Running Red

It didn’t take Jesse long to cover the few miles that separated the citadel from the camp. The moon was moving toward a new phase, nearly full now, and it seemed almost daylight to him. He longed for the bike, feeling small and vulnerable without it. He would just have to be fast enough on his own.

As he neared the ridge that edged the small canyon, a new scent was carried to him through the still air. It was slightly acrid, sweet and smoky underneath. Familiar. There was no other smell on Earth quite like it. He slowed down and unslung the rifle as he moved closer. The sound from the canyon was like the crackling of paper, punctuated by an occasional shout. He lowered himself to the ground and crawled to the edge, the rifle ready in his right hand.

The fire was larger, more alive, and the smoke from it billowed an ugly black. Men still ringed the small inferno, but the Harleys were in an ordered line at the mouth of the canyon and there was no gear littered around.

A jumbled mound lay to the right side of the blaze. There were men on either side of the mound — a beefy shirtless man who was not human and a lean James Dean wannabe in full leathers — and as Jesse watched, they leaned down and heaved another body onto the fire. They had fed and they would be moving. He quickly counted the figures that ringed the fire, squinted and counted again. There were eleven men down below. Two were missing. One of the missing was Tesca.

Jesse pulled back and looked around him quickly, a burst of fear squeezing his heart. He scanned the shadows that lurked in the rocks around him, but could sense no movement. He was out of time and he knew it. He chose a target and lifted the rifle to his shoulder. Had he been a different man, he might have said a prayer. He pulled the trigger.

A split second later the shirtless biker’s head exploded in a flower of red and he slumped onto the pile of bodies before him. Jesse worked the lever and fired again, catching a tall thin man with a ponytail in the right temple. As he fell forward the others broke and began to move, hitting the ground in a chorus of yells, scrambling toward the bikes on the far edge of the fire.

“No immortality,” Jesse whispered and pulled the trigger again. He heard the rumble of engines and couldn’t get another clean shot. He pulled back and waited, adjusting his vision to the cool darkness that surrounded him. He rolled on his back and scanned the area, hearing the roar behind him fade slightly as they circled up from the canyon. He got to his feet and began to move. He heard a rustle from the rocks to his left and spun, rifle at his waist, finger already squeezing the trigger. The muzzle flared and the dark figure before him staggered, but kept coming. Jesse pulled the lever, but there wasn’t enough time, and he felt the breath leave his body as his back hit the ground. His teeth snapped together as the biker rammed his head back into the dirt.

He shoved up with the rifle and then released it, bringing his right hand up, feeling the knife slide into his palm. He slashed wildly, feeling slick blood spatter his face, but the snarling man on top of him didn’t let go. Jesse struggled, a part of his mind hearing the sound of the engines growing in the distance. He gave a desperate yell and shoved up hard, feeling the give as the knife bit, the jar as it was stopped by bone. The man let go abruptly and rolled on his back, hands clawing at the hilt of the knife that protruded from his thick neck. Jesse got to his feet and pulled out the Colt. He fired once, and then reached down to retrieve the knife, wiping it on the man’s tattered shirt and quickly replacing it against his forearm. He picked up the Winchester from the ground and turned to look behind him. The roar was growing, angry bees swarming from a ruined hive, and he could make out the glowing movement of distant headlights.

“Follow me, you sons of bitches,” Jesse said. And then he began to run.