Read THEM (Season 1): Episode 4 Online
Authors: M.D. Massey
Tags: #Post-Apocalyptic | Paranormal
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P.O. Box 270132
Austin, Texas 78727
Dedicated to those who stalk the night
so that others may sleep in peace
Last year we fought by the head-stream of the So-Kan,
This year we are fighting on the Tsung-ho road.
We have washed our armor in the waves of the Chiao-chi lake,
We have pastured our horses on Tien-shan’s snowy slopes.
The long, long war goes on ten thousand miles from home.
Our three armies are worn and grown old.
The barbarian does man-slaughter for plowing;
On his yellow sand-plains nothing has been seen but blanched skulls and bones.
Where the Chin emperor built the walls against the Tartars,
There the defenders of Han are burning beacon fires.
The beacon fires burn and never go out.
There is no end to war!—
In the battlefield men grapple each other and die;
The horses of the vanquished utter lamentable cries to heaven,
While ravens and kites peck at human entrails,
Carry them up in their flight, and hang them on the branches of dead trees.
So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
And the generals have accomplished nothing.
Oh, nefarious war! I see why arms
Were so seldom used by the benign sovereigns.
I jumped off the metal shipping container with enough speed to hit the deep end of the pool dead center. Thankfully, due to the recent rains there was enough water to keep me from hitting bottom. I had purposely landed as flat as possible so I wouldn’t break my legs by punching through. The landing knocked the wind out of me a bit, but adrenaline did its part and I recovered quickly, half-swimming and half-walking over to the end that was furthest away from danger.
All the deaders had bunched up in the shallow end, moaning like crazy and wading in and out of the water. Deaders were pretty much afraid of deep water, a fact that I was thankful for at the moment. Their aversion to water would at least give me some time to gather myself and figure a way out of this mess. I still had the knife that Ratcliff had given me, but it’d only be good for taking out one of the Z’s at close range. Trying to fight through half a dozen deadheads with nothing more than a pocket knife was just asking to be turned into zombie food.
Even if I did get through them, I’d still have to deal with the sentries posted on the wall surrounding this hellhole. I could hear them taunting me, their jeers and heckles echoing off the sides of the pool. If I tried to climb the sides and get out, they’d simply break my fingers or knock me back down the wall. I couldn’t risk the chance of injury—not in the state I was in after that beating I’d taken earlier. I was barely functioning as it was.
No, I needed to think this through if I was going to get out of here alive. I found a spot on the wall where I could hang onto an aluminum ladder above the water. Latching onto it, I took stock of the situation. SGM Marsh had ordered the sentries to keep an eye on me to make sure I didn’t try to escape. He’d be counting on me tiring eventually, and either drowning in the filthy water, succumbing to infection, or swimming to the shallow end where I’d be taken out by the deaders. Truth be told, I could only hang onto this ladder for so long. My arms had already started getting fatigued from holding myself up above the water. I’d need to take action, and soon, or else I’d be zombie chow.
I’d noticed some old lawn furniture and other debris in the pool before I jumped in, mostly because I knew I’d have to avoid hitting it when I jumped. It occurred to me that I might be able to fashion a crude weapon from the aluminum legs of one of those chairs. It wouldn’t be much of an impact weapon, but I might be able to make a decent spear at least. It’d have to do.
I looked up on the wall and counted three sentries, noting that all the rest of the militia that had marched me out here were gone, including the sergeant major. Apparently, they must’ve grown bored watching me cling to the wall and stare across the water at the deaders. I’d expected as much; there had been a few cheers and catcalls when I first jumped in, but after the first thirty minutes the sounds had died off. Now it was just me, the deaders, and the sentries.
I swam over to the side of the pool and snagged a pool chair. I dragged it back over to the ladder, well away from the deaders, who were milling around with agitation and walking in and out of the water. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they were working up their courage to come in after me. Yet after an hour or so of watching them wade in and out of the murky water, it was clear that I was safe where I was—for now at least. I began bending and folding a chair leg, back and forth, back and forth, until it broke off in a jagged edge.
One of the sentries must’ve noticed me and spoke up. “Hey, what’s he doing down there?”
Another sentry walked over to the edge and looked down at me. “The same thing you’d be doing if you was down there—trying to survive.”
“Yeah, but shouldn’t we stop him or something? I mean, he killed Carter.”
The second sentry shook his head and leaned back from looking over the wall. “Shit, nobody liked that asshole anyway. He was always cheatin’ at cards. Good riddance, I say. ’Sides, you know the deal: Once they’s in the pit, they’s on their own. Our job’s just to keep ’em from climbin’ out. No more, no less. ’Ventually, he’ll pass on, either get eaten or decide to drink that water and die of the runs. Seen it happen. So just make sure he don’t climb out.”
Sentry number one shook his head and kept watching me. I flipped him the bird and started working on a second chair leg. He spat at me and grabbed a lawn chair of his own, setting it down where he could keep an eye on me while giving his legs a rest. Good.
I got the second chair leg off and used the pocket knife to pry open the crimped end where I’d torn it off the rest of the frame. Tucking that leg in the belt behind my back, I started grinding a point on the other one, using the wall as a file. It was slow going, and it took me most of the day to grind it into a decent spear. After hours of work, I looked at it and decided it’d have to do; my hands were cramping and I was starting to shiver. It appeared that the chill of being immersed in the water as the temperature dropped and nightfall came was finally getting to me.
It was the best that I could hope for, given the circumstances. I’d wait until dark and make my move then.
As I suspected, the sentries got lazy as the night wore on. Why Marsh hadn’t sent anyone out to relieve them was a mystery to me, but I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. I could clearly see the guard sitting in the chair from my perch against the wall, and every few minutes his head would start to nod down onto his chest. The other guards were nowhere to be seen, but I could hear them bullshitting and carrying on down in the yard next to the wall. I waited for sentry number one’s chin to land on his chest and stay there, then lowered myself into the water as silently as possible.
Of course, it wasn’t like he’d be able to hear me over the low moaning of the deaders. They were still bunched up in the shallow end, bumping into one another and milling about. One of them had decided to camp out in knee-deep water, standing stock still and eyeing me with interest as I slipped into the water with my spear in my right hand. He was my target, and the fact that he’d stayed in the water was what had given me the idea in the first place.
I purposely hyperventilated and took one last deep breath, suddenly submerging completely under the water. I frog-kicked over to where I’d committed the position of the lone deader to memory and swam along the bottom slowly in that direction, feeling with my free hand until I touched slimy boot leather under the water. I grabbed his ankle and set my feet, driving his leg up as I burst from the water. I immediately pushed off and dragged him into the deeper area, going under again and coming up behind him to grab the collar of his fatigues while he thrashed and flailed about. I plunged the spear deep into the base of his skull, following the thrust with several stabs into his rib cage and abdomen, being careful to puncture both lungs and his stomach. I pulled the corpse down into the water and listened to the frantic yells of the sentry above.
Once I was sure the deader corpse had achieved neutral buoyancy, I flipped him over face down and pushed him to the surface. I then swapped out my spear for the other chair leg, placing it in my mouth and blowing out the water in the tube from under the deader’s ACU jacket. Once I had it clear, I kept it under the flaps of his jacket and continued breathing through it while staying hidden beneath the corpse. It was a bit like being waterboarded in an autopsy room in the dead of summer.
I’d once applied for a job as a tech at the Travis County Medical Examiner’s office, and during my interview the lead tech took me for a “tour” of their autopsy room. Believe me, it was nothing like CSI; there were body bags stacked one on top of the other in their meat locker, and the stench was repulsive. I’ll never forget the smell of dead, rotting human flesh in the heat of summer. Every breath I took in through the tube reminded me of the smell of that autopsy room, and it was all I could do to keep from tossing my cookies.
After a minute or so, the fetid air became more bearable as my olfactory receptors overloaded and began filtering out the stench. I could hear the muffled conversation of the sentries above me, and caught something about “drowning” and “goner.” I waited under the swamp-like surface of the water, counting my breaths as a means of tracking the time. I slowed my breathing and counted, four seconds for every breath. Staying under for at least thirty minutes, I waited long after the last bits of conversation faded into the distance.
I pulled the tube away from my mouth and slipped to the surface, barely allowing my head and eyes to come above the water to observe my surroundings. I noticed a dim illumination coming from the top of the wall, where the last embers of a fire were winking out inside an old
that someone had hauled up there. The deaders were still shuffling around, moaning in that low keening wail that all humans had come to dread in the post-War world. I could also hear the sentries off in the distance, arguing about heading back to the compound.
I recognized the first voice as my friend in the lawn chair. “Uh-uh, no way, man. I’m not going back alone in the dark. I say we wait until morning and then we go tell the sergeant major that he croaked in the night.”
The voice of sentry number two replied, “You’uns can do what ya’ like. Me, Ima gonna head inside that house over yonder and get some shuteye.”
Then a third voice chimed in that I didn’t recognize. I assumed it belonged to sentry number three. “Roscoe’s right. Let’s just hole up in the house and wait ’til morning. No sense risking our asses to head back right now, and end up like that poor bastard in the pool.”
Sentry number one answered. “Alright, but I’m not taking the blame in the morning when the sergeant major has a case of the ass about us not reporting in.”
The sounds of breaking glass and a door shutting emerged from the other side of the wall. I waited for another half-hour in silence and then began climbing out of the pool, up the ladder and over the wall. The deaders only noticed me as I pulled myself on top of a shipping container, so I rolled over the edge and remained silent for several minutes, waiting for the additional noise they were making to settle down. Once they had calmed down, I low-crawled around the wall to the ramp and limped down toward the house, where I was certain the sentries had decided to bed down for the night.
My hope was to sneak in and secure a weapon, but as I made my way over I realized I was in a sorry shape and in no condition for a fight. I felt like I was burning up, but I was shivering at the same time. Apparently my wounds from the beating I’d received earlier had gotten infected, and I was sure I had picked up any number of parasites while under the water. I decided to simply head back to the Facility and take my chances against any deaders or patrols I might run into on the way.
With one last look toward the pit, I limped off into the night, hoping I could make it back to the Facility and meet up with Gabby, Bobby, and Captain Perez before I succumbed to my infected injuries. I only made it a few miles before exhaustion, dehydration, and fever forced me to rest in a dense stand of juniper trees. I curled up in the detritus, under the low limbs of the scrub, and soon found myself passing in and out of consciousness as the fever took over.