“Hey, Kris. John’s in trouble. Any chance you and Alicia could head out to his hou…”
Victor’s thought was cut off in the middle by a horrific scream, loud enough to knock him to the ground, clutching his head. It wasn’t a scream of physical pain. The energy behind it rattled in Victor’s head. He put his hands on the ground, and stayed there, on all fours for several seconds before he spotted Max in much the same position. Behind Max, hundreds of miles to the north, Victor saw Kris’s aura, as if she were standing directly in front of him. Her aura was spun out of threads of red, whirling and spinning around her, bright enough to illuminate the darkness to Victor’s eyes, like a red sun sitting on the ground up north in Tennessee.
When the wail subsided, Victor felt blood running out of his ears. Max was laying on his back on the ground, and Marshall was carving a path towards him. There were suddenly thousands of zombies in the yard.
“Max,” called Victor weakly. “Maxmonster, you gotta get up, buddy.” He focused his mind, willing himself to move, despite a deep pain. Everything hurt, from his toenails to his hair. The man grunted as he stood, then stumbled towards his son. Max was unconscious on the ground, blood running from his ears.
“Max!” Victor yelled, “Oh Max. Max, come on, wake up buddy.” He sat on the ground with his son’s head in his lap, stroking his shaggy hair out of his face. “Come on, Max. Please, wake up. Wake up.” Tears ran down Victor’s face. Max’s pulse was weak, and his breathing was labored. Pain, like ten thousand migraine headaches pounded against his brain.
Max’s eyes opened, slowly. He moved his hand to his father’s arm. “I’m okay, Dad,” he said weakly, little more than a croak. “What was that?”
“Kris,” said Victor. “She’s in trouble too and I’m not sure she’s going to make it.”
Over to the side of the battle, Reggie watched the proceedings. He briefly glanced upward for a moment before his eyes fell back on Max as he said “No, not now. He cannot. I will do it.” Reggie seemed to listen for a moment, his head tilted. The old man shook his head and said, “This was too clever. They cannot be allowed to fail.”
The ancient black man tottered over towards the father and son, blood running from his own ears. “Mister Tookes,” he said. “I beg you, please sir, go get Miss Thompson. She is not in her right mind.”
“I can’t leave Max. I can’t leave Marshall and Ren here, Reggie. She’ll have to wait.”
Reggie saw the genius of the zombies plan. They’d countered each of the heroes. They used their love and their loyalty to each other to paralyze their ability to fight. “Mister Tookes, if you do not, we will not survive. Time is short, you must go to her. I will make sure young Master Tookes is cared for, and that your brother and sister survive.”
“Reggie, how?” Victor struggled to his feet and drew his gun and hatchet. “Watch Max. I’ll handle this, then I’ll go get Kris and John.”
“No, Mister Tookes. You must go now. It cannot wait, Kris will destroy herself in seconds.” Reggie slowly held his gnarled hand up. His fingers were crooked with arthritis, each knuckle swollen to twice the size of the finger bones it connected. His milky eyes looked upward, and then they settled on the zombies, completely clear. Victor heard a low vibration, and felt it in his chest, like the lowest bass note from the car in front of you, it rattled, building in intensity.
A giant blue wave shot out of Reggie’s hand, carrying the sound with it, rolling like the tide through the hoard of zombies. When each came in contact with the wave, they collapsed, and then slowly turned to dust. Reggie sank to his knees, “Now, Mister Tookes, please go. Time is very short. I’ll see to Master Tookes.”
“Reggie, how…” Victor started.
The grizzled old man looked at him, his eyes glowed bright blue. “Go!” he yelled. Reggie’s voice was hollow, powerful. It was a command, and a plea all at the same time. As Victor fixed the image of Gander Acres in his mind, the old milkiness returned to Reggie’s eyes. The last thing Victor saw was Reggie clasping Max’s hand to help him to his feet.
Victor materialized, but it was different, forced. As if something interrupted his travel. He appeared hundreds of feet from his target, at the edge of dome. The dome wasn’t the normal polychromatic swirl of rainbows, this one was solid red. Inside, a fire burned. It was Atlanta all over again. The fire raged inside, sweeping, building on it’s own heat contained within the dome. At the center, Kris stood, tears streaming down her face, cloaked in fire.
He solidified his aura around himself and touched the dome. Rage infected him, pulling him inward. He fought to keep himself centered, to stay focused on getting to her, saving her. Where his aura touched the dome it turned red, her pain and anger infusing itself within him. Victor focused on memories of the two of them, their friendship, and the common bond they shared, fighting back the rage. He thought about her wedding, and how beautiful she looked standing there beside Alicia, and how perfect the two of them were for each other, how much love they shared, and pushed forward, through the dome.
Everywhere around him was fire. He was an ice blue form slowly staggering through a sea of heat, struggling to maintain his shield, the thin layer protecting him from the raging inferno all around. Each step was like wading through lava. His head roared with pain as he fought to maintain control. He watched his aura flaking off like ash, turning red before dissipating.
He finally reached her in the center, and stopped in front of her. “Kris, you have to stop. We have to go.”
His words barely reached her. “They’re all gone, Vic. All of them. They…they took her from me.” Her voice was hollow, almost as if she was talking to herself instead of him.
“I’m so sorry Kris. They’ll pay, we’ll make them pay. But you have to stop,” begged Victor. “I can’t hold out much longer, Kris.”
“You should go, Vic. You shouldn’t have come. There’s nothing left for me,” she said. “And I’m not planning on seeing what tomorrow is like without her.” The inferno around them grew, as if intensified by her words.
“I’m sorry, Kris,” said Victor. He drew back and punched her in the temple as hard as he could. The dome dropped and the fire escaped into the atmosphere. The rush of air filling the void left by the flames in the center of what used to be Gander Acres knocked Victor down on top of her. The two of them appeared at Renee’s farm an instant later.
Tookes struggled to his feet, grimacing in pain. He stood for a second while he steeled himself to continue fighting, but there was no one around. He searched for Max, but he wasn’t in the area. Neither was Marshall or Renee. In fact, there wasn’t an aura for miles. ‘Where are you, Buddy?‘
“Home. Can’t talk. Gramma’s in trouble, I got it though.”
“They’re attacking the house?”
“Yeah, Dad. Same as everyone else. Go get John.”
Victor knelt and put his hand on Kris’s shoulder. “I’ve become my son’s errand runner,” he thought with amusement, just before he disappeared.
Yuma was hot, even for this time of year. Victor surveyed the town from his vantage point on top of John’s wall, there were zombies everywhere. Thousands of them crawling over every inch of the town, on the roofs of the houses, swarming away from the wall where they entered the town in their search for anything living. He shot two zombies approaching on the wall, which was a mistake. Every head in Yuma turned to look up at the giant wall, and the only two living creatures in the town. It was as if someone was rewinding the scene, each zombie, almost in unison turned around and started making it’s way towards the wall.
Victor looked up and to the right, towards the top of the cliff, put his foot on Kris’s still unconscious body and reappeared there. He knelt beside her and shook her a little. “Kris. Wake up.” he said, but she was out. He hadn’t hit her hard enough to leave her unconscious this long. The wind screamed along the top of the cliff, dry and hot; blowing in his face. Tookes focused his mind on the woman and thought, “Kris, can you hear me? I need you to wake up. John’s in trouble, and I’m not sure I can save him without you.”
Vague images came back to his mind. No words – just pictures as if he was looking through her eyes. He saw her feet. She was standing in a freshly mowed field and the sun was shining brightly in the sky. She moved her gaze from her feet to a pair of headstones, Edward and Margaret Thompson, April 12, 1999. On her shoulder were two, strong hands. He felt Kris’s gaze shift to meet the faces of an older couple. Victor’s own heart swelled with love for them.
There was a skip in time. Next he saw an old woman, laying in a hospital bed. The room was full of flowers, balloons and cards all smiling. All saying “get well soon.” The items of well-wishes were all in sharp contrast to the reality surrounding them. There was no getting well this time. Kris was holding her hand, singing to the woman softly. The woman in the bed met Kris’s eyes and rasped something intelligible before the heart monitor went flat.
Another jump. Kris and a man, standing in a bar. She was hugging him, and he was whispering in her ear as a zombie stabbed him in the back. She was screaming. Then Kris and Victor back in Atlanta, beside the train, and her walking away from him. Another disappointment. Time flew again. Alicia, beaten half to death, her face swollen and bruised. Markus running, swarmed by zombies, tearing and ripping flesh from his body. Even with his extraordinary strength, there were too many of them. A man in military fatigues had a gun to Alicia’s head. He pulled the trigger. Then rage. Fire. Death. Darkness.
Victor had to physically pull himself out of her mind. It was like she was trying to pull him in, to hold him there to experience her pain. To share the burden with someone else. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. There was so much going on, he had to think. He scanned the horizon, looking for John’s aura. His head roared in pain with the ache getting worse every time he moved.
About six miles away, he found John. His aura was very dim – there wasn’t much time. He put his hand on Kris, and teleported to the barn back at the farm in Virginia. He appeared with her in the barn loft. It was the safest place he could think of. Two women looked up and saw him, and started towards him. “Tookes,” one of them said.
“No time,” he said, raising a hand. “I’ll be back in a minute with more wounded. She’s going to be a mess when she wakes up. I’m not sure I want her here when she does, but I can’t leave her like this. Please watch out for her, and if she wakes up tell her she’s safe.” The two women looked at each other and one opened their mouth to speak.
Victor poofed again to where he saw John’s aura. He was knelt over Jo, tears running down his face. Two of his children were crying. The four of them were in a small cave, not much more than a recess behind a stone, but it was something solid at their back, and shade overhead. Dead zombies lay everywhere around them, hundreds of corpses in varying degree of rot. Buzzards circled overhead, intent on gorging themselves on the carrion feast John laid out below.
“John. We gotta go, man.” Victor said softly. “We gotta get them to safety.”
“She can’t move like this, mate. Her back’s broken, and she’s been bitten. She jumped in front of one,” he said looking up. “It was going for Charlie. She stuck her arm in it’s mouth. Why the hell would she do that!”
“She saved Charlie. We have to go, John. The desert is swarming with them. They’ll be here any second.” Victor could barely hold the tears back himself. He knew exactly why she did that. It was something he would do for Max. John knew why she did it too, he just wasn’t thinking straight. He would have done the same for any one of the people in Yuma.
“John, I’m tapped out, man. I don’t know if I have enough gas in the tank to get myself home. But we have to get as far as we can. We have to get all four of you farther from here.” Victor’s head felt like Marshall was pounding on it with his sledgehammers. It was getting hard to stay standing and again, he shook his head. He had to stay focused.
John coughed into the dirt, leaving a spattering of blood. “I’m done in, Mate. Take the kids,” he said, turning a bit. He had blood running from a dozen spots in his chest, an his lips were coated in blood. “Take the kids to safety, so I can know they’re Ok. I’m staying with Jo, I’m not going to make it much further.
Both kids started to cry. “No, Daddy, no. You have to come. You’ll be alright, nothing can kill you,” wailed Charlie, tears leaving clean streaks down his cheeks.
“You’ll be alright, little bugger,” said John reaching out for his two sons. “Go with Tookes. He’ll take you to Max – he’ll keep you safe.” With a small sob, he pulled the kids in close for a hug. Victor took advantage of that, put one hand on Charlie’s head and the other on Jo’s foot. He used the last of his energy to bring them all to the barn.
Victor’s head felt like it was going to explode. He’d never teleported that many people that far before. He wasn’t even sure it was going to work, but they all arrived at the barn safely. He couldn’t leave John or Jo there, and he certainly wasn’t going to take the two kids and leave their parents in the desert to die.
Black crept in on the edge of his vision, narrowing his sight down to a small tunnel when he tried to stand again. Gunshots rang out from the gravel driveway just outside the barn. They were close. He had to get to his son. He stood to go help Max, took one step and fell face first into the wooden floor of the loft.