I led the way, stepping over some of the glass, metal, and hardened plastic, wreckage that had been spread out all over the street and sidewalks beneath our feet. And then I looked down at the pavement and quietly directed my backup’s attention to it with the point of a finger. “You fellas seeing what I’m seeing, right now?”
They both looked down, and saw the street and sidewalks littered with bullet casings. Different types. Different calibers. “Jesus...” Sanchez muttered to himself. “Everybody’s on the warpath.”
Frye added, “Definitely looks like we’re not the only ones who are armed to the teeth out here.”
“Right, because….America!” Sanchez said.
“Exactly.” I replied. “And that means that we’ve got to keep our guards up and our ears open. The military strikes and these mindless creatures are already enough of a threat. But I’d rather deal with either one of them over a bunch a hysterical lunatics running around with firearms, no training and no real threat assessment skills. I hate to say it...but if you come across some gun toting yahoo looking to do anybody any harm just for the sake of an overactive sense of anxiety...you put them down. And you put them down hard. You hear me?”
“We got you, chief.” Frye said, and Sanchez nodded, keeping his head swiveling back and forth to make sure we still had safe passage to move forward.
All of my senses were on high alert, watching people scatter and run aimlessly through the streets instead of simply finding a place to hole up and stay put for the time being to get some kind of a game plan together. I wasn’t sure when, or even IF, this apocalyptic event was going to be over with...but needlessly trying to navigate your way through it without any kind of immediate guidance in their current actions was definitely not the way to go. Because that’s exactly where we are now…in full tactical combat mode. And Frye, Sanchez, and I, had to target every single person that hurried past us in order to figure out, split second, if they were a hostile threat or not. Any one of them could have caught a bullet between the eyes if we made the wrong decision.
And yet...expecting them to calm down wasn’t much of an option anymore. Was it?
I felt a nervous surge of jitters flow through me as I heard the thunderous roar of a few more military choppers zoom by overhead. It seemed like they were trying to be as careful as possible to minimize civilian casualties...but eventually, they’re going to just level the whole city without mercy...and the only thing I can do is make sure that none of us are still lingering around here when it happens. Right now, all of civilization had to be separated into thirds. One third were innocent soldiers, just trying to survive the madness going on around them while saving as many people as they possibly could. The second third were people who had suddenly gone into panic mode and weren’t thinking straight. People with guns who were scared shitless and would probably fire on any unfamiliar face that dared to step inside of their temporary comfort zone. And the other third…? Were these ‘things’. These...zombies.
I couldn’t help but to notice that all of these creatures weren’t acting or reacting with any set pattern of rules in their attacks. Many of them seemed to be completely numb between the ears, almost lost and meandering around as if they had even less of an idea of what was going on around them as the rest of us did. Slow and sluggish, it was easy to navigate around their hordes without having to really engage with any level of violence or self defense. Good for saving some of our ammunition. But the others? Some of them seemed just as lucid as everyone else. Maybe they couldn’t speak or rationalize what they were doing, but there was a small glimpse of their humanity left within them. I could see it. Even past the fog of their milky white eyes and rapidly decaying appearance. And that made them dangerously unpredictable. Not only could they see us...but one or two of them could even run right at us once they saw that we weren’t one of them! And they were running pretty fucking FAST too! Those would be the ones to watch out for most...once we figure out how to tell which ones were which.
I was doing my best to keep quiet, turning down one of the side allies between buildings with my weapon ready in case I really needed it.
But after about a minute of us doing that...Frye suddenly spoke up and asked, "Dude...what are we doing? Are you really sneaking right now?"
Sanchez said, "Yeah. Are we supposed to be sneaking?"
I turned around with my face frowned up. "Shhhh! Of course we're sneaking! Do you want to alert everybody out here to our position?"
Frye sucked his teeth in an almost comical way. Loudly saying, "Are you kidding me, man??? You DO know that the whole city has gone to shit around us, right? All this screaming, and gunfire, and missiles and shit! We could be out here with a live rock band, glow sticks, and a giant megaphone right now, and nobody would think to notice either one of us! Or even care, for that matter!"
Sanchez chimed in, "He's got a point, John. This stealth shit ain't the move right now. Let’s just do what we came to do an exit stage left before we get chewed up and spit in the gutter!"
I rolled my eyes, and sighed, "Fuck it! Just...stay close to me and be ready for whatever comes for us at the other end of this alley, alright?"
"Zombies are at the other end of this alley, man!" Frye said in a hushed whisper. “They’re at the end of every goddamn alley!”
Sanchez bumped him with his elbow. "Knock it off with that shit! This is the last time I'm gonna tell you!"
"Quiet, you two! Get ready to move!" I said, quietly advancing forward with my two lookouts in tow. They were reliable teammates. Always have been. I wasn't worried about that. It's just that this is a situation that none of us have ever dealt with before. That makes things a lot more tricky than they have to be. "In motion!" I said, turning the corner and quickly moving out onto the next main street. The others followed closely behind me, checking all of the appropriate corner spots to make sure that neither one of us got ambushed from behind. The streets were still smothered in chaos, but it only helped to further conceal our strategic movements from the panicked crowds surrounding us. We made it to the end of the building and congregated right there at the corner. There was too much going on for us to simply creep our way past the craziness in front of us, but chances are...we’re going to have to fire on an innocent at some point, and we’re just going to have to feel guilty about it later. "Alright...listen...if you have to discharge your weapon, do it sparingly! NO soldiers! NO cops! NO civilians! Got it?"
Sanchez asked, "How are we gonna be able to tell which is which?"
"I don't know. Work it out!" I said. "Remember...most of these people aren't malicious...they're just scared."
Frye said, "I, seriously, fail to see the big difference between the two. But we'll do what we can."
"We're gonna head up to the next block, then duck into the alley on the right. Catch our breaths...then go for a block or two more. Deal?"
"It's your game, bruh. Just get us out of here." Frye said, later mumbling, "All this for some damn strawberry birthday cake..." Adding, "Shit...now you've got ME whispering out here around these motherfuckers!"
We moved swiftly on our feet, seeing a few more cars crashing into buildings, store windows, and into one another at every intersection as people rushed to leave the city. Gunshots could be heard from every angle. Some in the distance, and some very close to where we were standing. Then...the loud BOOM of a few explosions as the military fired upon the heaviest concentrations of hostiles. It was surreal, experiencing a situation like this. It was like being locked in a nightmare all over again from my experiences with war.
I silently put my hand out to stop Frye and Sanchez from moving any further, and we were forced to watch as a young couple ran past us in the middle of the street, with a small horde of zombies chasing them at top speed. There’s a part of every soldier and every police officer that calls to you when you see someone who needs some serious and immediate help...but it was an urge that we were going to have to suppress in order to survive this long enough to do any good for the city at large. It hurts. The trauma of it can’t be explained with words alone. But I could feel it pulling me down as I watched that couple get tackled down on the asphalt and smothered by the ravenous crowd of monsters piling on top of them as they fought one another to sink their teeth into their flesh and muscle and tear it from their bare bones as if driven by a rage they couldn’t control.
Blood poured out all over the street, and the screams of their victims were drowned out by the ghoulish cries of the damned, their hunger forcing them to tear them apart until they were no longer recognizable from the people they once were just a few moments ago. This was sick. It was so fucking SICK!
And all I could think about in that moment was saving Spencer from a fate so atrocious.
“Move!” I said, rushing across the street while the zombies were busy with their latest bounty. We were still about five or six city blocks away from the hospital, and it was going to be difficult to hotfoot it the whole way from where we were, especially with all of the gear and ammo that we were carrying on our backs, while avoiding the bloodthirsty pandemonium in the streets. So we advanced as far as we could until we were all tired and out of breath. I think Sanchez and Frye were prepared to keep going, but if the hospital is as overrun as Spencer said it was on the phone...I didn’t want us to show up too exhausted to fight our way through it.
“What’s the call, boss man?” Sanchez asked.
“Give me a second. Catch your breath. I’m going to try to call him again.” I said, and took out my cell phone to see if I could maybe reach Spencer and assure him that we were on our way. But I didn’t get an answer. It rang a few times and then went to his voicemail. I told him not to go back to the nurse’s desk, but none of my calls could reach him otherwise. It made me feel as though someone was tightly wrapping a tourniquet around my heart to not be able to talk to my son and know for sure whether or not he was ok.
Still, what could we do but keep moving. I can almost see the hospital in the distance, and that caused me to pick up the pace a little bit. Visions of holding Spencer in my arms at night, rocking him to sleep. Seeing the blinding grin on his face the first time he was able to ride his bike for a half block without falling over. Wiping the smeared ice cream off of his smiling lips whenever I took him out on the weekend for a treat. I swear...if anything happens to that boy, I’m going to burn this whole city down myself. Please look out for him, Rachael! Daddy’s coming!
I noticed that the car crashes had settled down a bit...every street corner and useful intersection clogged up with crushed metal from the initial rush. I didn’t hear any more sirens either. Not any close by. I’m thinking that they saw how pointless it was to try to force their way in with any hopes of getting back out again. It was simply a lost cause at this point.
I saw some people scavenging what they could for supplies, a few zombie corpses still trying to limp and lumber forward, their bodies batted, broken, and torn. Still looking to spread their virus even further, but unable to move fast enough to catch anybody. I tried to keep moving fast, but the muscles in my legs were starting to ache and burn, and Sanchez was breathing so hard that I thought he might start making himself dizzy any minute. “Alright, fellas...the alley on the right is straight up the street here. Make sure to...to ummm...” I quieted down as I heard a different noise echoing off of the tall buildings around us. A bunch of noises, in fact. “...Make sure to check around the corners first. One wrong turn could end up being a death trap. So...” The noises were getting louder. More urgent. What the hell was that?
“Hold on. Do you guys hear that?” Frye asked. I was kind of hoping that it was just me.
They sounded like…screams. But they were unlike any screams that I had ever heard before. It was more than panic and pain. So much more. It sounded like the whole world was burning...and they were submerged in the fire. Everything became more clear as they got closer to us. What sounded like a million running footsteps were coming right towards us from just around that left corner. Straight from Michigan Avenue and heading back into the city. But by the time the three of us were able to figure out what was actually happening here, it was already too late. Terrified civilians came pouring into the street like a tidal wave of rushing water...and a horde of those creature seemed to come pouring out right behind them. One wave chasing another. And my GOD, were they fast! Much faster than the ones that we had encountered so far! Jesus...just look at them!
Sanchez and Frye were quick to lock and load as this giant rush of predators and prey turned that corner and began heading right for us, and the crowd was only getting thicker and more dangerous by the second. Anyone unlucky enough to accidentally trip over anything and fall down in front of them were immediately trampled as if by a massive herd of angry bulls, stomped flat in a matter of seconds to the point of severe critical condition or worse. And since we couldn’t just tell who was who and what was what, we had to quickly race to the right side of the street and try our best to get out of their way. We didn’t have the option of gunning them all down at once, and wouldn’t have enough ammo even if we did. “RIGHT ALLEY!!!” I called out over the screams.
“We might not make it in time, John!” Sanchez said, but as soon as I started moving, both of my partners made sure to move with me...backing me up without question.
We began to swerve as best as we could around the people headed right for us, keeping our eyes open for anyone that looked like one of those undead cannibals and came close enough to take a bite out of us. Frye was the first one to fire off a shot, knocking one of the zombies back on his ass as the crowd jumped and trampled all over him as well. Keep going. That was the only thing that I kept focusing on in my head. God help us if we fall.
A zombie ran up over the trunk and back window of a car to the left of us, jumping directly at Sanchez with his mouth opened unnaturally wide with a high pitched, demonic, shriek. He took his shot and blew two holes right through him before spinning out of the way to let it fall to the ground, angrily kicking and twitching like a poisoned roach. We kept our weapons up, but made sure not to hit anyone that was just trying to get out of the way. We found ourselves running between cars and pressing our shoulders as close to the walls of the buildings on the right as we could and keep moving. Unfortunately, the crowd kept growing in number, and if we weren’t careful, we were going to find ourselves being squashed against the bricks until we weren’t able to breathe anymore. Which is just as bad, if not worse, than getting trampled out here.
Just then, something grabbed a hold of my arm, unexpectedly, and pulled me further out into the street, and I saw it quickly leaning in to take a bit out of my neck and shoulder. I tried to shake myself free, but it was holding on too tight, so I began to pummel it with the butt of my pistol to force it to let me go. Sanchez was separated from me by a line of people running between us, and it was up to Frye to grab my other arm and pull me back over to the wall again. With that, I put my hand on the side of the zombie’s head and began to ram it against the bricks with all my strength, feeling it’s skull break and it’s teeth crack. And the second it let me go, Sanchez pointed his weapon directly in that thing’s face and unloaded until it dropped down to the concrete and ceased to move.
No time to celebrate, though. We just kept pushing forward as best as we could, taking a few more necessary shots along the way. And just a minute or two before we were able to make it to the alley, the sound of military choppers came soaring in at top speed, taking aim at the chaos below. The commotion had gotten us just the kind of attention that I was hoping to avoid for a little while longer. “We need to get off the streets and as far away from this hysteria as quickly as possible!” Sanchez shouted. “I don’t think this alley is going to be anywhere near enough, man!”
“End of the alley, and bust a hard left! I know where there’s a truck delivery dock over there. If we can find our way in, it’ll buy us a little bit more time!” I yelled back. Just then, we all found ourselves ducking as a rain of heavy gunfire came showering the entire intersection and a full city block or two West from where we were standing.
“Shit!” Frye said, putting his back against the alley wall while he tried to catch his breath. “Are you sure about this, John???”
“Uhhh...no. Not really, no.” They both looked at me, wide eyed. “Hey! A plan of ‘maybe’ is better than no plan at all, am I right?”
They didn’t look convinced, but once we were able to get back on the move, we all went forward as a team. I wanted to get Spencer to safety...but I was going to have to get us there safely first.
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