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Chapter 6

Two households, both alike in undead siege,

In fair Portland, where we lay our scene…

Something wasn’t right. Jake was awake and his bed seemed so uncomfortable; he moved around a little, trying to find a comfortable position. Glass tinkled down around his face, one shard brushing his nose. His head felt swollen, like all the blood in his body had been herded into his brain by an overzealous Australian Shepherd.

He opened his eyes and quickly discerned the problem: his van, with he still in it, was upside down. He could hear the whirring of the spinning wheels coming from above him, which even in his addled mind he recognized as pretty irregular.

His memory came flashing back: Max coming at him, teeth bared, the humanity stripped from her gaze. Well… that last part was normal for Max, but where there was usually avarice and self-preservation replacing the humanity there were now only black holes, devoid of any emotion at all save hunger.

Other matters were more pressing, literally: his large camera was resting on his arm. He shifted it and the bag tumbled to the side. The seatbelt was biting into his stomach and he reached down and unfastened it, his head thumping on the roof. He moaned.

Jake grasped the driver’s side door handle; the door unlatched and he could push it open a few inches but it was wedged against the side of the ditch they’d rolled into. He tried turning the key in the ignition and rolling down the automatic windows but nothing happened. Fighting the flutterings of panic he reached across the bench and grabbed the door handle, hauling himself across the cab roof. The door scraped across the dirt but he was able to push it open enough to crawl out.

Free of the van, he examined himself for wounds and found only scrapes and bruises: he’d been very lucky. Jake saw no sign of Max. He crawled over to the truck and tried to see through the darkly tinted windows; he thought he saw movement but couldn’t be sure.

Suddenly the van rocked towards him and he realized that it was pitched on the slope of the ditch. Pressure from the driver’s side would send it rolling over right on top of him. As it rocked once more he stood and scrambled back out of the van’s range. A hand with perfectly manicured, red lacquered nails scraped the top of the van, followed by Max’s head. She pulled herself out, her body wedged between the side of the ditch and the van.

With her added weight on that side, the van wobbled one last time then rolled off the roof and onto the passenger side with a gravel-crunching crash. Max held onto the undercarriage and rode the van onto its side, kipping up into a squat on the driver’s side as it settled. Thinking nothing of this unusual feat of physical prowess, Max stood up and jumped down into the dirt, landing with no sign that the jump had jarred her at all.

Max’s eyes had gone back to normal, aside from looking bemused. “Jake, what the hell happened?” she demanded.

Lost for words, Jake shook his head and scrubbed at his face, trying to think. She must not remember attacking him at all and he had no idea how to deal with that.

He was spared having to explain it to her by the arrival of a large vehicle, painted in olive drab camouflage; it looked militaristic and dangerous, like it was going to tell you to drop and give it twenty then tear you in half with a ma deuce . A man with a similar bearing to his vehicle hopped out of it and skidded down the embankment. He had a large rifle strapped to his back and he walked with confidence. He was short but with wide shoulders and a stocky build like a midwest farm boy. His hair was blonde and cut short. His quick, intelligent eyes carefully examined them both as he approached; the name tag embroidered on his BDUs read “McCormick.”

“Afternoon,” he said to Jake, nodding at Max. “Ma’am. You folks okay?” Judging by his accent, Jake wasn’t far off with this ‘farm boy’ assessment.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re fine,” Jake said, nervously. “Just bumps and bruises.”

“Come on up to the truck and we’ll patch you up,” he said. He stood aside to let them go first. Another soldier appeared at the top of the ditch, peering down.

“Everything okay, Mick?” he called down. McCormick nodded, but as Max passed him he blinked once and stopped her, placing a hand on her arm. He peered at her face closely for a moment.

Then his eyes went wide and he backed away from her quickly but steadily, drawing his rifle up.

“Stay back, lady,” he said.

“Mick, what’s going on?” the other soldier called to him.

“She’s a Z, man,” he said. “I just… didn’t see it at first. She’s different.”

“Different how?”

“I don’t know, but she’s freaking me out.”

“Well, bring ‘em. Their van’s wrecked anyway. Dr. Irons will want to see her if she’s so different. Let’s get her in quarantine.”

Jake had no idea what they were talking about, but being outgunned was pretty motivating and he and Max allowed McCormick to herd them to the van.

“You fooled me for a minute,” he muttered to Max, his voice disturbed. “What the hell are you?”

Max shrugged. “I’m… a reporter?” she ventured helplessly .

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