My beautiful, beaten up truck is right where I’d left it; wedged between a pair of broken gates. We approach, feeling my soles tacking in sticky scraps of meat and blood that cover the ground. Gnawed bones are also scattered about. Presumably the remains of a stack of dead Hosts I’d shot have been snacked on after my departure.
Before reaching the cab, I squat to survey the interior of the shade house, and listen carefully. Surprises at this point will not be tolerated. A closer bang from a familiar rifle makes me jump and curse. OK, time to go. Opening the truck’s door, I toss the baby onto the seat, reassuringly touching the swipe-card that dangles from the key-ring. Forgetting to take it with me when I got out was a rare and fortunate event.
I turn the key until the glow plug symbol goes out, and then twist it further. The engine growls into life, puffing black smoke into the air. Jumping in to drive away is almost irresistible, but I know the loading ramp is down. Much as it galls me, I have to raise it or risk stranding us at the first speed bump we hit.
I squeeze through the gap between the bent and bloodied gate and truck, watching every direction at once for unfriendlies. Torn shade-cloth moves trickily in the light breeze.
My shotgun lays where it had fallen; next to a torn, burnt, and bloodied jumper of multiple colourations. For some reason the sight of the stylised bird pattern knitted into it draws my attention. I hadn’t noticed it during my killing spree. It weighs on my mind until I catch sight of myself in a large, wrought-iron edged mirror. I stretch out the front of the purple creation I’m wearing and stare at the dirty white duck embossed on its front.
The synchronicity and disquieting coincidence troubles me. Sometimes I even attribute these spooky coincidences to higher beings who play with me for their own amusement. I shake my head at this nonsense then pick up the shotgun and collect the loose cartridges from the ground. Reloading the gun by feel, I scurry to an intact corner of the greenhouse and look towards the back fence.
The red-faced, rifle-toting old maniac is about fifty metres into the paddock I’d crossed. I raise the shotgun and shoot at his head. I miss of course, but his reaction is priceless. He stops, uncomprehendingly, and then drops his rifle-crutch to reach for the sky in surrender.
Uninterested in prisoners, I fire again. The double-naught buckshot tears through the air around him. Damn barrel must be bent; I’m still aiming at his head. He takes heed of my third shot and turns tail.
Angry at being chased so far for no good reason I fire one more cartridge, shrugging when fleeing figure doesn’t fall. Putting the weirdo out of my thoughts, I sigh deeply and return to the back of the truck and activate the electric motor that lifts the ramp. As the metal plate whines up I shift and twirl nervously to keep a look out. Paranoia builds until an expectation of impending doom cannot be calmed by lip-biting alone. The ramp isn’t quite closed before I give in to the fear.
The rubberised controller bangs against the side of the truck when I drop it and scrape through the fence gap. I’m hyperventilating as I clamber aboard the truck; my head full of the most efficient sequence to get us rolling.
I’d almost forgotten about the baby. At the last moment stop myself from sitting on her. I reach under my hovering butt to scoop her up, and then let myself fall back heavily. A quick look at the glove box is rejected as inappropriate for her placement. The capacious document tray is the next best spot. I displace most of the sharp objects, place her inside, slam my door shut, and slap down the lock.
Thus secured I let in the clutch and punch the maxi-brake button. We’re moving! The pall of doom departs and my tattered courage returns. Flagging spirits are bolstered by each revolution of the wheels and each second that passes without destruction raining down upon us.
The truck engine growls smoothly under load. Whatever is on board is heavy and loosely packed. I drive carefully and think bad thoughts. Is Kristine alive? Is she hurt? Or worse; is she now one of them?