“Uncle Marshall,” said Max. “Daddy says there’s a shot in that fort that you have to go get. ”
‘What kind of shot?” Asked Marshall.
“One that kills bugs. Only it doesn’t work unless the bugs want to take it into themselves. They can just ignore it.” Max said, looking slightly skeptical.
Victor Sr asked, “Vic wants us go into that place for a shot that doesn’t work?”
“Yes, Poppy. He knows about it though, he thinks he can still make it work. It’s the same shot that made my bugs sick.”
“What bugs?” Asked Max’s grandfather.
“When I got bit at school, I got bugs. They made me sick at first, but now they’re my friends. They live in here,” said Max, pointing to his head. “They tell me things. Like right now they’re telling me that you don’t believe me.”
Victor thought about Max’s statement. It was a big insight for a four year old to make. Max had always been an exceptionally bright child, but would he pick up on body language this early? “It isn’t that I don’t believe you, Max.” Said Victor. “But how could it be? How come you aren’t one of them?”
“They say I’m different. Daddy thinks that’s why Mr. Frye wanted to take me, and why the zombies want me.”
Marshall was still worried about whatever was in that fort. Whatever had been in the area that smashed those cars was bigger and stronger than he was. “Did he say where it was in there?”
“Nope. Just that it was in there. I think you should take Mr. Shelton with you, Uncle Marshall,” said Max.
“Why Mr. Shelton, Max?”
“He’s been there before, when he became an army man.”
“Okay. How did you know that, Max?” Asked his grandfather.
“The bugs told me.”
“Dad, we’ve all learned not to ask. True or not, the fact is that Max is always right. We should listen to him.”
“I’m going in there too. You need someone to watch your back,” said Victor. “I’ve been watching it for forty years.”
“I need you to stay with Max, Pop. He’s way more important than you or me or Victor. Everyone on this train would give their life for him. If something goes wrong in there, I need you to keep Max safe. I need you to get this train out of here and get him to Vic.”
Again Victor was unhappy with the response, but he saw the wisdom of Marshall’s thinking. If Shelton was a military man, and if Max was right that he’d done his basic training here, then he was the man for the job. “Come on, Max! Let’s go read a book,” said Victor.
“Yay!” Exclaimed Max, following his grandfather out of the room.
Marshall headed the opposite direction, towards the locomotive. When he stepped out of the dining car onto the locomotive platform, he saw the first zombie he’d seen in days. He was standing in the back yard of a small run-down looking house, wearing a faded red tee shirt and a pair of brown cargo shorts. The creature looked up as the train passed and started walking towards the tracks. It hit a chain link fence, and continued to try to walk. Marshall wondered how long he would continue to try to walk through the fence after the train was out of ear shot.
The big man stepped into the locomotive with Corbin Shelton, their military tactician, and told him about the shot, leaving out the part about it not being effective.
“It makes sense that they’d have something like that there. Fort McPherson was a research base. I spent some time there before I was deployed. When I was there they were researching nerve-agent darts that could be fired out of a regular rifle. We were looking for a way to put enemy combatants down without killing them, and without doing permanent damage. They were working on a chemical agent that even a small scrape could put a man to sleep for two days.”
“Sounds like some potent stuff. I wonder if that’s the stuff Vic was talking about. In any case, we gotta go in there and find it. Since you’ve been inside the labs, I’ll need your help finding what we’re looking for.”
Shelton looked startled. Marshall didn’t think he was going to back down from the challenge, but the look of fear that briefly crossed Shelton’s face before being tucked away was an alarm for Marshall.
“They did a lot of other stuff in there too,” said Shelton. “Rumor around the barracks was that they were trying to make a real life Captain America. They were trying to genetically alter a human to be bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than a normal person. It was just a rumor, you know how people always have something to talk about.”
Shelton eased the throttle off on the train, and applied the brakes. Victor had put post-it notes all over the cockpit labeling everything. It made the train very easy to operate, in the limited capacity that they needed. They were only hauling a handful of cars, as opposed to the two-million pounds the train was designed to carry.
“We should be pretty close to the fort now. Stop the train, lets gear up and get this over with. We’ll have time to discuss more details while we walk to the base. The gates and doors have been open for a long time. There’s a chance we’ll be able to walk in and out.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Shelton looking doubtful as he stepped out onto the ledge around the locomotive. “I’ll grab my kit and meet you in five minutes.”
Marshall stood in the locomotive and pondered Shelton’s reaction. He drove this train into a huge horde of zombies without a second’s hesitation. But something in that military base was making him fearful. Eventually he shook it off, I’m probably just overreacting, he thought to himself as he headed down the train to gather his own weapons.
When he was fully geared up, he found John sitting in the dining car over a hot cup of coffee. John was staring intently into his cup. “We’re not going to make it to my family in time, Marshall,” he said. “Tookes has gone off on walkabout, Leo’s gone, we’re stopped again, and we’re not even a whole day’s travel from where we started.”
“I know it’s tough John. Vic hasn’t ever let us down. He hasn’t ever led us astray. He’ll get you to your family,” replied Marshall. “Shelton and I are going to run into the fort. Max said I should take Shelton over you, I’m not sure why, but I’ve learned to rely on what the little man says.”
“Alright. I’ll stay here and play wet nurse again. But when Tookes gets back we’re going to have a talk. Another talk. My family is the reason we’re on this trip, they have to be the priority. If they crash that bird and we’re not there to catch them its not going to be good.”
“Getting to your family is my priority John. I know it’s Vic’s as well. We’ll get there in time,” said Marshall as he paused at the door to the next car. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours and we’ll be back on schedule.”
John returned to starting into his cup of coffee, thinking about seeing his wife and children after so long.
Marshall and Shelton met on the ground at the base of the locomotive, and without a word between them set off south towards the base and whatever mystery syringe Victor was looking for. Marshall hadn’t ever doubted his brother. One of their father’s favorite sayings was ‘Never tell them everything you know’. Victor had always taken that to heart, he was not known for being forthright with all the info, ever. His little brother had done pretty well by all of them, and Marshall knew he had his reasons, that was enough for him.
The two men were less than a block from the train when they came up on a pair of zombies. “So much for having killed them all in the park,” said Shelton quietly.
Marshall pulled a hammer out of its clips on the back of his leather vest and motioned for Shelton to stay back. He whistled a low note to get their attention and right on queue the two zombies started walking towards him. The one on the left had been a female, about middle aged. Not bad looking, thought Marshall as he swung his hammer over his head in a big circle. Marshall was easily a foot and a half taller than this corpse. The hammer hit the bottom of its arc, and caught her in the side of the jaw on the upswing. The arc ripped her skull from her neck, launching it forty-five degrees into the air and spraying zombie number two with gore. Marshall continued the circle, bringing the hammer up and around in one smooth motion, and did almost the same to the second zombie. The second circle was much flatter, and just scalped the man-zombie, smashing its skull in and flipping the zombie over onto its side.
There were three distinct almost simultaneous splats. The woman’s head hit the brick wall across the street, the rest of her corpse slopped to the ground, and the male zombie impacted the asphalt all at the same time. Quick, silent, and relatively clean. Marshall wiped the head of his hammer before replacing it in its cradle on his back. The two men continued the trek towards the army base in less than five seconds.
“Jesus, Marshall. I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Corbin.
“I’m just big and strong,” said Marshall. “I’d rather have Leo’s speed.”
“I’d just like to have some sort of edge,” said Shelton.
“You have training and experience. That’s your edge Corbin,” said Marshall.
The rest of the trip to the fort was fairly uneventful. They walked into the yard with all the corpses still laying where they’d been killed or re-killed. “This was a cluster-fuck,” said Shelton.
“Yea. Must have been something ugly to do all this. Lets get in and out before whatever did this comes back,” Marshall said stepping up to the door.
Inside the hallway was gloomy, the only light came from the door they came in. Marshall reached into the pocket of his cargo shorts and pulled out a flashlight. He held it in one hand, and his gun in the other.
“Marshall, flip your flashlight around in your fist, then cross your wrists,” said Shelton crossing his flashlight hand over the wrist of his gun hand, so the flashlight shone down the barrel. “It lets you steady your gun, and keeps your light and gun pointed in the same place.”
“Thanks,” said Marshall, following Shelton’s lead. “Anything else I’m doing wrong? Before all this I was a management consultant. I can use all the help you’ve got to give.”
“In this situation you’re doing fine. Let me breech the doors, watch how I do it.” Shelton moved towards an open doorway on the right side of the hallway. Standing almost five feet back from the door, he leaned his arm against the wall. “From here,” he whispered. “I can see a few feet of the room through the door. When you present yourself to the door, you want to stay well outside, and limit the angle something on the inside has to see you.”
Shelton leaned a foot out into the hallway, peering into the room a little more before returning to his spot against the wall. “That gave me a couple more degrees of sight into the room,” he whispered, before leaning further out in front of the hall. He repeated that process, over and over, each time moving further away from the wall, allowing him to see more of the room with each pass. When he was square with the door, he whispered. “Alright, I’ve cleared the whole room, except this front corner. To get that one I’ll step into the room. I know that three out of the 4 corners of the room are clear.”
Shelton stepped into the room, then Marshall heard Shelton yell “Put your weapons on the fucking ground! Hands where I can see them!”
This is the end of the free sample. If you’d like to continue reading, What Zombies Fear: Fracture is available on