“What’s wrong with it?” I asked her, afraid to look away, afraid that if I did, the people would somehow notice. At least the headlights were off now. “Does this always happen when you’re in immediate danger?”
“I don’t know!” She began pounding her hand on the wheel in anger. “I don’t know, it’s never done this. It’s just dead. Shit!”
“Okay,” I said slowly. So far the group of people were staying put, maybe not even facing our direction. Perhaps luck was on our side. “Do you know anything about cars?”
She gave me a disgusted look and quickly opened the door, hopping out of her seat and going for the hood. I jumped out too, the air cooler now and slightly damp. Though the houses on either side of the street were derelict and abandoned, I felt like a million eyes were watching me. That uneasy feeling on the back of my head slowly extended down my neck, down my spine, tickling my ass and balls.
“Do you have any experience at this?” Rose asked as she popped the rusty hood. I winced at the jagged noise she was creating and looked again to see if the crowd of people had noticed. They were still standing there, not moving, swaying like reeds in a light breeze.
“I have no idea how to fix it, if that’s what you’re asking,” I told her. “But a similar thing happened to me in New Mexico once.”
“I think it was the work of a few evil shamans.” I quickly glanced at her. The realization spread across her face. Of course this wasn’t her dependable truck just randomly malfunctioning. This was the work of a Bokor. Which meant…
Her eyes flew to the crowd at the end of the street. “I really hope those are your average shoot-em-up thugs.”
As if they’d heard her, the crowd began to move. It took us a few seconds, squinting at their dark forms against the blackened street, to figure out if they were coming toward us or not. They were coming toward us. And quite fast. They weren’t Olympic sprinters, but they might pace well in a marathon.
“Get in the car,” Rose said quietly. “Now.”
She slammed down the hood and we jumped in the front seats as she tried the ignition again and slammed her foot down on the gas, pumping it. Like before, there was nothing. And now the mob of people was only a few yards away.
“Are those zombies or real people?” I cried out. “Zombies or real people?”
“I don’t know,” she whimpered. But I knew she did. Now that they were closer, I could make out their shapes and faces. Their expressions. They were mainly bigger-framed black men, though there were a few white derelicts sprinkled in there, the types with crazy tattoos on their faces, stained wife beaters and meth-crazed eyes. People that no one would care about if they went missing or ended up dead. People who would have people spitting on their graves. Expendable members of society.
They all looked absolutely insane. They faces held no humanity. They were drooling, with snapping teeth and outstretched arms. Just like the zombies of your nightmares. Only these were much, much worse. Because this group moved in tandem, in unison, like a flock of evil birds, and they could be quick when they wanted to be. They had already started to run.
I could see Rose was about to abandon ship and make a run for it, but that would have been certain death as well. I grabbed her arm to hold her, and panicking, said, “Let me try the car.”
I put my hand on the key, and concentrating as much as I could, hoping that somewhere inside of me I could fight back against what was being done to me, to us, that if I had this power it could be used for something, I turned it.
The car started with a roar. The lights went on.
And Slayer’s “Dead Skin Mask” came blaring out of the speakers, as if we were listening to that song at high volume just before the truck died.
Rose let out a whoop of joy and immediately slammed the car into reverse, hitting the gas hard. We lurched forward in our seats, my hands crammed against the dashboard to prevent my head from going through the glass, and Rose whipped it around so we were going in the opposite direction.
Right into another car.
It clipped the front of the truck, Rose’s side, and then we spun around in a three-sixty before we slammed into the side of telephone pole. My head knocked against Rose’s, and then the door and everything went a sickly shade of red.
Slayer shut off.
I thought I was out for maybe a few seconds. My head hurt in two places, where I hit Rose and where I hit the window. I winced and looked up, the window totally cracked. I touch my temple and looked at my hand. My fingers were covered in sticky blood. What had happened?
I carefully turned my head to see if Rose was okay, wincing through the pain, trying not to vomit. She was gone. The seat next to me was empty. There was blood on the cracked windshield but her door was closed. It was like she just calmly got out of the car and left me here.
I tried to call her name, but my mouth felt like it was filled with sawdust. I needed to focus. What happened? The car. A car hit us.
Oh my fuck, the zombies.
I straightened up, grinding my teeth at the immense pressure in my head, at the wooziness, and forced my vision to line up. The mob was gone from the street and I couldn’t see the car we hit. Maybe they’d driven off. I tried to look through the cracks on the window to see if there was damage on the road but something else caught my eye.
I was wrong about the crowd of zombie people being gone. I didn’t know how long I was out—long enough for Rose and everyone else to disappear. But that wasn’t true.
Up ahead on the road. There was someone walking—no running—toward me. I panicked, adrenaline pushing through the fatigue and taking over, and I was about to jump out of the car when the dark figure suddenly dodged to the left, disappearing into a mound of high bushes.
Fuck this noise. I had to find Rose. I had to get out of here. I moved over to the driver’s seat and was about to turn the ignition when I realized the keys were missing. I frantically searched the ground, the seat, the middle. There was nothing.
“Fuck!” I screamed, wanting to bang my head against the wheel, knowing it would probably make me lose consciousness.
“Think, Foray, think,” I muttered to myself, forcing my brain to catch up. My eyes darted nervously to the road and back, feeling like I could be attacked at any minute by whatever had run into the bushes. At this point I was hoping it was just some neighborhood derelict because I would gladly hand over the guns, the cameras, whatever money I had if that was the case. I’d smile at them and kiss their feet. I could be their bitch, I’d make it work. It would be far better than having to face the walking dead.
I had two choices, really. I could either make a run for it or I could hotwire it. It was an old truck; it shouldn’t take all that long.
I leaned down, and with an impatient fist, broke through the panel beneath the wheel and pulled out the wiring. I fished out the flashlight from the center console and stuck it in my mouth and did my best. Blue wires to blue wires, twist. Check.
Once I did that, I readjusted my angle, trying to see better, when I heard a god awful moan from beneath me. As in beneath the floorboards, coming from the ground. Suddenly the whole truck shifted, as if someone or something was trying to lift it up. It tilted to the left then to the right.
The flashlight fell out of my mouth and I put both hands on the dash, trying to steady myself. The movement stopped, the truck settling, but the groan was still there. I wasn’t alone. There was something or someone underneath the car.
I sucked in my breath, trying to regain control, to keep myself from freaking out. It was barely working. I could either run or keep hotwiring and hope I dragged this thing away with me. And there wasn’t time to really weigh either choice.
I kept trying to hotwire. I picked up the flashlight and ignored the moans and groans right beneath my feet, a mix of human agony and mechanical failure. Come on, come on, come on.
When I got those wires twisted, I felt like maybe the end was in sight. That I just needed a few more seconds and a bit of luck. Well, luck was on vacation that night. I raised my head for just one second to see what the outside situation looked like, and in that second, everything changed.
For one, through the cracked windshield I could see a darkened figure coming down the street, cloaked entirely in black. Whoever it was walked with purpose and also with ease. They were seductive, confident, and smooth. It was the walk of a woman who knew what she wanted and knew she was about to get it.
It was then that I suddenly couldn’t move. I had leaned back against the seat when I saw the figure, and now I was frozen in place, the flashlight dropping out of my mouth again, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. My limbs wouldn’t lift, my head wouldn’t turn. I was lucky my mouth was closed but I couldn’t even open it to scream.
Suddenly the glove compartment started shaking like something was inside and trying to get out. It rattled, and I was torn between watching that and watching the figure move toward me. She was still obscured by the distance, the darkness and the fractures in the glass. But it didn’t matter. I could already tell who it was. And for once I wasn’t enamored by her.
For once I saw things very clearly, very deeply.
Somewhere she laughed, maybe it was out on the street, or in the truck, or in my head.
The glove compartment popped open with a hiss, a sound that sunk into my spine. The large black head of a python came out, its long, skinny tongue flicking like the Devil’s pitchfork. It slowly emerged, pushing forward, its shiny scales undulating. Its head hung there for a moment, seeking, searching, before it pushed itself out of the glove compartment and dropped to the passenger seat. It curled up momentarily as the rest of its mammoth body continued to flow out of the tiny space. It was somehow bigger than the one in my room last night, at least fifteen feet long and two feet thick at its middle, and yet I knew it was the same beast, the same entity. Li Grand Zombi. It had come back for me.
I could have easily closed my eyes and just given up. My nerves were so shot, so frayed, that any sudden movement from the python would have put me into cardiac arrest. I knew that. I knew that if I was lucky, I would be found the next day, maybe days later, apparently dead from the effects of a car crash.
But I couldn’t just give up. I was tired of doing that. I wanted to fight.
Ambrosia stepped forward, closer now so that I could see her coldly beautiful face, her wicked eyes. I wondered how I could have been so foolish to fall for her. The way I acted around her when Perry, my fucking Perry was there, the things I’d said. I’d acted like a douche of the highest order, a horny asshole, the worst of the worst. This woman had controlled all of it, and for all my supposed willpower, I had let her. I had let myself succumb to her advances, perhaps not all of them, but enough to make me a walking idiot in her wake. I should have known better—I should have been a better man. Now I knew, now I felt her power pulling at me, trying to glamour me, compel me. She got as far as my body, able to hold it in place. But she couldn’t get in my mind anymore. I had seen the truth.
The snake began to rise upward so its head and beady eyes were at my level. I wasn’t even sure if pythons could move like cobras, but this one was. It looked ready to strike.