We loaded up in the trucks, Bookbinder and his crew in the swat van, Marshall in the disgusting rotting flesh propane truck, Leo in the other. John drove the pickup truck full of equipment, and I led the way in the yellow jeep, and headed for home.
We drove slowly through town; I wanted to get a feel for how things were in Culpeper. There were occasional pockets of undead, and as we passed, they would look up and start shambling our way. We watched behind us, for the most part they stopped coming after us when we were half a mile or so ahead of them. That was good to know, I was slightly worried they’d follow us all the way to our house.
On two occasions, the undead were blocking the road. Both groups were around a dozen in a tight pack, walking down the middle of the road. It was interesting to watch them, they seemed to mostly stick to the roads or sidewalks. It was very seldom that they went through yards or grass, unless they were directly chasing something to eat. Maybe the pavement was easier walking, I don’t know. We were trying to save ammunition, and since we had both teams together, we were killing them with hand to hand weapons. I was pretty confident in my “charge, sidestep, hatchet to the head” technique.
The stupid zombies never did anything differently. They had one attack plan. They walked towards you, grabbed at you, whatever part of you protruded or they could first get their hands on. Last they tried to get their teeth into you.
Marshall, on the other hand, had adopted a smash and smash technique. He smashed their hands with one hammer and then came across the temple with the other. The corpses he left with his short handled sledge hammers all looked the same. Mangled arms, smashed temple.
Leo of course was a dervish, she bobbed and wheeled around, slicing with her short swords, she seldom killed with a single strike, but she also seldom fought a single zombie. She preferred to take them on in groups, whittling then down slice by slice as she weaved in between them. John had collected all of the knives he found in the warehouse, just cheap case knives, but he could throw them from fifty feet or one foot away and put them in a zombie’s eye. He worked the hardest to maintain the slightest distance, I’m sure he was deadly in close quarters, but he liked to have some room to work.
The surprise of the day was Bookbinder. He moved with grace like Leo, and strength like Marshall. He used a machete and a tire knocker, which looked a lot like a small wooden bat. This small club was about 18 inches long and solid oak. Charlie used it to steer the zombies, lining them up, controlling them.
On more than one occasion I watched him jam the miniature club in the mouth of a corpse and drive it to the ground, following that up with a quick thrust from his machete, which he’d ground to a point, instead of the usual rounded tip. He was a normal, unaltered, every day human, but he was every bit a lifetime, career warrior. All of my advantages, being able to read auras and being able to consider and see my opponent’s next move make me probably equal to Bookbinders natural combat prowess
Almost all of M1 carried the same weapons combination, and all of them fought with the same style, clearly Charlie had been training them. Control first, kill second. They all used their club as a blocking, driving almost shield like weapon. On more than one occasion I saw them jam it in the mouth of a zombie at the last moment, saving their arm or a comrade’s arm from a bite. These men were not immune, or if they were they didn’t know it, and yet they fought with the same fierceness, almost abandon with which the four of us did.
We stopped at the gas station before leaving town. They had gasoline tanks buried in the front of the store; this was one of those mega convenience stores with 30 gas pumps and 10 diesel pumps.
“I just want to see what they have for now; we’re going to have to make another run out here.” I said. “But first I’d like to figure out some way to store a large quantity of gasoline back at the farm. I don’t want to have to make trips out here every couple of days. And I don’t trust that others won’t either take all the gas or wreck it so no one can use it. Let’s take an inventory of what’s here, I’ll be right back.”
The front doors of the convenience store had been blown apart, maybe by shotgun blasts or maybe from a vehicle, it was hard to tell from the mangled mess. I stepped through the doorway crunching on broken glass. Just inside the doors was a zombie with an ornately carved African looking short spear sticking out of its head. On my way by, I yanked the spear free, and walked down the aisles carrying it like a walking stick. In the 2nd to last isle, I found what I was looking for, the M&M’s. Max loved M&M’s. He’d be thrilled to have some. I took every bag of every flavor M&M, emptying the boxes of candy into my backpack.
I opened the refrigerator, and took a diet Mountain Dew off the rack. It was hot. Not just not cold, but hot. I grabbed 3 more and added them to the top of the pack, before returning to the front of the store. Behind the cash register, I grabbed three cartons of cigarettes, filling the rest of my pack with every flavor of menthol cigarette left on the shelves. I walked back out in the late afternoon sun to see Marshall and John talking animatedly.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” I asked.
“Marshall says there’s ten thousand gallons of fuel here, across the 3 grades of gasoline you blokes have. I don’t see how he gets to that number, by my calculations, there’s 38,000 liters.”
“John, that’s 10,038 gallons.” I said after a second’s calculation. I grinned “We’re in America, use imperial measurements, the metric system is flawed.”
“Don’t make me beat you within 2.54 centimeters of ya life.” He replied with a smirk.
We all laughed, and we loaded back up in the trucks.
At the edge of the business section of town was the library. It had been built only a few years before, during the housing boom of the early 2000’s, when tax revenue was high and the town felt like it had all the money in the world. They’d spent $16 million dollars on that library, something that had disgusted me at the time. Now I was grateful that it was there. A huge 3 story stone building with triple pane UV protected bullet proof glass, surrounded by giant stone planters with huge trees growing in them. The stone planters were big enough to stop a large truck, modeling the architecture of post 9/11 Washington DC. The knowledge of mankind was safe in that building, and there it would stay, in the most protected place, until we were ready to go retrieve it.
The outside of Culpeper was ringed by residential neighborhoods. When the town had living people in it, the locals knew to cut through one neighborhood to get from the main road through town over to Route 15. That route was my habit, and I instinctively turned into the neighborhood that day. We were almost through that neighborhood when I heard a blood curdling scream.
Simultaneously all of the trucks came to a halt. I grabbed my new spear as Leo and I dismounted the jeep and ran a hundred yards to see a man in shorts and a tee shirt get tackled to the ground. He was screaming, trying to get away from what was left of a woman. Six months ago she would have been a reasonably attractive girl. She was wearing little tiny shorts that said PINK across her ass. The pink shorts were stained brown, and she had a little bit of a white tee shirt left on. Most of the shirt had been ripped away at some point, exposing her from the neck down. Almost all the flesh was missing from her neck down, the bones of her rib cage shone in the last of the daylight. Based on the amount of missing flesh around her midsection, I would say she’d been turned by several zombies feasting on her. The tee shirt neck was still intact, and one sleeve. The rest of it hung down her back, like a cape covered in dried blood.
We ducked back around the corner of large house with pale blue siding. I stopped behind some prickly bushes, to take stock of the scene.
Leo started to charge in, but I grabbed her hand and stopped her. Something didn’t seem right. I quickly studied the scene. There were no weapons on the ground nearby; the man had no back pack on. ”Who would be smart enough to survive this long, and then leave the house without weapons or a pack?” I whispered to Leo. ”Something is wrong.”
“He could have dropped them when he ran,” she said softly. “He could have lost them. He could have been asleep and they surprised him.”
“Sure, but something doesn’t feel right. Do you feel it?” I whispered
“No, I see a man that needs help,” she whispered fiercely.
“Leo, he was dead the minute he got tackled. There’s nothing we can do now except put him out of his misery. This is wrong. My gut tells me something is wrong.”
Into the throat mic, I whispered “Bookbinder, check out our position, head around behind the house, there’s something wrong here. Have John and Marshall move up past the yellow house to our left, but circle over a block before coming up this way.”
Leo and I stood there, transfixed by the man’s screams. ”Help!” He yelled as I poked my head around the corner “My name is Andrew Zione, Help! I’m humaaa”. His cries left off into a gurgle of screams as the zombie bit into his crotch, ripping meat from the inside of his leg, I could hear its teeth scraping Andrew’s thigh bone.
The thing pulled its head away dragging tendons with it like floss between the festering corpses teeth, blood spurted from Andrew’s leg wound. The zombie chewed twice and swallowed the hunk of thigh meat. The next bite the zombie took was Andrew’s manhood, ripping it away from his body, chewing slowly. The screams raised several octaves and became louder, as the zombie dove in for a third bite, peeling the flesh away from his belly, allowing Andrew’s guts to slide out like links of raw sausage onto the grass.
“Fuck, how is he still alive?” I said. The screams still haunt me.
“Vic, I… We… We can’t… This can’t go on.” Leo stammered.
“Leo, there’s something very wrong. This is a setup, I can feel it.”
I considered running in there, a shadow shot out from my body. When shadow-me got two feet from Andrew’s decimated body it’s head exploded, and it fell over sideways.
“There’s a sniper somewhere.” I whispered into the mic.
“Sir, M1 is breaching the houses to the south. Marshall and John are heading around to the north. We’ll find it.”
I tried to speak quietly using my subspace voice, focused entirely on John’s aura in my mind, attempting to speak only to him. “John, there’s a sniper that’s got us pinned here. I can’t see him. We can’t move. Find him and take it out.”
“Leo, did you hear me just then?”
“I didn’t hear a thing.”
“Yes, I was trying to talk directly to John. I hope he heard me.”
Andrew kept screaming. This girl was definitely being controlled by something, I’ve only seen a few zombie attacks like this one, mostly on that first day, but those zombies were ravenous, they bit and ate whatever parts came near their mouths. These bites are being chosen to inflict the maximum pain without killing the victim. The zombie girl moved upwards, leaving a trail of his guts lying on the grass. She sat on his chest and took a bite of Andrew’s face, ripping his nose off. Fresh blood spattered the ghoul’s face, as she sat up and slowly chewed, looking directly at us. Andrew’s screams became wet, gurgling moans of pain. He was writhing under her, but her knees held his arms pinned securely.
The rancid corpse turned around and put her ass on Andrews face as she reached into his belly and pulled out a rope of thick slimy guts. I’d swear she looked directly at me and smiled before she bit his intestine in half. Stinking bile, so strong we could smell it from our spot hiding under a bush leaked out of the intestine, down her chin, dripping into the man’s stomach cavity.
Andrew’s moans became quieter, muffled when the zombie sat down on his face, smothering his anguished cries. Almost all of the undead we’d encountered had shit themselves, and of course they’d never bothered to clean up the natural release at death. At least Andrew had no nose with which to smell the 6 month old rotting feces covered ass that was smothering him to death while the zombie ate his guts. Finally the muffled moaning stopped completely.
At last, we heard a shot ring out from the south, followed by Bookbinder’s voice on the radio “Sniper terminated. All clear sir.”
I stepped around the corner of the house, sig in my hand ready to put both corpses out of their misery. When I get in sight of the bloody mess on the ground, there are no zombies to be found. No footprints in the grass, no blood trail, no nothing. Just a bloody, mashed down spot in the long grass, and a bit of intestine lying on the lawn.
“What the fuck?” I swore to myself.
Leo sobbed into my shoulder. The horror of what we just saw was too much for even the tough Spartan woman. I turned and hugged her tightly for a moment before we walked back to the jeep.
The ride home was quiet. We saw no more zombies as we sped down the highway, paying no attention to the speed limit signs we passed. It wasn’t likely we’d ever pass another car.
We spotted a herd of nine deer off to the side of the road. In the rear view mirror I saw John point his pistol out the side of the truck he was driving. As he did, I slowed the jeep. He fired two shots, and two deer dropped over sideways where the stood. The jeep bounced easily over the edge of the road and down a small bank. The rest of the crew kept going the last two miles to the house as I pulled up to the two dead deer.
“Help me load these.” I said, hopping out the driver’s side of the jeep.
Leo stepped down off the other side, and said “Poor deer, never had a chance. At least when I hunt I give them a sporting chance, I run them down.”
“Leo, these deer died to feed us. They were never afraid, they never felt anything. I’m grateful for the meat. There is no sport in you running down a buck. You can run 100 times faster than it can.” I chided.
Leo looked hurt, her face scrunched into a frown. I stepped towards her, wrapping her in my arms.
“I’m sorry darlin’. I’m a little out of sorts from watching that guy Andrew, but I couldn’t risk your life for him, he was infected by the time we saw him. I couldn’t risk you. What if that sniper had been as good at shooting as John? What if he shot you? I buried my head in her shoulder, and hugged her for a long time.
We loaded the two carcasses up on the hood of the Jeep, and headed for home. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I still had to find out how The CVS and Clinic raids went, dress and process these two deer, and find some time to be a father to my little boy, who I missed very much at that moment.