Deborah awoke with a headache and her stomach in her throat. She was in the passenger seat of the armored truck, and the truck was returning to the ground. Instinctively, she tensed up and grabbed the door handle and dash while she straightened her knees. Her boots dug into the floor; her shoulders and rear of her skull pressed into the seat behind her.
Silence hung in the air, her sense of hearing slowly returned. The truck’s batteries whirred with a deep rumble. James’ shouts filled the cab. Then all at once, the truck’s tires slammed into the sand beneath, bounced, and slammed to the rough dunes again.
“The hell?” Deborah shot straight up in her seat. Then she realized someone outside the truck had their bloody arm wrapped around James’ collar.
Deborah leapt out of her seat and grabbed the bare, sand-coated hand. Each of her hands gripped two fingers and pulled them apart until they popped out of place in a series of cracks. The high pitched scream outside was cut short as another truck bounced into view.
The enemy vehicle was a bit larger than the truck James and Deborah were in. It didn’t have the armored panels, just a sandblasted blue sheet of old metal meant for civilian transportation. A shirtless man and woman in the bed of the truck were swinging grappling hooks for momentum.
They had matching red face and body paint. One stroke went from the eyebrows down past the bellybutton. Another stroke crossed both eyebrows and curled up to the scalp above the ears. They also had a rough system of paint outlining their rib cages.
Deborah spun around to her side of the truck. She turned just in time to see grappling hooks from a similar, orange rusted truck, latch into the bed. Before she could tell James, the blue truck also landed their hooks in. Then she noticed a rusted, yellow behemoth approaching from behind the truck’s sand cloud.
“What the fuck is that?”
James spun Deborah by the shoulder. “It’s a mining vehicle that has no business in the sand, and it’s going to run us over if these trucks slow us down enough.”
Deborah didn’t even think about it, “I’ll climb in the back and use the turret.”
“Was it even loaded?”
“Yeah, not much left, but yeah.”
James nodded, “Sounds good. Here.”
Deborah saw James offer the steering wheel. “I’m the better shot.”
“That was before you gained permanent night vision. Stay in the shade.”
She shook her head. “Fine.”
The mechanic was already sliding out of his window to the roof. Deborah took the wheel and searched the truck cab for anything she could use as a weapon. The best she had was the machete on her waist.
The truck was slowing rapidly. Deborah jumped when the shots rang out above her, rattling the frame almost as much as the endless, uneven terrain.
In the rear view, a few sparks and shiny debris bounced off of the gigantic construction vehicle. Deborah kept her foot on the accelerator as she leaned out the door window. She pounded the roof until James looked at her. “Forget the tank, get the wranglers!”
James looked as if he hadn’t even considered that. He turned to the blue truck and fired a burst, but the wranglers were already ducking for cover. Deborah looked to the opposite truck that had no traces of paint left, just a hunk of orange rust on wheels. The other two wranglers were readying crossbows.
Deborah yelled, “Left!”
James spun left and fired another burst, catching both archers in their chests. One of the wranglers fired a bolt that whistled past James’ head. Deborah noticed the archers in the blue truck raise their crossbows again.
Deborah tried to force her truck wheel to the left, but the rust bucket to her right was still grappled tight. She yelled, “Blue truck!”, queuing James to return fire to them. One bolt ricocheted off of the armor plating, but another caught James through his right arm.
A glance to the immediate rear revealed the yellow tank gaining more ground. Deborah unbuckled her belt and pinned the machete between the lower seat and accelerator. She crawled back out the window and on the roof.
Completely out of the cab, Deborah had no shade at all. She was already hot, but now she felt like she had the worst sunburn of her life. I’ll live… She could’ve chuckled if she wasn’t forcing James to the floor of the bed. “Where’s my first aid kit?”
Deborah helped James shuffle through the three duffel bags until he grabbed the first aid kit. “I can patch myself up, take care of them.” Before she could protest, he added, “I’m a lefty anyway.”
She hesitated, but let him be. She rummaged the supplies for an edge weapon. The best she found was a hunting knife shorter than her hand width. Left the machete in the damn accelerator.
The vampire carefully rose to her knee as the truck bounced in random increments. She quickly sawed her tiny knife diagonally into one of the grappling ropes from the rust bucket truck.
After the rope snapped loose, she felt two thuds in her back, followed by a radiating pain through the front of her chest. Two aluminum bolts were sticking out of her torso.
Shit. Deborah knew her lungs had stopped operating, but she felt them expand and contract. Bodily impulse? Trying not to think about it, Deborah carried through with another fast sawing motion and removed the second rope from their truck.
As the tether snapped, the rust bucket veered further right. The driver must not have been paying attention, until the truck turned sharply enough to turn ninety degrees and roll across half a dozen small dunes.
Then Deborah and James’ truck veered immediately to the left with the blue truck. The other driver noticed and tried to correct their course. The trucks slammed into each other, knocking Deborah to the floor with James.
One of the red-skeleton painted marauders jumped in. The half naked woman smiled wide as she raised two hatchets in the air. Deborah felt time freeze. Go ahead. Kill me. This is easier. Despite her wishing, her gut twisted in a knot. She had wanted to die. Now it felt wrong. Is this what I really want?
Boom! The wild woman’s torso was blown apart by James’ shotgun. Her body flew out of the bed, but her left arm remained. I thought I wanted to die.
Deborah felt a pang of guilt atop the unexpected relief. She looked over to James. The young man was frozen, fresh blood splattered in his face. Grabbing the middle of his tank top, she forced him to look in her eyes. “James, think later.”
James seemed to slowly snap out of it, “Okay. Yeah.”
“Stay down.” She jumped up to the turret before he could retort. Another bolt whistled into her thigh, but she fired a quick burst into the last archer. “Cut the lines!”
Without waiting for James to do so, Deborah emptied the last five or eight shots into the driver. The red-skeleton man convulsed and steered his truck further left. James tossed the hooks out of the cab before they became taut again.
Deborah looked back to the yellow tank behind, which was quickly losing ground. Then she looked ahead of the truck to an approaching ridge of plateaus. The base of sand stretched too wide to swerve around.
The vampire medic slammed her body to the cab roof, the pain of pushing the two bolts back through her body was excruciating. No adrenaline pumping, nothing to dull the pain.
She cringed as she leaned over the edge and turned the wheel to a hard left. The truck elevated up the slope, enough to slide Deborah’s body towards the rush of sand below. The grating sound of the bolts’ tips scratching the cab pierced the medic’s ears.
Deborah saw that the slope was getting steeper, but she couldn’t force the wheel as far as she wanted. Speeding across the slope, Deborah was suddenly aware that the tank wasn’t behind them anymore. It was speeding in a straight line for an intercept course.
James grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her back to her feet. Loose gauze was hanging from his right bicep. “Not without you!”
The truck’s right side was angled nearly forty-five degrees higher than the driver’s side. Deborah had one foot planted on the wall of the bed, and another on the top rim. The massive tank was still rushing toward them, but not quite head-on.
Deborah turned to James, who had both feet planted on the rim of the bed, his back at the bed’s floor. He looked like he was crouching against a wall, prying the hatchet lady’s fingers from her weapon.
“Uh, what’s the plan James?!”
The mechanic tore the hatchet away and he outstretched his arm towards the tank.
Deborah could tell he was aiming. “I think tank trumps blade James!”
“Not if I’m lucky.” James curled his arm back, and threw the hatchet through the air. It didn’t have far to go before it connected with the tread’s system of wheels and gears along the side of the tank.
Brief grinding was followed by a dilapidated hatchet being whipped back out of the treads. The tank hadn’t changed its direction in the slightest.
Deborah grabbed James’ shoulder, “Back to plan ‘A’ then?”
James slumped his shoulders as he nodded. His whimper was barely audible. “Could’ve worked.”
The vampire grabbed her brother-in-law and turned him up the slope. “Climb, and jump.”
James turned, but started tossing the duffels and weapons behind the truck first. “Ready.”
Good thinking. “All right, go!”
James used both arms, the loose wrap of gauze around his right bicep was already bleeding. Deborah hefted him for extra momentum and he jumped off of the edge, rolling along the slope. The truck tilted further until it was ready to roll over.
Climbing higher wasn’t the better option. Deborah turned and ran along the bed’s rim and pushed off the tailgate. Leaving the truck horizontally made Deborah’s landing much more painful than James’ exit.
The bolts in her body twisted and opened her wounds, but they did so more and more as she rolled to the bottom of the slope. Distant wreckage sounded past the painful rolling through the sand.
Deborah rolled her eyes open as she raised her head off the ground. Two mangled bolts were sticking from her rib cage; she noticed the exit wounds they had formed were maybe twice as large now. The bolt that had struck her left thigh was missing, as well as a good chunk of her pants and skin.
Rays of sunshine on her skin were unbearable. The heat emanating from her wounds were agonizing, yet paralyzing. She felt her face twisted in a throbbing grimace. Her right shoulder felt dislocated. Deborah pulled her left elbow back, attempting to roll over to her side. Her eyes clenched shut.
Hurts too much. Through all the discomfort, a low chuckle shook her pained frame. Still human.
A small shadow crossed Deborah’s face. Her eyelids relaxed a fraction. Then she let her right eye roll open. Another red-skeleton man stood over her with a fat cigar between his grinning lips. He was one of the taller men she’d ever seen. Young, tan without any traces of sunburn. Dirty blonde, messy hair fell to his shoulders.
The young man took a knee, giving Deborah a better look at him. No facial hair. Unsure of whether her mind could go into shock, she still told him, “Kinda cute. Smooth skin. Tight abs. Maybe too young for me.”
He smiled down to her. “Thanks. You might be cute too if you weren’t a vamper.”
Deborah attempted to roll her head from side to side. “Not by choice.”
The tall pretty boy shrugged, “Well if I got bit, you better believe I’d blow my own head off.”
She lost her smile. “That was the original plan. My friend stopped me.”
Her chatty captor stroked her cheek with something metal as he smiled. It almost looked like he was sorry for her. “Well, he’s gone now. Consider this a gift.” He brought his hands together into what sounded like a metal clap.
Metal gloves? No. Cocked a gun. “What’s your name?”
He smirked, “Tate.” Then he rested the barrel of his handgun between her eyes.
“I gotta shotgun.”
Tate exhaled a length of green tinted smoke and chuckled, “Oh yeah? Where at honey?”
Deborah smiled as James shoved his shotgun barrel into Tate’s back. The mechanic replied, “Right here.”