Before my eyes, one of the attackers brought a stick down – and, with a crash, shattered the windshield of the front truck in our convoy.
“Shit.” I swung my gun around and, with two shots, managed to pick that attacker off. But even as he fell, three more came up to take his place, swinging at the sides of the truck with sticks and stones.
The door to the injured truck swung open, knocking two of the attackers off their feet. Sergei charged out, the wolf attacking with his teeth and claws out. The steel of a knife flashed in his hand as he caught one man across the throat. The man dropped to his knees, fighting a losing, futile battle to keep his lifeblood from spilling out through the second smile.
There were more, however, all of them howling guttural, wordless war cries as they attacked. I felt almost like we were back in some sort of film about exploring Africa’s heart of darkness, fighting against tribal natives who’d never seen white men.
But it made no sense, did it? This was America, albeit a rural area, where people should be… civilized? The attackers were white, looking more like deranged hillbillies than tribal natives.
One of the men suddenly straightened up, still standing on top of Sergei and Feng’s truck. “Girl!” he howled at the top of his lungs, throwing his head back, almost like a wolf howling up at the sky. “Girl! They have a girl!”
The others all paused for a moment, also roaring out. A chill ran down the back of my spine, hearing the voices raised in those guttural cries. They sounded thick, as if the men were high on something, drugged halfway out of their minds. “Girl! Girl!” one of them started chanting, soon picked up by the others as they surged forward with renewed fervor.
I paused for a moment, uncertain. Were they talking about Feng? She’d drawn the small-caliber pistol that she carried as her backup weapon, placing precise shots.
But then a new sound rang out from the inside of the attacked front truck – a scream, high and piercing.
At that scream, the attackers surged forward once again. All doubt left my mind that she was the target of this ambush – not any of us. “They’re after her!” my mouth shouted out, as if it could still be unclear to anyone else.
“Over my dead fucking body,” Jaspers roared, charging forward. His spray of bullets was no longer useful against the attackers, not with friendly targets in among them. It left his hands, replaced by a pistol and a straight-bladed ka-bar. He dropped one broad shoulder and hit the backs of several men like a human wrecking ball.
I nearly charged in after him – but forced myself to hold off for just a moment longer. Someone needed to think, amid all this aggression. I needed to be strategic.
We weren’t going to be able to kill them all, not without taking some losses. Our luck couldn’t hold out for much longer. And even as this thought passed through my brain, I saw Sergei suddenly stagger, his face a mask of pain as he reeled back. A knife jutted out from one shoulder. He switched his blade over to his off hand and brought down the attacker, but he wouldn’t last much longer.
Hating to take my eyes off the fight for even a second, I spun to look behind me at Corinne and Henry. “We need an exit!” I shouted.
Corinne nodded, her eyes moving past the fight to size up the terrain. “Follow me,” she said, dropping back into her truck.
“Jaspers!” I shouted next. “Get Sergei back into our truck! Tactical retreat!”
I heard a roar in response, but knew that the Brit would obey, even if it meant his bloodlust wouldn’t be fully sedated. He raised one foot and kicked a man in the chest, sending him flying back half a dozen feet before landing on the ground. Taking advantage of the newly cleared space, he grabbed Sergei and pulled him back, towards our largely undamaged truck.
The attackers paused for an instant, clearly torn between pursuing a wounded Sergei or going after Feng and Sara, still inside the truck. I took advantage of that pause.
I charged forward, into the newly opened space. I moved past some of the hillbillies, close enough to see rotted teeth and wild beards, eyes that looked deranged and slightly unfocused even as they turned towards me. One of them reached for me, and I socked him in the nose, felt something crunch under my fist.
And then I was past them, throwing myself into the truck.
Thankfully, the key was still in the ignition, and the truck’s engine still ran. Whatever wire had fouled up the front wheels was still there, but I prayed that the truck would still be able to get past it, to go forward enough to get us out of this situation.
“Hold on!” I shouted to Feng, who nodded grimly beside me. I glanced briefly over my shoulder as I put the truck into gear, seeing Sara huddled in the backseat.
“It’s going to be okay,” I told her, trying to soften my voice at least a tiny bit. Her face was pale, but she managed to meet my eyes, give me the tiniest of nods.
I found Drive, and stomped down on the accelerator. The truck lunged forward, bumping a bit as the front grille collided with one unfortunate standing directly in front of the machine. I felt the car pulling off to the left, and a deep grinding sound with each twist of the wheel made it clear that the truck was deeply injured, but it still managed to determinedly perform. The windshield was a spiderweb of whiteness, nearly impossible to see through, but I didn’t want to kick it out just yet, not while we were still all but surrounded.
A rock had already shattered the driver’s side window. I stuck my head out, just in time to see Corinne’s truck roar by. Twisting my head to the other direction, I saw Jaspers pull the door shut on the third vehicle, Sergei successfully inside.
“Right. Time to haul ass out of here,” I said, spinning the wheel and taking off after Corinne. I heard the roar as the third truck, with Jaspers and Sergei, did the same.
We shot forward in a series of uncomfortable jerks and starts, accompanied by more metallic scraping noises as that wire caught in the truck’s axle did more damage to its undercarriage. But we kept rolling forward, and right now, that was all I needed – to be faster than our attackers.
Another several hundred feet along the road, the narrows of the cut hills on either side of us opened up into a broader, flatter area. Corinne spun her truck around in a bootlegger’s turn, the machine riding up on two wheels before settling to point back at the road. Immediately, her and Henry were both out, the doors open on either side and automatic weapons pointed back towards us, ready to provide covering fire.
But as our injured truck labored past them, followed by Jaspers and Sergei’s, I didn’t hear them fire. It seemed that our attackers had decided not to pursue us and take further losses.
I brought the injured truck to a shaky stop. Taking a deep breath and trying to wipe the mask of tension and control off my face, I turned to look back at Sara, in the seat behind me.
“You okay?” I asked, as gently as possible.
Her eyes were bright and wide against her pale cheeks, but she managed to nod. “I’m okay,” she replied. And then, ever so softly: “You said a bad word when we drove away.”
It was the last thing I’d expected from her – and I couldn’t hold myself back. Laughter bubbled up, free and unconstrained.
“Yeah, I did,” I admitted. “Sorry, honey. I’ll try to watch my mouth next time.”
“It’s okay.” She paused for a second. “I thought it.”
We’d made it out, for the moment. I gave her one last smile, and then climbed out to talk with the others, figure out what we’d do next.
To be continued…