We were well over half way to our goal when we passed the Midtown North Police Precinct on 54th St. Disappointingly, there were no lights glowing in the windows and the doors were locked. Mike and Moira were so tired that I’d gotten out of the hamper to help push. We’d discussed maybe trying to crash at the police station for the day. I’m sure we wouldn’t have been the first people to seek refuge there. Maybe they’d been run out of business by an avalanche of simple human need.
We bumped the hamper across the street to see if there were some lights in windows higher up. If there were, we were going back to pound on the door for a while. We didn’t see lights, but we saw a giant bird sitting on a nest of garbage on the lower part of the building. It was so big that we could see its sleepy breathing.
We sighed and started to creep on our way when a light appeared in a window above the bird. The window immediately slammed open. We opened our mouths to yell, and liquid started splashing out of the window and down onto the bird. Our yells didn’t come out, but our mouths stayed open. The bird awoke with a shriek. It floundered around on the nest for a few moments before it pitched off the building. Down onto the street. Where we were.
We had nowhere to go. We ducked behind the hamper. I snatched Bethel out and clutched her to my chest. Even Bethel realized when the chips were down. She was mercifully quiet. Mike took the gun out of his pocket and looked his question at us. We nodded “no.” That little gun was just going to annoy the bird, no way it would kill it.
The bird, meanwhile, staggered around like a drunk and screamed like a steam whistle. I chanced a glance up to the window again, and projectiles were being tossed out. They looked like bricks. Their target was the nest. I suddenly realized that there were probably eggs in there, or maybe hatchlings. This was a planned attack, not just, “Hey, let’s throw something on the bird.”
I looked back at the bird. Whatever had been poured on it had hurt it badly. Hunting was the last thing on its mind. If we stayed still, we’d probably be safe. Hopefully. But we were trapped until the bird either left or died.
The bird’s pained flapping was slowing down. It was either feeling better or feeling worse. I’m an animal lover, but I hoped it was feeling worse. It was still pretty lively with its screaming, however. After a really blood curdling scream, the bird just toppled over on the sidewalk. Flop. Then, hardcore quiet.
A person suddenly appeared on the rooftop. More liquid splashed down onto the bird, but it was just an insurance policy. The bird didn’t move. We stood up from behind our hamper, startling the rooftop assassin, who had been staring down at his victim.
“Boiling oil,” he called to us. Then he disappeared back into the rooftop shadows, probably to climb back into a window.
“Holy shit,” Mike breathed. “Boiling oil. Welcome to Dark Age warfare.”
Seeing a regular human destroy one of those birds gave us a badly needed shot of adrenaline. We were pumped up and ready for the last leg of our journey. We still had nearly an hour before sunrise. We were confident that we could make it.
We passed the little plaza with the statue of Columbus at a dead run. But, there was something out there moving faster than us. It was the first moving vehicle we’d seen in days. It was a truck.
The streets were relatively clear of cars. We’d assumed that most of the automobiles were probably stranded near the bridges and tunnels. We’d commented earlier about how deserted the streets were, and how nice it would be to drive in the city on these nice, traffic-free streets, with our trunk loaded with our Spam.
The truck was one of those trucks that drive around America hauling junk. It was gray, or maybe it was just dirty. It had a three sided fence made out of wood on the back to hold cargo in place. Its current cargo seemed to be dead bodies. Or maybe they were live bodies. It was hard to tell if they were moving or if the jostling of the truck was moving them.
The truck jammed on its brakes suddenly and a couple of definitely living people jumped out of the bed of the truck to grab something from the sidewalk. What they were grabbing looked for sure like dead body. Since all of the prone bodies in the truck stayed put, I assumed that they were dead bodies, too. This truck had to be headed for The Burning Pit that Rat Snack Jaye had spoken of so fondly.
The two people wrestled with the corpse. They seemed to be tired, and not very strong. The driver stuck his head out of his window and snapped at them, which sped their movements. One of them pulled, one of them pushed, and they got the corpse into the back of the truck. Then, the person who’d done the pulling stood up in the bed of the truck and a streetlight caught her face.
She looked for all the world like Jill.
And the truck roared off.