The Hole — Chapter 3
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“Why’d she do that?” Evajean asked.
Elliot drove at a good clip. The freeway was clearer than the local roads. Nobody traveled sick. Nobody traveled dead.
Elliot didn’t look at her. He didn’t respond. He saw the club in his hands and the woman’s blood.
“That woman.” must not have thought he knew who she was talking about. “The one who…” She fingered her ear. They’d patched it up, cleaning the wound with alcohol and Q-tips. It would heal fine. She didn’t need to worry about getting sick: the plague didn’t spread through fluids. Nobody knew how the plague spread.
“She was infected,” Elliot said.
“But they don’t get violent. At least not like that,” Evajean said. She paused. “Henry didn’t.”
“I don’t know,” Elliot said. “They did all kinds of other strange things. Maybe the infection causes different symptoms if they live a long time with it. Everyone I know died quickly. And they got pretty weird at the end.” Evajean nodded. Elliot said, “The way she moved. It was like Clarine before I — I had to tie her to a chair at the end, did you know that?”
“No,” she said.
“I did. She kept trying to run off. I thought she was so out of it by then, so far gone that she was trying to find Callie, my daughter, and she thought Callie was still alive. I could be making that up. I don’t know. But — ”
“Yeah,” Evajean said.
Elliot nodded. “Like she was searching. And I got the same thing from this woman.”
Evajean shook her head. “I didn’t — ”
“Not while she was hitting you,” Elliot said. “At the end. When she was on the ground and talking to us, and dying, it was just like with Clarine.”
“Why aren’t they all like that?” Evajean said. “Was Callie that way?”
“No,” he said. “She got sick the way most of them did. Like the flu and then she couldn’t talk and then she just wasn’t there anymore, like she’d become an animal. A beast. But not a dangerous one.”
“And then she died.”
“That’s how it was with Henry,” Evajean said. But she was lying. Elliot had seen Henry’s scars. He’d seen where Evajean had tried to shut him up.
The conversation stalled. Elliot concentrated on the road. Evajean played with the dog. They hadn’t named it yet. After they’d left Walmart, Evajean had said she had an idea, but she didn’t say what.
They were out of Charlottesville, on the highway. He saw almost no car. When they were dying, people went where it was familiar. They went home.
Elliot sped up. He shoved the gas. Evajean looked up and Elliot shrugged. She smiled and turned back to the dog. Elliot relished the speed. He felt like he’d been stationary for months.
Some time later, Evajean asked about stopping for the night. Elliot wanted to push as long as he could go. Evajean wanted to rest. She couldn’t share the driving: the truck was a stick and she’d never learned to drive one. She didn’t trust him not to fall asleep. Elliot said he’d pull over if it came to that. They’d sleep in the truck.
Civilization thinned as they moved closer to the Appalachians. Evajean fell asleep with the dog on her lap. She missed the change from suburban scenery to rural.
Elliot squinted. He leaned over the steering wheel. “The fuck?” he said.
“Huh?” Evajean sat up.
There were five people moving along the side of the road. They were washed out in the headlights. They had their arms around each other’s shoulders — like carolers lost from a Christmas party.
“Look,” Elliot said. He pointed across the dashboard. “I think those are more of them. Like the woman.”
“Why?” Evajean said. She sat up straighter and peered through truck’s windshield. The puppy stood awkwardly and sneezed.
Elliot slowed. He stared. There was something wrong with them. They moved different from normal people — shuffling, swaying, arms out and around each other, then up in the air, then down at their sides. Like they didn’t know how to use them. The people oozed threat. They terrified him. He flashed to the Walmart woman. He flashed to the blood. He stepped on the gas. He said. “I’m just going to drive past.”
“You mean instead of stopping?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I don’t think we should stop.”
The people on the road turned their heads. They watched Elliot approach. One grinned. Another gnashed his teeth. A woman pulled up her skirt and urinated on the gravel shoulder.
“It’s strange,” Evajean said as the crazies disappeared from the rearview mirror. “Why didn’t we see any like that before?”
“Don’t know,” Elliot said.
A quarter of an hour later they saw more. Twenty in the left lane — trotting and shambling. They were headed along the road in the same direction as Elliot and Evajean. Elliot sped up. He didn’t look as he passed them. Evajean did, craning her neck. She watched them disappear behind the truck. She said, “Jesus.” Elliot caught them in the rearview — more of that oozing menace. He wished he’d brought a gun.
Half a mile later, there were maybe fifty more. A mile after that, Elliot had to slow to avoid the packs. The road was thick with people, drunkenly moving in one direction — a great wave. They overflowed the shoulder. At least as far as the headlight beams shone, the fields were dense with people. The Virginia countryside undulated with their movement. They shuffled erratically, often walking into each other or tripping, but always going west. Always following the road.
Elliot and Evajean stared. Elliot let the truck slow to idle speed.
“Don’t,” Evajean said, but Elliot wasn’t listing. There were too many of them to count now. On both sides of the road the column was wide and long. There were men and women and children. Some looked clean and well dressed. Others were injured, limping, clothes torn and dirtied. They didn’t look at the truck. Those in the road moved out of the way when it got close.
There was nearly a mile like that and then the crowd thinned. Elliot and Evajean drove through empty scenery again, too stunned to talk about what they’d seen.
It was after midnight. The road snaked through the Appalachians.
Elliot was considering calling it a night when they ran into the boy.
Elliot had been fighting the weight of his eyelids. He wanted to let his head drop onto the comfortable support of the seat belt strap. He knew he should stop — but only another mile. He’d go another mile. Every bit now meant a bit less tomorrow.
And then Evajean screamed.
Elliot hit the brakes and swerved, startled out of drowsiness. He fought to control the truck. He couldn’t see anything. Just the curve of the road. Just a border of trees. Evajean kept screaming. She told him to stop, to watch out, to watch out!
Then Elliot saw the boy.
He’d come out from between the trees. He’d walked into the road. His body shook violently. His face was turned toward the sky. Another flash of headlights: the boy’s mouth open, eyes wide.
The truck skidded sideways. Elliot screamed now, too.
The truck fishtailed. Elliot yanked the wheel. He knew what was going to happen. He could see it coming. He fought it, but the truck was heavy, its bed full of supplies. The boy was too close. The truck’s path was too clear.
Elliot’s stomach sank. He closed his eyes. He felt the impact and heard the crunch.
Elliot couldn’t look. He felt the truck go off the road and roll onto two wheels. He squeezed his eyes shut harder.
The world spun.