Veterans Memorial Bridge
* We just missed them.
Julie kicked one of the Infected lying on the ground, ignoring the gush of blood that spouted from the open hole on the head. The parade float – a garish creation that was supposed to attract locals and tourists alike to the Mardi Gras celebration – was the culprit behind the music they'd heard all the way from the cemetery.
It was clear from the float's position what Nick and the other Survivors had done: to use it as a bridge from the scaffolding behind the building and into the next one. This gave Julie, Vance, and Carter the chance to use it as well, and now they were standing in a parking lot close to the freeway.
+ We're never going to reach them if we follow their every moves.
* So what are you suggesting?
+ That we give in to our inner zombie and use whatever shitkicking abilities we have to reach the bridge before they do. Because at this rate, they'd end up leaving us behind.
# I'm all for it. I can run pretty fast.
+ Yeah and scare the beejesus out of everyone, Infected and human alike. It'll clear the path easily enough.
* But what are you going to do when you meet your dad, Jules?
# I don't know yet. But I have to try.
+ Well her hair's a dead giveaway. If only we could talk.
Vance and Julie agreed silently. This telepathic link among all the Special Infected was useful when communicating with others, but with humans, it was useless. They could only imagine what they sounded like when faced with the human Survivors. If the reactions of Merle's group were to be believed, they sounded horrifying.
But after going what they'd been through, it was too late for any of them to back out. Adrian's demise further fueled their determination to go on, Julie especially. The time they'd spent together made her feel closer to each of them. Yet she knew that if the Green Flu Outbreak had never happened, she never would have met any of them. They each had their own lives, and it was purely by chance that they were in the same area at almost the same time.
Imagining life without Vance, Carter, and her dad was next to impossible now, it was almost silly. A childish thought. But she wanted them to be together, despite their very unusual circumstances.
# Vance, if I don't make it –
* Hey, why are you going all suicidal on me, Jules? Come on. We'll get out of this alive. Well not alive alive, since we're practically zombies, but you get the point.
'I bet Adrian thought the same thing,' she mused, but didn't say anything. She smiled, even though she knew it made her look like a creepy Cheshire cat. Her thoughts were confirmed when Carter shuddered, his gray slimy tongue wagging in the air, and he turned away.
* So let's do this. Less than a day ahead of us.
+ Aragorn you ain't, Vancy-boy.
* I didn't peg you as a Lord of the Rings fan, Cart.
There was a loud coughing sound as the Infected Survivors made their way across the wooden plank, with the hooded Special Infected leaping over the rooftops, eliciting a shrill shriek as he leaped.
+ Makes me wonder if we're slowly becoming the Special Infected that we are.
# What do you mean?
Julie and Carter slipped inside the house, the corpses of the Infected littering the stairway and, in one case, the banister. Several bloodied footsteps were on the wooden planks, which gave them an idea that one was wearing boots, and another slightly heeled dress shoes. Whoever was wearing the former seemed wounded, as the set was found close to the one belonging to the wearer of the dress shoes ('Daddy', she thought).
+ Well you're picking up on Witchy characteristics. Vance can't stop himself from shrieking like a girl whenever he jumps. I can't stop coughing. Maybe our consciousness is only temporary, and we'll soon be overcome by this fucked up virus running through our-
# I just want my Daddy back. I don't want to think about anything else.
Carter opened his mouth to say something else, but then closed it. They'd been together as Special Infected for so long that he'd almost forgotten that before the outbreak started, Julie was a girl. Not exactly a child, but not exactly an adult either. She still had the tendency to yearn for her parents – well, parent, since Carter didn't know who or where her mom was – and want everything to be okay.
But at the same time, she understood and accepted the harsh realities of life, which made him wonder what kind of life she had with her dad before everything started. But he shrugged these off and followed them across the parking lot, where Vance pointed out a safe room beyond a barrier of concrete walls.
* Where d'you suppose…
The rest of Vance's thoughts were cut off by the loud whine of a jet, which dropped a bomb inside the shop where they'd just exited.
+ Jesus Christ! Let's get to the freeway!
* Safe room's just there.
+ No. It'll slow us down. Tap into your other personas, both of you.
At first Julie and Vance stared at him: a Witch glaring at him from beneath her claw hands and a Hunter frowning from under his hood. Then they looked at each other and nodded, becoming still. Carter didn't even know if his suggestion would work or how it would work, but since most of their abilities seemed to stem from their minds, it was worthy a try. Heck, he'd been feeling Smoker tendencies ever since he'd woken up. It must have been easy to use those powers for…
Vance shrieked once and propelled himself up the side of the freeway, his claws digging into the concrete. This startled Julie, who ran after him with a scream. Rolling his eyes at the two, Carter stayed where he was, searching, searching…
Barely noticeable under all the memories and human emotions was a primal need for violence. In his case, it was the need to asphyxiate, to strangle, to kill. His tongue was a weapon, his limbs strong enough to scale even the highest walls. While his jump wasn't as far as a Hunter's, he was confident he could reach his victims in time to share a common kill, maybe even land a few extra blows and choke necks. It was glorious.
He barely had to think about it when he was copying the other two, clambering up the concrete wall and leaping over the barrier. The bridge was down, and a couple of more jets sliced across the sky, the engines drowning out most of the gunfire that was ahead.
He raised his head, frowning. That name was familiar…why did he respond to it?
Again, the name. It was like a trigger; a way to make him snap out of his Smoker senses. How or why, he didn't know. Hell, he didn't know why he still had control of his human consciousness when most of the Special Infected didn't, and he kept from analyzing it too much.
It was a dangerous thing to stay long in their Special Infected personas too long. It soon blocked everything else out, until only one could think of and accept was to kill. To make those unlike them bleed and die.
* Snap out of it, buddy. Come on, we're a few feet behind them!
+ How'd you get out of—
# Daddy. I heard him say my name and it brought me back.
+ Wait, where are you guys?
* Up here.
Carter glanced up and saw a Hunter and a Witch standing on a Greyhound bus. Vance and Julie. He quickly joined them and saw a flood of Infected converging on a spot several feet away. Bursts of gunfire and inaudible shouts met their ears, and he knew who they were.
Nick and his companions.
"Rescue 7, are you equipped for Carriers?"
"Affirmative, Papa Gator."
"Oh get a fucking move on with it already," Nick snapped, frowning as he slapped a clip into his assault rifle. He hated Mardi Gras with its parade and music, and the float they'd activated was just ghastly. Now there was this clown duo telling them they needed to cross the goddamn bridge to be evacuated. They were on jets, for Christ's sake! Why couldn't they just pick them up there and save them all the bullets and potential scars?
Rochelle came up to him then, tossing the radio she'd used to contact the pilots while Ellis punched the button that would lower the bridge.
"You ready?" she asked him. Despite having heard that they'd have to cross a sea of Infected, her voice never wavered. She looked calm, cool, and collected, not shrieking her head off and begging him to save him. He was all for damsels in distress, but in a zombie outbreak, they were the last people he'd want to tend to. Nick was glad she wasn't one of those. He'd hate to leave her behind after everything they'd been through.
He threw her a look, which made her chuckle. "Why do I even bother asking? Of course you are."
As the bridge shuddered once it was fully lowered, and the three of them all gripped their guns tightly. Rochelle could almost hear Coach rally them forward, telling them to stick together and ride out the last wave. The helicopter was so close, safety so close.
"I didn't go this far to die now," she heard Nick exclaim beside her, and the conman stepped forward, taking the lead. She followed, with Ellis taking the rear. So far their presence was unnoticed, as the road they were on – or what was left of it – was covered by a long bus and a cargo truck. Blood smears stained the windows of the bus, and they could only imagine the blood bath that happened on the freeway as the Green Flu strain spread across the country.
It was only when Nick passed beyond the bus did the gunshots start, as a small group of Infected were lingering on the other end of the bus. Unlike the previous places they'd been to, they also had to watch out for the holes on the road. Whether these were made by the bombs the pilots had been dropping or a Tank, they didn't know. But they all hoped that it wasn't the latter.
"Walk on the side, y'all! Ain't passin' through this o-" Ellis's sentence was cut off as he shot a Hunter lingering on the top of the bridge, causing it to topple over and fall into the river below.
But Nick and Rochelle got his instruction, and used the metal sides on the left of the bridge as a pathway. This was when they relied most on Ellis, as they could only attack the Infected from the front, and they were vulnerable to the other Special Infected.
By the time they'd reached another gap in the vehicles, the Infected were converging on their location, their howls attracting even more of their undead brethren. Rochelle's assault rifle clicked empty just as a Charger attacked, pummeling right into her and smashing her against the front of a bus.
"Get this thing off of me!" she shrieked, feeling bones crack and muscles tear as the Charger slammed her on the ground, once…twice…thrice… Her vision swam and nearly blackened for a moment, before she felt Ellis calling for her to rise, helping her back on her feet.
"Here, take it, just take it." Nick had shoved an adrenaline shot in her hands, but she had barely enough time to thank him when they were forced forward by a fresh wave from behind; the Infected were dropping from the upper level of the bridge, keen on getting to the warm flesh below.
Rochelle injected the adrenaline in her veins, her senses perking up immediately. Switching to her melee weapon, she cut her way through the Infected, spotting a small ammo pile underneath another cargo truck.
"Ammo here!" she called, and Ellis took bullets for his sniper rifle. Rochelle grabbed more clips for her assault rifle; Nick did the same. They were barely halfway through the bridge and already their ammunition was being used up; this wasn't going to be easy.
"C'mon, we got ten minutes tops!" The mechanic was clearly their voice of urgency now, and the sound of the helicopter's blades amid the Infected's howls was a reminder of how much they had to gain – or lose.
The next section of the bridge had a section with scaffolding, and a Spitter managed to shoot green acid at the Survivors before Nick downed it with a well-placed bullet. Another truck came up with more supplies: pain pills for the conman and a Molotov for Ellis. The latter proved to be handy just as Rochelle leaped out of the truck: the ground shook as the Tank's roars overrode everything else.
"Big fucking problem!" Nick cried, even though he knew it was unnecessary. It felt good to swear in times like these. It was like an act of defiance, or a way of letting the sons of undead bitches that he wouldn't go down so easy. He had Julie to think about, by hell he wasn't missing that helicopter.
The Tank snagged a large chunk of the road, flinging it at Rochelle and Nick, who were both exposed. While the conman grabbed Rochelle and nearly tackled her to the ground, Ellis took sniper point at one of the scaffolding and started firing at the Infected – another Hunter and Jockey joined his Special Infected kills – while firing in-between at the Tank.
"Light that mother up!" he called, igniting the Molotov and throwing it at the road between the Tank and his companions, setting it on fire. By then, Nick and Rochelle had both scrambled to their feet and were now firing at the Tank as well, taking slow steps backwards until their backs hit the bumper of a car.
"Come on die you shit head," Nick chanted under his breath, slapping a new clip into the assault rifle. With a final bullet, the Tank roared one last time and keeled over, about two steps away from where the two were standing. Rochelle and Nick froze, breathing hard. They both realized that they'd been actually holding their breaths the entire time, and their lungs burned.
"Where's Ellis?" Rochelle asked, glancing at the spot where she'd last seen the younger male while she'd shot at the Tank.
"Oh my god, he's over the edge!"
Ellis was dangling over the bridge, the metal pole of the scaffolding the only thing between him and a watery death. The sniper rifle had slipped from his hands and was probably at the bottom of the river, and he looked up at the two. "Help!"
"Hang on!" Rochelle and Nick each took one of Ellis's hands and pulled him up, and he shot both of them a grateful look. "You'll make it."
"Yeah. Yeah, thanks. I know I sure will; those sonsabitches won't get me down."
Nick glanced at them and at the receding fire line. "Let's go, children. Restock ammo and go on. We're almost there. Six minutes."
Ellis and Rochelle exchanged a look, with the former smiling and walking back to the truck, where he picked up an electric guitar and the last bottle of pain pills.
"Final leg, y'all. I'm sure Coach would be mighty proud."
"I like Coach, but kid I sure hope I'm not seeing him anytime soon."