Into The Dead Zone, Part II


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Scene Title Into the Dead Zone, Part II
Synopsis While crossing the Cascade Mountains, Wolfhound and company make an unsettling discovery…
Date April 19, 2018

It’s been hours since the team set out from their rest stop outside of what remains of Spokane, across rural and still inhabited stretches of eastern Washington State. Where once the mountains loomed on the western horizon, they’re all around now. The trip has been one fraught with setbacks and false starts, no less so since they arrived in the largely uncharted Dead Zone.

Cities here lay in ruin, some destroyed by fire, others by decay. It feels as though the country died here and everyone moved on, and in many ways that’s true. Leaving Spokane was easy enough, crossing the rural eastern Washington as well, but that’s where the trip hit its neck roadblock. The planned crossing over I90 into the township of Vantage was foiled by a demolished bridge. This re-routed Wolfhound and their allies north an hour out of their way until they count reach the Route 2 bridge that crosses into what was once Sunnyslope.

Route 2 rolls through the small, desolate town. Collapsed buildings line either side of the road, the burned out husk of a movie theater still has titles of films from 2011 set up on its front signage. No one will be seeing Tower Heist or Jack & Jill any time soon. More sobering are the abandoned houses, with roofs collapsed from disrepair, lawns overgrown into lush fields. Nature is unavoidable here, from the herds of deer standing on the roadside to the fields of wildflowers growing across what was once a freeway. No one come through here much anymore, it seems.

The Cascade Mountains

Washington State

April 19th

The detour takes the team far afield, through the ruins of other small towns like Cashmere and Dryden, until they can head south along Route 97 and cut straight through the foothills of the Cascades. This stretch of the journey leads into the fog-shrouded lowlands where Route 97 cuts through man-made passes into the rocky cliffs of the mountains. Deadfall trees threaten the road, hanging precariously overhead.

Though the sun is out today, it cuts through a low ground fog that pools between the trees and covers the road. Steam rises up off where the sun touches the pavement, and everything is coated in a fine sheen of dew from yesterday’s rain. Clouds encroaching ahead threaten more rain, and it seems the trip is headed into the oncoming path of a storm.

Nick’s in the back of the Katsch, long legs stretched out along the seats; the reflective sunglasses and a baseball cap pulled low over his brow keep the glare of that bright sunlight off his face as he catches up on sleep, having driven for the last stretch of road before the detour. If he’s sleeping, it’s in the shallow pool of slumber — his breathing isn’t audible and the bumps and potholes don’t knock him all over the bench as they might someone less aware of their surroundings.

Which means he’s probably faking it.

Still, not having to look at the road or read a map or take part in small chat is a form of rest, which the Brit needs at the moment.

Sitting in the passenger’s seat, Claire’s sunglasses barely cover the look of confusion as she works on making a mark on the map that is unfolded across her lap. The area might be mostly uncharted, but at least they will have some sort of reference if they ever need to come back this way.

Clicking the back of the pen, Claire eyes her handi-work — so much neater then the others — and sighs. Looking up from the map, she turns her attention to the passing structures, lips pressed tightly together. After a few moments of watching abandoned and run-down structures, her head slowly shakes. “Talk about depressing…” she whispers to no on in particular. While their side of the country was just as bad, at least it hadn’t been abandoned to nature and the elements.

It’s Richard’s turn behind the wheel, those reflective shades keeping the sun out of his eyes - not that he needs it, particularly, not with the fog that’s risen up around them like bread given too much yeast.

“It’s kind of spooky,” he agrees with Claire in quiet tones, “All that fog and mist, all those abandoned houses… nature’s taking the country back, and I can’t altogether say it’s necessarily a bad thing.”

“Still. Humanity’ll return, one day. We ebb and flow like the tide,” Richard philosophizes, just before driving over a pot-hole that jars the entire vehicle a bit.

Fuck,” is Avi’s own response at the hole in the road, “sorry, blind-side.” Grumbling, he looks back to where Nick lays stretched out, then past him to the supplies. “If this road is washed out, I don’t even fucking know what we’re gonna do. The…” Epstein looks down at the clock in the dashboard, “uhh… we’ve got like, ten hours of daylight. We could double back and… “ he looks over to Claire. “Bennet, see if you can figure out an alternate route in case we get another run of bad— ”

Rain begins falling steadily with an abruptness common to spring storms. The rain pounds against the roof and windshield, filling the cab with white noise and drowning visibility down to just a few blurry feet as the windshield wipers work doubletime. The dark clouds overhead and heavy rain darkens the interior of the cab as well, making everything feel cave-like.

“ — luck…”

The jarring of the vehicle this time throws Nick off balance, and he slides a bit, shoulder hitting the back of the seat in front of him before he grabs on to it to push himself back and upward into a sitting position.

“I’m awake,” he says, in case anyone was worried.

He turns to stare out at the rain pummeling the window, lowering his glasses since the dark shades don’t help him make sense of the blurry outdoors. “Shit,” is all he has to say, blinking a little groggily — if he wasn’t asleep, he was close to it. “Better to wait it out, you think? Rain this hard, shitty roads… we might end up driving into a mudslide.”

Rustling paper is a good indicator that Claire is already working on the problem, with the world darkening, the sunglasses are pushed up on top of her head. The furrow of her brow is not a good one. Twisting in her seat so she can look back at Avi, Claire gives him a flat look. “We are running out of options… Unless we want to track back a day or so.” Looking back at the map and flipping it over, holding it up for him to look at and pointing at the last junction they took that still had options. “That is also going to take us even further north then we planned.”

The regenerator offers the map to the older man, brows lifting a little, “I’d rather have you double check, but I think our best best is to see if we can get through on this route.”

“You just had to say it, didn’t you?” Richard’s tone dry as he leans forward a bit, craning his neck to peer upwards as the leaden rain falls like a curtain across the road and over their vehicle, “Just had to.”

“You ever been checked for SLC positivity? Maybe you cause storms,” he quips, settling back and taking control of the wheel more securely, the speed of the Katsch dropping rapidly so he doesn’t go swerving off the road in the rain and crash it into a ditch.

At Claire’s estimate of their best chances, he nods, “Let’s just push forward and hope that the road holds. Our luck can’t be bad forever, eh?”

“My folks fired SLC-Blanks,” Epstein grouses as he slows down, as Nick is perfectly right about the situation. “Only people in my family tree with abilities come from the Raith side of the gene pool.” Leaning forward to look up through the windshield, Avi squints and makes an awkward face. “Belatedly, I think some of this is hail. I mean this truck’s bulletproof so I don’t think…”

Epstein stops, looking down toward the road. “Fuck,” he whispers, looking over to Claire as he takes his revolver out of the center console. “Twelve o’clock, two unknowns.” Out far ahead of the Katsch, standing in the middle of the road, are two figures in hooded jackets slicked with rain. One has a backpack, the other a baseball bat wrapped in a length of chain and affixed with screws.

Worse, is that Richard and Nick can see them too, but they’re coming out of the woods. Dark shapes at this distance, in ponchos and hooded jackets, others with rain-matted hair. They’re hiking down either side of the forested hills to the right and left of the truck. Some are armed with makeshift clubs, most don’t appear to be.

“Maybe you cause bad luck,” Nick says with a sigh to Ray, not without irony, as he too notes the figures just about the same time Avi does. “This side, too,” he says.

He squints through the window, through rainwater and haze from their breaths, before using his cuff to wipe at the glass, though it doesn’t help much.

“Looks like they’re not carrying real heat,” Nick murmurs, finding his own gun from where he’s stowed it in the backpack at his feet.

Turning forward again, she spots the two up ahead and glances to those on her side. “They might not need any real heat,” Claire murmurs watching those without weapons, warily through the mirrors lenses of her sunglasses. Sometimes, those without are the more dangerous given this day and age.

Leaning back in her seat, she asks nonchalantly…“Epstein, can you get ready to pass up my shotgun if everything goes south?” No reason to spook anyone, especially, if they are not really hostiles.

“Fuck,” Richard expels as he sees the figures silhouetted in the rain, sees the raised bats and makeshift clubs, fingers tightening around the wheel, “Let’s hope their mothers were firing SLC-blanks too, because it’s bad enough that we’re outnumbered.”

He glances over towards Avi with a brow’s raise upwards, “We got anything live in that roof mount by any chance?” He probably should’ve figured out if they’d loaded the Katsch up with weaponry before there was a reason to use them, but it is what it is.

Tension bristles through Epstein as the figures get closer through the rain. “Fuck, fuck…” Four people walk out in front of the Katsch, slamming their hands on the hood and shouting. Three more come up on the right side, visible clearly now through the driving rain as they pound their hands on the reinforced glass. Four come up on the left side, angrily shouting and rocking the Katsch back and forth.

“I've got my SAW in the back but it's packed the fuck away! I didn't think we’d actually need to mount a belt-fed fucking machine gun on the fucking roof!” Avi shouts, spotting people behind the Katsch now as well, screaming and slamming their hands on the rear window.

It's only now that the people closest to the walls of the Katsch can hear what they're shouting. “We need food! Please! Please!” Through the rain Richard can see a woman in a hooded raincoat holding a baby to her chest screaming with the crowd. There's a handful of children further back too.

Give us your food! Please!” People on the right of the truck scream, slamming their hands down on the windows. Another voice joins in, “My son is sick please I need medicine!

Someone else by Claire’s window is holding up an infant. “Please! Take her! Take her out of here please!

The people at the front of the Katsch start smashing the hood — at the moment futilely — with a baseball bat. “Get out of the fucking truck!

Avi reaches, casually, to where Claire’s shotgun is mounted on an internal weapon rack, not quite detaching it yet but keeping his hands ready in the event this goes even further sideways while looking at everyone else with a what the fuck face.

“Shit,” Nick mutters, staring out with that furrowed brow at the desperation of the people gathering around the Katsch. “These people have nothing — don’t make us drive through you…”

The fact they might have to is a disturbing one; their bodies are no match for what amounts to a tank of a vehicle if Ray decides to ram them. “Maybe just drive slow, push ’em gently out of the way — as long as we don’t open up, the Katsch should hold, yeah?”

“Jesus Christ.” He shakes his head at the woman holding the infant, glancing at Claire in horror. “Don’t open the window. Sad lot, but it could be a trap.” Play on their sympathies to get the travelers to open up the vehicle and then ambush them.

“Don’t worry… I have no plans on doing something so stupid.” Claire offers up flatly, though she can’t help but stare guilty at the baby being held up, luckily her sunglasses prevent the mother from seeing that guilt. “Isn’t my first rodeo, after all.” That last coming out rather blandly.

Tearing her eyes away from the scene, she looks at the others, “I agree with Nick, we can’t just sit here. And unfortunately, the only way out is through.” She sounds just as worried about hurting people, but it feels a bit like a trap to her as well.

“Well, this is fun,” Richard mutters under his breath as he looks at the crowd gathering around the vehicle, hears the shouts for help, for food, for medicine, the offers of children. “I don’t think we’re exactly equipped for a humanitarian— “

Then the first bat comes down on the hood, and he drops a hand to the shift, “Fuck this. I don’t think they’re behind us yet— “

Making an executive decision, he drops into reverse, looking at the dirty faces in the window and shouting through the glass as the engine revs, “You have three seconds to get away from the vehicle. Three. Two…”

At one? He hits the gas - not flooring it, but he’s not waiting for them to find some weakness in the Katsch that they can take advantage of.

They were, behind them. A handful of people are struck by the Katsch when it backs up, a few solid thumps pushing them back and down into the ground but no further injury. When that happens, some people frantically dart away into the woods, grabbing children or otherwise trying to issue them away. When Richard starts inching forward, there's a crack as a bullet strikes the window beside Nick and spiderwebs on the reinforced glass.

It's only a second later that more rifle fire cracks out from the treeline. Bullets plink and clank off of the body armor, most that hit the windows only leave take chips from their impacts. But the sounds are harrowing nonetheless.

“Fucking fuck!” Avi exclaims, detaching the shotgun and tossing it back to Claire. “Do not pop the fuck out of that hatch unless you want one less head!” More bullets, small arms fire now, clinks and rattles off of the vehicle and a rifle round slams against the driver’s side window at head-level to Richard.

The men who were in front scramble back and away, though one stops to fish for something in his backpack. A moment later he's got a lighter and is igniting a piece of cloth and then hurling a wicked bottle at the Katsch. It shatters against the hood, sending liquid fire up the windshield. “Fuck!” Avi shouts again.

“Right, sorry, didn’t mean to imply you’re stupid. Just, you know. Human,” Nick says, because the sight of the baby is one that’s hard to look away from; his own hand may have been on the window button. A souvenir for Delia.

He’s turning to look back when Richard reverses, too late to speak up for those behind the Katsch and wincing at the sounds of metal hitting flesh. At the crack of the bullet against the glass beside him, Nick jerks away, looking for the source.

“Jesus,” he mutters. “This glass won’t hold forever,” he adds, very helpfully, as he stares at the spiderwebbed window. “Fuck,” he echoes Avi at the newest onslaught when the molotov cocktail hits the hood. “Forget slow, just get the fuck out of here.”

He’s a great backseat driver.

The shotgun is snatches out of the air with ease and sunglasses are pushed up on top of her head so that she can check to make sure it is fully loaded. Claire doesn’t even hide that she’s doing it, sending a warning look out of her side of the car. Of course, the crunch of glass hitting the door of the Katsch and suddenly flare of fire across the field of view, makes the regenerator jump, turning wide blue eyes to the flames. “Holy shit…” she whispers.

This just keeps getting worse, leaning over, Claire smacks Richard’s arm a couple of times. as she insists that he “Drive! Drive!” Clearly, the time for being nice is over. It was an us or them thing at this point and she doesn’t regenerate like she use too.

Fucking hell,” Richard exclaims, instinctively jerking away from the crack of reinforced glass as a rifle round is prevented - if only barely - from going through his head. Then there’s the crack of glass and the rush of flame across the hood of the vehicle, and he grits his teeth.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he mutters under his breath, shifting back forward — they’ve given enough warnings, and the unarmed civilians seem to have withdrawn. Pedal down, the engine roaring to life as the Katsch lurches back into motion.

This time he’s not being nice about it.

Fire ripples over the hood of the Katsch, peeling up onto the windshield and stinking of alcohol and gasoline through the air vents. Richard can’t see who he hits first, but a dark shape goes tumbling up over the hood of the Katsch, smashing into — and not breaking — the heavily reinforced windshield. The darkly-dressed figure goes rolling off the hood a minute later, wreathed in flames from the molotov cocktail. People are screaming in the background, gunfire ricochets off of the armored plating and spiderwebs across the rear window. In short time, the torrential rain puts out the fire on the hood, and by the time their adrenaline has died down the rain has subsided to a light drizzle.

Richard doesn’t stop or slow down, winding down the narrow mountain road, over washed out portions sloped with packed earth and loose rocks, not until the fog parts and the sprawling remains of the town of Cle Elum come into view in a forested valley between the mountains.

Whatever they’d found here in the Dead Zone, not all of it would be welcoming.

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