Authors: Dan DeWitt
By Dan DeWitt
Copyright 2011 Dan DeWitt
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To be honest, I have no idea why I'm even writing this.
If I had to guess, I'd say that I think I'm doing this to be closer to Jackie. She wrote in a journal all the time. Said it helped her organize her thoughts better. I was always curious what she
put in it, but I kept that to myself. I slipped once and asked her if I could read it. She responded by handing it to me and saying, "There's nothing earth-shattering in here, Cam."
I put my hands on it, then my father's advice went through my head: "Son, you may be curious, but you don't really want to know." And he was right, of course. I learned everything I needed to know about what was in her journal by her genuine offer to let me read it.
But ever since things ... changed ... I thought that maybe I'd gain some clarity or insight that would help me. That hasn't happened, but recounting all of the shit I've seen has kept me angry enough to keep going out every night instead of putting a round through my head. So far.
If anyone ever gets to read this, I'll be dead, and so will everyone else I care about. The only thing that really keeps me writing is the fact that people need to know (if there are any left, that is) what happened here. It's the least I can do for my family.
I may jump around; I'm just g
oing to write what comes to mind. I'll stop when I don't feel like doing it anymore at any given moment. But I'll be honest.
I suppose it really started for me (even though I didn't know it at the time) when I recognized the crazy homeless guy.
The best place I can think of to begin this is about five years ago. I was downtown for something, I can't remember what.
I got about fifty feet past the guy with the wild beard standing in the alley when I realized that he hadn't just mumbled; he'd whispered my name, almost as if he didn't want anyone else hearing him talk to me.
And my rank.
I remember that my body just reacted at the mention of "Sergeant Holt" and pivoted as if I'd been marching. Old habits (among other things, I found out) die hard. The homeless guy knowing my name had set me on edge, and my rational mind knew that I should have just kept walking, but I was pissed, too. If the guy knew that much about me, what else did he know?
He walked to meet me, much more at ease than I was at the moment. My fists were clenched, ready. I got within ten feet and said, "How the Hell do you know my name?" Then I saw him.
Or his ghost.
"Dave McMillan? LT?"
"In the flesh, Sarge." His eyes darted back and forth, and he motioned me into the alley. I'd always trusted him. At least, I'd always trusted who he used to be, so I obliged him, but I sure didn't let him get between me and exit.
In ten seconds, I knew he wasn't a threat, at least not a physical one.
"How ya doin', Sarge?" He staggered against the brick wall of the diner for a moment, but righted himself. He was struggling with something ... probably booze or lack thereof ... and didn't want me to see how badly he was losing.
"Me? I heard you were dead!"
"Close enough to it. But before I go, I gotta te
ll you something."
"It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. When the dead don't stay dead, nothing matters."
I'll get back to this tomorrow. I need some air.
I guided Dave into the diner. I wanted to get some food in him. He looked gau
nt, and the look in his eyes suggested that he was a step shy of full-blown crazy. He was a far cry from the clean-cut officer that I'd last seen about a decade earlier, but he was still my friend.
A few of the patrons gave him a look of, "What are you doing in here?" I fired off my best glare and they went back to the business of not minding mine. I motioned for the waitress to bring us two coffees. I sat Dave in the corner booth and sat opposite him. The girl, Roseanne, brought the coffee over in record time. I ordered two cheeseburgers before she had her pencil out, and asked her to leave the pot.
After she left, I cut right to the chase, "Look, LT, if you need a place to stay you can crash at my place until we get you up and running."
He took a large swallow of the coffee. I looked at my own steaming mug and wondered how he did it without scalding his throat. He sighed. "Running. That's all I do anymore."
I took a sip of coffee. Christ, it really
hot. "What's going on, Dave?"
"I didn't want to bring this to your doorstep. But someone has to know. And you're the only guy left who I trust. Boy, you got out at the right time."
"You know, I always wanted to go to Australia. So when they asked for volunteers to go on a secret squirrel mission, I jumped at it. Me and a bunch of the other guys. They said the mission was 'crowd control'. I figured it was a rugby match gone bad or something."
I started gulping my coffee. "It wasn't."
"No, it was. Just not the kind of crowd you'd ever expect. They dropped us way outside this village with orders to protect the science team. They're in their HazMat suits, we're in what felt like MOPP-fucking-twenty in that heat, hoofing it like two miles. You remember that training in Puerto Rico?"
"Way hotter than that. I-"
The bell rung as some more patrons walked in. Dave jerked backward and slouched in the seat. He turned his face away from the door, and all I could think of was how he looked like paranoia personified. I had no idea what to do, so I just tried to calm him down. "Hey, relax. You're safe here. Just like old times."
He scanned the entire diner before continuing again. "Where was I?"
"Australia. It was hot."
"Right. So we escort the geeks to the village. They weren't very forthright with the details, and we weren't asking. The place looked like a ghost town; there was no movement. Then we got closer. There was no movement because everyone there was dead."
He laughed. "Said the exact same thing, then followed up with way worse blasphemy. There were bodies everywhere. They weren't just dead. They were torn apart. Literally. It was the worst thing I've ever seen. For ten minutes, anyway." Dave drifted a little. He looked like he was deciding whether or not to continue.
Paranoid or not, crazy or not, I wanted to hear the rest of the story. I prompted him, "So you started clearing it house by house..."
"Half of us, yeah. Not a survivor to be found in any of the houses except for one. There was a satellite phone setup outside, and a Red Cross symbol, and I started to put a few pieces together. I figured there was some sort of outbreak, the doctors were dispatched to check it out, and they called us in. When I heard the thumping against the door, I figured that they'd barricaded themselves in against whatever disease had turned the place inside out. It turns out I was mostly right."
The waitress came over with our burgers, and both of ours went untouched as Dave went on.
"We opened that door..."
Something clicked for me. "You said half."
"You said that half of you cleared the village."
"Right. According to one of the HazMats, there weren't enough dead bodies to account for all of the inhabitants. We found loads of footprints leading into the woods, so five guys followed them."
"So, we opened that door, and that fuckin' doctor comes at us like we owe him money. He's gone
, man. Half of his face was gone. Half of his
. The head HazMat is yelling at us to subdue the guy, so we knock him around and get him on the ground. After the craziness is done and the rabid doctor is completely secured, we hear gunshots coming from the forest. I yell to my guys to head out, but the HazMat reminds me that our mission is to protect them until they get clear. I was pissed, but he was right. Orders are orders, right?"
"So they start gathering up vials and other shit that looks important and call for extraction. I tried to raise my guys on the radio, but no dice. A few minutes later the chopper comes in, and we move to it, with the trussed-up doctor. We hear more gunshots coming from the woods, and they're a lot closer this time. Two of our guys are hauling ass toward us, being chased by the rest of the villagers. Even from a distance, I can see the same kind of crazy in the villagers' eyes that I saw in the doc. That wasn't the worst part, though."
"I'm afraid to ask."
"I'd be, too. The worst part was that one of my guys was with the villagers. He looked batshit insane, and was chasing after his buddies like he wanted to rip them to shreds. I yell for covering fire, and then it all starts falling apart. Gathers trips over something, and he goes down. Like ten villagers swarm him and start..." He finished his coffee. "...start eating him. Alive."
I couldn't speak.
"I order covering fire, not that anyone needed any encouragement. By that point, I started to think that maybe we're doing something more important than I could have imagined. I know that we have to get the HazMats out of there fast. The co-pilot throws down a harness and zips that crazy fucker up into the chopper. The sole survivor from the woods search team reaches up and says ... this is a direct quote ... 'They won't die! Those fuckers just won't die!'"
Dave finally took a bite of his burger. And another. He seemed to be savoring it, like a condemned man with his last meal. "And they wouldn't. I threw a ton of lead over at them. Chunks of them flew off, but they just kept coming. The survivor, Bates, just keeps yelling something about not letting them bite you. It was hard to tell, because he was screeching. Something fucked him up big time."
Another bite of burger. "The HazMats got into the chopper. Bates scrambles up the ladder after them ... and they cut it. They cut the fucking ladder, Sarge."
I wasn't there, but I knew how the rest of the story was going to turn out. Dave just confirmed it for me. Bates fell fifteen feet and broke his leg. The rest of the men tried to defend him as the chopper abandoned them. They survived the first wave, and a few of the men were bitten. Within a couple minutes, those men died, then came back as what they'd been fighting. Those men took out another man each, until
came back, too.
Only Lieutenant Dave McMillan and Private Bates were left.
"I ran, Holt." Dave was crying. "I fucking ran. As fast as I could. Bates' screams chased me the entire way, even after he'd stopped screaming. They're still chasing me."
"LT, that's ..." I fumbled for the right words. "... awful. You should talk to someone."
"I just did, Holt. I need to know that you know. That frees me up to do what I have to do."
"What do you have to do?"
He stood up and that son of a bitch pulled his dog tags over his head and tossed them on the table. "I'm making a run at them."