Tate drove the orange rusted pickup alongside Megan and her eighteen wheel truck and trailer. The expanse of rippled sand ran out against every horizon. Rays from the afternoon sun beat down mercilessly, but Tate was still holding his upper body out of his window. He tried to ignore the heat as he stood out of his seat, vigorously signaling Megan to roll her window down.
The teen yelled, “Megan! I killed these guys for you!”
After a few minutes of her blatantly ignoring him, Megan exasperatedly rolled her window down. As per usual, she managed to sound disinterested, even through her returned yelling, “What?”
Tate pointed to the bed of the truck, half loaded with supplies, James, and a corpse. “I killed that asshole,” Tate pointed down through the roof, “I don’t know if you can see this asshole from up there, but I killed him too!”
“It means I’m saying ‘Fuck ‘em!’ We don’t need a bomb shelter full of vampers for me to protect you and the kids!”
James still had his hands zip tied behind his back, and was still awkwardly patting down Mike’s corpse. The young man finally found a knife and yelled over the rushing wind, “Bomb shelter?”
Tate held out his finger, “Later dude,” he looked back to Megan, “I’m not sorry I made the deal in the first place, because you, Tommy, Angelica and me would dead. Or just blood bags. I’m still not sure how they handle prisoners at the manor.”
James interrupted again, “Manor? You just said bomb shelter? Is there a mansion on top?”
“Dude! Fucking later, okay?” back to Megan, “I’m not trying to be the kids’ dad or some shit, but I am trying to keep us safe. You know?”
During the pause, James shouted, “You’re such a wordsmith.”
Before Tate could tell James to fuck off, Megan defended him, “We can’t all grow up civilized like you Mr. Straight Dick!”
Tate and James exchanged a glance. What does that even mean?
Megan continued, “I know what he’s saying,” she looked back to Tate with look of almost reluctant admission, “I’m sorry I didn’t say it ‘Thank you’ yet.”
Tate felt his smile go wide.
Megan scratched the back of her head, “So… thanks Tate. My kids have a chance now.”
Tate fought the urge to pump his fist in the air. Don’t be a jackass. He tried to play it cool, “So, where the hell are you driving?”
“Cool. Cool…” He slowly looked back to James, “Any ideas?”
He shook his head, “Nope, but I’d like to jump in the back and talk to Deborah.”
“Can you even jump dude?”
“Probably not. Give me more of that white water and I should.”
“I think we better just ration what we got.”
“Well then I’m coming in the cab. I need some shade.”
Tate leaned down to look beside his seat. The dead man was mostly shoved up against the door. “I think there’s room.” He turned back to Megan, “How are you on food and water?”
“I think we can stretch out the food for a while, but we’re slim for water. Deborah says there’s electro-light patches or something that’ll help, but I don’t understand how.”
Tate nodded, “Yeah, I don’t know what the fuck they do either.” He noticed James finish removing the vest from Mike’s corpse. “He’s got good boots too.”
James blankly stared at Tate. Then he went back to patting down Mike.
“You wanna just strip him and throw him out?”
“They already know somethings up. They’ve been hollering for dead Jed here for like, half an hour.”
“Why didn’t you answer and say everything was okay?”
“I did. They don’t believe me. I’ve only been with these assholes for like, two… three days I think. I don’t know. I don’t really keep track of this shit. So let’s just throw these guys out and save some juice for the truck.”
James rubbed his scruffy chin in silence. “No. We should wait to throw them under a vehicle. We might be able to gunk up some gears or something.”
“That’s gross dude.”
“I know. Can you drive straight and hand me Jed through the window?”
Tate slid in to sit behind the wheel. He reached over to the body and tried to pull it off the floor by the vest. It didn’t move far. Tate answered through the rear window, “He’s stuck.”
James sighed, “I’ll be in.” The scrawny man finished stripping Mike down of everything but his shirt and pants. Then he stepped over him and moved him to the tailgate by pushing with his legs.
Tate scrunched up to his door to leave more room for James as he awkwardly slid in boots first. Tate noticed James was still wearing his cracked brown boots and asked, “Why didn’t you take his boots? Say what you will about these vampers but they have damn good footwear.”
James glanced at Tate before he went to work on Jed’s belongings. “Do you even feel remorse, or are you too burnt out to care?”
“What? You never had herb before?”
“Yeah. Doesn’t mean I feel the need to bake my brain back to puberty.”
Tate furrowed his brows, “I don’t know what that means, but I’m offended.”
“Fuck you too.”
“Fuck you thrice.”
James didn’t reply.
Tate chuckled to himself, Ha! Got him. He then looked over to see Gian’s black and white buggy matching his speed. Oh yeah, radio.
Tate flicked the switch on to hear Gian droning, “—hear me? Come in caveman.”
He grabbed the radio handle, “What’s that angel eyes? Didn’t get all that.”
Gian didn’t answer right away. He eventually replied, “Have you heard anything Deborah and I were talking about?”
“No. I had the radio off because the other truck driver was annoying.”
Deborah entered the chat, “You drove a tank for how many years and you didn’t think to change the fucking channel?”
Tate shrugged to himself, “I’ll be the first to admit that you don’t have to be a genius to drive that thing.” A wave of heated curiosity hit Tate; he looked at James and held the mic firmly, “About that. Where. The. Fuck. Is. My. Tank?”
Deborah answered, “No idea.”
James seemed to deliberately search Jed more thoroughly.
Tate put the handle back on the dash. “James, buddy.”
He didn’t turn to face Tate, “Yeah?”
“Big yellow tank. Pretty hard to lose. Where is it?”
James finally turned around with a grimace, rubbing the back of his neck. “I think… I think it blew up… Sorry. For what it’s worth…”
James continued to trail off into some technological jargon that went well past Tate’s comprehension. Tate didn’t even seem to acknowledge any average words in between. In Tate’s mind, there was really no sound except for a quiet, high pitched drone that was steadily building.
The sun’s blistering yellow rays were nothing. For the first time in his life, Tate understood the expression of “seeing red.”
He babbled, “Blew up?”
James raised an eyebrow as Tate seemed to be frozen in place. James slowly reached over to the steering wheel so it would stop veering towards the eighteen wheeler. He also grabbed the radio handle, “Deb, Gian, nobody mention the tank. Copy?”
They each replied, “Copy.”
James carefully removed Tate’s limp hand before he slapped him.
Tate slowly recoiled and blinked repeatedly. “What just happened?”
“You might be a little dehydrated. Are you sure you don’t have any more of that white water?”
Tate looked around the cab, slowly regaining his bearrings. “Uh, don’t think so. They said it’s not as good as water for staying moist.”
“Did they say moist?”
“No. I just like to say it.”
“Okay,” James got back on the radio, “Anyone have a plan?”
Gian answered, “As I was telling Deborah, we can turn around and go back to the oasis, but they’ll still have satellite coverage of us.”
Tate lifted his palm and nodded to James. James nodded back and released the wheel. “What’s a satellite?”
“Never mind. The bottom line is they can follow us anywhere. Our only option is to remove the truck from the equation.”
Deborah cut in, “Without killing Linda, Jake and Tess.”
Gian firmly added, “It can be done. We just need a feasible approach.”
Tate pointed to the mic; James let him take it, “Gian, just use your cannon to shoot out a wheel or take out the guys in the cab.”
“As rewarding as that may be caveman, that could lead to an overturned truck. The prisoners could die immediately, or they’ll survive long enough for my former comrades to drink them and heal their own wounds. Not a valid option.”
Deborah said, “We’ll have a few hours until nightfall. I say we slow down enough to let me hijack them up close. I’ll get a fresh drink from James or Megan; they won’t stand a chance.”
Gian groaned disappointingly, “They’re packing silver bullets my dear. In case you didn’t know, that halts our regenerative capabilities, thus, negating our advantage.”
Deborah spat back, “I don’t need to live forever. That’s my plan, shitty as it is. If someone has something better, let me know.”
James motioned for the radio until Tate handed the mic over. “Let me think.” He hung the handle up and asked Tate, “Is there any, and I mean any, chance these people still trust you?”
“I guess. Why?”
“We should make a prisoner exchange.” Tate didn’t seem to get it. James repeated it over the radio, “How about we swap Tate for somebody?”
Deborah was the first to respond, “I like where this is going.”
Gian added, “It could work.”
Tate shook his head and tore the mic from James’ hand, “What the fuck people?! I just risked my life to get away from them!”
James made hard eye contact, “Hear me out. We make it look like we don’t want you, and even if they don’t trust you, they get an easy meal, right?”
“I don’t like where this is going.”
“When we make the trade, you grab a hidden weapon or something, and take ‘em out.”
Tate looked intrigued, “I could do that.”
Wow. The ego of this guy. James reclaimed the mic, “Tate says he’s up for this, so let’s hash it out.”
Megan couldn’t believe what they were saying over the radio. She held her hand back from grabbing the handle. The fuck are you thinking Tate? You’re not a one man army. The young mother looked across the cab to Angelica, lying on the passenger seat of the slightly wobbling truck. He really will do anything to keep us safe.
A bright reflection beamed through a side mirror. Megan winced and tried to focus. She tilted her head around and held her hand up to block what light she could. The sun was shining off the windshield. Megan glanced at the speedometer at well over one hundred kilometers per hour. Any faster and this thing might tip over. How the hell is the other truck going faster?
Megan got on the handle, but the other four were still discussing their master plan. As the vehicle gained ground, it was easier to see that it was smaller than the other eighteen wheeler. To Megan, it almost looked like a crushed truck, or a wide jeep.
Constantly clicking for an opening, Megan heard the pause. She finally warned the group, “Do we have any more friends left? Because someone’s coming up on us real quick.”
Squinting into the side mirror, Megan could barely make out the newcomer. They were driving a thick, yellow Humvee with glass as dark as Gian’s buggy. There was also some kind of box along the roof which suddenly erupted from right to left in a series of six small, dull eruptions.
In the mirror, Megan could only stare as streaks of spiraling smoke crisscrossed each other higher and higher into the air. A moment of silence was filled with an increasing group of whistles. Ahead of the truck, something fell out of the air and exploded in the sand. Megan screamed and cut the wheel to a sharp left. She cringed as Tate and Gian barely avoided her.
Gian shouted through the radio, “Don’t do that again! They want the children alive! They will not let them be harmed! Stay on course Megan!”
Megan felt the mic nearly snap under her grip, “Don’t tell me how to protect my babies!” She tried some deep breathing.
Gian muttered, “Sorry for yelling… You’re doing great.”
Damn right I am.