- Chapter 25: The Ride –

The cab of the truck smelled of leather, nylon canvas, and ammonia. It was the kind of smell that made you feel sticky and second-guess every movement and every piece of skin touching the squeaky seat or the arm rest on the door that had something on it.

The truck hit a pothole and the seat bucked, the springs underneath squeaking and sending both of our heads bobbing in semi-circles; I wrapped my fingers around the hand-hold above the door as we went over a rough stretch of pavement where the blacktop had partially eroded and was never fixed. The engine snarled as the soldier accelerated to make it up the slight hill. All of the traffic lights flashed red for at least 4 blocks ahead before the hill blocked sight of the rest.

It was a quiet, dead sort of night as we made our way to Poulsbo, the place both of us were supposed to be going. A caravan of military trucks crawled by us, soldiers in the back of the trucks letting their rifles rock and wave lazily as they bounced onward; more than a few of them cast a glance our way and I ducked my head and leaned back in my seat instinctively.

"Oh, don't you mind them," my travel companion gave me a reassuring smile. "Seeing 'em like that, all lackadaisical like? Means they ain't seen no action where they're comin' from. That's good news for us."

"No," I shook my head. "No, I'm fine. It just reminded me of Phoenix." I sighed and turned my head out the passenger window, my breath quickly fogging up the glass.

"Yeah, I saw what it looked like on the news and such," he hummed in agreement. "Sure hope this here place don't go the same way; the way things have been goin' though, we're not doing too bad. We're doin' way better than Phoenix was at this point in the infection."

"Hmm", I hummed noncommittally, knowing that this was every bit as bad as Phoenix. Sure, things seemed to be escalating at a slower rate; but they weren't slowing down. It was a consistent losing of ground as more and more humans were infected, killed, or transformed into beasts.

"Ah, shit," my driver turned to glance at me with a half smile. "I completely forgot my manners; my name's Nick" he held out his hand. I pursed my lips and hesitated for a moment before placing my palm in his, careful to keep my skin solid and human-like, so I wouldn't infect or absorb him.

"Amy," I replied, using the dead girl I was wearing's name.

"Nice to meet you, ma'am," he bobbed his head up and down twice like he was jamming to a sick beat and returned his gaze to the empty road ahead. We had passed through the residential area of…wherever it was we were now, and there was nothing to see but trees.

My inhuman eyesight allowed me to see everything as clearly as if it were day, and I caught sight of thermal signatures throughout the forest, scattered sporadically — infected walkers or hunters, most likely. I turned back to look at Nick and he turned his head to smile at me again. I looked back out the window and clenched my fists.

The poor fucker didn't even realize there were infected everywhere in this damn forest. The only reason they hadn't attacked was because we were moving too fast and walkers were notoriously slow. If he were to pull over here, we would quickly become overrun in a matter of minutes. I thought it was strange, though, how there were none within clear human sight of the road — every single one of the mindless horde seemed to instinctively avoid the pavement.

It was at that thought, just as Nick was approaching a flashing red stop signal at the edge of whatever small town or crossing we were coming to and slowing his speed that I turned to suggest we keep fucking going. And then something hit us. Really, really hard.

"Fuck!" Nick cursed as the truck bucked sideways and rode on two wheels, scraping against an abandoned car parked halfway on the sidewalk and thankfully landing back on four wheels. "The fuck?" he looked over at me with concern on his face before sticking his head out the window and stopping the truck.

"Nick…" I warned, about to insist on driving away, when a pale hand gripped Nick by the head and threw him across the street, jolting the truck again from the force and taking the driver's' side door off as well. "Fuck!" I kicked my own door off and jumped out into the cold early morning air.

As I leapt on top of the truck to get a better view, I caught sight of exactly what had torn through the truck at the same time that I saw Nick crawling backward on bloody hands and knees, splotches of red also running down his forehead as he panted and let out a stream of curses.

Surprisingly, it was a vampire and not a hunter or Phil. A vampire I had never seen. She appeared to be a young girl — maybe fourteen or fifteen when she was changed — with wavy dark hair and a slight build. She snarled as she staggered toward Nick in a crouch, arms splayed to her sides as she was about to pounce; it looked like the pinky and ring fingers of her right hand were missing, only jagged stumps remaining.

My own right arm stretched and morphed, becoming long and lanky and growing jagged barbs as it transformed. I gave a shout and cocked my elastic arm back before hurling it toward the vampire. It struck her chin and left superficial cuts as it hit, although the force behind the blow sent her careening into a mailbox about fifty feet back, smashing it to bits.

"Mine!" the girl snarled, clearly not impressed. Before I could blink, she was on me, giving me an inhumanly-strong shove back into the truck. The metal groaned as I was embedded in its crumpled chassis.

I let my arm change back into its normal state and gripped the vampire girl's shoulders, squeezing tightly. They were like stone and couldn't be easily cut, but I knew from the Cullens that I was a great deal stronger than the average vampire. With brute force in mind, I let my fingers crush into her stone skin like a tightly packed snow ball and pulled, driving my back further into the truck and giving me plenty of room to plant both of my feet against her chest.

The girl opened her mouth in a silent scream and her wide ruby eyes clearly conveyed shock and confusion at how much force I was exerting on her body, and a millisecond later that shock turned to fear as soon as she realized the cracking and whining she was hearing was not the car — it was her crystallized muscles and stone skin that were rapidly losing their integrity.

With a final grunt and a rock back and forward again, her arms were cleaved from her torso and she went flying backward at the same time the truck rocked back from my arms and shoulders slamming into the side of it.

"Gah!" I shrieked like a girl and half-dropped-half-threw the stone arms away from me as the fingers and wrists twitched and wobbled. "That's so fucking weird."

"Hey," Nick called weakly. I hadn't heard him get up. I turned and was greeted with a nine-millimeter pointed at my face. His arm shook — the other looked nearly torn out of socket.

"Look—" I got out right before my head rocked backward from the near-point-blank shot. My vision was gone and so was my sense of smell — a hole through your head will do that — and I felt the pavement at my back a moment later.

I tried to stand and call out, my arms mutating and waving as I tried to stand, but the damage to my head had completely fucked up my sense of balance and coordination. I was lucky I could even think, but that could be because the round had gone through the middle of my head and not the part where my brain was.

Or maybe it was because I was a shapeshifting monster with decentralized organs. Dunno which it was. My ears rang as my jaw popped back into place and it felt like I was drowning as my sinuses reconnected and my nose reconstructed.

I rolled and crawled across the pavement, willing extra biomass up toward my head to protect it from any further attacks while my eyes reformed, sending epileptic flashes and spots into my field of view before eventually washing out into blurry vision — then finally my normal vision.

"Fffffuck," I cursed, standing. Two more holes tore into me. One through my shoulder and another into the thickened portion of the back of my head — it didn't even reach within an inch of my skull. I spat the bullets out and turned, ripping a lamppost out of the sidewalk and hurling it at Nick.

"Oh shit!" Nick cursed back, dropping to the ground as the post flew over him at about sixty miles per hour, crashing into a van parked in the lot behind him.

I redistributed the biomass protecting my head and charged Nick, whose eyes nearly popped out of his head. He reached for his gun, but I knew I could get to him first. Right as I launched into a tackle, I caught a fast-moving something out of the corner of my eye.

I didn't have time to do anything as the armless vampire girl sacked me, driving the both of us down the street nearly twenty yards, my neck and back digging into the asphalt and leaving a skidmark of biomass and upturned pavement in our wake.

"Mine!" she shrieked, wrapping her stone legs around my waist, crushing me, and, using her only available weapon, bared her teeth and struck me in the throat.

"Nnnnn!" I keened, pushing against her face and neck with all my strength, lifting us off the ground and switching our positions so that I was on top of her. A mouthful of flesh stretched between her teeth and me, held by two or three thin ligaments or whatever the hell a neck was made out of, and black blood oozed from the gore. And it burned like a motherfucker.

I screamed as I drove her head backward into the pavement, gripping it with both hands as she gagged and choked on the baseball-sized chunk she took out of me. Spiderweb-cracks formed across her temple and jaw as I applied monumental pressure, squeezing my hands together.

Her body twitched and bucked under me as her face crushed and broke apart under the pressure, bits of dust and shards hitting my face and getting in my eyes — so I closed them and continued until my palms were pressed together.

I sat there for a moment, breathing hard and looking at the torso and legs of the vampire girl. "Where the hell did you come from?" I mumbled, rocking backward and staggering upright.

And then I promptly fell back down. The slow burn that had started in my neck had traveled down to my shoulders and I could feel it working down my chest and arms, even though my neck had already healed over a few seconds ago.

My hands burned too, like I had taken sandpaper to them or maybe dunked them in acid.

Not acid. Venom.

"Oh shit," I cursed. "Vampires are venomous…" I trailed off as my spine shivered and my muscles contracted involuntarily. Fear shot through me and I panicked, practically turning my skin and muscles inside out as I fought to rid myself of the venom.

Tendrils pushed chunks of venom-saturated biomass out and pulled the good parts in. I supposed it would look like something out of a Carpenter horror movie, seeing me like this, but I couldn't care about being seen out in the open like this now; I had to get the stuff out or face who-knows-what kind of after-effects.

Carlisle and I hadn't studied vampire-Bella interactions on the molecular level — it hadn't even crossed my mind — so I had no idea if I was turning into a vampire or, more likely, dying for real. I wasn't human, and as far as I knew vampires could only turn humans into other vampires, not shape-shifting creatures.

As I pondered this, my vision began to swim and I felt myself starting to black out for the first time since I woke up with gory superpowers. I continued to push out the poisoned flesh, but I could feel it start to slow as I gradually faded into unconsciousness.

End notes: I kinda feel like I should have posted a brief reminder of what happened in the previous couple chapters, since they were posted in March. Of last year. If those chapters were a can of cola, it would have probably turned into flat sugar acid by now and would only be useful as a toilet cleaner or steak tenderizer. These metaphors are hard. I thought about making one with a sandwich in a fridge, but who the fuck leaves a sandwich in the fridge for 16 months? If the last chapter was a newborn baby, this chapter would be walking around and sticking things in its mouth. Like four or five Fast and the Furious movies could have been released and the last chapter wouldn't have known about it until now!

Ok, I'll stop. See you next year.