“What should I do!?” shouted the driver. “Should I stop?”
The birds were spreading out, covering both lanes of the highway. They seemed to be gathering themselves into a mighty wave, preparing to crest and break down over the road.
“Don’t stop!” screamed Francis, gritting her teeth in concentration as she maintained the van’s localized invisibility—for whatever good it might do. “It’s intimidation, an ambush; they want us to stop. Power through! Go!“
The driver stomped on the accelerator and the van surged forward, rapidly closing the gap with the onrushing tsunami of feathers and flesh, like a boat in the midst of a storm, pressing head on into the swell that threatens to capsize it. Through the rear window, Griff could see the second van following close, ready to take advantage of the hole about to be punched through the swarm by the lead vehicle.
There was a moment, just before impact, that felt like standing at the edge of a cliff, the wind pressing at your back, or like sitting at the peak of a roller coaster, ready to drop. Griff’s heart seemed to stop, and his breath caught in his lungs…
…And then there was a tremendous CRUNCH.
It was Naomi’s first motorcycle ride, and everything about the experience could be summed up in the word “uncomfortable”.
She was perched behind Sky, hands clenched around Sky’s narrow hips in a death grip that she felt was fully justified by the 130 kilometre-per-hour indication of the speedometre needle. Her knees were folded around the sides of the bike, feet resting on a couple of small, flimsy pegs that had clearly been added as little more than an afterthought. The heat of the bike’s exhaust pipes was radiating against her bare ankles, and the narrow seat was giving her a wedgie, but she didn’t dare shift her position for fear of sending the bike careening out of control. Wind was whipping her hair around her neck and shoulders, stinging her skin like thousands of tiny bug bites. The helmet she’d been given was too big, as well, and was tilting back a bit, pressing against her forehead, its weight putting strain on the muscles in her neck.
To add to the physical discomfort, Naomi wasn’t completely at ease with having her body pressed so close to Sky’s for this long. She could try to scoot back an inch or two, but she didn’t have the courage to attempt the movement.
Several kilometres of highway had passed beneath them—to Naomi, a terror-filled blur—when Sky finally let off the accelerator, braked to a more reasonable speed, and turned onto a side road, where she pulled over to the shoulder and killed the engine. Getting down off the motorcycle involved the almost painful unclenching of half the muscles in Naomi’s body, but she finally made it back to solid ground and pulled the overlarge helmet off, wiping sweat from her forehead.
“What are we doing?” she asked.
“Waiting,” said Sky, her own helmet still on, visor down. She checked her watch.
Naomi sighed. “More waiting? What for this time? Am I ever going to—”
“Shh,” said Sky, curtly, looking past Naomi towards the highway.
Naomi turned and saw a beat-up blue minivan approaching. It pulled up just behind Sky’s motorcycle, and the driver—who Naomi didn’t recognize—left it running. The passenger was holding a towel to his head, hiding his face, but as he opened his door and got out, Naomi realized it was Innis. He lowered the towel. It was soaked in blood.
His face was pale, and his hairline was tinted red. The hair above his left ear was dark and matted.
“Looks like you had a hell of a time,” smirked Sky. “But I guess you volunteered for that.”
Innis just grunted and reached for the van’s sliding door. He shoved it open and reached inside. A thin, feminine hand reached out and grabbed the van’s frame. It was followed by a haggard, confused, very weary face.
Naomi dropped her motorcycle helmet and threw herself forward. “Candace!”