Authors: Christian Fletcher
I glanced down at the road and several zombies still roamed between the two vehicles but their number had been severely decreased. Muttered voices came from the firing vehicle, which was now at a standstill at around thirty feet, parallel to the truck. A bright searchlight blinked into life, the dazzling beam shone directly at us. I fluttered my eyes against the blinding white light.
“This is Corporal Milner of the United States Marine Corps,” a deep
, commanding voice boomed from behind the searchlight. “State your intentions and do not use your weapon again or we will be forced to fire on you.”
“Milner?” Smith bleated, shielding his eyes from the glare. “Is that you? It’s me
, Smith. We met a few days ago…you helped us get some diesel for our boat.”
“Smith? Why didn’t you say so?” The searchlight blinked out.
All I could see were black dots and shapes swimming in front of my eyes.
“I tried but you were too damn busy trying to blow me away
,” Smith replied.
“What are you doing back this way again?”
“We saw the flares, we thought somebody was in trouble and we came to help.”
“Ah…okay. That’s some guy in the control tower.
Did you send up that white flare? We saw it and came to investigate. We figured somebody was in trouble.”
“Yeah, it was us shooting the flare and you got that right, we were in trouble.”
Did you find your friend in New Orleans?”
“Get us off this damn roof and I’ll tell you all about it.” Smith’s voice was nothing more than a weary groan.
“Okay, we’re coming over,” Milner said.
The vehicle engine roared into life once more and as my sight cleared, I saw Milner
, tall and lean with a shaved head, directing the driver towards the UPS truck. Milner was leaning forward from the machine gun mount on top of the Humvee, talking to somebody below in the main body of the vehicle. I recognized the modified military vehicle as the one we had used to fill with diesel in Jerry cans when we were last on the Airbase. The front and sides had been fitted with extra armor plating and solid crash bars bolted to the main structure skirted the Humvee exterior. The windshield and side windows had been covered with thick wire mesh.
Milner directed the driver close
r to the UPS truck. The zombies caught between the vehicles were quickly dispatched by Smith and Milner with rapid fire from their handguns.
“Okay, it’s safe to climb onboard,” Milner instructed.
“You go first, Batfish,” Smith said, gesturing with the flashlight for her to clamber onto the top of the Humvee.
She gave a brief nod. Milner held out his arms for her to grab onto.
She hopped onto the military vehicle roof next to the machine gun turret and Milner steadied her, holding onto her arms. Milner shuffled slightly to his left and Batfish disappeared into the main body of the vehicle. Smith hopped across next, shaking hands with Milner when he clambered across the turret. I followed, giving the marine a welcoming slap on the shoulder as I brushed by.
Humvee interior was dim and cramped. Crates of tinned food covered the floor space in the rear compartment, lit by a faint yellow light overhead. Two other military personnel sat in the front bench seat next to the driver. The driver was a big black guy who gave me a welcoming nod when I climbed down from the turret. The passengers consisted of a wiry guy with close cropped, spiky blonde hair, sitting between the driver and a pretty looking girl with short black hair and dark Hispanic facial features. The wiry guy and the girl held assault rifles close to their chests, the barrels pointing towards the roof. All three of them were dressed in khaki-green military combat fatigues with various insignia etched onto the upper sleeves next to their biceps.
“Okay, Johnson, let’s get this thing rolling,” Milner called from the gun turret.
The driver, who I presumed was called Johnson, fired up the Humvee engine and U-turned in the road. We drove under the overhead canopy, setting off on the road into the Airbase and Johnson bumped any zombie who stood in our path with the front end crash bars.
Milner stayed in the gun turret and opened up on large crowds of zombies that bunched together in the road.
We clambered over the crates of tinned food stacked at waist height and sat on the bench seats, running vertically at the edges of the rear compartment.
The Humvee took a series of twists and turns along the narrow road
s, taking us further inside the Airbase. We rocked from side to side and I leaned against the stacked food crates to stop myself falling forward against the lurching motion of the vehicle. I glanced through the windshield and recognized we were on the main thoroughfare through the base, with the darkened administration buildings to our right and the abandoned church on our left. My thoughts returned to Chaplain Brady. The sight of his former place of worship, standing empty with the wooden front doors partially hanging off their hinges and broken windows was disturbing. The building seemed to be a sorry reflection that the remaining human race had abandoned religion all together.
Johnson took a right turn away from the empty buildings and
drove on a different route I hadn’t been on the last time we were inside the base. The Humvee snaked around a bend in the road and Milner let fly with another burst of machine gun fire at a swarm of zombies in the center of the road. The vehicle plowed through the pile of dead bodies littering the blacktop, bones crunching and diseased, rotten flesh squelching under the wheels.
“Where are we headed?” Smith called to the military personnel in the cab.
The female turned her head and answered. “We’re going to the air traffic control tower to see how things are progressing.” Her dark eyes flicked between Smith, Batfish and I as though she was studying us for any signs of infectious bites.
“What things?” Smith asked.
She replied but her words were lost in the rattle of a new burst of machine gun fire from Milner in the turret. I wasn’t in any hurry to be told our intended destination. I trusted Milner; he was one of the good guys. They wouldn’t be leading us into any kind of bad scenario. Smith, Batfish and I had previously suffered a bad experience at the hands of a bunch of military renegades six months ago at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Smith had suffered gunshot wounds and I’d been injected with a large dose of mescaline, which I was convinced had caused my horrendous hallucinations and bouts of severe depression.
No, Milner and his crew were the good guys and had put their lives on the line last time we met, helping us collect
Jerry cans from the fuel dump on the base.
Johnson swerved around an abandoned vehicle in the center of the road and took a left through the labyrinth of narrow side streets.
A female zombie launched herself at the side of the Humvee and we heard the nauseous crunch of bone striking metal.
“These fuckers don’t give up, do they?” Johnson bellowed to no one in particular.
He slalomed right, then left around a small building and I saw we were on the outskirts of the actual airfield itself. Johnson put his foot on the gas and increased the speed onto the vast concrete based expanse. I craned my neck to look through the windshield to see where we were headed. The silhouette of the air traffic control tower loomed from the darkness. Johnson headed straight for the tall, conical shaped structure and I wondered why we were not returning to the squadron buildings.
A cluster of
orange flashing lights to the left of the control tower caught my gaze. I noticed a ring of military vehicles with their mounted heavy machine guns facing outward towards the spread of the airfield. The vehicles surrounded a huge, gray aircraft that was the size of a ten storey apartment block lying on its side. Red and white striped barriers with flashing orange lights on top stood between the military vehicles. A service ramp hung open at the rear of the aircraft’s main body and around thirty military personnel surrounded the sloping incline, loading boxes onboard. Yellow light from the aircraft’s interior swathed the line of combat fatigue clad figures passing boxes between them. Orange lights flashed on top of a fork-lift truck that carried a wooden pallet on its front, veered up the ramp between the military guys into the belly of the aircraft. The situation gave the impression that these guys were moving out of the airbase.
I gave Smith a nudge and pointed to the gigantic aircraft. He’d already noticed and was surveying the scene.
“That looks like a Hercules, only a newer version,” he muttered. “And it looks as though they’re getting ready to ship out.”
The wiry guy twisted around in the front seat to face us. “Actually, that aircraft is a C-17 Globemaster three. The best military air-lifter in the business.”
Smith opened his mouth to speak again but Johnson swung the steering wheel hard to his left to knock down a lone zombie trudging across the airfield. The motion caused Smith to lurch off the seat and face first into the cardboard boxes. We felt the truck jolt and heard the snapping of dry bones as the zombie folded under the impact of the front crash bars.
Smith’s arm and pulled him back to his sitting position. He dabbed his nose with his fingers and checked for a bleed. Any kind of bleeding wound could heighten the zombie’s senses and cause them to swarm into a frenzy, like sharks surrounding an injured fish in the sea. We were relatively safe with all the firepower around but the large amount of zombies lurking on the base could cause a problem if they all descended on our position in one huge mass.
Johnson swung the Humvee to the left so we were parallel with the front of the control tower and facing the aircraft. He brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt around ten feet in front of the control tower. The three military personnel leapt out of the front seats, moved around to the rear and opened the back doors to let us out.
Milner climbed down from the gun turret and motioned for us to climb out of the vehicle.
“What’s going on here, Milner?” Smith asked
, as we shuffled by the boxes towards the exit.
Milner grinned crookedly and removed a pair of work gloves. “We’re getting out of here.”
“Oh, yeah? Where you headed?” Smith asked, as we stepped down from the vehicle interior onto the airfield.
I felt the cool night breeze blow into my face and welcomed the freshness. The Humvee interior still had the faint whiff of diesel and stale sweat inside.
Milner followed us out of the vehicle, still with a broad grin on his face.
“We’re shipping out to Europe,” he said.
I felt my world had suddenly taken a turn for the surreal.
“Europe?” Smith repeated. His face screwed in disbelief. “What the hell is in Europe?”
“Listen, I’ll let Chief Cole explain everything,” Milner said, flapping his hand at us. “He’s up in the control tower.” He pointed at the building in front of us. “Come on, I’ll take you right up.”
Batfish flashed me a bewildered expression that asked the question – ‘
What the hell is going on
I shrugged and followed behind Smith as Milner led the way to the control tower. He turned back as we reached the glass fronted double doors, guarded by two guys holding assault rifles.
“Hey, Johnson,” Milner called out. “Don’t worry about unloading the Humvee. That mother is coming with us. You can drive it straight onboard the bird.”
Johnson duly nodded. He closed the rear doors then walked with the wiry guy and the Hispanic girl back to the vehicle’s cab.
The guards by the doors let us through as Milner led the way. Smith gave both sentries a nod before we entered the building.
The control tower lobby was spacious with a navy blue carpet covering the floor space.
“We’ll have to take the stairs, I’m afraid,” Milner said
, turning slightly. “The elevator isn’t operational.” He pointed to two sealed, chrome elevator doors on our left. “We’ve only got limited power when we’re running on the back-up generator and they need all the juice for the control tower facilities.”
A wide staircase
inclined to the right of a vacant security and reception desk. The desk itself was cluttered with a blank computer screen, keyboard, a gray plastic phone and reams of scattered paperwork with a solitary, bloody hand print in the center, bonding the sheets together in a matted clump. Milner led the way up the staircase that zigzagged up the floor levels.
“Those guys guarding the door wore
Air National Guard insignia,” Smith muttered. “Where the hell did they come from?”
Milner either didn’t hear or deliberately didn’t answer.
He strode up the stairs two at a time, Smith kept pace a few steps behind but Batfish and I struggled to keep up. I huffed and puffed and again silently vowed to give up smoking, once again.
Eventually, the staircase leveled off into a large circular shaped area with a set of double doors in front of us.
Milner led the way through the doors and we found ourselves at the summit of the glass covered, domed summit of the control tower. The room was dark except for a blue hue generated by various control panels positioned in rows across the floor so the user could sit behind them and still be able to attain a view of the airfield.