Happy New Year, one and all! 2015 had been a good year, and 2016 looks to be better. A lot of us have made great gains in life, while others have stagnated, or have regressed in some way or on something. I fit into all three, as I’m sure a lot of people do. As we make our resolutions to try to better ourselves and our situations, I have vowed to write more than I have for the past couple of months, to eat less and healthier, to exercise more, and to write more than I have in the past couple of months. Thanksgiving is usually where most people stumble and fall when it comes to everything that is good for us, and I am no exception. And that exception was my writing, hence why I said that twice. I’m doing good on the eating and exercise thing, but writing… However, I will do better, gentle readers and fans. I promise you that 2016 will be a better year and that Werewolves of the Dead will be finished, and finished right. I swear it will be done. Until then, Happy New Year, may your dreams and wishes come true in this new year, and know that I love each and every one of you.
The news was filled with more of the usual fluff pieces of celebrity mishaps and wrong doings. To Shannon that was ridiculous. She lamented America’s need for celebrity news every other day, but it had been two days since her asylum encounter. Two days of explaining the cuts way to coworkers, but not Helfron and Greene. Neither had made a visit the diner.
She thought of that as good thing as she finished dressing for work. It was the news that held her attention. She wasn’t surprised to see that nothing was aired about the asylum or unusual, unexplainable killings. The dead police were reported as an ambush by a crazed ex-husband in a suburb but little more was said about how many were killed.
What got her attention was a report of the simultaneous failure of the major social media outlets. All those sites where you could let people know about the bowel movement you just took or that Kyle was seen cheating on Sally with Janet had crashed. It was the work of North Korean hackers working with the Chinese was what the journalists cried. Shannon knew better. The social network crashes was almost unheard of. The United States had developed a culture where the loss of one social networking site was a goddamned travesty, but to lose all of them at the same time… Shannon filed the tidbit away in her mental warehouse while listening to the news as she prepared for work.
At last a report about the flu appeared on the television. Shannon sat on the bed to watch the report. She cared not for being a little late for work even though the diner had been unusually busy the day before.
It was no coincidence to Shannon that the Stork Flu, that’s what officials were calling it, appeared right before half eaten people started to sample non-half eaten people.
A fiftyish-trying-to-look-thirtyish female network anchor talked about the government wanting everyone to be inoculated against the new, potentially deadly flu. “Potentially deadly for whom?” she mused.
The anchor discussed the recent flu related deaths in a it’s-not-that-bad tone that didn’t fool Shannon. She knew, and if she knew the truth then the others outside the government had to have known too. It was just a matter of time before everyone knew.
She scoffed at the reporting until a commercial for a bridal show aired. Fact gathering time was over. She had work to do and money to earn for 9mm ammo. She still had the police weapons in her car and she was sure that before she knew it she’d be able to find 9mm lying around in the streets. That fact didn’t give her comfort and in the days that followed she made several trips to various Wal-Mart’s and gun stores, buying up as much 9mm as she could without looking suspicious.
She stepped out that morning, happy to be alive for a change. The mood shifted once she stepped onto the sidewalk leading to the diner’s door.
A line of military vehicles, loaded with soldiers and accompanied by tanks, barreled down the distant interstate. Overhead a score of military helicopters flew in the direction of Tucson. She knew enough to see that the missile racks were fully armed.
Her heart grew cold at the sight. It grew colder still when she found out that their regular law enforcement clientele was absent.
Greene and Helfron never came for breakfast the next morning either.
Neither did they come in the next day, the day after or even the following seven days. Other members of the highway patrol stopped in for a quick coffee or bathroom break. None would, or maybe couldn’t, comment on Steve Greene or Douglas Helfron’s whereabouts.
Their absence was welcome. They had a soft spot for the diner’s staff. They would have been sure to ask where the cuts on her face had come from. It would’ve been more out of who-roughed-you-up concern than did-you-get-that-jumping-out-of-a-third-floor-window style questioning.
Helfron wasn’t above stepping out of his law enforcement roll to take down someone that hurt a friend. She’d often gathered from him that he was of the law, but not above doing what the court system wouldn’t. Shannon didn’t think that movement away from serve and protect included vigilante style killing.
Still, neither officer appeared for days. More and more Shannon became worried about their safety. The memories of what she’d seen in the asylum didn’t help ease her mind.
Even two weeks in the past the memory of the asylum stung. Her fear from that time had almost been replaced by total paranoia. The paranoia always came with the thought of moving on to another state. She cast that aside. It didn’t sit well with her and she couldn’t help but wonder why she couldn’t bring herself to leave for new killing grounds. Were they friends? It had been years since she’d had anything like that. Maybe, she thought, it’s because you don’t have to worry about that John Law has its sights set solely on finding you. For the first time she knew that law enforcement had bigger things to deal with than her killing hobby. All in all though one worry was forgotten and replace with one far worse. She was stunned to find that herself examining every patron closer than ever.
On a day threatening rain relief exploded into her mind as she saw Greene and Helfron’s cruiser pull into the parking lot. But not parking in their usual spot in front of the diner. To Shannon it seemed like they were intentionally trying to avoid having their presence detected.
They entered the diner, surveying everyone as they went along. The only clients in the diner were a couple in their mid forties, and two young college aged women. Both groups had stopped off for a bite to eat and had planned on being on the road after filling their stomachs.
Both Greene and Helfron kept a hand near their pistols as they studied the two couples. Neither of them acted like they wanted them to get close. Maintain the perimeter was the saying, and they might as well have been screaming it.
Shannon wondered that if trouble were to come from the diner, who would bring it.
Neither officer was happy. Neither spoke of their absence. Both men were reticent to discuss anything as they sat absentmindedly picking at their food.
They chose a table that allowed them to survey the entire diner. It was far and away from their usual table. The usually talkative Greene sat sullenly before his breakfast. He picked at it, eating a bit of scrambled egg here and there. He left the majority untouched. Shannon wasn’t the only one to notice that his face looked gaunt. He’d lost weight as had Helfron.
Rose broached the subject but was brushed off by them. Both men were on edge and kept looking nervously at their watches.
Their attitude worried Shannon. Worry gave way to fear once Shannon realized that aside from the jukebox, the diner was quiet. Neither Helfron nor Greene’s police radio’s were turned on.
Shannon’s right hand itched for her 1911 pistol. Worse was that her left was itching more in anticipation of the change. Fear crept into her heart; it was fear of the blatantly, obviously, wrong.
Deidre approached the table, engaging the officers in conversation. Both were short but not rude. They dismissed her with a wave and short excuses of they were just tired.
She approached Shannon to discuss what was happening when three military Humm-Vee’s stopped in the parking lot. “What the fracking hell is that,” Shannon asked, dismayed to see more troops at their little eatery. “More soldiers?”
“They’re Marines,” answered Deidre in a curious tone. “Up-armored Humm-Vees sporting fifties. They’re not playing.” She looked to the Helfron and Greene and back to the gathered military vehicles. Both men were noticeably edgy. They stared at the vehicles with trepidation. Helfron’s hand went to his pistol in a subtle motion. Somehow Shannon knew that if Helfron started a fight with the new arrivals he’d lose in a big way.
Greene reached across the table for Helfron’s arm and nodded slightly. Helfron pulled his hand from his pistol but continued staring at the Marines.
The military vehicles kept their formation, and stayed parked parallel to the diner. The gunners in the lead and last vehicles kept their machine guns trained on the left and right respectively while the middle vehicle watched the road. A single Marine climbed out of each vehicle. They gathered together, conferring while glancing around and at the highway patrol cruiser before entering the diner.
The three Marines, two men and one woman, stopped and looked around. They saw Helfron and Greene and made their way to the table. The five talked quietly before leaving the table.
Shannon, Deidre, Kelsey and Rose went to the door. Greg kept his place in behind the cook’s window. His eyes were wide with awe and worry. He loved guns, but never had the guts to own one. To see big ones was a rare treat for him.
Shannon and the others watched as the Marines talked with Greene and Helfron. None spoke. They stared quietly at the meeting before them.
Helfron walked to the back of the dinner. Greened remained, talking easily to the Marines. He gave a laugh, which loosened his face but for a moment. The paranoid look in his eyes never really disappeared.
Helfron brought the cruiser the military column. The trunk popped open and Helfron joined Greene and the Marines.
The female opened the back of the second Humm-Vee and began removing ammo cans. Helfron took the cans. He took care to store them in the trunk before helping her remove a large, OD green plastic case. Two smaller cases were removed and placed into the trunk also.
Greene talked more with the Marines before taking a walkie-talkie from one of them. He shook hands with all of them before the three climbed back into their vehicles and pulled away.
Greene and Helfron looked to the windows. In dim daylight they could see the diner employees watching them. They talked between themselves and then moved toward the doors.
Shannon and the others backed away from the door. Worry racked them all. They’d just seen the military give weapons, military weapons, to two state cops like it was an everyday occurrence. Like the old saying went, inquiring minds wanted to know.
Shannon stood at the head of the diner crew as Greene and Helfron entered.
The two stood in the middle of the floor, six feet from the entrance. An elderly couple entered the diner, as Helfron was about to speak. He eyeballed them before whispering into Greene’s ear. Both men looked at the couple as they took a booth. Helfron nodded to Greene, and then Greene spoke.
“Rose, Shannon, everyone,” Greene addressed the diner with his hands akimbo. “Helfron and I are deserters. We left our posts five days ago and been on the run ever since.”
Rose gasped, clasping a hand over her mouth. To her desertion was still a hanging offense. “How could you? Get out of my restaurant,” She bellowed. “Now!”
Helfron held his hands out. “Rose, calm down. You gotta hear us out, okay? Go on, Steve.”
Greene took off his hat and brushed his hand through his sweat damp hair. “Tucson was overrun five days ago. It was all Denny and I could do to get out alive. It’s a damned sight worse than you think. We know you guys don’t go into town much so we had to come here and stock up and let you all know what’s going on.”
Helfron was blunter in telling what was going on. “Everything south, east and most of west of here is overrun. The Marine base outside San Diego is on the verge of being overrun. Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the border of north of Tijuana are gone. The new outlets are lying, and if you’ve believed it then you’re a fool.”
Helfron’s words confirmed the unusually heavy traffic of the past two weeks. Numerous families had stopped in, grabbed a hurried meal in what seemed like paranoid silence, and then quietly left. A mental fire had been lit to the rear ends of those people, and it had made Shannon and the others uncomfortable. The men’s’ words added a narrative Shannon could have done without.
“What are you talking about,” asked Greg. Shannon smelled marijuana and fear all over him. It turned her stomach when his odors mixed with the troopers’ anxiety entered her scent cone.
“Zombies , perv,” answered Helfron. “Now shut up. I really don’t want to hear any more from you. The rules have changed, and I ain’t of the mind to be civil to your ass.”
“Zombies? You boys been spiking your morning coffee?” asked Rose. Her hands drifted to her mouth. Her face fit the scene of a horrific accident than a mom and pop diner.
“He’s telling you the truth, Rose.” Greene spoke up in a hushed voice. “If you’re smart you’ll pack up and head for the hills. Things are falling apart.” Greene spoke in low tones. His face looked tired and his expression was sad.
“You guys need this,” Shannon said, handing them cups of coffee fixed how they liked it. “What’s going on, Dennis?” She took a seat, intent on listening to anything they had to say.
Greene stared out of the window, into the dusty street for any stumbling stranger, or strangers on the road. “Let me tell her, Denny. Please.” Greene didn’t take his eyes from the expanse outside.
Helfron looked at his partner and clapped him on the shoulder before telling him to go ahead. He joined Shannon in the booth, dropping his sweat stained hat on the tabletop. He rubbed his face with hands that trembled from a severe lack of sleep.
Greene sat at a table beside Shannon and Helfron’s. He popped his neck and knuckles before speaking. “We were on a checkpoint at the Rosedale city limits, screening for anyone sick to make sure they could get care. It started out okay, no fuss, no crying from people being pulled out by the military.” He gulped down the coffee, ignoring its scalding nature. “By day four our checkpoint was augmented by Bradley Fighting Vehicles from Fort Shelby, and an Army major informed us that the flu was getting worse, and that the feds were going to begin doing a town by town clearing for contagion. ‘It’s still your show, Officers,’ that prick had said. Yeah, as long as we did things their way. Next thing you know our medical personnel was being sent back to the rear and we’re turning everyone back. Sick, well, young, old, didn’t matter. ‘We’ve instituting quarantine and will be setting up a combat support hospital’ or some bullshit was what we were told next. Day five turned to day seven, and no doctors or medical folks showed up, and soldiers began patrolling the streets, pointing their guns at anyone moving around in the open. Like they were keeping folks in for the soldiers’ protection, and not the civilians, you know? On day eight the Army dogs told us what we already knew; the town was officially cordoned off, and at that moment we were under DOD authority. First time I ever reported to an officer without wearing digicams. Anyway, day nine was worse…”
Helfron picked up the story. Greene was rubbing palms into his face; tears could be seen between his fingers as he rubbed. “That was the day they came at us. Full force, hundreds of them.”
“Who came at you, Dennis?” said Deidre, scoffing. “The military? You make it sound like we’re under attack or been invaded. It doesn’t sound like zombies to me.”
“A zombie invasion is what it is, Dee. I swear to God.” Helfron drank greedily from his coffee. “It seemed like most of the damn town came shambling to us. ‘You may want to get the hell out of here,’ one tanker said to me before he buttoned up. Next thing you know the infantry started popping off some warning shots, actually killing shots, into the head of the mass, but it had no effect. Oh you could tell a few had taken the hits for all the good it did. That’s when the Bradleys’ Bushmasters opened up, shredding the ones in the way like cheese. It’s not pleasant in any sense of the word once 25mm rounds hit a tightly packed group of people. It was a slaughter at first. Rosedale had a population of around twenty thousand, and it felt like all of them were coming down on us. The Bradleys couldn’t maintain sustained fire, and the grunts are only trained in center mass kills. They might as well have been throwing rocks.”
Rose was incredulous. She couldn’t believe any of what she as hearing. “You fired on Americans? Oh, Steve, Dennis, how could you?” “They were already dead, Rose,” said, Greene, looking out the window. “Yeah, they’re Americans, but their undead Americans, and they wanted to eat us. We ran like hell, so did the Army. Some of the armor waded into them. I guess they were trying to run them down. All I know is the zombie bastards swarmed the ones that didn’t run. And the infantry that stood their ground, stupid brave dumbasses to a man. Those Americans swarmed them too, and I swear to fucking God that they were eating them.”
Kelsey had been silent till that moment. “Why aren’t we being told about this? Oh my God, Rance is at daycare. I gotta go get him.” She bolted for the door, but Helfron rushed to her and took her arm.
“I’m coming with you,” he said, fixing her with a firm look. “We’ll take my car. Things haven’t fallen apart so much that the light bar is useless.” He looked at Greene. “Be back in thirty, Steve. Mind the store.” He opened the door for Kelsey and then paused. “Steve, tell them our plan.”
Helfron left, peeling out of the parking lot, siren wailing, lights flashing.
“We’re getting the hell out of here,” began Greene. “We figure we’ll…”
Rose interrupted him. “Where did you go after Rosedale?”
“We reported in at our command center, got debriefed and told not to say anything about what we saw, and then got sent back out. Syrus was our next assigne checkpoint.” He drained his cup and asked Shannon for a refill.
Shannon knew that Rose was displeased with their desertion, but she didn’t care. She brought Greene another cup and took a seat to hear the rest of his tale.
“A couple of the tanks from Checkpoint Rosedale got reassed to Checkpoint Syrus. Thos boys were just as shook up as us. Two days after we showed up we were joined by Marines from Camp Pendleton. They weren’t in any better frame of mind than us. That’s when we learned that San Diego had been considered lost and LA was on the verge of being overrun. It was around then that the news media stopped broadcasting contagion info. The day Checkpoint Syrus fell we took off. We rallied with Marines still in the fight. Those were the ones you saw giving us the weapons.”
Rose was spoke before anyone could ask any questions. She was blunt in telling Greene that he needed to leave. Shannon and Deidre came to his defense, insisting that neither man would run unless there was a damn good reason.
“I don’t care,” rebutted Rose. “He’s a coward and I’m not gonna have those types in Herb’s place. You leave, now, or I’ll shoot you like a dog, Steve.” Rose went behind the counter to pull down her late husband’s pistol. Shannon followed her and put her hands on her shoulders in an attempt to calm her down.
“Please, Rose. Don’t. Steve and Dennis had a good reason to run. I’d have run too if it were me.” Shannon’s words had no affect on the angry woman. “Please, Rose.”
Rose refused to listen.
“Damn it, Rose.” Deidre growled, joining Shannon. “What’s shooting him going to do? Prove that he’s lying? Look at him! He’s a wreak. He’s not a chickenshit and neither is Helfron and you know it!”
“You can leave with him, then! I expected better from you, Lieutenant!” Rose had the pistol in her elderly hands, trying to chamber a round. Years of disuse and not being cleaned internally had rusted it to the rails. The weapon refused her intentions. It was as if God was saying that Greene wouldn’t die at her hands.
Greg yelped from the kitchen. His voice sound like a wounded dog as he dropped to the ground knocking a set of pans to the floor.
Angry, Shannon jerked the pistol from Rose’s hands. It took very little of her augmented strength to pull it back. Rust particles flew into the air and the slide squealed in protest to the force of it being pulled back. Furiously she thrust it back into Rose’s startled, trembling hands. “Shoot, then,” Shannon said, raising Rose’s arms, aiming at Greene. “Freaking shot, then, Rose. Only thing worse than a coward is a murderer, right? Haven’t you said that more than once?” Shannon knew she was taking a big risk. At the least the old ammo wouldn’t fire; at worst it would explode in Rose’s hands due to lack of maintenance. “Go on now, pull the trigger.”
Greene eyed Shannon and not the pistol aimed at him. It was her he was afraid of, not the old woman with the gun. He took note of her strength, and the inferno in her voice and will, and discovered that something wasn’t right about her.
“Go, on shoot,” Shannon said, her fury abating. She pushed Rose’s shoulder lightly.
“Give me the gun, Rose,” said Deidre, holding a hand out from across the counter. “Be a dear, and hand it over.” Her words had a soothing effect on Rose. Rose trembled and then wept as she lowered the pistol. In her heart Rose knew that Greene and Helfron had been telling the truth. She didn’t want to believe it. “It can’t be true. Zombies? No, it can’t be.”
“Why not? Herb believed in werewolves. He went to his grave knowing they were real even when everyone brushed him off as a delusional old man. Why can’t zombies exist? Frankly, I know for a fact that both exist.” For one brief moment Shannon was certain that she would unconsciously share her story. She regained control over her emotions. Should’ve left a week ago, she thought. This why I don’t stick around in one place.
Rose walked from behind the counter to Greene. Still crying she hugged him while she cried for his forgiveness.
“It’s okay, Rose. It’s a lot to take in.” Greene stared at Shannon while he and Rose embraced each other. Steve Greene knew what he’d seen Shannon do was unusual and he wanted an explanation.
Deidre went to the kitchen. Another yelp came after the sound of something soft being kicked. “Get up you pansy. Can’t believe you’re hiding under the sink like a pussy. Come on, get up.” Another thump and yelp came from Greg in between his pleading for Deidre to stop kicking him. He stood, rubbing his left side, and he and Deidre joined the others in the dining area.
The two couples had moved under their tables as they watched the spectacle. The husband had been gallant enough to have his wife under the table behind him. The college girls sat pressed against the booth’s seat, holding each other’s hand. “Fuck this, man,” said the blonder of the two. “Tracey, we’re getting the hell out of here and we’re never coming back to Arizona! This people are fucking nuts!”
The girls slid out of their booth, moving cautiously around or between the diner staff and Greene.
“We’re with you!” said the husband, crawling from beneath the table. He held his wife’s shaking hand as they made the proverbial beeline for the door.
No one insisted that they pay for their food. The only person to speak to them was Greene. He insisted that they stay. It was more begging than insisting. He warned them that they should stay. He got a string of obscenities from the college girls and a mixed look of pity and scorn from the married couple. He didn’t care about their reactions. Greene had learned from combat that you couldn’t save everyone. He just as much counted the four as lost.
For the next forty-two minutes they sat around exchanging glances between each other and the deserted landscape outside. No cars went by; no commercial jets left contrails in the sky. Birds were absent and so were insects. Even though the desert sun and heat naturally drove most creatures to shelter, the stillness was unusual.
In the time they sat silent, Shannon thought she heard the dull thrumming of heavy machine gun fire in the distance followed by the crumping sound of explosions. She wasn’t the only one that thought she’d heard the sounds. Greene also heard the unmistakable sounds of battle. He commented on them as well. Greg and Deidre claimed ignorance in hearing it. Rose was too distracted by guilt at what she had almost done to be concerned with battle noises. What all shared was the anxiety of waiting for Helfron and Kelsey to come back.
Fighter jets roared overhead, making everyone jump in their seats. Deidre, Greene and Shannon went outside and looked up. Four Air Force F-16’s split off into two directions before rejoining each other. Moments later the sound of ripping canvas came across the sand, brush, and asphalt. The three knew a gun run when they heard it. Greene grew edgier, and Shannon shared his feelings.
Shannon was confident that everyone could agree that what they were hearing was a fight. She knew that everyone’s worry over Helfron and Kelsey’s mission had just grown exponentially. She tapped her nails against her lips as she pondered her next move. Finally, she decided to err on the side of caution. “I’m moving my car closer,” she announced to the others. “I won’t be long.”
“If you run, make sure you get a full tank first,” advised Greene from behind the counter. He’d found Rose’s stash of Jameson’s and was helping himself to a sip. “Not normally a drinking man, but now…” He took a bigger gulp. “Personally I think we should stay together, but if you want to hightail it out of here I’m sure not gonna hold it against you. I’ve always thought you were smarter than morons like those,” he said, jerking a thumb to the door. He spoke of the four people that had left an hour earlier. He remained convinced that they wouldn’t make it.
“I’m not running, Steve. I’m getting my car closer in case we all have to run.”
“Sure, uh-huh, right.” He took another drink and replaced the bottle where he’d found it.
Shannon threw her hands into the air before walking out. If she didn’t know any better she would’ve sworn that Greene had given up.