Hide and Seek

As a child playing hide and seek, Rhine never could have known.

That one day the prize at stake would be a life, his very own.

You need a spot, a hidden spot, quickly it must be found.

It must be perfect, it must be right, the hunters will be around.

They have arrived; they know you’re close, because they can smell your fear.

Don’t make a noise, don’t you dare breathe, for they will surely hear.

But you must breathe, and so you inhale the slowest breath you’ll ever take.

Breathe in deep and slowly let go, because the silence mustn’t break.

So long ago, you played this game, some fun to pass the day.

Not knowing that, this very day, death is hunting you, so pray.

They are at the door, your spot is found, their moans convey their hate.

For Rhine’s small squad, five men in all, death was at the gate.

The door caves in, splintered wood and nails, there is no place else to hide.

Rifle muzzles flash, the message is clear, “Sorry Zack, we won’t abide”.

Highway to Hell

Rhine was sitting on another rooftop just outside a town called Rawlins, Wyoming. While taking a deep yawn, he adjusted the cheap plastic beach chair beneath him. Everywhere they went it was the same story over and over. Direct refugees and then fall back once Zack showed up. Every single time, just as he thought they were going to be allowed to give Zack a taste of his own medicine, the order came down to pack up and run away. It was frustrating as hell and he wondered if ever they would ever make a serious stand.

Rhine listened to reports from his small teams of Rangers who had established checkpoints along I-80. They were supposed to prevent infected civilians from penetrating the secure zone the government was establishing West of the Rockies. With him sat a new squad of National Guardsmen fresh out of basic training. They had been attached to his unit to help fill the gaps in his ranks but he would rather have left the gaps empty. These kids had been pushed through “basic” and put into service whether they had passed or not. Combat operations took their toll; a broken ankle here, a Zach victim there, every casualty degrading the platoon’s combat strength. Unfortunately while he would have been given fresh Ranger replacements before the war had broken out, now the best he was going to get were snot nosed kids who pissed themselves every time the wind kicked up. One of these kids was his new radio operator; a fresh faced 19 year old girl who should have been rushing a sorority, not carrying an assault rifle.

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Breaking Point

The butterfly walked across the bridge of Rhine’s nose as he fought the urge to shoo it away. The slightest movement or sound would give his position away, but the itching on his face made it hard to concentrate on his surroundings.  He allowed himself the slightest nose twitch to scare the insect away but it did no good.  It was just another annoyance to adding on to a stress level that was close to bringing Rhine to his breaking point. The sound of footsteps moving through the brush to his right caused him to suddenly hold his breath. His hunter was very close and the rise and fall of his chest would be sure to give away his location. The footsteps approached and stopped a mere four feet to his right. Four feet separated him from death and he could feel his heart begin to pump faster as adrenaline dumped into his system. Sweat poured down his face and caused his eyes to burn. The crackle of a radio assured his demise.

“Move four or so feet to your left and that target is toast” came a familiar voice.

The Ranger with the tall spotting stick moved the four feet to Rhine before stopping to poke the bottom of the spotting stick in Rhine’s butt cheek.

“Sorry Sir but he has your ass” The Ranger said while a slight grin while holding up a hand held radio.

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Znakes in the Grass

The heat was incredible, burning Rhine’s face as if he had stuck his head inside an oven. The normal heat of the Afghan desert was complimented by the flames licking up from the burning Humvee. Through the flames, Rhine could see the corpse of one of his men burning in the passenger seat. The head of the corpse suddenly turned to Rhine, smoldering flesh tearing as the neck twisted his way.

“Why did you bring us here Rhine?”

Rhine attempted to bring his M-4 up to fire but when he pulled the trigger nothing happened. The corpse was out of the Humvee now, quickly approaching him as he tried again and again unsuccessfully to get his rifle to work.

“WHY DID YOU BRING US HERE?!?” The corpse screamed in his face.

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Thinning the Herd

The front cab of the M939A2 cargo truck smelled like the Army. It was a mixed smell of metal and  some type of oil or grease. It was comforting and took Lieutenant Rhine’s mind back to more pleasant times in his life; times when the term “Zombie” had only been  a stupid movie gimmick. The jolt of PFC Garner’s knee digging into his back brought him back to the real world.

“Sorry sir, just trying to adjust my stance” Garner said from his position standing on the passenger seat with his upper body out of the cab’s rooftop turret and manning the trucks M2HB .50 caliber machine gun.

“Its fine Garner, I needed it anyways” Rhine said, grabbing his SCAR and opening the door to step out

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Anarachy at the Gates

Rhine watched the wind carry away the cigarette smoke as he stood atop the M1128 Stryker armored vehicle. Below the cliff top they occupied, the highway was clogged with cars and people slowly making their way forward. The only change of pace from the monotonous flow was when every couple minutes a vehicle that had run out of gas was pushed off to the side of the road. Rhine took another drag of the cigarette and stretched the kinks out of his neck.

“How would you like to be stuck down in that mess?” he asked the vehicle’s commander standing in the hatch to his left.

“Ive got eight big ass wheels baby, we don’t need roads like those poor bastards. Matter of fact I have only got this thing stuck one time. We were outside Mosul and pulled off to the side of the road. It was a stupid move. There was a sewage ditch right next to the road and we slide right in. I basically parked us in an Iraqi toilet” the commander said shaking his head.

“So what you’re saying is…..this thing is basically a piece of shit?” Rhine quipped.

Both men laughed at the joke but abruptly cut the laughter off as they heard the sound of something scraping along the side of the Stryker. Rhine’s pistol was in his hands immediately and he moved to peer over the side of the vehicle.

“How the hell did you climb up there sir?” Moreno said as he looked up at the men and then at the Stryker as if afraid he would grab something expensive and it would snap right off.

Rhine holstered his pistol and gave the best answer he could think of.” Think “jungle gym” and start climbing”.

Moreno clumsily made his way up the side of the Stryker till he was standing next to Rhine, waving his hand to shoo away a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“I didn’t know you smoked”

“I don’t. Hate the damn disgusting things” Rhine replied “Tonight I just needed something and since whiskey is a “no-no” on duty, this is what I found”.

“What’s on your mind? I can see that brain of yours spinning” Moreno asked, having learned to read his friend’s moods like the back of his hand.

“This whole thing is just insanity brother. This is gonna be bad man; real bad. As a military and a nation, we are up against the ropes. Think about it, never in our history have we ever had our asses kicked like this. I mean hell, we have just given up whole swaths of the country. Entire states just abandoned; it is unheard of. Every day we just fall back further and sacrifice more land. Our biggest cities, our capital, all just deserted. Never; not in the darkest days of WWII or any other war have we ever been invaded and pushed off mainland soil to this extent”

A few seconds of silence greeted Rhine as Moreno digested his words.

Finally Moreno broke the silence “ Well get it back, all of it, we just gotta get out stuff together, you know?”

“That’s not what im talking about” Rhine replied, “Americans have never witnessed this kind of war. They have never been forced from their homes with only the things they can carry on their backs. They have never been forced to march in columns to relocation camps. The only thing they knew about being a refugee was what they saw on television or read in books. The internment camps during WWII were a joke compared to this. These people have absolutely no idea what to do, what to expect, or how to survive. Things are gonna get ugly, real ugly. I’m not talking a couple days without water, power, and food like Katrina bad. That was more of a joke then the internment camps compared to this. I mean things are going to get downright medieval out there. The veneer of civilized society is paper thin man. People at their core are animals and when you take away all the neat laws and pretty structures of life they are going to resort back to that animal instinct. They are going to steal from their neighbors and murder each other over nothing more than a single mouthful of food. Life isn’t just going to be cheap, it is going to worth next to nothing. Americans are going to slit each other’s throats just to live to see the next day. It will be chaos.”

Rhine shook his head in frustration and flicked the cigarette onto the ground.

“ Absolute and pure anarchy. “

Below them the staccato sound of gunfire and muzzle flashes that erupted amongst the refugees seemed to agree.

The Arkansas City Bridge Toll

The Marine Corp CH-53K Super Stallion banked low over the Arkansas River, dodging trees and telephone poles as the thirty members of Lt. Rhine’s platoon sat in the back holding on for dear life. Rhine pulled himself to his feet and made his way up to where the pilot and copilot were weaving the massive helicopter at tree top level.

“We are five minutes out, better get your boys up and ready! We won’t be touching down, the refugees will swarm us if we do.” the pilot yelled.

Rhine slapped his shoulder and attempted to walk to the back of the helicopter without falling on his face as the CH-53 took another hard turn. The thirty Army Rangers under his command had been tasked as the sector’s quick reaction force, or “QRF”. They were the stop gap force for the defensive line along the Arkansas River; being deployed and re deployed to fill gaps all along the line. They had received a replacement Lieutenant to take Rick’s spot after evacuating Dallas, but he had not lasted long. He had been fresh out of West Point and full of piss and vinegar when he showed up to take command while the platoon was holding a blocking position North of Oklahoma City. It was too bad he didn’t have the common sense to go with the book smarts that had got him through “The Point.” As his second in command, Rhine had warned him not to venture off on his own for any reason. While Rhine was away assessing their squads positioned along the defensive line, the Lieutenant had gone off on his own to take a dump in private. He never saw the Z that came stumbling out of the bushes right into him until its teeth sank in to his shoulder. When Rhine reached his position, he found the ghoul dead and the Lieutenant bleeding heavily from a gaping hole in his shoulder. He was sobbing but it took a lot less for Rhine to put a bullet in his head then it had the lady at the bank. He had felt no sympathy for the man. His stupidity has cost him his life and even worse, all the gear and ammo that he had been carrying was now infected and useless. Even still, Rhine felt like every time he had to put someone down he lost a little bit more of himself. With the Army now running dangerously low on officers,  Rhine had gone from being a 26 year old Sergeant First Class to a twenty six year old 2nd Lieutenant via battlefield promotion. It was not exactly how Rhine had hoped to earn his Lieutenants bars but then again, nothing these days was anything close to ideal.

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Welcome to the War

Lieutenant Rhine hated Syracuse. He hated everything about it; from the arrogant people he was sent here to protect to the winter cold that made bones ache down to the marrow. In hind sight he knew that he should never have agreed to lead this operation, but the deal they had offered was too good to be passed up.  He thought back to how this all started and how he came to be standing on this rooftop in the Eastern United States. Actually what a stupid thought that was, this wasn’t part of the United States anymore.  Zack owned this turf now.

Rhine remembered the frantic rush to get back to the states. Back then, his main concern had been how many Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters he could send to  meet Allah or driving down some crappy Afghan road, praying the Cougar MRAP or M-ATV vehicles he was riding in didn’t hit an IED and blow him all over that particular stretch of road. Feeling that he had more him in them what his Sergeant First Class rank allowed him, he had applied to and been accepted to Officer Candidate School and was supposed to head out as soon as our tour in Afghanistan was finished.  Next thing he knew, he and the other members of the 2nd battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were packing and loading their gear on to waiting C-5 Galaxy transports to be moved back stateside. His long awaited and prayed for transfer to OCS was put on indefinite hold. The Department of Defense was in full panic mode and trying to rapidly get as many men and as much material back home from overseas bases and areas of operation.  Huge convoys moved men and material by air and sea in a race against time. Things were falling apart back home and the DOD knew they would need every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine to handle the coming crisis. Rhine had been in contact via email with his girlfriend at the home they shared in the East Bay Area in California. Sightings of the infected had been steadily growing and the police were losing the ability to keep up with the threat. Stateside active, reserve, and National Guard military units had been deployed but it just wasn’t enough. There was just too much area to cover and the units were spread too thin. All across the globe nations who had military forces abroad were recalling them and abandoning their foreign military commitments. The U.S. had held out from doing so for as long as it could, but America now needed her defenders home . He wasn’t too worried about his girlfriend; she could handle herself just fine. Their house was very safe security wise and he had built up a collection of handguns, hunting and civilian legal assault rifles, ammo, gear, and non-perishable food and water. He and his girlfriend knew that if things ever got bad one day, they would only be able to depend on themselves.  A lot of people had thought they were slightly paranoid and that all of it was a waste of money. It was starting to look like those people were eating their words now.

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