The words were spoken innocently enough, with just a hint of eagerness and desire for approval. Most people would put down what they were doing, lift their head from their activity, and pay attention to the proceedings.
Tommy Carter heard those words and responded by making sure he had no loose items that might come away in an explosion, his weapon was secured and he had a tight grip on the rail he was leaning against. He debated whether or not he should shift his feet to a wider stance, then considered the source of the statement. Tommy opted to widen his feet.
“What am I watching?” he asked Duncan Fries, the originator of the current dilemma.
“I’m aiming for the fat guy down there.” Duncan pointed at a large man wandering amid several others below the interstate bridge the two men currently occupied. The bridge was a simple country road that crossed the highway, but the highway fence kept the group gathered below from getting up around the embankment and causing some serious headaches.
Duncan brought his hand back and Tommy could see he was holding one of his throwing spikes. It was a tube of steel about six inches long and roughly an inch in diameter, tapered to a sharp point at both ends. Duncan had tried other throwing objects but these were the things he was most consistent with. Over the course of the Zombie War the ability to kill a zombie silently had become a serious asset, and Duncan was becoming deadly with the little things.
Holding the spike loosely in his hand, Duncan concentrated for a second, then brought his hand sharply forward. The missile streaked towards its target and punched into the skull of the fat zombie Duncan had identified earlier. The pointed end, backed up by the heavy steel, easily penetrated the head of the zombie. The Z stood for a moment, then toppled over onto its back, half of the spike sticking out of its head like a horn.
Duncan turned to Tommy and smiled. “About thirty yards, I’d say. Not bad.”
Tommy looked over the rail at the prone zombie. “How many more do you have?”
Duncan looked puzzled. “Seven. Why?”
“How many zombies are down there?”
“Twenty four. Where’s this going?”
“How are you going to get the spike back?”
“Oh.” Duncan looked back over the rail and cursed quietly. ”Shit.” The spikes were a bizarre find in a house that had all sorts of weird weapons. Most of it was useless, mail-order crap, but these had performed well. Duncan looked upset that he may have to leave his toy.
“Well, how’s the other group?” Tommy asked.
Duncan looked out across the landscape and saw the car they had used to get to their current position. The zombies that had surrounded it for the last twelve had finally gotten bored and moved on.
“They’re gone. Think it’s safe?” Duncan asked, picking up his weapons.
“Safer than it was. Let’s get moving.” Tommy answered.
“What about my spike?”
“Fine, but you have to carry my bag.” Tommy said, pulling off his rifle.
Tommy ordinarily would have just left the silly thing, but then he would have had to listen to Duncan complain about it for about a thousand miles, and considering they had at least two thousand to go, lightening the load was a good plan. Duncan had left his rifle in the car, which didn’t help here.
“Here we go.” Tommy leaned over and sighted in the first zombie. Firing nearly straight down was not as simple as it seemed, and it was easy to miss. But since the distance wasn’t great, he was able to get killing shots on twenty of the milling zombies. The other four had wandered under the bridge and were out of sight.
Tommy walked over to the other side of the bridge and looked over. He shook his head as the stubborn zombies didn’t immediately reveal themselves to get killed.
“Heading down!” Duncan called as he slid down the embankment.
“Not yet!” Tommy called, but it was too late. Duncan’s head disappeared from view. Tommy frowned and shook his head. Little shit left my bag on purpose. he thought. He picked up the backpack and went down the hillside, watching as Duncan shot the last four zombies with his Glock. Since Tommy had fired his rifle, quiet was no longer necessary, although looking down the highway, Tommy could see several dark shapes slowly making their way in this direction in response. Zombies were nothing if not predictable.
Tommy ran towards the car while Duncan retrieved his spike. He pulled a pair of channel-lock pliers from his bag and wrenched the steel from the dead zombie. He wiped it off with the man’s shirt, then tucked it into a separate compartment in his backpack for sterilizing later. Hard lessons had taught the survivors of the Upheaval that the virus could stay dangerous for forty-eight hours if left on an exposed surface. After that it was harmless, but if someone touched the infected area, then touched either an open wound or their eyes, they had nearly a one-hundred-percent chance of getting infected.
Fire killed the virus immediately, so it was part of everyone’s gear to have some means of open flame to sanitize weapons used on the dead. The good news was there was very little splatter when combating the undead, since their blood wasn’t flowing like a living person’s did. Bullets to the head caused some mess, but not as much as a live human.
Tommy Carter reached the car, and unlocked the doors. Zombies typically couldn’t figure out how to open a door, but lately more and more of them were figuring it out, and sometimes they got lucky when it came to car doors. It was better to lock up than have a ghoul leave all sorts of dead bits inside the car you want to drive away in.
The two men stashed their gear and drove away, heading back to the outskirts of St. Cloud. They had left their caravan to do some scouting, and had only a few hours left before the group would figure them lost and move on without them. That was the standing rule in the Zombie War. Always stay on the move, draw them out, kill them.
The road was fairly clear this far north, as it was discovered that apart from the main cities, the infestation wasn’t as bad as other, more populated areas. Tommy and Duncan headed back to their group, which was waiting for them near a lake just off the road by St. Joseph.
Six men and four women made up the personnel of the caravan, and they had been on the road for nearly four months. The War had started in earnest when the first cold winds blew down from the north. John Talon, the duly elected chief executive of the represented states, had declared unconditional war on the zombies to the unanimous support of the population. One week of planning and the teams were off. The goal was simple: kill zombies, find survivors, kill more zombies.
Tommy and Duncan were tasked with the Northern Campaign. They were to take their team, head north, find as many survivors as possible, and spread the word of the new government. Communication was spotty at best, but things were getting better and more and more communities were turning the power back on. Major cities were still a problem, but they were handled best in the winter months. John had made it clear that the teams were to try and find survivors, but serious exploration was forbidden. Too many zombies still roamed the halls of the cities, and without serious firepower and manpower, they were going to stay that way for a while. It was generally agreed upon that the cities would be uninhabitable in the near future, so unless there was a significant survivor population, cities were to be left to rot. Duncan, in his enthusiasm, tried to burn down the cities that were useless, and managed to succeed with a couple, but it was chancy at best.
Tommy hit the gas and sped down the road, figuring to be at the rendezvous point in about twenty minutes. St. Joseph was a hard fight and the crew had decided to take a day and rest. Tommy and Duncan had figured to scout ahead when they got surprised by about thirty zombies checking out their car after inspecting a farmhouse. The zombies chased them down the road and the two men spent a good half day waiting for the curious dead to move away from their car. The rest had treed them on the bridge and forced them to cool their heels outdoors for a bit.
“Where do you think the survivors went?” Duncan asked as they moved along Minnesota’s County Highway 2. He put a hand up to brace himself as Tommy swerved around a decent sized crack in the road.
“Not really sure.” Tommy said. “We had a mess of Z’s around Minneapolis and the surrounding cities, but I expected a whole lot more. Minneapolis had what, three hundred thousand?”
“Between Minneapolis and St. Paul, there was supposed to be over three million.” Duncan said. It was standard procedure to check the population of any town before going in just to see how outnumbered they were going to be.
“And we didn’t see nearly that many.” Thank God, Tommy thought.
“No, I figured at worst it was maybe fifty-thousand.” Duncan said reflectively. “Now that I think on it, the Twin Cities was easier to deal with than St. Cloud.”
Tommy thought a minute, moving the car around an overturned bucket in the road. “So that means there are a lot of wandering zombies out there, or a bunch of people just up and ran away. Which way do you think our luck will hold?” Tommy shot Duncan a sideways glance and got a snort in reply.
“Based on experience, I’d say we’re screwed.” Duncan said. He narrowed his eyes. “Those are our cars, we’re here.”
Tommy slowed down as he approached the small group of vehicles. There was a Ford F-150 which carried much of their gear, a Honda Pilot, a Range Rover, and a Jeep Liberty. The truck and SUV’s were parked in roughly a square, leaving about four feet between each vehicle. The idea was to use the SUV’s as shelter when no other option was available. The space between the cars was a choke point to keep from getting swarmed, if it came to that, and it also served as an escape route. In case of serious trouble, the vehicles had enough room to get away, and each was chosen because it was heavy enough to push through a crowd of zombies.