A scene from We are the Living, which is to be published this summer. In this scene, the main characters have caught a ride on a military truck out of Paris, which is now overrun with zombies. They stop at one of the military barricades for night, intending to carry on the next morning. The scene is from the point of view of Kayla, the lead female character. To my gentler readers: this scene contains strong violence.
We were stopped in the middle of a two-lane road, and warm, humid air. There were the shadows of a few large buildings nearby, maybe a chimney. It was the industrial outskirts of the city, the very last of Paris. The only light was the blinding spotlights set up at the roadblock. Trucks, like the one we’d come in, were clustered around. The white light silhouetted a few soldiers.
Liam and one of his new soldier friends walked us across the road, up to a troop-carrier with a canvas cover at the rear of the roadblock. Again we found ourselves rolling out spare clothes and trying to get ourselves comfortable on the hard metal truck bed.
“They can’t expect road-blocks to keep a mob of infected inside the city,” Morgan whispered as Liam settled down beside him.
Liam sighed. “There are patrols around the border. But you’re right. There’s no way they can contain the whole city. Go to sleep, Morgan. We’ve made good progress today.”
I lay my head down and cuddled up to Alex, my back to Morgan and Liam. I heard a click and looked back. Liam had popped the magazine out of the pistol.
“How many rounds?” Morgan asked.
“Full mag minus one.”
The lost feeling crept in again. My father owned guns, and I’d seen him shoot them, but they’d always scared me. I’d always refused to shoot. I bit my lip and pushed my face into Alex’s shoulder. I hoped to God I could keep that policy.
I heard a yell, and a chatter of gunfire. Liam was up before I’d lifted my head. Light shone, green through the canvas cover of the truck, then a square of brightness as Liam peeked out the back.
His hand closed around the pistol in his waistband. “Infected,” he hissed.
I never saw what was coming toward us, and for that I was grateful. Liam told me later what he’d seen—a wave of infected rushing toward us, unmindful of the gunfire and the bodies falling around them. The rattle of small arms was joined by the deeper clamor of a machine gun. The zombies came on, undeterred. As long as they could stay on their feet they still moved.
I, cringing in the corner of the truck bed, still heard a scream even though my hands were clamped over my ears. Then came the ringing report of Liam’s pistol and Morgan’s yell. A disfigured face gaped at me through the gap between the canvas and truck before Liam’s gun barked again. The head exploded backward and out of sight.
“They’re overrunning the barricade!” Liam cried. He lunged toward the canvas flap.
Morgan grabbed him by the jacket. “Don’t you dare go out there!”
Liam staggered back, and steadied himself. He stood taut, gun ready. Something scrabbled on the metal behind me. I whimpered, crawled toward the middle. The barrage of machine-gun fire faltered, stopped, started again. An assault rifle chattered, just on the other side of the canvas and metal and something splattered against the side. There was a low, animalistic moan. Again, scrabbling, like claws or nails on the side of the truck. The gunfire beside us stopped. The machine gun stopped. A garbled scream. The canvas at the back of the truck bowed toward us in the imprint of a head and clawing hands. Liam turned toward it and shot straight through the fabric, right between the pits where the eyes were. The green canvas turned brown as it slid down the side and out of sight. Another moan, then, silence.
In the quiet, a soft patter started on the canvas. Rain.
Still Liam stood. Morgan crouched beside him. Alex slowly rose to his feet. Liam held out his hand. “Don’t.”
We waited. The drizzle became a downpour. I watched with dull eyes as the dark smear on the canvas ebbed downward. It was still quiet.
Finally, Liam eased the edge of the canvass away and peeked out. “Oh, God.” He pulled his head back in and pressed one hand against his chest. He’d gone pale against his grey-blue jacket. He sucked a slow breath through his nostrils and shut his eyes. His body steeled, and he opened his eyes. “Morgan, come. Let’s make sure it’s clear.”
Morgan’s eyes were huge in his pale face but his jaw was just as tight as Liam’s and eyes every bit a stern behind his glasses, even though I could see his hand shaking as he rose to his feet. They jumped down. I heard Morgan say something, and Liam reply. Their footsteps departed.
“E-Everyone’s dead,” I said. “The infected got them all. They’re all dead.” I grabbed for Alex’s hand, as if it were an anchor, because my world was split in two, so far from my control.
“Kayla, we’re alright,” he breathed in my ear, but I could hear the strain in his voice. His fingers were clammy.
I took a shuddering breath. “For how long?”