In the months since the outbreak, Charlie Mills had seen just about every horrific thing you could possibly imagine. He watched as his wife was torn from his hands. He saw friends kill their own family members. He saw others kill themselves because they couldn’t take it anymore. He became numb to it all.
Charlie found refuge with six dozen others outside Scranton, Pennsylvania. The first months since the panic were not pleasant for Charlie’s group. Each week their numbers would shrink while the monster’s grew.
It was mid-February, and there were now only seven left. Food was scarce. Heat was non-existent. The only consolation prize was that as they sat there freezing, Zack was too.
Before the winter, there was talk of a safe zone near Syracuse. They had even found a small plane and a pilot that was willing to make the trip. There was hope. On the morning of the first planned flight, word came down that Syracuse was overrun. They stayed in Scranton. They died.
Slater and Meaker were sitting on top of an overheated M113. It was dripping something yellow from underneath its shell. The men inside had already found another ride. Like them it would sit there until it rusted. The trip from Albany had been quick but loud. The guys up front had plowed an awful lot of cars off the road to allow the army west. Like the steaming Abrams, they both knew this was the end of the line for them.
“This is a Marine Corps base? And Air National Guard? Maybe those guys aren’t such pussies after all…”
Slater cursed silently as he watched the snaking rivulets of blood and saline wind over the concrete toward the rusted drain. The words of the medic were drowning in a haze of screams and weeping from the young man who lay bleeding and thrashing on the stretcher. A woman with a rag mask stabbed a thick needle through his corps fatigues and pumped him full of something thick and clear and the youth’s cries faded into a pathetic whimper. Slater shook his head as the medic addressed him again.
“Sorry, Doc…repeat that?” He focused on the medic’s green eyes, and tried to ignore the nurse who began to say a prayer through her mask.
The world rippled above the heat of the mid-day tarmac, and even the clouds had fled the sky for cooler climes. It was in these dog-days that even the living began to move like the walking dead — slumped, shuffling, and groaning through their duties. If he had been given the choice, this is exactly how Charles would have preferred to be spending his day. Instead, he was running as fast as his booted feet would take him over the tent-spotted fields outside the airport while trying not to drop his rifle.
He wasn’t the only one—another figure cut a swerving path thirty yards ahead of Chuck. He was moving far more deftly than Charles in shorts and an open Hawaiian shirt, and he only carried a small metal pistol which he used to clear people from his path with manic waves. Chuck didn’t expect the other man to stop running, so he saved his breath and didn’t yell. Instead, he focused on trying to plot which turns he could take to best outmaneuver his fleeing quarry; maps of tents and storage containers flashed through his head as he jumped over crates and discarded machinery. A crackle in his ear made him wince.
“Chuck … where are you?!” The voice whistled through the ear piece and died with a spit of static. Chuck pulled the microphone to his mouth and pressed the button on the side.
“He’s trying to get to the fence … Gonna cut him off … .” His words were clipped with his ragged breaths.
As he ran, Chuck pondered the absurdity of it all—the man had stolen a few bottles of narcotics and antibiotics from the med-center, and now he had to be caught. Chuck couldn’t help but think that this place made oblivion seem awful tempting; he could hardly blame the man.
Father Joseph Tutombu was the only member of Corpse Corps who did not complain about doing disposal duty. The man never, ever stopped smiling.
As a result, Chuck usually avoided him like the plague. There was something suspicious about a smiling priest, especially a foreign-born one. But today was special. Today was the anniversary of the day when. Chuck saw to it that he was paired with the Kenyan expatriate. Someone had to suffer today, and a priest was as good a target as any.
They set the body next to the bonfire. Joseph knelt down next to it and said a few words under his breath before putting a drop of oil on the corpse’s forehead and using his finger to make a cross with it.
He looked at the gray clouds overhead, a certainty in the Central New York sky. “Hey Joe, beautiful day to be doing God’s work, isn’t it?”
The black is oppressive once Brooks cuts the power for the night. No more fans whirring gently in the background or the grind of generators with worn-out carburetors to block out the moans that might be in your head…or might not be. Everyone get so frakking quiet that it makes you sick, and all you can do is huddle in the dark or scurry like rats to the fire pits in the rusty barrel drums that start-up like fireflies back when you could actually spend time outdoors without fear of being eaten.
You can hide in the dark, or talk in the light where things can see you.
Do know the only thing that smells worse than undead? Untreated halitosis.Yes. I’m serious.
All those people, crammed into Zyracuse Central like cattle — everyone scrambling to meet their chore quota, getting ready to cash in their ration tokens, or worse just sitting there, rocking back and forth muttering to themselves. A thousand “survivors” in one place, and not a single one of them had seen the business end of a toothbrush in a year. Let me tell you something — using a plant to scrape the crap off your teeth is about as effective as trying to clear a foot of snow from the sidewalk by breathing hard.
I know it sounds like a small price to pay for surviving the plague, the hordes of undead coming through the state, and the chaos of people going loony with the craziness of it all, but I can’t stand bad breath. Zombies want to eat my brains? No sweat — give me my axe and room to swing, and I’ll be fine. Looters want to break into Central and steal our food? Just point the Corps at them and stand back; everything will be just fine.
Force me to have an extended conversation with someone with rancid, rotting-meat breath and I’m no better than one of the weepers who snap. It’s almost as bad as fresh dead-head.