“You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. It’s right there by the side of the creek.”
“Son of a bitch, I was right out there! Why do these things always wait until I am farthest away from them to make their appearance?”
“Dammed inconsiderate if you ask me.”
“Always are. All right, I’m going. Keep me posted as to its movements; I’m heading to the back doors through the band room.”
“Will do. You want a noisemaker?” A noisemaker was an egg timer lobbed out into the grass, timed to go off just before we attacked. It kept the zombie’s focus off-center, which made for an easier kill.
“No thanks, I’m just going straight in.”
“Stay alive, brother.”
“Yup.” I shucked my bag and picked up my rifle. It was a relic from the Second World War, an old Enfield No.1 Mk.4. The spike bayonet on the end likely didn’t see much use in the battles of old, but these days, it’s a decent close quarters killer. In all honesty, I’d rather have this old gun than any of the high-tech AR’s out there. Sure they could shoot a lot more a lot faster, but I doubt any of them have the range of my Enfield, the bayonet, or the clubbing capabilities.
I headed down the stairs, pulling on my gloves and balaclava, adjusting my radio earpiece to keep in touch with Tommy, my lookout. He was on the roof of the building doing constant sweeps of the area. I’d put my goggles on before I headed outside.
As I walked the hall to the back doors, I couldn’t help but notice the signs of battle as we fought to secure this building. The undead wanted in, we wanted them out, and a whole two days of serious disagreements about possession ensued. In the end though, we won, losing twenty-seven of our own to the other side. We killed over nine hundred of them, many of the fights in vicious hand to hand combat. But as the man once said, we will not go quietly into that dark night. Dark stains marked the walls and floors, water being too precious of a commodity to waste cleaning up right now. Black marks where we burned the splatter from the zombies, not taking any chances with infection. One hundred-five of us survived. One hundred and five maybe being the last ones on earth. Doubt it, but we haven’t had any contact with anyone else for months since the Upheaval. I had some theories about the lands in the Rockies and north of the border, but I didn’t have the time right now to go exploring.
The Upheaval. That’s what we called the dead coming back to life. Wasn’t anything magical or biblical about it. Just a little virus with a very strong will to survive. The Enillo virus, named after its discoverer and first victim. Dr. Roberto Enillo was a brilliant researcher, by all accounts, and some said he was on the brink of a vaccine for several of our Third-World killers. Trouble was, vaccines only prevent 98% of the viruses, letting the strong survive. Well, survive they did, and the little bastards had the nerve to mutate into a super-virus which, in a serious bid for self-preservation and spreading, managed to bring the infected back to life. Dr. Enillo was working in a small country in the center of Africa, when the virus came calling. He and the world would have been fine except he wasn’t able to take the correct number of precautions being out of equipment as he was. An unhealed cut on his hand allowed the virus access, he got infected, then spread the virus all over the world.
No one could have predicted what happened next. Dr. Enillo was infected, yet didn’t know it. The little virus had an incubation period of one week, which allowed for rapid deployment when you consider how interconnected our societies had become. A person who was infected could board a plane, land in another country, infect someone there through casual contact, get in their car, drive to another locale, and spread it further before they even knew they were sick. The virus, upon infection, completely saturates all bodily fluids, so an infected person is literally a walking disease center, and not even knows it. A sneeze could infect across a room if someone got it on an open cut.. It wasn’t airborne, but it tried its best. This saturation was fast, within 2-4 hours. After 72 hours, a person begins to feel ill at ease and starts coughing and losing bodily fluids through vomiting and diarrhea, profuse sweating and salivating. We figured out too late this was the virus attempting to spread itself out to new hosts. After 96 hours, a person would fall into a comatose state and die. At this point, things got interesting in the host. The virus, saturating the blood barrier that surrounds the brain, takes over the brain and stimulates the recently dead neurons with new oxygen transmitted by the virus itself. The virus takes over the functions of the body, and the infected person revives, being dead only for a few minutes with one thought: survival of the virus. In order to survive, and spread the host needs new hosts. We don’t know why they need to eat, since being dead, food is useless. But, the hunger is all consuming with these creatures and, as we discovered, they attack without mercy, remorse, or regret. Lately, the virus seems to have mutated again, causing death within hours of infection and reanimation quickly thereafter.
I walked out to the band room doors, and checked my gear. Hard-won knowledge required me to be absolutely sure of my gear. Rifle was ready, clothes were secure and not loose, balaclava fit correctly and goggles were tight. I checked my earpiece and touched base with my spotter.
“Tommy, you there?”
“Right above you ,brother.”
“What’s the location of our friend?”
“Forty yards out, near the edge of the parking lot.”
Silently I cursed. Right near the creek and our water supply. I was going to have to be creative.
“Heading out. Keep me posted for other friends.”
“Roger.” We weren’t going to talk long to save on batteries.
Tommy was a good friend these days, and always volunteered for lookout duty. We had assigned duties in the community, and he always took the lookout post. I figured he liked the solitary nature of the work. Didn’t hurt it was the safest place, too. I didn’t begrudge him the solitude. He had lost his family to the disease, and some alone time away from the families we had rescued probably saved his sanity.
I opened the door and looked out to the left. No other zombies were there so I moved along the building, quickly stepping away from the door and any possible Z’s on the other side of the door, not realizing I had bumped my radio and managed to switch it off. We lost a few to that doorway tactic before we wised up. Z’s were pretty stupid for the most part, their virus-infected brains wiping out most of their usefulness save basic motor functions. If they did not see prey, they tended to wander in slow circles. If they bumped into something, sometimes they would stop there until they were distracted. So sometimes a Z would be up against the side of a building, just standing there like they had been punished by their parents.
Of course, once they located prey, all bets were off. They homed in mostly by sound, smell, and sight (if they had eyes), and they were focused little suckers. Until their prey could no longer be seen or heard or smelled, they stayed on the hunt.
I moved out and quickly located my target. She was a medium-sized woman, probably late twenties, judging by what was left of her clothes. Her right arm looked pretty torn up, like she had fought off an attacker. Infection probably killed her, and judging by the blood down her front, she had fed on the living upon re-awakening.
Her eyes were closed and she was moving slowly, the shambling walk the dead had. Unstoppable and inexorable, the dead marched forever until they were killed again or their feet wore off. I knew her eyes were closed so she could hear prey, something else we learned about them. They close their eyes when they are not locked in pursuit, and open them when they start the chase. If you were silent, they could be dispatched without ever knowing you were there, although their hearing was amazing. It was unsettling to sneak up on a zombie only to have it turn around at the last second and lunge at you. You needed to change tactics quick, fast, and in a hurry.
I circled to the right, closing the distance quickly. I figured to deliver a spike to the back of her head before she even knew I was there. The sun was beginning to set, and nothing brought out the imagination than darkness with ghouls about. I crossed the parking lot and picked up a rock, figuring to throw the stone ahead of her and keeping her focused while I killed her.
When I was within twenty feet, I paused, checking my environment. The ghoul that kills you is the one you didn’t see. Tommy hadn’t called in so I figured I was clear. I tossed the stone and readied my rifle.
The Z jumped slightly at the sound, and I could almost see her eyes snapping open with the thought of prey. She took a larger step forward and I matched my steps to hers as I came up behind her. I was facing the school and away from the creek when I caught movement on the roof. Tommy was waving his arms and trying to attract attention. I figured he was doing this to keep her attention on him and not me. I stepped up and thrust my spike, spearing the former woman in the back of the head, near the top of the spine. We discovered that destroying the brain killed them for good, this was a hard lesson learned for the military, and led to more than one base being overrun because they couldn’t figure out how to kill them soon enough.
I removed my spike from her corpse, and used a small, unsoiled section of her shirt to clean her brain goo from it. I noticed Tommy was still waving. I waved back and noticed he was getting more frantic. I noticed my radio was off, turned it on, and was rewarded with him yelling in my ear.
“Get out of there! Move you dumbass! Run! Run!”
I spun around and saw nothing. “What are you talking about? It’s clear.” I started to cross the parking lot and move toward the door.
“There’s a group of about twenty about to come around the corner of the building!”
That changed the equation. My eloquent response consisted of a single word. Figuring that I would never make it in time, I decided to try the old method of hiding and hope to hell they don’t notice me. I ran back to the tall grass and lay down, training my rifle to approximately where they would be coming around the corner. Tommy was still on the roof, watching their progress. He didn’t have a weapon, as we decided that if you’re on the roof, shooting was a waste of time and if the building was overrun , you could just jump off and land on your head. It was better than being on the menu.
I hunkered down as the first rounded the corner. They were looking for entrance, something I had watched them do while I was on the roof. Seemed like some of them retained some of their former memories, like how to open doors and climb stairs, and this had led to more than one “safe” area being overrun. Their greatest strength was swarming, and attacking en masse. One on one, the average guy was a match for any Z. But with three or five or fifty trying to tear you apart, things got bloody in a hurry. The good news is they weren’t fast or intelligent. Bad news is they were walking infection farms. One bite, one bit of zombie goo on an open cut or in your eye, and you were gone. It was theorized that the virus kept the heart pumping to keep the body moving, but who really wanted to perform an autopsy on a dead guy trying to eat you?
I kept my gun on the group as it approached the door. They stopped and one of them pounded on the door and then tried the handle. When it didn’t work, they started to shuffle off towards the next entrance, which was a barricaded door about thirty yards to the south. That stopping and waiting behavior was new, I hadn’t seen that before. I was just about in the clear to make a run for it when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Another Z was about to fall down into the ditch and if it hit the water, it was going to make noise. Shit, crap, and dung. Tommy was still on the roof and raised his hands in a helpless gesture. The Z’s made it to the other door and were pounding on it. I hoped that would mask the noise of the other one behind me.
Of course, the best of hopes never make it to reality. Just as the ditch Z fell face-first into the water, the pounding stopped at the door. Twenty heads snapped around and as one, they opened their mouths and, moaning, started for the creek. They would pass within ten feet of me and there was no way they were going to miss me. If I lay still, they would still get me, as their sense of smell would alert them to prey nearby. Another hard lesson learned: their sense of smell had increased in order to find prey. Not as good as dogs or anything, but certainly better than living humans. We could smell them, of course, since they smelled like rotten anything, but they seemed to have one up on us. It was another theory that they could distinguish between dead and living flesh. They never attacked each other, so this seemed plausible.
I figured I had two options. I could shoot the Z’s in front of me, hoping for head shots on all of them before they got close, or I could make a run for it and hope to hell I made it to the door and someone let me in before the rest came a-chomping.
I chose option C. I popped up like a jack in the box and ran the fifty yards to the water ditch. The group turned as one and shuffled a little faster. Prey was near, the hunger was all-consuming. I ran to the edge of the ditch just as the now-soaking zombie, a fat man without a shirt and a huge open gash across his chest groped for a handhold. Little wonder how he died. I stepped up to him and just as he opened his mouth to try and take a bite, I shoved the spike into the top of his head. He wiggled a bit, then lay still. I pulled on the spike, but the guy’s head was like a suction cup and didn’t want to let go. I could hear the grass rustling behind me as the other group came closer to the attack, their moans becoming a grim chorus. I snuck a look and saw they were about twenty yards and closing. I pulled on the spike but it was really stuck. Must have hit the bone somewhere in the neck. The zombies were about fifteen yards now and were staring to raise their hands, twisted into grasping claws.
I cursed aloud and gave the old gun one final yank and ripped the spike out of the fat man’s skull. The leader of the group was about five yards now and closing fast. They began their moaning again, a sound any survivor hears with dread. Death approaches, and its call is a moan from the grave. I spun on my heel, snapped my rifle to my shoulder and lined up his head. The Enfield boomed loudly and the Z’s head exploded as the .303 round punched through it and nailed a taller guy behind him in the shoulder, spinning him to the ground, and tripping two others into a writhing mass of legs and arms.
I didn’t stop to admire my handiwork. Turning back to the ditch I scrambled down the side, jumped the water and climbed back up the other side. I turned back to the group as the first to reach the ditch were rolling down the side into the water. I lined up the still standing ones in the front and fired three aimed shots. Three zombies went down, and caused eight more to get tangled and fall. I lined up two more head shots and ended the miserable existence of a housewife whose ear was torn off, and a very old-looking man, who managed to operate without his left arm. The ones in the ditch were getting to their feet and starting to climb up my side. I dropped three more then turned my attention to the ones getting very near. When the first one came up I spiked it in the head, sending it tumbling down and knocking another off its feet. I shot another on the other side in the eye, leaving 9 more to deal with. I had one shot left in my magazine, then I needed to reload. Firing at a teenage girl whose throat was torn out, I dropped her and did a fast reload with my second magazine. That left me eleven shots, which should be enough for the rest.
Two were climbing out of the ditch and I shot one, then clubbed another back into the ditch. I killed the remaining three on the other side of the ditch, then waited for the rest to come to me.
I walked back about ten yards and that kept me out of sight of the zombies in the ditch. When their heads came up they would pause to look around, and that was when I would nail them. I got kind of a sick laugh when the old lady’s wig popped off after her head exploded. If another Z came up wearing it I would probably miss my next shot.
No one did, more’s the pity, and the group was dispatched with extreme prejudice. I collected my thoughts and heard a “Nice shooting” in my ear. Tommy had seen the whole thing and was impressed. I pulled a rag out of my pack and using some water upstream, washed off my Enfield. “Thanks,” I said. “Did any of the newbie’s watch?”
“No idea, but I’m sure some watched after hearing the shots.”
“Good. Let today’s lesson be about not panicking and using terrain to your advantage.”
“School’s out, professor. Now get your ass back in here ‘cause that shooting will have every Z in a mile’s radius coming hunting, and sunset is in twenty minutes.”
“I hear that. Post on the bulletin that cleanup is tomorrow and water collection is on the northeast side until this is cleared.”
I dropped my rifle’s magazine and saw that I had about four rounds left. Not enough for any lengthy engagements, and I could see movement in between the houses on the far side of the baseball fields. A moan could be heard from behind the tree line. Time to go. I jogged back to the band room door and knocked the code. The door popped open and I jumped inside. I was immediately was doused in some chemical spray and I quickly undid my vest, boots, shirt and pants. My balaclava was carefully removed, and my gloves removed as well. Everything went to be cleaned, except my rifle. That I kept to clean myself. I stood there in my boxers and grinned at the group that had assembled. Tommy came down and smacked me in the back.
“Next time, asshole, don’t turn your radio off.”
I smiled back, “But then I wouldn’t have any fun.”
Several eyebrows in the room shot up. Mostly the newbie’s, who hadn’t fully adjusted to the personalities of our little community. But they will learn. They usually do. Or they die. Things were very simple these days.
“Are you going back out there?” a voice called from the back of the room.
I located the speaker and locked eyes with him. “Not on your life. Feel free, if you want to; Tommy will set you up with gear.” I recognized the man, a smallish specimen who complained about everything, and found every excuse necessary not to work. He contributed very little to the community, and more than once I wondered why I had bothered to save him when I was out hunting supplies two weeks ago. Frank Stearns was his name and useless was his game.
“No thanks. I can’t face them yet.” Frank replied.
“No one can face them in the dark.” I said. “They are master killers at night.” I moved closer to him, never breaking eye contact. “No matter where you run, they will find you, by smell, sound, or feel, they will find you.”
Frank broke eye contact and looked down. “Just wondering.”
“Yeah.” I looked around the group. “Double watch tonight, kids go to bed early. Everyone is armed. The noise I made out there will bring more tonight, and tomorrow will be a busy day with cleanup and eradication.” I looked at Frank. “Everyone works. No exceptions.”
His head snapped up and he glared at me. I returned his stare and waited for him to speak. He didn’t.
I turned my back to him and walked away, going to my room. I needed to see my boy, and put on some clothes. I went down the hallway, and turned to the small classroom off the main hall. I chose this room because it was on the first floor, and if things got bad, I could get out easier than they could get in. Plus, if something was going down, I would be better placed to deal with it. Not that I was Mr. Bad Ass, but I had managed to survive this long, and that takes something. Opening the door, I found home.
Jacob, my 10-month old son, was in his high chair being fed by his sitter, a fourteen year old girl I had found on one of my forays. Her name was Kristen, and she had been hiding in her bathroom for three days. She had seen her mother turn on her father, and then heard her parents tear apart her two brothers. I brought her back, and she hadn’t spoken for three weeks. But after she got over her shock, she bounced back pretty quickly. Kristen watched Jacob for me when I had to go out, and he loved her company.
“Hey Kristen,” I said. “Hey big boy!” I said to Jacob, earning an applesauce-filled smile from him. “How’s everybody?”
Kristen glanced at me, noting I was largely undressed. “He’s a good boy. Little fussy about his green beans. Work out there tonight? I heard the shots.”
“Yeah, some trouble by the creek.” I put some cargo pants on. “Lot of work to do tomorrow.”
Kristen grunted as Jacob tried to spray baby food at her. “Great. When do I get to forage with you?”
I looked at her. Her faced had hardened and she seemed distant with most adults, although she opened up and was great with Jacob. He loved her, and was all smiles when she was around. I worried, though, that she had a lot of anger to work through. I couldn’t ask her to risk her life, but I didn’t think that was going to be an issue. I had seen her practicing, and she seemed ready.
“Maybe next time.” I said.
“Really?” she asked, looking up from her feeding.
“You need to test yourself. I understand that.” I went over to my weapons locker and belted on my sidearm. She noticed the gun.
“Armed tonight.?” Kristen asked.
“Everyone is, including you.” I replied, pulling out a second gun and holster. I handed her a Glock 9mm. Fishing around I found two additional magazines and loaded them for her. Kristen took the gun and looked at me. “You’re ready,” I told her. “I’ve seen you handle a gun and seen you shoot.” That was common practice here. Everyone was taught to use two weapons, a gun and a secondary weapon, be it a knife or some other favored object. It didn’t really matter, it just had to be lethal. Mine was a knife. We had a couple of ex-military gents who had taken over training of our newcomers. Everyone was trained, even the kids.
Kristen put on the Kydex paddle holster for the Glock and adjusted it for fit. She then ejected the magazine from the Glock, found it full, and reinserted it. She pulled the slide back and chambered a round. I handed her another round to put in the magazine later, and she holstered the weapon. Jacob just watched with little enthusiasm.
Kristen looked at me. “Thank you,’ she said.
“Don’t worry, you’ll earn it.” I said, reaching down to pick up Jacob. Never failed. Every time I had an encounter with the zombies, I needed to hold my son to regain my hope for the world. Jacob smiled at me and grabbed at my shirt, pulling down my collar.
Kristen packed up to leave. “By the way, you’re running low on fruit for Jacob,” she said.
“Thanks, I’ll add to the list for the next trip out.”
“Would that be the one I am going on?” she asked.
“That’s the one. Get your brain ready.” I said.
“Will do. Bye’ Jakey!” Kristen said to Jacob, kissing his little cheek. He smiled at her then buried his head in my shoulder, doing his shy routine. Kristen left the room and went back to her room, which she shared with three other girls. They ranged in age from 10 to 16, and they relied on each other for support and comfort, all of them having horrific stories to tell. I rotated them on babysitting, and since Jake was so easy to care for, they all liked doing it. I didn’t think for one minute about the awesome responsibility I just handed Kristen by giving her a gun. She was more responsible than most adults I had known, and I trusted her with my world, meaning Jacob. The world was a different place now, and the old rules didn’t necessarily apply. You adapted or got eaten, that was the way it was.
I closed the door and checked my carbine hanging on the wall by the door. It was my M1 Carbine, in my opinion probably the best close quarters gun out there. If the Z’s ever got in, I could likely drop most of them before my ammo ran out. A sling with four loaded 30-round clips hung next to it. That gun saved my ass not too long ago.
Jacob and I played for a while, the sun setting and the room going dark. I lit a hurricane lamp, and the soft light gave me some more time with Jake before I bathed him and put him to bed. I spoke to him about all the things I did while I was gone. I figured it was wrong to hold anything back, because this was the world he might inherit. I know he didn’t understand a word, but he was just happy to have his daddy back. I looked around our room and as usual, my mind drifted back to when it all started five months ago.
Back when I was making a living, and the dead weren’t.