Authors: Stephen Knight
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
THE LAST TOWN #3
WAITING FOR THE DEAD
By Stephen Knight
© 2015 by Stephen Knight
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Bates went in first, shotgun thundering as he opened up on the group of zombies that clustered around the fallen security guard. Heads and chests exploded—those corpses which took a shot to their skulls toppled and fell, but those who were hit elsewhere simply continued to try and feed. Reese raised his own shotgun, but one of the National Guard troops jostled him as the man shifted position, raising his M4 assault rifle. For an instant, the sights on Reese’s shotgun drifted across Bates’s back. Reese lowered the barrel immediately, suddenly panicked that he might accidentally shoot the tall patrolman in the back even though his finger wasn’t on the trigger.
Bates continued firing until the shotgun was empty. He stepped to his right, glancing back at Reese and the National Guard troops. His expression was perfectly calm, and for an instant, Reese thought he saw a ghost of a smile cross Bates’s lips.
“I think you guys are up, unless you want me to keep on with my sidearm,” he said.
One of the zombies which had been shot but not killed turned and shambled toward them, deciding fresh meat was better than fighting with the others over the remains of the dead security guard. Its eyes were pale and filmed over, and its gray flesh was stretched tight across its skull. A layer of blood coated its lips; more scarlet fluid had splashed across its chest. Reese made a noise in his throat when the ghoul turned fully toward him. One of Bates’s shotgun blasts had torn open its left side, and pulped lung and shattered ribs were visible beneath shredded flesh.
The corpse lurched toward Reese with a gurgling hiss.
Reese brought up his shotgun and blasted it right in the face, exploding its skull like an overripe melon. The headless zombie wilted to the floor and lay still. Another zombie turned toward the men, pushing itself to its feet, forgetting all about the gutted man on the floor it had been feeding on. Reese blasted it in the face as well, as Bates stood off to one side, sliding three-inch shell after three-inch shell into his shotgun.
“Attaboy, Detective,” he said.
Another corpse came at them. This time, it was smaller, much smaller. The boy had been perhaps ten or eleven in life, and now it stood before them completely nude, hideous bite marks marring its porcelain white skin. Reese fixed the shotgun’s sights on its head, but he didn’t fire. Something in him seemed to click over to another setting.
Can’t shoot a kid,
a voice in his head warned.
The air was filled with a flurry of staccato cracks as the Guardsmen opened up while advancing, fighting forward, taking it to the enemy. Captain Narvaez shouldered Reese aside as he fired a single round into the diminutive corpse’s head, dropping it to the floor where the others lay. The effect of Narvaez’s fire wasn’t as dramatic as Bates’s and Reese’s had been. Instead of exploding the target’s skull, it just popped a small hole in the front and blasted a larger one out the rear. But the effect was the same: enemy down.
“If you’re not going to shoot, Reese, get the fuck out of the way!” Narvaez shouted behind his gas mask. He led three other Guardsmen forward, and the troops started hammering at the ghouls with a cold efficiency that Reese found admirable, under the circumstances. Reese followed them, shotgun held at low ready. Bates fell in beside him, his own shotgun tucked under his arm.
“I couldn’t shoot the kid,” Reese said to him, over the crackle of the assault weapons.
“It’s tough,” Bates said. Reese didn’t know if he was commiserating with him, or just telling him to suck it up and get over it.
Ahead, the Guardsmen were cutting through the dead like scythes through wheat. Bodies hit the floor, and the troops didn’t flinch. Something moved to his left, and Reese turned toward a curtained area where a young Latino man lay covering a comatose woman on a respirator. The man was very much alive, his eyes wide with fear as he tried to shield the woman with his body. There were no gang tats or barrio markings on either of them—from the looks of the pair, they were more Westwood than Sawtelle. A zombie was stretched out on the floor at the foot of the woman’s hospital bed, its skull crushed so severely that rheumy gray matter was leaking out of it. A gore-spattered fire extinguisher lay at the man’s feet. Apparently, one of the ghouls had come through the curtained divider, and the man had done what he needed to in order to protect himself and his woman.
The woman bucked suddenly on the bed, and her eyes flew open. They were empty and hollow. Before Reese could say anything, she rose up and grabbed the man with hands that were like curved talons. A burst of happiness exploded over the man’s face for an instant as the woman turned her face toward him. She lunged for his neck, but the respirator assembly down her throat prevented her from taking a chunk out of him right then and there.
“Maria!” the man cried, the light fading from his face as he figured out in that moment what was happening. “No, Maria!”
“Get out of the way!” Reese shouted, turning and raising the shotgun.
The man flung himself over the woman again. “No, don’t! Don’t!”
The zombie in the bed realized that something was preventing it from feeding. With one hand, it ripped the tube out of its throat, pulling the entire length out from its mouth in a puff of air and drying phlegm.
“Get up!” Reese shouted. He lunged toward the bed, shouldering the shotgun. The man screamed, tears pouring down his face as he reached out and knocked the weapon’s barrel away just as Reese pulled the trigger. The shotgun went off, and a ceiling tile disintegrated beneath the fury of the blast. Water began to pour through the hole as one of the pipes feeding the sprinkler system gave way. As the cold water rained down on the bed, the zombie there sat up and grabbed the man’s shirt. Ignoring the chill of the water, it thrust its face forward and sank its teeth into his shoulder. The man screamed again, and his face was overcome with a sorrowful pain.
And then his body convulsed as the two Guardsmen behind Reese opened up, pumping a dozen rounds into the twisting bodies on the bed. The man shuddered once as a 5.56-millimeter round passed through his right ear and tumbled through his skull, pulverizing his brain. Two more bullets found the zombie, one passing through the roof of its mouth as it drew back for another bite, the other burrowing in through its right cheek, destroying bone and nasal cartilage before ricocheting through dead gray matter. The couple came to rest on the bed as water poured over them, the man lying across the woman. One of his hands twitched, and then he lay still.
A figure stumbled through the damp curtain separating the Latino couple’s bed from the next one over. Reese spun toward it as an absolutely huge black zombie charged right at him, hissing like a leaking tire, its eyes and teeth startlingly white in contrast with its dead, ochre-colored skin. Reese fired as he pulled the shotgun on target, but the barrel was too low—he amputated the corpse’s left leg mid-thigh, obliterating bone and shredding flesh. A dark, thick ichor poured from the stump, and the zombie toppled to the wet floor, slamming into it face-first without even attempting to break its fall. Instead, it continued reaching for Reese, pushing itself along with its good leg as syrupy goo pumped out of the ragged, smoking stump left by the shotgun blast. Reese stepped back and fired again, the tip of the shotgun’s barrel only inches away from the zombie’s clean-shaven head. The discharge made the ghoul’s skull literally disappear into a spreading cloud of organic garbage as the steel shot continued on, gouging a deep rent in the tile floor.
Bates reached out and grabbed Reese’s right shoulder, his fingers digging into the strap of his thick tactical vest. “Come on!” the patrolman shouted. “You’d better reload right now, Reese! Shit’s going sideways!”
Ten feet ahead of them, one of the M4s ripped off a burst on full automatic. Reese looked to see one of the Guardsmen was down now, and several ghouls were closing in on him. Narvaez and the other soldier were continuing to press the attack, taking down the zombies as quickly as they could, but some of them were fast—damn fast. Two got past Narvaez and launched themselves at the Guardsman on the floor even as the California Army National Guard captain hit them with a burst of full automatic fire. He might as well have been throwing spitballs at them. The zombies didn’t even slow down as the bullets tore right through them, parting bone and ripping flesh. Narvaez stumbled against the soldier to his right, and the man reached out with his left hand to steady him while firing his M4 one-handed at another attacker, dropping it with two rounds to the face.
Reese trained his shotgun on one of the ghouls attacking the Guardsman, but there was no way he could fire and not potentially kill the man. Instead, he reversed the weapon and slammed the butt stock into the skull of one zombie with all his strength. There was a satisfying
as the ghoul’s head bounced back from the impact, but it recovered almost immediately and resumed the attack. Reese slammed it again, putting more of his weight behind it this time. Black ichor exploded out of the corpse’s nostrils, and one eye bulged outward, erupting from its socket like a gooey balloon. The zombie forgot about the Guardsman and reached for Reese instead. For its trouble, Reese gave it another good knock in the face, and then Bates rolled up. He started literally stomping on the zombie’s head with one boot, again and again and again, until bone finally failed and more foul-smelling blackness leaked out onto the damp floor.
“Get the other one!” he shouted to Reese, his voice barely audible above the racket Narvaez and the other Guardsman were making as they continued fighting on. The Guardsman on the floor was holding the second zombie at bay with his rifle, using it as a lever to keep his masked face away from its snapping teeth. The zombie wasn’t even trying to push around the man’s defense—it was literally trying to climb over the rifle, as if it was a wall that had to be scaled instead of an obstacle to be nudged aside. Reese reached down and grabbed the back of its hospital smock and yanked it away from the man with all his strength, flinging the zombie across the floor. It moaned as it clambered back to its feet, its hollow eyes focusing on Reese now.
“Duck!” he heard Bates yell. Reese did, crouching over the soldier on the floor, waiting for Bates’s shotgun to speak. When nothing happened, he looked up just in time to see Bates swing an IV tree right at the zombie’s head. He laid into it like he was Bobby Bonds on a triple dose of the good stuff, and the ensuing impact was strong enough to severely bend the metal pole. The zombie staggered backwards with a growl, then slipped in a puddle of water. Bates tossed the IV tree to the floor in disgust.
“Damn, I really thought that would work,” he said. He quickly reached over to where his twelve gauge was leaning against the wall, brought it to his shoulder, and finished off the ghoul with one thunderous report.
“Bates! What the fuck are you doing?” Reese shouted as he helped the fallen soldier to his feet. “Why didn’t you just shoot it?”
“I save the shotgun shells for when they’re coming after
, Detective,” Bates responded, frowning. “You know, you really need to go back to finishing school and learn up on showing some gratitude.”
Reese steadied the Guardsman as he clambered back to his feet. “You all right?” he shouted. He realized then that he had dropped his shotgun. “Are you bitten?” he asked while looking around for the weapon.
“I’m fine! Thanks, man!” the Guardsman shouted from behind his mask.
Reese found his shotgun lying behind him and scooped it up as the rest of the Guardsmen pushed past him and Bates. A figure thrashed about on a bed not far away, trapped beneath a feasting ghoul. Bright jets of scarlet shot into the air, spraying all across the wall. Reese hurried toward the pair as they writhed about on the bed, as if in the grips of an urgent ardor. The man the zombie was feeding on was already slipping away, his eyes rolling up in his head, a froth of bloody saliva leaking from his mouth as the female zombie savaged his neck and chest. Reese shot them both, emptying the shotgun’s tube.
“Reloading!” he shouted to Bates.
“Take your time,” Bates said, looking ahead as the Guardsmen continued clearing the room. “Looks like this might just be about over.”
That’s when the doors leading into the isolation area flew open, and a gaggle of newly turned zombies slithered inside. Bates turned toward them, then looked over at Reese. He gave a little shrug as Reese reached into his vest and began pulling out his reloads.