With five minutes remaining, he shot three abbies on the road south of town, killed two more in the vicinity of the gardens. As the sheriff’s voice came back over the headset, he put a round through the head of an abby running at full speed past the hospital.
“Time’s up,” Ethan said. “Over.”
“Forty-four,” Mustin said. “Over.”
“There are forty-four less abbies to contend with. Over.”
“Impressive. Is the fence holding?”
Mustin swung the rifle south, glassing the forest in the vicinity of the fence.
He reported, “The gate’s still closed. Now I can give you some cover once you get into town, but shooting down into the forest is iffy at best. Over.”
“Understood. You’ll be our eyes. Kill what you can. Tell us what’s coming. Over.”
Mustin reloaded the magazine and chambered the next round.
He glassed what he could see of the woods and the boulders that surrounded the entrance to the superstructure.
“You’re clear to roll out,” he said.
He rode in the front passenger seat of an armored Humvee, with Alan behind the wheel.
In his side mirror, he could see the metalworkers welding shut the entrance to the superstructure.
Up on the roof of the Humvee, one of the guards manned a .50 cal machine gun.
There were two Dodge Ram pickup trucks behind them, two men standing in the back of the first with pump-action shotguns.
The second Ram carried the chain gun.
Two transfer trucks followed the Rams, and a third pickup truck brought up the rear holding six guards in the bed, all armed to the teeth.
In Ethan’s headset, Mustin said, “I’d advise staying off Main. What’s your route? Over.”
Alan turned out of the woods and onto the road into town.
“Thirteenth to Fifth,” Ethan said, “then three blocks to the school. Any company?”
“See that guy in the distance?”
Ethan squinted through the windshield.
A hundred yards up the road, an abby was squatting over the double yellow. The sound of approaching engines caught its attention, and as it stood, a puff of red mist exploded out of the side of its head.
“You got a few other stragglers in your path,” Mustin said. “I’ll start clearing the way. Over.”
The sun had yet to rise above the cliffs, and the valley ahead was still draped in the light of early morning.
“Get any sleep?” Alan asked.
“What do you think?”
She heard the tat-tat-tat of automatic gunfire.
Everyone in the classroom did.
She and Spitz went to work dragging the furniture away from the door and pulling the nails out of the frame.
They got it open, told everyone to wait.
Rushed out into the hall.
Up the stairs.
The noise of gunfire growing louder, and in the space between shots another sound becoming audible—the rumble of engines.
At the exit, Kate raised her AR-15 and told Spitz to get the door.
He pulled it open.
She took two steps through the threshold.
There were abbies in the schoolyard running toward a convoy of vehicles in the intersection of Tenth and Fifth—a Humvee, three pickup trucks, and two eighteen-wheelers.
An abby broke off from the pack and came hurtling toward her.
Spitz said, “You got him?”
She let it get closer, within twenty feet.
She squeezed—put three bursts in a nice pattern through its chest and dropped it five feet from the door.
Now came a noise like thunder, and with it, from the second pickup truck, a bright orange muzzle flash from a gun so big it should’ve been mounted on an attack helicopter.
It cut an entire row of abbies in half.
The front passenger door of the Humvee swung open.
When Ethan stepped out, her heart swelled.
She watched him come around the front of the vehicle and run toward the fence.
As he climbed over, four abbies charged him from the playground.
Kate took aim and ripped through the rest of her magazine, bringing them all down.
Ethan looked over, eyebrows up in surprise.
For a moment, the shooting had stopped.
There were abbies lying everywhere and men climbing down out of the truck beds, beginning to set up a perimeter.
Kate ran toward him, Ethan limping, carrying a shotgun, his jeans ripped all to hell, his shirt in tatters, face streaked with blood.
Tears blurred her vision and she wiped them away.
They reached each other and she threw her arms around him.
“How are the injured?” he asked.
“One died. One’s hanging on. Barely.”
“I brought trucks. We’re taking everyone out of here, into the mountain.”
“Have you found Harold?”
“What about Theresa and Ben?”
He shook his head.
Tears were running down her face and her eyes were shut tight and Ethan kept saying her name, kept saying that everything would be okay, but she couldn’t stop crying and she wouldn’t let him go.
As he held Kate, he glimpsed a man walking down Tenth Street in a long, black duster that fell to his ankles, his face hidden under a black cowboy hat and a long, unkempt beard.
Ethan said, “Who the hell is that?”
Kate turned her head. “I’ve never seen him before.”
Ethan started across the schoolyard, scaled the fence, and moved out into the middle of the street.
The man in black carried a Winchester rifle, which rested against his shoulder, and his shuffling gait scraped his boots across the pavement. He stopped several feet away from Ethan—a haggard, vile-smelling specimen. He would’ve looked like a homeless eccentric were it not for his eyes. No insanity there. Just clear, lucid intensity.
The man said, “Well goddamn, Ethan.”
“I’m sorry, do we know each other?”
Ethan just glimpsed the man’s smile through the shambles of his beard.
“Do we know each other?” the man laughed, his voice scratchy, like his larynx had been wrapped in sandpaper. “I’ll give you a hint. Last time we spoke, I sent you here.”
Recognition fired in Ethan’s brain.
Synapses connecting the dots.
He cocked his head and said, “Adam?”
“So what I hear, you started this mess.”
“You’ve been in town all this time?”
“No, no. I just got back.”
“Back from where?”
“Out there. Beyond.”