Traffic along I295 was at a standstill. Dean Osborne wearily wiped his face in frustration. The temperature outside was over 90. His Jeep's air conditioner was broken, a costly item that he had neither the time nor money to fix. He looked over to the passenger seat. His daughter Carrie sat there, deeply engrossed in her phone. They were on their way to Children's Hospital, where Carrie was undergoing treatment for Leukemia. Her prognosis had started to look promising earlier in the year, but had recently turned worse. For the past 4 weeks, Dean had been taking the girl to Children’s for advanced treatments, having enrolled in a highly controversial clinical trial that promised huge gains. He hoped it would. The treatments so far had left her 12 year old body listless and ravaged; Dean had seriously considered ending her participation. He'd even started going back to church, after work, nights and weekends, to pray. But 2 weeks ago, it was as though a switch had been turned on inside the girl and she had become more energetic and was responding positively to the treatment. Her blood cell count had stabilized. She had improved so much that her doctors approved 2 day visits back home. Dean truly believed that God had done something positive for his daughter. Being Sunday, he was taking her back to resume treatment, which would start the following day. Afterward, he would stop at church for the Sunday night service.
A Metropolitan police cruiser rocketed past in the opposite lanes, red and blue lights pulsing, the siren echoing off the retaining walls. Seconds later, it was followed by several more.
"They should be going the other way." Dean said, exasperated. Carrie looked up at him, smiled and then went back to her phone. He scratched at his chest. His shirt was soaked. I'm going to have to change, he thought, looking down. A sudden cacophony of horns in front startled him. He peered through the windshield. The low hanging sun, shining directly toward them, made it hard to see very far.
"Daddy, what's going on?" She asked, grabbing his arm, a worried look on her face.
"I don't know sweetheart." He replied, patting her hand, "it's hard to see with the sun in my face." He squinted, holding his hand up and trying to block out the sun even to see. "It looks like..." He paused. "It looks like something's on fire." He could just make out the flashing lights of the fire trucks ahead. Four police SUVs shot by in the other lanes, going toward the fire trucks. Two rescue ambulance trucks followed. Carrie gripped his arm harder.
"Is it serious Dad?" She asked. Dean shook his head.
"Honey, I don't know." He replied. He reached over and keyed the ignition off. "We might be here for a while."
"Are we going to make it to the hospital?" He patted her hand again.
"Yes, we will get there." He smiled reassuringly.
A black man came running past the Jeep. The man kept looking backward. Dean turned his head, watching. The man clipped a car and fell. He quickly got up and ran, while the car's driver shouted at him. Dean watched him until he disappeared. He turned back and stared out the windshield. There were more people running toward them, cutting in between the 3 lanes of cars. As they drew near, he could see panicked looks on their faces.
"What the..." He started.
"Daddy, what's going on?" Carrie asked again.
"I don't..." Men, women and children, screaming and crying, streamed past the Jeep. There was a thunder of gunshots ahead. Dean instinctively ducked, pulling Carrie down. She screamed.
"Stay down!" He ordered, raising himself up enough to see over the dashboard. The gunfire faltered and then resumed its terrible crescendo. It went on for several seconds. Suddenly, as though a switch had been flipped, the rapid gunfire slowly stopped and became random shots here and there. Then the random shots stopped. All Dean could hear were the screams that filtered into the Jeep as people ran past. Soon, he heard another sound, like the roar of a waterfall. Up ahead, roughly five cars away, he saw two people, a man and a woman, running, the woman holding her hands out behind her. It looked to Dean that the woman was trying to keep the man away from her. She stumbled against a car and went down. The man immediately pounced on her and began biting her back.
"What the hell..." He began. He saw the man grab handfuls of her hair and pull, the hair and part of her scalp ripping free. The man jammed the handfuls into his mouth. Without hesitation, he returned to biting her, this time on the head.
Dean felt icy waves shoot through his veins. What the hell is going on? he thought. Another person ran up through the cars and dropped on top of the woman. Within a couple of seconds, there were two, then three more people there, clawing at the woman. The driver in front of him, a black man wearing a business suit, got out and ran forward. He stopped a few yards away, turned around and began running back. One of the attackers jumped up and pursued him. He swung wildly at the black man, finally grabbing a hold of his jacket. The black man turned to push his attacker away. The attacker grabbed his outstretched hand and bit down. The black man yelled out, stumbled and fell. The attacker was on him instantly, clawing and biting his arms.
The cars around Dean began jockeying around, crashing into one another as they tried to get away. He looked down at Carrie, huddled down in the footwell, arms over her head, crying. His Jeep lurched forward as the car behind him slammed into it. The front end of the Jeep crashed into the car ahead. Dean hit the brake pedal. The car behind him kept pushing forward, he could hear metal groaning as it deformed. He swung his head around and saw the front of a dump truck two cars back, smoke billowing from the exhaust stacks as it pushed the cars forward. What is this idiot doing? he thought. The Jeep bucked forward again and started to crumple the trunk of the car in front. The Jeep started to cant sideways as the car behind him skid to the left. Dean cranked the steering wheel to the right and stepped on the gas pedal. The Jeep hesitated and then slowly turned, the rear wheels chirping as the fender creased along the other car's bumper.
The Jeep shot forward and crashed into the side of the car in the next lane, the other driver staring at him in shock. Carrie screamed as she was thrown into the dashboard. The Jeep sputtered and died. He looked down the row of cars. The crowd that had attacked the black man were back up, beating the windows of the nearby cars. He heard screams as the glass began to break. As he watched, two from the crowd forced their way through the broken side window of the car in front of him. A loud gurgling roar broke through the screaming. He turned his head and saw the black man who'd been attacked, standing there. The man's bloodshot eyes locked onto his. He roared once more and then started toward the Jeep, running at a full sprint. Dean reached for the ignition key and turned it. The motor wheezed. Looking down, he realized the Jeep was still in drive and pushed the transmission selector to park. Pumping the gas pedal, he turned the key again. The motor caught, rumbled to life and then died once more.
"Come on, damn it!" He shouted and turned the key again. The motor roared to life. He kept the gas pedal down on the floorboard. He glanced out the window. The black man was almost there. He threw the transmission into reverse. The rear tires screamed as the Jeep rocketed backwards. It crashed into the car behind him, the back window shattering. Carrie screamed again. He slammed it into drive and cranked the steering wheel to the right, his foot still down on the gas pedal. The black man was at the Jeep, his clawing hands reaching into the window. The Jeep lurched forward, the tires sliding on the pavement. It hit the other car again, pushing it sideways. The Jeep shot into the gap and crashed into the guardrail. Dean's head smacked into the steering wheel. The motor died again, steam billowing from the damaged front end.
Dean sat back, dazed. Blood flowed down his face. He reached over and tried to push the door open. Hands came through the window, tearing at his arm. He looked up and saw the black man there, teeth mashing together. The hands wrapped around his head, pulling him toward the window. Teeth clicked in his ear and then bit down on his cheek. Blood shot out, through the window. He screamed in pain. The hands pulled tighter. He tried to reach up, tried to push away. His ear was torn off next. He looked over, through the blood in his eyes, and saw his daughter screaming. The next bite took a chunk of his neck. Blood fanned out inside the Jeep. His arms went limp.
His eyes rolled back as the blood quickly left his body.
O God of earth and altar, Bow down and hear our cry.
Our earthly rulers falter, Our people drift and die.
The walls of gold entombe us, The swords of scorn divide.
Take not thy thunder from us, But take away our pride.