The Magic Gumball Machine, Pt XIII
By Wil Forbis
Like an enraged, mechanical hell-beast, the bulldozer, barely under the stewardship of the crazed Papa Hurly lurched forward, arriving at the top of the bridge. The group's instinctive move was to scatter, with Duke and Brian Thompson running off to the right, while Tom and Reginald fled to the left. Papa Hurly chose to focus on the latter and charged the bulldozer forward towards the fleeing pair. Like a football running back, Reginald suddenly leapt to the right, hoping that his agility would outmatch the machine's power and size. Now only Tom was in the bulldozer's path, and he was backed up against the railing of the bridge.
The metal animal closed in on Tom and he cursed. After all he'd been through in the past couple days, this seemed like such an unfair way to go out, especially with so many questions unanswered. Leaning back over the concrete railing Tom gauged whether he could take the fall to the ground below. It was long shot, but the dozer would be on top of him in a second. He pulled himself on top of the railing, barely keeping his balance.
The machine hit the railing, crushing the concrete wall Tom had been leaning against moments earlier. Tom's foothold gave way and he fell. He caught the top of the dozer's plow in his solar plexus. It knocked the air out of his lungs but he managed the strength to hold on for dear life.
Papa Hurly grinned at his target's predicament. He'd been intent on squashing the ice cream store owner like a bug, but this was even better. Now the man was hanging off of his front end. With a little effort he'd be shaken loose and.
A gunshot rang out in the air and Hurly heard a 'ping' as a bullet bounced of the metal chassis of the bulldozer. Hurly swung his head around and saw the stranger - the black boy - holding a smoking rifle. The muzzle flashed and another bullet narrowly missed him. Hurly's mind raged. He was just in the middle of some good killing, but had left his flank uncovered. He threw the dozer into reverse and zoomed down on the young man.
Thrown forward, Tom tumbled back onto the asphalt, trying not to contemplate just how close he'd come to death. He quickly rolled to his feet, knowing Hurly would not forget about him. He watched, helplessly, as the bulldozer shot backwards, heading towards Reginald.
Reginald took several bounding steps to his left, trying to evade the oncoming vehicle but Hurly matched his movement. Only as the bulldozer closed in did Reginald leap several feet forward and landed, rolling on the hard pavement. It was an uncomfortable feat but it paid off. Hurly missed him and rammed into the concrete rail. With an able hand, he put the gears into first and again drove forward, refocused on Tom. Again, gunshots burst out in the night, this time from the rifle of Duke Haffert. A bullet grazed Hurly's ear, removing his lower lobe. A stream of bloody tar spattered against the window and Hurly screamed, but kept on target, gunning down on Tom Humphries.
This time Tom knew rudimentary acrobatics would not save him. He looked over at Reginald who was picking himself up from the pavement. Their eyes met and they communicated, unconsciously. Reginald knew what to do. With an easy throw, he tossed the rifle at Tom. It landed in his grasp with remarkable ease and with a single, unthinking motion he raised the gun and fired. Hurly's head burst open like an overripe melon and he fell forward. With Hurly's foot no longer on the accelerator, the vehicle began to slow and Tom was easily able to get out of the way and let it run up against the concrete rail.
The men gathered around the unmoving but purring vehicle. "Looks like we found ourselves another ride," said Haffert.
Reginald climbed into the cab and gingerly gave Hurly's oozing body a shove. The headless form toppled over on the pavement. "I need a rag or something," Reginald announced. "I've got to wipe his. stuff off the seat." Between the four of them they came up with several handkerchiefs and a napkin which proved to be enough to soak of the homicidal junkyard owner's juices. Then Reginald sat in the vehicle's driver's seat and shifted into reverse. He backed the dozer up into the center of the bridge. "C'mon, guys!" he called. "Let's get moving."
There was only one seat in the machine, but the crew managed to climb aboard. Haffert hunkered down closest to Reginald, while Tom and Brian climbed up, intent on hanging off either side of the chassis. They secured themselves and Reginald gassed the engine, throwing it forwards. Within a few seconds they were moving along at a comfortable 25 miles per hour.
Looking ahead, they saw problems. Three of the Hurly sons had climbed up the hill and emerged at the top of the bridge. Each man was covered with the telltale blisters of the gumball disease and a raging fury shone in their eyes. They came spread out over the bridge, blocking the vehicle path.
Reginald wasted no time steering the dozer into one of the brothers. The front end of the vehicle knocked him down and there was the sound of breaking eggs as it ran him over. But a second brother was more agile and evaded the vehicle's path. When the dozer drove past him, he leapt up onto the left side from which Tom help perch. The third brother did the same at the right.
Tom, however, had seen the situation coming and was well prepared. The rifle around his neck swung down, muzzle pointed directly at the creature's stomach. Tom squeezed the trigger twice and a bloody tar spattered on the outside of the yellow dozer. Mutated eyes rolled to the back of the Hurly brother's skull but he kept his grip on the chassis. It wasn't until Tom pulled up his foot and kick forward that the body fell to the ground.
Brian Thompson, not fortunate enough to be armed with a gun was having a tougher time with his attacker. The creature bared his teeth and grabbed at Brian with grubby fingernails. While Thompson was able to get some good punches in, the zombie was not to be felled. Using a free hand, Brain reached into his pocket and removed the bottle of liquor he'd been ingesting over the course of the night. He took one swig, then grabbed the bottle by the nozzle and shattered it against the side of bulldozer. He jabbed at his attacker, causing it top shriek in pain. One mutated hand lost its grip and the creature swung backward against the bulldozer. A foot got caught in the wheel well and the thing screamed, releasing its grip on the bars of the chassis. It fell to the ground, one leg torn off below the knee.
"We're getting pretty good at this," Tom congratulated.
"I only wish they were all so dumb," added Haffert.
"Well, the Hurlys didn't have much to start with," Tom reminded him.
The bulldozer wasn't fast, but it moved, and could withstand an assault. If it could get them through town and on the highway to Delsburgh there just might be a way to bring this nightmare to a finish.
Having dispatched the last three attackers, a temporary calm settled in on the group. The bulldozer was not a quiet steed; it heaved and grunted and it was surprising that it did not attract any more attention. The sun would be rising in about an hour and it was unsettling that no one walked out on their front lawn to protest the racket they were making. Was everyone in town a zombie? Had that many gumballs been consumed? Was there another way the disease was spread? It didn't seem possible that a town could change overnight.
The bulldozer and its inhabitants continued down Lincoln Boulevard without encountering another soul. The street ended at Route 15 and Reginald took a right. Even on the heavily trafficked highway there were no vehicles. It was not usual this early in the morning, but still disconcerting.
"Just keep going," advised Haffert. "It's only a few more miles and we'll turn off towards Delsburgh. Then we can get out of this hellhole."
Brian wiped his brow. "Maybe the worst of it's passed. Things seem to have calmed down."
"Maybe," said Reginald. "But I always get nervous when people say that."
"And with good reason," added Tom. "Look."
Forty feet ahead, at the stoplight between Route 15 and McKinley Street was a commotion. A crowd of about thirty people had surrounded a towncar that had front ended a telephone pole. The mob was beating at the car, tearing it metal skin in an attempt to get at it whomever waited inside.
Reginald halted the bulldozer. "What do we do?"
Tom's eye widened. "What you mean what do we do? They're attacking that car. We've got to rescue them."
"Tom," Reginald began with a sigh. "We're lucky to be alive ourselves. We can't risk our lives at every turn. We've got a good chance to get out of town. If we can do that we can save a lot more people. You were in the military. You remember triage?"
"He's right, Tom," Haffert agreed. "Our luck ain't gonna hold out forever. We've got to start thinking of ourselves."
"I can't believe what I'm hearing," thundered Tom. "These folks are our friends! Our neighbors! We're supposed to look out for each other."
"Speak for yourself," Haffert retorted. "Most people in this town never gave a damn about people like me or Danny McDouglas. Why should I be expected to care now?"
Tom fumed, but was unable to come up with a response. Brian Thompson stared at the floor of the vehicle, unwilling to get involved.
There was sound of breaking glass and a woman's scream burst through the air. The zombies had broken through the towncar's window and the person inside had realized their time was near. The four men in the bulldozer looked ahead, but no one made a move. As they watched the creatures pulled their victim from her metal shell. Haffert was the first to recognize the blond damsel.
"Sweet Mary! It's Elvira Doyle!"
"Of course," said Tom. "I should have recognized the towncar."
"She's the local millionaire's wife," explained Brian. "She's well known about town because she's."
"Beautiful." finished Tom.
As the group watched, Elvira struggled with the crowd. Briefly, she sank into the morass of blistering arms and legs fighting to take hold of her. Then she reappeared, bloodied, but still fighting valiantly. Her hair flayed across her face and her blue dress was torn at the top revealing a lacy black undergarment.
"Guys." Reginald began.
"We can't just sit here." Haffert finished. "Start this baby up."
Reginald gunned the engine and the vehicle leapt forward, aiming straight towards the towncar. Tom forced back a satisfied smirk, happy to see that the allure of a female was able to get the result his pleas for human decency could not.
As the bulldozer roared forward, Haffert raised his rifle and fired into the crowd. After two of the attackers fell, the rest finally took notice of the yellow behemoth approaching them. It was enough to split the mob; more than half of them ran forward, turning their attention to the group.
Haffert continued to take shots at the mutants and Tom joined in. Two of the group ran close to the bulldozer and with some quick turns, Reginald managed to clip both of them. Like bowling pins they were knocked to the ground, rolling several feel before coming to a halt.
Reginald brought the dozer right up behind the towncar. One of the creatures, a man that Tom recognized as a former neighbor from his apartment complex, was between the two vehicles and screamed in pain, legs crushed. Leaving the bulldozer in neutral, Reginald leapt out the front of the chassis onto the ground and straight towards the five or so mutants still being fended off by a screaming, barely clothed Elvira Doyle.
"Reggie," Tom called out, concerned about the group splitting apart. But his attention was distracted as another mutant ran at him. Tom leveled his rifle, fired once, but missed and then the creature was upon him. Haffert watched wide-eyed and man and mutant tumbled to the ground. Duke raised his rifle, trying to get a bead on the creature but could not take a shot without fear of hitting Tom.
Reginald removed his pistol and ran towards the group of mutants attacking Elvira. A few feet before them, he stopped, raised the pistol and fired. His shot caught one of them, formerly Mr. Peter O'Reilly, electrician, behind the ear. The bullet ejected from the other side of his head, removing most of his right eye. A second shot took out O'Reilly's nearest neighbor, the former leader of the Honey Bluff Quilting Circle, Lucy Dwiller. Her blistering, tar encrusted body fell to the ground.
Elvira had been fending off her attackers with a silver letter opener she'd carried in her purse. She plunged one into the neck of a nearby mutant before pausing to take notice of the young black youth who had just dispelled two of her zombie pursuers. "Who are you?" she asked breathlessly.
Reginald paused at the sight of Elvira Dolye. She was spattered with blood and the black mire bled by her assailants, and her bra had quickly become torn leaving one breast exposed. "Reginald Washington Cleghorn, Ma'am. Officer United States Air Force."
The introduction didn't last long. The fourth of Elvira's attackers, and older male missing his ear, moved in. Reginald raised his pistol but the creature moved with surprising speed. A greasy hand grabbed Reginald's pistol arm and held it in the air. A second fist backhanded Elvira, knocking her against the car.
Simultaneously, Brian Thompson was having his own problems. Two of the encroaching mutants had come around to his side of the car. Thompson recognized one of them as Dave Halpert, a man who's been a few years his senior in high school. Once a leader of the math club and rumored to have a I.Q. above 200, Halpert was now a snarling beast of a man missing most of his lip and oozing a black drool. His compatriot, someone Brian did not recognize, looked every bit as heinous, missing most of his nose and possessing foot long gashes along his bare arms. The ugly pair skittered around Brian's perch on the bulldozer, like hungry dogs cornering their latest meal.
Tom struggled with his attacker. It was a woman, in her mid fifties. She seemed familiar, perhaps someone who stopped in the ice cream shop occasionally, but not a person Tom knew on a first name basis. They tussled, arms wrapped around each other like a pair of wrestlers. Tom took his first opportunity to look at one of the monsters up close. He looked into the crazed woman's eyes. Is there anything human in there?, he thought to himself. The animalistic glare the woman gave him seemed to indicate there was not.
"Bastard." she seethed. "I'll drink your blood!"
The woman's fury shook Tom, but it also caused a renewed resolve in his gut. Struggling with the woman, he tried a judo move he remembered from his army training. Using one foot, he kicked the woman's legs out from underneath her. They both fell, Tom landing on top of the fiery female. There was a snapping sound midway down her spine, and she screamed. Tom rolled off and away. Standing up, he saw the half-paralyzed harpy clawing the air, unable to move her legs. He debated giving her the mercy of the gun, but decided to save the bullet.
Brian still had one handhold on the Bulldozer when the two mutants surrounding him leapt forward. One grabbed Brian by his jacket label. The other landed a blow to Brian's gut. Brian coughed and flailed. He'd never been good at sports and never been much of a fighter. When the zombie to his right landed another blow he felt dark clouds filling in his vision.
A third punch knocked Brian across the face and he tasted blood on his tongue. Part of him wanted to give up, let the creatures tear him limb from limb. Less that a week previous he'd lost his little boy, what was the point of going on? But there was another voice in his head, competing for attention. It spoke not of fear, or sorrow, but of anger. It was an animal fire that swelled within him. With an electrical jolt, Brian felt this second voice take over. The nerve endings of his spine lit up and he felt a renewed vigor empower his spindly arms. Each hand grabbed one of his attackers. He wrapped his grip around their neck and closed his fist, rendering their Adam's apples to raw hamburger. The creatures squealed and fell away.
Tom surveyed the situation and decided on a plan of action. He returned to the bulldozer, climbing over Haffert who was picking of mutants with his rifle and got in the driver's sear. He gave Thompson a pat on the shoulder, to alert him that they were gonna move. Tom set the Bulldozer in reverse and backed away from the towncar. Then he threw it forward towards the group of attackers who had surrounded Reginald and Elvira. Reginald was struggling with three zombies while a pernicious mutant had Elvira up against the car with his hands around her throat. With a three shots in the air Haffert disabled Elvira attackers. Tom halted the Bulldozer Duke turned his attention to Reginald's attackers. Again the rifle crackled and one of Washington's aggressors fell away. The relief allowed Reginald to free himself from the other two attackers and back up against the cab of the bulldozer. Brian Thompson helped him aboard.
"The woman," Reginald said breathlessly. "We've got to get her."
Tom knew he was right, but how to weave the Bulldozer through the sea of attackers? He sat up in his seat, pointing his rifle at the still moving mob of creatures that separated them from Mrs. Doyle. She was still leaning against the towncar, fear in her eyes. It was strange to see her like this, her guard down. Throughout all his interactions with her, Tom had always had the sense that Elvira was acting, doing a poor job of hiding her disdain for the inhabitants of the small town her husband had chosen to live in. That was certainly the sense he'd gotten the last time she's seen him, when she'd come into the store and ordered her glazed almonds and the gumball. The gumball.
Tom swung the rifle a few feet to the left and fired. The bullet hit Elvira right between the eyes and caused a muck of blood and black goo to shoot out of her nose. Then he thrust the Bulldozer back in gear and shot forward.
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