die?” She reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out a ring box. “I found this in one of the hotels we attacked.” She gently opened the box, revealing five large pills. “Do you know what these are?”
“Silver… pills?” said Dan.
“Infected sailors carry these on them in case their boats capsize. Taking one will kill any of us in a matter of seconds. I was going to give each of us one if we got on a boat, but maybe… maybe we should give them the choice now.”
Cassie picked up two pills and placed them in Dan’s palm. He felt a searing heat against his skin, yearning to eat his flesh.
“This isn’t happening,” said Dan.
“You’re going to look your son in the eyes and–.”
“Never question me about my son,” said Cassie. “You can double-guess everything else I do, but not this. Now we need to start moving forward on a plan. I’ll talk to Wood and Erica; you talk to Noah?”
Dan struggled to think of a better alternative. After all they had been through, was the answer hidden in a ring box the whole time?
“Yeah…I can do that.”
Cassie walked away from Dan and sat down next to Wood and Erica. Dan placed the silver pills in his pocket and took a seat near Noah.
“I have decided,” said Noah. “We will give Smiles more time.”
“I don’t think that’ll work this time,” said Dan.
Noah rubbed his face with both hands before slamming both hands into the dirt. “I’ve been having dreams.”
“What kind of dreams?”
“I’m with other people–wolves–alive and dead. I don’t know where I am, but I return there almost every night. I see my mother and father there, swept into a hole. The world is humming.”
“It’s swallowing them in–like a void?”
“I have dreams like that,” said Dan. “The Warg told me they were visions–of what I have no idea. Maybe you can tell him about your visions when we reach Leek Denaa.”
“The last few nights, it felt like I was sinking deeper and deeper until I no longer heard or saw anything,” said Noah. “I was drowning in fire.”
Dan remembered how fascinated The Warg became with his visions. What value did that old man find in bizarre nothings? Dan had lost track of how many times he had died in his own dreams.
“And you think our boat will sink?”
“I don’t want to die like that,” said Noah. “Any way but that.”
“There’s something Cassie wanted me to show you…”
As Dan reached into his pocket a gunshot echoed through the trees. Everyone dove into the dirt. Dan surveyed the forest for the shooter, but found no one. A second shot struck the ground beside him, exploding chunks of rock and earth into the air. He soon found Noah with his back against a tree, holding Erica to his chest. Cassie and Wood followed suit and took cover.
“Three on foot,” whispered Noah to Dan. “Two o’clock along the ridge.”
A third bullet bit half the trunk off a tree. The roar of its shot followed soon after.
“These aren’t civilian weapons,” said Noah.
Smiles ratted us out! thought Dan as he scrambled to his feet. “Run for the bikes after the next burst.”
The fourth blast erupted the cover Wood hid behind, ripping his arm off from the elbow down. The boy screamed as he gripped what was left of his arm, the flesh still sizzling from the silver bullet.
Cassie bolted to him and pulled him towards the bikes. Dan and Noah followed after with Erica being yanked by the hand.
They mounted their bikes in the confusion, and the four engines revved before gunning it out of the forest. Dirt clouds kicked up behind them as more rounds sailed past their heads. One by one the bikes launched out onto the highway to escape.
Noah led the pack while Dan brought up the rear. He looked behind him to find two squad cars and a pick-up truck in hot pursuit. Dan drew his revolver and opened fire in a vain attempt to slow the hunters down. The speed of his bike rocked his arm wildly as he struggled to keep himself on the road.
This isn’t gonna work! Dan returned both hands to the handlebars and accelerated. He sidled in between Cassie and Erica. The wind whipped across their stunned faces as Dan dug through their saddlebags. “Don’t look back!!!” yelled Dan. “Don’t stop!!”
He removed a grenade, ripped out the pin, and let it drop. The bomb bounced erratically across the pavement, detonating in front of the vehicles. The hunters swerved to avoid shrapnel, but were undeterred.
Dan pulled more grenades, this time hurling them in sets of two. Explosions shook the road as they missed their targets. Of the dozen grenades littering the road, one erupted under the chassis of the lead car. Black smoke billowed from the vehicle before it was forced to pull over.
Two remained in the chase, and Dan was out of explosives. He sped up to Noah. “Where are you going!?” yelled Dan.
Noah glanced at him with panic and dread. Dan knew Noah was fleeing as fast as he could. The boy had no direction, no plan, and the others were following his lead.
“Water!!” yelled Dan. “Get to the water!!”
The marina came into view, but the hunters’ pursuit had not slowed down. Dan signaled to Wood to open fire from his sidecar. The one-armed boy drew his machine pistol and emptied rounds at the truck. The hunters responded by ramming the rear fender of Erica’s motorcycle–her tiny body flailing with each hit.
Dan turned to see the driver, a soldier with a glistening silver mask. The eyes widened as the truck beared down on Erica. Dan reached for her hand, but her vehicle tossed about with each attack. Dan felt the tips of her fingers slip through his grasp time and time again until finally grabbing a fistful of her sleeve and lifted her onto the back of his bike. The hunter rammed her bike off the road, sending it careening into a ditch.
“Spread out!!” yelled Dan to make themselves harder targets. He handed Erica his revolver with orders to shoot out the tires.
The truck created distance and opened fire once again. Bullets whizzed past Dan as he maneuvered the bike across the road. The heavy blasts returned, leaving craters in the pavement. Concrete erupted into potholes as the Sangradores battled for more time.
Dan discovered Wood had stopped firing. The boy seized his chest and slumped over–his body jostling lifelessly to the motion of the bike. Cassie reached for him before another shot rang out. Her body collapsed over her son, shielding him from gunfire as the bike veered into oblivion.
The next shot ignited Noah’s gas tank, engulfing both bike and child in flames. Dan pulled away from the intense heat, and watched as Noah killed the engine, guiding his bike into the truck. Both vehicles merged into a heap of unrecognizable wreckage, painting the last chapter of the Sangradores.
Dan felt Erica grip him tighter as he sped to the marina. The final car pursued him up to the docks, parking at the waterfront. Dan and Erica lept from the bike before making a complete stop. They raced to the pier to find their escape. Dan spotted many yachts and small boats left unattended. He zeroed in on a dinghy locked with a chain to the dock. He tore the chain apart with his hands before jumping into the boat.
Dan called for Erica. She faced the other direction–motionless. Dan followed her gaze to a man standing at the other end of the pier. He was dressed in something like a police uniform–his glasses lit by the reflection of the setting sun. The man stared back at them with his gun drawn.
Dan’s legs gave out as he fell backwards into the boat. Every ounce of strength had been spent, and it was not enough. In that moment, Dan was sorry–sorry for failing Char and the Bedlam, sorry for letting his children enter the apocalypse without a father, sorry for not killing Howard Fettel when he had the chance, and sorry for not calling his mom to let her know he was okay.
The hunter lowered his weapon and left. Dan watched puzzled as the officer returned to his car. Was this mercy? thought Dan, after everything that had happened? Maybe he got what he wanted from the chase, or maybe he knew where they were headed and that they were dead already. In any case, Dan wasted no time in convincing Erica to get into the boat.
She stood on the dock, still staring at where the hunter had stood.
“It’s okay, Erica,” said Dan. “I know you’re scared, sweetie, but we need to stay together.”
“You told me that before,” said Erica, “the night we left home.” She turned around to face him. “I’m tired of being scared, Danny.” Erica popped the silver pill Cassie had given her and swallowed.