Great Basin Desert
“Okay, wait. Do you mean, like, 28 Days Later zombies or Romero’s?” Bobby asked as Utah wind blew in through his open car window.
Sarah shifted gears in their road abused SUV then flicked her cigarette out the window as they sped down the highway.
“Both,” she replied.
“Oh, god.” Bobby said, picturing all that undead flesh, “I guess – wait, can I have a shotgun instead of a 9mm?”
“Sure, but that means your car only has a quarter tank of gas in it.” Sarah smiled.
“Fine. Well, I guess I’d blast my way out of the – this is stupid. No way would I have gone to the library during a zombie apocalypse!”
“You hadn’t heard the news,” Sarah said, after thinking for a second.
“Then why the hell would I be wandering the streets with a shotgun?” Bobby asked incredulously, “What kinda scary-ass library is this?”
“Yeah,” Sarah admitted, “I didn’t think this question through very well. My brain’s getting tired.” She said through a yawn.
“Well, we’ve been playing since Vegas. We can take a break.” Bobby said, rolling his window up, “Want me to drive for a bit?”
“Sure,” Sarah said, pulling over to a stop on the side of the highway. “Just let me get a few hours’ sleep, and then I’ll take back over. We’re still roughly ten hours out from home, according to the GPS. Heikes is probably already there.”
For the first time since the siblings had started their road trip Bobby’s face didn’t fall at the mention of Heikes’ name, which Sarah took as a good sign.
While Sarah came around from the driver’s side, Bobby got out of the SUV and stretched, looking up at the desert moon. The air had gotten chilly with the disappearance of the sun.
“I’m going to get in my bag quick, grab my sweatshirt,” Bobby said, opening the door to the back seat as Sarah bent over to touch her toes, trying to get the blood flowing back into her legs.
“Okay. Check on Joe Pesci while you’re at it?”
Joe Pesci was Sarah’s pet guinea pig whose kennel was currently belted safely in the back seat. Bobby reached in and gave his orange and white fur a gentle scratch between the ears, causing Joe Pesci to sort of shimmy with delight.
“He’s fine,” Bobby said, reaching for his bag.
“Hey, grab him a –”
“Grab what?” Bobby asked, looking up. He gave a sharp inhale when he saw what had interrupted Sarah’s thought. What looked to Bobby to be a large, black dog was standing in the light from their headlights, staring at them. “Is that a wolf?” Bobby whispered.
“Get in the car and shut the door,” Sarah whispered back as she climbed into Bobby’s now vacant front passenger seat, following her own advice.
Bobby hopped into the back seat and slammed the door.
“Is it a wolf, Sarah?”
“Do they even have wolves in the desert? I have no idea.” Sarah said as the creature moved closer to the front of the car, staying in the headlights. “It looks hungry.”
“Sarah, let’s just go.” Bobby shook her shoulder.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Sarah climbed over the middle console back into the driver’s seat, “I’m wide awake now.”
“Shit!” Bobby grabbed Sarah’s arm, “Where’d the wolf go?”
Sarah peered through the windshield but didn’t see the wolf anymore. It wasn’t in front of them or on the driver’s side. “I don’t see it. Is it over there?”
“I don’t see it anywhere,” Bobby said, peering back and forth through the window.
The animal, whatever it was, had simply vanished into the night.
“Let’s go.” Sarah shivered. She told herself it was because she was cold.
Sarah got them going down the highway again. They sat in silence for a long while; both lost in thought. Eventually, Bobby dozed off. As he slept, he dreamed.
He dreamt of long pathways cut in the sand and framed in stone. Something was chasing him. He could hear his heart beating faster; his breathing, heavier. Only, it wasn’t his breathing. It belonged to whoever hunted him. It was close.
Bobby came to a cliff in his dream. There, at the cliff’s edge, stood his pursuer. A black wolf with an oddly human face. As the wolf with the man’s face circled Bobby, it spoke:
“Lu eribu, wardum.”
And then it jumped at him.
Bobby woke up screaming.
Sarah shook him by the arm.
“Are you okay?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah.” Bobby grabbed the bottle of water from his cup holder and took a swig to steady himself. “I’m good. Bad dream.”
“Sounded like it.” Sarah said, “Well, we’re almost in the clear. Twenty-four more miles and we’re out of the desert.”
Bobby sat quietly. He couldn’t explain why, but something about being free from the desert made him feel fantastic. He felt like he could run a mile, hell, a marathon!
But the feeling did not last. More rest was needed, it seemed. Much more. Bobby’s eyes closed as his head laid back to sleep.
A smile came across Bobby’s face then.
It was not his.
“Is this the one?” a man’s graveled voice asked beneath a sleeveless, hooded sweatshirt.
“Yes,” the young girl seated next to him answered. “This is the town the siblings were headed to when it found them.” Her eyes were opened wide, unfocused, giving her face a blank look. “It all starts soon.”
The man nodded and pulled their beat-up truck to the side of the road, just outside city limits. Small towns off the beaten path like this one were the creature’s favorite nest.
Putting the truck in park, the man turned off the engine. He grabbed the steering wheel firmly with both hands and closed his eyes. He breathed deeply, in through his nose, out through his mouth. His eyes, hidden beneath the hood of his sweatshirt, were closed tightly in meditation.
His prey was near. The hunt would end soon, one way or another.
Finally, he checked his side mirror to make sure no one was coming and then opened his door. The deep scarring covering his massive arms from wrists to shoulders, as though his capillaries had all exploded once upon a time, could be seen in the dome light.
“I’ll get the gear ready.” He said and got out of the truck.
The young girl, Lauren, she was fourteen-years-old if a day, came out of her trance. She undid her seatbelt so she could reach for something from the backseat. Soon she hefted an old black duster into her lap. Lauren stared down at it, remembering briefly the day she met its owner, the hooded man who had no name, and so she took to calling him Dusty over the months that they’d hunted the creature together. Named for that jacket. She got out of the truck and headed toward the man with her prize.
“Here, you must put your coat on before we enter town. Remember last time.” she smiled innocently and handed it up to Dusty, who towered over her.
Taking the jacket, Dusty put it on, causing his hood to fall revealing further scarring over his bald head and face. He pulled the hood back up, covering himself.
“It was hot.” was all he said.
“Yeah, I know,” blonde hair framed Lauren’s face. “I’m just looking out for you. So, what’s the plan?”
“We nearly had it in the desert,” Dusty explained as he filled a duffle bag with various weapons from the back of their truck bed camper: a shotgun, a box of shells for it, two loaded handguns, and a long, thin blade wrapped in scented cloth. “It’ll be weak now; should stay easier for you to track. But we’ve got to hurry.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t see the wolf,” Lauren said. “I can’t sense animals like I can people and –”
“It’s done.” Dusty interrupted. “Neither of us could’ve known how that would play out – the odds of other people crossing the desert just then. Let’s focus on the job at hand.”
“Right, right,” Lauren said, admonishing herself silently. She closed her eyes, trying to locate the place inside her mind that they needed to find the creature. That was her part of the job.
“It is . . . weak,” Lauren said, finding the creature’s dark atonal signature amidst a concert of universal frequencies, just enough to read it. “It feels different. I think – it’s in the boy.” She squinted harder at first and then opened her eyes in that faraway look that meant she was using her gift. That’s what Dusty called it, her gift. The first person in Lauren’s short life to call it such.
“Damn!” Dusty slammed the truck tailgate. “Already able to take a human?”
“Don’t worry,” Lauren held her hands outright, still entranced. “The wolf gave it enough strength to leap, but only just. They had a small pet? Some animal in the car – which might’ve meant the end of the monster. Unfortunately, the boy fell asleep before the creature died in their pet.”
Dusty loaded the shotgun. “Bad luck all around.”
“Yeah, but if we hurry, we can still save the boy.” Lauren came to, giving her head a little shake and readying herself for the battle ahead.
Dusty’s attention never left the shotgun.