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.
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.