Crystal Johnson and Travis Frankenberry answered the call. They were actually the only people who made it to the fire hall to answer the 911 call from Cassie Pritchard. Travis was the driver, and Crystal was the EMT on call. They were volunteers, as were virtually all rescue services in the area.
This did not mean that they were especially happy about being called out. Travis crouched over the wheel, face close to the glass, his skinny shoulders making him look like a vulture. He was calm enough, but he was frowning. He drove a dump truck for a living, but that was almost entirely summer work, so he almost always out for any emergency calls in the winter. He had plenty of experience driving in wintery conditions, but this was ridiculous.
He’d been reading the newest Konrath book while Crystal watched Sportscenter when the call came in, and both of them were hoping that there wouldn’t be any calls. That was wishful thinking.
Despite the fact that it was Pennsylvania and it snowed every winter, people seemed to have an amazing ability to forget how to actually drive on snow from one winter to the next. As a result, every time there was a good snow, and a lot of times when there was just a so so snow, people managed to wrap their cars around trees and other assorted pieces of the landscape.
This particular snow was unexpected, which meant that the number of people thinking that it was okay to speed while they were on unplowed roads was probably going to be higher than usual. Which was why Crystal and Travis, who didn’t really have anything else to do, were waiting at the fire hall and hoping that they wouldn’t actually be needed.
They weren’t. At least, not for a car accident, as of yet. Crystal could see why; you would need to completely nuts to be out in this willingly. Travis was white knuckling it and she wasn’t sure how he actually new where the road was.
“Willpower,” was his answer.
“Well, that’s reassuring.”
He shrugged. Crystal shrugged her coat around her. She was wearing about fifteen layers of clothing, and the heat in the ambulance was cranked all the way up, but she was still cold. The clothes made her look even smaller than she really was, and she looked about fifteen in the best of times.
She looked out the windshield, and saw something move.
“I see them.”
Crystal squinted. Travis braked, and the ambulance fishtailed a little, but Travis kept it together.
“Fucking deer. How many did you hit last year?”
“Those aren’t deer.”
The ambulance was all but stopped now, and the headlights reflected from dozens of eyes. Dogs. Dozens of dogs.
“What the hell?”
They were standing in the road, simply staring at the ambulance. Travis let the vehicle drift forward a bit, but they didn’t move. He laid on the horn. Crystal looked at him.
“What the fuck is wrong with them?”
I don’t kn-“
The dog slammed into the glass beside him, claws scraping against the glass. It hit hard enough to crack the glass, and it left bloody smears. Travis started to open his mouth and one of the dogs jumped onto the truncated hood of the ambulance, scrabbling for purchase.
Travis ripped the transmission back into reverse as one of the dogs scratched at Crystal’s door. The wheels of the ambulance spun, found purchase and the vehicle pushed back. The dogs swarmed around it, jumping and scratching. Travis sped up, faster than he should and slammed the brakes, whipped the wheel. The front end of the ambulance spun around, almost a perfect one eighty.
Another dog, big, huge, slammed into the window beside Travis. The glass shattered and wind and snow blew in.
The dog’s jaws clamped down on Travis’ ear as he jerked his head to the side. It fell out of the window and blood sprayed out, gore stringing from the wound. Another dog was leaping forward as Travis got the ambulance moving forward again. Crystal drug the bag forward from the back.
He pushed on the accelerator and they pulled loose from the pack. Crystal glanced in the side mirror, saw their shadows disappear into the storm. She moved around to the back to tend to Travis.
“What the fuck was that?” he said.
Crystal looked at his would. The ear was gone, and Travis was bleeding badly. Crystal pushed the bandage against his ear and he flinched. It was going to start hurting bad as soon as the adrenalin wore off.
Travis glanced nervously at the mirror. Nothing.
“You need to pull over, Travis.”
“There is no fucking way that is happening,” he said, “We to get away from those things. They’ll be able to move close to as fast as we can in this shit.”
He pulled down the radio receiver.
“Dispatch, this Unit 17? Hello?”
There was nothing but static. He flicked through the channels. He threw the mike down.