He walked with a limp in his right leg. That was the first thing they noticed. The second was the calm clarity and certainty with which he spoke. Later, but not until much later and separately, they would figure out that he timed his meeting so that he would be alone with them in the long hallway between the Terminal and the B-Concourse. Even with his limp and the fast clip at which Slater walked, he’d have them exclusively for thirty seconds.
“Captain Slater, Miss Brooks. You have a problem.”
“Thanks for bringing that to our attention, buddy. Take a number. We’ll get right on it.”
“Well, actually, you have several. To be specific, those problems are 400,00 plus or minus 15,000, seven days, forty, too damn many, January 9th, plus or minus two days, and democracy.”
Clipboard, Slater, and Brooks sat at one side of the conference table. Court had been going quickly that night: two curfew violations, three fence violations, one robbery, four brawls, and one indecent exposure, which had been dismissed as a simple misunderstanding. They were waiting for the last five cases, who would be tried all at once for what Brooks called Kreznerkrime, urination or defecation outside a latrine. Those five would each get six hours of community service for their crime against public health–and were the most likely to be defended by Schick.
“You know, it’s funny. With all these Monday night court cases, we’ve never had a single accusation of rape or sexual assault,” said Slater. “Maybe this outbreak has been bringing out the best in people.”
“Give it time,” replied Brooks. “People will never change. Men will never change. Trust me.”
They both looked at Clipboard, whose face registered a momentary flash of discomfort before an instant return to his normal unperturbed placidity. Most people would not have noticed. Slater and Brooks were expert poker players.
He noticed they were staring at him. He cleared his throat and quietly said, “I don’t think that we’re going to have a problem with rape in the Zone.”
“I told some guys in Corpse Corps the story of Oneball Johnson.”
I threw my rifle to the ground as I fell to my knees and burst into tears. My hands covered my face, so all you could see were the X’s on my hands. Flea stood behind me and kicked my ass. She told me “you better get the fuck up, you dumb bitch.” She was rather comical, in that kind of sense, even after what I had just done. She was my Hetero-life-partner, the Jay to my Silent Bob, the Cheech to my Chong, the Robin to my Batman. Forever “gerlfrands” we were. But we were never like that. I didn’t realize I had known her my entire life until the invasion.
We were walking Bear Street by the Carousel Mall. We were walking down Bear Street with Eight other people. We were walking down Bear Street with Jeremy, Barf, Alfalfa, Spud, Tiny, Dino, Lardass, Millie, Flea and myself, X. We were walking down Bear Street with ten rifles and 50 shells. We were walking down Bear Street with Low expectations.
The 27th squad slowly approached the gate to Zyracuse central. Clipboard was caught off guard. They were usually one of the rowdier squads that liked to celebrate their successes. Today was different.
“What happened out there? You were due back hours ago!” he called out to Decap as the vehicle slowed to a halt.
Decap just stared straight ahead, “I…I don’t know.”
Clipboard looked over the other squad members to see if any of them were in a happier mood, “How many today? The 24th came across a couple dozen. Can you beat…” His voice tailed off when he noticed that one of the crew was missing. “Wait a minute, where’s Allen?”
Charlie Danton lay in the shadow of an overgrown overpass watching a wide and shallow stream. The road in between was cracked and looked sticky in the July sun. The burned out hulk of a tractor trailer lay on its side further down the road, the skeletal remains of a great beast from some other age. A twisted guard rail sat along the stream’s bank rusting into the earth. Across the stream a lone doe wandered out of the tree line and lowered her head to drink.
Amidst the hanging weeds and vines Danton raised his rifle. He thumbed off the safety and put his eye to the scope. The doe’s eyes drifted along the opposite shore while she drank. Danton stroked her fur with the crosshairs and watched. Birds twittered overhead.
The brush at the doe’s side rustled slightly. She straightened her neck and pricked up her ears. It rustled again, farther down the bank. She turned slightly to watch out of the corner of her eye. It rustled again and she turned to face it.
On the other side of the stream Danton saw her turn and caught sight of her full silhouette. He pulled the trigger. The doe reeled and fell in heap upon the smooth stones at the water’s edge. A small rabbit shot from the undergrowth and darted down the bank before diving into a corrugated drainage pipe. The birds abandoned their roosts and took to the sky.
“Spot!” Wherever that mutt had gone, he was either out of earshot or ignoring him. “Dammit! Spotttt!” This wasn’t good. They were supposed to be partners. Where had that mutt run off to? If he came home without that lousy dog, Katie would have a fit. And if Katie had a fit, Lauren wouldn’t–it was too much to think about. “S P O T T T!”
The winter air was thick and silent. He was only about five miles from Central, and Crosshair’s prediction had been correct. The area was empty except for the occasional corpse on the side of the street. Or in the middle of the street. Zack didn’t seem to care where he froze or what position he took when he did it. Sometimes he or she or it was face-down in the snowbank. It didn’t matter. Grab a wrist, twist, and club. If he didn’t think of them as former people, he didn’t even squint.
His squad had walked to the intersection of Seeley and Salt Springs Roads. This was an area of the city that had held against the encroachment of crack from the west, but failed to hold back against Zack. One mile to his east was the site of the most murders in the city, but all around him was university wealth. His team had spread out, hunting for Z’s. This would be valuable real estate that would yield some bounty once the gatherers were able to move in. That didn’t matter right now, though. He had to find that dog or Katie would be furious.
I should have gone with the others. We heard about the evacuation, but I didn’t go. We had plenty of notice. I had time to barricade the doors and windows. I had to protect my home. It wasn’t the ghouls that I was afraid were coming: I’ve seen the movies and figured I could stop the zombies if it came to that. No, I had to stay and protect my house from looters. I wasn’t about to pack up and move and leave all of my things behind. I couldn’t take my 65 inch plasma with me, so I stayed behind to stand guard. That was the biggest mistake of my life. The rest of my friends all headed west. They figured that they would get away from the heavy population of the east coast. I hope they made it.
I quickly boarded up all possible entrances to my home. The only way in or out was through a second story window that was over the porch roof. As far as I knew, those ghouls couldn’t climb and I needed to be sure that I had an emergency escape route. Next, I had to make sure that I was ready for whatever may be coming. Whether they were trying to steal my PS3 or eat my brains, I was going to be ready. I quickly realized that I didn’t own many weapons; you just can’t kill a zombie with a stereo speaker. I had to improvise. The legs from my kitchen table would work nicely on both the living and undead. The table was one of the few pieces of furniture that I owned that wasn’t made of cheap particleboard. When you’re spending thousands on hi-tech toys, there’s just not much left to buy furniture. I kept two of the solid oak legs by my side at all times, never knowing when I would need to use them.
Clipboard knew something was up as soon as the 18th Squad came trudging down the boulevard. They were moving too slowly. The 18th had been becoming one of the best: they were going out farther and returning with more kills than any other unit. They were cold, efficient, and ruthless—just like everyone else in Corpse Corps. They did not carry guns. They didn’t need to. Their ZEDs—zombie elimination devices—always came back covered in gore.
They were never very loud, but today, they were noticeably quieter. Parker, Uptown, and Vannawhite all piled through the checkpoint and reported their kills. They marched silently on through toward the baggage claim to stow their weapons. Holey came through last.
“How many’d you get, Holey?”
“Sixteen personally. I split a couple with Uptown. Give them to him.”