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Brian and Andy shared the contents of Brian’s flask, grimacing at the rot-gut moonshine with every sip. Just after midnight, Brian locked the doors of the train and crawled into a hammock strung up in the caboose.
Less than an hour later, long enough to fall completely asleep, the first thunk sounded against the train car. A few minutes later, there was another. It was another half an hour before Brian’s consciousness returned enough, hastened by the need to pee, to hear the constant thump, thump, thump from all four sides of the caboose.
“Fuckin shit, Andy. Wake the fuck up man.”
“What?” Andy said sleepily. Then sat up in his hammock so quickly, the entire thing spun around dumping him on his head. His gun skittered across the metal floor. The noise seemed to have an effect on the banging on the outside of the car; it increased in tempo and fervor.
“Sounds like infected,” whispered Brian. His voice low and raspy.
Andy crawled slowly towards his rifle. “Get up the ladder. Open the hatch. We gotta get eyes on.”
“Wish I had me some fuckin’ night vision goggles.”
“Just take a flashlight. I don’t think we’re getting out of this without some killing. If a cure hasn’t come by now, I don’t think it’s going to, buddy.”
“I know all that. I still hate killing them. I wouldn’t want someone killin’ my Mama. My Daddy’s been dead, thankfully. He ain’t have to live through this shit. But I’m sure Momma’s been infected. She couldn’t get ‘round too good.” Brian uttered his entire monolog in a hushed whisper as he climbed the ladder to the roof hatch.
Andy gathered his rifle, and still in his socks and green plaid boxer shorts, climbed the ladder behind his friend.
“Hooooleeeeeeeey fuck.” Brian whistled.
Brian spun around as Andy climbed out onto the roof. Surrounding them, as far as the beam of his flashlight would go, the infected were packed shoulder to shoulder. They swayed back and forth in a synchronized movement, like the crowd during a ballad at a concert only they could hear.
“Yeah, man. The fuck they come from? I ain’t never seen so god damn many. We ain’t got enough bullets, and it’s too many to do hand to hand.”
Andy started back down the ladder. “Nothing to do now. Maybe they’ll be gone in the morning.”
“You think we’re gonna be okay? That many; might be able to push over the car.”
“Nah. Come on. Can’t do shit. Get some sleep brother. It’ll look better in the morning.”
Brian pulled the hatch closed behind him, and flipped the lever to lock it. “Everything looks worse at two in the morning,” he said.
The pair of men slept fitfully for the next few hours. “What do we have in the cabinets in here,” Andy said finally.
“I dunno man. Some shit. Food n shit, I guess. It’s gonna get powerful hot in this metal box today.”
“Where’s the reloading kit?”
Brian stopped for a minute. “Might be in here. But I think it’s up in the storage that went with the boss.” He resumed his pacing, timing his foot-falls with the rhythmic thumping on the sides of the train. “Fuck!” He yelled. “I can’t fucking hear my goddamn self think! Shut the fuck up out there!” He banged on the doors with his fist.
“Stay chill, man. The cavalry will be back any time. We just gotta hold out in here. We got plenty of water, it’s gonna get hot, but at least we can open the roof hatch.”
“What if they’re gonna be a week? How are they gonna save us? They can’t spend that many bullets either. Can’t fucking push us cause the tracks are blocked and the locomotive ain’t got no hookup on the front to pull us back.”
They sat in the train car for most of the morning, until the temperature inside was too much to bear. Brian climbed the ladder and unlatched the hatch. “Andy. You gotta come see this man.”
Andy climbed out onto the roof of the train, and sat down. Surrounding their two cars for three hundred yards in every direction, the infected swayed back and forth. Hands outstretched towards the men.
“You think we could jump to the buggy?”
“Then what? They’d be on us before we could get it started.”
Brian’s voice cracked as he spoke. Andy could tell he was nearing panic. “What if we blew our ammo clearing around it; then jumped for it? We might be able to buy some time. Then I could clear the path with the gun.”
Andy put his hand on Brian’s shoulder. “We’re fine, Brian. They can’t get in. We have enough food and water to get us through the next bunch of days. Let’s get out of sight, be as quiet as possible, and hope that the noise of the locomotive coming back draws them off. For now, we just need to keep calm. You got that, soldier? We just keep our heads down, maintain absolute silence and they’ll go away on their own.
Both men laid in their hammocks and tried to be as still as possible. For two days. On the morning of the third day of sitting in the sweltering metal box, Andy couldn’t take the smell anymore. He rummaged through the cabinets on the train, looking for anything to help. Finally he pulled out a tub of bleach soaked kitchen wipes and started scrubbing himself down.
When he was finished, he tossed the can to Brian. “Feels pretty good man, cooled me off a little bit. Just don’t get it in your eyes or mouth.”
Brian did the same, then the pair sat back and prepared to spend another day being quiet. They napped for a while in the morning, and woke to nothingness. It took Andy a moment to figure out what was gone.
“Brian,” he whispered.
“Shut up. This is the first decent sleep I’ve had in three days.”
“Brian. I think they’re gone, man.”
Brian sat up in his hammock and waved dismissively at the ladder up the rear wall. “Guess you better go check then.”
Andy snuck up the ladder and poked his head out of the hatch. “Holy shit! They’re gone! And the train’s coming back!”
“Whoo hoo! All of em?”
“Every one. What the fuck?”
Brian unlatched the back door of the caboose and stepped out onto the platform. The locomotive was several miles away and chugging towards them. Andy swung down over the edge and flipped down onto the platform with Brian.
The train stopped twenty five or so feet from the caboose. Nyko and Jonas climbed down out of the cab.
“You boys been on fucking vacation? I left you here to clear that shit off the god damned tracks. What the fuck have you been doing?” Nyko looked furious. “One god damn thing to do.”
“It ain’t like that at all,” said Brian
“So, what the fuck is it like?”
Brian relayed the story. Andy added in a few missed details, and some color commentary, specifically in the area of how bad Brian smelled.
“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Jonas. “We haven’t seen that many infected in more than a year. And why would they spend two days banging on your train car and then just leave you alone?”
“No idea. Look around. Follow the tracks. They were here,” said Andy. “And then something drew them off. That’s all there is. The question is where did they go. I’d like permission to follow the tracks. They can’t be more than half an hour away by buggy.”
“So you can draw them back? They’re gone. Let them stay gone. Get that fucking track cleared. I have rails and ties. Jonas has the welding equipment. I want to cross the patch before sunrise,” Nyko said.
The blockage on the track was made up of several junked cars buried under a pile of concrete, rocks, and dirt. It took the men four hours to clear the wrecks, before Brian and Andy dragged them away with the buggy.
The rest of the day, they worked at filling in the hole behind the blockage and setting the ties. The sun was setting as the men heaved the rails into place and checked the levels. Three of the ties were out of alignment.
Brian complained loudly as he heaved the rail off into the sand. “I fuckin told you that shit was slaunchwise man. You wouldn’t fuckin’ listen.”
“Just shut up and lift this fucking thing,” grunted Terrel.
“Someone’s coming.” Shouted Jonas as the last of the light faded.
“What is it,” yelled Nyko.
“They’re coming back,” yelled Andy. “Get to the train.”
All the men ran for the train, except Nyko, who walked backwards, looking at the oncoming herd of infected. The moon was not yet up, and the sun had passed the horizon. In the fading light, all he could see was the dust trail they were leaving. It had to be thousands.
An hour later, the train was surrounded, and the rhythmic thumping began. This time, there were windows. The infected stared at the men in the train through the window. When one of them would move, their hands would stretch for a few minutes, reaching towards the movement inside.
After a while, they would lower again, and the swaying would continue. Over the next five days, the men sat in the train. Every hour, Nyko got up, checked the train and then sat back down. Andy and Brian passed their time playing cards and drinking.
At the evening meal on day six, Nyko asked again, “They just fucking left? Six days we’ve been sitting here. Delayed ten days by a bunch of fucking infected. If they aren’t gone by tomorrow, I’m gonna shoot ‘em all just to get moving. Can’t stand the fucking stink of you sons of bitches.”
“Holy shit! That’s it. Boss, Me and Andy wiped down with them bleach rags and went to sleep. When we woke up, they were gone.”
Nyko slammed his hands down on the table. “Six fucking days and you just now mentioned this shit?”
“Well man, ain’t really think about it. Ain’t no one would have thought a few bleach towels would run off a whole herd of ‘em.”
Everyone on the train wiped themselves down with a can of bleach wipes and waited. By midnight, the infected had all gone, continuing their direction of travel. Nyko dismissed the crew to get some sleep.
The repairs started at dawn. They reset the ties, making sure they were level, plumb, and straight. Jonas was like a kid with a new comic book reading the manual that came with the welding rig, and bounced with joy as he lit the thermite. Within seconds, molten steel ran through the form, welding the replacement rail.
At ten minutes after six, they hooked the caboose and boxcar to the buggy, and slowly Andy dragged it back up the track to the siding, so they could get the locomotive back in front of it. The sun was fully down by the time the exhausted crew finished reconnecting the train. Nyko didn’t want to show up in Phoenix in the middle of the night, so he sent everyone to bed after making sure they wiped down with bleach once again.
On the fifteenth morning of the trip, a trip Nyko had expected to take a couple days, they started on the final leg. In three hours, they covered the last twenty eight miles.
The train topped a small rise, heading between two massive sandstone buttes, the gleaming white-walled city of Phoenix came into view.
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