Chapter 6 - Entry 2
April 29th cont.
I stuck to the shadows and jogged, a five gallon can of diesel in each hand, both sloshing painfully loud with each long stride, until the office building’s wall was against my back. The rubble and brick frame across the street was Maliqe’s tomb. To that point it hadn’t been disturbed.
Water still ran down the street like a little river, flowing swiftly from the swollen lake and rushing westward where the land began its gentle descent. Zombies sloshed about; a thick herd of slow movers drawn by all the recent activity. In the distance I could see people scurrying along the Millhouse Hotel’s roofline, backlit by a circle of bright lights shining on the other side where helicopters had landed.
Three dozen or so walking corpses altered their course as I dashed across the street and returned to the same hole I’d escaped from not two days before. In the few moments I had before they reached me, I unscrewed the caps from both fuel cans and upended them over the irregular circle of darkness where Maliqe, I hoped, still lay impaled.
Shuffling forms came in groups of twos and threes as they passed through gaps in the building’s brick shell. I put them down in silence, two combat knives flashing as they tore through flesh and bone to reach the brains within. It felt amazing, that dance I did in near darkness, limbs moving faster than they ever had before. Like quicksilver trapped in a dancer’s lithe form. Slash. Twist and rip free. Stab and kick. Metal glinted like fireflies with knives lashing outwards in a blurry whirlwind. My body SANG with strength and speed, more alive like I’d ever felt before.
What a fucking rush.
It was almost a disappointment when there was nothing left to kill. Bodies lay in broken piles atop jagged stones and exposed rebar made slick with black blood. A few rips and tears marred my black jeans and tee-shirt but the flesh beneath remained untouched. Hunger gnawed faintly at my stomach but a breakfast bar tamed it nicely. Apparently the extra strength and speed required fuel, just like the healing.
Both cans had drained inside the hole while I fought and the scent of diesel tickled my sensitive nose. I grabbed them both and jogged down the road towards the fire station, intent upon refilling them again with whatever fuel remained inside.
The front door had been left unlocked when the others fled. I stuck my head inside and had a good, long sniff. Nothing smelled out of place so I entered cautiously. My foot caught on something stretched across the floor and the world exploded in a blinding flash of light and thunderous sound before I could utter a single curse at my carelessness.
I laid there blinded and deaf, white lights dancing across my vision as both ears filled with an incessant ringing. There was no pain beyond the sensory overload and I could feel concrete rub across my stomach as I ordered my body to move. Growling, I rolled under a desk and took out the HK.
For several long, agonizing minutes I laid there, forcing myself to breath slowly. Willing myself to be invisible. Gradually my eyes corrected themselves while my hearing returned by drips and drabs. There was a pair of boots in front of my face when I opened stinging eyes. Others were in the building, their voices barking out ‘clear’ as they swept through each room.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I counted to thirty and slowly opened them once again. Details were clearer. Grinning, I quietly slid my knife free and slashed outwards, taking the screaming man down by tearing through the backs of both knees. The knife blade reversed itself and rammed under his jaw, cutting a helmet chinstrap and leaving him there to gurgle blood.
Boots were running towards the scream’s source, muted thumps along concrete floors. I stayed put, waiting until two pairs of knees came into view. The HK barked out a quartet of shots, blasting first through kneecaps and then startled faces as they came into view.
And still I waited there, safely tucked away beneath a desk with three bodies bleeding before me, forming a wall of Kevlar-wrapped flesh. Ears still ringing, now from my own gunshots fired in close confines, I strained to hear anything beyond the heartbeat thumping loudly in my chest. Outside came the soft whosh-whosh of a helicopter’s blades. Silence otherwise.
Sniffing the air, I cautiously crawled from beneath the desk and stalked through the fire station’s empty main floor. The scent of urine hit me full in the face as I neared the backroom’s door. A man’s voice prayed softly behind the wooden barrier while spotlights danced outside.
“You’re not gonna make it outta here. You know that, right?” I asked, crouching down against the wall and lighting up a cigarette. “Unless you do what I say.”
The voice that replied sounded young, squeaking in a combination of fear and puberty. “What do you want? Please. I don’t want to die.”
“Three are dead. You make four. Anyone else in the building?”
“No. We were across the street waiting for the flash grenade to go off.”
I nodded and took a moment to enjoy my cigarette, cracking my neck in darkness as the boy’s sobs grew louder. “What did they tell you about me?”
“You were infected but the virus mutated and changed you. Made it so you heal really fast. Something to do with stem cells. They told us you’re a highly skilled and extremely dangerous murderer.”
“Hmmm. That’s flattering. How’d they know about the stem cell thing?”
“From a doctor. They rescued her from some college hospital in Storrs a few days after everything fell apart.”
“Ah. Knew I should’ve just killed her. Oh well. Live and learn.” I chuckled darkly and shook my head as the sounds of a land vehicle approaching grew louder. “Ok sparky. Few more questions and then I’m gonna leave.”
“How many came with you all together?”
“Umm. I think twenty.”
“Well. There’s the pilots. Only one of them was in the military. A few police officers. Some sailors from the submarines but most of them stayed at the Vineyard.”
“Wait. Ok. How many swinging dicks with guns do you guys have? On the island and everything?”
“Counting me? Around thirty.”
“Thirty? That’s all you guys have? Are you fucking kidding me?” I was laughing as I stood up and headed towards the three dead bodies. A quick search confirmed their uniforms were mismatched and poorly fitted. One had an M-16. The other two had AR-15s. “And here I thought I was gonna be fighting an army,” I murmured softly before heading back to the backroom’s door. “Ok kid. How old are you?”
“Oh for fucks sake. Stay put for an hour. Keep your head down and don’t panic when you see a bunch of zombies outside. Just shoot the Runners.” I shook my head and ground the cigarette butt into ash.
“Please don’t kill everyone. We’re barely surviving as it is. No one really wanted to do this.”
“Yeah. We’ll see how it goes. Those birds got any munitions?”
“Just the Blackhawk.”
“Alright. Hope I don’t see you around.” With that I went up to the third floor and peeked outside. The helicopter flying overhead was the little news bird, fluttering about with its spotlights shining brightly. They fell on a red pickup truck as it drove down the street towards me. Six men were in the back, rifles pointed outwards.
“Well this is anticlimactic. I don’t know if I should feel relieved or offended.” Grumbling, I grabbed a radio and the M16 from one of the dead bodies and made my way out the back door, leaving the empty fuel cans where they lay. Brick rubbed against my back as I slid along the walls, slowly heading towards the office building at the road’s end once again. A few gunshots rang out in the darkness.
I let the truck pass my position and waited until the men in back had scrambled out before shuffling across the street slowly, like a zombie. No one paid attention to me as I made my way into the old apartment building’s ruined shell. Once out of sight, I checked the M16 and got the Desert Eagle ready. A road flare was tossed down the hole and a blast of heat followed the loud ‘whoosh’ when fuel caught fire. Spotlights were on my position a heartbeat later.
I laid down among the piles of dead bodies and waited until the little helicopter passed overhead before raising the Eagle. Three shots thundered into the darkness, crossing the distance and slamming into the metal flooring beneath the pilot’s seat.
Shouts rang out from down the street as the news chopper nosedived towards the center apartment building. It didn’t have far to fall, spinning blades shattered against brick walls and sending metal splinters out in all directions. Someone fired their weapon in a full auto burst as the ground shook from the helicopter’s impact. It crashed through the roof and exploded in a spectacular ball of fire. Glass burst outwards and showered the street in a tinkling rain with razor edges. A man cried out in pain.
Something brushed against my boot and I looked down to see a large, hairless rat; its flesh wrinkled, sickly gray and shot through with black veins. Its milky white eyes stared at me as little teeth gnawed on my boot. I kicked out and shook it off my boot, then noticed the horde. Hundreds of rats poured from the hole, running from flames that licked their skeletal frames.
I ran. Zombies and humans I can fight. Hundreds of undead rats? Not so much. More were running from the central apartment building as it burned, minor explosions sending shrapnel and flaming rodents screaming like comets through the air. A rock to my left burst from a missed shot and I spied the gunner lining up for another.
“Zombie rats!” I yelled. He lowered his gun and looked around.
They didn’t swim along the stream that ran down the road’s center. Instead they crawled just beneath the surface, looking for all the world like bluish-gray salmon moving upstream to spawn. One of the men shouted and started firing his shotgun in a circle around his feet. A few others hopped back into the truck. The M16 I carried spat out two rounds and two tires deflated as I ran straight past the panicking men. Someone put a hole in my shoulder before I dived into the lake, hoping zombie rats couldn’t swim or float.
A series of deep ‘wulf-wulfs’ rumbled from the place where Maliqe had been, vibrating the ground and sending mice and men flying off their feet. The rats recovered faster, swarming over flailing forms that cursed and screamed. Dirt and concrete exploded outwards like a miniature volcano. Fire rose high into the dark sky. It puzzled me as I treaded water and men died. Until I remembered the boilers. Apparently the fuel oil tank for the apartments were under the building that fell on Maliqe and I.
I swam to shore again and climbed up the bulkhead behind the fire station. None of the men were left alive by then. They’d been reduced to zombies whose flesh and clothing bulged and writhed from the rats feasting beneath. This was a problem I didn’t want to deal with. Rats and clowns had always freaked me out.
“Who’s in charge of this clusterfuck?” I asked over the dead soldier’s radio. A voice answered pretty quickly.
“This is Major Dobbson. Is that you Jaeger?”
“Yup. Listen. You need to get those people out of town ASAP. Rats got ahold of Maliqe’s body and now they’re zombies. Zombie rats. One bite and you’re done. The men you sent down here are toast.”
There was a moment of silence before he replied again. “You sure?”
“Look. I know you guys came here to get me. That ain’t happening. Maliqe’s body just went up in that explosion. You’re down nine men and one helicopter. That’s what? One third of your total roster from the island?”
“I copy that. Are you sure they’re all dead?”
“You got one kid still inside the fire station. This isn’t an extraction any more Major. It’s a rescue mission. If you care one little bit about saving what’s left of the human race, you’ll get those people out of town.”
I knew that sigh. The one that came across the radio then. It was the sound of an exhausted man with nothing but ugly options laid out before him.
“Copy that. We’ll pick up any survivors and the remaining solider from the fire station’s roof.”
“One more thing Major. If you guys ever come after me again, I’ll get a bag of these rats and swim to that fucking island of yours to personally infest the whole place. Leave me and mine alone before you become a problem I need to fix. You copy that too?”
“Yeah. I read you Lima Charlie. Dobbson out.”
The fire station’s floor was a seething mass of shriveled rats when I tried to get inside. The kid was dead meat. Chunks of my legs and leather from my boots were flopping around as I dashed towards the van. Helicopters were in the air, circling the town with spotlights blaring, attracting the rats that had followed me. Neither of the birds paid me any attention as I tore down the road and headed back to the asylum. Rockets were lighting up the sky in my rear view mirror, fireballs climbing high as the Blackhawk emptied its payload on the streets below.
I hailed Jake Brown on the CB and gave him a brief rundown on what had happened. His voice was shaky when he replied.
“How the hell are we going to stop rats?”
“Don’t know. I suggest you get food, fuel, clothes and weapons loaded up quick and move out. They might not cross the lake but I wouldn’t take the risk.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Swing by to pick up Hope, then head back to help you guys pack.”
There was a sense of relief carried in his reply. It made me frown. I still didn’t want to be a leader. Still didn’t want the responsibility. A huge weight had been removed from my shoulders when I pulled through those gates. Now it was settling down firmly once again.