Road Trip Playlist

The hands against the windows blocked the last of the day’s grey light as it tried to trickle in.

The bodies writhed on the bonnet and the boot. Bloodied hands thumped against the barriers — their only source of protection. Vacant eyes and gore-slaked mouths squeezed up against the glass. If they hadn’t been dead, it might have been funny. Like kids on the school bus pull faces at neighbouring cars.

At least they didn’t know how to open car doors. You had to be thankful for the little things.

They both sat there, in their seats. Rita in the driver’s. Blood and guts covered them both, and tears dotted their clothes. Neither had their seatbelt on. There was no need. They’d discovered the owner of the vehicle had taken their keys with them. Wherever it was that they’d gone. They were probably dead.

And now, the people outside — if you could call them that — had trapped them in here. In a grey four-door sedan. A Vauxhall, according to the steering wheel’s logo.

She looked over at the kid. Barely in his twenties, if that, judging by the stubble on his cheek. Or lack thereof. He gazed at his hands in his lap. Brad’s chin rested on his chest. He was picking some dried blood out of the side of his nail.

Rita smiled at him and gave the kid a gentle elbow. She had a good ten years on him — more or less. Hell, if this was where she would kick the bucket, she could at least go out under the lie she wasn’t a day over 30.

Brad looked up at the nudge. His eyes took a moment to focus. Glazed. Glassy.

Something coiled in her chest. A snake. And its name was Anxiety. Had Brad gotten infected? Now that the thought was there, had they infected her, too? In the confined space of the front seats, she’d not managed to give herself a thorough examination. Well, to hell with it. No use worrying about it now. And no way was she about to kick the kid out of the car.

“Never thought I’d die in a Vauxhall,” she said with a grin. She raised her eyebrows. “I always thought they were rather boxy.”

“My mom always said they were safe cars. ‘Get yourself a car, not a motorbike. And whilst you’re at it, get yourself a Vauxhall, not a Porsche.’” Brad shrugged. “Maybe she was right.” He glanced at her. “She’s dead now, though.”

Rita burst into laughter. She couldn’t help it. His sense of humour was pitch-black. Just like hers. Rita wiped a tear from her eye. “Jesus, Brad. That was horrible.”

Brad chuckled. “Sorry.”

“No, no, it’s good. I’m glad to laugh, even at a moment like—” she gestured at the dead things, which swarmed over the car.

A silence settled between them, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

Rita’s hand dropped into the side pocket of the car door and pulled out something hard and plastic. A CD case.

“What’s that?”

Rita read the name at an arm’s distance. As if the cringe could spread to her. “Ultimate Driving Classics: 50 Classic Tracks!” She leaned her head back and laughed. Rita swore. “This is the sorta crap my dad woulda bought.

“Oh, Jesus, mine too!”

She smiled at him. You’re like the little brother I never had, she didn’t say. Rita didn’t want to add weight to an already heavy situation. They both knew that this was it. End of the line, goodnight sweet prince.

She got an idea.

Rita turned in her seat and held the cheese-fest of an album in the air. “All right, wanna play a game?”

Bradley grinned. “You sound like that dude from the Saw movies.” He adopted the voice: “Wanna play a game?

Rita chuckled. “I bet you, we can name at least half of the tracks on this bad boy. They always have the same crap, don’t they?” Rita did air quotes. “The golden oldies.”

“All right, I’m game. But first, tell me your last name.”

Rita gave him a quizzical look. The boy shrugged. “If we’re gonna die together, we should at least know each other’s full names.” He offered her his hand — painted with streaks of crimson. “I’m Bradley Stevens.”

This was goofy, but, what the heck. Rita took his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Bradley Stevens. Although, I wish it were under better circumstances.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I’m Rita De La Torre.”

“That’s a helluva nice name. Nice to meet you too, Rita.”

“Thanks, Brad. It was my mother’s.” They shared a glance, eyes watery. They each offered wry smiles.

Rita cleared her throat to clear the air. “So, my first guess is Hotel California, by the Eagles.”

Brad snorted. “Well, obviously. Wouldn’t be much of a driving classics album without it.”

Rita smiled. “So, what’s your first guess?”

Brad looked off into the distance, although there wasn’t much to look at. Unless you liked to look at undead cannibals. He tapped his lower lip with a bloody finger. His eyes lit up. It made him look five years younger. Rita had a sudden picture of how he was in his childhood, not that far away in the rear-view mirror. “Born to Be Wild!

Rita slapped her knee and swore again. “Damn, that’s a good one! Who the hell sang that one, again?”

Brad squinted. “Whitesnake?” He shook his head. “Nah, that’s not it.”

A pause.

“Steppenwolf!” they both blurted out at the same time. They fell back into their seats and laughed. “Jinx!” they repeated, again in unison.

“Okay, you go again,” said Brad between the laughter.

“Hm. Speaking of Whitesnake, Here I Go Again has got to be on it.”

Brad clapped his hands and nodded. “A classic!”

Rita tapped the word ‘Classic’ on the CD cover. “It’s all there in the name, Brad, my boy. All there in the name.”

Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac.” Brad smiled. His eyes glanced off, wistful. “My dad loved that song.” The kid raised his eyebrows at Rita. “Huuuuge fan of Stevie Nicks.” He leaned in as if to share a conspiracy. “Between you and me, I always thought he had a crush on her. Don’t tell my mom, though.”

“Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Okay, you go again.” He was enjoying this. It made her heart warm. That they could share in something happy in these final moments.

Rita was about to add AC/DC’s Highway To Hell when one of the rear door windows imploded.

Shards of glass — tiny, the size of sea salt — rained over the back seats.

Brad screamed, but Rita knew it was coming. She reached over and took his hands in hers. She smiled at the boy. “It’s okay, Brad. I’m here. Just look at me, and nothing else. Okay?”

Movement as a flurry of bodies scrambled in through the disintegrated window. Snarls and growls. Raging. Ravenous.

Rita raised her voice, so Brad could hear her over the cacophony.

“Okay, so my next pick would be the hard rockers from down under…”

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