The Dead Land Trilogy, Book Three
Copyright 2013 Anthony Izzo
The soldier on Jonas' radio had called it a hot zone. The dead walking everywhere, the area near the old HSBC tower crawling with them. There were some units pinned down and had radioed Jonas to request assistance. Jonas had agreed to come immediately.
Chadwick heard yelling and gunfire on Jonas' mic.
Jonas ordered their convoy to turn around and head for the tower.
“You're not going in, are you? It's suicide.”
“They need our help. That's what we're here for, Chadwick.”
Jonas slowed the Humvee, brought it to a halt, and gave the order through his shirt mic for the column to turn around and head for the HSBC tower. He swung the Humvee around.
“At least get more men,” Chadwick said. “We don't have many here.”
“These men are highly trained. We'll be just fine. Besides, I want to see how bad it is.”
They got the column of vehicles turned around and headed for the heart of Downtown Buffalo, driving along the 190 Expressway and exiting at Elm Street. They drove down Court Street, passing law firms and banks, all of them closed. Some papers blew down the street but there were only a few people on the sidewalks. It looked like a ghost town to Chadwick. Businesses and schools had closed once the bug had started to spread. He wondered how many people were sick or dying in their homes right now. How many were going to rise from the dead and haunt the streets like ghouls.
“We can't seal off the whole city,” Chadwick said.
“Let's see what we can see,” Jonas said.
They crossed the Metro Rail Tracks, passed under the 190 overpass, and when they got into view of the tower, Chadwick gasped.
Several hundred pale-skinned, rotting things pounded on the doors of the HSBC building, apparently trying to get at the soldiers pinned inside. A chorus of hisses and growls erupted from them, nothing that sounded remotely human. The dead hadn't spotted the convoy.
Nearby, a Humvee burned, and the scorched body of a soldier hung out of the driver's side window.
“We're jeopardizing the Anderson survivors by bringing them here,” Chadwick said.
“They'll be fine. This is something, isn't it, Chadwick?”
“Kind of impressive, how fast they went from being human to being this.”
Chadwick eyed Jonas, who watched the throng of zombies as if it were a riveting television show.
A voice crackled on Jonas' radio. “Sir, we can't hold much longer. Advise on reinforcements.”Jonas hit the talk button. “We're right on the doorstep.”
“How are we going to break through that?”
One of the dead turned and noticed the Humvee, Chadwick feeling as if the lifeless white eyes were boring into him. The others, seeing their companion staring at the Humvees, also took notice, and a small crowd of them began walking towards the convoy. The one in the lead was a woman in a tattered red skirt. Her white blouse was stained with blood and she ambled forward, mouth opening and closing in anticipation of tasting flesh.
“You've got their attention. Now what?”
Jonas radioed one of the men in the rear trucks and told him to haul ass up here with the rest of the men. Chadwick stepped from the Humvee as the men double-timed it to the front of the convoy. Chadwick ordered them to take cover and open fire on his command.
More of the dead charged towards them. Chadwick took out his sidearm. “Let 'em have it.”
He took aim and popped the female zombie in the head, dropping her. Gunfire from M-4 rifles clattered around him, shredding zombies. More of the main group noticed the soldiers, breaking off and coming at Chadwick's men. He didn't give a shit if Jonas were appointed high holy commander. These were his men. Hell with Jonas.
As they continued to cut down zombies, Jonas stepped from the Humvee.
Chadwick watched as the front doors of the tower buckled and the dead flooded inward.
“Advise we are retreating to the upper floors,” the voice on Jonas' mic said.
“That's a wise choice,” Jonas said. “We will enter the building and provide support as soon as we can.”
“Thank you sir. We'll hold them off as long as we can.”
“Good man,” Jonas said.
Chadwick and the soldiers gunned down the remaining zombies. The rest of the crowd had pushed their way into the building and he heard glass smashing. Broken glass wouldn't stop things that didn't feel pain.
“Jonas, how many men inside?”
“Two, three dozen.”
“We can't leave them.”
“I have no intention of leaving them. We're going in.”
Emma heard the gunfire, as did Kayla, and the girl pressed against her. The truck had stopped and the soldiers in the rear of the truck eyed each other with unease. After a few moments, one of their radios had crackled and they left the truck as if they were on fire.
The familiar moans of the dead echoed throughout downtown's deserted streets. The moans were drowned out by gunfire and the death wails of the zombies. She wanted to see what was going on, but they were under the canvas back of the truck. Had to rely on sound.
“Seems foolish to bring us into the city,” Sam said. “More people equals more of those creepers around.”
“We're exposed here,” Emma said. “That's for sure.”
Even though they were exposed, this would be a perfect opportunity to escape. They were unguarded for the moment. Escaping right now would mean dragging Kayla across the city and running into God-knows-what.
Her thoughts of escape were put on hold when one of the soldiers returned to the truck. He was a fresh-faced kid with the beginnings of a mustache.
“They started to move in on us, but we got them,” the soldier said.
A moment later a heavy diesel engine rumbled and the truck lurched forward. They rolled forward for a bit before stopping.
“What's going on?” Emma said.
“Bunch of Zs have our men cornered in the HSBC building. We're going in.”
This could be her chance. The kid seemed distracted.
She heard a voice crackle on the kid's radio giving the order to move into the building. The kid started to hop down and Emma pulled the Glock from her waistband. Seeing the gun, the kid stopped. She had it leveled right at his face, and his eyes grew big.
“The gun. Hand it over.”
He paused for a moment. “I mean it. I'll shoot you dead. Don't do it, kid.”
After thinking it over for a few seconds, he handed over the file and she took it.
“Get to the back of the truck.”
The kid complied. As he went past her, Emma thought she saw tears glistening in his yes. She almost felt bad for him. She didn't want to have to shoot someone again, but if it meant Kayla's safety, she'd pull the trigger.
“We're going, honey,” Emma said to Kayla.
“We have to go. Give me Your ammo, soldier,” Emma said.
The kid unstrapped a harness with extra clips and handed it to Emma.
“Please, don't shoot.”
“If you don't give me a reason to, I won't.”
Trudy looked back and forth between Emma and the soldier. “Maybe you're safer here.”
“I have to find my husband.”
“Look, Emma, I understand that,” Sam said. “But the soldiers are armed.”
“Mom, I don't want to go out there.”
She wanted to shout a warning to be careful, but could only watch. They were trained law officers, after all.
As they cops got close, the back doors of the ambulance flew open. The doors banged hard and the infected man from the plane bounded out. He looked around, perhaps searching for a victim. One of the cops stepped up, put a semiautomatic to its head, and pulled the trigger, emptying its brains on to the pavement. The infected man fell sideways and was still on the pavement.
As firefighters climbed out of the rescue truck, a pumper truck arrived on the scene. The police officers ushered Maria and Jake into the back of a patrol car and sped away.
The cop, a middle-aged guy with a thick mustache and a mole on his cheek, drove in silence.
“Where are you taking us?” Maria asked.
“We have orders to deliver you to headquarters. It's anyone's guess from there. I hear the military is interested in you and your son.”
They had survived Anderson and were so far not infected. They might be of interest to army doctors and scientists. “So we're under arrest?”
“Not necessarily. But look on the bright side, you'll be safe. Not sure if you've seen the news, but things are going south. People are panicking.”
“That's not very comforting,” Maria said.
“Trust me. Nothing's getting into police headquarters.”
“I thought we were being taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center,” Maria said.
“Change of plans. Your name was on a watchlist. I'm surprised you didn't get nabbed at the airport,” the cop said. “We're supposed to hold onto you until the military arrives to get you.”
They drove to the police headquarters building in downtown Nashville. On the way to the station they passed a drug store. The police officer pulled into a parking garage underneath the building and parked near an elevator. He let them out of the cruiser and directed them onto the elevator. From there they ended up in the rear of the station. The officer led them through some hallways and into a room with a holding cage inside.
He took out a key, unlocked it, and ushered them inside.
“Do we really need to be in here?” Maria asked.
“Yeah, it smells like piss,” Jake said.
“We have problems all over the city. I can't babysit you. Someone will be in with a meal and to take you to the bathroom in a bit. I'm sorry,” he said, and left the room.
Maria looked around the holding area. A metal bench lined one wall. There were various sayings scrawled on the wall in pen, one of them reading Ruben Sucks Cock.
“I guess we should try and get comfortable,” Maria said.
The trucks and Humvees were parked nearby.
Chadwick had his sidearm drawn and it felt inadequate to him. A tank might be more fitting.
He waited with Jonas near the Humvee. The other man still hadn't drawn his sidearm, but instead stood with hands on hips, sleeves rolled to his elbows.
“How many would you say were in that group, Chadwick?”
“That would be my guess, too. Not much of a hot zone, is it? I expected more.”
“That's bad fucking luck, talking like that. Be glad that's all we found.”
The men disappeared into the lobby and gunfire erupted again. Chadwick saw the throng of zombies surge forward. They hadn't gone very far into the building, most of the group gathering in the lobby. As they moved out of the lobby, Chadwick saw fresh blood on their pale faces. One of them held a loop of entrails in its hands and he realized with despair that the trapped squad hadn't gotten far; they'd been devoured.
“This is crazy. We need to pull out,” Chadwick said.
“So be it.”
Chadwick heard a chorus of howls. He looked to his left and saw a mob of the dead charging down the street. It looked as if Jonas had gotten his hot zone, after all.
She got down, urging Kayla to the edge of the truck. “Wait here a sec.”
She slipped on the harness she'd taken from the soldier. Flipped off the safety on the M-4 and peered around the edge of the truck. What she saw shocked her: a crowd of zombies clogged the street and they closed fast on Jonas and Chadwick. The other soldiers were retreating from the HSBC tower. The dead poured out of the office building like rats abandoning a sinking ship.
The soldiers would never make it back to the truck in time. They'd be overwhelmed.
She reached up, grabbed Kayla, and set her on the ground. Grabbed her hand.
“Sam, tell everyone to hang on,” Emma said.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting us out of here,” Emma said.
Keeping Kayla close, she hurried to the cab of the truck, where she opened the driver's side door and lifted Kayla inside. She climbed inside and shut the door, noticing a St. Christopher's medal hanging from the rearview mirror. She didn't much subscribe to the notion of saints, but if good St. Christopher would get them out of this mess, she'd pray to him every day.
She started up the truck, took a second to look it over. It was a standard. Good thing she knew how to drive stick. She threw it in reverse and backed up, intent on swinging around to get away from the approaching horde.
“Mom, hurry up.”
“They're getting closer.”
“I know. Hang on.”
Now, he retreated from the lobby of the building with the zombies pouring from the building and their brethren coming down the street.
He watched Jonas and Chadwick duck into their Humvee.
The last truck in the convoy was backing up, which puzzled him. He couldn't figure out who was driving it, but he made a break for it.
He turned to check on what remained of his squadmates and saw the dead catch up to two of them. They were pulled down and swarmed, the zombs pouncing like lions on a fresh kill. High pitched screams echoed in the street. Jonas should be court-martialed for this. They didn't half enough men by half to take on the crowd of creepers that was coming at them.
Matthews neared the truck. He was perhaps ten yards away when he felt something coming from his left. He whirled and saw a zombie coming at him. It was an elderly guy in a plaid suit and khakis. One of his feet was missing, the nub of bone sticking out from his pantleg. The loss of a foot didn't slow him much.
Matthews cracked the creature in the face with his rifle butt. Bone crunched and the zombie stood stunned for a moment, staring at Matthews with those milky white eyes. A look of rage crossed its wrinkled face and it started forward, but Matthews raised his rifle and fired, turning its head to jelly. The body slumped to the pavement. Jesus Christ, he thought. This is becoming the new normal. Shooting people that were actually human beings just a few days ago.
The zombie dispatched, he ran for the truck, glancing over his shoulder. Jonas and Chadwick were swinging their Humvee around, the vehicle surrounded by zombies. They managed to turn and blast forward, running over a pair of the dead and splattering them on the pavement.
He didn't see any of his former squadmates.
I'm it, he thought. All that's left.