Chapter 5 - Entry 3
My alarm clock went off a bit before sunrise, though the term hardly seemed to apply anymore. The darkness outside was complete, broken only here or there by weak halos of light from Lockwood's part of town.
Coffee. Another long, hot shower. More coffee. I ghosted about the fire station in silence, mentally preparing myself for the day’s events. Hope nearly pissed herself when she stumbled into the kitchen and found me there, drinking coffee with the lights off.
“You’re up early.” She offered by way of greeting, slipping past me to get her own cup of coffee.
“Gotta go tell Marley her aunt died yesterday. Not looking forward to it.” I shrugged and lit a cigarette, watching Hope through plumes of smoke.
She’d changed in just the few days I’d known her. Losing that innocence she’d shared on the ride into town. There were calluses developing on her trigger finger and babyfat was melting away. Mostly it was her face; drawn into a perpetual frown beneath eyes that seemed harder than before. Not many early teens drink coffee or voluntary rise before the sun.
“I’ll come with you.”
I shrugged and couldn’t think of a reason not to let her. “Be ready in a half hour then.”
Henry and Kate rolled out of the bedroom a few minutes later, trading places with their daughter while I continued to pound down coffee and chain smoke. Once Hope was gone, they got right to the point with Kate looking away and Henry watching me closely.
“What are you?” He asked, staring up at me from his wheelchair.
I sighed and told them. Shared the whole story. The stem cell treatments. Getting bitten. The regeneration superhero crap. Even mentioned the fact that I’d been a prisoner. Kate’s attention forced itself back upon me as I spoke, both listening intensely and trying to understand. When I finished, it was Kate who asked the next question.
“Are you dangerous to us? Yesterday I thought you might bite me. Are we safe with you?”
Ouch. Here we go again, I thought. “Honestly? Only if I’m really hurt. But yeah. If I’m too fucked up then I might try to take a chunk out of you.” I shrugged and felt anger rise. Could feel the tickling itch of betrayal crawling over my skin. I turned away from them and poured more coffee into my mug, taking deep breaths and trying to calm down. They had a right to ask.
“So don’t get hurt,” Henry chuckled, wheelchair squeaking softly as he turned to leave. “See you and Hope this afternoon. Tell Lockwood I said ‘Fuck you’ for me.”
Their backs were to me as I turned around, both heading into the bedroom and leaving me alone again, feeling relief swell and a weight removed. “Damn. I’m getting soft.”
Hope and I were in the Humvee half an hour later, both dressed in jeans with combat boots and battered army jackets. I had my HK SMG. She had her rifle. A sidearm was tucked into the pocket of both our jackets. Blood and gore first thing in the morning didn’t phase either of us as I smoked, drank coffee, and ran over zombies in the street outside. There was no laughter from Hope as we plowed over a walking corpse. Not like that first time a few days before. That little girl was gone, leaving a teenage survivor in her place.
I radioed Dave Fargo along the way and asked him to open up the street gate for me.
“Can’t do that right now Jaeger. Too many zoms outside.”
“We’ll clear them out. Just have someone ready to open it for me.” I nodded towards Hope’s rifle and winked. “Target practice.”
We counted close to sixty undead in the street, nearly all spread out along the makeshift conex-box wall Dave and his crew had erected between buildings. I parked the Humvee alongside a diner one street over and helped Hope get onto the building’s roof after I’d climbed up and made sure it was clear. Together we moved along the rooftops until the crowd of zombies stretched out across the street before us.
“Ok. Your job is to shoot anything on the far side of that yellow line. Mine is to hit them once they cross it.” Hope nodded while I extended the SMG’s stock and got comfortable. She was already laying on her stomach with the rife braced atop a backpack.
“Here we go Dave. Friendly fire inbound.” I saw Dave wave before he and the two Manny’s ducked down behind a line of sandbags. Hope started to fire when I tapped her shoulder.
“Take your time hun and conserve ammo. We’ve got all morning.” No. I wasn’t looking forward to telling Marley her mom had died.
A steady stream of shots rang out as Hope calmly got into the shooter’s rhythm. Fire. Eject spent round and slide bolt forward to load the next. Take aim. Exhale slowly. Squeeze trigger. Repeat. She did well, dropping at least one zombie with every three shots or so fired. Not bad at all for someone who’d never fired a gun until a few days prior.
Slowly, the herd of undead turned towards our position, drawn by the loud gunshots and lack of any other visible target. Dave’s group were apparently saving their ammunition by only taking down the Runners. Slow moving Shamblers were the only targets on the street below. The first form shuffled across the yellow line that bisected the street as I raised my weapon and flicked off its safety.
My vision narrowed, lining up the shot and squeezing the trigger a heartbeat later. The little weapon bucked and sent a nine millimeter round hurling through my target’s forehead just as another pair of feet crossed the line. Hope and I got into a rhythm together, each making their shot while the other took aim. Everything else was forgotten for a time, round after round sent screaming across the distance while bodies crumbled.
The final corpse fell halfway through my second magazine, leaving sixty some odd forms sprawled out on the asphalt below. Hope squeezed off a few long range shots down either side of the street, picking off zombies drawn by the gunfire. Movement in my peripheral vision drew attention to one of the fallen bodies moving down below as Hope rose and collected out spent shell casings. I stood and teased her.
“You missed one.”
I raised the SMG one handed towards the crawling corpse but turned to regard her when she punched my arm.
“Nuh uh. That one’s on your side of the line.”
Laughing, I squeezed the trigger and arched an eyebrow at Hope’s expression of surprise. Turning to follow her gaze, I noticed the shot had hit right between the zombie’s eyes.
“Dude. You weren’t even really aiming.”
“Lucky shot,” I replied, frowning while we packed up and headed back to the Humvee.
As I drove through the raised gate and into Lockwood’s little neighborhood, my mind kept returning to that shot. I could still see the zombie’s forehead. Could still feel my arm making slight adjustments to keep on target, even as I turned away to look at Hope. Knew the shot would be good when I squeezed the trigger. It felt effortless, like closing your eyes and touching the tip of your nose. Knowing where it was and the moment your finger would meet the flesh.
Dave Fargo and Mr. Green were approaching the Humvee as I kept returning to that moment, wondering if that was how it had been for Maliqe. Maliqe who never missed. Maliqe who had bitten me the night before. Rain started falling again as we stepped out of the vehicle, fat greasy drops that left a smoky scented smear wherever they landed. I looked up to the sky and sighed at its mixed blessings. Freedom in exchange for my humanity.