This is a scene from my upcoming novel, We are the Living. Kayla and her friends, after being taken hostage by a terrorist group in the city of Lyon, have been broken out by one of the terrorists. They are fleeing the city in a stolen French troop carrier.
Again we were driving blind, feeling bumps and turns, knowing nothing. After about ten minutes of driving, Simone stopped the truck. Her face appeared at the back, just visible from behind the crates. “You can move the crates now. Liam, will you drive with me?” She tossed a pistol and an assault rifle and several magazines. “Morgan or Alex, take these. Liam, I have one for you up front.” She never even looked at me. She had guts as Liam said. I was a snivelling nobody.
Can’t even read a map.
“We’re going to have to take small streets to avoid the blockades,” she continued. “They haven’t been cleared, so keep an eye out the back for infected. If they get close, shoot them.”
Alex’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he gulped. He and Morgan stood staring at the guns at their feet. Finally Morgan picked up the assault rifle and Simone nodded at him and turned to go. Liam jumped down and followed her. Good, he liked her. He could keep her company.
“Do you want to shoot infected?” Alex muttered to Morgan. “They look too much like people to me.”
“We do what we’ve got to do.” The gun looked so foreign in Morgan’s hand, huge against his slender frame. He crawled to the back of the truck and rolled the canvas up about eight inches. He tied it that way and settled down against the tailgate. The truck rumbled to life and into motion smoothly.
“Liam must be driving,” Alex said under his breath.
We watched the city streets go by. They were beautiful streets, so normal that they could have been Toronto if they had not been empty. We clanked over a bridge that spanned a wide, blue river. The bank was lined with trees and yellow brick buildings with red-tile roofs—so quaint and pretty from a distance. Then the truck turned onto a narrow street, hemmed in by shops. Glass storefronts were smashed, the contents of the store spread on the sidewalk. Little tables of a café were overturned and scattered in the road, and the truck had to swerve around them. I fell against the side.
Morgan cried out. “Infected!”
I pushed myself upright. I could see them through the gap at the back of the truck. They were a mob, racing at full tilt after the troop carrier. Too much like humans, Alex had said. I couldn’t see the human in these—the contorted faces, the fish-belly white skin, the shredded skin and hair. They skittered like insects, some even on all fours, foaming at the mouth. I could hear animalistic growls and cries. How could they move so fast like that? The human was well gone from them.
“Do we shoot?” Panic laced Morgan’s voice.
“Only if they get close.” Alex had the pistol gripped in both hands, ready.
The truck roared down the narrow street. It leaned as we swung around the corner. Still the infected came on. Morgan thrust the barrel of the assault rifle over the side, his hands trembling. But we were gaining. They were becoming smaller and smaller to our view.
Then I heard a human yell. I gasped. I caught sight of a man in the corner of the gap. The brakes of the troop carrier squealed as it slid to a halt.
“Hurry!” Liam voice bellowed from the front of the truck. “Morgan, let him in. Hurry!”
A man, his legs pumping, came racing toward the truck. Morgan and Alex dropped the tailgate in time for the man to vault into the carrier. I could see the whites of the infected eyes.
“Hurry!” I screamed.
Alex yanked the tailgate shut with a bang. Morgan pulled the trigger of the assault rifle. It rattled out a stream of ammunition. Gore flew, bits of flesh and hair, and then I squeezed my eyes shut. The truck jerked into motion. Liam gunned the engine, chirping the tires. The gun chattered again, and I had to open my eyes. A zombie reached for the tailgate, but Alex swung the pistol toward it. It sailed backward, into the mob. Then we left them far behind.
“Merci, merci!” The man slumped against the side of the truck, swiping at his forehead with his sleeve. He was middle aged, clad in a black dress shirt and a white clerical collar. A priest. He raked his hand through his salt and pepper hair and spoke in French: “God has preserved my life through you. Thank you.”
“We couldn’t leave you,” said Morgan. The priest’s face was blank. I translated.
“All the same, I thank you.”
I translated again, then addressed him. “I’m Kayla. This is Morgan and Alex. Liam and Simone are in the cab of the truck. We’re Canadians, Simone is from here.”
“Alexis Bertolette.” He turned to gaze out the back, at the street rapidly falling away behind us. “That is what is left of my parish. God have mercy on their souls.”
We all fell silent, but for our quick breathing and my own pulse pounding in our ears. Our blood was too high for small talk. The truck swung around the corner and accelerated down a wider street with towers and wires overhead. We rattled across a railway track. Not far off a passenger train stood abandoned.
“Where are you going?” the priest asked.
“Torino,” I said, my eyes still on the city around us.
“And if the infected have reached Torino?”
I looked up. “Have you heard that they…?” If Lyon was overrun, surely Torino was also gone.
“Reached Torino?” he ran his hand through his hair again. “Yes, yes they have.”
I moaned. “No, no!”
Alex and Morgan were watching us, wide-eyed. I gulped and translated. My voice shook. Alex cried out. Morgan just looked grim and very much like Liam.
“Oddly enough, the internet was still working in my church,” Father Alexis said. “I could stream the BBC. Belgium is overrun. Holland was evacuating as fast as they could. Their border was like the front of a battle, troops patrolling every meter. England has sealed its borders, as has Canada and the United states. No one from mainland Europe is getting in. At last I heard, no infection has reached England, or North America.”
We absorbed this in complete silence. So our country was safe, even if we were abandoned.
“So then why don’t you stay in Lyon?” Morgan asked softly.
Father Alexis smiled sadly. “My purpose is to serve God’s people and in Lyon I am alone.” He looked around at us. “Are any of you members of the church?”
We glanced at each other awkwardly. I met Morgan’s eyes. “He asked if we are Catholic.”
“No, Father, none of us are members of the church,” Morgan said. “I am a Protestant.”
I repeated it in French.
He nodded. “I do not ask so that I can condemn you. I simply ask so that I may extend whatever spiritual comfort I may. I am at your service.”
I relayed this to the guys and thought to myself, I could use a little comfort. Mom and Dad had brought me to church on Christmas, Easter, sometimes Thanksgiving but I’d never taken it seriously. And now I was pretty damn sure I didn’t believe in God. All the same…
Father Alexis spoke again. “There is one other reason I wished to leave Lyon. On the BBC broadcasts I heard about a town in Italy–Emilio it is called. It is said they can cure the infected there.”
“How?” I leaned forward. “They have a drug?”
“The report did not say. But the town was never infected, and a priest is healing infected. It is a city of refuge. Perhaps,” his dark eyes were bright, “It is a miracle of God.”
I turned to the boys and translated to them. “He says there is a town in Italy where a priest is healing the infected. The town is a city of refuge.”
Their eyes lit up. Alex lifted his head. “Where? What is it called?”
“Emilio…” I trailed off and turned to Father Alexis. “Where is Emilio, Father?”
“Tuscany, near Siena.”
I relayed this.
I could feel that the mood had lifted with this infusion of hope. We could get to Emilio. We had a truck now, we had weapons, heck, we even had a priest.
But Lyon had yet to give us its parting shot.
Thanks for reading. I keep on saying my ‘up and coming novel’. Well, it is coming. Unfortunately, this is my first novel and I am learning as I go. It’s taking a little longer than I thought. Stay tuned!