River Of Night – Snippet 24

Fat Ralph gaped at the body of his friend, but ducked lower, demonstrating somewhat better tactical judgment.


Tom felt the bullet impact on his chestplate in a sort of clinical way. He continued to raise his rifle but someone grabbed the carry handle on the back of his plate carrier and violently tugged him backwards. Reflexively he reacted by pushing with his legs in the same direction, jackknifing in the direction of the pull. As though he were in slow motion, he could hear individual rounds impacting against the SUVs, one every few moments. As soon as he was in cover, Risky began pulling at his armor, desperate to assess his injury.

He shook himself and twisted left and right. No pain, no heat. The armor had kept the round out.

“I’m fine.” he insisted. “No penetration. Take a position!”

“Are you sure?” Risky said, pausing her fevered tearing at his velcro closures. Seeing his calm eyes, she inexplicably flared in sudden anger. “Fine!”

She left him and crawled to the next wheel over.

Tom glanced under the truck, but all the nearer attackers were down, along with the screamer, who was missing most of the back of his skull.

Worf, Astroga and Gravy were in view, all prone, angled behind the vehicles. Their rifles popped in syncopated time, but their lack of rhythm didn’t reduce the effectiveness of their fire. After the initial blast of incoming fire, relatively few bullets were still hitting their vehicles. Kaplan had paused shooting, like Tom, and was evaluating the battle.

Even so, it was time to move. They had to get off the X, and right now.

“Mount up!” he yelled as loud as he could. He double checked himself for injuries, but couldn’t see any blood. “Get in and drive! GO!”

Over his shoulder he say Risky pushing their own kids and the rescuee into the first Suburban. One of its tires hissed as the run flat compound tried to plug multiple leaks.

“Kap!” he yelled, waving his arm to get the shooter’s attention. “Drive! GO! I’ll cover.”

Kaplan gave him an exasperated look but dropped his rifle on its sling and swung behind the wheel as Tom continued to fire on their attackers a block away. Judging from the number of muzzle flashes that winked across his front and sides, the volume of fire should have been really heavy. Yet, most of the rounds must have been very badly aimed, or they would all be dead by now.

The first Suburban made a tight turn and scraped past a stop sign, shedding a rear view mirror as Kaplan punched the truck out of the ambush.

Ralph was trying to shove the limp bulk of his dead friend into the backseat, but couldn’t get the leverage he needed. Screaming from the interior greeted his bloody efforts as gray and yellow brain matter smeared on the upholstery.

“Leave it, he’s gone!” Tom ordered. “Get in and shoot!”

With a horrified look at the ruin of Vinnie’s head, Ralph let go of the body and closed the door on the terrified rear passengers. He jumped into the front passenger seat of the truck as Tom finished his mag dump and hopped behind the wheel of the big SUV.  Worf continued shooting from an open window, risking the exposure in order to keep rounds moving downrange.

“Gravy, GO!” Tom yelled at Durante. “Mount up and follow me!”

Durante was laying down final suppressive fire as fast as he could but glanced up at Tom’s desperate yell.

Tom shifted into reverse, mashed the gasoline pedal and the big engine roared in low gear as the fat tires drove the truck backwards. He accelerated backwards, alternately looking over his shoulder at their escape route and then back over the hood towards their last SUV. He saw Durante stagger as he got into the red Durango, but nonetheless slam the driver’s door shut. Moments later, the Dodge began backing up as fast as Durante could push it, before spinning around in a violent turn and accelerating again.

Tom’s eyes flicked back to the rear window as his own truck approached fifty miles an hour. He kept his hands light on the wheel in order to avoid over controlling the big truck. A single twitch would cost him steering authority and then roll the vehicle. He turned his head forward in time to see Durante, leaning into the Dodge’s steering wheel, catch up to the first two trucks. 

The Suburban’s windshield caught another round, and one of the kids screamed anew.


Dave Durante knew that he had taken the round in a bad place. He felt the searing icy pain of the initial impact as the lucky shot caught him just under the lip of his armor plate, entering his lower back two inches from his spine. He felt his left leg go numb, but was close enough to the Dodge to lever himself inside by main strength.

“Get your seatbelts on!” he commanded his passengers. Emily Bloome turned to click the belt on her charge and then herself. Her eyes were huge in Gravy’s rear view mirror.

Combat adrenaline had gotten him into the car and now it got them off the X. He pinned the accelerator to the floor, smoking the tires as he backed up as fast as he could. At a wide spot in the next intersection Gravy smoothly pulled the car through a J turn, spinning the steering wheel first one way and then reversing it, simultaneously popping the automatic transmission into drive.

A wave of pain swept through his body as he straightened out.

He was bleeding badly, a hot sour sensation boiling in his abdomen. Looking down, he saw that his lap was red with blood. A few more rounds splattered against the sheetmetal, but he could see the edge of town. They were almost clear.

But instead of elation, Durante felt a wave of pain and nausea that seemed to tighten his skin all over his body. With startling suddenness his vision began to blur, graying around the edges.

He leaned onto the wheel and tried to steer smoothly but over corrected. He reversed his turn, and over compensated again. Looking up, Durante saw that he was going to strike a guard rail. He stabbed the brake and jerked the wheel, but too late.



Eva stopped shooting and kept her head down. As return fired tapered, she was in greater danger of catching a ricochet courtesy of the atrocious marksmanship of the Gleaners foot soldiers. She counted on the other Gleaners to reflexively return fire and continue until either they ran out of ammunition or the strangers managed to run away.

She heard engines roar and she peeked around her cover.

The red SUV was last to back away, and as she watched, the driver managed a skillful reverse, shifted into forward and sped forward.

The Gleaners could barely hit a vehicle at rest. Shooting at the trucks now was just an exercise in turning ammunition into noise.

“Cease fire!” she yelled. “Cease fire! Cease fire!”

She turned to Korbish.

“Get the rest of these asses to stop shooting – they’re just wasting ammo at this point!”

Korbish nodded and started yelling and cuffing the nearest shooters

Still in sight, the red SUV followed the bigger trucks. All three vehicles were approaching freeway speeds. She watched the convoy pass the edge of the town proper when the last truck began to weave a bit. Without warning it crunched against a guardrail and pirouetted into the ditch about a quarter mile from the fight.

“Cease fire!” she yelled again.

She had to repeat herself several times until the fire stopped. She eyeballed the wreck. One of the bigger SUVs had pulled up.


Behind the Gleaners some infected began to trickle in, and the shooting started again.


Tom watched the Durango rock to a halt. He ruthlessly suppressed his fear and anger. Even as he smashed the brake pedal to the floor, he issued directions.