Chapter 1. The Bridge
The sun was two hands above the horizon. Dust blowing up from the south had just become visible, the ghost of a pink stain padding the sky. It was too late in the day to be this hot, but that meant nothing. Grif spat on the ground expecting it to sizzle. He heard Mike’s bike before he could see him. Knew that sound anywhere.
Mike came back from Pittsburgh to say he got the gig. He asked for volunteers and of course, Grif said yes. So Grif got his ride ready, loading up his bike with provisions to meet the others by the clubhouse to head east.
Grif liked to keep his bike shiny. He rubbed the rendered pig fat and corn oil along the gas tank and struts, down the exhaust. When the fat was boiled long enough it stopped stinking. This stuff was not boiled long enough. His bike was unpainted, because he liked the way the sun hit the old metal. That way he could catch the rust before it took hold. Rust was the enemy. Parts were hard to find. He topped off the tank with ethanol, and took a swig himself for the departed.
The clubhouse was a crumbling motel on the outskirts of Chillicothe. The line was forming in the parking lot. Women and children gathered outside the main office to watch the boys line up for the trip. They all wore the leather with their chapter’s logo painted on the back. “Enduring Vengeance,” flames and a skull. Theirs was the oldest chapter west of The Jersey, and north of growing southern dustbowl.
Grif and Mike were like brothers. They played together in the dirt clumps behind the old motel. Grif had a set of old toy soldiers, Mike sometimes found firecrackers. When Mike’s parents were murdered by xombies up north, Grif’s dad took him in as part of their family.
“Watch out for those goo-brains,” he had told them both. “They don’t look dangerous. You might think they are skinny and weak but they ain’t. They don’t talk, so don’t try to reason with them. Just run. They come at you before you can see ‘em. Deadly evil. You run’s fast as you can. You find me or anyone from our club. Don’t let them get close to you.”
Mike and Grif grew up together, survived the membership tests, and joined the same club as their dad. Mike was taller than Grif, had long straight black hair and steel blue eyes. He beat all challengers in hand to hand brawling and could drink his share and stay clear headed. Grif loved Mike, as a brother, as a member of the pack, and more. When Altus died, Mike became the leader of their club.
Under his command, they raided weaker camps for water and supplies. None of the chapters dared to mess with the Mennonites and the Amish, but there were plenty of other farming communities to raid and force into servitude. They won over the fealty of several settlements under Mike’s leadership, but they lacked the support of one of the Boss Families. That kind of wealth provided the support they needed to grow their club, and gain control of more land. So, one day in early autumn, Mike decided it was time for him to go to Pittsburgh and ask for a gig.
Mike knew the old roads from stories passed down from Altus. They were riding east on the inner-states. Much of it was on passable roads, with some washed out parts, or stretches that was all crumbled up. They had to walk their bikes around where the road crumbled. If the road looked too good, or got shiny it meant there were xombies near.
They were well into The Jersey the second day out on the gig when Mike missed a turnoff. The road had gotten shiny, making everyone nervous. The pack kept going even though Grif and the others knew it meant they were in danger. Mike was the leader. He knew what had to be done, and was the keeper of the ways passed down by Altus. No one questioned his directions. Night came, and they made camp by the side of the road.
The pack spent the night drinking around a fire like usual. Bedrolls were out for sleeping, everybody getting something to eat. A couple of members were playing shoulder punch, a couple of others were practicing knife throws. Grif was laying down, tired and drunk. The sky was clear, and there was a moon rising. The air was cooler here than back at the clubhouse. The group was in good spirits, excited about the job ahead, knowing it would mean more work if all went well. It took a long time before anyone saw the girl. She was standing just past the edge of the firelight, lit up like a ghost, wearing a thin white dress, just looking at them.
Mike got up to point his rifle. Then he stumbled. He fell. Grif thought he saw his head go off on it’s own, away from his body. Other members of the crew scrambled for their guns and they fell. Blood sprayed onto Grif’s arm, and into the fire. Grif forced himself to stay down, reached to the side for his rifle and shot in the direction of the girl. She didn’t move, standing there shimmering. He was sure he must have hit her. There was yelling. He heard some movement off past the fire, away from the road, and then he was running in the direction of his bike.
He kicked the starter hard and was off on the road again, kicking up dirt behind him. He counted six others who made it. Nate, Barrow, Trig, Lester, Dewey and Haight. There ought to have been twenty more, but Grif knew by what he had seen back at the camp, they weren’t coming. They crested a hill and saw a bridge. It was almost a mile long, spanning a big river. Grif looked behind him, expecting to see the ghost-like xombies floating after them. “Over the bridge!” he yelled to the others. He gunned his engine over the hill.
Grif yelled to his fellows, “Far side and make for the trees!” Mike was dead, and he couldn’t allow himself to think about it. He was next in line. The others followed him. He didn’t know what the gig was. His only thought was to get the rest of the pack to safety. If he had some dynamite, he’d blow the bridge behind them once they crossed. All the supplies were back at the camp.
They roared across the long dark bridge, the wind in their hair, drink in their guts, straining to put the danger behind them. There was a town ahead. Grif thought he may have made a mistake, but it was too late to turn around. Only speed could save them now. Flashes of light sparked high up in the cables ahead of them causing Grif to rise up and get a look. Something punched him hard the the chest. He saw his bike go on without him. In the air, he reached to grab the handlebars again. Then something else hit him in the eye and his body slid along the pavement to a stop.