Authors: Alexis Martin
His trio of comrades was weaving in and out of zombie traffic like a well-orchestrated machine that was perfectly in tune until they made their way to the side emergency room doors. There were still too many for Will, Skye, and Cody to fend off alone. Vander realized very quickly that he would have to do more for this mission to succeed.
“Come on, ye bastards,” he taunted. He banged away on the trash can lid while dancing in the parking lot like a chicken with his head cut off.
I am a complete dumb ass.
“Come and eat me if you can!”
Vander knew he was in pickle, but at least his friends had an easier go of it. He dropped the club and lid shield then unslung his shotgun and pumped a round into the chamber. Scanning in every direction, it was clear that he was up shit creek without a paddle.
He spun and opened fire into the mass of undead to his immediate left, clearing a narrow path. He glanced back to his friends and saw that all three were inside fighting their way to the top. He did his job.
Running at a half sprint, Vander split the gap, sidestepping and picking his way through the bodies that fell in front of him. Now his goal was to reach the roof of the adjoining building and wait for Will’s helicopter ride out of this hell hole. A few more blasts with his shotgun, and the way opened into a clearing.
During a swift reload, he saw one of the largest zombies ever. The beast of a walking corpse must have been six foot six inches and every ounce of 400 pounds. It moved with long purposeful strides. The behemoth lunged forward and wrapped its fingers around Vander’s collar, lifting him until his feet were off the ground. He pressed the muzzle of the shotgun firmly against the creature’s chest when Vander squeezed the trigger. It seemed stunned for only a second and slowed then bit down on Vander’s shoulder with prolific force, ripping away flesh and shards of clothing as blood sprayed across the zombie’s cavernous mouth. Vander racked another round with one hand and fired in the same general area as the infected continued to chomp into his neckline and shoulder.
Vander finally touched ground, and he jerked out of the deadly grasp, noticing a window. He punched through the chest of the infected, almost a perfect circle all the way through. He finished off the undead with a final round between the eyes.
He cursed wildly as he ran a hand over his blood-sodden shoulder. With a heavy heart he looked up at his comrades, the distant figures on the rooftop. He would not be joining them after all—after all of this.
* * * *
Will licked his dry lips and removed the 9mm Beretta from his holster.
Where the flying fuck was Vander?
They went through the depths of hell getting to the helicopter, fueled it at great cost in ammo, and flew to the position they had previously discussed in great detail. The only thing missing was the rock-head Vander.
Will unbuckled his seat belt and hopped down from the running chopper. “Cody, Skye, stay put. I’ll check the stairwell.”
“I’m going with,” Skye said stubbornly. “You are the only pilot here, and we can’t afford to lose you.”
“You make a good argument, my dear,” Will conceded. “You protect the air chariot, Cody.”
Cody saluted. “Roger that.”
Will and Skye cautiously entered the stairwell. Vander was sitting on the top step, blood streaming from his shoulder and neck looking gaunt.
“What happened?” Will blurted out.
“I’m finished, brother,” Vander sadly replied. “An infected, one large bastard, put a hole in my shoulder.”
Skye cursed loudly and smashed a fist against the wall. “No…no…no!”
“Bullshit!” Will yelled. “Let me see it.”
Vander pulled aside his shirt and showed them both the obvious bite mark. “Sorry I failed, you guys. You best be going. The lower door won’t hold forever.”
Tears were streaming down Skye’s reddened cheeks. “This is not fair,” she sniffled. “And not part of our…our plan.”
Vander stood and brushed Skye’s tears away with the tips of his thumbs and embraced her. “We had one hell of a ride. I don’t think I ever loved a woman more in my life, and you guys”—he looked to Will—“you will always be a brother.”
The words only added to Skye’s tears, and Will joined in on the group hug. “I just want you to know,” Will choked out. “I need you to understand that you are a good man, fair and decent enough for a convict.”
Vander smiled wryly. “You’re not a bad guy for a lawman. You take good care of this one.” He squeezed Skye tightly. “Look after the boy.”
“Count on it, brother.”
“Now get the fuck out of here before you two make me cry like some sissy.”
“Will!” Skye shouted through the tears. “We can’t just leave him here all alone. It’s not right.”
Vander stepped in. “Use logic, woman. You know I can’t go with you. In less than seventy-two hours I will be a brainless, blood-thirsty zombie without reason or remorse. I am already dead.”
Will saw that Skye was having difficulties with this horrid situation. He gently gripped her wrist and escorted her to the door. Skye resisted at first until Vander gave her a look and stared directly at her.
“It has to be this way,” Vander told her. “I have no regrets, and you showed me immense happiness. For that I am indebted to you. Know I will die a happy man, babe. I do ask one last thing?”
“Anything,” Skye said in a tired voice wrought with sadness.
“I need to speak with Will alone.”
Skye nodded and stumbled back into the sunshine alone.
When they were completely alone, Vander was the first to break the silence. “You know you can do me one last favor.”
Will only looked at him and said nothing because he knew what his last request was going to be.
“Put one final round right here before you leave.” He gestured to the middle of his forehead.
Will licked his dry lips and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. Just yesterday they shared an amazing time together with a beautiful woman, and now it came down to this.
“It would be a righteous kill,” Vander went on, “and a big favor to me. I already tried to do it, but something about blowing your own head off with a shotgun doesn’t quite sit well—leaves a bad taste in the mouth.”
Will stood silent, unable to make eye contact with his friend. This would be the hardest thing he ever had to do. He brought the handgun forward and placed the crosshairs between Vander’s sullen eyes. “I’m sorry it had to end this way. May the heavens extend a hand to you, my friend.”
“I was always curious about the afterlife.” Vander grinned curiously and closed his eyes. “I’m ready—take me to my maker.”
* * * *
A single shot echoed in the stairwell, almost shattering his eardrums, yet Vander didn’t feel any different. He touched his own face, there was no blood or gaping hole, and he still stood on his own two feet. “Well shit. Did you miss?” He glanced back and saw the caved in skull of an infected that had snuck in behind him, the legs and arms still twitching.
Will tossed him the pistol. “I can’t kill you, Vander. I don’t have it in me.”
“For fuck’s sake, Will. I need you on this. I have no desire to turn into a freak of nature and go frolicking around for fresh brains.”
Will shook his head, his hands visibly trembling. “Sorry. I…I can’t do it.”
Vander shrugged and kicked the lifeless undead at his feet. “Then get your lousy, good-for-nothing ass out of here before I decide to use you for a snack.”
“Godspeed, brother,” said Will.
Will walked away, and after the helicopter became a distant whisper, Vander belted the handgun Will had dropped and lifted the shotgun that had three remaining shells. The eerie sounds of many feet clambering up the stairs echoed to his ears. The door had been breached, and soon he would face hundreds of infected.
He stepped out onto the roof, into the sunshine and waited patiently for his impending doom. At least he could take a few out before he jumped from the roof, preferably with a zombie in each hand.
One final blaze of glory
He inwardly laughed at himself. What a fool he had been all of his life, but at least the ones he loved most were safe.
The first few infected heaved open the heavy roof door and scrambled toward Vander. They were met in turn with the last of his pistol rounds. More came on, and he unleashed the devastation of his shotgun, stopping two cold in their tracks with their heads folded inside out. Thirty more funneled through the opening, their dead, soulless eyes reflecting no thought or reason.
“You lousy bastards aren’t going to eat me today!” He took the nearest two in headlocks, squishing their scrawny necks in the pit of his arm and boldly walked to the edge of the building. One more step and he would be roadkill, a flat pancake in the cement below.
A distant sound flitted to his ears. First it was the sounds of songs.
Was it the
Ride of the Valkyries
The sound was rich and playing over a loudspeaker above the drumming of low-flying helicopters. Three sleek Cobra attack helicopters descended on his position. The sudden hiss of twin Gatling guns opened up and shredded the zombie hoard behind him.
Stunned at the sight, Vander stood unmoving, still holding onto two zombies under his massive arms in breakneck fashion. The motoring of the twin killers stopped only when the last infected was down.
Two airships hovered over the city, keeping a diligent guard while one touched down softly on the rooftop. A team of three, suited all in black, wearing black helms and visors, scrambled in unison from the chopper.
“Look here, mate,” the lead one spoke through his visor. “Be a good bloke and chuck those woggers away.”
“Woggers?” Vander asked.
“The bleedin’ infected, man—come on!”
Vander tossed them over the edge and watched them plummet to a grotesque yet satisfying angle of finality.
“Think hard now. How long since you have been infected?”
“About two hours, give or take,” Vander replied.
“This will hurt.” The man raised a bright-orange-colored pistol and shot him square in the chest.
Vander instinctively reached down and pulled the dart out of his left pectoral muscle. “What the hell, dude? We just met and you’re already shooting me?” Suddenly woozy, he dropped to one knee, and dizziness consumed him. The dart was painless, but a feeling of nausea brought him down to all fours.
“No worries, mate. It’s an antidote for the T-1004 virus.”
“Did you say antidote?”
“Sure did, mate. Don’t get too excited, Seppo, the next sixty seconds will determine if you live or die.”
“You said no worries.”
“Well, no sense in worrying about things you can’t control. Now it will feel as if your eyes are melting and your brain is on fire. May even be the worst pain you will ever experience. But it is normal.”
“I am beginning to hate you.” Vander doubled over in excruciating pain that started at the base of his spine and shot up to his skull to momentarily paralyze him. An intense heat made his face feel as if it was made of plastic and melting away. Relentless pain gripped his body, caused his teeth to chatter and chomp down. He closed his eyes and fell into darkness.
Wavering between a dream and semiconscious reality, he saw three blurry figures kneeling over him. “Is this hell? Am I dead?”
“Nick Muldune,” the same Australian accent greeted him. “And you may be in hell, but you are alive no less. You survived, and the virus in your body has been fully eradicated. You beat death for now, mate.”