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Authors: Joe McKinney

Tags: #Horror

Apocalypse Of The Dead (9 page)

BOOK: Apocalypse Of The Dead
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He went with his gut.

While Barnes slipped around the corner, Richardson ran out into the middle of the flooded street and began to scream at the top of his lungs, “Hey, hey, hey. Over here.”

He jumped up and down, splashing water everywhere. He waved the rifle over his head and shouted some more.

From the shadows, Barnes hissed, “What the fuck are you doing?”

Richardson glanced at him. “Help me,” he said.

When he looked back to the street, some of the infected had broken away and were stumbling toward them. Most were still advancing on the small crowd of people.

“Fuck it,” Richardson said, and charged.

Running and shooting was not easy, and Richardson’s shots were mostly misses. He burned through his entire magazine in seconds and scored only four hits.

Now he found himself in the thick of the fight.

He grabbed the rifle by the still-hot barrel and used it as a club. A zombie in the remains of a business suit staggered forward. Richardson could see its wide, intensely wild eyes. Dark ropes of saliva oozed from the corners of his mouth and down his neck. As it reached for him, Richardson brought the rifle over his head and slammed it back down again on top of the zombie’s skull.

The gun sent a painful shudder up his forearms, like he had hit a baseball with the neck of the bat instead of with the sweet spot, but the zombie folded to the ground and went facedown into the water. Dark blood oozed from the wound and into the water like a curl of smoke coming up from a pipe.

When he looked up, four more zombies were right in front of him. The one to the far left looked emaciated to the point she could barely hold her arms up. Her face was dark, the cheeks sunken, and her eyes appeared to protrude oddly from the sockets, like the skin had puckered around them.

He flanked her, intending to use her as a barrier between himself the others. Then he brought up his rifle again and prepared to swing it at the woman’s head.

He heard gunshots instead.

Two of the zombies behind the emaciated woman dropped. Then the third. Then the woman.

Richardson looked toward the sound and saw Barnes strolling almost casually down the center of the street, firing as he advanced, dropping zombies with every shot.

He stopped a little forward of Richardson’s position and kept on firing. His skill with the rifle was almost beautiful to watch. He was so smooth, every gesture one of complete control, the shots coming like the ticks of a metronome. He shot through his magazine, ejected it, slapped in a fresh one, and with barely a pause went right back to firing.

More zombies were coming into the street from all directions.

“They’ve got us surrounded,” he yelled to Barnes.

Barnes stopped firing just long enough to scan the scene.

“Get them,” he said, pointing at the crowd of people.

“Where are we going to go?” Richardson asked.

“Through there,” Barnes said. He was pointing at a narrow alleyway between two buildings off to his right. “Hurry,” he said.

Richardson made his way over to the crowd and did a quick count of eleven people, four women and seven men. One of the women was Hispanic, about forty, dressed in clothes so worn and weathered they looked gray, though they had clearly once been some brighter color. Next to her, clinging tightly to her waist, was a scrawny white kid about fourteen years old. All of them were armed with makeshift clubs, pieces of rebar, baseball bats, metal pipes. Richardson got a sense right away that the woman with her arm around the fourteen-year-old boy was the leader of the group, the others seeming to gather behind her.

“I’m Ben Richardson,” he said. “We’re gonna help you. Come with me.”

“Okay,” she said.

Richardson pointed the others through the alleyway. They crossed the street behind Barnes, who fell in behind the group and covered their retreat. The woman moved into the alleyway with confidence, and Richardson realized that she almost certainly knew her way around here. She and her group had probably been living as scavengers in these ruins since the first days of the quarantine. He fell in behind her and let her take the lead.

They emerged into a jumble of wreckage. A seemingly endless field of wheels, paint cans, sheets of plywood, refrigerators, TVs, a huge metal frame like the skeleton of an overhead street sign, toppled trees, light poles, cars, the frame to somebody’s boat trailer, and a whole profusion of bricks and pillows and mattresses and mud stretched out before them.

“Can we get through that?” Richardson asked.

“Yeah, through here,” the woman said.

But before they could move out, there was the sound of a scuffle behind them. An infected woman in a blue dress had stepped out of the doorway of the building to their right and fell on one of the group.

The man wrestled with the woman for a moment and then managed to toss her to one side. Two other members of the group stepped up with their makeshift clubs at the ready and battered the infected woman into a motionless pulp with a few well-placed blows.

“Okay?” the woman leading the group said.

The man who had tossed the zombie to the ground nodded.

Behind them, Barnes was firing. He paused long enough to shout, “Get moving up there,” and went back to firing.

“This way,” the woman said.

She led them through the maze of debris with surprising ease, pointing out the tricky parts for Richardson to avoid.

“It isn’t easy for the infected to get through here,” she told Richardson. “They get confused easily.”

He nodded. He noticed that even as they threaded through the densest parts of the debris field, she never let go of the boy’s hand.

Ten minutes later they were standing in a parking lot, not a zombie in sight. Off to their right were the remains of a shopping mall. Richardson could still read the signs on a few of the buildings.

“Where are we?” Richardson said to the woman.

“South side of Baybrook Mall,” Barnes said, coming up behind them. He had a GPS in his hand.

“Thank you for helping us back there,” the woman said. “We would have died if you hadn’t helped us.”

Barnes just grunted, didn’t even look at her.

She turned to Richardson. “We saw your helicopter go down. We were going to see if we could help you, but we got caught in that building across the street from you guys.”

Barnes moved off from them and took out his radio.

Richardson watched him for a moment, then turned to the woman.

“I’m Ben Richardson,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “You said that already.”

And then she smiled, and it was a surprisingly pretty smile. Even after two years inside the quarantine zone, her teeth looked white and healthy.

“I’m Sandra Tellez,” she said. She put her arm around the boy and said, “This is Clint Siefer.”

The boy didn’t speak. His face was lean and dirty, yet his forehead had a thoughtful heaviness to it that left his eyes in shadow. Richardson had always prided himself on his story radar, that gift he had for spotting the people in a crowd whose story seemed to capture the essence of a disaster. That radar was going full tilt in his head right now, looking at these two. They had a story. He only hoped there’d be time to hear it.

A young man was standing next to Clint. He looked to be about twenty-five, though it was hard to tell for the layers of grime on his face. His eyes kept darting to the pouch clipped to Richardson’s shoulder.

“What’s your name?” Richardson asked him.

“Jerald Stevens,” he said. “Hey, do you have any food on you?”

His eyes flicked to the pouch again.

“Uh, yeah,” Richardson said. “I think I got a candy bar.”

“Can I have it?”

Richardson laughed, though a bit uncomfortably. There was disturbing urgency in the man’s attitude, something that didn’t seem quite sane.

“Yeah, sure,” he said.

He unzipped the pouch and removed a Snickers bar and a small bag of smoked almonds.

“You want the almonds, too?”

The man nodded, and in that moment, Richardson had him pegged. He reminded him of that hyperactive weasel from the old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons, and Richardson had a sudden image of the young man with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, his hands dangling limply in front of his thin, spoon-shaped chest, eagerly bouncing on his toes in nervous anticipation of a morsel.

“Here you go,” he said.

The young man, his hair a matted, out-of-control mess, snatched the food away and walked off from the group to devour it.

Richardson watched him go, then looked back to Sandra Tellez.

She shrugged. “Things are hard inside here. We eat whenever we can.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have any more.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “I’m sure you guys didn’t plan on crashing.”

“No, you’re right about that.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not really sure what happened. There was a lot of smoke. Officer Barnes over there said something about an oil leak. We lost oil pressure, and the next thing I know we’re crashing into that parking lot.”

“You’re not part of the GQRA?”

“No,” he said. “I’m a freelance journalist. I was doing a piece on the Quarantine Authority when this happened.”

“And now you’re screwed here with us?”

Richardson laughed. He liked the way she said it, like there was still a part of her capable of appreciating a sick joke. He hadn’t expected to find that among the uncles.

“And you guys?” he said. “What’s your story?”

She started to tell him when they heard Barnes cussing at his radio.

They both turned and watched him throw it down to the pavement, where it shattered.

“What’s wrong?” Richardson asked.

“What the fuck do you think is wrong?”

Sandra said, “They’re not coming for you, are they?”

Barnes kicked a piece of the radio, looked off into the distance, and huffed.

“No, they’re not,” he said.

She looked at Richardson. “Looks like you guys really are screwed.”

Barnes walked over to the rest of the group and eyed them each in turn. One of the group was standing off from the others, and Barnes’s gaze locked on him.

Richardson noticed it was the man who had been surprised by the zombie in the alleyway. He was sitting on his haunches, hugging himself, rocking back and forth. His breathing sounded ragged. His face was pale and sweaty.

“You,” Barnes said, pointing at the man. “Stand up.”

Barnes advanced through the crowd. Sandra followed him.

The man rose painfully to his feet. He kept his left side turned away from the others.

“You’re infected,” Barnes said.

“No, I’m not,” the man said, but you could hear it in his voice.

“Bullshit,” Barnes said.

He grabbed the man by the shoulder and spun him around. The man had his hand clamped over his bicep, but blood oozed between his fingers and rolled down the back of his hand.

“Show me,” Barnes said.

Sandra came up behind him. “Rob? Are you okay?”

The man’s gaze dropped to the ground. He took his hand away, exposing a nasty bite mark that was already showing the first sign of decay. It smelled bad.

“Oh, no,” Sandra said.

Beside her, Barnes drew his pistol.

“Hey,” Sandra said. “Hey, wait!”

But she couldn’t stop what happened. Barnes leveled the pistol at the man’s face. The man put up his hands and Richardson could see the man’s lips starting to form the words No, wait, but it was wasted effort. Barnes fired a single shot that took the top of the man’s head off and laid him out on his back on the pavement. Then Barnes holstered his weapon with a casualness that suggested he did stuff like this every day.

“What is wrong with you?” Sandra said. She was practically screaming at him. Her face was pulled tight in a grimace of rage and pain and shock. “Why did you do that?”

“He was infected.”

“We have a way of dealing with this,” she said.

“You have a cure?” Barnes asked sarcastically.

“No, we have a way of letting somebody take care of themselves when they get infected. We give them the choice of how they want to—”

“I’m not interested,” Barnes said. “I’m getting out of here.”

“And just how do you intend to do that?” Sandra asked. “They’re not coming to rescue you.”

He ejected his AR-15’s magazine, checked it, then slapped it back into place. “I’m not staying inside the quarantine,” he said. “I don’t care if I have to shoot my way out or not, but I’m not staying inside this city. You people can come along if you want. You can stay here if you want. I don’t care. Me, I’m getting out.”

And with that, he began walking north across the parking lot.

Slowly, silently, the others fell in line behind him.

CHAPTER 9

Billy Kline stopped at the corner of a pink stucco wall and glanced inside the entrance to the Springfield Adult Living Village. There was a guard shack about twenty feet in with gates on either side. Both gates were hanging open.

So where’s the guard? he wondered.

Beside him, Tommy Patmore was almost as far gone as the infected that had just escaped.

“I didn’t mean to hurt him. Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, I really didn’t. God, there was so much blood. So much of it…it got everywhere.”

“Shut up,” Billy said.

They had seen only a few cars that entire morning. One was going by them now on Tamiami Street. Billy watched it roll by. A moment later, he heard a horn and the sound of skidding tires.

There was a crash.

He heard a woman scream.

When her screams were cut short, Billy made up his mind. “Listen,” he said to Tommy. “Hey, you hear me? Tommy.”

Tommy made a low groan that was not quite a sign of understanding.

“I killed him, Billy.”

“I know you did. But Tommy, listen to me. We are in deep shit, you and me. I need you to stay sharp and keep your eyes open. Follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

“Just follow me.”

Billy grabbed his bloody garbage spike and made for the gates. Past the guard shack he could see a wild profusion of shrubs and trees and flowers.

“Seems safe enough,” Billy said.

BOOK: Apocalypse Of The Dead
12.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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