As Freddie crashed the Jeep through the ruts of the driveway, he caught a glimpse of an elderly couple waving at him in the rearview mirror, holding their feeble hands up in the foggy air. At that point, a shiver went through his body. He wondered if it were the last time he would see his parents again. He felt like an outcast. On the long road ahead, the vision would haunt him. They may have been safer there than here but where was here and was anywhere safe anymore?
The highway was littered with signs of struggle; burned out cars and trash and here and there a baby stroller or a car seat lying in swollen ditches by the roadside. There were even some sinister, bloated shapes in the ditches. He thought he made out human limbs but kept on driving. Greta had sent some outward bands deep into the heart of the land, bringing torrential downpours. All was sodden and ruined. Later they drove through the charred remains of a small village that had been set on fire.
Whenever they saw other vehicles on the small rural roads, they avoided eye contact and the cars peeled off skittishly into little-known tracks. There was no sign of any law enforcement officers.
After five hours of negotiating these bleak roads they came upon a twisted sign that informed them they were in West Virginia. Above them on a hill, a highway buzzed with a convoy of military vehicles.
“The roads are even more difficult here, but we should be at the cottage in two hours. I think we should avoid the main road,” Freddie informed them. Dark shapes were crawling at the edge of his eyes from the exhausting drive.
The child was had kept up an incessant wail for the last three hours, and she became more incessant. Carson, wordless and brooding, got out of the car and lit a cigarette. His hunting rifle was slung over his shoulder.
They saw one of the figures up on the overpass in military fatigues swing around and raise a gun to shoulder level.
“Get back in,” yelled Diana.
Carson jumped into the Jeep, the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
The soldier continued to look in their direction. They braced themselves for the sound of metal piercing their car. Another soldier joined him on the bridge. They were pointing. Then suddenly they broke away, distracted by something else.
“God. That was stupid,” said Diana.
Carson swing around. “What bitch?”
“Who are you calling a bitch?” she retorted.
Freddie heard a struggle going on and Diana crying out as the cigarette was embedded in her arm.
“No, No,” he heard himself say as his fist made a jarring contact with Carson’s face.
Carson was stunned for a few seconds, but he rallied quickly. The safety catch came off the gun. Its hard metal was up against Freddie’s skull.
“I’m going to put a hole in you. You were a piece of shit from the outset.”
“And how are you ever going to get to the cottage?” Freddie said.
Carson laughed and it was a sound more sinister than any growl. It was a demented cackling. “We gonna grow roses and live on air Mister?”
Freddie realized he was going to die then. He had never felt so much like a commodity to be dispensed with. But just as he prepared for darkness to overwhelm him, he heard a yell. Diana’s hand was on the gun, and her teeth were on Carson’s hand. He yelped. There was a loud bang, and the tone of his cry became even more frenzied. Freddie slipped, and his face was covered with the blood that was gushing from Carson’s leg.
“Christ,” he moaned.
Suddenly they became aware of something else, a low deep rumble that shook the small lane and was getting ever louder.
Freddie turned and saw a dirty, low slung beast rumbling toward them. It was a heavy tank, and it was less than 100 yards away. Its tracks were thick with mud, and Freddie could see no human form on board.
He rushed out of the seat, tugged on the passenger door and almost pulled Diana’s arm out of her socket. She shrieked and dragged at the child, who moved away. She lunged again and picked up the child. They were in a waterlogged ditch just seconds before the tank rolled over the Jeep and shoved it up against a tree. They lay there for 10 minutes as the roar of the Behemoth subsided, and they started picking their way through thorn bushes, down the filthy ditch away from the mangled remains of the Jeep. They didn’t leave the ditch until they had travelled a mile west.
On a darkening road on the border, a figure cursed heavily as he pulled himself out of the wreck of a car, clutching his wounded leg.