This story was written exclusively for and first published by Swedish Zombie the best zombie site in Sweden! I was honored to have been featured on Jonny Berg’s site in the form of an interview and this short story. I also want to say a special ‘Thank You’ to amazing Stacey Turner for editing A Simple Evacuation.
A Simple Evacuation
By Jason McKinney
There’s no such thing as a simple anything. I have to say that right off the bat. My name is Corporal Henry “Hank” Phelps and I was an infantryman with 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division based atCamp Pendleton,California.
I was short on time, which meant that I was two months away from my enlistment being completed. That was before the world flip-flopped on me.
I was 22, had a Volkswagen Jetta and a bank account with what I hoped was enough cash to survive in the civilian world until I could find a job. In all honesty, at the time I was considering signing up for another four-year enlistment. The re-enlistment bonus was quite attractive and the benefits pretty okay too. Regardless, I was coming to a crossroads in my life even then.
That philosophical crossroads could’ve been what brought me to this moment. You see, I’m dead, or rather undead, and this is my story.
28 Aug 2010 started out as a normal rest day for me. I woke up, reported as present, got breakfast and then spent my time in the recreation room, hanging out with some of the guys from my platoon. My best friend, Corporal Daniel Hobbs, and I were watching the news about the Pelican Flu epidemic that was sweeping the nation. The media kept reporting that the situation was under control and the only major problems were sporadic flare-ups of civil unrest.
Hobbsand I took that to mean civilians were becoming antsy to get the nearly depleted government provided inoculations. It was almost a given that the feds would run short on doses for John and Jane Q. Public.
“If I’d known some civies wanted the shot so bad I would’ve given one of them my place in line,” Hobbs was a funny man but only up to a point. I loved him dearly, but he had a habit of making bad jokes at even worse times.
“That makes two of us, dude.” I watched the horribly shot footage fromOhio, of people clamoring after an Army convoy that looked like it was leaving in a big hurry. Several of the people in the mob broke away to chase after whoever had the camera. The video cut out quickly before we could see what happened to the camera guys.
“Did you see that, Danny? I swear some of those people didn’t look too good.”
“They’re panicked, Hank. They want the meds and we’re not giving it to them fast enough.”
That’s not exactly what I’d seen before the footage ended. I’d said the people didn’t look too good but what I meant was that they looked like shit flavored death on a cracker. The few faces I could make out had dark circles under the eyes, drawn cheeks and they shambled in what looked like a drunken run. I didn’t get the chance to tellHobbsthat though.
“They looked like zombies to me.” I turned to see our squad leader, Sergeant Steve Cassidy, standing behind us. “I’m just saying.”
He didn’t say anything further. Cassidy walked off to watch our resident self proclaimed DJ, Lance Corporal Lester Marks AKA DJ Lance, bust some break dancing moves. Marks was in my fire team and he could break dance like no one’s business. At that moment, he was busting it to Sinead O’Connor’s Tom’s Diner. He could groove to any beat he was so good. That day though, he was missing some beats.
I watched Marks momentarily before turning my attention back to the television. I didn’t like what I’d seen any more than I liked Cassidy’s remark. Almost every state had Pelican Flu infection rates of 50,000 or more. I was scared but I didn’t want anyone else to know it.
Danny looked a little worried too, though he covered it with his usual smartass mouth. “You really think those people were zombies? I mean, some of the chicks in that shot were hot even with being dead and all.”
“You’d stick it in pudding if you thought it would wiggle. Besides, what do you care? Not like we’re going to be involved in any shit like that. That’s straight up Army work. We fight, nothing more.”
“Bullshit Hank. You know damn well we do humanitarian detail whenever a tsunami or earthquake or some shit like that hits anywhere.”
“Haitiand Japandon’t count, dude. That was on foreign soil. Here, it’s all National Guard, Army Reserve or the regular Army that handles that mess. We’re expeditionary force, Danny. How could you forget that little fact about the Corps?”
“What? Have you forgotten the LA riots back in ’92? 1500 of us went out to put that shit down. WE did that along with the Guard.”
“That was before our time, Danny. Damn, man. We were what? A year old when that happened?”
“Marine Corps, baby. What happened to the Corps in 1992 or 1792 affects us just the same.”
“You’re not helping the cause for me to reenlist.”
“You’re a lifer, Hank. Nothing but a straight up lifer. You’ll do your thirty and then -”
“Second platoon!” called our platoon leader, First Lieutenant Jenkins. “Square yourselves away in full 782 gear and move to the arms room! The regiment is being mobilized! Report to the Regimental area in thirty minutes.”
Jenkins always had a lemon-sucking look to his face. The man had a habit of popping up out of the ground like a menstruating wraith. He was always in a pissy mood and we usually paid for it with extra physical training or a field operation. We’d doneIraqtwice andAfghanistanonce and were still kept on a razor’s edge for combat training. Jenkins always motivated us by saying, “You will not be running toward the sound of the guns. You will be running through the shooters themselves.” A real motivator that guy.
“Ooh-Rah, going to town,” I scoffed, making my way to the room Danny and I shared.
“Could be worse. We could have the Flu.”
I should’ve known the day was going to be shit. It was a bad enough omen when Marks began sneezing earlier that morning. The omen appeared again once we assembled in the regimental area. A third of our platoon was missing. First and third platoons also had a noticeable amount of Marines missing. I didn’t care about the other two companies in our regiment. All that mattered to me was mine.
I went to Cassidy to ask him what was going on. As a squad leader he should’ve known just a fraction more than me. “Where in hell is everyone?”
“Out sick Corporal.” Cassidy was all business at that moment. He had his ‘look’ on and I knew it was bad.
“Come on, Cass. A third of the platoon is gone and just as many in first and third.”
“They’re sick. Got the goddamn flu or something.”
“Fucking hell,” said Marks as he joined us. “I think I got it, too.” He sneezed and it was gross. What flew out of his nose was thick, yellow and had a weird smell to it. A clump of it hit the deck at our feet. Cassidy and I both jumped back. It was the largest snot wad I had ever seen. I almost pulled out my gas mask. I didn’t want to catch that shit.
“Jesus Christ Marks! What the fuck is wrong with you? Get your fucking ass to sickbay.” Cassidy snatched Marks’ squad automatic weapon away from him. “Go on now. Get.”
“I’m fine…” He sneezed again.
Cassidy spun Marks around and gave him a kick in the rear. “Get to sickbay, dumbass. You’ll infect the whole company. Now freaking go!”
Cassidy turned to me, thrusting the SAW into my hands. “Corporal Phelps, you’re automatic rifleman now.”
“I’m a fire team leader, Sergeant. How can I be the AR too?”
“Improvise, Hank. Freaking improvise.”
He walked off to find Lt. Jenkins, I think. It didn’t matter at that moment. I was now stuck with a belt fed weapon and an assault rifle, which meant more gear for me to hump. That wasn’t going to happen. I reported back to the arms room and turned in the SAW. There was no way I was going to get stuck with that hog.
I arrived back in time to hear our briefing from Lieutenant Jenkins.
The northern part ofSan Diegowas caught up in civil unrest similar to what we’d seen on TV. Our mission was to assist evacuating innocent civilians from the city center to an FOB twenty miles west ofSan Diego. From there, the evacuees would be sent somewhere safer. It was nothing more than a simple evacuation, a real piece of cake.
Hobbsstood beside me, listening closely. He looked more than worried now. Cassidy’s comment about zombies had wormed its way into his mind. He kept muttering to me that Cass was right. I kept telling him to shut up.
Five minutes later we were loaded up and airborne in Sea Knight helicopters for the thirty-five mile trip south. Our orders changed while we were in route. Training dictated that I mentally review the new objectives. New orders were that we’d be reinforcing the San Diego Police Department and the National Guard units already deployed against the escalating riots.
“Everything was fine an hour ago,” yelled PFC Quinton Lurch. He sat across from me looking more curious about the situation than anything else. “How’d this happen so damn fast?”
“Hell if I know! All we have to do is stay focused on the matter at hand. In two days tops we’ll be back home laughing about this shit.” I couldn’t tell him that I’d been paying attention to the news for the past week. Tens of thousands of people across the state had been showing up at hospitals sick with the Pelican Flu. Until now, the unrest was nothing the local police couldn’t handle. The Guard had been deployed four days earlier to assist with the influx of sick. I should’ve knownHobbswas right, but what can I say? I’m an optimist.
We were briefed five minutes after touching down about large portions of the population rioting at various hospitals across the city. Our job was to disperse the crowds. Martial law had been declared nationally, before we landed, so the situation had become dire. See what I meant by no such thing as simple?
I couldn’t get over the fact that we were to disperse the crowds with live ammo. It seemed a little extreme to me, but again I’m too optimistic.
First contact came after we arrived at San Diego County General. The crowd was in the upper hundreds and we were nothing but a company, 130 men in all. It wasn’t hard to tell that we had our job cut out for us.
We rolled up in Humm-Vees and five-ton trucks with two light armored Piranha fighting vehicles as support on people that looked worse than what I’d seen on the news.
The crowd had the hospital surrounded and was clamoring to be let in. Someone had blocked off the entrances with ambulances and police vehicles, preventing the infected from entering. At the time, I assumed that the hospital had run out of room for any more sick. Boy was I stupid and wrong.
“Return to your homes.” The police cordon’s prerecorded message shouted to the crowd. “Return to your homes. Martial law has been declared. For your own safety, return to your homes.”
We formed a skirmish line, staring down hundreds of sick and scared civilians. A mix of SDPD, San Diego Sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol, in riot gear, stood between the civilians and us. We whispered among ourselves at the mix of people we faced. I saw more than a couple of law enforcement and military combat uniforms in the mob. Some were cops in riot gear like the ones in front of our line and the Army or National Guard personnel in the crowd still wore their war gear. The flu seemed to be spreading faster than we were aware of or were comfortable with.
Portions of the crowd closest to us turned and looked at us in a combination of confusion and disbelief. Who could blame them? Regular military forces had been called out to deal with them. All these people wanted were shelter and protection. I was sure their only demands were an answer to what was happening, a place to go and maybe something to eat. So… why were soldiers and cops mixed in with the civilians?
I was closer to being right about their wanting something to eat than I knew.
“Look!” There were moans from the crowd. “Food!”
“Food?” Lurch looked to me. “All I’ve got are issued MREs.”
“I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about,” said Cassidy from further down the line. Son of a bitch gave me a told-you-so look. Should’ve fucking listened to the man. He was right eight times out of ten on everything.
Jenkins told Cassidy to lock it up. ‘Lock it up’ is Marine speak for ‘shut your fucking mouth’. It was then the crowd turned on us. The police loudspeaker continued its unheeded automated request as they walked towards us. It was painfully obvious that no one was heeding its warning to return home.
“Fix bayonets,” commanded Lt. Jenkins. The snap of bayonets being fixed to rifles has always sounded nice to me, but at that moment it was sickening.
The cops in front of us began shouting orders for the crowd to disperse. A few did as they were ordered, giving us hungry rejected looks as they moved away. The majority kept coming towards us. The cops linked shields before the human wave hit.
Immediately they swung their batons at whoever was close but it wasn’t enough. The push forward was brisk and showed no signs of letting up. Some civilians went down from the baton blows and didn’t get up. A few got back up and started biting at the blue line that separated us.
“Forward, march!” called our company commander.
“Stupid mother fucker thinks we’re on parade or some shit.” It was a stupid thing for me to say but it was the only comment that came to mind. The police line was down before we knew it and we marched steadily towards the chaos.
I gagged a little at the smell accompanying the civilians. It wasn’t a strong odor of rot, but it was definitely there. It was like someone had left wet hamburger out on a counter for a couple of days. The stench was the start of decomposition and not the middle stages, but it was still pretty nasty. We collided with them, trying to hold them back but how can you do that when they’re trying to eat your frigging arms and hands?
“Do what you can to fall back!” Somebody down the line from me ordered. I didn’t look to see who gave the order. I really didn’t care at that moment. Our guys were falling left, right and center and escape seemed like the best idea.
I’d grown tired anyway of forcing people back by kicking them in their groins and knees. Those I hit didn’t seem to even feel it. The people I bayoneted in the chest acted no differently from those that I’d kicked.
One of the civilians even looked at me and said, “That tickles,” as I twisted my bayonet into her chest. I popped her three times with my M16. She fell back, screaming at me as another civilian stepped on her head, taking her place.
That’s when I took a serious look at their faces. Most of the people were pallid gray and looked liked they’d died a couple of days earlier. Some looked only recently deceased, like the color was still draining from their skin. Those were the ones that suddenly froze in place and fell over. They were trampled in the rush to get to us. The whole thing was freaky to see.
I had three civilians pulling at me. They tried to wrestle me to the ground, but I was too pissed off to allow that. I hit two with the butt of my rifle and shot a third in the head at point blank range. Something goopy hit my face and my left eye started burning. Hindsight’s always 20/20. I should’ve worn my gas mask. The screams of anger and gunfire tripled then.
After that our line broke. We retreated down the street in a mad rush to get away. As I fled, I looked back to the vehicles that had brought us. Marines were trying to escape in the trucks and Humm-Vees, but the occupants were pulled out– screaming in terror. The eight-wheeled Piranhas couldn’t use their 20mm guns and the undead looking crowd was swamping them too. I don’t know what happened to the men inside and I am ashamed to say that I didn’t care at that moment.
“The Arby’s is open.” I heard someone scream. “Get into the freaking Arby’s!”
We ran in, screaming, “US MARINES!USMARINES!” But it was pointless. The place was empty.
Cassidy turned out to be the ranking noncommissioned officer in our group. He ordered us to fortify our position against an inevitable breach.Hobbshad escaped too and he kept asking if anyone had eyes on the lieutenant. No one, not even me, answered him.
I’d seen Lt. Jenkins go down moments after the civilians closed on us. I couldn’t bring myself to call them zombies then. It all seemed impossible. We’d had people trying to bite us and a few were screaming apologies as they tried to sink teeth into us. I told Cassidy what I’d seen. He didn’t take the news well at all. Cassidy went into a tangent about being in charge and started kicking everything that wasn’t nailed down.
His mood didn’t bother me. I was dealing with my own problems. The burning in my eye was becoming increasingly painful. The blurriness in it was steadily getting worse as well. I made my way to a sink in hopes that I could clear out whatever was there. I rinsed repeatedly but nothing gave relief. I was about to return to the front when I heard soft mutters coming from the manager’s office. I was surprised to findHobbssitting at a chair in front of the desk, wrapping his arm.
He turned in surprise, aiming his rifle at me. He scared me just as much as I’d scared him.
“What the hell are you doing, Danny?”
“One of those fuckers bit me, Hank.”
I knelt beside him, looking at his wrapped bicep. The blood seeping through the bandage was hard to hide.
“Looks bad, dude.”
“You think? Fucking zombie bit me and now I’m going to fucking turn into one.”
“Bull. You’re not going to turn. You’re going to be fine. We’ll call for a medevac and get you out of here.”
He looked at me in a way he never had before. He was pissed beyond belief. Pissed and scared. “What’s wrong with your eye, Hank?”
“It’s fine. Just got a little bit of crud in it. It’s nothing.”
“I call bullshit on you, buddy. It’s inflamed like hell and the iris is seriously dilated. You got infected, too.”
I couldn’t look at him. We were both fucked and we both knew it. I admitted so to him, resigning myself to let whatever happened happen.
“Crowd’s closing,” shouted someone from the front. “Hostiles coming from the right flank, forty meters and closing fast!”
Hobbsand I ran to the front and took up position behind the counter. The smell of the sandwiches sitting under the hot lamps was both inviting and revolting. I knew the sweat running down my face was from a fever and not exertion. I could feel myself getting sick and I wondered ifHobbsfelt the same. He was sweating too and I wouldn’t have taken a bet that he was just overheated from running.
There were twenty-three of us left and we all held our collective breath as we hid. The crowd still numbered in the upper hundreds and I saw that familiar uniformed faces had joined with the rest of the crazed populace.
Jenkins and our company commander, Captain Gillareist, stumbled past the doors with ten other Marines from the company. They looked like they hadn’t been bitten as much as chewed the fuck up. There were neck wounds, arm wounds and one guy even had half of his face ripped off. Silently, I watched the sad procession from around the corner of the ordering counter. I could smell the fresh blood and the new wounds on the recently infected. I hated that the smell made me hungry. It was another sign thatHobbsand I were boned.
Some of the crowd took turns peering into the restaurant before plodding away. A few of the lookers didn’t move on until after a few long moments of staring. Those lookers simply peered longingly through the windows. I swear that more than one of them had seen me. I ducked back, breathing as softly as I could, praying that I hadn’t given away our position.
Stupid me couldn’t stay hidden. I had to see more. I unsnapped my helmet, got prone to the floor and looked out again. I had enough field of vision in my good eye to see that a couple of the zeds had retrieved Jenkins. Jenkins had his hands cupped against the glass, searching for any signs of life. His eyes went wide when they locked with mine. I wanted to move back but I couldn’t. His milky gray stare held mine.
He looked left and right to the other zombies before looking back to me. Secretly he held a finger to his mouth, telling me to remain silent. With his hands back to cupping his face I swear I saw his mouth move. “I’m sorry.”
It wasn’t hard to see that the undead were nothing like movie zombies. Jenkins was arguing with them. I could hear him shouting in slurred speech at the others to move on, which they did, but only grudgingly. They wanted to go in, but he and a few other guys from the company stopped them.
The crowd moved on, but Jenkins and six undead Marines stayed behind. They conversed with each other before Jenkins turned, writing ‘Semper Fi’ on the dusty glass. He and the others shambled away after that.
We whispered to each other, asking if it was safe to come out of hiding. For fifteen minutes we argued in whispers like scared second graders. Our radioman, Lance Corporal Devers, took the initiative and crawled to the door to check. He gave the all clear and we wasted no time in coming out.
Cassidy was on the ball that day. He called for anyone that had been bitten to step forward and as luck would have it, onlyHobbswas. It was a matter of semantics for me. I hadn’t been bitten and I sure as hell wasn’t going to step up and say, “Hey, Cass! I’m infected!”
As it turned out I didn’t have to say anything. Cassidy could see my swelling, crusting red eye from across the room. “What happened to your eye?” he asked in a less than playful tone.
“It’s nothing. I got slapped in the eye with something. I’m fine.” My mind cried, liar as my eye itched and throbbed and the vision blurred further. My heart felt like it was racing at a thousand miles an hour. My head seemed like it was about to explode.
“You’re infected,” said someone next to me. I was about to turn toward the voice, but the world went black.
It was night when I woke up to find that I was flex cuffed back to back withHobbs. Whoever tied us up had been kind enough to one: leave us without putting a bullet in our heads and two: position me facing the door. Down side was, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move at all. I tried my damnedest to move something, anything, but I couldn’t. My entire body was stiff like I’d been dunked in concrete. My vocal cords wouldn’t work either. For all intents and purposes, I was a rock.
I tried to take a deep breath, but that didn’t work either. I was awake and alert but I couldn’t breathe! How was that possible? Oh. Wait. I know how it was possible. I was dead. I correctly assumed at that moment that Hobbswas dead too. I wasn’t sure how dead he was though. I didn’t know if he was dead dead or undead. Turned out he was undead like me.
Staying awake for over 48 hours in a living capacity is a bitch. You do anything to keep your mind occupied and focused. Staying awake for over 48 hours while undead and suffering from rigor mortis is even worse. At least if I’d been able to move I would’ve spent time on actually putting my plans for getting loose to action instead of just making them.
I knew it had been over two days thatHobbsand I had been tied together. I watched the sun rise three times and set twice while the smell of burnt roast beef sandwiches and overheated fries filled my nose. If I could’ve puked I would’ve. After the third sunrise I was able to slightly move my arms. Oh my God was I ever fucking grateful for that.Hobbs’ moaning was a plus, too.
“Where are we?” He moaned in the same slurring patterns that Jenkins and the arguing civilian zombies had used.
“Hobbs?” My speech wasn’t my own but at the same time it was. I sounded like a zombie and that made my coagulated blood colder still.
“We got the red ass beat down,” I groaned.
A scraping noise drew my eyes to the front doors. Apparently zombies had been stopping to peer in at us and then had left, ascertaining that we were worthless. Thanks for nothing, people.
A little girl, about eight I think, was staring in at me. She was a cutie and she waved at me before her zombified redheaded mother came for her. The mother began chewing her a new one about something, so I guess the girl had gotten away from her. The father shambled to them and started talking down to the girl, too. The whole time they read her the Riot Act she pointed into the Arby’s at us. The father looked in and saw our predicament. He then got very excited and calmed the wife down as he pointed to us.
I have to give the guy credit for brains. Instead of trying to break the glass, he tried opening the door first. Guess what? It was unlocked.
“Are you guys okay?” the dad slurred as he walked towards us.
“We’re cuffed! Can you help us?”Hobbsshouted right into my ear. Being undead takes a toll on your sight but it improves your hearing. It was likeHobbswas using a damn megaphone next to my head.
“I’ll cut you loose.”
The father went to work on one cuff with his pocketknife, and the mother on another with a knife she’d found in the kitchen. I could say that the time it took to get us free was excruciating, but that feeling had passed me by a while before.
I’m not above saying that I gave them all kinds of thanks. They could’ve walked by like the rest, but they didn’t. That made the whole damn family my heroes.
“What the situation outside?” I asked.
“It’s a mess,” answered the mother.
The little girl interrupted, saying she was hungry so the mom took her to look for something to eat. Truth be told, I was pretty freaking hungry too.
“The city’s overrun with pulses. We were on our way to the safe zone when my daughter saw you guys. It only seemed right to help you guys. You’re the ones fighting for us after all.”
“What do you mean the city’s overrun with pulses? What’re pulses and what safe zone?” askedHobbs, confused. “Thanks for the assist and all, but what are you talking about?”
The father shot us a crossways look. His face brightened, as much as a zombie’s face can brighten, with realization. “You guys are newly undead aren’t you?”
“We’re not undead,” I answered defiantly. At that point in time I didn’t want to admit it though it was obvious that we were. They didn’t try to eat us, but I was still in denial at the time.
“You keep thinking that, Corporal. In the mean time, you need to get your shit together and make it to the safe zone.”
“You serve?” The guy knew my rank right off and only another Marine or a sailor would know what ‘Cpl’ on my chest patch meant.
“I was a Marine once. ’93 to ’97, 2nd MarDiv, my MOS was 2311.” The dad’s undead chest puffed out. He still had the pride and I loved him for it.
“Well Ooh-Rah, Devil Dog but that doesn’t help our current situation.”Hobbscould be an asshole when he wanted to be and he was being one then.
“Lock it up, Danny. Look, Mr…”
“Edwards. But you can call me Chris.”
He held out his hand and I took it. Like it or not, the guy and his family were our best bet for information and any hope of surviving, such as it was. “Okay, Chris. We just want to find out what’s happened since we’ve been here.”
The wife and daughter returned and the daughter was nibbling happily on a chunk of raw beef. The sight of the bloody meat was tantalizing and I almost ripped it from her hands. I didn’t have to though. The little dear, Sarah was her name, saw my drool and hungry stare and willingly shared it withHobbsand me.
While we ate, Chris and his wife, Tansy, filled us in on what we’d missed. The family hadn’t been bitten. They’d passed away, one after another, from the Pelican Flu. I was thankful that they didn’t know the pain of being devoured alive.
Even with that little blessing, things were hard enough for everyone. The world was a mess and the undead were fighting back. Whole battalions were being turned and the majority that came back was fighting to establish what was now being called the United Zombified States ofAmerica. The name was catchy and I remember hoping that it would stick around, which it did.
Forming an undead nation was the only thing the zombified politicians did right, but they couldn’t quite agree on how to go about defending an undead populace. Politicians like to say they lead, but when you come down to it, all they do is bitch and moan about regulating this, that, or the other. The question remained, who would lead a nation of zombies in the battle against human oppression?
The answer came by way of Colonel James Durbin. Colonel Durbin took different units in his area of operations and formed them into the 1st Zombie Expeditionary Brigade. That’s all it took, one motivated officer in the south taking initiative to protect what he saw as citizens in need. It wasn’t 24 hours later that various undead units in the nation followed his example and set up defensive lines and shelters for undead Americans. Durbin was appointed the officer in charge of the United Zombified States of America Theater of Operations. The only requirement to serve in the United Zombified States military was to not eat humans. You couldn’t even lick one.
You see, Colonel Durbin mandated that stranded humans receive safe passage, if they wanted it, to human shelters via USZ military escorts. A lot of zombie military forces were intent on protecting the living, while a few had no interest in humans past being steak tartar. Personnel that ate people were summarily executed. While zombies protecting humans was a noble idea, I wondered if could work?
Honestly, I was okay with it, for the most part. The more Chris told us, the more I wanted to get back into the shit and actually make a difference. I signed up to protect people and only kill when it was needed. All and all though, the thought of a warm person underneath me, sating the need, was appealing.
ButHobbsasked the vital question, “Can WE not eat people? I mean… I’m pretty fuc… freaking hungry.” He spoke exclusively about him and me. To be fair it was a good question. I was fairly confident that we could keep each other in check. Fairly confident meant I was 85% sure. Don’t judge us, man. We were only human once and we were only zeds now. You know, that whole bird’s got to fly and a zombie’s got to eat thing.
“I’m willing to try.” I looked down at the little girl that had noticed our plight. It wasn’t hard for me to decide to fight for good people that just happened to be undead and good people that were in a shit situation. Again, what can I say? I’m an optimist.
I found our weapons and quickly realized that we had no ammo for them.Hobbsand I didn’t have one round or magazine between us, though that didn’t deter us. We had to make it to the safe zone. All we had to do was cross fifteen miles of ruined city to the undead military lines. It’d be like a walk in the park, right?
We walked into the nearly deserted street. Only a few undead wandered around. Most avoided us and a few nodded to us as they trekked toward promised relief.
“Wait here.” Chris limped quickly to an abandoned Toyota Four Runner. From the back, he pulled out a rather hefty older woman. I had to blink several times to make sure I was seeing a living person. My first reaction was that the family had been bringing her along as food, but I was wrong. She was Tansy’s mother and she had a purple tint around her that I couldn’t believe was there.
Turns out, humans have a tint identifying their health and eating habits. Purple means overweight and boy did that purple look delicious. I started to drool and so didHobbs.Hobbscaught himself salivating first. He slapped my arm to get me to control myself.
“You’re not going to eat my grandma, are you?” Even undead, Sarah was so damned adorable.
My stomach knotted against the raw meat I’d eaten as I said no and promised that I wouldn’t even think about it. I meant what I said, but I didn’t tell her that it would be damn hard not to think about it.
“This is Donna, my mother in law.”
I licked my lips as I shook her hand. It was so warm and inviting. She was overweight, sure, but meat was meat and she looked good. I upped my personal restraint. Donna’s family was proof thatHobbs and I could resist the urge.
Hobbsheld the handshake the longest. I’d like to think it was because he was enjoying the fire but I’m sure he was thinking the same as me. We got the introductions out of the way and began our long march.
The city was in shit shape and for the first time, in as long as I could remember, I was scared. Terrified actually. The undead feel fear too so don’t think otherwise.
Hobbsand I looked to building windows and rooftops for snipers as we walked. I didn’t like admitting that I had died and come back, but that’s what happened and I didn’t want to die permanently.
More than once, I checked my throat for a pulse only to be surprised that one wasn’t there. Also, I wasn’t sweating and I got the distinct impression that I could feel how cold and tight my skin was.
Feeling has a new meaning when you’re one of the walking dead. Things have more of a pressure kind of feeling than an actual sensation. I don’t know if I can explain it any better than that. It’s almost like having your entire body numbed by Novocain. You know the cold, heat or injury is there, but you can’t feel it and whatever it is you’re feeling, isn’t slowing you down. That’s the only thing that comes close to describing the feeling of being undead.
Time also takes on a very different and noticeable meaning. While alive, you would’ve said there wasn’t enough time in the day to get stuff done. That phrase vanishes when you’re one of the ‘heartbeat challenged’. You don’t need sleep or food past the new surreal flesh craving. That craving is a lot like being a smoker. You want to quit, but the desire for the pulsing gushing blood and soft human meat between your teeth compels you to eat. It takes a lot of willpower for some to get past it, but for others it’s not a big deal. I used to smoke and I can tell you that like quitting nicotine, the craving passes. After a time, it becomes mental and you get past that, too. I can’t say it enough; it’s a weird feeling but you do get used to it.
The new regard of time as only an abstract construct applied to our travels across the city. The journey as a whole wasn’t that bad. Thankfully, we didn’t have contact with any of the still living military forces, but we did have a few run-ins with zeds looking for a meal. Donna was too beautiful a target to ignore.
The first couple times we ran into groups of three to five, they shambled to us moaning for their share of the meat. Chris would put himself between the shamblers and Donna, whileHobbsand I aimed our empty weapons at our would be attackers.
We moaned or slurred, “Move along”, “Keep back”, or “Don’t do it” more than once. Usually, whoever approached would slink away, convinced that our weapons were loaded. Our luck ran out twice when someone who knew weapons called us on our lack of magazines.
The first encounter was nothing but angry bickering, but the second was worse. Two women and their children approached us with bludgeons, intent on taking our living refugee.
“Keep back, ladies or you will be shot,”Hobbsroared. It was the liveliest I’d heard his voice since we’d been resurrected.
“That gun’s empty,” said the woman closest to us. “You can’t shoot us with an empty gun. Do you think we’re stupid?” She yelled at us, and if I’ve learned anything by being in the Marines, it’s that I don’t like being yelled at for no good reason.
“We’ve got one round in the chamber each and that’s all we’ll need to make your kids orphans.” I looked through my advanced combat optical gun sight at the second woman’s forehead. I think I would’ve shot her if I could.
She was a mess. Her pants suit was bloodied and her left forearm had been gnawed straight to the bone. I silently gave thanks that I didn’t look that bad. Of course, her attitude wasn’t prize winning either.
The other woman closed in on us faster than the first. She looked no different than me except that she was wearing a Hello Kitty nightgown with a pair of red Reeboks. She died in bed and I bet she was happy about that. I’m willing to bet Hello Kitty woman wasn’t grateful for the rifle butt to the jawHobbsgave her.
“Get back!” The polymer stock ripped away skin and muscle. The blow had knocked out a few teeth. The hit sounded like a cross between hitting a wet tennis ball and someone chopping dry meat. It was nothing short of disgusting. “You’ll stay back or your kids will watch you die a second time!”
That was Danny, all smooth and diplomatic.
Momma Business Suit stopped in her tracks. She looked to the three kids in horror at the threat.Hobbsand I may not have been able to fire on them, but my buddy had proven that he was willing to beat them to their final death.
“We just want food!” The struck woman screamed. Her jaw made ratcheting bone on bone noises as she spoke. It was like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.
I looked at the children, two girls and a boy, all between the ages of seven and ten. One girl wore a set of dirty but un-bloodied pajamas adorned with cute kittens, while the brother she clung to wore ripped jeans and a Captain America t-shirt. They stared at us, horrified. The second girl was dressed in Spongebob pajamas. She stood alone, staring at me with a defiant look.
It was that girl that affected me the most. No one had ever looked at me quite like that. To her I was the Boogeyman, the bad guy from the closet made manifest that wanted nothing more than to kill her and her mother.
What would Captain America do? I thought as I lowered my weapon. How could the world have done this to someone so young?
“Look, we don’t want trouble. We just want to get to the safe zone, that’s all.”
“So you can kill more of us?” Momma Business Suit wasn’t making things easy. “You’re one of us for fuck’s sake!”
“We’re Marines,”Hobbssaid, stepping in. “We don’t kill for the sake of killing. You hurt an innocent then you get popped. That’s how the world’s always worked.”
I heard the sharp click of the hammer of his M4 hitting the firing pin. If he’d had a round in the chamber he would have killed the undead woman for sure. Momma Suit heard the click, too. Her mouth dropped open before taking a brave step forward.Hobbsattached his bayonet to show her that being stabbed in the head was a good route to experience a bad day. She stepped back and called for her friend and the children to join her.
“Let’s go,” I said to our group.
We moved slowly by them. The girl in the Spongebob pajamas held her angry glare as we passed. The big brother continued to hold onto his sister as they stared at us with hurt eyes.
“You can follow us to the safe zone. There’s protection there for everyone.” I watched them while walking backwards. I hoped I was right and that Chris wasn’t operating on assumptions or misinformation. I’d be pissed if he were wrong.
The butt stroked woman spat what little blood mixed saliva she had in our direction. It was pretty clear that we wouldn’t be seeing them again anytime soon.
The sun went down almost unnoticed by us undead as we exited the city limits. Donna on the other hand was getting nervous, not to mention becoming a pain in the ass.
She kept bitching pathetically about how bad her legs hurt and that her back couldn’t take anymore walking. I know that sounds mean, but it wasn’t like she’d begun complaining once the sun sank. She’d been grousing since we’d linked up with her family at the Arby’s.
More than once,Hobbsand I looked at each other, whispering about leaving her to make her own way. We didn’t, because that’d mean leaving Chris, Sarah and Tansy behind, too. The four had better odds of surviving with two virtually unarmed Marines than traveling alone with a mother in law that moaned more than we did.
We took pity on the old lady and camped for the night underneath an interstate overpass. Chris covered Donna in newspapers and cardboard to prevent her sweet purple glow from advertising our position.
“You got your night goggles?” askedHobbsas we sat down for guard duty. He pulled on his own and looked around. “Fuck me these make everything worse.”
I pulled mine out and looked through them.Hobbswas right. Everything was bright to the point of blinding. It was like wearing them under sunlight. My eyes were almost recovered whenHobbscalled out contacts eighty meters away and at eleven o’clock from our position.
I looked to where he pointed and saw a group of eighteen bright tints. It was a band of humans making their way in the same direction as us. They looked so goddamned delicious.
I could tell that four of them were armed and that one was military like us. I stole a look around. Tansy and Chris were looking at them, too. Chris peered back at Donna and I could see the gaping look on his face. He glanced to me and I did my best to give him a don’t-even-think-about-it look. I felt the same way, but if we were to give in to the urge then the trip would be worthless.
I chuckled as Tansy turned her attention from the humans to him. She punched him pretty hard in the shoulder and I heard some glass rubbing on bone as the blow landed. Her wrist looked damaged after that, but it was just a matter of popping things back together and she was right as rain.
We watched the red, orange, yellow and purple tints fade away. Even the sickly yellow one looked tasty. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one looking at them in hunger. I know everyone that felt the hunger that night was male. The females seemed to have had stronger willpower than we did. We three were so tempted. We didn’t taste though.
Sarah crawled under Donna’s cardboard and paper blankets and cuddled with her. I thought the girl was about to eat the old lady, but all she wanted was to be near her grandmother. It was a sweet moment in a world gone bat shit.
Tansy crawled to the resting pair and stood watch over them. I think she was protecting the old woman from us as well as comforting Sarah. Dead or alive, mothers never seem to change. They only want what’s best for their children.
At the first hint of the sun, we were on the move again. We walked along the empty highways and I marveled at the amount of people that had decided to leave at the same time. There hadn’t been much in the way of blood, until we got a mile into the traffic jam.
The stains of lost bodily fluids were on almost every car, van and truck. It looked like the infected had caught up to the humans and had a field day buffet. It was horrible to see.
A mile later we came across the first scenes of battle. Destroyed tanks and military vehicles lined both sides of the highway. All were facing the north, which was the direction we were heading. Someone had napalmed the living hell out of everything. The worst to endure was the smell of melted rubber and blackened flesh and bone.
Charred bodies numbered in the hundreds. It was difficult to determine who was military or civilian, living or undead, or even who’d done the bombing. At the end of the day, a bomb, or bullet doesn’t discriminate.
Tansy blindfolded Sarah so she wouldn’t see the carnage and carried her through it all. We could’ve gone around it, but it would’ve added travel time Hobbs and I felt we didn’t have. We walked among the truly dead and Donna kept muttering, “Oh, gad” the whole time.
“Who the hell’s ‘gad’?” I asked, stopping by a soldier’s unburned body. He had six magazines for my M16 and Hobbs’ M4. We split them evenly, feeling better that we had something potent if we needed to fight.
“Gad is my mom’s way of saying God. She thinks that saying God in anyway will be a mark to send her to hell.” Tansy explained.
“Oh.” I didn’t say anything past that. My opinions were my own and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing them. If there was a God, I was sure He’d sent the Pelican Flu as a way of thinning the herd.
It was another two or so miles before we cleared the motorway battlefield. There were abandoned vehicles still around, but the amount was nowhere it had been. Having open space made me feel a lot better.
That feeling didn’t last long. Shortly thereafter, we had Blackhawk helicopters and Chinooks fly overhead. We couldn’t tell who they belonged to and I hoped they wouldn’t call in a damn air strike on our heads. Two Blackhawks flew a lazy pattern over us for a few minutes as we hid inside various abandoned vehicles. Hobbs and I watched intently for signs that the door gunners might get trigger-happy. After a while, the helicopters flew away, leaving us uneasy as to whose side they were really on.
I called for us to move out and we began our journey once again. Hobbs and I were working on a heightened sense of situational awareness. An ambush could come at any time from anyone, and we wanted to be ready.
The sun became low again, and we were sure we’d have to find shelter, when someone yelled at us to stop where we were. The yell scared the shit out of me. They sounded human, but so do we if get overly excited. One thing was sure; the person yelling was just as jittery as I was.
Hobbs and I hurriedly got the civilians under cover and we took up fighting positions and I called my challenge.
My challenge was met with a challenge and so I identified myself. I felt great relief when the yelling voice was joined with a familiar face.
Lieutenant Jenkins stepped into view and was followed by Lance Corporal Marks and Private First Class Lurch. All three were very undead and that made me very happier still.
“Where have you two been?” calledJenkins as he clumped toward us. “Last I saw of you two idiots you were in an Arby’s and alive.” He held out his hand. I was ecstatic to shake the shit out of it.
“Well, we got infected and found these civilians.” I motioned to the family behind me. “Mr. Edwards here told us about the defensive line here and said it was a safe zone.”
“It is. It’s safe for her, too.” Jenkins looked to Donna. “You’re safe now ma’am.” He shook her hand, though she was reticent to take it. “We’ve got food and water for all of you, human and undead alike.”
That was the best news I’d heard since the whole mess started. For the first time since we’d left Pendleton I felt safe and thought that everything would work out.
Lurch and Marks got us acquainted with our new platoon in a hurry. There wasn’t much to the platoon per se, but it was something to fight along side. Sergeant Cassidy was there and greeted us with a shame-faced expression. He showed us a couple bite marks on his neck but didn’t look to worse for wear.
It was Cassidy that had us trussed up like a couple of prize pigs going to slaughter. He didn’t have the heart to order our deaths and even had to fight a couple of guys to keep us ‘alive’. He hadn’t expected to see us again and it showed. I think it all worked out for the best.
Jenkins was right. There was food, though it consisted of raw beef and pork. It wasn’t the best in the world, but it stopped the gnawing in our bellies. I felt better once I ate.
The safe zone had the odor of slow decay, and the humans, who numbered about 150, were kept away from the undead so they wouldn’t be bothered by the stink. Donna was happy to see people with a heartbeat. She ate the nasty human prepared food with great relish. I can’t say I blame her. She’d gone several days without eating so even the Meals Ready to Eat were pretty scrumptious to her.
Hobbs and I were reloading magazines when Jenkins came for us. As the saying goes, no peace for the wicked, no rest for the undead.
“We’re heading back out.” Jenkins pulled a piece of meat from the tray I’d set aside. He spoke around the wad of food in his mouth. “There’s living civilians in the convention center that need rescuing. The living Army’s going to gas the entire city and they’ve refused to get any civies out. It’s up to us to save them.”
“Is there any chance of hostile contact, sir?” I asked, slapping a mag against my hand. I felt a crack in the bones when I did it, but stretching it seemed to get whatever happened worked out.
“Always a chance, Corporal. Hell, don’t worry about it. It’s a simple evacuation.”
I grimaced. A simple evacuation was what had landed us in this mess in the first place. It didn’t matter though. I was back with people I loved, doing what I enjoyed.
“Roger that, sir. Let’s get some.” It was clichéd, but it was how I felt. The job was what I loved and I could do it for the rest of my unlife.