A thin, miserable rain started falling close to sunrise while cold winds carried fine mist inside the building through broken windows. Along with the scent of wet, decaying zombies. True to form, those rotting bastards never left. Just stayed outside, banging away on stone walls, heavy doors and metal storm shutters that covered all the first floor’s windows. Made one hell of a racket.
George pulled two out of three guards from each nearby Post inside to get some warm food and sleep, despite Olora’s objections. Most everyone had migrated to the cafeteria, safe from the wind and rain. Music played loudly, attempting to drown out the constant banging coming from the windows without much success.
There was a small group gathered around Marley when I left the chowline and looked for a place to sit my keister. She tossed me a smile so I took that as an invitation and moseyed over that way.
“Hey Glen. Were you in the command room when Jaeger made her demands?” Asked the girl next to Marley. “Oh, I’m Mary, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, young lady. And yessum. I was there.” Hot oatmeal and coffee occupied my mouth for a minute or two while she asked her next question.
“So is it true she asked for Olora and George’s heads on a platter and that she’d leave the rest of us alone if we gave them to her?”
I sighed and tried to look stern. Not sure if I pulled it off though. “That’s true. It’d be murder though.”
“Are you kidding me Glen?” Marley exclaimed from across the table. “They sent ten heavily armed men to murder her. And for what? Because she told them to leave her alone? Oh how dare she want to be left alone.”
“Simmer down missy. I ain’t sayin they were right to do that either.”
“Then what are you saying, Glen?” Mary asked softly.
“That two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“So it’d be better to let her kill us all rather than hand those two over?” A young fella asked as he took his seat beside me. He looked dead on his feet and soaked to the bone. A rifle still hung over one shoulder.
“There ain’t no good solution to be found. War’s a messy, ugly thing.” I offered with a shrug. Suddenly my oatmeal just didn’t seem very appetizing and every joint in my body ached something mighty fierce. “I’m goin to catch some shuteye.”
So that’s just what I did.
For about an hour, anyway, before a shitstorm of gunfire sent my heart up into my throat and my balls down to my knees. It took a minute to figure out the racket was coming from outside so I got dressed and armed right quick and headed out into the hallway.
Thick black smoke was starting to fill the first floor while people ran around in a near panic. My eyes watered and my throat burned mighty awful but I could tell what was causing it. Burning tires.
The command room had a pair of large fans pointing towards the closed door when I stepped inside. To that point it was working and the space seemed mostly clear of smoke. Gunfire continued popping and cracking loudly outside as I moved to stand beside George. Together we stared at the wall-mounted monitors.
There was a big heap of burning tires piled up right outside the perimeter fence. Thick black smoke billowed from the melting rubber and drifted right into the building’s broken windows on a cold, damp wind. But that wasn’t what folks were shooting at.
The parking lot around back, where they kept all the military and commercial rigs, had turned into a war zone. Zombies verses humans. Fists and teeth against bullets and Molotov Cocktails.
Damn if I could figure out why. “What the hell’s goin on?”
“Post Four was in a covered foxhole near the fence-line. Pretty wooded spot that’s almost impossible to see unless you’re right on top of it. Long story short, Jaeger tossed a garbage bag full of severed heads and a blaring radio over the fence and right into the foxhole. Between the men shouting and Lady Gaga’s, umm, singing, it attracted a lot of zombies over there.”
“What the hell is a Lady Gaga?” I asked.
George shrugged and shook his head. “Anyway, we managed to give them enough cover fire to reach the Stryker. They’re just about to start it up and turn some zombies into paste.”
“When did the tire fire start?”
“Few minutes after the shitty music.”
A larger flat screen TV flickered on and showed the parking lot, centered on the Styker’s broad side. Smoke flared from its exhaust as the armored six-wheeler’s powerful engine rumbled to life.
“Post Four is ready to roll,” came over the speakers.
At a word from George, relayed through the room’s operators to their linked units, the gunfire outside ceased.
“Proceed Post Four.” George ordered just as Olora stepped inside. She’d silently taken her spot beside him when the APC started to roll forward.
Zombies disappeared under the rig’s big tires, crushed into mangled flesh beneath the vehicle’s sheer weight as it lumbered ahead. A cheer went up inside the command room as zombies were turned to mush.
Until the driver turned left and two wheels fell off.
Apparently he didn’t notice and continued the turn, prompting another wheel to twist crookedly just before the front left side of the Stryker flopped down and started dragging metal onto bloody asphalt.
“What the hell?” George asked, hands clenching and unclenching into tight fists as he stepped forward towards the big monitor. “Get some eyes on there. I want to know what happened.”
A few minutes passed before someone with binoculars made their report from the second floor. “All the lug-nuts are gone.”
“Check the other vehicles,” I suggested. An operator passed it along.
“All gone. All of them that I can see from here anyway.”
“Son of a bitch!”
I joined a half dozen shooters on the second floor and helped clear a path for the men trapped in that APC. Zombies almost breeched the back door when the trio dashed inside. We lost one when he turned and threw himself into the surging horde, sacrificing his life to keep the undead out.
That was our first casualty.
There were two more by nightfall, both guards from Post Three on the main building’s roof. Each took a bullet to the chest as Jaeger showed us she could be a mean sniper. No one had a clue where the shots came from but the results were pretty devastating, both to the men killed and the whole group’s moral. Especially when their buddies had to put them down again as they turned into zombies.
Dinner was a glum, dark occasion that night. Few folks spoke and those that did whispered harsh words to one another. George and Olora’s name came up more than once. I sat by myself to eat cold soup and sandwiches, gaze down into the bowl like most everyone else.
My eyes closed and I must’ve nodded off for a spell. At least until a single gunshot ripped me awake. Heads jerked upwards as a man’s dying screams echoed into the night, clearly heard in the cafeteria’s sudden silence.
Marley, Mary and a few others joined me at my table a few minutes later. I felt a hand press against mine and deposit a folded piece of paper. Eyes stayed locked onto my face as I tried to subtly take a peek at what I’d been given. Wasn’t hard. Not too many words.
“Olora and George. You in or out?”
The screaming outside stopped abruptly as I read. The thud of a body hitting the ground and the crack of bone from its impact seemed louder somehow than the initial gunshot. I sighed and looked around the cafeteria. More than most were watching me expectantly.
“I reckon I’m in.”