Lisa was not pretty, but she was effective. She knew it. Sixth squad had never lost a member. They’d been together since the beginning. But today was not going well. The Z’s were coming in faster than the squad could kill them off. Their line had been split by a surge of Z’s. There was no point in dwelling on it. She gave the order. “Blanco, Terry. Bug out. Reynolds, you’re with me.”
If she’d had time to think, she might have been proud that they Blanco and Terry headed northeast so quickly or she might have been disappointed that they did not protest or try to stage a daring rescue. But she had other things to think about. Four zombies were coming at her at once, and one arc of her bat put two of them on the ground. She immediately swung upwards and into the jaw of the third and put the butt end through the eye socket of the fourth. Only then did she exhale.
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.
In the Zone, everyone had something to remind them of their past life. For most, it was something physical that they could hold onto and remember. For Arthur, it was his music. Different songs could take him back to those Wednesday nights out with his friends when he should have been studying for the next morning’s exam, the trip cross-country, or his many break-ups. Arthur and his mp3s were inseparable. Not even the undead could keep them apart.
The end of Winter was official. The entrance into spring was a bittersweet fact that stuck in the minds of everyone in the Zone.
The first sunrise of spring would not cause a stir of emotions among the populous, only a select few took time out of their surviving time to notice the date. Even still the emergence of spring wasn’t warranted as a serious threat, the undeniable fact that the undead would again rise didn’t strike fear into the populous like it had in earlier year, Citizens became comfortable with the Idea that the enemy’s numbers had dwindled from the winter onslaughts by the Corpse corps, even if it was only an idea.
The bright sunrise caste a curtain of light across the runway, reflecting off the windows in the observation tower. Zyracuse slept peacefully during the earliest sunrise since the snow fell like ashes during a volcanic eruption, heavy and never ceasing. Mornings first light crept into the homes of those still sleeping, till finally the light found its way onto Meaker’s boot.
Frank Chesterfield was tired. His back was killing him from a hard day’s work and the only thing in the world that he really wanted was a hot shower, but that of course was out of the question. He hadn’t seen so much as a sponge in a week and wasn’t expecting anything more relaxing than a dusting of delousing powder any time in the near future. He was tired of it all, but then again everybody was.
He and his men had been on a Zack sweep all day and had had their work cut out for them. It was the middle of winter and it was cold. Real cold; not just regular cold, but snot-freezing, lung-burning, shrivel your balls to raisins, make you want to curl up and die cold. Even so, today had been a good day. Apparently Z’s didn’t like the weather either.
Chesterfield and his team had found fifty-seven ghouls during their sweep. All of them were frozen solid. On days like this being on patrol with the Corps meant that you were more of a glorified lumberjack than a soldier on the front lines. Fear is a powerful and demoralizing enemy, but monotony and boredom are worse. Even so, they had done their work well and were ahead of schedule. They had cleared their allotted area and were about to link up with the other four squads and catch a lift back home.
I remember the good old days when I wasn’t starving to death.
Remember when you could drive your car to a fast food window and get a day’s worth of calories in a single Extra Value Meal? Do you remember how a pint of that hippie ice cream–the one they made out of monkeys–went right to the pleasure centers of your brain? Do you remember those milkshakes that didn’t contain milk and didn’t need to be shaken, but were just some sort of chocolate-colored colloidal slop?
I do. What I wouldn’t give for one of them now.
I don’t want to complain. Everyone in the Zone is living this spartan lifestyle. Everyone is hungry. Everyone is sacrificing. Everyone is suffering. Everyone is hungry.
But they all have something that I don’t: homegrown insulin. They’ve got C-peptides in their bloodstream. They’ve got the ability to starve to death the old-fashioned way, by chronic malnutrition.
“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.
Sergeant Bill Asher wondered why it was that all the civilians treated him like a secretary. He was Captain Slater’s adjutant, and as such, he outranked even the battalion commanders. It didn’t matter much. Let the civvies think whatever they needed to.
“No, you don’t. You’d like to see the captain. Sorry, guys. He’s busy right now.”
“Bill, we insist.”
Okay, if civilians were bad, civilians that had been to college for three years and had two weeks of Corpse Corps action were worse. “Oh! Why didn’t you say so earlier? That makes all the difference. Who should I tell him is calling?” He wondered if the kid would be able to pick up on his sarcasm. “Come on. You know procedure. All requests for meetings with the captain go through your squad leader and battalion lieutenant. Nothing is so urgent that–”
“This is.” The taller man in the back had spoken for the first time.
Bill stared at him in a cold, stony silence. “No, it isn’t. Back to your unit, soldier.”
The door opened and the captain stepped into the room. He looked over the three men standing there.
The one who had not yet spoken said, “Leo, sir. 74th Squad. This is J. J. and he’s Razor.”
The captain nodded. “Yes. I thought you’d be by. You’re here sooner than I expected. You’d better come in.”
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.
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.”