Authors: Scott M Baker
By Scott M. Baker
A Schattenseite Book
by Scott M. Baker.
Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Cover art by Zach McCain
Formatting by Kody Boye
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, or living dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.
my mother and father, for nurturing the Monster Kid within me, and for encouraging me to follow my dreams and reach for the stars.
Mike Robson stood behind the barricade of Jersey barriers. To his rear lay the southern ramp to Tukey Bridge. Ahead of him, Portland was silent and surprisingly deserted of rotters. That only increased his apprehension of having sent out Dravko and Tibor to scout the area. He reasoned that being vampires they had the best chance of surveying the city and making it back on their own. They had been gone for over three hours and should have returned long ago, unless something had happened to them. He stared into the night, wondering what lay in the darkness.
“Where are they?”
“Don’t worry. They’ll be back soon.” Natalie Bazargan reached out and slid her hand into his, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
Robson appreciated the gesture. He couldn’t help but notice that, as she spoke, Natalie scanned the area to check on her Angels, making sure the twelve girls were in place and prepared to defend against an attack.
Not that he could blame her. Everyone who had survived the expedition to Site R to retrieve the vaccine to the Zombie Virus was unusually jittery, which was to be expected after watching so many of their group get killed in the underground complex. And that didn’t include the three they had lost on the way to Pennsylvania. Because of this, he had chosen an alternate route home that went due north through the countryside before swinging east in central New Hampshire, bypassing the rotter-infested cities they had driven through on the first leg of their journey, not to mention the rape gang they had encountered outside of Barnston. The return trip added more than a hundred miles and two days to their travel time, although it did have the advantage of avoiding major population centers. At least it had until the group reached Portland, where they found that Route 95, the primary highway running parallel to the Maine coast, was impassible due to a multi-vehicle collision that blocked all the southbound lanes and created a “gawk factor” traffic jam heading north. Backtracking to the Maine Turnpike, the group cut across to coastal Route 1 and again headed south until they reached the city limits where a roadblock across the Tukey Bridge barred their path into the city. The presence of the abandoned barrier didn’t bother Robson as much as there being no signs of a struggle or of rotters. Because his gut feeling told him something wasn’t right, he had sent out Dravko and Tibor to investigate.
Right about now, Robson regretted being so damn overcautious.
“We should have tried to maneuver around that accident on 95,” he said, more to himself than anyone else.
“It wouldn’t have worked,” Natalie reassured him. “The Hummers would have been able to navigate the median, but the school bus and Ryder would never have made it.”
Robson glanced at his watch for the hundredth time. “I shouldn’t have sent them out on their own. We should have made a dash for it.”
“That worked so well for us in Glens Falls and Montoursville.” Natalie sighed and squeezed his hand tighter. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
“It’s true.” Robson had lost too many people retrieving this damn vaccine, and had compensated by becoming cautious. Maybe too cautious. Being overly hesitant could just as easily get them killed.
“There!” Natalie let go of Robson’s hand and pointed toward movement in the darkness. Robson raised his Atchisson AA-12 assault shotgun, an automatic version of a shotgun that held twenty rounds in a drum magazine. Off to the left and right, Ari and Emily raised their M-16A2 semi-automatic rifles into firing position. Farther out, several of the Angels had heard Natalie’s exclamation and moved closer to provide fire support.
Dravko and Tibor emerged from the shadows.
Emily lowered her weapon. “Honey, call out to us next time before you get your fool head shot off.”
“You would have missed, little girl,” replied Tibor in his East European accent. His grin took the edge off of the insult.
“What took you so long?” asked Robson, the relief evident in his voice.
Dravko sat on the top of the Jersey barrier and swung his legs over. “Whoever planned out the defense of this city knew what they were doing. They almost succeeded in keeping it rotter free.”
“So Portland is infected?” Robson’s shoulders drooped.
“Yes, but it won’t affect us.” Dravko reached under his jacket and pulled out a tourist map of downtown Portland. He stepped over and spread it out across the hood of the Humvee. The downtown area sat on a peninsula bordered to the north by Back Cove and to the south by an inlet. Route 1 ran west of the downtown area, cutting off the peninsula from the rest of the mainland. Dravko pointed to the interchange south of the bridge spanning the inlet. “There’s a huge roadblock set up here and nothing’s getting by. We saw at least thirty or forty cars parked in front of it, probably people trying to avoid the traffic jam on 95. Between the barricades and the vehicles, there’s no way we’re getting through that.”
“Then we’re screwed.”
“Far from it.” Dravko ran his finger along the eastern coast of the peninsula to where a smaller bridge, the Casco Bay Bridge, crossed over onto the mainland. “This is Route 77 into South Portland. There’s a small roadblock on the far end, a pair of police cars blocking the bridge, and a couple of dozen rotters beyond that. The police cars are parked nose-to-nose, so we should be able to shove them aside with the Ryder. Once we’re clear of the bridge, we can cut through the suburbs and pick up the main road a few miles to the south.”
“What about rotter activity in the downtown area?” Natalie asked.
“Minimal. Like I said, whoever mapped out the defenses for this city did a great job. Trucks and Jersey barriers are lined up all along Route 1, so nothing made it in from outside the city. Chain links fences have been erected along the main road downtown, trapping the living dead in the residential and dock areas. There’s a dozen rotters at most in the street between here and the bridge.”
Robson studied the map. It looked easy enough. Less than three miles stood between their current location and the bridge that crossed over into South Portland, with only a handful of rotters in between. It should be easy. However, many times before he had thought that and lost lives in the process.
He looked at the Angels, who formed a perimeter around the vehicles. They had lived through a nightmare at Site R, battling several hundred rotters in the confines of the facility’s access tunnel, and the experience had destroyed their confidence. Before that incident, they would have formed a tight perimeter circling the group, guns ready and aimed against any potential danger. Now the girls milled around, a few of them with their weapons slung over their shoulder. The best word to describe them was ragtag. All cohesion and discipline had been destroyed in that access tunnel. They hadn’t run into any of the living dead on the trip back, so no one knew how badly their fighting cohesion had suffered. He would find out soon enough, and he needed them at their best if they hoped to make it through this.
Robson glanced to the east. The first hint of sunlight tinted the horizon. “Do you think your girls are up to it?”
“They have to be.” Natalie kept her eyes focused on the map. “I’ll round them up.”
“Let me.” Robson stepped away from the Humvee and called out loud enough for the others to hear, and hopefully not loud enough to attract any rotters. “I know you’ve been through a lot the past few weeks, and we’re almost home. Portland isn’t overrun, so it’s a clear shot to the bridge south of us. Once we reach it, all we have to do is move two squad cars and push through a few rotters, then it’s clear until we get back to the fort. All I need is for you girls to stay sharp for a little while longer. Are you with me?”
Twelve faces stared blankly at him.
, thought Robson.
Not the best pep talk I’ve ever given
Natalie pushed past him. “You heard him. Pull your shit together and get your asses in gear. I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to lose anyone else.”
The Angels perked up, if only slightly. Breaking formation, they sauntered onto the school bus. Natalie turned to Robson and grinned. “Out here they’re not girls, they’re soldiers, and sometimes they need a kick in the panties to motivate them.”
“Let’s hope we keep them motivated for the next thirty minutes.” Robson leaned forward and kissed Natalie. “Be careful.”
She reached behind his neck and held him in place, her lips hovering close to his. “Please don’t do anything foolish.”
“I won’t.” This time they kissed longer and more passionately.
Ari cleared her throat. She stood by the passenger door to the second Humvee, smiling. “Are you two done?”
“Yes.” Natalie slid her hand across Robson’s face, cupping his cheek. She turned away and climbed into the driver’s seat of the Humvee.
Robson stepped over to the Ryder, which headed up the convoy. Dravko stuck his head through the driver’s window. “Are we ready?”
“You lead the way since you got the layout of Portland.”
Dravko gave a thumbs up. A second later, the Ryder’s engine kicked over. With a grinding of gears, the truck lurched forward and headed into downtown Portland.
Robson climbed into the passenger seat of the first Humvee. Jennifer sat beside him. He noticed she had drawn the Magnum she had confiscated in the bunker and clutched it between her hands. He chuckled. “Are you expecting trouble?”
“Always.” With her thumb, she drew back the hammer and sat with the revolver between her legs.
Shifting into drive, Robson set out after the Ryder. The second Humvee fell in behind, with Doreen bringing up the rear in the school bus.
The convoy drove for nearly a mile through a residential neighborhood. A chain link fence had been erected on either side of the road, segregating the homes. In the glow from the headlights, Robson could see movement in the shadows as they raced pass. Ahead of them, the living dead pressed against the fence, decomposed fingers reaching through the links and decayed teeth chewing at the metal in a desperate attempt to get at the commotion along the road. Thank God for that fence, otherwise the convoy would have been swarmed.
The road skirted a cemetery and made several dog legs before straightening out again. For a moment, Robson had no idea where they were until the convoy entered onto Thames Street, which bordered the waterfront. Off to his left, he could see dozens of boats and pleasure craft still moored to the docks, which surprised him. He figured that the owners would have sailed them to safety long ago. Then he noticed the hordes of rotters shambling around the vessels, and the realization struck him. The outbreak had overrun Portland before anyone could escape. The security fences, rather than keeping out the living dead, had instead trapped them inside the city like animals at the zoo.
Only a few rotters wandered the street, which made the dash through Portland easy. The sound of the approaching vehicles attracted them. Not enough bunched together to pose a threat, and the convoy maneuvered around them with ease. A rotter in National Guard cammies staggered out in front of the Humvee. Robson swerved around it. It swung out an arm as they passed, smearing the side windows with bits of decayed flesh and gore. Robson couldn’t bring himself to stare at the smudge.
Dravko steered right, exiting through a gap in the fence onto a road that branched off from Thames Street. The fence continued along both curbs until the road started to elevate. Robson realized they had entered the ramp leading to the Casco Bay Bridge into South Portland. They were almost home free. He pulled into the opposite lane for a better view and saw nothing ahead of them. As they crested the top of the bridge, their headlights reflected off the two police cars parked bumper-to-bumper blocking the exit. Robson counted twenty to thirty rotters milling about on the opposite side of the roadblock. At the sound of the approaching vehicles, they moved toward the noise, massing around the police cars.
The Ryder slowed. Robson eased his foot off of the gas pedal, still following closely behind.
“What are you doing?” asked Tibor.
“Trust me.” Dravko drained off the Ryder’s speed and inched up to the police cars. He didn’t want to crash through the roadblock and risk damaging the truck. Instead, he hoped to shove the cars out of the way. On the opposite side of the barricade, the living dead grew frantic, clawing at the vehicles. Dravko wrapped his hand around the gear shift. Once he pushed aside the two cars, the rotters would swarm them, and he wanted to get out of there fast.
Bumping up against the fenders of the police cars, Dravko eased forward. Instead of the two vehicles being shoved aside, the Ryder pushed them along in tandem in front of it. The rotters opposite stumbled back and toppled over, becoming stuck under the vehicles and making it more difficult to push them. Others flowed around the ends of the barricade and lumbered toward the truck. Dravko didn’t notice them, his attention focused on the cars.
“What?” asked Tibor.
“Someone chained them together by the bumpers. We’re not going to bust through.” Dravko stopped and shifted into reverse. The incessantly loud beep cut through the silence, and would attract every rotter for at least a mile. He checked the side mirror, and swore under his breath when he saw Robson’s Humvee only a few feet behind him.
“Damn it. Back up.”
Dravko jumped when a female rotter in a soiled nurse’s uniform slammed its hands against the door and tried to crawl up to the driver’s window.