Copyright© 2011 by carioca
The road got worse as soon as they passed the 'Not County Maintained' sign. Jenny held tight to the wheel as the bus bounced through a series of potholes. "Are you sure we can get through this way?"
Alex swayed, holding onto the bar by the windshield. "Pretty sure, it's either this, or go back to the freeway, and take the long way around. Unless you've changed your mind about the fire station?"
She shook her head, Jenny had felt a little uncomfortable about deciding for everyone else, but with Alex and Jeremy backing her up, no one had objected. "If we did, they wouldn't let us go home. But there's a chance they missed our house." Her parents had built it set back from the road, so anyone driving past would likely assume that the graveled turnaround and the tool shed was all there was, unless they explored past the trees. If mom had dropped the bridge, they'd have to do that on foot. "Alex," She hesitated, feeling his eyes on her. "If we can get through, will you stay at our house? At least until Dad gets home?"
There was a long pause before he answered. "Okay." She drove in silence, raising occasional clouds of dust where the blacktop had been patched with gravel. Alex watched out the front, occasionally turning to check the on the rest of the kids. Finally he pointed. "Just after that barn, turn left."
The barn was half collapsed, all the paint weathered off, leaving grayed boards and rusty nails. She made the turn, the new road was mostly gravel, lined with trees and overgrown fields. She followed it down to where a one lane bridge crossed a mostly dry stream bed. It was blocked.
A flatbed truck loaded with wheelbarrows, shovels, a small cement mixer and other construction equipment was jammed diagonally across the far side. Beyond, a white minivan with a luggage rack on the roof tilted precariously on the edge of a ditch. Jenny hit the breaks, and they skidded to a stop a good twenty feet short of the bridge. She'd forgotten to use the clutch, and the engine died. Behind her someone's voice cut through the silence. "That's my Mom's car."
She didn't take her eyes from the window, but she sensed Alex grab someone and hold them back from the door. "Just wait, we'll see if she's there. You stay here, ok?"
Nothing moved outside. They were so close to home. If they could clear the road, they could be home, safe, in ten minutes, fifteen at the most. The boys pulled the dufflebag back out of the stairwell. She grabbed Alex's hand, stopping him from opening the door. "Wait, don't go yet."
"Just wait." She pushed through the curious kids and hurried back to Bobbi-Jo's impromptu clinic. "Bobbi-Jo, We need your help. Go up and keep the doors closed until I get there." She didn't wait for an answer, but moved back to where Billy's teacher sat. The woman looked up at her wide eyed but didn't seem to recognize her. "Miss Simpkins, I need your pistol." The woman's hand moved to her pocket, but she didn't take it out. "The road is blocked, and we need to clear it. I'll give it back when we're done." She put her hand out, and after a moment the teacher handed it over, along with a box of bullets.
Mrs. St. Clair screamed at her as she went past. "Gun! You brought a gun to school!" Jenny ignored her and pushed her way to the front.
"No one out there." Alex said. "Give me the gun and we'll go check, you can open the door for us."
Jenny shook her head. "No, I'm a better shot than you, and I'm better than Jeremy with a pistol. Bobbi-Jo can watch the door."
Alex looked at her, then to Jeremy who shrugged and nodded. "Okay." He opened the door, jumped down and turned back. "Keep the door closed until we come back, just in case."
"I will," Bobbi-Jo said, "you guys be careful."
Jenny followed her brother down the stairs, and onto the bridge. She heard the door swing shut behind them. Her heart pounded as they approached the truck. Jeremy dropped lightly to the road, bat scraping lightly on loose gravel and asphalt, and peered into the shadows under the truck. Birds chirped in the trees on the far side, and the sun felt hot on the back of her neck. The truck had skidded to a stop, the marks were clear. Jeremy pushed off and hopped to his feet. "Looks clear."
Alex led the way around the truck, there was plenty of room walk, but not nearly enough to drive a car through. He stopped at the front, looking down at he ground. Jeremy looked too, then swallowed and looked deliberately away, eyes scanning the trees on both sides of the road. A huge pool of nearly congealed blood covered the road at the end of the bridge. Flies buzzed around, drinking it up.
She looked away, trying not to imagine what had caused it. There were bloodstains on the front of the truck. One wheel had fallen off the bridge where there had once been a guardrail. Alex put his hand on her shoulder, and she jerked away, smothering a yelp of fear. "Keep an eye out, I'm going to see if I can move the truck, It should back up just fine."
He stood on the step and cupped his hands to look through the passenger window, then opened the door. Jeremy was watching the road and the trees, so she watched the stream on both sides, walking back and forth to make sure nothing climbed up on the bridge. Occasionally she looked across at the bus, making sure the door was still closed and none of the cannibals had followed them down onto the flood plain.