We left the Greg and Doreen’s house in morning. I assumed that it was a good bet that they wouldn’t resurface for several more weeks so I took the purple spray and the bottle of alcohol and crammed them into Jesse’s pack. I also took their broom and cut off the bristles to make a crutch for Robert.
We crept slowly out their back door and secured the broken lock as best we could. The world that met us outside of the house that morning was absolutely different than when we left it last night. The sounds of gunfire from the night before were gone and birds flittered from tree branch to tree branch. With my mask on, I couldn’t detect the ever-present smell of ashes and death. If I just could suspend reality for a moment, then I could almost visualize that we were going out for a fun-filled day in the snow.
The exhaustion of the previous night was replaced by a deep, total body ache from being pitched all around the cab of the SUV when we rolled. We hobbled along as best we could and Jesse suggested that we remove our arm bands since we were in “Indian country” as he phrased it. It was a good suggestion, so we took them off and hid them away where they wouldn’t be easily found if we were stopped and searched, but could still reach them if we ran into a group from Virden.
In less than an hour, we made it to the edge of the field where our trucks had been parked outside of Springfield. We huddled together inside a row of thick bushes and observed the carnage. They’d found our assembly area. About half of the trucks still sat where they’d been parked, but in most of those, there were several bullet holes in the windshield. My guess is that they had snipers in the very bushes we sat in now and picked off the drivers. I wondered how many actually got away or if the trucks that weren’t on the field had been confiscated.
“Well fuck, what do we do now?” I asked dejectedly.
“It looks like they hit us hard…like we’d been planning on doing to them,” Jesse said as he continued to scan the scene. “Look, over there. There’s a group of people!” he said as he pointed off to the far east side of the field.
I followed his arm and saw a group of five or six people shuffle slowly along. They each went to one of our trucks and pulled dead bodies from the cabs. Then they got in and drove them back into the city. Guess that answered the question about what happened to our trucks.
“Ok, looks like our strike force got wiped out,” Jesse said. “We should skirt this field and head back to Virden.”
“It’s thirty miles!” Robert exclaimed quietly. “I can’t walk that far on my new stump. Hell, just the mile or so from Greg’s house is killing me.”
“I know Robert. I thought we’d have transportation once we got here too, but we don’t. We have to go. Maybe in a few miles we can find a vehicle, but we can’t afford to be seen or heard here,” Jesse stated.
Robert looked at him pleadingly. “Please Jesse, I can’t make it a few miles. Maybe we can just get one of the smaller SUVs and no one will notice.”
I finally voiced my opinion, “We don’t know that and then we risk getting shot down running across the field. I think Jesse’s right. We need to get away from here before we draw any attention to ourselves.”
Robert looked back and forth between us and finally nodded. “Ok, I’ll try to make it to a little further.”
“Alright,” Jesse said while he pulled out his battered road atlas. He examined it for a few moments and said, “Given the situation in the field, they must know that we came from the south along I-55…the lake will stop us from going straight south ‘cross country, so we really either take our chances on the I-55 bridge or go farther west to this Iron Bridge Road.” His finger rested on a road that ran straight south.
“What’s that?” I asked as I pointed to what looked like a small back road with a bridge.
“Hmm,” he followed the very small lane north until he found the name. “It’s the Interurban Trail,” he replied.
“If it’s a nature trail, I bet there’s a lot of trees and underbrush that could provide us good cover to get out of the city. That Iron Bridge Road looks like the only other major bridge from the south. They’ve probably already got the bridges locked down, but they might not have a little foot bridge closed off,” I reasoned with our small group.
Jesse thought about it and examined the map some more. “You’re probably right,” he said. “Let’s head west and take the nature trail south over the lake, then we’ll figure out what we need to do to get to Virden.” It was clear that he had reassumed the role of our leader in this tactical situation. I didn’t mind one bit.
We edged out way back to the city-side of the bushes and walked as normally as we could. There was really nowhere we could hide on the south side of the city, so we tried to act like the residents would. When I thought about it though, it was kind of silly because the residents who weren’t part of the fighting were huddled in their homes trying to survive another day, not out walking in the radioactive snow. But we made due with the situation that we were presented with.
It turned out alright. If there were snipers watching us through hunting scopes, then we must have passed their test and been allowed to survive. We reached the point where the trail went underneath the I-72 overpass and turned left onto the trail. It was pretty open right around the highway, but quickly became a tree-lined lane leading the way to safety.
We traveled for four or five miles across down the trail, but we needed to find a spot for Robert to either rest or get a vehicle. Our route brought us into the town of Chatham, but there was nothing left of it. Sure, there were some skeletal structures still standing, but it was clear that the entire town had been torched. We picked our way carefully and ran from shadow to shadow in the murky light. As in Springfield, there were massive amounts of dead bodies here. Except these were different.
/// Want to read more? Look for Unclean Wonderland to be released in late summer/early fall 2014!! /////////////