Zeke-Chapter 5

Had Zeke actually been impressed with himself for crossing the two bridges north of Sausalito? Now he was staring at the bridge that spanned the gap from San Rafael to Richmond, and he thought he might die just looking at it. It was impossibly long; surely no one had ever thought it was a good idea to span this much water with a thin strip of concrete and steel. He could see ahead that it wasn’t even straight. It changed directions halfway through.

It was made worse by the effects of the bomb. The whole bridge seemed to tilt just slightly, little enough that Zeke wasn’t even sure he saw it at first. But the north side of the bridge was slightly higher than the south, tilting away from where the bomb had dropped. Zeke felt chills thinking about it. The bomb had fallen into the San Pablo Bay, far enough north that he couldn’t even see the bay itself. Da had told him about when the bomb actually fell, about a hundred years ago.

“No one knows why it fell where it did, at the north end of the San Pablo Bay. It had to have been aimed for San Francisco. Maybe the nuke’s navigation system shorted out. Maybe they aimed it wrong. Maybe the hand of God sheltered the city in His providence. No one knows for sure, but the city was spared from annihilation that day. San Francisco was spared when most of the rest of the cities flashed to ashes. The San Francisco Bay was ruined, but San Pablo got the worst of it.”

Had he ever considered himself an expert on bridges? Well, this was the master course. He already knew that he couldn’t stop now, not when he was so certain that his sister was somewhere on this very bridge. He knew he would have never been able to make himself take the first step if he hadn’t crossed the bridges yesterday, mediocre as they were. This one was so vast and yet so frail since the bomb had hit.

Not too far ahead, the bridge went from two separate lanes, side by side as they skimmed higher and higher over the water, to the two lanes being stacked, one on top of the other. He took the north lane, the one that would be on top in half a mile. He didn’t think he could handle a road over his head and the bay beneath his feet.

As he walked, the north lane of the bridge began to move upward more and more steeply, slowly shifting until it finally eclipsed the lower lane. It was dizzying how high above the water he was. The worst thing about the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was that it had little openings at base on either side, where the roadway met the guardrails. They were just drains so water could run off the surface of the bridge, keeping it from flooding, but they meant that Zeke could see the water anytime he looked at the road. There was no avoiding it, no getting away from just how precariously trapped he was on this damnable contraption from a dead era.

The lanes were filled with cars, but Zeke moved as quickly as he could through the tangle of wrecks. A few of the cars and trucks were turned over on their sides, and once he saw a freight truck that had crashed over the edge. Its cab and engine hung out over open space, only held up by the length of trailer behind it.

Zeke thought it was so congested here because traffic hadn’t moved since the day of the bomb itself. Had they seen the nuke go off, these travelers? A flash of violent white light on the northern horizon, casting long black shadows towards the south. Then, maybe a minute later, probably much less, a blast of searing air, like hurricane gales whipping at the bridge. That blast curved the whole bridge’s structure, setting it at the barest angle. Most would have stopped to look, chilled by the cloud spreading in the northern sky, a stem and a cap, like a mushroom. The cars that were still moving were caught by the blast of radioactive air and were tossed.

Were they killed? Zeke wondered, but he didn’t think so. There were only a few bodies scattered around the roadway, their bones bleached white and brittle. No, most weren’t killed. Instead, they went seeking help, blinded by the flash, seared to the bone, rotting from the radiation. They were walking corpses, what singed hair they still had falling out in clumps, their teeth coming out when they emptied their rancid stomachs, their skin coming off in layers.

And he was walking here, like nothing had ever happened. All he could think was that this place was a monument to the destruction. It was as much a corpse as those burned and poisoned bastards. Maybe it was still usable—it still crossed the gap in the bay—but he felt a Vulture. He felt like a carrion-eater.

It wasn’t a new feeling. He’d been feeding off the carcass of the old world for his whole life. It was just the reality of the world after nuclear war. But this was much worse, somehow. It was accompanied by a feeling of violation. It was like grave robbing.

The feeling tightened around him, making his stomach feel weak. He thought he might throw up. Still, he pushed forward. He wondered how far ahead his sister and her captors were. For that matter, which layer were they on?

He came to a strange metal frame, a steel spider-web stretching above the bridge. It was eerie, the feeling of being surrounded like an animal in a cage. The wind whistled through the girders.

Zeke stopped. There was something else, a sound underneath the screeching wind. He thought it was voices, but he couldn’t be certain. Had he actually caught up with them? There was a ladder attached to either side of the bridge, surrounded by a cylindrical wire cage. He took hold of the nearest wrung, testing it to make sure it wouldn’t simply pull away from the bridge while he went climbed down. For a moment, he told himself that he was being a fool, climbing down the ladder of a century old bridge that was already leaning.

But he had heard something.

The ladder didn’t shift, but he still took his time. His didn’t want anyone to see him climbing down—he would be an easy shot, stuck in this cylindrical deathtrap. The lower bridge was filled with eastbound traffic. Zeke didn’t go any further down. If he was spotted, he would need to get out of their line of sight as quickly as possible.

At first, he didn’t see them. But he heard the echo of their voices. “You had damn well start walking faster, you little bitch. We haven’t got all day to cross this motherfucker so you’d better stop dragging your goddamn heels.”

He followed the sound and spotted them, moving along the far side of the bridge. Alice was there, her head down. The sight of her made him feel at once relieved, but it also filled him with a horrid sense of dread. She was alive, miraculously alive. But she was in their hands, the scavengers…the Vultures.

There were three men with her, but one of them had Alice by the wrist, leading her. He was wearing a ragged leather jacket and a light brown fedora. The others were wearing the ragged ancient clothes of the old world, drab and grey, reamed with filth. But Zeke dismissed them. Hearing the way the fedora Vulture spoke to his sister—the way his fist was wrapped around her wrist—he was filled with anger. In fedora’s other hand was da’s rifle, held by the stock. He would have to shift it before he could fire. And Zeke didn’t plan on giving him that chance. Zeke would be aiming for him first.

Zeke continued his descent, scrambling as fast as he could. He made it to the lower deck, skirting the southern edge as he trailed them. It was tough moving through the tangle of metal. It seemed that the nuclear explosion had been punctuated by a thousand car accidents and fender-benders.

As he came closer to them, almost to where he was running parallel to their group, he pulled out his revolver. It weighed heavy in his grip. He’d never shot anyone before; he had fired warning shots, but that was the most of his hands-on experience with guns. He silently thanked da for the hours of practice he’d received. He only hoped that it paid off, now.

He whistled, a high pitched bird song, just miniscule tweets in the morning calm. He knew Alice couldn’t possible respond, but he hoped that she recognized it and realized that help had come.

He crossed the bridge ducking as he ran from bumper to bumper. He came out behind them and starting closing the distance. He didn’t trust himself making a longshot, not when he was gambling his sister’s freedom. He kept the gun up, ready to use it the second he found the shot. His eyes were locked on their backs, his .38 rising to point right at the man with the fedora.

Zeke stepped on glass and the crunch beneath his boots rang out. It might as well have been a gunshot for how loud it was. One of the other vultures turned, a gun already in his hand, lifting as his wide eyes caught sight of Zeke. Zeke shifted and pulled the trigger. There was an echoing boom and a blast of red mist as the .38 round pounded into the vulture's side. He fell, the gun in his hand dropping from his slackened grip.

The man with the fedora smoothly moved Alice before him, a human shield. The third Vulture pointed at him with a large, crooked finger. “That’s the one what was outside the cave. I remember his bag.” Zeke recognized the voice. He’d heard it once before, shouting “We got a live one!” Zeke fired again, with the same booming echo. It hit the Vulture in his outstretched arm and, for just one insane moment, Zeke could see a small hole clean through his arm, plunging right through the muscle. He could see sky through that hole, though it couldn’t even be an inch in diameter. Then blood flooded into the wound, streaming down his arm as he clutched at it. He drew the arm into his abdomen, his other hand clutching at the wound as it gushed crimson.

Zeke fired once more. This time, it slammed into the man’s face, which seemed to crush into itself. He fell behind a car, his face a mess of flesh and blood, almost like it had been smashed by a hammer.

“Hold it, asshole,” said fedora. He had the rifle in hand now, his finger on the trigger. But it wasn’t pointed at Zeke. It was held low, pointed upward, into the base of Alice’s head. “So you followed us, did you? Well, move an inch and sister gets a shot straight to the skull.”

Zeke kept his gun trained on the man with the fedora. “She’s not worth anything to you dead,” Zeke said. He saw the tears in Alice’s eyes, brimming, ready to fall.

“You’re right, she ain’t worth a damn dead, but she means more to you than she does to me. You didn’t come all this way for kicks. So walk away and she’ll live.”

“Or you can leave her and live to see another day. You shoot and there isn’t anything to stop me from killing you and then throwing your worthless corpse into the bay.”

They stared at one another, their eyes locked. Zeke could see the concern in fedora’s eyes. There was a sure knowledge there, that Zeke wanted to kill him and had the means to carry it out. Two of his friends were dead already; now he was alone.

“Listen, you little fuck, I don’t have time to play Cowboys and Indians with you, so you’d best lay your gun down and start moving, or your sister’s head will be sprayed on the underside of the bridge, got it? I’m gonna count to three, asshole.”

Zeke stayed where he was, not willing to move.


No one moved as the second stretched out. The dirt on Alice’s cheeks was broken up by the path of her tears, which were flowing freely, now.


The tendons stood out on fedora’s neck, and he was licking his lips with a tongue that darted quickly left to right. It reminded Zeke of a snake’s forked tongue, tasting at the air.


“All right!” Zeke said. He crouched down and placed the gun on the ground. He knew he would probably be shot at any second, but he just couldn’t let Alice die right in front of him. He didn’t think he could handle watching the last of his flesh and blood be murdered. Better to die than to watch that.

He stayed crouched down, his hands out in front of him. The man with the fedora laughed and began to lower the rifle. It was almost pointed at Zeke—

Before it could come level with Zeke, Alice began to scream. She slammed her hand into the stock of the gun, forcing it up. A shot rang off, smashing into the concrete underside of the overhead bridge, sending down a rain of dust and concrete shards. Zeke grabbed his gun and had it trained on fedora in a heartbeat, but he and Alice were fighting over the rifle. The side of Alice’s face was streaked with red. She’s been shot, Zeke thought frantically.

Zeke ran at them, just as fedora managed to push Alice off. He flung her clear, towards the ledge. Again, he began to point to the rifle, but Zeke was already there. With Alice clear, Zeke fired his last three rounds, one after another. One flew too high. The other two hit home, one in fedora's chest, one in his gut. The force of the hits threw the last of the Vultures back, onto the trunk of a car, where he slumped down with blood flooding down the front of his leather jacket, another crimson trickle trailing down his chin from his mouth.         

Zeke ran to where Alice had been thrown. She was lying against the northern barrier of the bridge. There was more blood, on her face and down her clothes. For a moment, he thought she was dead, just like da, just like ma. He had no one.

Then he saw the rise and fall of her chest. She was holding onto her head, trying to stem the spread of blood.

“Alice! You’ve been shot,” he said, kneeling.

“I’m fine,” she said. She looked confused, tired. “I’m fine. I just got scraped, that’s all.”

Zeke inspected the injury, a dark red streak along her scalp in a straight line. It wasn’t deep, though.  He breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, Alice, you have no idea how lucky you were.” Zeke was suddenly laughing as relief washed through him.

He hugged her, hot tears now doubling his vision.

“You came, Zeke,” Alice said through her tears. “I can’t believe you came for me.”

To continue to Chapter 6, click here.

1 comment: