Chapter 19

Avery woke to the sound of rumbling. No, not just the sound. The feel. The room had vibrated. Then it stopped. He didn't even know he fell asleep. Was it an earthquake? He'd never been in one, had no idea what one felt like. Or maybe it was thunder. He had no idea what the weather was like outside, but if he really was underground, would he be able to hear it? Or feel it? That seemed unlikely.

Then he heard screaming.

He couldn't tell if it was male or female, but he had seen few of the latter. Two heads ran by his window, fast as sprinters. There was something going on. Something that was sending up panic.

Avery stood up and ran to the window, trying to angle himself so that he could see down the hallway. "What's going on?" he called out. No one answered him.

There was another rumble, definitely coming from above. More people screamed. Scientists ran around in front of his door, waving their arms in the air. Two ran into each other in front of Avery's cell.

"What's happening?" one asked.

"He's here!"

Gun shots muffled the next thing said. Loud ones he couldn't pinpoint.

The man said a hushed, "No... the betrayer..."

"He can't possibly think he's going to escape. This compound-" A muffled explosion.

"He got in. You think he can't get out?"

"The police?"

"We can't bring them in. Not enough time. Not enough control."

"But the media..."

"They'll just blame it on an escaped inmate that found a weapons locker."

"Dear god, we're all dead!"

"It's the perfect crime, the perfect massacre." Another explosion rocked the floor.

"Where is he now?"

"Up top, still. We'd better get the hell out of here."

"Isn't there anyone to stop him? Where are the orderlies?"

"Running, if they're smart. You can't possibly think they're going to stop him."

"They could slow him down."

"Nothing slows him down. There's no time for this. Take what projects you can and leave out the west hatch. And pray to the Dreaming God. I'll meet you there."

"Right."

They left as the biggest explosion he'd heard yet sounded. Some ceiling crumbled on his head.

More people came shrieking past his cell, scurrying like mice. Sirens went off, surrounding his ears with a resonating wail.

What the hell was going on? Who was 'the betrayer'? Was he an inmate that had gotten loose? One of their experiments? They had squelched revolts so quickly before, he could hardly believe it was someone they couldn't handle.

Whatever he was, he had penetrated the compound, something that the guards had told him was impossible to do. And all hell had broken loose because of him. Which was fine by Avery the enemy of his enemy was his friend.

Then he heard a booming explosion, like a shotgun blast. In his hallway.

Oh shit, he was here.

More gun blasts. Shrieks and groans, surprised gasps and cries, pleading and yelling. Pitiful cries of 'don't kill me' and 'help me'. Avery pressed against the window hard enough to leave a mark. Noise came from all directions.

Two scientists ran past his cell to the right. A half-second later, there was another shotgun blast from the left. Blood spattered across the window and into his eyes, like someone had flicked a paintbrush at him.

The blood made Avery realize this person may not want to be his friend, even with the possibility of escape. Trapped in a cell may not have been the best place to be. Avery backed away from the door. Maybe it would be better if no one knew he was here.

Before he even stepped back a foot, a haggard face with glowing red eyes appeared in the window.

"Walker?" Avery was about to say, then faded out. His face looked like it had been through a meat grinder - wrinkled, scarred, torn, leathery. His eyes glowed bright red, no pupils or irises. Throbbing red, like a heartbeat. "You're not Walker."

"No shit, sherlock," the man said. His voice was low, as gravelly as a dirt road. He looked Avery up and down. "And I thought I was ugly."

He ducked out of view, and the door rattled hard, dust puffed out the seams. He was trying to open it.

"Ergh, locked," the man said. "They just don't make them like they used to."

Then there was a stripping sound like duct tape, and more jostling of the door.

Avery stayed solid, too scared and confused to move. Then a faint beeping started.

The man popped up, and waved a little device that looked like a remote control with a blinking red button. "Get back, if you don't want to test your afterlife theories." Then he disappeared.

Avery jumped back to the farthest corner of the cell, cradling himself in the padding. He wanted to look out the window and find out what was beeping, but there was no way he was going to defy his orders.

The beeping sound stopped, followed by a click. Avery covered his head.

The door exploded. It didn't blow inward or outward, it just shattered. When Avery was sure there was no shrapnel either still flying or embedded in his body, he dropped his arm.

From out of the wisping smoke, a gnarled hand reached in, attached to a long arm sleeved in leather, and yanked him out of the cell with inhuman strength. He crashed into the opposite wall.

The dark man who saved him looked like he was from the same clan as Walker. He wore a black trenchcoat in much worse condition, and a flat black cowboy hat. In one hand, he held a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun like a giant pistol.

He cracked open the barrel, snapping out the empty shells, and popped two more red and yellow cartridges in, all in one smooth motion like the gun was part of his body. And this was the guy who was... saving him?

The dark man emptied his gun eight times into various scientists and guards. Running toward him or away from him, it didn't matter. They were all lambs to the slaughter.

Two guards holding sliver pistols ran straight at him. "I'll taste your blood," one shouted, a maniacal look in his eye. The patients and their keepers were no longer distinguishable.

The dark man held out his gun and it clicked empty. He looked at it, swore, and reached under his coat. From nowhere, he pulled out a long stick with a skull on the end of it.

Avery stared. It was the same. The same as the photographs.

The dark man launched forward, spinning the staff around his body. The guards fired off shots, but missed wildly. He moved the skull-staff around so fast it was distracting their aim.

He brought the staff down on one's head. He reached out to grab it, but the dark man brought the skull-end on his gun arm, making him drop the pistol with a snap.

He pulled the staff back, side-swiping his head skull-to-skull, then thrust the pole end in his gut. He whoofed as the air and life rushed out of him. The dark man shook the stick loose and the guard fell over.

The remaining assailant sprung forward. The man circled around and crouched, using his weapon to trip his attacker. He didn't get the chance to fall before the man brought the staff in front of the guard's face.

Light flared in the skull's eye sockets. A beam of yellow energy shot out into the eyes of the other man. Sparkling particles that looked like fireworks dripped off the beam as the man cried out in abject pain.

The guard's face dribbled away like candle wax. Skin sloughed off his bones. His body collapsed into a dry pile of mush. The dark man pulled his staff away and returned it under his trenchcoat.

"Come on. Show's over." He started walking again, and Avery skittered right after him.

They ran all the way to the end of the hall, without any other guards coming to bother them, then turned right. The lights were getting darker, but there was a red sign hanging from the ceiling that said 'EXIT'. It gleamed like a divine beacon.

When he was about to get to the door, the dark man stopped and Avery almost collided with him. The dark man pulled out a bundle of dynamite with a green electronic piece attached.

"Open it," he said, nodding to the door.

Avery grabbed the cold metal handle and pulled it open. The exit led to stairs leading upward, confirming Avery's suspicion that they were underground. At the top, a set of ten guards stood with handguns and rifles, chatting with each other. But as soon as the door opened, they stopped and turned toward Avery, who stared back with equal stupidity.

The dark man appeared over his shoulder and said, "Happy birthday," then lobbed the dynamite about three steps away.

The guards all barreled down the stairs, nearly tumbling over each other. The man pulled Avery back and yanked the door closed, almost crushing his hand in the jamb.

Gun shots fired behind the heavy metal door, but pinged harmlessly. Avery crawled back from the door, breathing heavily from exhaustion of all the excitement. The dark man stood with his arms crossed, grinning like the devil.

"Rest in pieces."

And then there was a thunderous boom, a series of low guttural screams that were all suddenly muted. Avery shut his eyes for a split-second. The dark man pulled the door open and went up. Avery followed him in and nearly gagged.

The explosion had coated the walls with blood and bone shrapnel. Red coated pieces of clothing fabric and shining wet debris were strewed about the steps. It smelled like the inside of a farm.

This was carnage. This was worse than any horror movie he'd ever seen. Did he want to be saved anymore?

He walked up the metal stairs, taking care not to slip on the mess. He couldn't avert his eyes from the gore, trying to identify the pieces he was looking at.

"Keep moving, or I'll leave you like them," the dark man said.

Avery ran faster, keeping well out of the man's personal bubble. Aboveground, it was daylight. The corridors were abandoned. No patients or guards. Either they'd escaped, hid, or already been killed. The dark man turned at the stairs to the second story and started climbing.

"Wait, the exit's over there," Avery said.

"Not taking the exit, chump," he rasped. "There'll be a million little piggies there. A few too many guns for your hide."

"Then how are we getting out?" he said as he U-turned and went up the stairs.

"Leave the smarts to me." They ran all the way to the back of the building, to a custodian closet. He practically ripped off the hinges off the door, and approached a small metal hatch with a twist handle that said 'trash only'.

"The garbage chute?" Avery asked. The odor of rotted food was stale and repulsive, but it was mixed with something else that he couldn't place.

"Right, jack," the man tore off the chute door and threw it away. "Off you go." He picked up Avery by the neck and flung him feet first into the chute.

He scrambled for a hand hold but the surprise made him panic. Any wall he touched slipped from underneath his fingers.

As he fell down the slippery slide he became aware of what that other smell was burning garbage. The incinerator was right below him. A bright light under his feet confirmed it. He was falling towards a pit of fire.

Avery flailed his arms on the smooth metal, trying to stop his descent, but he ended up cutting his palms on the seams between aluminum plates. The pipe spouted him out into the open air and he screamed as he was about to tumble into the flames.

A hand grabbed the back of Avery's shirt and yanked him up like a parachute. His feet dangled over the roasting furnace, ripe with the smell of human waste.

Once Avery realized he was not dead he looked up and saw the dark man hanging above him, one hand on his shirt, the other holding onto his skull-staff wedged in the chute.

He swung once and tossed Avery over to the side. He landed free of the incinerator, but hard on the pavement road. Avery struggled to get up, as the man dropped next to him. Avery was overwhelmed by feelings of shock, fear. His muscles cried out against any more movement.

They were behind the asylum now, at a shipping and receiving garage next to the reinforced garbage bin. A parked semi-truck faced them.

"The truck," the dark man said and pointed to a semi-truck that faced them.

Avery ran his aching feet over the tiny sticking stones in the gravel. He was about to crossover to the passenger's side when the dark man pushed him away.

"No," he said. "You drive."

"What, but..." Avery almost stopped to protest, but remembered that this was not his show. He had absolutely no say.

Avery hoisted himself up, holding onto the side-view mirror for leverage. An overweight man with a cap sitting in the seat turned to Avery.

"Hey, what the hell-" he said with his arms half-raised. Before Avery could get over his surprise and finish thinking how he was going to grapple this man for the driver's seat, a gunshot sounded. A small squib of blood burst out from the trucker's forehead. His eyes rolled back and he flopped onto Avery, who tried to stop himself from squealing.

Avery pulled himself out of the dead man's grasp, then gingerly took the back of his shirt and dragged him off the seat and onto the asphalt, where he made a sickening crack. The dark man hoisted himself into the passenger's seat. Avery did the same and closed his door, while his partner reloaded the gun he'd used to take out the trucker. .

In the side view mirror he saw a group of prison guards, doctors, and orderlies, all armed with guns and prods, running around the corner of the asylum towards the truck.

"Drive," the man commanded.

Avery whimpered. The dashboard looked like an airplane. There were so many gauges and dials. Buttons lined the center of the console, all labeled with vowel-less words. Three gear shifts stared him in the face, daring him to choose one.

"Uh... I don't know... I've never driven a truck," Avery said.

"Learn."

Avery fumbled under the steering wheel, which was more horizontal than vertical, and felt something jingling. Keys? Still in the ignition. He turned them over. The engine bellowed like a bear shot up with cocaine. Avery held the key for what seemed like five minutes, until he thought the massive engine had finished starting.

Then he tapped his foot out for the pedals and felt three. Damn, one of them must have been the clutch. The only time he'd driven a manual transmission was racing video games.

He tried to remember the order of the gears from the pixelated graphics as he stared at the gear shift on the floor, the slots covered by a leather skirt. Didn't you have to push down on the clutch to get going? He pressed the leftmost pedal with his left foot in a wholly unfamiliar experience and tried to shift. The engine made horrible grinding noises like it was in pain.

Gunshots rang outside the window. He felt one impact the back of the cab. Avery started to panic, fluttering his hands to all the buttons and switches, trying to get something to go. Then he felt something cold and metal on his forehead. Avery moved his eyes right and saw a pistol pressed against his temple, and the dark man glowering at him.

"You've got fifteen seconds to get us out of here."

Avery swallowed. He had no doubt the message was honest. He took one and a half seconds to calm down, then pressed down on the clutch. Fifteen seconds, fifteen seconds. And moved the gear to the leftmost down position. Fifteen seconds, how much time now, fifteen seconds. He lifted his foot off the clutch, and pressed the gas pedal. Three seconds passed.

The truck started heading towards the building. Avery slammed on the brake. They lurched forward. Seven seconds.

"Dammit, where's reverse?" Avery said as he grabbed the lever and positioned it top left, while keeping the clutch pressed. When he tried the gas again, the truck started making a repetitive beeping noise, and crawled backwards. Ten seconds.

The gun was still pressed against his temple. This was apparently not fast enough for his liking.

His rear view showed the people clambering up the side of the truck. No time to be delicate. He slammed on the gas.

The truck pitched backward, gradually accelerating. A loud ker-thump sounded as the cab rose up about two feet, then came back down, followed by a loud gasping sound.

Avery leaned out his driver's window to see. "Oh my god, did we just hit a guy?"

"MOVE."

Avery refocused on the windshield. He guessed it really didn't matter now.

They continued backing out. The speed gauge said they were moving at thirty miles an hour and climbing. The people who had been chasing them from behind were now in front, firing their guns. Every shot went wide. The dark man rolled down his window and fired several shotgun blasts at them, felling two men for each cartridge spent.

The truck rolled on the grass lawn surrounding the building. The road out lay in front of them. They'd cleared the compound, now where was forward?

He almost changed gears while the truck was still moving, then slammed on the brakes as hard as he could. The truck coasted almost a hundred feet before it came to a slow stop. God, this thing was unresponsive. He pulled the lever down one, then hit the gas again. Like a turtle it began crawling down the small incline.

Avery rotated the wheel back and forth wildly until they were pointing the same direction as the road. The cab wound left and right as Avery tried to find the mark. As soon as he made contact, the insensitive controls kept him from staying on the pavement, so they kept snaking down the path.

"Move faster," the man commanded.

"It's a winding road," Avery said.

He heard the click of the revolver.

"Okay, moving faster." Avery pushed on the gas. The truck felt like it was going to flip over with all the centrifugal force.

The gate ahead of them was still closed, but Avery didn't think for one second that it was going to keep them from getting out. As long as he aimed right. He shut his eyes just before they punched through. A corner of the truck scraped off a chunk of brick retaining wall.

The road became perpendicular. Avery slammed the brakes (there were only two speeds he knew in this truck full gas and full stop), and spun the wheel around before they ended up in the ditch. The back of the truck scraped against the edges of the wall as it emerged at a strange angle. Then they were on the main road and out of the compound.

Avery looked behind him one more time. No one behind him, no one ahead. Ribbons of metal on the trailer curled outward, evidence of the bullets and scraping.

"We're not through yet. Keep driving." The man pointed to his side-view mirror.

In it, he saw a black sedan peeling out of the asylum entrance. Its occupants had black glasses and suits on, like FBI agents, though he was positive they weren't. Avery tried accelerating the sluggish bull of a vehicle, but the cars gained on them easily.

The passenger of the sedan leaned out the window and fired his side arm. Each shot hit the cab's exterior with echoing metal bangs, making Avery cringe.

"Jesus," he exclaimed. "We're gonna die. Aren't you-" Avery was about to ask why the dark man wasn't doing something, a bold move really, when he saw he was pulling something out of his front pocket. It was a metal sphere, like a large ball bearing.

The man had his head bent down, like he was praying. His mouth was moving, but he was saying something in a different language, something like Latin.

"Pestis cruento vilomaxus pretiacruento. In marana domus-bhaava crunatus," he whispered. At least that's what Avery thought he said.

The ball bearing levitated off his palm, bobbing up in the air. It made a whirring noise, and four razor-sharp blades flicked out, one on each side.

The spiked ball flew up lightning fast and crashed through the passenger window lightning fast. It left a trail of white vapor as it headed behind them. Avery gaped and switched his eyes to his own side-view mirror. The last he saw of it was when it plunged into the driver's side of the sedan.

The car started winding back and forth on the road, as if someone had lost control. The truck had drifted too far away to be able to see the interior, so he had no idea what the ball was doing.

The windshield of the sedan exploded with red, as if someone had flung paint from the back seat. Then the car really buckled, and with one turn too much it fell over and spun up into the air, rotating like a spindle. When it landed, it exploded in a humongous fireball.

Avery swallowed and turned back to the road, and then to his... savior. He had pulled a flask out and was gulping it down. After drinking enough so that he must have swallowed the whole thing, he wiped his mouth and sighed like an airplane engine winding down. "Better than kool-aid," he mumbled.

Avery glanced at the flaming wreckage, getting smaller and smaller in the mirror. "Is... is that it? Is that all of them?"

"No more piggies," he muttered.

Avery breathed deeply for the first time since this started. He was afraid to say anything, but didn't want to seem ungrateful. He asked one question, "What's your name?"

The man lowered his hat in front of eyes, signaling that he did not want to be asked questions. He did answer the first one though.

"Call me Caleb."