They reach the road within half an hour.
William was hoping to see a car or two left by the roadside. Instead, what he sees looking down from the hilltop is more like a giant parking lot.
The road is completely packed with vehicles of all kinds, placed bumper-to-bumper, all looking eager to get going.
But the queue isn’t moving, and he can tell from the quiet of the morning that none of the engines are on. Quite a few of the car doors are also open, as though the drivers didn’t bother to close them when they got out. The line of cars stretches for as long as William is able to follow the road before it disappears between the hills.
“Looks like we weren’t the only ones headed for Bergen,” he murmurs.
“Of course not,” Åsaa says. “We all got the message yesterday. About the boats leaving for Finland. It was all over the news and Facebook. It was all anyone was talking about.”
“But they all left,” Dan says, shaking his head slowly. “They all just got out of their cars and left.”
William nods. “Either they got tired of waiting and decided to walk, or something drove them out.”
A few seconds of eerie silence passes between them. William notices his companions dart glances around. Apparently, even Ozzy is picking up on the creepy atmosphere—or maybe he’s just eager to get going—because he whimpers softly.
“Well, we can forget about getting a ride,” Dan says. “Both lanes are completely blocked. Even the emergency lane.”
“I’m not walking twenty-five fucking miles,” William mutters as he scans the road. “There’s gotta be some way we can drive …” He looks at Åsaa. “Do you know of any other roads leading to Bergen from here?”
She shrugs. “The nearest one is five miles farther east.”
“That’s most likely going to be packed full as well,” Dan interjects.
“You’re right,” William says, chewing his lip. “We’ve gotta think outside the box here. What road didn’t anybody else think of taking? Åsaa, you’re our local guide. Anything come to mind? Anything at all? Like a dirt road or something. It doesn’t even need to be a proper road, just something wide enough for a car to drive on.”
Åsaa gestures to the other side of the road. “Well, there’s a hiking trail on that hilltop. I’ve walked it with … with Erik a couple of times …”
“Could a car drive on it?” William asks quickly, before Åsaa can sink back into painful memories. “Is it wide enough?”
“I … I guess so. In theory, at least. But it’s very hilly. It’s certainly not meant for cars.”
“Good,” William nods, feeling uplifted. “That means no one else would have thought of taking it.”
“I don’t even think we can get a car up there,” Åsaa says.
“What about down there?” William asks, pointing. “Looks like the hillside isn’t really that steep. I think we could do it.”
He begins walking along the road, Ozzy by his side. Dan and Åsaa follow suit.
“Are you sure we can drive up the hillside?” Dan asks. “I think it’s pretty steep for a car.”
“Depends on what kind of car we’re talking about,” William says. “Damn, there’s a lot of Teslas. Considering how much oil you guys have, you really like electric cars.”
Åsaa hardly seems to notice the remark.
Then William sees it. He stops and points. “There! That one!”
“Which one?” Dan asks, squinting.
“The BMW,” William says.
Dan still looks puzzled.
“The SUV,” William adds.
Dan shakes his head. “Those are just letters to me.”
William sighs. “It’s the big white one.”
“Ah. You think that one could drive up the hillside?”
“I know it can. It’s basically a family-friendly jeep.”
Åsaa gasps. “Look! A man’s coming!”
William follows her gaze. Almost a mile down road he can see a guy walking between the cars. He’s headed this way. The crooked walk suggests he’s either hurt or dead. None of which are appealing prospects.
“There’s more than one,” Dan remarks.
William looks farther up road and can make out at least five additional figures, all coming this way.
“I think we’d better hurry,” he says. “They’ll be here in five minutes. Come on!” He runs down the hillside, Ozzy right at his heels, the bag bouncing on his back.
He doesn’t waste time looking back to see if the others follow him, instead he focuses on not tripping and falling, as taking a tumble on the steep hillside would likely mean rolling all the way to the bottom.
Ozzy—having the advantage of four legs—quickly gains the lead and reaches the road in a matter of seconds.
William joins him half a minute later. As he steps onto the concrete, he darts a glance in the direction of the oncomers, but he can’t see them yet. Behind him he can hear Dan and Åsaa catching up. Ozzy looks at him eagerly, waiting for what will happen next.
William runs to the SUV, which is parked at a crooked angle with both front tires on the roadside, almost like the driver wanted to go off-road to escape the queue, but then changed his mind at the last second.
“Please don’t be locked,” William mutters as he makes his way to the rear door, slipping off the bag. Just as he grabs the handle, Ozzy barks up at him loud and sudden enough to cause William to jump.
“Jesus Christ, buddy! You made me shit myself!”
Ozzy glares up at him, growling menacingly, bristling like a porcupine.
“What is it?” William says, frowning and looking around quickly. “It’s okay; no one’s here. We’re just going for a ride.”
His hand is still resting on the handle and he’s about to pull it when he catches a movement through the tinted window. A girl’s face is staring out at him, biting and smearing the window in drool and blood.
“Oh, shit!” William gasps and lets go of the car handle like it just turned red-hot. He steps back just as Dan joins him. “Don’t,” William says, grabbing him by the arm. “Someone’s already in there …”
“Oh, no,” Dan sighs, catching his breath.
Åsaa catches up and stops a few paces away. “What’s wrong?” she asks.
“There’s a girl inside,” William says, wiping sweat from his brow. The morning has suddenly turned warm; the fog is almost gone and the sun is climbing the sky. Ozzy is still growling and barking. “We need to deal with her before we can take the car.”
“Can’t we just take another?” Åsaa asks.
“No, I told you, we need this one,” William says, pointing at the BMW. “It’s the only one I could make out from up there that’ll take us off-road. Ozzy, will you shut up? We get it!”
“She’s not alone,” Dan says as Ozzy resorts to an anxious whimper and begins slinking around the SUV.
William turns to the car and sees two other faces now—an older boy and a younger one have both squeezed in next to the girl.
Probably her brothers. Fuck me, they’re just kids …
“Why did their parents just leave them?” Åsaa whispers, horror in her voice. Her lips begin to tremble and she shakes her head. “Those poor, poor kids …”
“Don’t go into hysteria now,” William says harshly, feeling his stress levels spike. “We need to think up a solution, and quickly. Before the other dead assholes show up.”
“Can’t you just shoot them through the window?” Dan suggests, nodding at the rifle in William’s hand.
He shakes his head. “That’s a bad idea. We’ll bust the window, and we might need it for protection later. Also, I don’t want fucking brain matter all over the interior …”
“Oh, my God,” Åsaa gasps, clasping a hand to her mouth and turning away.
William realizes immediately he made a mistake by painting that picture. But he’s growing more nervous by the minute, and when he’s nervous he tends to just say whatever shit comes to mind.
“We need to open the door and let them out,” William says. “That’s the best way of getting rid of them.”
“What?” Åsaa exclaims, backing up. “No, wait!”
“It’s okay,” William says, holding up his hand. “I’m not doing it yet. Not before you guys are at a safe distance.”
“What about you?” Dan asks, not looking particularly fond of the idea.
“Me and Ozzy will take care of them,” William tells him. “Just go climb onto another car—one that’s tall enough that they can’t reach you.”
“But—” Åsaa is about to object when William cuts her off.
“It’s just a precaution. Once they’re out, I’ll shoot them.”
“Careful not to shoot Ozzy,” Dan says. “And don’t shoot out the tires, either.”
“You’re right, good thinking. I’ll lure them away from the car first. Right, everyone at your stations. Move, move!”
Dan and Åsaa exchange a brief, uncertain look, then Dan runs to the nearest van and climbs up onto the hood. He reaches down and pulls Åsaa up. She’s still just wearing the coat over her underwear, and as she puts up her leg to climb onto the roof of the car, William catches a glimpse of her panties. They’re pink. He feels an unexpected jolt of excitement, then immediately feels guilty and looks away.
He turns to the BMW and the three kids pushing and shoving each other to try and get at him.
Releasing three zombies suddenly feels like a very bad idea. Kind of like opening the cage to the tigers at a zoo. But he knows they move pretty slow, and he should be able to take them out before things get dangerous.
Besides, there’s no time for second thoughts now.
So, William walks briskly around the car, grabs the door handle and opens it. The moans and groans from the kids grow louder as they wrestle to turn around and get at him.
Once the first one—the youngest boy—manages to push himself out of the open door and fall onto the asphalt, though, William is already several yards farther down road.
“Ozzy, heel,” he says, placing the rifle against his shoulder as the German shepherd settles in next to him, whimpering and growling at the kids who have now all squeezed out of the SUV and are getting to their feet. Immediately, they begin staggering his way.
Goddamnit, William thinks, closing one eye. They’re even younger than I thought.
Only the oldest boy is in his teens, the others can’t be more than six and eight. The thought of them being alive probably just hours ago, sitting in the backseat, arguing, joking around, playing on their iPads, with their parents in the front, trying to get them to safety.
Now they’re all dead.
And they probably killed each other.
William feels his throat tighten up and his finger curled around the trigger is surprisingly unwilling to squeeze it.
Come on. Do it. They’re not kids anymore. You’re doing them a favor.
Ozzy begins barking. The youngest boy is just ten paces away now.
William aims for his head. Then pulls the trigger.
The shot rings out a lot louder than he anticipated—probably, he thinks absentmindedly, because the sound ricochets off the row of cars and slams right back at his eardrums.
The bullet misses its mark, burrowing instead into the shoulder of the girl walking behind the boy, thrusting her halfway around, but not causing her any real concern, as she just keeps coming forward.
“Fuck,” William mutters, scrambling to reload the rifle.
He didn’t take any misses into consideration; he simply took it for granted he would only need three shots to take out the kids. Turns out, a real-life headshot is a heck of a lot harder to pull off than computer games make it look.
He backs up several feet, commanding Ozzy along, noticing how he can barely hear his own voice. He takes aim again, but this time, he kneels down, resting his elbow on his knee. It makes keeping the rifle steady a whole lot easier.
He aims for the boy’s head once more, muttering to himself.
“Come on … you can do it …”
Then Dan’s voice cuts through the ringing in his ears. William realizes Dan has been calling for him ever since he shot the rifle, but William couldn’t hear him until now.
He gets up and sees Dan and Åsaa, both still standing on the roof of the van, and both jumping and waving their arms.
“What?” Williams shouts.
Dan mouths something that William can’t make out. He assumes they’re upset because he missed the first shot.
“Don’t worry!” he calls back. “I’ll get ’em this time …”
Then, just as he takes a knee, he catches a movement in the sideview mirror of the nearest car.
Right behind him are two zombies.
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