A ragtag band of survivors comes together to stand against the undead...
A lethal virus... That's nothing new, we see that all the time, and all across the world. Ebola, SARS; even the bird flu has a 60% mortality rate if contracted by humans.
If those viruses happen to spread, it's called a pandemic. We've certainly seen those in human history, from smallpox in ancient Greece, to the Bubonic Plague, and the Spanish Flu.
But a lethal virus...that makes people sit back up again? That's a new one, or it was. Until a strain of virus swept the Earth that did just that, it made them sit up; hungry for human flesh.
Like AIDS before it, the virus had originated from the continent of Africa. After extensive study, some witty scientist came up with the moniker Morningstar. By the time his name was in widespread use, the dead were already knocking on humanity's doorstep.
Maybe pounding would be a more apt description. After a disastrous holding action by the United Nations at the Suez canal, the dead flooded into the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, and southern Russia.
In a global blink of the eye, faster than anyone could react, Morningstar had swept through all of Europe with a ferocity unmatched. Despite their best efforts, the virus ravaged the Eastern seaboard, and raced across the nation.
Now, over a month after the first cases were reported in the continental U.S. The once proud country, lies in ruins. Despite the 'States' best efforts; undead flesh machines infest the country.
Not just the shamblers either, the stupid, slow ones. They use mob tactics, and were popularized by George Romero. No, there's also the sprinters, the ones that are fast, and have a degree of intelligence. They use pack tactics, and are terrifying hunters to behold.
It's in this new world that a small group of people must stand together; some of those same people are listed below...
*This Campfire Creative is based on the Morningstar Saga of novels written by Z.A. Rechet, Travis Adkins, and Bowie Ibarra.*
Handle: Undead Detective
Character Name: Corporal Daren Wilks
Bio: Daren had known all his life that he wanted to serve his country; he also knew that the army was his only escape from the hellish life at home he had to endure. The day he turned 18, Daren had hustled down in secret to the local recruiting station, after two weeks he was informed that he’d been accepted. After he breezed through boot camp, Wilks got deployed to Iraq. He did two tours of duty before he came back state side, Daren was pending redeployment when the virus hit the West coast. He knows how to keep his cool in a shitty situation from his time in Iraq, though he can get emotionally overwhelmed by situations due to his limited life experience.
Appearance: Wilks’ is a staggering 6’7” with crew cut brown hair; he’s dressed in standard U.S. army fatigues, with his tactical vest, Kevlar helmet, standard military boots and nomex gloves.
Equipment: Wilks currently has: an M4 rifle (8 magazines), an M9 sidearm (7 clips) and a pack with various things (ex: Food, water, first aid, flashlight, ect.)
Character Name: Ezekiel Rivera
Bio: Ezekiel Rivera is a mentally ill man of unknown origin who has managed to extricate himself from a mental institution. According to his psychological profile, he has heard the call of the Christian God since he was in his late teens. In accordance with his auditory hallucinations, Ezekiel believes that a final war with evil is afoot, and it is only a matter of time before his faith and his years of rigorous mental and physical training are called upon to serve God in such a war. His belief (or obsession) has somehow guided him to the city. He would be a champion for the Christian Church if the clergy would only listen to his pleas. He acknowledges no family, though it is believed by authorities that he was not an only child. He is a force to be reckoned with.
Appearance: Ezekiel Rivera is approximately 6' 2" tall and weighs close to 215 lbs. His intense green eyes are offset by a dark complexion and short, tightly curled hair. He would normally be considered handsome, but his obsession with his mission has robbed him of sleep for quite some time. Most steer clear of him when he walks down the street.
Equipment: Ezekiel will walk with whatever weapons God leaves for him to find. Thus far, he use sharp stones and other debris that he carries in a worn and rugged shoulder bag.
Character Name: Sgt Kacey Grey
Bio: An officer of the law, she and her fellow brothers-in-arms attempted to hold the chaos at bay for as long as possible but that didn’t last. With many of them dead, and others retreating, Grey decided it was time to move on and try to be of assistance elsewhere. Her rapid deployment bag already packed for emergencies with various supplies and gear, she grabbed up some extra essentials from home and fled off into the night. Before this living hell, she’d been a respected Sgt and led a great team- even training for SWAT. Now, now she was just a wandering survivor like so many others.
Appearance: Kace is around 5’5” with an average build. She has long crimson hair which she pulls back into a ponytail or braid, and emerald eyes. She has fair skin and a few freckles around her nose (an Irish girl through and through). Kacey wears cargo pants (urban camo or black), tank tops (black or grey), and combat boots.
Equipment: Carries a Ruger SR9 in her thigh holster with plenty of spare mags and ammo. She also has her department-issued M16. A k-bar knife is at her left hip, and a machete is holstered behind her deployment pack for easy access.
|Corporal Wilks' eyes snapped open; with his sight restored from the indomitable pitch of unconsciousness, his sense of awareness soon followed. Wilks groaned in pain as the wounds in his leg flared with an unfathomable agony, he'd been towards the back of the four man patrol when the blast had happened. |
I've gotta sit up, Wilks thought woozily to himself. Damn this is gonna hurt!
Wilks sucked in as much air as his lungs could handle, he held the air in like a gag while he pushed himself into a sitting position. He had tears of pain in his eyes by the time he was finished. Wilks slid against the wall and breathed deeply, waiting until he could see clearly through the pain.
When he could finally focus, Wilks didn't like what he saw.
The street that Wilks and his squad had walked down earlier that day was darkened and deserted. From his limited vantage point, Wilks could see that the street was littered with bodies; three of them wearing the distinctive camouflage of the U.S. Army.
"Dammit!" Wilks swore quietly as he pushed against the wall.
Slowly, he managed to hobble to his feet. Wilks' entire left leg burned and throbbed as he tried to put his weight on it, when he tried to move the leg, it remained stiff and unresponsive. Well, I guess it couldn't be easy...huh God? Wilks sent a sardonic thought skyward. Wincing each time his boot touched the ground, Corporal Wilks began to check the bodies of his dead squad mates.
He had lost his rifle in the blast that much was clear. Wilks was relieved to find his M9 sidearm secure in its holster; he snatched at it like a drowning man might snatch at a life line. Wilks knew without checking that there was already a magazine in the handgun and a round chambered, after checking the ammunition pouches on his vest, Wilks knew he had another two clips for the pistol and three mags for his missing M4.
The first squad mate he checked was Private Tomlinson, after closing the fallen soldier's eyes and removing his dog tags, Wilks' gaze trailed downwards. Amid all of the deep bite wounds and now dried blood, Wilks found another two clips for his sidearm and one for an M4. Having also lost his pack in the blast, Wilks flipped Tomlinson on his back and removed his.
The last thing he noticed about Tomlinson before he moved on was the neat nine millimeter bullet hole, right in the middle of his forehead. The next prone figure Wilks hobbled over to was Private Cooper, unlike Tomlinson before him; Cooper still had his rifle clutched in his dead hands. Wilks skipped taking off his fallen comrade's tags and pawed greedily at the rifle, as he yanked the all important M4 out of Cooper's grasp he noticed another difference that Cooper had from Tomlinson...no bullet hole in the head.
Wilks' stomach leapt up into his throat as Cooper blasted a blood curdling scream. Wilks' balance was already precarious, when he jumped from the scream he fell backwards onto the hard pavement.
"ARRRRRRRRGH!!!!!!" Wilks screamed as a pain so intense gripped his leg it was a struggle to stay conscious, it took the clawing grip of the now deceased Cooper to snap him back to reality. Cooper clawed at his leg with his hand, not a millimeter from the shrapnel wounds. Wilks bellowed a second time, in rage, pain and fear.
He kicked Cooper right in the face with his good leg, Cooper's face gave way with a satisfying crunch. The dead soldier's grip hardened even further, Wilks could feel the thing try to bite him through the toughened material of his knee pad. Wilks' bladder loosened at the sound of teeth scraping against the 'pad, he kicked furiously at Cooper with his good foot as a wet patch formed in the crotch of his pants.
Just when it seemed like Wilks' good leg was going to give out, Cooper released his iron grip after a particularly vicious kick. He flew back only a few feet but that was all the space Wilks needed, with no time to swing the rifle around; Wilks whipped out his pistol and lined up the sights with the dead sonofabitch's forehead.
As Cooper's deceased features twisted themselves into a feral snarl, Wilks put two rounds into his skull. The impacts sent Cooper skidding into the wall that Wilks had lain against only moments before,
And to the pits of hell where you belong! Wilks wordlessly condemned as he hobbled over and spat on the body. I can't stay here and look for any more supplies, Wilks thought when he was done. I'm in exhausted and in pain, I need to find a place where I can rest and see if I can get some of these shrapnel fragments out of my leg.
The screams of the dead that Cooper had attracted wailed through the evening air, There is that too. Wilks thought drily to himself.
He hobbled down the street, wincing at every step. When he was no more than a quarter of the way down, his leg buckled and gave out. For the second time in almost as many minutes, Wilks ate shit on the pavement. Blood streamed from a gash on his forehead as he craned his neck upwards, obscuring the right side of his vision.
Wilks swiped the blood away so his right eye could confirm what his left was showing him, he had collapsed in front of a pharmacy.
Thank god for small miracles. Wilks grinned and dragged himself inside. The smashed glass doors lay wide open and his boots crunched over broken glass at uneven intervals as he limped further into the store. After Wilks did a quick check of the aisles, he hobbled behind the front counter and slumped against the wall.
After Wilks had slid to the floor, he dumped the pack he had taken off Tomlinson beside him. He set the M4 on the floor beside him and rested the pistol on his lap. With his vision starting to grey around the edges from blood loss and shock, Wilks dug into the pack. He withdrew a small, military grade first aid kit and balanced it on his good leg.
He drove single use sharp of morphine into the crook of his elbow and sighed in relief when the powerful drug took the pain away, he'd need the absence of pain for what he was about to do.
Wilks knew that he had to act quickly, in a short amount of time the morphine would make him lightheaded, dangerously incapacitated. Wilks tugged his combat knife from its sheathe, after he had used it to cut open his left pant leg completely; he set it between his teeth as a gag of sorts.
Wilks could already feel the lightheadedness coming on as he lined up the small bottles of disinfectant and antiseptic he'd need once he pulled the fragments clear, the last thing Wilks did was to shake out a thing of gauze and lay it on his lap.
After he took a few deep breaths to prepare himself, Wilks took hold of the largest fragment out of the four and pulled. The jagged piece of metal came free with a sucking sound and a wave of pain so intense that it brought Wilks to tears, even through the painkillers.
He gritted his teeth against the pain and moved onto the next one, the pain was even worse the second time around. By the time Wilks had pulled the fourth and final shard, he was hovering on the edge of unconsciousness.
Without bothering to check how much he really needed, Wilks dumped both bottles over the wounds. The agony brutally snapped him back to reality long enough for him to clumsily wrap the gauze around the wounds.
Just as he clumsily slapped the last strip of tape on to hold the dressing, unconsciousness claimed him.
He slumped against the counter as the medical tape fell from his hand, his handgun clattered as it fell from his lap to the floor.
|Ezekiel Rivera was alone in the dark. It felt oddly comforting.|
To one such as him, the dark was the only place where he could hear and respond to the voice of God without the strange looks and the stupid, interfering questions of others. He'd grown tired of those questions, especially from family and from so called healers who always wanted to know how their concoctions poisoned him against God. The poison dulled the channels of communication with God, and Ezekiel would not ingest it no matter the efforts of the healers and their minions.
God favored the young Ezekiel (Zeke for short) as his parents always told him He would. The Almighty had blessed him with the gift of direct and infallible communication with Himself. He had also blessed him with the ability see through the disguises of devils and demons hidden among humans. At least, that is what the voices told Zeke. Zeke was certain that God and several of his archangels were always poised to give Zeke orders to seek and destroy the many emissaries and minions of the Lord of Darkness. Zeke's parents always told him he was special, but they had never prepared him for that!
The voices told Zeke that he needed to prepare his body and his mind for the coming War to end Wars. Zeke took their nightly suggestions to heart. He read the Bible and focused mostly on the Book of Revelations. His task would be to seek the magical weapons God would provide for him when the time was right in order to purge the world of evil and to fight the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Conquest, War, Famine and Death were four powerful riders of supernatural steeds, and these riders would come to bring the world into doom unless he could forestall their progress.
Zeke also ate and exercised under what he called a Biblical Warrior's regiment. A series of complicated nutritional needs combined with body building and cardiovascular exercises could be modulated by life circumstances. They had to be, for the voices had prepared Zeke for the inevitable misunderstanding that would simply emanate from others. The archangels revealed that Zeke was a warrior of God, and as such, he was meant to be different from the others. Zeke was told that his was a higher calling that very few heard and even fewer had the courage to heed.
The War was on its way sooner than Zeke had anticipated, and he had not yet found a weapon.
Zeke's first clues to the war's eminent arrival manifested in the media. Strange accounts of the local outbreak of some sort of virus or contagion dubbed the Morningstar almost made Zeke smile, for The Revelations foretold of rampant disease amongst humanity. He'd spent much of his young adult life preparing his mind and his body for this task. The Almighty would not fail him in his time of need.
And his need was great.
For Ezekiel began to see signs of the war. Fast moving daemons with human like forms were already on the move in the city. How Ezekiel had come to be in this now overrun city was irrelevant. The time for action was at hand. Ezekiel's final stand might yet be upon him!
Ezekiel's training did not fail him as he cast sharpened stones and weapons at the sprinting daemons. Many fell in bloody heaps before his mighty strength, and none could match his blazing speed. But their numbers were too great, and the warrior of God was forced to flee. Overwhelmed by the evil that rushed at him in torrents, the mighty warrior fled into a darkened alley and found safety in a large, metal sarcophagus marked for the name of its deceased. The Dumpster sarcophagus was empty, praise be to God! Ezekiel sealed the heavy lid tightly behind him and stood motionless for hours while the snarls and growls of the sprinting daemons could be heard in the surrounding darkness. But they were not so smart as God's mighty daemon killer, and Ezekiel waited them out as he would a storm.
|Kacey cursed, hitting the steering wheel of the department’s SUV. “They are supposed to be returned with a full tank!” she growled, cursing the fact her fellow officers had never seemed to listen to that particular rule. Now it had cost her, running out her half tank to nothing. The sudden urge to strangle them ran through her mind, but it didn’t take long to remember there were none left to yell at.|
“Damn it,“ she muttered, leaning her head against the wheel. “How could this go so wrong?” Grey didn’t have time to think about that though. Here she was, stuck at night, in the middle of a little-traveled stretch of highway, with nothing in sight.
She stared at the silent cruiser radio, still surprised there hasn’t been any traffic the whole time she had been escaping from her town- even the emergency channel. It made her wonder if the officers who had fled in the previous days had made it. The positive side of her brain figured they had just booked it as far away as possible, and it put them out of radio range.
Grey broadcast on all frequencies, hoping for a response. When there was none, she grabbed her portable radio, turned off the car and proceeded to grab her gear. “Looks like I’m huffing it on foot from here.” She proceeded to strip the SUV of any gear and supplies she could carry, and headed off into the night.
Slinging her M16 over her shoulder, she brought out her mag light. It pierced the darkness for quite a distance, the perfection of tactical lighting. It gave her the confidence to move fairly quick and steady down the road. As she moved, the nagging feeling that she had no plan was returning. She had pushed that aside and gave her mind the task of getting out of town by any means, then she’d done so again by tasking herself to get as far away as she could. Now… now what was she doing?
“Survive. I’ve gotta survive.” The officer looked down at her belt where her badge was hooked and lay on her right hip. It didn’t exactly mean much now, did it? But it was comforting none-the-less. Perhaps her fallen brothers were watching over her. That thought comforted her there in the darkness alone.
- _ - _ -
“We can’t keep doing this. They’re gonna overrun us at this rate.” Park had it right, but Kacey didn’t want to abandon ship. She just couldn’t leave her town to these things. “You’re crazy to think there are any more survivors, Kace!”
Her head whipped around, her emerald eyes piercing into his with such intensity that he shrunk back. “You don’t know that! There could be people held up just like us. We can’t just leave them to die!”
“And how do you suggest we get to them?” Johnson put in. “We haven’t been able to get out in a week.”
“We’re running out of food. It’s a miracle the power plant and water systems are still running,” Kent brought up. “We’re not going to last much longer here.”
“Look, Grey,” Mason walked up, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I know you don’t want to leave when there’s still the possibility of helping even one more person. But we can’t keep this up. Not like this.”
“The military has left us here. They aren’t coming.”
“We don’t know that.”
“Comms have been down for over a week. They probably think we’re dead. They’re not coming.”
Kacey turned away from her Lt, knowing what he said was true. The military had abandoned them and they were overrun. But she just couldn’t let it go. “If you all want to leave, then go. I’m staying.”
A lot of her brothers started to argue but Mason held up his hand. “Are you sure?” She nodded. “That’s your choice then.”
The solemn thought hit her that this was how she was going to die… being too stubborn to leave. She was going to die here. Alone.
“I’m staying too, Sir,” someone spoke. Kacey wasn’t surprised that her partner Jake stood by her side. The whole time he had sat there quietly in the shadows, watching everything unfold. She was, however, surprised when four others shared her sentiments.
Mason nodded. “Alright. We’ll gear up, pack up a couple of the SUV’s and take the civilians.”
“We’ll give you cover fire,” was Kacey’s forlorn response. She held back tears as her comrades walked away. She didn’t want to see them go. But she knew they couldn’t stay.
At daybreak she stood on the roof with Jake, while the other officer’s followed the group to the underground parking garage. When the trio of SUV’s burst from the garage they slammed through the crowd of the undead. The officers who were staying sealed the doors up behind them before heading for the second floor to provide cover fire.
Grey wasn’t sure how many of the infected she had shot, but she had emptied magazine after magazine as the cars burst through the horde and flew out of town. “Good luck,” she whispered.
“They’ll be alright, Kace,” Jake comforted.
“I hope so. I’m more worried about us now.” She glanced over the edge of the building, gazing at the hordes waiting for them below.
|The streaks of hazy sunlight drifted through the slats of the boarded up window, casting a diagonal strip of light that bathed Wilks' eyes in light. It was this gradually increasing light that gently brought him back to the land of consciousness. |
Didn't I, Wilks thought as he pushed himself into a sitting position. Just leave this party last night?
It eerily mirrored his experiences the previous night, so much so that the memories came back in a flood. Cooper, the screams of zombies, and his leg; the appendage tingled with a bit of residual pain at the last memory. Wilks grunted.
A loud crash startled the soldier, I'm not alone here! Wilks thought in a panic.
He suppressed the flash of pain that shot through his leg with a wince as he took a knee, sidearm in hand. Wilks peeked over the counter; the source of the noise was one of the shamblers, the slow bastard had tripped over his own feet and crashed into a cart. With all of the grace of a turtle trapped on its back, the ex-human wriggled around on the floor for a few minutes before staggering to its feet.
As it lurched to its feet, Wilks took aim and squeezed off a round. The nine millimeter bullet entered just under the right cheekbone and exited out of the thing's left temple in a spray of congealed blood, bone fragments and lumps of brain. As its viscera painted a shelf of drugs next to it, the shambler's limp body fell sideways and slammed into the shelf.
The shelf; never meant to hold the weight of a human body, wobbled in indecision for a moment before tipping to the one side. To Wilks, it seemed as the shelf moved in slow motion and ended its ponderous descent with an earth shattering crash. The Corporal froze in horror as the shelf started a disastrous domino effect, only after the last shelf fell did everything in the store go quiet...the calm before the storm.
Wilks heard a violent shifting from the rear of the store, Oh shit, there's more of them!
As fast a his injured leg would carry him, Wilks scooped all of his supplies into the pack and swung it onto his back. He jammed his sidearm back into his holster long enough to sling the M4 over his right shoulder. When the rifle was secure, Wilks tugged the sidearm back out of its holster and checked to make sure that his various magazines were in the vest pouches.
With the sound of shuffling drawing closer, Wilks looked around in desperation. Just behind the desk was a door, Wilks had missed it when he had first staggered into the pharmacy. He reached out and twisted the knob in his gloved hand, it remained resolutely locked. Wilks put his shoulder to the door; it flew inward and dumped Wilks on the floor.
He cried out in pain for a second before climbing back to his feet, If I stop for pain now, I'm dead. No...It’s even worse than death, it's Cooper.
The panting soldier slammed the door shut but with no lock, Wilks knew he had to brace the door. The room that he had fled to looked like some kind of back storeroom, or maybe a record room. It had a number of boxes, two filing cabinets and a large oak desk. Corporal Wilks didn't know why there was a solid oak desk in the room, nor did he especially care.
With all of his might, he pushed it into a blocking position at the door. Seconds after he backed away, the door shuddered under a barrage of rotting fists. The soldier didn't bother to admire his work; instead he used the butt of his rifle to smash out a window. As he chipped the jagged edges away, a half opened box caught his eye.
Wilks spared a glance at the door before he tentatively stepped towards the box; he pulled one of the bottles out and examined the label.
"Score!" Wilks exclaimed as he scooped a handful of the bottles into his bag, the feral snarls of the undead rose in pitch as a response. In the next box, Wilks found a combination of disinfectant and painkillers. After scooping a double handful of both into his bag, he snared a large roll of gauze and tossed it in before making a beeline to the window.
The young soldier threw his bag through first before he straddled the window himself, the pain in his nuts nothing compared to the agony in his leg. He was just easing himself over the sill, when one of the shamblers hit the door particularly hard. The resulting bang made Wilks jump, which in turn sent him tumbling to the ground.
The corporal screamed as his leg hit the ground, the old wounds flashing with pain. With a groan, Wilks heaved himself to his feet. He limped away from the pharmacy and back towards the city center, his sole goal to put as much distance between him and the dead as possible.
His leg flashed with pain every time he put weight on it, and his mind turned to the past, in order to distance itself from the needle like sensation.
They had been sitting around the platoon’s hastily erected camp, what essentially had been a city intersection. Under the watchful eyes of Daren’s platoon, the civilian and military work details had set up structures in the cleared square.
The square itself had been designated as the platoon’s motor pool, the camouflage patterned vehicles were arranged in formations, ready to be deployed. The medics had set up their station in what had been a corner side veterinary clinic, the command staff had set up shop in a small bank, and the vast majority of the platoon had taken over a nearby motel as their barracks.
“This is Fucked,” Cooper hissed as he leaned forward. “With a capitol F!”
The soldier’s added emphasis had no visible impact on his weary friends, they had seen it all. Tomlinson scrubbed his face with his hands, “I dunno man, at least we’re safe here.”
“No, we’re not.” Trip weighed in quietly, he was the highest rank of them all at Sergeant. “Sure, we’re safer from the dead now that we’ve pulled back to the major metropolises, that we’ve left the smaller towns to fend for themselves, but the dead isn’t what concerns me. We all saw what happened yesterday, at Mooreland Park.”
The soldiers all nodded heavily, Mooreland Park was something that was burned into them, they would never forget. Cooper drew the bolt back on his M4, only to release it with a metallic snap.
“Even then, we’re still not safe from the dead,” Cooper added. “People are starting to turn faster than we can put them down, I saw one of the hospitals today; it had almost reached the tipping point.” Cooper had been referring to the point when there were so many dead inside, that the military had to expend men to guard the infested hospital.
“There’s already been two in the immediate area quarantined,” Daren had finally spoken. “Do we even have the manpower for a third?”
“Look guys,” Trip took control of the conversation. “It’s clear that this situation is going FUBAR faster than any of us can really comprehend, we’re cut off, surrounded, and starting to run low on supplies. The last contact we had with any military unit was eleven eight days ago, just before the state repeaters shit the bed.”
“It’s clear that the city won’t have power for much longer, there’s just not enough people with the training, or experience left to run it.” Daren said. “Once the power goes, then whatever civilian order we have here in the city, it’ll go down the fucking toilet.”
“If those…things don’t break through our paper thin lines, and eat everyone first.” Cooper muttered.
“Regardless,” Trip had forestalled further conversation. “We can all agree that action must be taken?” The Sergeant did not ask the question lightly, every man present had heard the stories of supposed ‘traitors.’
Four heads nodded, no words needed to be spoken.
“Alright then, we’ll meet back here in a day, and with all the supplies we can get our hands on. Time to bug out boys…”
Not that it mattered in the end… Daren thought despondently to himself. It all went to shit, in a big fucking way.” The soldier trudged on, too angry with the ghosts of the past to even think.
With my shitty ass luck, I wonder if this day can get much worse. Daren wondered after an eternity of concentration. As if in response, the soldier’s stomach growled. Check that, now I’m hungry too. I wonder if this god forsaken place has a grocery store, I can never have too much food after all.
|Zeke remained ensconced within the metal dumpster all night. The sounds of nearby growls and snarls from the sprinters (as they were truly called) eventually died down. Zeke simply knew them as sprinting daemons, and he was determined not to be felled by any of them. His mission was too great to allow such an ignominious defeat. |
"These sprinting daemons are merely scouts. They are not even the foot soldiers to the armies of Hell," Zeke heard as his limbs trembled slightly in the darkness.
The stench of death that surrounded him was nearly overwhelming, but the mighty warrior of God remained steadfast. He could not allow himself to succumb to the evil that remained out there.
Zeke did not know how much time passed. He sat inside the empty dumpster and leaned his back against one of the walls with his massive and well defined arms folded across his proud chest. He would not allow himself to sleep heavily, and he kept a loose grip on a particularly massive and sharp stone as he closed his eyes and simply listened.
"Mighty Ezekiel. You must remain strong. You have done well in your first real battle. Your courage, strength and speed are yet unmatched by the forces of evil."
Zeke smiled in the darkness and puffed out his well proportioned pectorals.
"Do not give in to foolish pride, young warrior!" shouted the deep and masculine voice of the Almighty. "Yours is not the mission of self gratification. You fight for the Kingdom, the power and glory that belong to ME. YOU belong to ME."
Zeke's smile faded immediately and his spine straightened. It was as if a Sunday school nun had just wrapped his knuckles roughly with a ruler.
"Now listen, well, Champion of God," said a higher pitched, haughtier voice. "Your newest ask is to procure a better means of self defense as well as offense. You have just born witness to some of what awaits you in the coming war. You would do well to remember your Charlamagne.
"Let thine armies be the rocks and the trees, and the birds in the sky," whispered Zeke. He had peculiar habit of speaking these words in an unfamiliar European accent. Yet Zeke knew of his tendency to channel as well as hear the spirits and Angels of Heaven. The change in accent merely confirmed another of his divine powers.
"But you must also remember, young Ezekiel, that the ways of the modern world are not to be ignored. Other weapons of far greater power exist. You will encounter the provisions you need so long as you keep the divine Lord and Savior in your heart and soul."
"Praise be to God and his benevolent son," Zeke responded.
"Do this in memory of me," replied a third, softer, masculine voice. "For my father so loved the world that he sent me down from heaven to die for your sins."
"Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world," Zeke whispered although he was tempted to sing aloud. "Have mercy on us."
"You represent what is best in mortal man, Ezekiel. But your humanity bares the taint of corruption. You were born unto this world a sinner. God has elevated you above most others, but you must find ways to spread the love of God unto those survivors of this latest scourge. Show them the way, young harbinger of justice."
"Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us," Zeke continued. A single tear left his watery green eyes and slowly traversed the canyon of his chiseled cheek.
"I bid you farewell, young warrior. Keep me in your heart. My strength shall guide you on your journey," spoke the voice of the Almighty once more.
"Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world," Zeke whispered once again, closing his burning eyes. "Grant us peace...."
Ezekiel soon did not know the passage of time in his temporary metal sanctuary, for he slept as the dead. His dreams were fettered with broken images of sprinting daemons and of other, fouler creatures who shambled without the light of God in their bodies, their eyes white as snow. Ezekiel awoke with a start as the light of God shone through a tiny gap in the lid of his refuge. The young champion stared up with gladness and gave thanks and praise to God for the light of a new day. He listened hard for the sounds of the evil that not so long ago threatened to consume him. When no sound made its way to his ears, he slowly removed himself from the sarcophagus. And the mighty Ezekiel was as Lazarus or the King of Kings, risen from the dead to bring new life unto the world, thanks be to God.
|Grey discovered a darkened gas station. It was the first structure she’d come across since she’d started her hike. Her flashlight passed over the storefront and pumps, not catching sight of anyone. She pulled the handgun in her thigh holster- a Ruger SR9- and proceeded to check out the area.|
Trying the door, she found it unlocked. It was just a small store, and was easy to clear. She headed into the back room storage and employee areas, with still no sign of life. Finding the circuit breaker, she flipped the switches and the lights flickered to life.
“At least something has gone right.” She turned off her light and slipped it in the slot on the side of her pack, but kept her firearm at hand. “Let’s see what we have in here.” Kacey spent the next half hour or so wandering through the store and picking up some useful items to take with her.
She ended up finding some maps behind the counter. Grabbing a few different ones, she laid them out, trying to figure out her next course of action. She knew she needed a long term goal- someplace to go. But at the moment, all she could manage to think about was where to go next. Grey had hopes she could hook up with some other survivors, and make a break for a place to settle down till this was all over.
She tried to take her mind off the fact she needed some sleep. The store didn’t seem like a bad option to camp out, but without someone else to watch her back, she didn’t like the idea. Anyone- or anything- could wander in as she slept. No, she made a promise to get out and stay alive. She wasn’t about to break that now.
“The mountains…” Her finger hovered over them, chewing on her lower lip. That was a plan she could live with. She knew the general area, having spent time up there. It was mainly small little towns and very cut off from everywhere else. That could be a perfect option… The chance of the infection spreading there would be greatly reduced.
“Now, to get there…” She found her general location along the highway and looked at various ways to take. Multiple routes were the best tactic as it allowed for unforeseen factors like a large outbreak. In that case she could choose another route. The most direct route though, led through a pretty large city.
“Risky. The infection could be rampant there. Or it could have been evacuated before the problem became bigger, leaving lower numbers of infected and more supplies.” Grey pondered over it for a few minutes, weighing her options and assessing the risk involved. “I’ll get in around the outskirts and assess the situation. At the least I can hopefully swoop in to resupply and get back out. If it’s too dangerous there, I’ll just have to take the long way around.”
She nodded at her decision. Checking her watch, she calculated the distance of travel from where she was. “If I head out now, I’ll probably make it there in the late morning. Better to go in while it’s light.”
Grey had her plan. She added the maps to her deployment bag and set off once more into the night. With any luck, she wouldn’t find any more of those… things… along the way. Her hand traveled to the necklace she now wore, saying a silent prayer.
- _ - _ -
It had been a few days since the others had left. Kacey couldn’t help but wonder if she should have gone with them after all. They had yet to have comms re-established or have the opportunity to get out and search for survivors as they had in the early days of the outbreak. They had simply been stuck- watching and waiting.
“Hanging in there?” Jake asked, coming to her side. She couldn’t help but smile a bit. He had always been like a faithful canine since they’d become partners years before, but staying behind in a practical death sentence… that was perhaps pushing the bounds there.
“You didn’t have to stay y’know.”
“Yeah, so?” Jake chuckled. “We all stayed for the same reasons you did. Or was that just a bluff for the Lt?”
She punched his shoulder. “Pain in the ass.” Her face turned serious then. “Thanks. I mean it. I’m glad to have you here. All of you…”
“Sgt!” Tom yelled up from the lobby. Kacey and Jake looked over the railing. “We have a problem!” By the expression on his face, they could tell it was something big.
By the time they had rushed down the stairs, the other officer’s had converged to their location as well.
“What’s going on?” Kacey demanded.
Tom just pointed, pale faced, towards the front doors. They were starting to break. From the constant pressure of the infected, and their clawing and pounding, the doors were starting to give, and if they did, the barricades there weren’t going to be enough. As though on cue, the first of the glass started to shatter.
“Time to move!” she yelled. “Grab your gear! Head for the garage!”
They all scrambled into action. Kacey dashed into the locker room off the main area, snatching up her rapid response bag and grabbing the M16 from her locker. Jake was right behind her with his own bag, clutching a Remington 870 shotgun.
More glass was heard shattering, and the sounds of the moans and animalistic cries reached their ears. “Grey!” The pair rushed back to the lobby to find Tom and his partner Mike with their weapons ready at the doors. There was a creature crawling through one of the openings, up and over the barricades. It let off a howl that shook the room, making her heart skip a beat.
The carrier launched itself with great speed at Tom, pinning him to the ground with a sickening thud. He screamed out as his stomach was slashed open. Mike opened fire, only to be pounced on by another carrier that had found its way in.
“Move it!” Kacey ordered the others. Without delay the four of them sprinted down the hallways, hearing the howling and calls of the carriers as they leapt into pursuit. Jake spun around, landing a shot strait to the head of one of them, putting it down. But the other leapt over the fallen body and continued to charge.
They could hear more calls, coming in to join the hunt. As they reached the lock up area, Kacey had an idea. “We’ll use the lock-down gates!”
“We’ll cover you while you punch the codes!” Jake replied.
They turned the corner and Kacey rushed to the control room, pulling up the command screen. As she hurried to find the correct lockdown gates, she heard the screeching of those infected as they caught up to them. “Hurry it up, Grey!” Dave yelled, opening fire. She heard the other’s do the same.
“Come on, come on…” Kacey’s fingers flew over the keys.
She heard someone yell out in pain and then curse.
“There! Got it!” She hit ‘enter’ and the alarms blared, signaling that the detention section was going into emergency lockdown. “Let’s go!” she ordered, popping out of the room. “We’ve only got 30 seconds till the gates shut us in!”
Jake ceased fire, following her immediately. Dave turned right behind him. But as Cooper went to follow, another carrier popped around the corner, grabbing his leg and pulling him back. As he screamed, Dave stopped and turned.
But Kacey and Jake kept moving. Looking over his shoulder, Jake yelled for Dave to catch up. “Come on!” There was nothing left to do for their comrade now.
Grey slammed the button for the elevator as they reached the end of the hall, breathing heavily. The pair brought their weapons to bear, watching the gate behind them start to close. “Dave! Hurry it up!”
Kacey fired at the carrier on his heels, but it wasn’t enough. Dave wasn’t fast enough to make it. The gate slammed shut right in front of him. He spun around, staring at a pair of carriers who were stalking up on him, knowing they had him cornered.
“Get down!” Kacey yelled at him, trying to get a bead on the creatures. But he was frozen in place. The hesitation ended up costing him his life.
“Damnit!” she cursed, firing at the pair anyway. Jake followed suit.
The elevator had arrived behind them, and they got in, hitting the button for the garage. “Fuck!” she yelled out in frustration, kicking the side of their enclosure. “What else can go wrong?”
She immediately regretted voicing that allowed though when she heard her partner cough. “Grey.” She turned to him, wide-eyed when she spotted his arm. When had he been hurt? Why hadn’t she noticed? “When you were in the office. One of the bastards bit me,” was his answer to her unasked questions.
“No…” Her words barely came out. “Jake.”
The elevator dinged and they exited into the parking garage. Jake leaned against the wall, looking at the ground. “Come on,” she prodded, grabbing his uninjured arm to pull him along. “After we’re outta town I’ll bandage you up.”
He pulled back on her grasp though. “No. You know that’s not going to work.”
Kacey narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t talk like that!”
“It’s true and you know it. All the reports said that once someone has contracted the virus there’s no stopping its spread through the body.”
“You don’t know that you contracted-“
“Saliva contact with blood… you read the same briefs I did Kace.” He coughed again, feeling his chest becoming heavier.
“So you’re just going to give up?” She stood there in disbelief.
“I can’t put you in danger for a ‘maybe’ chance that I’m not going to turn into one of them.”
“And I can’t just leave you behind!”
“You’re going to have to.”
She growled, throwing him back against the wall roughly. “You think I’m going to do that!?”
“Kacey, please.” He placed a hand over hers. “Just go.” Jake winced, feeling tendrils of pain shooting through him. Looking over, the veins on his arm were turning black.
Her eyes widened. It was true- he was infected now. She wrapped her arms around his neck, embracing her partner one last time. “I can’t leave you to die like this.”
“I know…” She felt him shove something into her stomach. She looked down to find his handgun. “Make it quick.” He tried to force a smile, letting her know it was for the best. But it didn’t make her feel any better. “Get out of here. Survive. For me.”
She nodded slowly. He unclipped the necklace he always wore- a Shinto Tomoe symbol. “Keep this with you.” Kacey tried not to cry as he put it around her neck. She wasn’t particularly religious, but now after meeting Jake, she could appreciate his faith. “See you in the next life.”
“I’ll meet you again Jake,” she replied, holding the gun up. Kacey’s eyes overflowed with tears then. She couldn’t hold it back any longer. The sound of the gunshot echoed through the garage and rang in her ears. She pulled off her department shirt, laying it over her partner’s still corpse- leaving her in just a tank top.
It wasn’t really clear after that what all had happened. There were only flashes of images and sounds. But mostly, it was just silence… and the echo of that final gunshot ringing in her head.
|Wilks had pissed his pants last night, he'd cut them up pretty good too. It hadn't seemed like a very big issue at the time, he had been busy trying to survive an attack by the undead. It hadn't even seemed important this morning; of course the morning had been spent painfully limping for his life from yet another attack from the undead. That latest one had taken place at the pharmacy he had used as shelter. Now, the piss was all that Wilks could focus on. As the large ring of urine dried, it became increasingly uncomfortable but more than the discomfort, it was embarrassing. |
To be fair though, Daren hadn't stumbled across any other survivors, just more dead bodies and the occasional zombie. Earlier in the morning, the corporal had heard a frenzied bellow further into the city. For Wilks to be able to hear it, that meant that the screamer must have been close.
It was mid afternoon now, and Wilks hadn't heard another scream. Just the distant sounds of gunfire, it sounded especially intense towards the downtown core. Daren already knew he was going to give that area a wide berth, just to be safe.
He was in no shape to take on a handful of zombies, let alone the thousands that must've still beeen in the heart of the city. Whenever Wilks saw so much as a single shuffling body, he'd hide, and wait for it to pass.
The closest Wilks had come to a shower in days was earlier in the day when he had scrubbed the front of his pants with water; in an attempt in get some of the urine out. The soldier knew that it was a bad idea to have such poor hygiene, poor hygiene bred infection and with a leg full of shrapnel wounds, infection was something he could ill afford.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small gym. I wonder if they have showers in there? Wilks thought; in that moment, he knew he'd have to detour from his objective of the grocery store to check. His stomach growled, as if in protest. With his M9 in one hand, he gently pushed open the glass door with the other.
The gym was dark and silent; it looked as if it was empty. Wilks knew better then to trust appearances, he limped through the main workout area first, the beam from the small maglite he held in a tactical grip illuminated the sentinel like machines. The afternoon light that spilled in through the windows served to ease a bit of Wilks' fear, he limped deeper into the building.
It had been a rainy day, the oppressive cloud cover had made what he was about to tell her that much harder. Daren shouldered open the glass door, and all but staggered into the building. The receptionist, who was dressed in the same yoga pants, and top that seemed to be the unofficial ‘uniform’ of club employees smiled at him.
He returned the smile, but put enough sadness into it that she would leave him alone. Like a charm, the receptionist gave him a look filled with pity but said nothing. Daren looked over the front area, and spotted her almost immediately, she was running on the treadmill.
Daren walked over to her, slicking his wet hair back as he did. She looked up from her running induced intensity, and smiled. Her smile lifted Daren’s heart for a moment, and then crushed it three times as hard.
He didn’t look forward to what he was about to do.
“Hey,” Daren spoke loudly. “You mind stopping for a sec?” He mimed pulling out invisible headphones.
She followed suit, and brought the treadmill to a stop. “Yeah, what is it?”
She threw a small grin at him, the same grin that had brought him untold joy for the last two years of his life. The knowledge of what he was about to tell her pulled his heart apart.
“I’m just gonna come right out and say it,” Daren had never been very good at beating around the bush. “I enlisted two weeks ago, just got my deployment orders today; Iraq.”
Her face dropped, "What? Why didn't you tell me?" A rogue tear trailed down her cheek. "God, Daren, I thought we got through all this keeping secrets from me bullshit."
“I…” words deserted Daren. “I didn’t want to worry you, I didn’t want you to try and talk me out of something that I had to do. I didn’t want us to fight over something…that I knew you wouldn’t win.”
“Oh, I see how it is.” She jumped off the treadmill and pushed past him.”I guess that everything that happened between us was a lie.” Her voice quavered, and the tears spilled forth.
“No, that’s not what I meant G-“
She whirled around, and slapped him. The noise reverberated throughout the tiny gym, and the receptionist looked up in sudden concern.
Daren rubbed the spot where she had slapped him with his hand, she stalked off to the change room. Her choked sobs tore his heart asunder until the door closed, the hollow boom mercifully cut off any more sounds from her.
Even to this very day, the spot where she slapped him still hurt. Only, it wasn’t on his face, it was on his heart. It was the one guilt he had ever felt over leaving that tiny shitburg of a town, not his hellish step parents, not the malicious classmates, but the girl that he left behind.
Wilks went from room to room, M9 up and scanning. As he cleared each room, he locked it behind him so there would be no "surprises." He had gone through most of the small gym when he reached the change rooms at the back, one for each gender and both had attached shower areas. "Excellent." Wilks spoke aloud, the first word he had uttered in quite some time.
The problem was, Wilks wasn't the only one that heard it. With a growl that sounded like neither man nor beast, one of the undead staggered around the corner of the female change rooms. His handgun followed his stomach as he dropped it to his side, it had her face. Wilks inhaled sharply, his eyes welled with tears. He couldn't kill her, even if she did tear the flesh from his bones.
Then it wasn't her, the familiar face was gone; in its place was a stranger, a feral snarl of rage and hunger on her clearly dead features. Wilks' mind cleared, he snapped the handgun back up to eye level and squeezed the trigger. The M9 bucked in his palm, the 9mm bullet made a neat pencil sized hole in her forehead and painted the back wall with her brains.
The report for the shot was deafening in the close quarters, his ears rang and his head throbbed, as if it had been Wilks and not the zombie who had been shot. The dead stranger fell backwards, arms outstretched; she crumpled into a heap at the base of the wall. From Wilks' right he heard an inhuman scream; he panned the M9 around in time to catch one of the runners in the iron sights.
He squeezed the trigger twice, a pair of neat holes appeared in the runner's chest. The zombie staggered back and went ass over tea kettle into a cluster of garbage bins, a cacophony of clanging metal and flailing limbs sounded his demise. A third hiss came from his left, with no time to turn his entire body into a stable firing position, Wilks brought his arm up over his head and ended his move with his shooting arm out an a ninety degree angle from his body.
He put a bullet in the brainpan of the last zombie; with one hand. My god, this is the world I live in now. Wilks thought despondently as he lowered his sidearm, he still had the two change rooms to check. They were both empty of everything except dead bodies; both stank to high heaven as well, though the men's a bit less than the women's.
Being around all of the filth associated with dead bodies was a health hazard, Daren knew this. He didn't plan on showering long enough for it to be a serious concern for him. He dropped his pack and his M4 on the bench next to the shower, the flickering fluorescent lights gave him all the light he needed to see. He undressed but kept his M9 close at hand, there was no way he was so much as showering without a weapon in the world post Morningstar.
He brought his first aid kit with him as well, no sense in taking a shower and not redressing the wounds. As he peeled the various gauze dressings off, Daren was pleasantly surprised with the progress. All of his leg wounds looked nasty and felt just as sore but there was no signs of infection and the bleeding had stopped, for the most part. The bandages he pulled away were still slick with blood, including his most worrying wound, a deep puncture on the thigh. When he first saw it, Wilks was convinced from the bleeding that it had torn his femoral artery open.
While it was still bleeding mildly, Wilks hadn't bled to death; he took that as an encouraging sign. He gritted his teeth in pain when he put it under the hot water and almost yelled when he put the disinfectant and antiseptic on the wounds, after that he just let the water wash over him. His thoughts turned to her, I wonder if she’s still alive, did she survive Morningstar, if I had been there could I have helped? It was the only time in his life where Daren felt guilty about leaving home, he felt guilty about leaving her there, alone. He limped out after 15 minutes under the spray, aside from the pain in his heart and leg, it was the best Wilks had felt all day.
Wilks soaked his pants in the water for a minute before leaving them out to dry, he redressed his leg in the meantime. It was with great care and tenderness that he wound the dressings, every time he pushed too hard against the leg it cried out in pain. Sorta like operation, only with one hell of a buzzer. Daren thought grimly.
By the time he had finished, his pants had dried enough for him to put them back on. They were still damp but Wilks knew the sun would dry them out in no time, there was a growl behind him. He swung his pistol in that direction, only to find nothing. It took him a moment to realize that it actually was his stomach, the hunger that gnawed at him was bordering on ravenous.
As much as he was loathe to waste supplies, Wilks reached into his pack and withdrew two protein bars. He tore the wrapping off the first one and stuffed it in his pocket, he caught himself mid stuff Nobody's around to give a fuck. He let the wrapper fall to the floor, the lone piece of garbage impacted him more than any zombie could. Nobody's around to police litter, no environment Nazis, no tree huggers, no...anyone.
Daren shook himself out of it after a minute of staring and popped the bar in his mouth; he bit off a massive piece and began to chew happily. He left his sidearm in its holster, though with the strap undone. Daren had cleared the area but there was no point in taking chances, he shouldered his pack and rifle before limping out of the change room. I wonder if there's any protein bars out at the front counter?
|Zeke hoisted himself over the edge of the open dumpster and landed squarely on his feet. The morning sun did nothing to dispel the sense of foreboding that came to Zeke when he noticed the emptiness of the city streets. There were no sprinting or shambling daemons to be found in his immediate vicinity, but Zeke had not yet encountered any of the survivors of this scourge. He shook his head.|
"Can anyone else claim to be a warrior for God in this war?"
Zeke started when he heard this question, but he said nothing. He knew that not all survivors could possibly be warriors for the Almighty. He was aware only of his sworn duty to protect the innocent from the nightmare that the Morningstar had caused. God would simply have to guide the mighty champion to his new charges, wherever they might be.
After scanning the area and taking note of the emptiness of the cars and the buildings that surrounded him, Zeke genuflected, made the sign of the cross with his right hand and kissed the tips of his fingers.
"I stride forth in the name of God. Protect me, father, for I am your champion," Zeke said to nobody in particular.
As he strode forward, Zeke began to recite a prayer that energized him in times where danger was eminent.
"Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...."
"I look around and I realize that I aint got nothin' left!" came the sudden blast of rap music from an indentified source. Zeke's eyes flew open and he clutched a sharp stone tightly in his right hand. Who on earth would listen to such blasphemy? The media was just as likely a channel for evil and despair as it was for the grace of God. Perhaps the person who listened to this radio song was yet alive? Indeed, the listener might prove to be the first of the survivors to whom Zeke would bring God's love.
"We keep spendin' most our lives livin' in a gangsta's paaradiiise!"
The song was old, but Zeke remembered it well enough to know that it was an affront God's love and Grace. He remembered it so because it was the song that prompted the first of the divine voices to enter Zeke's consciousness.
Zeke smiled as he remembered this moment in time. He had been staring out a classroom window with a pair of ear buds jammed into his ears when the song began to saturate and poison his mind.
"Listen not to the voice of despair, young Ezekiel. The Devil uses despair as one of his greatest weapons for the claiming of young and lost souls," the voice had said. "Your purpose is far greater than that of most of your peers. Do not lose yourself!"
Ezekiel had listened to the voices ever since. Now he was here, angry that the same blasphemous song could still lead young and hapless souls to their damnation. Perhaps Zeke was meant to be here in this moment in order to preach the same words of wisdom that were delivered unto him. He would hold this survivor's soul up to Heaven and let the light of the Almighty surround that person with love and grace.
Zeke smiled to himself as he searched the area again for the source of the song. A small distance away, an overturned vehicle of some sort caught his eye. It was a small white vehicle, and as Zeke drew closer, the light of the sun glinted off of the metal body. The words "Hotlips Pizza" were clearly marked on the roof of the vehicle, which appeared slightly dented, perhaps from the impact of being turned over. One of the doors to the vehicle was open and it reminded Zeke of a massive hand that pointed to the Heavens. Laughing for the first time in quite a while, the young Champion jogged the remaining distance to the vehicle and peered into the windows, looking for signs of life other than the blasphemous song.
An empty pair of seats greeted him when he looked at the front of the four person compact. When Zeke circled the vehicle and peered into the back, the back seats proved just as unoccupied. Oddly enough, the windows had not been broken in whatever accident or abuse this vehicle had suffered.
"...why arrre we so bliiiiiiiind to seeeee," the voice on the radio called out to nobody else.
Zeke shuddered. He nodded and grabbed the top edge of the overturned vehicle, hoisting himself up again. Perhaps he would do the world a favor and turn off the insipid noise.
It was when his hands grasped the door and he began to peer down into the driver's side of the vehicle that Zeke heard the unearthly sound from a few feet beyond. He lifted his head and narrowed his eyes in the direction of the noise. He exhaled sharply as he spied the shambling mess of what he believed to be a possessed human. The daemon had not achieved full control of his host, however, and this monstrosity bled from its mouth and its eyes, and it nearly stumbled on feet that were twisted inward at unnatural angles. It gurgled and spat up gobs of green and red fluid, and the hair on the host's head seemed to have been pulled off in massive clumps.
But Zeke remained undaunted. Even as the abominable creature shuffled into the light of day toward the vehicle, Zeke's powerful muscles tensed as he held the open car door. With a mighty battle cry and a colossal heave toward the sky, Zeke somehow managed to separate the door from the body of the vehicle!
"In the name of God and Saint Micheal and Saint George!" Zeke cried aloud as he leapt from the top of the car and landed on his feet. "I will purge, you, foul daemon from your human host or I shall die in the attempt!"
The shuffling creature stopped briefly and gurgled. More blood and spittle oozed from the monster's mouth and dribbled down it's chest. Zeke assumed a combat stance and held the car door in his left hand as though it were the shield of a Gladiator. He drew another sharpened stone from his battered shoulder bag and held it high in the air for the creature to see, but it did not look as though the possessed human knew what fate was about to befall him.
With an earth shaking cry of "Praise be to the light!" Zeke snapped his right arm forward in a deft motion and the sharpened stone flew straight as an arrow. The path the stone took was a direct one to the monster's neck. A jagged point embedded itself in the creature's throat. The shuffling abomination's head jerked a little as though the human host had coughed violently. The creature slowly lifted a gnarled hand to its throat and tugged at the razor sharp stone until with a sickening, squelching noise, the stone was pulled free from its neck like Excalibur from the famous stone. Blood gushed freely from the open wound, but the creature showed no signs of slowing down.
Zeke's eyes widened and he bore his teeth in a ferocious snarl. He kicked off the ground with a powerful leg and began to run, pell mell for the beast. The hot white fire of the Almighty seemed to surge up his leg muscles and up his spine as Zeke charged.
With a scream born from the wrath of God Himself, Zeke leapt high off the ground. The world seemed to fall away from him as he felt his body soar towards the Heavens. He gripped the car door as he would a giant discuss, and he rotated his body left in midair in order to gain more momentum. As the arc of his flight began to take him closer to the creature, his body rotated a full 360 degrees. He moved his left arm and brought his elbow to the height of the creature's neck. Before Zeke landed, he made a strong slashing movement with his left arm. A thick crunching noise told Zeke he'd connected, and Zeke exhaled as the shambler's head was lopped off. The head flew back and to the left in a sickening arc and crunched into a nearby street curb. Zeke landed on his feet and screamed to the Heavens above as blood gushed from the neck of the decapitated monstrosity, covering the victorious warrior in splotches and droplets.
"You're crazy, man!"
Zeke whirled in the direction of the sudden outburst. His green eyes narrowed as he searched the street, but it did not take long for him to spot the source of the noise.
"And who might you be, errant wanderer?" Zeke responded, holding the car door in front of him as he might a shield.
"I was gonna ask you de same question," replied the skinny black man. He wore a filthy looking grey hooded sweatshirt and tattered, blue jeans. "I thought choo was in trouble, so I came to see what I could do."
"I live," Zeke simply said.
"Yeah I can see dat," said the black man while looking past Zeke and raising his eyebrows.
"You bare no weaponry of any kind. How have you survived this scourge?"
"I survived dis shit by running and hiding," replied the man. "In fact you're de only other one I've seen out here," he finished while trailing off slightly.
"The only other what?" Zeke demanded, his jaw muscles working furiously as his eyes scanned the area quickly.
"Survivor, man! God Da-"
"Do not finish that sentiment!" Zeke hollered, his eyes suddenly wide with zeal.
"Okay okay!" replied the stranger, holding up his hands and taking a step backward. "You da man. I getchoo."
"No. I am not the man."
Zeke lifted his head to the sky in reverence. "The Almighty reveals my path." Zeke lowered his head again and gazed at the survivor.
"Do you believe in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?"
"What the fu-? Can we go now?" asked the stranger, exhaling in exasperation. "Look, man, Dey gonna be here any minute, and it aint always those slow motherfuckers like de one you just...wow!"
"Do you accept the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into your bosom.."
"Aiight, man, Chill!" exclaimed the stranger. "After what I just saw yo' motherfuckin' ass do-" The man motioned pointed his chin once at the car and once at the head on the ground behind Zeke. "-I'll believe anything you say!"
Zeke smiled and lowered his shield, but did not relax the rest of his stance. "Come with me then."
And so it came to pass that Ezekiel encountered the first of the survivors. The Champion of God continued to prove his worth as he protected the man from the attacks of more shambling daemons that stood in their path. Guided by the light of the Almighty, Ezekiel pressed on, searching out more survivors and finding little more than the abandoned vestments of a once proud people. Modern living had done nothing to repel the scourge or the daemons that flowed from it.
No sprinting daemons emerged to challenge the two wanderers, and Ezekiel soon shared his goal of finding more survivors with his new ally. The other man listened and appeared to understand. He agreed to help Ezekiel as best he could, and the morning son began to fade as Ezekiel preached the word of God, guided by the spirits of Archangels and the Almighty himself.
How blessed was the Divine Warrior who came to purge the city of evil and bring its survivors unto the Lord's grace!
|Grey adjusted her pack as she reached the top of the hill. She had just gotten into town and it seemed the area she was in was mainly warehouses and industrial buildings. Pausing to gaze around the expanse, she was satisfied there was no immediate danger- from man or otherwise- for the time being. She took off her pack and knelt on the grassy patch, still holding her M16 in her right hand just in case.|
The police Sgt pulled her portable radio out, turning it on and setting it to scan. “Please be someone in range…” Ever since deciding to leave her overrun town, she hadn’t been able to contact any other officers or military personnel. It was unsettling, to say the least. She blew out of her lips in frustration.
When no traffic was heard, she decided to broadcast on the emergency station. “Anyone listening, this is LEO Sgt Grey, please respond.” She listened, only to hear static. “Any personnel, please respond.” Nothing. “If anyone can here this, this is Sgt Grey, please respond!” Defeated, she switched the radio off. She wasn’t worried about running the batteries down- she had spares and a way to charge her electronics- but she didn’t need any noise to give away her position at a bad time.
Another quick look around her, then she decided to fix her ponytail that was falling out. With her long crimson locks back in place, she hoisted up her gear. Dusting off her urban camo cargo pants, and her dirty black tank top, she was ready to go. Kacey Grey looked upon the city she was about to enter, wondering what horrors she would find. Hopefully, there’d be some other survivors this time.
Determination in her emerald eyes, she set off down the hill, off into this territory unknown to her. Her first order of business, secure a place to sleep before nightfall. It was late afternoon, and that would give her enough time to find something. At least she hoped. Her intell for outbreak situations was just too outdated to know what to expect. Here she was now, tired and starting to feel the sting of mental exhaustion from being on the run so long alone.
Survival was never good solo. It just didn’t work that way. But what could you do with no survivors to find? Even her fellow officers had abandoned the station much sooner than she had. The few others who had stayed behind with her were all dead now. If she didn’t find help soon though, dying from over excursion was a big possibility- or from a dumb mistake brought on by fatigue.
M16 at the ready, she traveled using the back alleyways, popping out at the road occasionally to look around for anything of interest. No humans. The shamblers in this area were not there in throngs though- easy enough to sneak around. She ducked back into the alley, continuing on some more before going back to the street. Peeking out, she could see some stores that caught her eye.
She had enough food- mostly dehydrated and freeze dried varieties- water, and other supplies, but restocking never hurt anyone. The small grocery store Kacey saw up the road didn’t appear to be vandalized; a good sign there could still be provisions there. It was on the other side of the four-lane though, and too many shamblers between her and the objective to want to cross there. Maybe if she went further up the street… Or doubled back?
While she debated, Grey looked at what buildings were on her side of the road. None indicating food, but a few that had promise for shelter. A place too big would be hard to keep secured with one person. She glanced at the sign of the building she was leaning against last. A gym. “Hmm… Might be something.” She would have to clear it and look over the interior first, but it could possibly work.
Deciding she should get her shelter in order before worrying about making it across the street, she opened the front door. Assault rifle at the ready, she flipped on the mounted light. She scanned the lobby area, slowly making her way inside. There was a door labeled as employees only, and another going to the gym itself.
Grey approached the employee door first, checking out what was back there. But all she found was a small lunch room and side room with lockers. Making a mental note to check it out for supplies after she was finished, she went back to the lobby. She started to cross the room to the gym doors, but heard a small noise. She pulled the buttstock closer to her shoulder, finger hovering lightly on the trigger and breathed out.
As the door open, she paused just before firing. In the flashlight beam stood a young man with some kind of food bar in his mouth. He stared at her- dripping wet- like a deer in the headlights, just as surprised as she was. As the realization hit her that this person was real, and not infected, she let out a sigh in relief.
“A human. Finally a goddamned human.” She couldn’t stop herself from letting out a chuckle, the tension of the past weeks fading just a little. Grey lowered the assault rifle, looking at the man carefully. Human didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t scum. But she still had the advantage if he tried anything funny.
|Daren looked down at his boots, and shook his head ruefully. She caught me with my fucking pants down! The soldier silently berated. He had been chewing on one of the protein bars behind the counter, and checking for anything else useful when she showed up. |
Both his hands were on the counter, an entire hand span away from his sidearm, if not more. Might as well be a fucking continent, good job Daren. Pain began to gnaw away at his leg, hidden from view behind the counter.
Before he could say, or do anything, the woman lowered her gun with a chuckle. “A human. Finally a goddamned human.” She said; her voice a mixture of surprise, and elation. Wilks let the silence hang in the air, while he looked her over. The black combat boots she wore on her feet were dusty, as if she had just traveled a great distance in a rural setting. Her urban camouflage cargo pants were dirty, and worn.
It was her eyes that really caught WIlks’ attention though, framed by head of crimson pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes were an intense green, like twin lasers that pinned him in place. They had the look to them, the look of a hardened fighter; someone who would do whatever it took to survive. I get the feeling I’ll be able to do business with her, let’s see where this goes.
“Yeah,” Wilks replied carefully into the silence. “I’m human, not one of them.”
“What’d you do to get those fatigues, and that weapon?” The woman demanded. The barrel of her M16 rose threateningly. If the weapon didn’t kill him, Daren knew the intensity of those eyes would slag him where he stood.
“I enlisted,” Wilks was annoyed that this woman was holding him at gunpoint. “Where do you think I got them?” The dull ache in his leg made the words come out harsher than he had intended.
“Prove it.” The woman was unfazed by his sarcasm.
She’s sharp as a tack, Wilks complimented. She’d have to be though in order to make it this far. He sighed aloud, “Alright, I can prove who I am but you’re gonna have to let me reach inside my jacket to show you.”
The woman gestured with her M16, a signal for him to get on with it. Daren dropped the protein bar, and slowly reached inside his jacket, and down his shirt. He eased his dog tags out; Daren slipped the chain over his head, and tossed them gently towards her. “There’s all the proof you need.” The soldier answered simply.
The woman took her grip hand off the M16, and caught the ‘tags with ease. She didn’t look impressed with him, as she held the M16 on him with one hand.
Wilks. Daren, B. 313 20 7652, O+, PROTESTANT. Wilks knew what she’d see on the tag, and if she knew an iota of military knowledge, then she’d know he was legitimate in his claim. She held the tags silently for a moment, far too long for Daren’s comfort, before she tossed them back.
The soldier exhaled softly, he’d been afraid of her wasting him on the spot. “So, you believe me now?” Daren asked. The solider concentrated on preventing the pain in his leg from showing on his face.
She lowered her weapon once again, “It’s nice to find another survivor, but it’s even nicer to find out you’re really military.”
“My name’s Daren Wilks,” the soldier tried a little diplomacy. “I used to be a Corporal in the army but I guess that doesn’t matter much now, huh? So, what’s your name?”
The woman stared at him for about a minute before she responded, and with great difficulty. “I-I‘m Grey, Kacey Grey, I worked as a sergeant on my local police force.”
Oh great, this is gonna throw a wrench in the works. Wilks despaired. “Ah, is that an ‘oh shit’ bag?” Wilks didn’t voice any of his despair aloud. He didn’t even know if she’d want to stay with him, so there was no point in saying anything just yet.
“A what?” Puzzlement flashed across Grey’s face.
“An ‘oh shit’ bag,” Wilks repeated. “You know, with the survival supplies, and stuff. Kinda like the military pack I’ve got, I knew a few guys who used to keep those in their basements, in case the end was ever nigh.”
“Funny, I’ve never heard it called that before.” Kacey mused. “In any case, yeah, it’s my ‘oh shit’ bag. I’ve got a few other things that I don’t think the military would hand out to the common grunt, no offense.”
“None taken,” Daren smiled slightly. “Likewise, I’m sure I’ve got a few things in my pack that the force wouldn’t issue to any officer.” He wasn’t sure if it came out a smile or a grimace.
An awkward silence descended over the two as they ran out of ‘small talk’ to say, Kacey broke the silence. “So, I was thinking that maybe the two of us could stay together. Two trained shooters would certainly stand a better chance in this new world than just one.”
“Novus Mundus,” Daren muttered.
“Huh?” Kacey asked. “Sounds Latin.”
“It means New World.” He answered. “The government of Portugal sent a letter to the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who had been exploring the Americas at the time. The New World, as it was called. Novus Mundus is the name of the letter translated into Latin; how fitting that after just over five centuries-a blink of the eye in the world’s time-it should be regulated to that status once more.”
Kacey gave him a blank look. “Right,” she stretched the word into two syllables. “So, about us sticking together Corporal Wilks?”
“Sounds like a plan, but you can drop the ‘Corporal Wilks’ bullshit. My rank doesn’t matter anymore, just Daren.” Daren’s face took an abrupt turn towards seriousness. “If we are going to surviving together, know this, just because you were a police sergeant doesn’t mean that I’m going to follow your orders.”
Kacey smiled faintly, “I get that Corporal, but you should also understand that I won’t just obey any orders you may give without question either. Martial law or no, the entire country’s shit the bed Wilks, you’ve got just as much power as I do.”
Daren cracked a grin of his own, the first since he had woken up on the pitch dark street the night before. “Then I guess we’ll have to work together, discuss things, democracy in practice huh?”
“Yeah, I guess it is.” Kacey smiled faintly.
“That said, we are gonna have to agree on who we default to in combat situations. Now, I do have a bit of experience playing in the sandbox, if you catch my drift.” Daren referred to his tour in Iraq. “We can’t talk things out when the bullets start flying.”
Kacey nodded, “Fair enough, if you’ve got the experience then I guess it’d be a bit foolish not to defer to you. I do have experience in dangerous situations though; don’t think of me as some useless person who needs protection.”
“The thought never entered my mind.” Daren replied truthfully.
“Alright then,” Kacey said. “Just so long as that’s understood, then we won’t have a problem.”
Another silence descended as the two tried to figure out what to say next, it was Daren who broke the silence. “So, if you’re with me, then I guess I’d better share my plan with you.”
“What plan?” Kacey asked.
“My plan for the future, I worked it out earlier when I was by myself but another person could only help.” Daren explained. “Essentially, I want to leave the city, and get as far away as I can.”
“Dammit Daren,” Kacey replied with a tired grin. “I just walked in here.”
“It doesn’t have to be tonight,” Daren replied quickly. “It could be tomorrow or even the day after that.” He had to get off his leg soon; the pain was almost too much to bear.
“What’s so bad about this city, it seems like there’re plenty of supplies a very little zombies. “ Kacey said.
“That’s because we’re in the sweet spot,” Daren explained. “Not close enough to the city center to get swarmed by the dead, but not far enough away into the suburbs that supplies are a bitch to find. I remember in the final days before the military evacuated the area, we were having a hard time with the city center because there was so many dead. That was when the military was drawing them all in; now that the army’s gone, they’ll start radiating out like a...well, like a disease.”
A loud crash interrupted the cop; it came from the direction of the showers. Kacey turned towards the source of the noise, and snapped the M16 up to eye level. She pushed the buttstock into the hollow of her shoulder, and took a hesitant step towards the noise.
Daren steadied himself on the counter as a flash of pain coursed from his leg; sweat beaded his brow as he pulled the M9 out of its holster, and aimed it down the hall, back towards the showers. His stomach dropped down to his feet as he saw what came shuffling out of the darkness, it was one of the slow zombies, one of the walkers.
How could there be any left in here? I cleared the place out! Daren railed.
Just before Kacey took the shot, Daren saw the two bullet holes in its chest. It was the same runner he had shot before, only now it was slower. It got back up again; after it got back up again? What the hell is going on here!
Then its head simply disappeared. Kacey’s first shot was a little low; it hit the walker just below the cheekbone, and tore his jaw almost completely off, it hung on by a little scrap of tissue, and swung like a pendulum with his jerky movements. The second shot placed the bullet on the bridge of his nose; it smashed through tissue, cartilage, bone, and brain before it punched through the back of the head. It painted a two meter diameter of wall behind the walker in misty red-grey viscera.
The barrel continued to walk up, and the third shot from the top of the clip blew the rest of his brain out against the back wall. The round had hit him dead center in the middle of the forehead, his milky white eyes lost whatever light they had, and he slumped against the wall.
Daren lined his pistol’s iron sights up on where the walker’s head would’ve been, just as the ex-human finished his descent to the floor. Daren dropped his M9 back into its holster as she turned around, “I’m impressed.”
The soldier took a step out from behind the counter, only for his leg to fail him in a burst of pain. Daren gripped the edge of the counter with his right hand, a pained grunt escaped him.
“What’s wrong?” Kacey asked as she came around the counter. “What the hell happened to your leg?”
“Just...help me to that couch,” he pointed to the open employee break room. “And I’ll tell you.”
Kacey slipped her arm under his shoulders, and together they shuffled towards the break room. The soldier groaned in pain as Kacey set him down on the couch, she gave him a strange look before examining his leg. “Well, start talking.” Kacey commanded as she rolled up his pant leg.
“We had just gone out, the four of us: Tomlinson, Cooper, Trip, and I.” Daren started.
“Out on a patrol?” Kacey asked.
“We had made it out to the semi-fringe area-where we are now- when the zombies attacked, we didn’t know they were going to be that numerous outside the city center, we thought we were in the clear. I remember that we all opened up, and then things get hazy. There must’ve been a nearby fuel storage tank that was malfunctioning or something, ‘cause there was a huge blast, and then darkness.” Daren said as he eased into the couch.
“So where’s the rest of your squad?” Kacey asked.
“None of them survived the blast,” Daren replied flatly. “Some came back as walkers.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Daren,” Kacey started to apologize. “I didn’t mean to-“
“What matters,” Daren brushed her apology aside. “Is that we need more weapons if we’re going to survive, a vehicle as well, and preferably military grade as well. I know the location where my platoon had said up base camp, for our operations in that quadrant of the city. It’s just on the edge of what could be called the ‘downtown’ but further than either of us have ventured into the city since the military pulled out.”
“I saw a grocery store near here when I came in,” Kacey said. “It looked pretty intact.”
“So, we recon the store, and if it looks safe; then we stop at it on the way back from our trip to my platoon’s field HQ, and salvage what we can from it. We should have a vehicle and plenty more ammunition by then.” Daren proposed.
“It’s a little too late now, and you’re in no shape to move right now with that leg of yours. We’ll move out tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow.” Kacey cut off Daren’s protests.
Daren butted his head against the arm rest in frustration. At least she cares.
“Damn Daren,” Kacey whistled softly. “You didn’t stitch your leg?”
“I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to stitching myself.” Daren growled as he was jerked back from his thoughts.
He heard the sound of a medical kit being cracked. “Well hold still, ‘cause this is gonna hurt.” Kacey warned.
Damn, she really does care. Daren grimaced as the needle pierced his skin.
|"Your thoughts betray you, Ezekiel."|
"The Champion of Heaven worries?"
"You must protect the survivors and bring them into the light of God."
Zeke tensed his muscles slightly when he heard the words from above.
And then came the voice that he had not heard in years.
"Boy, are you sure you want things to end this way?"
Zeke looked behind himself and his new companion briefly as they half walked, half ran down the streets of the city.
"You hear something, man?"
Zeke's new friend raised an eyebrow and glanced from side to side.
"You keep looking behind us, man," he continued, his breath coming in rapid bursts. "Them slow ones are harder to kill but they aint nothin' to worry about if you run. It's them fast motherfuckahs you don't wanna fuck wid."
Zeke shook his head and pressed on, trying to seek a new place for the duo to get their bearings. Afternoon was already well underway, and it would soon be nightfall.
"You know dem fast ones are kind of dumb, though," the man continued, unabashed. "Dumb mothuhfuckahs done give demselves away all de fuckin' time by screaming when dey fucking run after you. But noise does fuckin' get their attention, man."
Zeke blinked once as though he were trying to get his bearings.
"You hear me, big guy?" The survivor with the gray hooded sweatshirt asked. "You done gave us away when you put yo' thang down back there and den whooped lakka crazy mo'fuckin' Indian at de sky."
"My friend, of what do you speak?" Zeke asked with a good natured smile.
"Well, my friend," the black man chuckled, "You aint got to do so much o' dat shoutin' when yo kill one dem suckahs, aiight? It gets attention from de others."
"The other daemons?" Zeke asked with a frown on his face. The other man blinked and chuckled again, holding up his hands.
"Yeah, whatever man. The daemons," the man said, curving the tips of his index and middle fingers in mock quotation marks.
Zeke peered briefly at the man as they both slowed their pace but kept walking, side by side.
"You speak the truth, friend," Zeke said with an firm nod. "Your eyes don't lie."
"Hey man, I aint never gonna lie," the man responded with a subdued voice. "It aint like it matters what we call de motherfuckahs anyway. I don't wanna be eaten."
Zeke nodded again and smirked. "I assure you, friend. I will not allow it."
"Again, I believe dat," the dark stranger said.
Zeke smiled and looked to the heavens one more time.
"So whaddo I call ya, man? Maximus or some shit like dat?"
"The name Maximus implies that my intentions are in keeping with the Roman murderers of my unfortunate heritage," Zeke replied suddenly serious.
"Aiight den, you aint no Spartucus. So tell me den!" exclaimed the stranger, throwing up his hands.
"Forgive my sudden brashness," Zeke replied as he shook his head, smiling. "My name is Ezekiel"
"Aiight," nodded the man, puffing out his large bottom lip and nodding with his eyes half closed. "Zeke it is, den. Dat's some sort of Biblical name, aint it?"
"Again, you speak truth," Zeke chuckled. "And your name, stranger?"
"Don't be such a stiff, man," the survivor said, slowly extending his fist toward Zeke's large bicep "My name's Zach."
"Zacharias?" Zeke smiled, a twinkle coming to his green eyes. "Is that not also a name from the Great Book?"
Zach looked down at his fist and then turned his attention back to Zeke, smirking. The much taller Zeke turned his head and looked down at Zach's extended fist. His eyes crinkled in mirth.
"You've not got a sword, Zach," Zeke said, laughing. "But I will honor our new friendship just the same."
Zeke extended his fist to Zach's and bumped it with what he thought was a gentle but firm warrior to warrior touch. Zach winced.
"Boy, whatchoo been doin' with them fuckin' hands? Been beatin' on motherfuckin' rocks or some shit?"
Zeke smiled and nodded. "You could say something to that effect."
"Boy, what have you been doing?" a tall, well built blonde man asked. He wore a pair of dark blue jeans and a black shirt. He carried a ten gallon hat in his hands as he stood by the doorway.
A jagged wedge of bright light from the hallway was the only light to pierce the darkened room.
"I have been reading and contemplating things," replied a younger Zeke. Zeke wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a sleeveless white tee shirt. He absently twirled something in his hands that that the tall blonde man could not readily identify.
"I know you're thinking, son," The blonde man replied softly as he stepped into the room. The sharp "plap" of his cowboy boots could be heard at the first step, but the second step was muffled a bit by the crunch of paper. The man looked down and then looked back at Zeke. Zeke heard the man sniff the air. He did not look at him, but remained lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
"Jesus Christ, boy. It stinks in here."
"That's blasphemy, father," Zeke replied in a clipped tone. "You should know better. You're a God fearing man, aren't you?"
"I'm sorry son, you're right." The sounds of paper and plastic crunching underneath the man's heavy footfalls continued. Zeke blinked once.
"Son, I've gotto talk to you about something very serious."
"I'm listening," Zeke replied in a dull voice.
"Well, it's about your mother. She..well, both of us really," the man said, uncertain where to step next, twirling the ten gallon hat in his hands. "Look, we know you've been getting into the church and we're all for it, now. Make no mistake."
Zeke's eyes shot over to his father and his body remained still. The teen stopped twirling the partially obscured object in his fingers and waited with baited breath.
"But the thing is, there's something else going on with you, son," The man continued with a sigh. "You've been going at it awful hard, don't you think?"
"Dad, this is important information I'm taking in," Zeke replied with a sigh of his own. "Don't you think I ought to know what the Good Book says?" Zeke lowered his hands and a sudden clicking noise made the blonde man's eyes widen in the dark. The young man folded his hands across his chest and looked back up to the ceiling, setting his jaw muscles. "Don't you think I ought to know what my purpose in life is?"
"Son," the man responded with a sharp intake of breath before licking his lips. It was a nervous habit that Zeke had always hated. His father had never appeared to have been very good at talking about complicated things. It always seemed to scare him.
"Dad," Zeke said, sitting up. "I might finally have a place in the world."
"Your place in the world right now is going to school, playing sports going out with your friends, chasing a little tail," the blonde man replied with a nervous chuckle.
"No, you listen, Zeke," Mr. Rivera cut across him, suddenly standing tall. Mr. Rivera reached into the far corner of Zeke's room and pulled a thin book out of what appeared to be a disorganized pile of rubbish. He quickly looked at the title of the book, winced and held the book out to Zeke.
Zeke looked at the cover of the book and worked his jaw muscles furiously. He could already feel the burn of saliva in his cheeks and a tightening of his chest.
The words "Devils and Daemons - A Chronological History" stared back at Zeke as the book seemed to float in front of him.
"Zeke, hijo, you can't be reading this crazy devil and demons crap without it fucking with your brain!" Mr. Rivera proclaimed with a booming voice.
Zeke rose from his bed with the quickness of a jungle cat. His father's eyes widened as Zeke closed two rather large fists around the collar of his father's shirt. With a strong lunge, Zeke managed to pin his rather shocked father against the bedroom wall. That lasted about a second before Zeke suddenly found himself being tossed head over heels into the same pile of detritus from where the father snatched the book. Zeke snarled and tried to spring back up, but a booted heel tapped his chest firmly and sent him tumbling backwards, his arms flailing. A rough pair of hands pinned Zeke to the pile as his father's pale face, now flushed with the red of sudden exertion filled Zeke's view.
"Hijo, cut the shit before I really get mad."
Zeke struggled for a few seconds to extricate himself from beneath his father's powerful and heavy frame.
"I will not stop until I complete my penance-"
"What penance, son?" Mr. Rivera pleaded with a crack in his deep voice.
"The tasks I must complete to cleanse myself of sin!"
"Aww, Mijo!" Mr. Rivera groaned, closing his eyes. "Listen. Priests will get on you for things like looking at pictures of naked babes and stealing pens and stuff. But that isn't anything to get yourself in a twist over."
"There is true evil in this world!" Zeke shouted, spit flying from his mouth.
"Well, " Mr. Rivera replied trying to keep his calm. "That's true, but what does that have to do with you knowing the names and ranks of the demons in Satan's army?"
Zeke's eyes opened large enough to look like a pair of saucers on a coffee table. He set his jaw. It was clear now that Zeke's father did not understand his son's true purpose.
His father had not heard the call from Heaven.
Zeke's countenance fell. His body relaxed against his father's weight. Mr. Rivera lowered his head and sighed. He stood up slowly, releasing his son's arms from the grips of his powerful hands.
"What's the matter with you, really?"
Zeke set his jaw and refused to speak.
"You're hearing things, aren't you?"
It wasn't really a question, but Mr. Rivera was visibly anxious for his son to say something. Zeke was no longer forthcoming. His eyes repeatedly shot to a far corner of the darkened room.
Mr. Rivera slowly nodded, his lips pressed tightly together. Zeke blinked and fought to stare straight ahead. He listened to the "plap plap plap" of his father's boots again as he bit his bottom lip hard. By the fourth "plap," Zeke was wincing.
The "plapping" suddenly stopped and Zeke looked up. Mr. Rivera fished in the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small, rectangular device with a pair of ear buds attached to it. He
gently took Zeke's right hand and pressed the item into his palm. Zeke's hand closed around the small item.
"A friend of mine sent those back to you weeks ago, mijo," Mr. Rivera said in a near whisper. "She told me what happened."
Zeke winced again, remaining resolutely silent. Mr. Rivera gave a slow nod and sighed while retrieving his hat from the ground.
"Boy, are you sure you want things to end this way?"
Zeke lowered his head and waved goodbye to his father. The young man then heard the door shut gently. He let the hot tears flow in earnest as he listened to his father's footsteps fade.
And so it was that Ezekiel was set upon the path that would lead him to God and to the purpose set forth for him. The Almighty smiled upon Ezekiel for his discretion, for not all who are of this earth may hear His call, and not all who are born with the taint of original sin seek redemption. Ezekiel remained steadfast in his devotion to Heaven, eschewing contact with those who would seek to block or otherwise divert him from his true path.
|When Kacey finished with the stitches, she made sure the area was cleaned before properly wrapping it up. She wasn’t a field medic by any means, but it would certainly do just fine. At least now he wouldn’t lose a leg to infection. As she put her things back in her bag, she chanced a quick glance from the corner of her eye. His brows were furrowed and there were beads of sweat falling from his face. Poor guy.|
She handed Daren over her canteen and a few aspirin. “You’re gonna need these. It’ll help you sleep.” He took them gratefully, giving her his thanks.
Taking up her rifle, she stood and double-checked that her Ruger was safe in its thigh holster. “I’m gonna have one last sweep of this place before going to bed… lock all the doors and make it as tight as I can. I’d prefer us to take shifts on watch, but I don’t think that’ll happen tonight- you’re injured and I haven’t slept in… 3 days?” She squinted in thought. “Yeah.”
Daren went to get up but she gently pushed him down. “Don’t worry about it. Just stay put for now.” He begrudgingly nodded, and she patted his chest. “Good boy.” That received an eye roll.
Grey locked the front doors up then moved through the gym. She took her time, checking corners and hiding places for humans and undead alike. She popped into the shower rooms and nearly threw up at the stench. “Ugh, this is just disgusting.” Her nose curled as she scanned the bodies, making sure they were indeed dead. Satisfied everything was clear, she locked the back door up and made sure the windows were all sealed up. “Not a bad base camp actually. Other than the bodies.”
She returned, finding Daren still awake, his pistol on his stomach. “Everything still secured?” Kace nodded.
Digging in her pack, she pulled out a fleece blanket. She laid it up against the one wall as bedding. “Umm, you can have the-“ Grey waved at him to stay where he was. “You sure?”
“I’ll be fine. I can hear better down here anyway.” Seeing his quizzical look she explained, “The vibrations. You can feel them through the floor.” She smirked. “Well, if you’re used to that sorta thing anyway.”
He nodded slowly, unsure that he really believed her excuse. But he was too tired to argue.
Kacey laid on her left side, keeping her pistol holstered. Her M16 lay ready at her side. She sighed in relief, glad to finally be going to sleep. “Night Daren.”
~ * ~ * ~
The dawn light shown through the windows at the front of the gym in eerie beams. Kacey yawned and stretched, a bit stiff but overall happy at her rest. She glanced up at Daren, noting he was still sleeping. Now that she could see him clearly, she was able to look him over properly. Boy was he staggeringly taller than she was- at least a foot over her. His hair, build, everything screamed of a dedicated soldier. Grey found herself curious about him and hoped to learn more about him as time went on.
She stretched as she wandered around the small employee kitchen. There was a microwave, coffee pot, and a sink. Question was, were the utilities in this end of the city intact? She punched in a couple numbers on the microwave and hit start. To her delight, it started up. Likewise, water flowed from the pipes of the faucet.
Grey smiled and started pulling things from one of her pack compartments. She filled her water bottle that had a built in filter in it- proceeding to use it to fill up her couple canteens and then topping off the water bottle once more. She filled the coffee maker with the grounds she found in the cupboard. Then she filled a cup with water, putting it in the microwave to heat up.
Hearing Daren stir, she looked over at his sleepy gaze. "Morning sunshine. Hope you like oatmeal." She shook the packet of oatmeal as the microwave dinged. She poured the hot water in it, folding the edge over so it could sit for a couple minutes. Then started the water for the other one.
"Mmm, food..." Daren slowly stood, walking over and inhaled deeply.
"The coffee cups and stuff are over there." He noticed she was stuffing some packets of seasonings, plastic utensils, and other such things from the small kitchen in her food compartment. He just shook his head and chuckled, getting his coffee. "Hey, it may be the apocalypse, but my food is still gonna taste good."
Daren prepared his oatmeal and turned around to lean against the counter, passing hers over with a plastic spoon. "Thanks. Having warm food is a nice change. And not having to use up cooking fuel is a bonus." She smiled, content in some form of normalcy. "How's your leg?"
"Too be expected. When we recon that store we should keep an eye out for a pharmacy. I've got plenty of over the counter stuff, but prescription grade antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and pain killers... those could come in handy."
"Sounds like a plan. I figured we'd try to leave as soon as possible. Give us plenty of daylight."
She nodded, tossing her trash away. "I'm gonna have to change first though." She grabbed some things from her pack and looked around for a place to go. "Umm, turn around."
Daren's ears turned a little red and he did as she asked. "Coffee?" he piped up.
Kace chuckled, hearing the uncomfortable tone to his voice. "Yes, please." She turned away from him and stripped off her heavily soiled clothes, praying for a chance to clean them soon. She slipped on fresh undergarments and a pair of black cargo pants.
She was putting on deodorant when she realized how grimy she was. "Ick, I need a shower soon. From what I saw, I'm not thrilled of the idea of bathing with dead bodies." She folded her clothes and put them into a garbage bag to keep them separate. "Hopefully, we'll find something else. If not..." She curled her nose.
She pulled on her grey tank top. "M'k, it's safe to turn around now." She threw her dirty clothes bag into the pack and pulled her ponytail out. She shook her head, letting her hair flow freely.
Glancing up, Daren stood there staring at her, coffee in hand. "Mm, thanks." She drank some before setting it aside to quickly run a brush through her hair. "I'll be ready to go here shortly," she mentioned.
"Uh huh." But Daren was making himself busy checking his things.
She tossed the brush in her bag before zipping it up. She had to admit, having some warm food, a good night’s sleep, and fresh clothes... it made her feel human again. At least her morale was better with a new companion around. "Alrighty." Kacey secured her weapons. "All set."
Daren nodded. "Well, let’s get going then. The sooner we can get that equipment secured, the safer I'll feel."
"You and me both."
|Daren focused on the iron sights of his M9, and danced his gaze in every direction but Kacey’s. Zombies could have crept in while we were sleeping, and these halls could be riddled with danger. Daren told his mind. |
Daren’s mind was too smart; it knew exactly why Daren kept his gaze away from the female police officer. Did you really only think that men would survive the apocalypse, it chided him like an older brother might chide his younger sibling. And did you really think that she’d change in a different room, where she’d be by herself, and more vulnerable to a surprise attack?
Well I guess not, Daren admitted with reluctance. It just...it brings back memories of her, things I’d rather forget about.
The logical part of his mind went silent; it had no argument that could counter the sheer emotion he flooded his thoughts with. Daren missed her so much; it hurt to breath whenever he thought of their last conversation.
While Daren’s ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ conducted their argument, his instincts carried out their tasks with ruthless efficiency. The auto pilot was a consequence from his tour in Iraq; it left him with a few other things too.
“Daren,” Kacey whispered.
The corporal almost jumped out of his skin, such was his inner turmoil. “Yeah?”
“We’re at the doors Daren.” Kacey pointed out, she sounded a bit disturbed.
Daren couldn’t blame her; he had almost walked out into the street without checking. Get a grip Daren, no more time in la la land! The corporal shook his head with a sudden violence. “S-sorry,” he tried to laugh it off. “I was just thinking; I’ll keep that under control from now on.”
Kacey didn’t smile; her face was set in a look of worry, worry for him. It was the same look that She had given him on their last meet, just before she slapped him. Daren felt a sudden buildup of anger, of deep seeded frustration, and of resentment that he didn’t even know he had.
“What the fuck do you want from me,” he demanded as he shoved his M9 in its holster. “Huh, just what the fuck is it you goddamn people want. You always give me that fucking look, that one that says ‘I wonder if he’s half nuts?’ Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not. But I am sick unto death of that fucking look!”
Kacey flinched visibly with each word, and by the end of his little display, Daren seethed. He took two deep breaths, In through the nose, and out through the mouth. When his heartbeat subsided to a more reasonable rhythm, he opened his eyes.
The expression on Kacey’s face had changed; her face was now a jaded mask. “Oh, I’m sorry that I took the time to give a damn about your sorry ass!” Grey snapped as she surveyed the street. The young soldier scrubbed his face,
“Look Kacey,” he started. “I’m sorry, I jus-“
The sound of the bell on the door cut him off, and the former cop move out onto the street. Dammit Daren, you always know just what the fuck to say. The private sighed as he pushed out onto the street after her.
“Wait, Kacey wait!” Daren hissed as he hobbled after her. “Can you just wait a sec?” He huffed as he caught up with her. Grey stopped suddenly, and turned around to see eye-to-eye with him.
“Look Daren,” Grey said. “You got-“
She stopped suddenly, and seemed to focus on something behind him. The private turned as fast as his damaged leg would allow, and snapped his sidearm up. Daren caught a glimpse of a shadow through the windows of the grocery store Grey had mentioned earlier; it was only there for a second before it edged out of view.
“What the hell was that?” Grey asked. Grey’s M16 was halfway up to her shoulder, and her finger was inches from the trigger.
“It’s probably just a walker,” Daren answered. Doubt stayed his hand, and the M9 remained pointed at the window. That didn’t look like a walker, the movement was all off.
“Are you sure Daren,” Grey questioned from behind him. “‘Cause you sure don’t look it.”
Daren forced his arms to lower the M9, and his body to turn around. “I’m sure,” he lied. “Now let’s keep moving, we need to secure more equipment before we can check out the grocery store. Whatever’s in there will keep, it’s not going anywhere.”
Grey took one last look at the store before she lowered her M16, and followed him. Daren had a sinking feeling that he knew what awaited them in that store, and that they’d need the military equipment to deal with them.
Ringo’s quote “Peace through superior firepower” came to mind, Daren found it very appropriate for the new world he lived in.
Due to the heavy presence of undead in the streets, it took the duo most of the afternoon to make it to their destination while evading detection. By the time they finally did set foot inside the square, Daren’s leg throbbed, and his forehead glistened with sweat.
“Sit down Daren,” Grey chided. “You’re gonna tear the goddamn stitches!”
Daren’s leg buckled, and sent him sprawling sideways. Grey held fast, and guided him to a sitting position up against a wall. “Rest here a minute,” she ordered. “I’ll check out the square, and help you over when it’s safe.”
Daren scowled but didn’t attempt to fight her on the issue; he didn’t want to strain relations any more than he already had with his blow up earlier. Though he would never admit it aloud, Daren was also glad for the rest.
Daren slumped against the wall for several minutes, and caught his breath. When he had rested up enough, Daren began to worry. Grey had been gone for almost ten minutes, and he’d heard no sounds from the square.
No footsteps, no shots, and no moans of the zombies. Had she been jumped by a zombie, did the shadow from the grocery store kidnap her? The questions swirled around in his head until he couldn’t take it anymore, and struggled to his feet.
Grey came back around the corner, and noticed his struggle. “What’s wrong Daren?” She asked as she steadied him.
“When you didn’t come back,” Daren paused in exertion. “I thought you-“
“No, nothing like that; that square’s a big place, and I got turned around.” Grey explained. “What were you going to say?” A glint of understanding graced her eyes.
“Nothing,” Daren grunted. “Let’s just get into the square.”
As they entered the area where Daren’s former unit had made their last stand, the corporal grasped the full scope of the devastation. Bodies lay everywhere; all of them with shots to the head.
The asphalt ran red with blood, arms and equipment were scattered everywhere. Daren gagged as the smell hit him, and had to stick his nose inside his shirt. Grey wrapped a bandana around her nose.
As Daren looked around, the humvee that sat at the far edge of the square caught his eye. “Over there,” he grunted. “There’s our ride.”
As the duo struggled towards the military vehicle, Daren noticed a crimson shape on the ground ahead of them. He motioned for Grey to stop, and he hefted the weapon. It was an M249 SAW, the army’s light machine gun.
He checked the action, and found it stuffed with a jam. The private bundled it under his arm, and motioned for Grey to keep walking him over to the humvee, he’d work on the weapon there.
When they finally made it to the military vehicle, Daren all but crashed against the tan chassis. One he had recovered his wind; the corporal leaned the SAW against the vehicle, and limped his way over to the hood.
Thirty seconds after he popped the hood, Daren knew why the vehicle had been left there. The engine required extensive repairs, something he wasn’t technically qualified to do. He had befriended one of the mechanics during his time in the sandbox, and had worked on enough to have a decent grasp on repairing them.
“Well,” Daren spoke as he leaned over the engine. “It’s gonna need to be fixed, and I can fix it. It’ll take time though; see what you can scavenge in terms of supplies from this place. We may never get another opportunity like this.”
|Zeke just wanted to run.|
He could hear the huffing and puffing of Zack close behind him and it reminded him of a fairy tale his mother had read to him as a kid. The big man shook his head at the memory and pressed on.
The voices had become louder and more persistent. Each one of the voices save for one seemed to be spurring him into action. Something significant was about to happen, but Zeke could not be sure what it was.
The fact that Zack was not talking with him at the moment was oddly disquieting. Zeke had gotten used to his new companion's constant conversation, even if much of it was small talk. In truth, Zeke was concerned that he had not done enough to bring God into the discussions, but the burden of protecting Zack ultimately fell to him. As the sun was beginning to set, there were some practical considerations to be made. The need for shelter was fast approaching, and it would also behoove both men to acquire more permanent means of self defense. As Zack had pointed out just a short time ago, "them sharp fuckin' stones" were going to run out if another major battle took place.
A piercing scream from ahead of the two men brought Zeke up short. Zack bumped into the big man and swore.
"Zachary, you must stay behind me. Daemons are upon us."
"Yo Zeke, my man, I don't think dese are the slow ones."
"I concur," was all the big man said before he clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes in concentration.
A pair of voices now howled into the air of a fast approaching evening. The cloak of darkness brought more of these sprinting evils out, and Zeke, as mighty as he was, knew better than to try to take on a legion of these creatures by himself.
But a pair of them was manageable if he was careful and efficient.
"Remember, mighty Ezekiel. Speed and strength are both of the essence here until you acquire your next aids in battle."
Zeke looked at the sky briefly and made the sign of the cross before gripping his car door-turned weapon in his left hand. He spread his legs slightly and turned his left shoulder toward the pair of howls, which bore down on the two men like sharks to the blood of a wounded ocean creature. He planted feet solidly on the asphalt of an otherwise deserted street and waited.
From the shadows beyond, the first of the two spawns of Satan emerged. A spiky haired, pale faced man without a shirt on sprinted toward the waiting Zeke, hands splayed in front of the open wounds of his exposed chest. The wounds might have come from the weapons of other warriors who had been unsuccessful at feeling the foul creature. Perhaps the other warriors had not had the might of God on their side.
Zeke smirked slightly, the only sign of his pride to emerge as the pale enemy closed the distance between them. Zeke's eyes widened then as the energy of battle rose through his feet, surged up his spine and finally caused his upper extremities to quiver in anticipation. As the monstrous sprinting daemon loomed ever closer, Zeke could spy the one of its eyes was closed, a large scar from an edged weapon forever ending the function of that one eye. Spittle flew from the hideous creature's mouth as it charged.
One final, blood-curdling shriek seemed to bring Zeke to life. He quickly lifted his left arm and thrust it outward toward the fast-approaching evil. A resounding crack split the air around Zeke and the creature's head snapped back as Zeke pivoted on his rear fott to allow the creature's momentum to send it sailing past him. The creature's legs left the ground and its booted feet pointed to the sky purposefully as its back bowed from the shock of the impact. Army fatigues flapped loosely against its pale skin as it continued to flip, landing with a sharp "crack" into a slight skid on the rough asphalt. Zack's eyes widened as he watched Zeke's first victim come to a noisy stop in front of his feet. The black man seemed to freeze in place, looking to Zeke in askance.
Without hesitation, Zeke nodded and surged after the fallen daemon, determined to capitalize on his momentary advantage. He lunged forward, bringing his large weapon upwards with both hands in a tight grip. With a timing born of much training, he brought the end of the car door down upon the back of the creature's neck. The car door resembled the dropping gates of an art museum in the midst of a burglary, but the end of the door found its target. A squelching "crack" followed by the impact of metal on asphalt sent blood shooting into the air. The blood resembled the lava of a volcanic eruption as the creatures head lolled to the side, still attached to the neck by two thin slivers of bloody sinew. The body thrashed, but Zeke quickly turned his large frame away, anticipating the creature's cohort.
The formidable warrior was right to do so. A second creature sprang upon him from the same direction from which the first had emerged. Zeke quickly braced himself for impact, holding the car door in front of him with both arms. His large muscles tightened. A "whump" from the crash sounded before Zeke was sent staggering backwards. The newest threat bounced backward off the door before landing in an awkward sprawl in the street. It attempted to regain its footing quickly, slamming bloodied hands down on the ground and heaving itself off the ground. But Zeke's large boot found its mark between the creatures breasts. This daemon had possessed a woman, and Zeke nearly closed his eyes in aguish as he noted the bump on the creature's belly that could only mean one thing.
"Foul demon," Zeke spoke with a cracked voice as his boot pressed into the now pinned creature. "You have taken a pregnant woman from this world. May God have mercy on her lost soul. May God take her yet unborn baby into His mighty bosom."
"Man, stop with that shit and finish her the fuck off!" Zack cried out, waving his arms. "Or did you fuckin' forget that these motherfuckahs hunt in packs?"
The creature howled and screeched its frustration and rage. Without further word, Zeke plunged the end of the car door down just to the right of his large boot. It found its mark instantly and the creature's cries ceased, replaced by a sickening "gurgling" noise. A second impact silenced that noise as a torrent of blood surged upwards like the sudden explosion of a geyser. A poem about Old Faithful suddenly sounded in Zeke's mind. He closed his eyes briefly before lifting his weapon and beckoning to Zack with an outstretched hand.
Zeke continued to walk wordlessly as a worried Zack's eyes burned into the back of his head. The newly bloodied warrior paid no heed. His mission was clearer than ever, and his protection of this man could not be hindered by doubt. God could only help him so much.
Zack glanced anxiously at his friend from time to time, but said nothing as he too was listening for signs of sprinters or shamblers. He certainly seemed to know the patterns for both kinds of creatures, and Zeke took note of his awareness. Even as he was sent to protect this man and any others from the scourge's demonic aftermath, he would be foolish not to rely on any hints of information or expertise he could find on such creatures. Zack's advice and comical admonishment was as good a place as any to get such information.
Minutes passed before the next series of screeching howls split the late afternoon air. They seemed to come from two sides this time. Zeke handed his friend a sharpened stone from his shoulder bag, which Zack immediately dropped in his panic.
"My friend, you would do well to hold on to the weapons you are handed," Zeke gently admonished as he scanned the area around him. If they were to be surrounded by these foul things, it would be better if the two men were at least armed when they arrived.
Another pair of howling sprinting daemons surged at the wanderers. Zeke stood ready for combat, his chest heaving as his muscles bulged underneath his clothing. There was one sprinter on either side of the duo, which gave Zeke an idea. With stunning speed, he charged at one of the sprinters and lowered his head as though he were a raging bull. As he approached, he held his weapon in front of him at the level of the creatures knees, lowing his head further to the ground. Zack watched, wide-eyed, as Zeke rammed into the oncoming monstrosity and then proceeded to simply stand up straight and tall. Zeke's head seemed to tower uinto the heavens as his barrel chest expanded. The creature flew, heels to the sky over Zeke's powerful frame and careened toward the other sprinter on the other side of the two men. The oncoming sprinter could not stop its momentum before its cohort crashed into it with bone-shattering force.
An inhuman "oof" escaped the second sprinter's diaphragm as the first daemon landed solidly on it. Both sprinters fell with a mighty crash against the asphalt, a snapping noise indicating that one or the both of them had been broken in some way. The sprinter on top rose quickly to its feet. Before it could turn and mount a counter offensive, a sharpened stone embedded itself in the back of its neck, sending it sprawling forward, tripping over the fallen one.
The newly fallen sprinter convulsed on top of the injured, prone daemon who simply howled in frustration. Zeke lifted a heavy boot and crushed the yelling demon's exposed neck with bone-snapping force.
Zeke stopped, examined the creatures and scratched his chin. He was now almost completely covered in blood.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Zeke?" Zack shouted again, jumping over and flailing his arms like mad. "You gonna stop and admire your fuckin' kills every fuckin' time, motherfuckah? We gots to boogie, big man."
"My friend, they have something I need," Zeke responded as he undid a metal clasp at the waist of one of the former humans. "And even with God's assistance, we will still need to act to protect ourselves.
Zeke removed his bag and placed it about a foot away from him. It sat between him and Zack.
"Zachary, you must take up arms if more show themselves. I will be with you in a few moments. There are more stones in that bag." Zeke jutted his chin at the sack for emphasis.
"Okay, Conan, I'll do my best," Zack replied with a voice that trailed off in a slightly higher pitch.
"Do not be afraid, my fellow warrior. I will take what is needed quickly," Zeke answered in a deep, reassuring tone.
Moments later, the two were on their way again, and two leather belts now sat coiled at the bottom of Zeke's bag. Zack followed along for a few more silent minutes while Zeke scanned the area, walking at a brisk pace. His longer strides caused Zack to have to jog just to keep up.
"Hey man, do you know where de fuck you goin'?" Zack interjected into the tense silence.
"I seek shelter for us, my companion. Do not worry," Zeke said without looking back. "You stay behind me and listen for those that might sneak up upon us."
"Man, fuck that shit! We need a plan, motherfuckah," Zack said, rolling his eyes. "Listen, you DO know dat there's a store in this motherfucking town, right?"
"What I know," replied Zeke, suddenly losing his patience, "is that I have just eliminated four possessed humans. They were four of God's creatures. We are in dire straits, brother." Zeke clenched his free fist.
"Whachoo trippin, for, Hercules?" Zack retorted with the quickness of a striking cobra. "You think I didn't see dat motherfuckin shit? Listen dude. We needs to supply ourselves fah dis shit. Them mo'fuckin stones aint gonna cut it for much longer."
Zack threw up his arms and stopped moving. "And maybe YOU aint noticed, brothah man, but my motherfuckin' ass aint no Greek God!"
Zeke frowned as he stopped. He turned to scrutinize his friend. He then shrugged his massive shoulders.
"Perhaps you speak sense, Zachary. We must find weaponry for you, for instance. Perhaps God has already provided. All we may need do now is reach the provisions."
"Now you' thinkin', big guy," Zach said with a smile. "Let's get the fuck out of here and get to that store. I think you're headed in the right mo'fuckin' direction," Zeke said, pointing a dark finger past the larger man.
"Must you always speak with such colorful language?" Zeke asked with a contradictory guffaw.
"Man, compared to YO motherfuckin' ass, 'colorful language,'" Zack replied, forming hooks with four outstretched fingers as he said the last two words, "is the only motherfuckin' thing I got. Let's move!"
The two courageous men pressed on, and God's champion took command of the situation. The Almighty's Harbinger of Divine Justice once again proved his worth, slaying more of the accursed daemons that roamed the seemingly abandoned city. Zacharias was not far behind, but he assumed the role of an advisor rather than a warrior, as he was unskilled with the weaponry that the mighty Ezekiel possessed. As predicted earlier by the dark survivor, Ezekiel quickly ran short of the sharp stones in his arsenal. His mighty white shield proved immeasurably useful in his strong and capable hands, saving the pair of them more than once from annihilation at the hands of the fallen.
But more and more abominable creatures sprang at the pair from the very shadows of the mostly deserted city. Once again, numbers would nearly prove to be the undoing of the mighty Ezekiel. Zacharias followed the mighty warrior closely as he made his escape, distancing himself quickly from more of the shambling, soulless monstrosities of Hell. Sprinting daemons howled and gnashed their teeth at the pair's backs before Ezekiel sought refuge in a strange building known as a gymnasium. The mighty Ezekiel shouldered his way into the large shelter, which appeared fortified. A final stand against the sprinting fallen was made within the massive edifice. Ezekiel emerged from the carnage bloody and shaking, but nevertheless victorious under the ever watchful eye of the Almighty.
But Ezekiel's mighty heart would be wrenched from his barreled chest. Zacharias did not emerge at all when the battle was done. Ezekiel searched high and low in the gymnasium. He left no corner unexplored. He left no room uninspected. But the mighty warrior would find his cohort nowhere in the ruins of this otherwise corrupted and stinking dominion. The bloated and festering corpses of the fallen littered several of the rooms of the gymnasium. The mighty Ezekiel was forced to turn his face from them even as compassion overflowed from his massive body, and tears of mourning spilled down his chiseled, handsome face.
Weary of battle, the broken warrior sought to rest his mighty body and calm his troubled mind. A room with somewhat comfortable furniture finally emerged as a place for the exhausted Champion of the Heavens to rest his battered body. He would not rest easily, for the visage of his missing companion would claim the majority of his dreams.
|Grey nodded, hesitating for a few moments as she watched him stare under the hood. He wasn’t looking too good. That leg needed rest. And he needed antibiotics before that wound turned septic. But they weren’t going to get that without gear. She finally walked off, surveying the area with a different eye now.|
Before, she had been checking for threats- and in the back of her mind, survivors. Now she was trying to find anything she could salvage. “Oh, jackpot.” She knelt near a light post where they had set a few containers filled with ammo. “What have we here?” With luck, she did manage to find rounds they could use. Though it wasn’t surprising since they both carried weapons in calibers common in their line of work.
Unfortunately, ammo weighed a lot. If the truck was able to get up and running though, they could take it all. She grabbed up the boxes, dropping them beside the truck with a thud when she finally got there. “Good find,” Daren mentioned, before sticking his head back underneath the hood. She heard a small cuss and a pound against metal- a sign he probably crushed something.
“Try not to hurt yourself more,” she mused, a bit of laughter behind her voice. He may have blown up earlier, but she couldn’t really blame him. He was obviously going through some emotional shitstorm, just like her. Not to mention finding themselves in a zombie apocalypse could make anyone on edge. She’d let it go- this time at least.
She wandered off again, finding another truck that had been wrecked into the side of a building. It had been totaled even worse than the one Daren was attempting to fix. But it contained some goodies. “Grenades. Meds… Ooo, morphine!” she exclaimed after she opened the kit.
“Ah ha!” she continued, finding a flak jacket that was lying in the back. “I’m not about to take one off one of the dead guys, sooo…” She attached it to her bag. It was basically useless against zombies, but should they come up against human thugs, it could save her life. Her vest was one unfortunate piece of gear that had been left back at her station.
As she continued to comb the ruined remains of the area- careful to stay within earshot of Daren, just in case- she managed to scavenge bits and pieces, but her mind eventually started to wander. She hadn’t really had much time to think about anything since fleeing her town. Kacey had only been worried about staying alive, about finding others. Now she had a new set of worries, like keeping her new partner alive. She hadn’t been able to do that for Jake.
Grey kicked herself, dropping the search to go back to the Humvee. She didn’t like leaving Daren alone and injured for so long. Plus, wandering around a hostile zone being distracted was a sure way to get in trouble. “Back from recon,” she announced, leaning against the door of the truck. She received a grunt in response, before he went back to muttering to himself.
Her free hand traveled to the necklace she wore, spacing out. If only things could have turned out differently. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there like that. But she was finally pulled from her thoughts by Daren. “Hey, you awake over there?” His head was sticking out from under the hood, staring at her curiously.
“Yeah, sorry. What you say?”
“I asked if you could grab me that bag there. I need some more tools out of it.” He nodded his head to the bag near her feet. She obliged, bending down to scoop it up. As she did so, the necklace that had been previously hidden was free to dangle around her neck. As she passed the bag over he asked, “What’s that?”
“Oh,” she looked down at the symbol forlornly, “it’s a tomoe, a Shinto thing.” She shrugged, leaning back against the truck once more. “It was my partner’s.” And she left it at that.
Daren wasn’t really sure what to say. He just nodded, muttering something about being almost finished, and went back to work. This allowed Grey to return to her thoughts, where she could meditate and attempt to gain her mental focus again.
Once that had happened, she turned her gaze upon Daren working away. She looked him over carefully, noting the state of his clothing. It was clear the shrapnel blast had really done a number on his clothes. No, this wouldn’t do at all. Ah, didn’t I see some more gear in that repurposed building? Yeah, the one that was wrecked into had a living space set up in it. I could see it through the rubble.
Kacey tapped his shoulder. “I forgot to check out one spot. I’ll be right back, ok?”
He looked at her questioningly, but nodded. “Alright. It should be ready to go soon.” As she jogged away, he called. “Grey! Be careful!” She held up her hand in a gesture that said she had heard. Daren just shook his head, finishing off the repairs. The sooner they could get out of here, the better.
She found her way into the abandoned building, bringing her rifle up to scan the room. When she was sure it was all still clear, she sifted through a few footlockers, hunting for some clothes. “Hmm, probably would have done good to ask him what size he was.” Grey bit her lip, bringing up a mental picture of Daren.
In truth, he was built a lot like Jake. Probably was about the same waist size too. Albeit it, he was much taller. “So, with that in mind…” She went through a few more lockers before coming across a couple pairs of pants and shirts she thought would work for him. “Mission accomplished.” She smiled to herself, heading back to the truck.
When she arrived, Daren was slamming the hood down. He turned to her, brushing off his hands. “All set?” she asked.
“Just gotta fire her up, see if it works.” His brows furrowed as he caught sight of what she was carrying. “What’s that?”
“New fatigues.” She held them out to him. “I was taking a guess on size, so I hope they fit alright. If not we can always take a stroll back there.
“Uh, thanks.” Daren obviously was unsure what to say or think. So she simply shooed him off to get changed.
“Fresh clothes can do a lot to make you feel better. Believe me.”
Sure enough, Grey had pretty much nailed the size. When he came back around the truck, she nodded in approval. “A little big, but it’ll work.” She pointed to the truck. “Now, let’s see if this baby starts so we can get the hell outta here.” He couldn’t argue there.
They loaded everything up and the moment of truth arrived. Daren took a deep breath and then turned the key. With a roar, the engine turned over and came alive. “Yes!” they both hollered, grinning at each other.
“What do ya say we move out, soldier?” Kacey mused.
|“Not yet,” Daren answered as he eyed the back. “There’s still a few more things that we can loot here.” With his confidence in the engine boosted by ignition, Daren turned the key to the off position. |
The growl that emanated from the powerful diesel engine faded without complaint, and Daren popped the driver’s door. His leg was in constant pain now, nothing major but a continuous low level ache.
Under Daren’s well practiced eye, the duo proceeded to scavenge MRE’s and military grade radios from the ruins of the camp. Brings back memories, Daren thought to himself in amusement. It WAS every day that we had to scrounge for shitty food, in that shithouse of a base, in that sandpit of a country.
Daren just hoped that they didn’t rely too heavily on them, constipation was a bitch. An even bigger bitch was shitting out logs the size of my forearm, and equal in girth to a soda can when that stomach bug overcame the constipation of the MRE’s.
The rest of the soldiers in the tent had alternated between bitching about the ungodly stench, and laughing about the funny colour of the matter in question. It had been his third week there, and by the fourth every man in the tent had taken to calling him Drab, to better honour the colour.
Daren couldn’t help but chuckle, and Kacey shot him a sidelong look. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” his smile vanished as he focused on the task at hand. “Just remembering my time in the desert.”
Daren heard a soft “Ah.” escape her before she too fell silent. Kacy had done well with her find of the ammunition, it was all 5.56 millimetre. It was impressive how much of it she had found, the boxes all but filled the humvee’s rear compartment.
There must be at least five hundred rounds in those boxes alone, his mind rambled as his body continued to sift through items. The boys must’ve been trying to haul ass out of here, only something went wrong. The humvee that I just fixed was down for repairs, so they had already planned on leaving it behind but the one that Grey found the ammo in was stocked, and ready to go. Something must’ve gotten to the driver in all the commotion, and he crashed as a result.
Satisfied with his understanding of what had happened, Daren was surprised to find his legs moving towards the wrecked humvee. As he reached the back bumper, he used his above average height to catch a glimpse of the vehicle’s roof.
The rough shape of the turret hitch stuck out above the shape of the roof, and Daren knew they were in luck.
“Why are we back here?” Kacey asked as she drew level with him. “I already picked everything out of here.”
“You picked almost everything out of here,” Daren corrected as he pointed at the hitch. “There are other things besides ammunition that are important. See that hitch up on the roof there? We need that to mount the SAW I picked up earlier, and there’s a few other things we can take too.”
Kacey shrugged, and slung her M16 before she clambered up the vehicle’s roof. Daren limped around the vehicle, and approached the driver’s door. His sidearm at the ready, he popped the door.
The driver was slumped over in his seat; the crushed form of the dash had mashed itself into his stomach. The pinned body shuddered, and sat up in its seat. With a hiss that sent chills down the corporal’s spine, the driver clawed at him with broken and mangled hands.
“Watch out Kacey,” Daren warned. “There’s still a live one in the cab.”
Kacey looked down on him from the roof, “It doesn’t sound very alive to me Daren.” The unmistakeable tone of a jibe filled her voice.
“You know what I mean,” Daren scowled as he yanked his combat knife from his sheathe. The corporal limped in during a lull in the zombie’s clawing, and stabbed the knife into the undead man’s head. The blade sank in a good three inches, and the reanimated body went limp. “Now it’s really dead.”
Kacey smiled, and shook her head. As the officer turned her attention back to the turret mount, Daren hauled the corpse upright. The corporal hacked at the stench that had settled over the cab, and pulled his shirt over his nose.
The shirt felt soft, and smelled of laundry detergent. Grey hadn’t said specifically where she had found it but Daren guessed it was in one on the footlockers, and in the final days, no one had any time to even unlock them let alone grab clothes from them.
Kacey’s right, Daren thought as he ripped open the Velcro pockets on the soldier’s vest. New clothes make a huge difference in how you feel. Daren pulled a further four magazines for his M4 out of the pockets, and two more for his M9 sidearm.
Goddamn hearts and minds bullshit, Daren glowered as he yanked the man’s tags off his neck. They sent us out here with substandard combat loads, and weapon loadouts in a pathetic attempt to make us look “less threatening.” Nobody gave a fuck about how threatening we looked when the dead were overwhelming our lines, and we couldn’t fire back.
At least he was up to a full load now; eight magazines with thirty rounds brought him up to 240 rounds of 5.56 for the rifle. With six full magazines, and one half empty already in the gun, Daren had close to 100 rounds of 9mm for his sidearm.
Since the SAW and M4’s used the same type of ammunition, they had a good amount for the machine gun. The problem was, they only had two “box” magazines that were designed for the weapon. The last thing Daren lifted off the dead driver was his radio; the humvee had a military communications system, and while Daren had a military radio, Grey was stuck with civilian frequencies.
That had to change if they were going to be partners. Daren stepped back from the humvee just as Kacey slid off the roof; the mount was in her hand. “Alright, done up there, now can we go?”
“Yeah,” Daren said as he took the mount. “Take this though, you’ll need it in addition to the radio you already have. It’s why I wasn’t able to hear your radio hails earlier, we were on two different frequencies.”
Kacey accepted the radio. “Thanks Daren,” she replied. “Now let’s get out of here, this area’s not safe.”
“Agreed.” Daren held out his arm for her to lead the way. Kacey nodded, and led the walk back to the humvee. Daren limped behind her, and had to stop twice; not for the pain but to pick up extra weapons, and ammunition.
By the time he reached the rear of the humvee, he was struggling under the weight of an armful of ammunition, an extra M4, and two spare pistols. Except for what he wanted to keep on his person, Daren dumped the rest in the back of the humvee, and slammed the rear hatch shut.
When he saw Grey moving for the passenger side door, he motioned her away. “I need you to drive, my leg can’t handle the pedals, and I need to be up in the turret anyway.” Enough patrols in the desert had made him proficient with the light machine gun, and he wanted to get it up on the roof as soon as possible.
“You drive stick, right?” Daren asked.
The streets flew by as Kacey pushed down on the humvee’s gas pedal, it turned out she could not only drive stick but was very proficient at it. Kacey had kept the ride so smooth, Daren had been able to attach the turret mount and attach the SAW quickly with little discomfort to his leg.
Now he stood in the open hatch, his left hand gripped the light machine gun. As they had driven, both confirmed to each other that they had not picked up enough MRE’s for long term survivability, and that they could use more food.
They both agreed on the idea of looting the grocery store they passed earlier, and ten minutes later the military vehicle roared into the parking lot. Daren knew that heavy diesel engine would attract plenty of attention from the living, and the dead.
“You gotta be quick Grey,” Daren talked quickly. “And I’m only gonna slow you down, get in and grab only what we need, I’ll cover you as best I can on the SAW!”
Kacey nodded, and sprinted towards the glass doors of the store. The former police officer hadn’t even made it within five feet of the glass edifice when a shout from inside made her stop, and dive to the side.
A barrage of fire roared from inside the store, and bullets took huge divots out of the asphalt. A shot spranged off the metal roof of the humvee, and sent Daren ducking for cover back inside the armored vehicle.
The offender stood on top of the roof, a civilian hunting rifle was pressed to his shoulder. Daren grabbed his M4 and stood back up through the hatch. The man was in the process of drawing the bolt back when Daren shouldered his own rifle, and zeroed the man in his sights.
A squeeze of the trigger, and the rifle kicked against his shoulder. Over the flash of the muzzle, Daren saw the man’s neck explode in a fountain of arterial blood, and he toppled over the edge of the roof.
The blast drowned out the sound of his body hitting the car below, but not the racket its alarm raised. In minutes, the situation had gone from bad to a fecal hurricane. “Kacey, fall back to the humvee, we’ve got to get the fuck outta here now!”
Daren slung the rifle, and bent over the SAW. The light machine gun roared as it sent dozens of rounds downrange; the glass front shattered into thousands of pieces, and shapes inside scrambled for cover.
Daren eased up only after a few seconds, and motioned for Kacey to move. She jumped up from her prone position, and staggered to the vehicle. The driver’s door opened below him, and slammed shut.
The diesel motor roared to life, and the vehicle lurched away from the store. “Well that was fun,” Daren quipped. “Now let’s not do it again...ever.”
“At least we know where not to go.” Kacey muttered as she pulled up the street where the gym was. By mutual agreement, Kacey pulled the humvee into the parking lot just across from where the gym was, in case they were followed.
Both warriors exited the vehicle, and made their way to the doors. Many thoughts were on Daren’s mind; Water, food, ammunition, fuel, those attackers. All of them disappeared when a startled gasp greeted him from the shadows.
Daren snapped up his carbine, and shone his gun light on the source.
|Zeke hadn't slept well last night. Visions of a terrified, unarmed Zack being mauled by a ravenous crowd of sprinting and shambling daemons made Zeke spring from his makeshift bed more than once in sheer terror. Unable to sleep after the third nightmare, he'd clenched his massive fists before drawing a deep breath. After making the sign of the cross, the large man prowled the gymnasium searching for some sign of what might have happened to his friend. he also kept watch over the empty edifice, unwilling to be caught off guard this time. His victory against the last horde of daemons had not come quickly enough to save his friend from the horrors that must have befallen him. |
The Harbinger of God's swift and brutal justice would not be caught off his guard this time.
However, Zeke was able to find nothing to further his quest. Chest heaving, The large man made the sign of the cross, readjusted a large, white rag around his head, clutched his car door-turned shield, and made his way to the front exit of the gymnasium. He gasped as the doors suddenly burst inward, and two figures suddenly loomed before him, ensconced in shadow. The loud "clicking" noises they both made sounded ominous, and Zeke held his shield in front of him on pure instinct. A bright light shone in Zeke's face, making him wince briefly. What manner of fresh evil could this be?
And how had the ever-vigilant warrior been caught unaware again?
Zeke opened his eyes and peered intently at the figures that stood before him. Their shadowy forms belied nothing of their strength and speed, though the big man was certain that if they were sprinting or shambling daemons, they would have set themselves upon him long before now. Still, he did not lower his shield. He would not take further chances with his own safety. His mission was of too much importance.
He searched, however, for a familiar face and listened hard for a familiar voice that often spoke with colorful expletives. He found neither.
"You are not Zachary," Zeke said, suddenly crestfallen. "And he is not with you."
"And you're not one of the zombies we keep running into," said the rather tall man with the large rifle pointed directly at him. His tone was sharp. Zeke suspected that the man was a highly trained warrior. The woman who stood next to him was of shorter stature, but looked no less formidable. She too pointed something at Zeke, but he could not make out what it was.
Zeke stood his ground.
"I think, perhaps you two know something about what happened to my friend, Zachary," he said, his eyes blazing with sudden and ominous energy.
"And I think you could be a part of something that we nearly got our asses blown off for, Lawrence of Arabia," retorted the tall warrior. His eyes narrowed and his jaw worked furiously. He was young, but he'd born witness to much tragedy. The pain in his eyes was very familiar...
Zeke looked from the tall warrior with the large weapon to his female cohort. He sighed, unsure where to proceed. He had no knowledge of the "something" that caused such anger in the man, and he now wondered if that "something" had anything to do with his friend's disappearance.
Zeke raised his eyebrows, an idea forming in his head.
"Have you two encountered...something other than the sprinting and shambling demons in this abandoned city?"
"What on earth?" replied the woman, speaking for the first time since the encounter began. "What the hell else have you been seeing out there?"
The tall man held up a large hand quickly to forestall further comment. His companion glared at the interruption, but fell silent almost at once.
"I think tall, dark and Medieval here's got to be talking about our undead factor out there," The tall man said, jerking his head back toward the exit.
"They are undead?" Zeke replied with a hiss. "There is necromancy afoot here? The Devil's children walk with earthly feet?"
"Necromancy?" replied the tall, armed man with a furrowed brow. "What the fuck are you talking about, demon boy?"
Ezekiel's chest heaved and he clenched his fists. This man was beginning to upset any calm he'd managed to find in Zack's absence. He knew nothing of the weapons they carried, but Zeke looked this man up and down and felt his own jaw muscles working furiously. He narrowed his eyes and drank in the man's physical attributes. His height and his muscle were obvious enough, but Zeke would have no trouble at all dispatching this brash young warrior if they were both weaponless.
"Ease down, there, soldier," the female companion said, raising her eyebrows. "Maybe he's played World of Warcraft one too many times. He's obviously seen the same things we have and he's alive," she continued, meeting Zeke's eye.
She neither flinched, nor blinked. Zeke took note of the authority in her otherwise calm voice. He also spotted the glitter in the woman's emerald eyes. The energy that surrounded her was strong, but tinged with sadness. She too had born witness to much of the evil in this world.
Perhaps she also had lost someone of great importance.
"Young Champion of Heaven, where is your compassion?" admonished a familiar, masculine voice with a deep rumble. "These are fellow survivors."
"Do you not see, prideful one?" added another, haughtier voice. "They are sent by the Mighty Father with powerful weapons and skills. Have you yet to take note of their advanced weaponry and their lack of fear?"
"They are soldiers, Ezekiel," the first voice uttered again with a deep calm. "And they may prove to be of great aid to you in your struggle to uphold my good name."
"Would it not be prudent, young warrior, to lead them unto the light of the Lord? Would it not be a wise and noble undertaking to guide them to the promise of salvation?"
"Yes. The Four Horsemen have yet to be encountered, young Champion. These soldiers may yet prove useful in your attempts to subdue or otherwise destroy them."
"Hey, stop looking at the sky, big man!"
The tall man's voice cracked through the air and seemed to sting Zeke's ear. Startled, Zeke wrenched himself from his reverie and looked upon the tall warrior again. He bore a demeanor that Zeke would have admired were it not for the fact that he turned his aggressions to a person that should not be his enemy.
"My friends, this is all wrong," Zeke said, shaking his head and holding out his free hand. "My name is Ezekiel-"
"And my name is Michael-Fucking-Angelo. Pleased to meet you, I painted the Sistine Chapel!" replied the armed man in a mocking tone, cocking his head to one side.
"Soldier, I said ease down!" responded the woman with a sharper tone. "We might be able to pick his brain for some useful intel, but I can't see that happening if you two don't stop beating your chests at each other like a pair of baboons!"
"The Sistine Chapel is a great work of art, my friend," Zeke interjected with a slow, exaggerated bow. He stood tall then, noting that neither of their weapons had been lowered. The tall man's jaw dropped as Zeke grinned, proffering his free hand slowly and gracefully to the woman.
"Might I have your name, my lady? Zeke asked in a deep, regal voice. "Your stature and beauty can only be matched by the strength you possess."
"Can the flattery, gladiator boy," the crimson haired woman responded with a wry grin. "Maybe you can tell us why you have a car door strapped to your arm, and we can take it from there, alright?"
"Can you at least tell us that that's not human blood on your door?" the tall man said, looking Zeke up and down with narrowed eyes and a crinkled nose.
"Young patriot, I can assure you the blood on this shield came from the former human hosts to the daemons I vanquished on the way to this place."
The two armed figures glanced at one another and shrugged.
The man sighed, but nodded. "Young Patriot. Okay. I'm a young patriot. You got it."
"You have no other weapons on you?" the woman asked, peering at Zeke's shield.
"I have one sharpened stone left to me, my lady."
"Okay, look. Don't call me that," the woman replied, sighing. "And what do you mean 'sharpened stone?'" she continued, her green eyes narrowed.
"What would you have me call you, Celtic one?"
The woman's eyes flared briefly before she blinked.
"Are you not descended from the Celts, female warrior? Many noteworthy warriors of God sprang from the loins of your fathers.."
"Alright alright, enough with the 'sproinging loins' talk, Moses," the taller man interjected, fighting not to roll his eyes. "You can call me Corporal Wilks."
The Corporal glanced briefly back at his companion before blinking once and nodding.
"Or just Wilks," he added with a grunt.
"My name is Grey," the woman chimed in with a small smile.
"My name really is Ezekiel. That was no lie, my friends. But the few who get to know me call me 'Zeke.'"
Zeke's shoulders slumped then and he cast his eyes to his feet. Zack had called him Zeke pretty much from the off. Oh how he'd failed that man...
"Your friend," said the woman with in a small voice. "Zack, was it? What happened to him?"
"Zachary was gone from my sight after a battle with several sprinting daemons," Zeke muttered, shaking his head. "I could not protect a fellow man of God from harm. He was..."
Zeke swallowed back a lump in his throat and held up an open palm to his new acquaintances.
"I shall not attempt to harm you, soldiers of America," Zeke said with a despondent sigh. "I am no threat to you."
Zeke slowly knelt to the ground and bowed his head. He then lifted his head and a light shone menacingly in his eyes before he closed them. He was not ready to see a light so bright as the light of the Almighty.
"Uh uh, Zeke," Wilks barked. "How 'bout you stand up and let one of us take that thing off your arm, huh, Captain America?"
"An apt comparison were it not for the fact that I cannot throw this mighty shield..as far," Zeke grinned.
Wilks kept his rifle trained squarely on Zeke's chest as Grey stepped forward. Zeke stood slowly and did not offer any protest. The large man lifted his arm for Grey. She examined his well-muscled frame and blinked once before sliding the car door from Zeke's massive arm. He smiled and nodded, even as the door crashed to the ground with a metallic crunch. Without further comment, Grey took the shoulder bag from Zeke's other arm.
"You read Captain America comics and you think that demons are everywhere, doing some kind of voodoo?" Wilks asked, the ghost of a smile tracing his chapped lips.
"I am a man of God, Corporal Wilkes," Zeke responded with a nod of his head. "But even men of God must divert themselves with a bit of fantasy."
"Okaaaay," Wilks responded with a hint of a laugh.
"Evil is real," Zeke's voice suddenly boomed. "You cannot deny what you see out there in this abandoned shell of civilization. We do not have to know it by the same name to know that it must not be allowed to harm us."
"Agreed," Wilks responded, standing up to his full, impressive height. He blinked once, and Zeke was aware of the sweat on the young soldier's forehead.
"How long since you rested, my friends?" Zeke asked with the voice of a church preacher.
"Long enough that you might want to stick to an indoor voice. What are you, an auctioneer?" Wilks asked with a huff. He lowered his rifle somewhat, but kept a loose grip on it with both hands.
"My apologies, friend," Zeke whispered. "I can be a bit overbearing at times. But it is good to see survivors in the midst of this mayhem."
"You don't have to tell me twice, Zeke," Grey responded with a warm smile. It belied the fact that she still held a gun pointed to the Champion of God.
"Okay, big guy, here's the plan," Wilks said, a steely edge to his voice. "We're going to haul ass out of this 'shell of civilization' and find somewhere else to go. We're going to come up with another plan of action at some point, but for now, this is a 'get the fuck out of dodge' kind of scenario. We pick up any survivors that we can along the way. Understood?"
Zeke looked at Wilks and then back to the red-headed woman at his side before he nodded his assent.
"With luck," Wilks continued, dulling the edge to his voice, "we might find Zack."
Zeke showed his perfect teeth with a wide smile before Wilks held up another forestalling hand.
"I can't make any promises, ok? We'll look when we can, but our primary objective is leaving the city now. Are we clear?"
"Then I thank you, Corporal Wilks," Zeke said with a nod. "And you, Officer Grey," Zeke said with a nod and a smile in her direction, "for your assistance. And I can only hope that God keeps Zachary safe."
"Tell God to throw a little luck our way, will you?" Grey said with a surprised chuckle before lowering her weapon. Wilks lowered his weapon too, albeit with much more hesitation.
"We're not going back out there tonight," Grey continued. You know enough by now, Zeke, to understand why."
"I was about to search the city for Zachary once again.."
"We know," Grey cut in. "But you've got to be smarter than that, Zeke. Wilks and I have guns and we still can't fight them all off when they come at us en mass. And I don't care if you look like a professional wrestler with a King Author complex. You're not going out there tonight, and you're not going out there without us!"
The fire in her green eyes and the weapon still held loosely in her hand stopped Zeke from mounting any sort of opposition. He sighed.
"Then we shall rest here tonight," Zeke declared with final nod.
"Now you're talking sense," Wilks muttered as he took one step forward and winced. The tall soldier bit his lower lip.
"You are hurt, Corporal?" Zeke asked, furrowing his brow.
"I'll be alright," Wilks barked repressively. "I just need to get off my fucking feet. That couch still here, Hercules?"
Zeke smirked and nodded. Wilks shuffled off then with Grey next to him. Something about the way the two of them walked together was indicative of a close bond, and Zeke smiled sadly as he watched them walk away from him. They had both seen more than their share of travails in this apparent wasteland, and who knew what tragedies had befallen them both before they'd set foot in this potential outpost of Hell.
"May the Lord bless and keep you both, brave soldiers," Zeke uttered before making the sign of the cross more. "As he protects and guides you to his light, so shall I."
A thin object suddenly bounced off of Zeke's chest, interrupting his prayer. It landed on the floor with a soft thud. Zeke looked down to see a thin bar wrapped in plastic. He picked up the oblong object and felt it give in his massive fingers as he squeezed. He sniffed at it and smiled.
"Eat up, big man," Wilks said with his back still to Zeke. "Your stomach's been growling ever since we got here."
As promised, God sent mighty aid to Ezekiel in the form of two well armed soldiers. Ezekiel was wise to consider them soldiers of the Light, though it was yet unclear what their allegiance to the Almighty might be.
A plan was formed to escape the ravaged city in which the Morningstar Plague had spread. Minions of the Four Horsemen were poised to take this area as a foothold for their vast legions, and even the mighty Ezekiel was not foolhardy enough to stand against the might of their unholy armies without a plan and some assistance.
All three warriors took their solace in the empty gymnasium. It was determined that they take turns at their rest, leaving at least one of them to be vigilant at all times throughout the night. Ezekiel was the last to be at watch, and like a mighty Angel of God, he stood tall and steadfast against any and all forces that would dare intrude on the much needed slumber of his new comrades in arms.
|“I'll take first watch,” Kacey said, once she had changed Daren's bandages for him.|
“Yeah, I don't like having my sleep broken up. Makes me cranky.” She had been smiling, but then her face turned serious. She glanced off to their new companion who was looking around for a place to settle in to sleep. “What's you opinion on him?”
She smirked. “That's one way to put it. I think he's bat-shit crazy.” Grey shrugged. “But he seems mostly harmless.” She patted his shoulder. “Get some rest. I'll wake you in a few.”
The officer made her way out to the lobby area, looking out into the now darkened streets. Their vehicle remained undisturbed, and other than some zombies moving out in the distance, there didn't seem to be any other threats about. She sighed, leaning against the wall. It wasn't going to get any easier, but she would certainly feel better when this city was behind them.
After a few hours, she went into the employee lounge, shaking Daren's shoulder gently. “Move it or lose it,” she grumbled, fatigue starting to settle in. She still hadn't caught up on her sleep since fleeing her town. And it showed, with the dark circles that had begun to appear.
Daren yawned, picking up his gun as he stood. He stretched out, groaning a bit. When he turned to Grey though, he found her already curled up on the couch where he'd been. He chuckled. “Night Kacey,” he mentioned, only receiving a soft grunt in response. He placed a blanket over her though, before walking out.
By morning, the trio was all ready to go. None of them had gotten a very good rest with how on edge they had become. It was clear, they needed to get out of the city. And there was no time like the present. They had even decided to just leave the way Kacey had wandered in. Once they were safe, it would be easier to plan their next move- something Grey had a sneaking suspicion her soldier companion already had an idea for.
While she was checking all her gear, her hand brushed the badge on her belt at her right hip. She pulled it off, running a finger over the shield. It was then she realized something was missing. She pulled at the small black cloth attached to it, slipping it over the seal of her city. The least she could do was honor her fallen brothers... The badge went back in its place, her hand lingering there.
As they were heading for the exit, Daren snagged Kacey's shoulder. “Hey, put that on,” he told her, motioning to the vest she had attached on her bag. She opened her mouth to argue, but he continued on. “We were already shot at yesterday. Just put it on until we get out of the city at least, ok?”
She sighed, taking his point. “Alright, alright.” She dropped her bag with a thud, slipping on the vest. Hauling her bag back up, she grunted, “It's coming right off after this hellhole is behind us though.” Daren accepted that.
Grey shouldered her rifle, slowly scanning the area as she opened the front door. When she determined it was clear, she motioned for the other two to move out. As they crossed the road, she continued to watch, eyes scanning the rooftops as often as the road. When she heard them reach the Humvee, she turned and ran to join them.
Daren was up in the turret immediately, their new arrival- Zeke- taking shotgun, and Kacey tossed her bag into the cab and hoped into the driver's seat. “Hang on,” she mentioned, before jamming down on the accelerator. She was surprised how smoothly a beast like this shifted gears, but glad it did being that she didn't want to jar Daren's injury too bad. And speed was something they couldn't afford to lose. The noise of their vehicle would be sure to draw the attention of the undead, as well as any living survivors.
Sure enough, about halfway out of the city, a pack of of sprinters caught wind of them. The speed at which they lunged out at the vehicle caused Daren to open fire on them with the SAW, if only to trip them up and allow escape. Between his shooting and Grey's driving, they were able to slip away from the the city without too much trouble- which was fine by them.
When the metropolis was outlined on the horizon, and all around them was dirt and desert, she slowed to a halt, turning off the vehicle that served them so well. They sat there for a few moments in silence, just waiting for their brains to catch up. Finally, Kacey opened her door sliding out and pulling off her vest.
She snagged the maps she had procured from her bag. She went to the back, pulling down the small tailgate. As the guys joined her at the rear of the truck, Grey was spreading the maps out for them all to see. “Now what?” she asked.
|Daren leaned heavily on the back of the military vehicle and stared at the map. He had always liked looking at maps as a kid; their sense of permanence and direction had reassured him when he had none. When he joined the military his ability to read maps and orient himself without technology had served him well. "We're here I think," Daren tapped the map with his gloved forefinger. " We just crossed the state line and we’re a few miles outside the town of Redding…I think." |
Daren huffed in annoyance at his lack of certainty and hobbled around to the side of the vehicle that faced the road. Down the road aways the two polls of a road sign loomed like sentinels, the sign itself was nowhere to be seen. Daren couldn’t tell for sure but he would’ve bet a fair amount of his now worthless currency that the sign had fallen just in front of the polls.
"Grey there's gotta be a road sign in front of those polls, run out there and see what it says, it'll tell us where we are for sure."
The officer rolled her eyes at him, her red hair rustled as she looked on him with derision. "Seriously?"
"C'mon Grey, it'll take longer if I hobble my crippled ass out there and back." Daren replied defensively.
"Our Lord grows tired of your incessant bickering," Zeke grunted, the first words he had spoken since they had made their escape from the city. "He helps those who help themselves."
Zeke set a brisk pace down the road, much faster than Daren could keep pace with. "Go after him," he muttered to Grey. "He doesn't have a weapon."
"He's the fucking Hulk Wilks, I think he's got the only 'weapon' he'll ever need and so what if he gets bit? Just one less nutjob in the world."
"I also wanna make sure he's not jerking us around with where we are, crazy bastard might not even be able to get the sign right." A contemptuous look from Grey sent his frustration levels spiking. "Just get after him!"
"What about your-"
"My leg and I will both be just fine!"
"Alright," Grey shrugged and hefted her M-16, a quick jog brought her level with Zeke. She'll probably give me shit for that when she gets back. Daren thought uneasily, just something else to apologize for in this fucked up world.
So intent was Daren's concentration that he failed to hear the footsteps behind him until it was too late, a sharp blow to the head sent him spiraling into the realm of unconsciousness. Gunshots were the last thing he heard before he passed out completely.
A sharp pop intruded into Daren’s unconscious state, a series of crackles and hisses followed it. The soft, red glare outside his eyelids told Daren that he was close to a fire…a small campfire by the sounds of it.
His eyes creaked open, and his hazy vision clarified to show a canopy of branches above him. Daren tried to push himself into a sitting position, only to realize that both his hands and ankles were bound with zip ties.
As Daren grunted in surprise, a low voice chuckled at him from across the fire. “I see yer awake, yer gonna wish you wasn’t in a few minutes.” The man spoke darkly.
“Wilks. Daren. Corporal. United States Army. Service number, 313 20 7652.” Daren rattled off his name; rank and service number in a tone two degrees below crushed ice.
“You jarhead sonofabitch!” The man hissed. “I lost friends to you assholes, real good guys!”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure if they were anything like you they were real upstanding citizens to society.” Daren muttered.
He was around the fire in an instant and before Daren could react his view was filled with the man’s fist. Stars exploded across his vision and he grunted involuntarily as pain filled the right side of his face.
“You talk like that again and I’ll do more than punch, you dumb piece of shit!” He loomed large over Daren, his eyes daring the soldier to defy him. After a moment of silence, the man stood from his crouch, “You just wait right here soldier boy, I gotta go fetch the rest of the guys inside and they’re gonna be real interested that you’re awake…real interested.”
Inside? Daren wondered as he twisted around to watch his attacker, he could taste the metallic tang of his blood as it flowed around his teeth. As Daren turned he realized he was beside a house, in its backyard to be exact. The design and size of the house led Daren to believe that he was in a fairly affluent suburban neighborhood. The backyard was strewn with children’s toys and even an in-ground pool in the far corner, as Daren continued to look he even spotted a tree house perched in the tallest tree.
As he spat blood out on the lawn, Daren hoped the family had made it out in time. Made it out before the dead, or living assholes like those who now held him had gotten to them. On the thought of escape, Daren’s thoughts soon turned back to his own predicament. He had no idea where he was, if Zeke and Grey knew where he was, or even if they were still alive.
Daren hadn’t felt this alone in a long time.
The screen door clicked behind him and voices could be heard behind it, Daren had a sinking feeling he wouldn’t be alone for much longer.
|She was left alone in the dark. She took a few moments to compose herself, concentrating on breathing and slowing her heart rate. She would be no good to anyone if she panicked or couldn’t think straight. She had to find a way out of this mess…|
Kacey heard the thud behind them and turned to find a man looming over Daren’s prone form. “Mother fu…” She leveled her rifle and shot, bullets hitting true as they nailed the man in the chest. He was far from being alone though.
“Run!” she ordered Zeke as fire was returned. The man was unarmed and there was no getting back to the Humvee at that point. Apparently seeing the logic in her word, Zeke did just that, heading towards a stand of abandoned buildings.
Kacey covered him, dropping to a knee for a better firing position. Being out in the open however, she didn’t stand much of a chance. She got nailed with a bullet, lodging itself into the meat of her right shoulder just below the collarbone. Crying out in pain, she dropped her rifle in favor of the handgun, trying to inch her way towards Daren who was unmoving.
There were half a dozen men with their guns trained on her approaching. Stubbornly refusing to back down, she shot another man dead, a bullet in his throat. When an answering round whistled just passed her head however, she got the hint. Living to fight another day and all that…
She dropped the pistol, cursing under her breath. The man who grabbed her yanked her right arm at a painful angle, the fresh wound protesting at the movement. “Shut up bitch!” he growled, jerking her arm to cause her further pain and she barely stifled her yelp. A couple men had dragged Daren up, his head lolling to the side so she could see the blood trickling down his skull where he’d been hit.
“Throw them in the back,” a man ordered, clearly the leader. He was grizzled and dirty- then again, all of them were covered in some level of filth. By their dress and weapons they carried, warning bells went off in Kacey’s head, pegging them as crazy militia types.
They were tossed none too gently inside. As one man bound Daren’s ankles and wrists with zip ties, her hands were also bound but at least they were in the front. She glanced to the side, noting a couple others gathering up their dropped weaponry. She could hear someone ask, “What about that other one?”
“Fuck ‘im,” the leader growled out. “We got what we wanted.”
They loaded up into the truck and Kacey grimaced as the man driving ground the gears. Simply for that he should have been shot. The leader was riding shotgun and threw a bandana back at one of the men. “Bind that shoulder. Don’t need the bitch bleeding to death.”
“Fuck you,” she spat out, receiving a cuff in the back of her head for her trouble. She looked over her shoulder at the man responsible, giving him a firm glare. She barely noticed the man slipping the bandana around her arm, focused on the staring contest, until he jerked it tight to stem the blood flow. “Fuck,” she hissed.
All the men in the Humvee set about ignoring her after that. They were all dead on their feet- so to speak- and were leaning against the sides of the truck, quiet as could be. Kacey had no idea where they were going, but she wasn’t foolish enough to think she could take on the living five men on her own, bound as she was. If Daren was awake then perhaps they could chance it but even then it would have been unadvisable. She needed to bide her time.
She frowned at Daren’s still form next to her on the floor of the truck. Grabbing hold of the front of his shirt to help balance herself, she bent over him. “Daren… Dar, wake up.” Nothing. “Daren,” she pleaded more firmly. “Come on… please wake up. Please be ok.” She would never be able to forgive herself if something happened to him. When Daren twitched a bit in response she sighed. “I’ll take that.”
All the same she spent the rest of the short ride with her face practically buried in the other’s neck with the awkward angle, just talking softly to him.
Her hopes he would wake before they arrived at their destination didn’t come to fruition though. She was hauled out of the back by one man, the other two hoisting Daren up. “Get off me,” she hissed.
Kacey noted their surroundings- a suburban neighborhood that looked firmly middle class. The men were definitely out of place there. Coming out to meet them were three others, eyeing the vehicle- and people- they had brought back. “Nice find, Jamison,” one spoke to the man she’d previously deemed the leader. Now this man seemed the real leader.
“And who do we have here?” Bill asked, looking over them appraisingly.
“Found ‘em with the truck.” Jamison growled as he added, “This bitch killed Mark and Rick.”
“Really?” Bill cocked a brow, clearly having doubt.
“Gimme a gun and I’ll show you,” Kacey hissed, her lips drawn back in a feral expression.
“Feisty,” one of the younger men next to Bill commented. The other made a cat yowling noise that made a few of them chuckle.
“Stokes,” Bill chastised firmly, causing the young man to shut his mouth immediately. “Take her inside,” he told the man holding onto her.
As she was being half dragged along, Kacey watched as they started to haul Daren around back. “Where are you taking him?!” she demanded. “Let ‘im go!” She kicked back at her captor but his hand grabbed onto her injured shoulder to control her, causing her to yelp. “Daren!” she yelled after her companion.
She was drug through the living room, not missing the vast array of weapons laid out everywhere. They’d really fallen into the shit this time… Kacey attempted to view more of the house, trying to get a layout that would help her when she found a chance to escape. Not that her captor gave her much choice, taking her down a set of stairs to the basement and tossing her haphazardly onto the cold floor.
Without a word she was left there, the door upstairs closing out the light.
As Kacey began to regain her focus and her eyes adjusted to her surroundings, she began to think in terms of survival. The light outside was waning but there was enough coming in through the small basement windows for her to see the light bulb with pull chain near her. Standing, she pulled it, bathing the area in a low glow.
“Now just to find something to cut my binds…” She frowned, realizing there was absolutely nothing in the basement. Not even a mouse trap. Some stains caught her eye, shuffling over carefully to look at them. “Dried blood… Comforting.” She sighed heavily, debating the insanity of attempting an escape through one of the basement windows. Even she wasn’t that ballsy though and settled down in the middle of the room cross-legged, hoping her opportunity would come soon.
* * *
Kacey had closed her eyes, meditating as Jake had taught her. She could practically feel his steady presence, helping lead her into a deeper state inside herself. Unaware how much time had passed, she was drawn out of her meditation by the turn of the lock on the basement door.
As she opened her eyes, she saw it was dark outside. Her attention immediately went to the two men coming down the stairs- the pair of younger ones who had been with Bill earlier. She kept her muscles loose and relaxed, barely managing not to tug at her binds in reflex. Their open leers were telling and she steeled herself for what she knew was coming.
Not that she was going to make it easy.
* * *
Her tank top was ripped as she moved to get away, her growl doing nothing but making her attacker laugh. The other man was simply settled against the wall, watching the show and waiting his turn for a little fun. Kacey kicked the man in the kneecap, causing him to curse.
In retaliation he pulled off the bandana, the dried blood being pulled off. He jammed his thumb in the wound making her cry out. It was loud and piercing, echoing off the walls of the basement. He twisted, a wet sound made as fresh blood oozed around the digit.
Her head was swimming with pain, eyes going fuzzy a moment. She reacted fueled by pure adrenaline, surging upward and teeth latching onto the first thing she could get too- his ear. The man cursed, managing to get away with his ear intact. They both just stared at her in shock. Her response was to grin with mouth full of blood before spitting it out on the floor.
The gauntlet had been thrown and attacker one moved forward, only to have her once again kick the same knee, bringing him to the ground immediately. The next lash out from the heel of her boot connected him square in the face and she could hear the snapping of his nose before he fell to the floor unconscious.
Attacker two was almost on top of her and she rolled out of the way before his own kick could connect. Her leg sweeped out, taking the man to the ground. Before he could react, her legs were wrapped around his neck, squeezing tightly with her thighs. As the man tried in vain to get her off, she sneered. “Did ya know a woman’s legs are one of her most powerful body part?” She squeezed harder. “Too bad ya decided to leave them uncuffed… Guess it’s easier to rape someone that way.” She watched his eyes roll back in his head, keeping her hold until he went limp.
Getting up, she was breathing heavily, all the extra adrenaline swimming in her system making her feel alive. She took up the big hunting knife the second man was carrying, putting it down to hold between her boots. She started sawing at her bindings, trying to free herself as quickly as possible without harming herself more.
Freed, she flexed her hands, rolling her wrists before picking up the blade. She didn’t want to be surprised if the two weren’t really dead, or if they decided to reanimate and slammed the knife into each of their skulls for good measure. She wiped the blade off on her pants, hearing activity in the house.
She grabbed up a pistol from one of the bodies, and the extra mag from the other before looking up towards the basement door. It was now or never.
|The clomp of boots on the wooden deck told Daren that his time was almost up; he needed a plan to get out of this yard alive, or at least out of these cuffs. He twisted around to face the men and got a good glimpse of them under the porch light as they paused to talk. |
One was the guy that had slugged him a few minutes earlier, the other was a big grizzled bastard who looked both hairy enough and strong enough to pass for a grizzly bear.
“Psst!” Daren jumped at the sound behind him, or he would have if he hadn’t been bound like a stuffed hog. “Don’t look back dude,” the voice hissed at him. “You’ll need this though.”
A small metal object bounced off Daren’s arm and landed on the grass beside him, after some twisting the point of the nail bit into his palm. Despite the pain Daren felt elated, now he had a chance. He didn’t get an opportunity to thank his new friend however as the men finished their conversation and clomped across the yard to him.
The soldier carefully positioned his body so that his arms were hidden from their view and grasped the nail tightly. Man-bear stopped in front of Daren while his stooge took up position on Man-bear’s right side.
“Check ‘im,” Man-bear rumbled in a passable imitation of a bear’s growl. “Make sure ‘is bindin’s ‘er secure.”
Stooge walked around behind Daren and tugged at the zipties, Daren was careful to loosen his grip so it didn’t look like he was holding anything. Stooge gave the bindings a final, vicious tug before stepping back into Daren’s field of view.
Now that both sets of eyes were on his front, Daren began to work the nail into the locking mechanism of the zipties. It was all he could do not to show the frustration when he fumbled the first time, This’d be a lot easier if I could see my hands!
Man-bear loomed large in Daren’s vision; his breath reeked of tobacco and halitosis as he leaned in closer. “Your girlfriend fought hard soldier boy, I’ll giver ‘er that. At least she did fight, unlike you you pansy sonofabitch.”
Daren closed his eyes to concentrate on the nail, when he opened them Man-bear was grinning…a vicious sneer that stretched his face in unpleasant ways. “Yeah, that’s right boy you get angry at me,” Man-bear mistook his concentration for anger. “’Cause when I get done with you-“
A high-pitched, inhuman scream filled the air and cut off Man-bear’s threat. The hairs on the back of Daren’s neck stood up and Man-bear’s face turned from smug to terrified in an instant, he began to beat a hasty retreat towards the house.
Daren finally slipped the nail home into the lock and undid the zipties with a single, fluid motion. His shoulders cried out in relief as the stretched forward, setting aside his comfort Daren hastened to repeat the procedure on his feet. Just as he freed his feet, the soldier looked up in time to see a sprinter vault the picket fence and smash full tilt into Man-bear, both of them tumbled into the pool creating a veritable geyser of water.
Stooge was still standing agape, shocked at his leader’s demise when Daren crashed into him. They fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs; Stooge tried to fight back but Daren was too strong, too fast, and too full of rage. He smashed Stooge in the face again, and again, and again; finally Daren pulled him around and snaked his arm around Stooge’s neck in a chokehold.
Stooge struggled and kicked, his eyes bulged and his fingers clawed. His labored grunts for oxygen stopped after a minute and Daren held him for another thirty seconds after that, he snapped Stooge’s neck for good measure and let him fall.
As Daren climbed to his feet he saw the sprinter’s struggle to escape the pool, Man-bear floated facedown in a widening pool of red. Daren looked around the yard frantically for a weapon when a whistle pierced the din, Daren saw a pair of eyes peek out of the treehouse and a hammer thudded to the grass at his feet.
Daren picked up the tool and stared at it with incredulity, “Oh you have got to be kidding me,” he muttered as the sounds of the sprinter drew closer to him. “What am I supposed to do with a fucking hammer!”
He shouted the last part as he turned to face the sprinter and brought the hammer into its head with as much force as he could muster. He felt the thing’s temple cave in under the hammer’s small head and it fell to the ground. It wasn’t dead though and even as Daren turned to finish it the sprinter was trying to get back up.
Daren brought the hammer down onto its head again and it crashed to the ground, still twitching. Daren brought the hammer down a third time, a fourth time and a fifth time before it finally stopped moving; his clothes dripped with it’s jelly like blood.
Daren stood over the freshly killed corpse and tossed the hammer to the side; chest heaving, he surveyed the yard a second time. His eyes fell to Stooge’s weapon and he let out a wordless groan, why he didn’t bother using what was an undoubtedly loaded handgun to kill that sprinter he would never understand.
The gun came out of its holster easily and Daren checked the load, six bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber. Daren nodded, shoved the magazine home, pointed the weapon at its former owner and shot his reanimating body through the head.
Daren turned towards the treehouse, “Whoever you are stay right there and be as quiet as possible, I’m gonna go check out the house and then I’ll be right back.”
“N-no problemo dude,” the voice came back a little shaky. “Not like I had anywhere else to be anyway.”
“You armed?” Daren asked.
“Yeah man,” the voice replied as he shoved the small, burnished steel shape of a .38 revolver out the opening of the treehouse. “Go do your thing, I’ll be cool here.”
Daren turned and walked a few paces before he turned around again. “You got a name?”
“Yeah,” the voice paused for a second. “Name’s Danny.”
“Alright Danny I’m Daren, now just hang tight there I’ll be right back.”
“You got it boss.” Danny replied.
As Daren drew parallel to the side of the house, he put his back to it and slid up to the screen door. He edged around the side and peeked through the glass door, there was no sign of anybody in the house so Daren cracked the door open and slid inside.
He cleared the kitchen and dinning room with no problems but as soon as he stepped into the living room a hail of gunfire hissed past and sent Daren diving for cover. As he edged out to get a better look at the shooter a wave of dismay rolled over him That’s my gun that son of a bitch is using, that bastard’s shooting at me with my own gun!
Daren swung out into the open and fired four shots, one must’ve hit home through the walls because Daren heard a yelp of pain and the clatter of his rifle being dropped. Daren kept his borrowed pistol up and began to walk closer, he had just drawn level with the basement door when it exploded open and the person behind it lunged towards him.
|Kacey heard the gunfire on the other side of the door and as she heard someone approaching all she could do was react. She flew out, tackling the man to the ground and bringing her handgun up, pointed right at the man’s face. Her eyes widened at the same time as her target’s and it was a good thing she had such good trigger discipline.|
Lowering her weapon she couldn’t help but smile. “Oh my God! Daren!” She ended up falling on top of him in a semblance of a hug, completely relieved.
The moment didn’t last though, gun fire resuming. Kacey rolled off, scrambling for cover around the wall, Daren following right behind. “Fuck me,” she growled. She had her legs pulled up to her chest and rested her head on the slide of the gun. That was too close. “Sit rep?” she inquired.
“Two dead outside, plus a sprinter. One dead in here.”
She nodded. “Two dead downstairs. That gives us… three more at least from what I saw when we got here.” The corner of the wall near Daren sprayed out debris as more fire was leveled their way. Cursing softly she apologized, “I only saw this area when they drug me in here so I’ve no idea what the layout is.”
“S’ok,” Daren replied. “We’ll figure it out. Take it slow.” It was then he noticed she was eye-balling the kitchen across the way that opened to the living room. “What are you-?”
“Wha-?” As she started moving around him he just reacted, popping his head out and leveling the handgun at the hall near the front door where the shots were coming from. As soon as Kacey was across he ducked back into cover, watching as she crawled to the butcher block. “What are you doing?” he hissed.
She smirked, taking the steak knives. “Conserving bullets.” Jake had taught her to use throwing knives- he was a blade master and taught a lot of the guys knife-fighting techniques in case they were ever disarmed. These weren’t throwing knives however.
“Can you really throw those?” he asked skeptically.
“We’ll find out.” She poked her head out, not seeing anyone. “Hey asshole!” she yelled and sure enough the guy popped out and she threw the first blade which sailed straight past him. It distracted him though, allowing for a second throw. That time the blade embedded into his thigh and he screamed in pain. She winced as she’s be aiming for his chest.
“Screw it.” Kacey took aim and squeezed the trigger, the bullet hitting with far better accuracy than the knives had, straight in the forehead.
Daren had peeked around the corner and now stood, snorting before turning to her with a smirk. “Conserving bullets, huh?”
“Bite me,” she replied, though she was smirking herself. Her eyes widened as she spotted a shadow behind her partner. “Daren!”
The soldier whirled around, smacking the rifle pointed at him to the side, the bullet meant for him going right by. He went hands on, grabbing the gun and pushing the man up against the wall, the weapon pressed under his chin against his neck. Kacey was attempting to get a bead on him with her handgun but it wasn’t safe given how close Daren was. The man struggled and managed to push Daren back but only for a moment. With practiced ease, Daren brought him to the ground, resuming the earlier chokehold.
Kacey noticed movement out of the corner of her eye and leveled her weapon. The man darted out the door and she gave chase. She scooped up a rifle from the coffee table as she passed. Her assumption that they’d be kept locked and loaded at all times was proven correct when she pulled back the charging handle and a round chambered. Leaning against the doorframe, she let the lead fly but the guy ducked behind the Humvee.
“Damnit!” she yelled, hearing the engine fire up after he got inside. She fired more rounds, but the glass remained intact. Even the shots to the engine block didn’t slow it down, the gears grinding as the coward took off. “He took the truck!” she growled, turning to find Daren’s opponent dead.
Frustrated, Kacey pulled out the buck knife she’d stolen from her captors, slamming it into the dead man’s head. She left it there, turning back to the gear around the living room. “They better have brought our shit in here is all I can say.” She was livid.
She turned around, sighing heavily in irritation. Kacey looked over as her companion joined her, noting that he simply stared at her. She raised a brow in question. “What?”
|“Jesus Kacey you look like a fucking sprinter!” Daren blurted out in shock, her blood covered mouth and feral eyes were a disturbingly accurate recreation of the zombies that kept trying to eat them. |
“What, oh this?” Kacey wiped her mouth with the back of her forearm, the ferocity in her eyes abated. “I just bit a guy’s ear off.”
“Uhh…“ Daren had no witty retorts for that one; a famous boxer had just come to mind when an inhuman howl echoed throughout the darkened suburbia. “Shit, more of those fast ones!”
“How many?” Kacey asked as she scooped her weapons off one of the couches.
Daren dashed to the front door and bent to pick up his own rifle, his height allowed him to scan the small windows set in the top of the door with little trouble. He saw dozens of silhouettes, all characterized as sprinters by their jerky, spasmodic movements.
“Too many,” he replied simply.
Kacey cursed under her breath and began to pick up her bag in the corner, she dropped it down just as quickly with a sharp gasp of pain.
“What’s wrong,” Daren asked as he moved towards her. “Wait, why didn’t you tell me they shot you?” He demanded when he noticed the blood oozing down the side of her torn tank top.
“We didn’t exactly have time for twenty questions Daren,” she grunted caustically. “Besides, it’s no…big…deal!” Kacey heaved the pack onto her injured shoulder with a massive effort; while she wobbled in place from the pain she did stay upright.
“All right, we’ll deal with your arm later. Now, let’s grab our stuff and-“ Daren stopped short of finishing his sentence; there was someone he had forgotten. “Change of plans; take your pack and whatever food, water and medical supplies you can carry and head to the attic, I’ll be right behind you!”
“What?” Kacey stopped mid-motion. “Daren no-“
“No time to explain,” Daren replied as he shouldered his own pack on the run. “Just make sure the attic’s ready!”
“Daren!” Kacey cried after him.
Like a man possessed Daren barreled through the living room, into the kitchen and back out the patio door. “Danny,” he called as his boots touched grass. “You still there?”
“Yeah dude,” Danny sounded like he didn’t have a care in the world. “’Course I’m still here, it’s not like I’ve got anywhere else to be. You ok dude, I heard gunfire and-“
“Danny,” Daren growled. “Get your ass moving, there’s a whole pack of those things coming and they’ll tear you to shreds if you stay out here!”
“Ok, ok, chill man. I’m coming down now.” Danny’s sneaker clad feet settled on the top rung of the ladder and the rest of his body followed. Jeans, green hoodie, tousled brown hair and a face that looked ideal for smirking; Daren was already beginning to regret his decision to save Danny, still he did owe him one…or two.
A scream pierced the night air, Daren jumped and Danny fell the remaining half-foot to the ground. The sprinter screamed again and charged at the two men, Daren shouldered his rifle and squeezed the trigger. The 5.56 round slammed into the area just below its throat and it dropped like a sack of wet laundry.
"Ow man, my ass!" Danny moaned as he rubbed his wounded coccyx.
"C'mon," Daren grunted as he hauled the rattled Danny to his feet. "You'll have a lot more than a busted ass if you don't move!"
A second sprinter jumped the fence and began to charge, its banshee shriek made Daren’s skin crawl. His one handed shot smashed into the thing's right shoulder and drove it back a few steps. His fingers wrapped around the fore grip of the M4 and Daren's second round eviscerated its throat before it could scream again. Daren dropped to one knee; he felt a twinge in his leg as he turned his head towards Danny. “Danny reach into my pack and grab the medical kit, my friend’s up in the attic and she needs help…she’s hurt!”
“Me, what the hell about you man?” Danny demanded as he rummaged through Daren’s pack.
“Just go,” Daren barked as he shot another sprinter. “I’ll be right behind you!”
The sound of panicked footsteps behind him told Daren that Danny had obeyed. Two more sprinters landed in the yard, the M4 kicked twice against his shoulder and they tumbled to the grass, one without its left eye and the other with its lower jaw gone .
Daren rose from his crouch and fell back towards the sliding door, he checked every so often to make sure nothing was behind him. His rifle barked four more times before he got through the door and closed it; Daren knew the glass would only buy him seconds.
He made it to the living room before the glass gave way with a mighty crash and tinkled onto the linoleum floor of the kitchen, three sprinters tried to rush through the door and created a convenient jam for Daren. The M4 came up and he squeezed the trigger,
“Motherfucker!” Daren cursed aloud at his weapon jam while simultaneously reaching for his borrowed sidearm. He centered the iron sights on the first zombie and squeezed, it went limp as its head was demolished. He squeezed again, the second one thrashed as the bullet tore through its heart. Daren squeezed the trigger a third time, the weapon clicked empty.
Daren’s stomach turned into a ball of ice, even as he reached for his knife the creature was on him. It moved with such speed that its teeth were snapping inches from his face before he could pull the blade from its sheathe, Daren struggled to hold the monster at bay while he desperately groped for a weapon.
His fingers came across the grip of a sword, Daren tugged and it came free easily. He brought the blade around in a small arc and lodged it in the head of his undead attacker, its snapping abruptly ceased and its fetid form collapsed on him.
Daren grunted as he pushed the body off of him and pulled the sword from its head, it came free with a sucking noise. Daren grabbed the scabbard from its stand and noted the tapestries that adorned the walls in his periphery vision, whoever lived here before must’ve been a major historical collector in addition to being a spouse and a parent.
The scream of a sprinter jarred Daren from his reverie and he began to run towards the steps, the glint of light off metal caught his eye. On the table beside him were his dog tags and Kacey’s Shinto pendant, They must’ve taken them off when the grabbed us.
Daren stuffed both into his pockets and made a mental note to ask Kacey about her pendant later. He took the stairs two at a time, as he rounded the corner he came face-to-the wrong end of Kacey’s M-16.
“Jesus Daren!” she exclaimed as she lowered the rifle, Danny stood behind her with his revolver out. “What the hell were you thinking-“
“There’ll be time to berate me later,” Daren gasped as he gestured to the ladder with the sword. “We have to get up there before any more of them get in here!”
Kacey nodded and began to climb up the ladder, Danny followed and Daren finally began his assent into the attic; pulling the trap door shut behind him once he got to the top.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” Daren spoke softly.
“That’s easy dude, 1984.” Danny replied in the same tone.
“Damn you’re good.” Daren complimented. “So like I was saying, after we made it out of the city we stopped to look for directions. One minute I was looking at the map and the next I had that stooge in my face, the rest you already know.”
“Woah dude!” Danny’s voice rose slightly. “That’s a crazy tale man; surviving through all of those things and then taking down all these guys, you’re like…a total badass man.”
“Nah,” Daren replied as he pawed through the crate of books beside him. “If you wanted to see a badass you should’ve seen Zeke, crazy bastard could’ve folded me in half with his bare hands and still had enough strength to kill those sprinters out there with his giant car door shield.”
His eyes drifted over to Kacey as he talked, she laid on an improvised bed of blankets one of which covered her. With her eyes closed and her breathing steady she looked…peaceful; Daren smiled. After they had practically fallen into the attic, Daren had quickly set about fixing her arm and getting her to lay down.
Kacey hadn’t been happy about it but she did eventually lie down and let him work on her arm. With the medication he had given her for the pain and her own fatigue, her eyes eventually drooped closed despite her valiant protestations to keep watch with him.
Daren didn’t mind, he knew he owed her for the city. Besides it was nice to see her relaxed, even if it was just because she was sleeping.
“Yo dude,” Danny’s call brought him back from his thoughts.
“Sorry, what was that you said?”
“I said, ‘looks like you went a little medieval on them yourself dude.’”
Daren looked sheepishly down and the scabbard that sat beside him. “Yeah, I guess I did didn’t I?” After he had wiped the blade clean and examined it closely Daren knew it was a Roman Gladius short sword; with a length of 25 inches and a blade well suited to hacking, slashing and stabbing it was the perfect weapon for close quarters battles like the one he had just escaped. The proud seal of the Roman Empire adorned the red scabbard and the hilt of the sword itself.
Daren might have only finished high school but history was something that he had continued to study independently, warfare especially but also the ancient empires of Rome and Greece.
“The owners must’ve been collectors or something, I saw some pretty expensive tapestries down there too. The sword must be a reproduction but if it is it’s one of the highest quality ones I’ve ever seen, absolutely no give in the blade.” Daren continued after his short pause to think.
“That’s still cool as hell man,” Danny chuckled. “I’m sure this Zeke dude would be proud.”
“Wherever the hell he is,” Daren replied with sorrow in his voice. He hadn’t exactly trusted Zeke but it hurt him that the big man had been left behind, he vowed not to let that happen with Danny. “So what’s your story then Danny? After all, I told you mine.”
“There’s not much to tell dude,” Danny chuckled. “I ran from my home just as things were starting to get really bad; I made it out on foot, dodging all of the freakin’ zombies and bad dudes till I ended up here. I decided to sleep in the treehouse and the next morning when I woke up, I saw those guys down below. At first I thought I might be able to just leave but then when I saw what they did to the guy before you…I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I waited up there until you showed up.”
“That’s still quite a story,” Daren replied lamely, Danny was right when he said it didn’t match up to his.
“So where’d you even come up with this game?” Danny gestured at the books they had found.
“Oh,” Daren could already feel the memories coming back at Danny’s question. “Well my…friend and I would play it whenever a storm knocked out the power. I guess those guys down there kinda reminded me of a storm…it just seemed appropriate.”
“So’d you usually win?” Danny asked.
“No we used cards and she’d kick my ass every time,” Daren chuckled wistfully. “She was like a frigging magician, she could tell what card it was even when there were only two cards in the discard pile.”
Daren’s smile turned sour and he lapsed into silence, Danny followed suit. After about fifteen minutes of silence, Danny spoke up, “I was supposed to be a cop eh?”
“Really?” Daren looked up from the book he had started reading.
“Yeah, my granddad was one of the first SWAT officers in the state. He went up against those SLA guys before he retired, my dad was one of the youngest guys into SWAT and he started just in time to deal with the LA riots. I guess you could say it was a family tradition.” Danny replied.
“So you were gonna be SWAT?” Daren raised his eyebrow dubiously.
“Fuck that dude,” Danny snorted. “I was never the run and gun type, I was gonna go into LA’s cybercrime division.” His face turned sad. “Not any more though.”
“Hey,” Daren said. “The world might’ve died but we didn’t go with it, we can all still make something of ourselves…including you.”
“Thanks dude,” Danny changed the subject. “You should get some sleep.”
“Are you su-“
“Yeah dude, I’ve been sitting on my ass for the past couple of days. Besides, you and her are our guns out there…and you’re the only effective gun since she’s down an arm. Don’t worry, I’ll keep watch and wake you if there’s anything fishy.”
Daren was too tired to argue with Danny, so he grabbed one of the blankets and fashioned it into a pillow. “You wake me up at the first sign of trouble, understand?”
“Right-o boss,” Danny replied.
Daren curled up and a couple minutes later he was fast asleep.
|When her eyes opened again, daylight was sneaking its way through the valley and suburban development they were in. She blinked a few times, sitting up slowly as her aching muscles protested. It was a good ache though- reminded her she was alive. Feeling rested for the first time in a couple weeks, Kacey stretched out and gazed at their surroundings.|
Danny was sitting up with his back against one of the boxes reading a book. Daren lay nearby on his own makeshift blanket sound asleep. Her lips quirked as he let out a soft snore. At least he was finally getting some rest himself- she knew he’d had about as much as she had the past few days.
She blinked at the thought. Had it really only been so short a time since they found each other? After everything that had happened, it seemed like forever.
Looking over at their new addition she took a moment to look him over a bit more. She hadn’t gotten a close look earlier, too focused on making sure Daren was alright and trying to stop him from fussing so much about her own injuries. Then again, she supposed it was only fair considering how she mother-henned him so she bit her tongue for the most part and allowed him to do his thing. If it made him feel better…
“Has he been asleep long?” she asked, trying not to chuckle as the kid practically jumped out of his skin.
“Holy fuck,” he breathed, holding his chest. “Warn a guy, yeah?” She shook her head in amusement. Once he calmed, Danny answered, “Umm, like four or five hours ago I guess?”
“Lost yourself in the book, huh?” Kacey smiled in amusement, though she couldn’t say much as she could easily do the same. He nodded, looking sheepish.
Kacey pulled her bag over, glad it hadn’t been taken along with their Humvee, and pulled out a fresh tank top. She was really going to have to clean her other clothes, especially with the top she was wearing ruined. Boy, that had been an interesting conversation with Daren…
“What the hell happened?” he asked, digging into her shoulder to remove the .22 round still inside.
She hissed, gritting her teeth as she answered, “They shot me.” Daren paused, giving her a reproachful look. Sighing, Kacey explained what had happened from the time Daren got hit to when they threw her in the basement.
When she mentioned about the two morons that paid her a visit, Daren stiffened, looking at her intensely. “They do that?” he asked, nodding to the shirt.
“Yeah,” was all she said, looking away.
Daren swallowed thickly, asking, “Kace, did they…?”
“No,” she replied flatly. “Not for lack of trying.” Daren didn’t seem so convinced, the shirt practically hanging off of her seeming like proof enough. Kacey sighed, softening a bit as she realized how worried he was. “I’m fine, Dar… promise.” When he still hesitated, she grinned as she added, “I said I bit the guy didn’t I?”
That made Daren chuckle, shaking his head as he continued to patch her up- seriously the man had no soft hand when it came to stitches. “I wouldda liked to seen that one,” he admitted.
Standing with the clean shirt, she looked at Danny. “Turn around.” He raised a brow and she tugged at her ruined shirt pointedly. His face heated up, even worse than Daren’s had that first morning together and turned away. She shook her head, muttering, “Men.”
Well, Danny was still a kid in her opinion. He looked like he couldn’t have been older than seventeen. Then again, Daren seemed pretty young himself. She’d never bothered to find out though. It hadn’t seemed relevant at the time. “You’re good,” she announced, settling back down onto her bedding.
She pulled out her deodorant, cringing at all the fresh grime on her and knowing the deodorant wasn’t about to do much at that point. A shower was in desperate need for her, and probably Daren too. They needed to at least be able to clean around their wounds. Perhaps if the house had cleared out enough she could talk Daren into the pair of them going downstairs to swap out quick showers while the other stood watch- as long as the water in this neighborhood had stayed on that was.
As she combed her hair real quick before putting it back in a ponytail, scrunching her nose at the dried blood and dirt she found, Kacey knew that was the first thing she was asking Daren when he got up. She’d ask Danny, but really she didn’t trust him as of yet. She knew Daren would have her back. With Danny, she’d probably want to keep one hand on a gun, and that wouldn’t really work while trying to shower.
“If you wanna get some sleep,” she told their new addition, “I suggest you do it now.” She’d let Daren sleep- hopefully he’d get a few more hours so he’d be fully recharged as well. They both had needed it.
“I’m ok,” he answered. His attention was fully on her then, book forgotten. “Sooo… what’s your story?” She raised a brow. “Well, it’s just, Daren told me what happened to him and how you guys ended up here. So…”
“I’m a cop,” was all she said, tapping the badge at her hip. “The rest… well… I don’t wanna talk about it.” She looked away- that was final. It wasn’t just not wanting to discuss it but that she certainly didn’t feel right discussing it with Danny if Daren didn’t even know. The man had certainly earned it if he ever was curious to know, but the kid had a ways to go before she felt the same about him.
“Right,” Danny put emphasis on the ‘t’ and shrugged. “I get it.” And it seemed he really did as he didn’t bring it up again.
After a few minutes of quiet, Kacey got up and looked out all the windows, trying to gain some more knowledge of the area now that it was day. She was also trying to see if the zombies had moved along but it was hard to tell. Settling back down cross-legged on her blankets she once again suggested that Danny get some sleep. At least that time he didn’t argue, fixing himself a spot off away from them, seemingly catching onto her hesitation to have him near.
As he settled down to rest, Kacey closed her eyes, centering herself. “What are you doing?” Danny questioned.
“Mediating. It helps me relax and balance.” Her lips quirked as she admitted, “Not that great at it but I figure it’s best to try.” It had gotten her through the time in the basement, so there was a good chance it would help the pain in her shoulder relax and let her keep her wits about her for whatever their next move would be.
“Uh huh…” She could hear the skepticism in his voice but Danny let it go. He’d apparently been more tired than he’d let on- or maybe he just hadn’t realized it- as he dropped off to sleep pretty quickly.
With another deep breath, Kacey relaxed. Her hands settled onto her knees, just trying to focus on nothing at all. It wasn’t working so well and her hand went to the pendant around her neck of its own volition. She smiled softly, glad she hadn’t lost it as she feared.
It was some time after she’d been thrown into the basement. One of the men came down trying to get information out of her. She was actually shocked he hadn’t resorted to a fist when his slaps had done nothing to shake anything out of her. He did however grab hold of Jake’s necklace, tugging it away. It was good it was on a leather strip and not a normal chain as the man probably would have died for breaking it. As it was she had simply glared at him, growling out, “I’ll be getting that back,” before he left her there again.
When Daren produced it from his pocket after fixing her up she could have cried in relief. He tied it around her neck for her as she moved her hair out of the way. Smiling softly, Kacey thanked him. “For everything,” she added, leaning in to drop her forehead on his shoulder a moment. She was just so relieved they were both in relatively one piece and safe for the most part.
“Welcome,” he answered, patting her back before she pulled away.
Kacey hadn’t really managed to meditate, her mind swimming with too many things. It was just as well, given their position. She needed to remain on guard, even though she was confident that if anything happened it would break her from her mental drifting. It was such movement that drew her attention.
She smiled in greeting as Daren rolled over to face her. Yawning he said, “Morning.”
“Mornin’,” was her surprisingly cheerful response. A full sleep certainly made a world of difference.
Daren sat up, scratching at his bad leg. Though as she opened her mouth to warn him away from his stitches, his hand pulled away quickly, anticipating it. That made her stifle a laugh, shaking her head. “Well, since yer up,” she mentioned, grabbing a couple protein bars from her pack along with a canteen, “care to join me for breakfast?” Daren’s smile was answer enough and she moved over to his bedding.
The pair leaned against the wall, eating slowly as to savor what little food they had, passing the canteen between them. “Feeling better?” she asked.
“Like almost new.”
“How’s yer shoulder?”
“Sore, but guess it’s to be expected. How ‘bout your leg?”
“Ditto.” He crumpled the wrapper, tossing it to the side, pointedly ignoring Kacey’s chastising glance. “What you think of Danny?”
She shrugged. “Can’t say much. Dunno ‘im… so I’m watchin’ my step with ‘im. Don’t plan on countin’ on ‘im in a fight.” She knew what Daren had told her before he made her sleep, about how Danny had helped save his bacon out in the yard, but still…
“Fair enough,” Daren answered. “Only smart I guess.”
They fell into a comfortable silence, just leaning there and appreciating the other’s company. Daren glanced over and noticed her playing with her pendant and asked, “So what’s the deal with that thing anyway?” She had told him what it was- some religious thing or other- but that had been all. The way she treated it like her own little worry stone, there must have been something significant about it.
She gave a sad smile. “Was my partner’s… Jake.”
Kacey nodded. “We were all held up in the station. We’d been making runs into the city, collecting survivors. The army was supposed to be coming… jus’ tryin’ to keep alive til then, save as many people as we could, y’know? ‘Cept the military never came, we lost all comms, and most of our department decided to take the civilians and leave.”
“Why didn’t you go too?”
Shrugging, she admitted, “It was stupid… but I didn’t wanna leave anyone behind.” She bit her lip. “Not that it mattered. Ended up gettin’ the guys stayin’ back with us killed. They ended up breaking in and those sprinting fucks got ‘em. And Jake… He got bit.” Daren frowned at that.
It was silent for a bit before she finally said, “Gave me this… made me promise…”
When she hesitated, Daren asked, “Promise what?”
“To survive,” she all but whispered. “And then I had to…” Well, hopefully Daren caught her meaning. “He was my best friend, my brother, my… my everything.” She’d never had any real family or much in the way of friends. Her fellow officers had been it. Jake, they did everything together. Without him…
Her frown deepened. “And now he’s gone…” she finished, a cold feeling settling into the pit of her stomach. A flash of Jake’s body lying lifeless on the ground passed in front of her eyes and then was gone. “Seems so… petty… to hold on to somethin’ like that after everything that’s happened, but…” Kacey shrugged, no idea where she was going with it.
“But, now you know…”
|Daren frowned as Kacey stared at her partner’s pedant; he knew exactly what she meant, the only difference was that he’d been hanging on to someone like that for years, not just since the shitstorm the world had descended into. |
He took a deep breath and scowled, Maybe that breath was a little too deep.
“Man, you stink!” He blurted aloud, the filter between his brain and mouth apparently not as well rested as his body.
“Shut up,” Kacey hit him with her good arm, hard. “You don’t smell the best yourself Corporal Rose Garden!”
“You’re right,” Daren didn’t bother smelling himself…he knew he stank. “What say we change that?”
“You read my mind Daren,” Kacey replied with a smile.
“We’ll sweep the house first,” Daren climbed to his feet and offered Kacey his hand. “Then one of us will guard you while you shower.”
Kacey grabbed his hand with her good arm and pulled herself up. “You Daren, not him.” She whispered in his ear.
“Oh c’mon Kacey, he’s a great guy and he saved my ass twice.”
Kacey put her finger to his lips and silenced his protests. “This is not a debate Daren, you will guard me. Besides,” Kacey said as she moved to the trap door. “If you trust him so much, have him guard you while you shower.”
“Fine maybe I will,” Daren replied as he joined her at the trap door. “First things first though, let’s sweep the house.” He kicked the trap door and the ladder extended to the ground with a short screech.
The noise caused Danny to stir from his bedroll; he let out a groan of fatigue and turned so that his back was towards them.
“Think we should bring him down with us?” Daren asked.
“Nah,” Grey replied. “He got less sleep than either of us keeping watch, let him be for now.”
Daren shrugged his shoulders and drew his new sword. “His loss then.”
Once he was on the floor below the attic, he scanned around the immediate area. The hallway that the ladder was in led straight back to a single room; there were doors evenly spaced along the two walls, three on each side for a total of six; the other end of the hall led to the stairs that would take them to the ground floor.
Daren exchanged a glance with Kacey and the two padded down to the room at the end. Kacey stood back and took aim with her sidearm while Daren nudged the door open with the point of his blade.
The room inside was surprisingly neat, clean and devoid of corpses or blood. It was undoubtedly the master bedroom; the made bed, clean carpet and open blinds gave the room an eerie feeling; like the people who owned the place were just downstairs and they were trespassers in the house.
Daren set aside his discomfort and moved to the only other door in the room, another nudge revealed a bathroom as empty and devoid as the bedroom. Daren leaned out the doorway, “Bathroom’s clear,” he replied softly. “Now we just gotta check the rest of the house.”
Kacey nodded and the two withdrew back to the hall, as they lined up at the next door Kacey spoke. “Why the hell are you traipsing around with that thing when you’ve got a perfectly good rifle on your back?”
“It’s length and weight make it a perfect close combat weapon,” Daren replied as he opened the door to a room empty of undead. “Besides, every zombie I take down with this means a bullet saved.”
“Bullshit Daren,” Kacey replied with a light smile as they moved to the next one. “I think you just like swinging a that hunk of steel into their heads…gives you more of a rush.”
Daren swung the door open; this time there was a zombie in the room with the accompanying stench to go with it, it was one of the slower ones and it stumbled drunkenly towards them. Daren took a big step forward and jabbed the blade into its head, he yanked the blade free as the corpse threatened to drag it down.
He looked up with Kacey with a savage grin as he cleaned the blade on the zombie’s skirt. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” he stood up and looked around the room. “You could always take some of her clothes.”
“Ha ha Daren,not really my style.” the sarcasm in Kacey’s voice was biting. "You know who you remind me of with that thing?”
"Zeke," Daren replied as his heart dropped, he might not have liked the guy but he was a member of his team...loosing him weighed on Daren's conscience.
"Hey c'mon," Kacey replied gently as she rested her hand on his shoulder. "If there's anyone still alive out in this messed up world it's that crazy bastard."
"I know," Daren sighed. "I just feel like...I let him down."
"It's not your fault Daren," Kacey soothed. "I was the one who told him to run, if there's anyone who should hold the blame...it's me."
"No...you probably saved his life telling him to run," Daren sighed. "I just hope he's doing alright out there."
"He is," Kacey nudged him in the shoulder. "Now let's finish clearing out the house so we can get cleaned up."
They cleared the rest of the house in relative silence, both content to focus on the job at hand rather than engage in conversation. Daren took down another four shamblers on the ground floor and two more that had fallen down the basement steps. By the end his arm was sore and his clothes dirty with sweat and gore, still he declined when Kacey offered to stand guard first.
“Are you sure Daren? You did do most of the work.”
“I’m sure Kacey,” he hardened his stance when disbelief showed on her face. “Go. Get your stuff and then get the shower ready; I’ll be up in a minute.”
Instead of protesting Kacey simply nodded and beat a hasty retreat back up the steps, Daren swore he saw a spring in her step. Is a shower really that important? he wondered for a moment before answering his own question. Yeah, it probably is. Lord knows we could all use one, not just her.
Instead of getting off his seat at the kitchen counter, Daren turned to look at the early morning sun through the shattered sliding door. As its light shone through and its warmth hit him in the face, Daren closed his eyes and breathed deeply. While not a morning person by nature, he always loved the morning atmosphere…those peaceful hours before the world came to life. It doesn’t come to life much anymore but at least the mornings are still peaceful.
Daren opened his eyes into her face... into Gabrielle's face, her curdled milk colored eyes conveyed a hateful rage, her once beautiful skin was an ashen color and filled with rents and scrapes, the teeth that lunged for his throat were broken and chalky yellow.
Daren's heart leapt into his throat and he pushed off his stool with a startled yelp, his tailbone exploded in pain as he hit the floor with a thud. Daren scrambled away from the murderous zombie in a blind panic and screwed his eyes shut against the fiery pain that signalled a bite. After a minute of terrified waiting Daren still felt no pain; only the overturned stool lay in his path when Daren cracked his eyes open one at a time.
His heart pounded as he climbed to his feet and grabbed the counter to steady his shaking knees. As he sat down in another stool, a scream came from the upstairs.
|“Run!” she ordered Zeke as fire was returned. The man was unarmed and there was no getting back to the Humvee at that point. Zeke did just that, heading towards a stand of abandoned buildings.|
Just as he'd seen the sprinting daemons do before that fateful moment, Zeke ran. Unlike the carnivorous hunters, however, he bolted for cover. It was not his normal instinct to run from battle, but a weaponless warrior in this fight was as good as dead.
Zeke wasn't about to meet the Almighty in such a manner. Such was not the fate of God's Champion.
Reflecting on that fateful moment now, Zeke clenched his jaw. Despite the ensuing chaos, details of the invasion burned themselves into his mind. Sergeant Grey was as poised as she was deadly, setting herself against the marauding horde without the slightest hesitation. The young Corporal Wilks either missed the onslaught (unlikely) or was incapacitated first. Zeke was hesitant to presume him dead. Despite his youth, Daren Wilks appeared to be made of sterner stuff than most men. His was an indomitable being, a warrior's soul through and through.
Zeke was sure that Wilks and Grey would survive the attack. In the fires of combat and survival, the two had forged a quick and powerful bond. Such a connection would not easily be torn asunder by evil. Zeke nodded, a grim smile coming to his chapped lips. All three would meet again under the banner of Heaven to drive the evil from this world.
Yet it was galling to be caught like a rat in a trap, even one made of old concrete and steel. Though Grey had been right order Zeke's escape, Zeke didn't expect the two sprinters he found as soon as he careened through the doors of the large edifice. As the daemons lunged for his face, he was forced to act quickly. A forward attack would only disable one of the attackers, and not for very long. As such, Zeke resorted to sidestepping and unbalancing one of them with a colossal shoulder check. The attack was quick, but strong enough to send them both toppling off their ruined feet. With no time to lose, Zeke leaped after the flying pair. Just as one creature crashed to the floor, only by the grace of God did Zeke seem to land the heel of his boot squarely on its breastplate, effectively shattering its ribcage.
That left the other sprinter, a twisted, decaying wreck of a woman to scramble to its feet. Now alone in its hunt, the predator hesitated, the stench of its fear and decay only matched by the burning fury in its eyes.
Undaunted, Zeke took a deep breath. Gathering his inner strength, he felt Heaven's fury expand in his chest. With a short, deft flick of his right wrist, Zeke leveled his last line of defense; a sharpened stone of Mount Sinai manifested in his steady hand, its jagged edges cutting into his palm the moment he tightened his grip.
The monster charged.
Before he'd even lifted his arm, God's Champion focused all his love of humanity, his hatred of evil, and the thunderous might of his sheer will into the pointed end of his weapon. In combat, he considered such meditation the ultimate test of faith. His studies of martial arts were limited as he saw no need to alter the motions of his body without each movement becoming an act of praise to the only living and true God. That all the martial artists he'd ever encountered seemed to leave the Almighty out of their practice came as a shock to him. The power exhibited by the world's greatest masters could only exist, in Zeke's estimation, because of the Heavenly Father.
So it was that Zeke learned to master his breathing, focusing God's will through his mighty vessel in a waves of cleansing energy. With practice, religious zeal could be honed into a power great enough to supersede all obstacles.
Eyes blazing with Heaven's wrath, Zeke snapped his powerful right hand forward. "Praise be to the Light!"
Circumstances frequently didn't permit Zeke to test his heightened skills. He yearned to sharpen his mighty strength and speed by destroying evil and those who perpetuated it. However, there existed the laws of both man and God. Though such alchemy was normally good and proper, it did on occasion present a serious constraint to Zeke.
Zeke was here now, no longer cast aside like the forgotten ruin of a once mighty church. However the moment Zeke's arm stopped its lethal momentum and hovered for a fraction of a second, Zeke's stomach lurched. Skeletal fingers exerted a sudden, iron grip on his wrist. He'd grossly underestimated his opponent and was caught like a child with his hand in a forbidden cookie jar.
"Uhh," was all Zeke could grunt. A rusted something creaked in the distance behind him before it crashed to the ground, as useless as his caught appendage.
Whether it was the crash, the encroaching maw of rotting teeth jutting from behind strands of saliva and bloody sinew, or the possibility of more attacking daemons that shook Zeke from his momentary torpor, he would never be sure. With a burst of speed, Zeke brought his other hand up to the daemon's throat.
"Hurk.. " came the strangled, wild-eyed cry of evil incarnate.
Zeke pivoted his massive frame in the direction of the noise he just heard. He exhaled, suddenly honoring his enemy's powerful momentum. Though the creature thought to pull the big man down with it, Zeke had enough distance to bring a knee up between the pair in this strange dance. He also had the opportunity to look glance around as his opponent continued to drop like a tattered sack of putrid potatoes.
Nothing. No further movement, growls, snarls, or other signs of approaching daemons.
As though he was crossing things off a mental checklist, Zeke chanced another look at the abomination. Time seemed to slow to crawl. Strings of filthy hair reached toward him like the tendrils of an escaping jellyfish. Zeke peered into the former woman's face. Sunken eyes glared back at him, fiendish and almost unseeing in their hellish rage. Yet Zeke was suddenly sure that they once held the glimmer of hope for life, for love, for family. A bulbous, blistered tongue darted out from between moldering, blood-stained teeth. Was this a mouth that helped a woman proclaim love for another human being, perhaps even in the sanctity of marriage or the beauty of parenthood?
Mother is the name of God on the hearts and lips of all children..
Zeke's muscles tensed. He braced for impact, though he almost wished he could pull back time itself to reverse the inevitable. Suddenly staring back at him were the cold, dead eyes of Sergeant Grey, her spirit taken from her once beautiful and powerful vessel. The last image frozen in the span of her visual field was Zeke's hulking form about to crush the life from her.
Unholy vision of destruction!
Zeke didn't know if he spoke the words, yet the word "destruction" was punctuated by the jarring impact of the daemon's spine against a dense, hardwood floor. It's eyes once wild with unfettered bloodlust were now wide with pain, its eyebrows raised in shock.
Something crunched. Flesh squelched and then burst beneath the fingers of Zeke's right hand. There was nothing mortal about such a ghoulish abuse of the body. Still, embedded in the lifeless heart of this possessed woman's corpse was the last of Zeke's holy projectiles. The stone would remain there, its ignominious end unnoticed by any but a suddenly shaken Zeke and a very proud Lord Almighty.
|The conclusion of the battle between Ezekiel Rivera and two sprinters was foregone. His might, along with skill and faith in the Lord made a combination too powerful to be bested by the Morningstar's evil. What Zeke hadn't expected was the twisted vision of Sergeant Grey just before the second sprinter slammed into the ground. Zeke shook his head, fighting to erase the horrific image from his overwrought mind. A warrior could not afford to give into despair, for such was the challenge of clashing with evil. In the end, a true champion overcame all odds and conquered all daemons, including those found within. |
After vanquishing both sprinters, he halted a temptation to dust himself off. Even dried blood didn't simply slough off the human body. Looking down at himself, Zeke began to wonder if cleanliness could ever truly be Godliness at a time of war. He closed his burning eyes and inhaled the stench of his own survival, allowing it to assail his nostrils. By its very sharp nature, the odor reminded him to be in the present moment, to ground himself. With a newfound clarity, Zeke clambered to his feet. There were things to do if he sought to continue the quest to which he was sworn. For instance, he needed a new weapon. Zeke swiveled his head, taking in his surroundings. His shoulder bag remained tacked onto his body thanks to a layer of mixed dirt, sweat, and blood. Readjusting its fit, Zeke was reminded of the mysteries of life and his own faith. There wasn't always a clear explanation for how he overcame life's obstacles. That blank in logic was always filled in by God; it had to be if Zeke sought to keep things simple.
"So what's holding yo' mothafuckin' ass up, Cuban Conan?"
"ZACHARIA!" Zeke's bellow boomed through the seemingly empty hallway. He glanced around quickly, unable to pinpoint the direction of the voice.
Zeke turned on his heel, a surge of energy bringing much needed oxygen to his burning muscles. Shattered glass appeared to be sprinkled on the blood-stained ground like so much salt on a plate full of ketchup. Large pictures had fallen on the ground, their icons forgotten in the chaos. Cracks, ruby spatters, and other abominable filth appeared on the walls.
Yet there was no Zack.
Zeke could feel himself taking umbrage to this latest attack on his psyche. He steadied himself with a breath and began to pace the hallway. As he moved through the rest of the building, the pacing became a march. Soon, however, everything that met his eye became nothing but a dark blur. Abandoning all pretense of stealth, Zeke broke into a trot. He dashed down abandoned hallways, kicking in doors, prepared to spring at any other signs of life within the apparently empty structure.
After what felt like hours, Zeke stomped to a halt inside yet another abandoned apartment, letting his hands drop to his sides. He'd found nothing to indicate that Zack had ever been here. The hope that flared like a torch in Zeke's chest was dampened by the surrounding darkness of death.
Zeke whirled, readying himself for anything. Bringing his hands up for defense, he scanned the area from where the noise originated. A fresh wave of disappointment began to wash over the big man when his gaze fixed on something he did not expect. On the ground just in front of a dilapidated wall sat a large, dark object in the shape of a crucifix.
"Holy, holy, lord," Zeke began to sing. Each "holy" was punctuated by one of his footfalls. "God of power and might." Zeke inched closer to the abandoned cross, his gaze unwavering. Still, he pondered the situation at hand. This living space had born no true indication of its inhabitants. Perhaps that was as it should be, for no true worshipper of God would practice idolatry. Still, to have missed such a powerful symbol of the Lord's presence seemed to Zeke almost inexcusable.
"Heaven and earth are full of your glory," came another voice, unfamiliar, yet strong.
Uninterested in the source of the other voice, God's Champion picked up the cross, cradling it in his arms like a newborn baby. "Hosannah in the highest…"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosannah in the highest," Zeke responded, lifting the cross above his head in deepest reverence.
Though he abandoned the notion that Zack would be somewhere in the ruins of his last shelter, Zeke's faith was restored, the fire of his purpose rekindled. In his hands he bore a cherry-stained crucifix irrevocably affixed to one end of a powerful, six-foot pole the likes of which could only have come from home construction professionals. Though no tools had been left behind, Zeke still managed to assemble his latest creation. He moved through the world with new vim and vigor, carrying with him a gigantic emblem of God's will. With this, he sought to drive back any evil that dared oppose him.
His newest task should have been clear from the off, but the distractions of his latest battle had almost rendered it moot. In his re-examination of the attack on him and his newfound comrades in arms, Zeke realized he'd almost forgotten the most important detail. Grey's bullets were not the only ones flying in the deadly onslaught. Unless the shambling abominations and the sprinting daemons had learned to use advanced projectile weapons, that left only one alternative explanation.
There were more survivors.
Why the others would attack the trio seemed almost irrelevant, for Zeke was sure that to find they would all be in the same place. Humanity needed each other in these dark times. For good or for ill, Grey and Wilks would be kept alive, at least for the time being. For Zeke to find them all meant that they could brought into the glory of God's embrace. And who better to lead them into the next part of their journey than the Father's Chosen Warrior, and humanity's Champion?
|It felt good to be moving. The pumping of blood and oxygen to the muscles was more than a stimulant to Zeke; it was a testament to the fire of his will, and to the bond between people in times of crisis.|
Yet none of this was going to mean anything without faith in God, and a purpose. Clutching the larger than life cross in his hand gave Zeke the strength to carry on despite the burn in his shoulder. The need to find no less than three people with whom the Lord had arranged the strangest of introductions was paramount. All of his senses, his strength and intelligence would have to come to the fore if three were to be herded back into his flock. The might of Heaven was made manifest in Zeke's newest creation; a banner with no flag attached. If the daemons did not flee from the righteousness of the cross, then it would be to Zeke to guide them to the power and the glory of His kingdom!
He'd been on the move for quite some time, and no daemon appeared to hamper his quest. The sky was replete with cloud cover, and Zeke could smell electricity in the air. The approach of a storm seemed somehow fitting, a sign that his was the righteous path. Yet Zeke had no idea where he was headed. Somewhere behind him, he'd spied signs of the firefight just outside the building where he was almost killed. Bullet casings, blood, and one very human corpse told him that much of what he already suspected was true. It was even clear that a pair of bodies had been removed from the scene, and that would only have been necessary if the people were still alive.
What was still unclear was where Sergeant Grey and Corporal Wilks had been taken. Zeke had scoured the battle zone in search of clues, and could only guess, based on the look of nearby tire-tread marks, that a vehicle might be involved in their movement. Zeke also surmised the vehicle was quite large; it might even be the now missing humvee.
If that was true, why would the thieves continue to track their victims?
"In due time, mijo. The answers will come in due time."
When the throbbing began in his feet, Zeke suppressed the urge to stop, or even slow down. It was only when the gnawing emptiness began to make its way from his diaphragm up to his chest that Zeke found an out-of-the-way place to stop. After searching the seemingly abandoned alley for a few minutes, he placed the heavy pole-cross against the brick wall just behind him. He pulled another nutrition bar from the depths of his shoulder bag- a memento from one of the slain attackers - and began to unwrap it. He was reminded instantly of Wilks, and, with a sad smile, he lifted his gaze to the grey sky.
"Lord, I thank you for this bounty, and I pray that it will give me the strength to find my three missing comrades. Even in death, you bring life unto the world, my Lord and Savior," Zeke declared before taking a massive bite.
"Take this, all of you and eat it; this is my body."
"Remarkable transformation, that."
Zeke listened to the words, aware that there were no other people around to possibly speak them. He took great comfort in the presence of his Holy comrades. However, the voices grew louder and more insistent, and it was then that Zeke decided to finish his meal as fast as humanly possible. His mission was too great to ignore for long.
But another voice broke through the increasing din. "Mijo, there's no reason for things to go on this way."
Zeke paused, mid-bite, narrowing his eyes.
"Are you sure you're making the right choices, doing the right sorts of things?"
"Begone, sinner," he rumbled, his voice roiling. "This does not concern you." A slow, familiar torment began to burn through Zeke's blood like acid.
"You sat alone in the dark for months, doing nothing but contemplating God and his mission for you."
"It was the only way to avoid the stink of corruption around me," Zeke retorted. "What concern has it ever been of yours?"
"You were my only concern. And you still would be if you had bothered to keep in touch."
Zeke snorted. "Wretched fool. The lengths to which I went to avoid the sins of the world, and you became the seed of God's dissatisfaction with me."
"There are two sides to every story, even the ones found in the Bible. You were too young and self-righteous to see how complicated things really are."
"There is nothing so complicated about the sanctity of hearth and home, parents and children. I now fight to protect these things."
"Ever the stubborn one. You continue to search through the darkness, mijo. What has that gotten you? You're fighting monsters you've no business dealing with, your friends are missing, and you have become a lost sheep."
"Hypocrite!" Zeke snapped, kicking off the wall with his left foot. Sweat began to pool on his brow. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone of Judgment!" He began to look around, his heart racing. For once, he wanted something or someone solid to attack him so that he might channel his growing fury.
"What is it you seek in the dark corners of the world, or the shadows of in your own soul? What do you see at night when the true demons come, and you're trapped like a rat in a cage?"
"I can tell you what I do not see," Zeke snarled. "I do not see a coward and a fool hidden behind the heroic mask of fatherhood. Now leave me be, and stop calling me your son."
"The answers will come, Zeke. You will see. The only danger you truly face is your unwillingness to accept them if they are not the answers you want."
It was a strain upon his will, but Zeke took a deep breath, clasping his hands in front of his chest in the most devout of gestures. "I will accept the help that the Almighty delivers unto me for my efforts on His behalf. However,I will not condone your trivial nonsense about the complications of human will. Those weak of flesh and lacking in faith know nothing of God's triumph or His love."
Silence followed the Champion's strong rebuke of the Father of Lies. It was in this fashion that the mighty Ezekiel fought the temptation to give in, to seek solitude in the false comforts of the Devil and his vices. The voice of Evil goaded and tempted the mighty warrior, but he would not be swayed. Instead, he pressed on, determined to redeem himself for his failure to protect the three that God, in His infinite wisdom, had placed in his care.
Many leagues the warrior traveled, seeing not a soul until he came upon a hapless traveler falling victim to another of the Morningstar's wretched husks of humanity. The mighty Ezekiel charged into battle, his war standard held high, his battle cry a reflection of Heaven's indomitable will. The would-be victim made his escape whilst Ezekiel slew the foul creature in God's name.
Though unhurt, a despair the likes of which Ezekiel had never felt threatened to creep into his spirit until a sign appeared. The sign did not point the way to Damascus or Israel, but instead indicated a sanctuary of military installation. The sign, constructed of some heavy, metallic material, appeared not to be wholly intact. Despite this, Ezekiel was able to reconstruct it and to determine, with some divine assistance, the direction in which it pointed. At this, Ezekiel fell to his knees, giving deep thanks and praise to the Almighty, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, for it would be at this newest destination where Ezekiel was sure he would find his friends three.
|Daren was on his feet in an instant and his sidearm appeared in his hand as if by magic. The sound of his booted footfalls was drowned out as the blood roared through his ears; his heart seemed to stick in his throat. |
Daren took the stairs two at a time and all but lunged onto the upper landing, his feet barely touched the carpeted floor as the soldier sprinted down the hall. Only seconds after the scream Daren stood in front of the door to the bathroom; the wood gave way with a bang as his boot slammed into the door, the portal itself swung back against the far wall with destructive force.
As he leveled his weapon the corporal saw a flash of skin; then Grey was in his face as she shoved him out, the towel that she held in her other hand just covered her figure. “Get out, get out!” Kacey shouted as she pushed.
Daren instantly turned and averted his eyes as he tried to back out of the room, his lack of vision and Kacey’s pushing caused him to stagger out and collapse against the wall. Daren saw what remained of the door slam shut as he climbed to his feet.
“What the hell was that?” He demanded, not sure if he meant the scream, Kacey’s crazed behavior, or both.
“I’m sorry,” her voice sounded shaky from behind the door. “The…uh, water was freezing. It just startled me, besides it’s not like you kicking down the door helped a whole lot either.” She said the last bit with an accusatory tone of voice.
“Oh well I’m sorry for trying to save your sorry ass when I thought you were in trouble!” Daren shot back as he felt his blood boil.
“What the hell happened guys?” Danny’s sleepy voice came from behind Daren.
Daren turned to the disheveled youth and eyed the revolver he held in his hand, “Nothing, now grab your shit and let’s go…we’re heading outside.”
“What for?” Kacey demanded from behind the door.
“For gas and a generator!” Daren shouted as he headed for the stairs. “Try not to step in any more cold water while we’re gone!”
The two men lucked out when they found that the house was hooked up to a generator. They had a second bout of luck when they found the generator shed stocked with a handful of gas cans, and were able to complete their task without leaving the relative safety of the fenced in yard.
“So what the hell was that all about man,” Danny asked as Daren fiddled with the generator. “You two seemed pretty…y’know, heated.”
“Goddamn motherfucker,” Daren cursed quietly as he tried and failed to slip an offending wire into its proper place. “It was just heat of the moment, my adrenaline was pumping…her adrenaline was pumping, I caught her in a bad spot.”
“I heard that if a dude and a chick both have enough adrenaline, then they’re more likely to…y’know.” Danny trailed off.
“No Danny,” Daren grunted as he tried the wire again. “I don’t.”
“Do the bow chicka wow wow dude!” Danny spoke the last part excitedly.
Daren cursed as he smacked his head on the bottom of the generator, the wire dropped back to the floor. Daren wiggled out from under the generator; he cupped the part of his head that throbbed as he turned to glare at Danny. “Now why in the Sam hell would you bring that up,” he growled. “For that matter why the fuck are you the one giving me advice…you’re all of what, seventeen?”
“Fuck you man I’m nineteen,” Danny crossed his arms indignantly. “I’m guessing that you haven’t then.”
“Not that it’s any of your fucking business,” Daren growled as he turned back to the generator. “But no, Kacey and I are just two people who know our odds of survival are better together.” Daren’s voice lightened on the last part, he had threaded the wire to where it needed to be.
“You sure about that man?”
“Who are you,” Daren snapped as he climbed to his feet. “Dr. fucking Phil?”
“You didn’t see it like I did dude,” Danny gestured towards the tree house. “When they brought you in she seemed a little…attached to you.”
“Because we’re fucking allies Danny,” Daren retorted, still in disbelief that he was having this conversation. “As for what you saw from your little tree house, I don’t put too much stock in it seeing as how that’s the only place you’re old enough to be!”
“Whatever man,” Danny sighed. “Let’s just push the damn button so we can get back inside.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Daren pushed the button and the metal monstrosity roared to life. Daren knew the noise would attract the dead; it was ok though, they weren’t going to be sticking around long enough to meet up with them…he hoped.
The two men walked out of the shed and Daren turned to shut the doors behind them. Once the doors were secured he hit the transmit button on his radio, “the genny’s working Kacey, there should be enough hot water for us all to take quick showers.”
“Roger that,” Kacey’s clipped voice came over the airwaves. “Now get your asses back inside.”
Daren didn’t bother with a reply and walked back towards the house, Danny was out in front where he could watch him. Other than his topics of conversation, Danny seemed like a good kid…but still a kid. If he lived long enough Daren knew that he and Kacey could train him to be a formidable fighter and a good third addition to their team.
Inevitably Daren’s thoughts strayed to Danny’s words, ”When they brought you in she seemed a little…attached to you.”
Daren found it hard to believe that the woman who had held him at gunpoint only a week ago was interested in him as something more than another gun. It was either that, or Danny was full of shit.
Daren knew which of the two was easier to believe.
The potato-like substance burned the roof of his mouth and the meat seemed a little too chewy to be anything other than rubber but Daren didn’t care, not when it was his first hot meal since things went off the rails.
While they had been out fixing the generator, Kacey had scrounged a couple boxes of microwaveable Shepard’s Pie. After they had showered and changed into fresh clothes, the group descended on the food as though they were a pack of the dead.
Daren smiled as he shoveled another huge mouthful of pie, just the memory of the shower was good enough to bring it out. As Daren set his spoon down he fingered the cuff of the green work shirt he had taken from the upstairs dresser, the guy who had owned the place had been about his size…he also took a brown pair of the man’s dickies to replace his torn and grimy BDU’s.
The only loss Daren really lamented was his helmet; it had been in the Humvee when the last bandit drove off with it…he had been forced to substitute it with a black ball cap.
Daren looked up from his pie to see Kacey looking at him, he raised his eyebrows in silent question.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier Dar,” Kacey sighed.
“Don’t worry about it,” Daren grunted as he stuck the food-laden spoon in his mouth. “I caught you in a compromising position and my adrenaline was pumping, let’s just forget about it.”
Good,” Kacey smiled. “’Cause I’ve already forgotten it. What were we even talking about?”
Daren smiled as he took another bite, in the corner of his vision he could see Danny roll his eyes. He ignored the youth and focused on Kacey, “once we’re done with this we’ve got to leave, the noise from the generator will have drawn them in and I really don’t think this house can withstand another attack.”
Kacey nodded. “Where to?”
“We’ll just have to keep walking until we find somewhere to orient ourselves,” Wilks answered as he dropped his spoon in the bowl with a clink. “Once we figure out where we are, we can head further east.”
“It’s risky Dar,” Kacey sounded uncertain. “A whole bunch of things could go wrong.”
“It’ll work,” Daren smiled. “Besides, what do we do nowadays that doesn’t involve risk?”
“Point,” Kacey conceded with a small grin of her own.
Daren turned to Danny, “what about you?”
“Hell yes I’m coming with you guys,” Danny replied. “I might have a gun but you guys know how to use ‘em. By myself those freaks’d chew me up and spit me out!”
“If that’s settled then,” Daren stood from the table. “I’m gonna go enjoy the peace and quiet for a few more minutes before you guys finish up and we head out.”
As he stepped onto the lawn, Daren looked up at the sky. It was bright and blue with only a few wispy clouds in the sky, though off in the distance it looked like powerful, black storm clouds were wreaking havoc.
“Looks like one mother of a storm,” Kacey’s voice failed to startle him as she approached from behind.
“It shouldn’t hit us,” Daren replied as she came beside him. “It looks like its focused on that area pretty hard.”
“I’m glad,” Kacey replied as she leaned against him. “We deserve some clear skies ahead of us.”
”When they brought you in she seemed a little…attached to you.”
Maybe Danny was less full of shit than he first though…Daren sure hoped he was.
Daren wiped the water from his face for the fifth time in two minutes; it was all he could do to keep his eyes clear, though the hat helped a lot. His clothes were soaked; the rain poncho at the bottom of his bag had gone to Grey, seemed only fair since she was injured. Danny was similarly soaked; his longer hair was matted to his scalp and his sneakers managed to make an annoying squelch every time he took a step, courtesy of water flowing into a small hole in the tread.
The group had to dodge multiple zombies on their way out from the subdivision and on the long stretch of road they now walked on. Thankfully it had only been the slow ones and thus easily avoided or felled with sword work, but Daren had heard multiple screams of sprinters off in the distance...a sign that they weren't safe yet.
“This sucks boss,” Danny shouted over the rain and wind. “I’m so waterlogged that Aquaman could probably tell me what to do!”
"That's 'cause only Aquaman would want to tell you what to do!" Daren shouted back.
“He’s right Dar,” Grey shouted from behind. “We have to take shelter!”
The loud boom of thunder served to underline their points. “Wait,” Daren struggled to make himself heard over the din. “What’s that?”
It was a large, rectangular object on the right-hand side of the road. As Daren got closer he could see it was a sign for a military installation…a safe zone. Underneath the sign was a map…a map that told them where it was.
“This is it,” Daren shouted as he focused his maglite on the map. “This is where we need to go…it’s safety, it’s salvation, it’s-“
The roar of an engine cut through the cacophony and straight to Daren’s ears…it was coming towards them.
|The repudiation of the Serpent was not unlike the attempt to tame a mighty lion. For both, a great deal of fortitude was required. Zeke moved forward, aware that both his mind and body would soon need a reprieve from such a struggle. He'd done well thus far, surviving far more than just the physical manifestations of the Morningstar. But to be without provisional rations was starting to wear on the proud warrior. A more certain supply would need to be attained. |
"God will provide, as He has before. Your prayers will be answered."
The "military safety zone" sign, however, failed to indicate its exact distance from where Zeke was at the time he found the clue. For Zeke, that meant it could still be days before he encountered the place. In this dark time, Zeke wasn't even sure what the shelter would look like, or if it had already been overrun with Shamblers and Sprinters. A virus not previously recorded in United States history would have caught enough people unaware that proper research into preventive measures (and a possible cure) would take place after the fact.
For some reason, the lack of research and public awareness didn't surprise Zeke. More often than not, the practice of Western medicine seemed to Zeke to be reactive. Despite what television media might have the average citizen believe, medicine was definitely not an exact science. How could it be? Many physicians had no direct link to the Almighty. The surest of healers had been crucified long ago by a society paradoxically determined to institute the rational practice of public health works. Where was that logic now? Who was responsible for ridding the world of the Morningstar virus? Who would rescue and protect people from the ravages of its evil?
A Champion of God could only do so much in this regard. Zeke's only encounters with Western Medicine had been long, frightening, and largely inconclusive. None of the so called "healers" he'd ever run into discovered the power of prayer. Divine intervention seemed to many to be a quaint and antiquated notion. He'd once been asked by an ill-tempered nurse if he ascribed to Scientology, or if Mistress Cleo would be calling the hospital with the secret cure to his ailment.
Blind and bumbling fools walking in a maze of swords could do nothing but cut off their own feet.
Zeke pondered what an anti-Morningstar military shelter might look like. Anyone looking to avoid the chaos of a citywide panic would do well to settle somewhere in the outskirts. An isolated zone would buy people time to consider their options while enabling them to watch for outside invasion. The installation would need to be fortified well enough to at least prevent external human breeches. Getting into such a place unannounced might amount to little more than an exercise in futility.
For Zeke, there was precious little else to go on. As his mind struggled to envision the outpost, he was certain Wilks and Grey would know much more about these sorts of things. At this moment, their absence weighed on him. His mind wandered back to a time when he'd read about the history of Christian military campaigns. The authors of such works were often clergymen, perhaps not as familiar with current military operations as they would be with the historic use of a church as a sort of barracks. The notion of sanctuary, in fact, was military in origin.
Was it possible to fortify a modern church to defend against Shamblers and Sprinters? High towers would provide excellent watch points for marksmen. Internal structures were already geared toward the shelter and organized assembly of the occupants. In such a place, it would be simple to both treat the injured and delegate duties, provided the available leadership was up to the challenge.
And who would be more essential at a time so filled with uncertainty than a man of the cloth?
The warmth of faith thrummed through Zeke's body as he marched on. Indeed, if Wilks, Grey, and Zack could all find their way to such a place, that would be a song in Zeke's heart to last until his ultimate arrival at the Kingdom.
Yet therein lay one of life's great ironies. As far as Zeke knew, only two of his three missing friends were proven warriors. Faith had allowed Zeke to remain steadfast, convinced as always that God would watch over Zack with a ready sword. However, unlike Wilks and the effulgent Sergeant, no signs of Zack's trail had so far turned up. There was indeed no evidence that the elusive survivor ever really existed. And the way he'd come upon Zeke in the first place was just as mysterious as his current whereabouts. It was as though Zack had been watching the warrior the whole time, measuring his prowess, assessing the level of threat or promise that Zeke presented in the midst of great peril.
The notion that Zack was more than he seemed gave Zeke an unexpected jolt in his belly. Divine intervention could come unto the world in many forms. If the mark of the Beast was to be humanity's only clue to the presence of Satan, Heavenly heralds might assume the same sorts of guises. With so little faith left in the modern world, perhaps God's Angels might think it wiser to appear as mortals with a knack for abusing the English language.
"Oh yes," Zeke chortled, shaking his head. "And maybe I am a flying elephant."
This was nonsense! The course of Zeke's thoughts was pushing him into the realm of the absurd, and there were more serious concerns. The rumble of thunder somewhere behind him meant that he was not going to stay dry for much longer. Could the noise and the deluge unbalance the daemons? Zeke certainly hoped it would. Such a thing would give Zeke and others a true fighting chance. Scattering ants were easier to step on.
"Hey, running man! Where the fuck are you going?"
Zeke stopped so abruptly, he had to prevent himself from stumbling forward. Surprised that he'd been caught so flat-footed, he froze, willing himself to listen further in silence.
"I asked you a question, Tiny Tim!" The voice had come from a distance, but nevertheless, the words rang out loud and clear.
Inspired by his mission, Zeke held the massive cross up higher, as though this should have made his answer obvious. "I bring hope to the lost lambs of God scattered within this new darkness. If you are wise, you will join me. There are signs of other potential survivors. Together, we shall overcome this newest scourge. I do not mind companionship on my journey so long as we strive to find salvation through our Father's goodness."
"Our father's goodness? What are you, some kind of a God nut? In the middle of this shit-storm?"
Another thunder clap rumbled. It sounded a lot closer.
"Stranger," Zeke replied. "We do ourselves no favors by continuing to shout at one another! It draws their attention."
"You raise a good point. So I'm gonna step closer. You're gonna put the giant cross down."
"This is not a weapon against humanity!" retorted Zeke, stung by the implication. Despite his comment, the sound of approaching footfalls behind him did not appear to slow. "If you fight the evil with which we are surrounded, we are both here on common purpose."
"I'm not out here at the city's edge to take orders from an overgrown Jehova's Witness." The voice, less than a meter away by Zeke's estimation, sounded hoarse. "Now put the fucking cross down."
"I shall forgive your blasphemy, stranger," Zeke replied, setting the end of the pole on the ground without noise. "You are overtired and also in need of food. Tell me, warrior, do you know of other survivors in the area?"
"What makes you think I'd tell you if I did?" the stranger huffed. "You think we want some freak telling us that God is listening or something?"
Certain now that he was onto something, Zeke continued. "But God does listen, my brother. Humanity's need for Him has never been more paramount."
"Shut up and turn around."
With a sigh, Zeke revolved slowly on the spot. Glass and other small detritus crunched beneath his feet. Standing before him was a young, bespectacled man who hadn't, in Zeke's estimation, even reached his twenties. Zeke raised an eyebrow, taken aback that one so young could sound so aged. Unattended, the pole stood on its end, unmoving. Of greater concern was the giant silver revolver pointed unsteadily at Zeke's chest.
Zeke seized his one remaining chance, speaking in the deep, soothing voice of a church preacher. "My son. Do not do this. I am not your enemy."
The young gunman tilted his head toward his shoulder, upon which sat a curious little black object that looked like a mini-speaker. He lifted his free hand toward the mini-speaker and pressed something Zeke couldn't quite make out. "Yo, Mandingo. I found something you gotto come check out. Over."
After a curious little chirp, the little black box crackled with white noise. "Not dis shit again! Man, what de fuck I tol' you bout fuckin' wit me, you cracker-ass motherfucker! 'Member what de fuck happened de last time I came out on account of yo' dumb- "
Radio static cut off the rest. A colossal boom sounded overhead, and Zeke fell to his knees, beaming, as the first of many raindrops plopped down upon his head.
|Daren snapped off the maglite and dropped into a crouch as he moved to the shoulder; rapid footsteps behind told him that Grey had done the same. Daren landed in the trench with a splash and grunted, the water reached his knees and flooded his boots with cold water. When he turned in the impromptu trench to look at the road he saw that Danny still stood there, his mouth agape. “Danny,” the youth turned towards him as Daren hissed his name. “Get over here now!” |
Danny moved as if shocked by an electrical current and was down the embankment in a matter of seconds. “Aww man,” Danny moaned. “My fucking foot’s wet!”
“Can it!” Daren snapped. “What the hell was that…are you trying to get us killed?”
“Woah man,” Danny replied. “I just figured they might be friendly.”
“Yeah well here’s lesson one,” Daren’s voice was laced with anger. “Trust no one. Assume that everyone is as bad as the guys that took Kacey and I prisoner until you can verify otherwise!”
“Quiet you two,” Kacey commanded. “I can see the headlight beams!”
Daren’s mouth snapped shut; he focused his energies and his rifle at the bend in the road where the vehicle would come. As the headlight beams grew brighter Daren turned his gaze to the weapon bag that hung from Danny’s shoulder, the blue duffle held the weapons that the militia nutjobs had been kind enough to leave behind at the house. A couple of: rifles, shotguns, pistols and ammunition for each; it wasn’t the Humvee but it was better than nothing.
Unfortunately Daren didn’t think he’d have time to pull out one of the hunting rifles and he knew that the other civilian weapons would be useless against the approaching vehicle. Daren looked back to the road just in time to see a pickup truck with a bed cap turn the corner and have his vision blinded by its cab-mounted floodlights.
The glare faded and Daren blinked his eyes to try and get the sunspots out of his vision, the warm summer breeze felt nice as it blew through his hair. He stood in front of a large meadow, its vast emptiness compared to the wooded path that he had just exited left him feeling small.
Fingers glided over his t-shirt and around his back, the touch sent a shiver through him and a reaction…elsewhere. Gabby stepped from behind him, the smile that lit her face was contagious and Daren found himself smiling in spite of the hell he knew he’d walk into when he left this place.
”I come here to think,” Gabby said to him, her blue dress fluttered in the wind as she moved through the sanctuary. “I think it’s the most peaceful place around here.”
”It’s beautiful,” Daren wasn’t the most descriptive when it came to words. “Look, Gabby I’m not-“
”Very good at this?” Gabrielle finished his sentence and laughed as she walked up to him. “I know, trust me I’m not the best at it either. I know you’re a good person Daren, a man. I don’t care what the rest of them say, to hell with them.”
She finished with her arms wrapped around his neck, Daren swallowed hard. “I’m not perfect Gabby.”
”Neither am I,” she whispered as she leaned in to kiss him.
The truck’s doors closed with slams, the gunshot like noises jerked him back to reality. Three people exited the cab while three people made their way down from the capped bed, it was the same in each case…two armed men and a third person with a bag over their head.
“They’re prisoners,” Danny muttered.
“Why,” Kacey asked in the same low tone. “What were they charged with?”
“I don’t think that matters right now,” Daren replied as he hefted his M4. “I don’t think they brought them out here to read them their Miranda rights.”
“Daren, wait, you’re not seriously suggesting we get involved?” She demanded. “We don’t know who these people are or what they did to get put in bracelets.”
“We can’t just let those guys kill them though,” Danny said. “What if they’re innocent?”
The armed men on the road shoved the hooded figures on their knees and yanked off the hoods; one was a man in his late forties, the other was a boy no older than sixteen. In the harsh glare of the floodlights both faces looked sunken and gaunt.
Daren tensed at the sight of the youth. “There’s no choice, we have to go-“
The first shot cut him off; it went through the top of the boy’s head and exited through the back of the neck in a shower of gore that painted the pavement a sickly red. The second shot took the man in the gut, it sent him to the pavement in a crumpled up ball. Even as the man lay on the asphalt, he reached out to his dead son…Daren could hear the choked sobs.
The one in charge leaned over the man to say something; he promptly dropped to the ground, clutching his throat in a vain attempt to stanch the bleeding. The second hostile let out an inhuman screech as he dropped, two 5.56 bullets had perforated his liver. The third triggerman clutched his chest as he fell and flopped around on the ground like a fish, blood seeped out from around where his right lung would be.
Daren tensed his legs and climbed onto the road, the last bandit ran back the way the truck had come. Daren looked down his sights and squeezed the trigger twice, one bullet found its mark and the runner dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Silence quickly rushed back in to fill the void of sound, within seconds the only sound was the patter of rain on pavement. Daren turned back to the truck and the abattoir of bodies that were strewn around it. He walked up to the one he had shot in the liver, pulled out his sidearm and shot the begging man in the head.
Seconds later the bandit he had shot in the lung was dead too, Daren rounded on the leader. The man was almost done, his gurgles had almost ceased and his convulsions were gone. Daren slid the gladius from its scabbard, and locked eyes with the leader. One swing later and it was done.
There was a retching sound behind him; Daren turned to see Danny’s head hung between his knees, a puddle of bile was on the ground before him. Grey’s eyes were wide with shock and fear. Daren’s breath hitched in his throat and he was suddenly glad for the rain as his eyes stung with tears, the rage inside him had made its way out again.
“Check these fuckers for anything useful,” Daren barked in an attempt to cover his distress. “Danny and I’ll get him in the truck!”
Grey began to move towards the lifeless bodies, her eyes never left him. By the time Danny and Daren had moved the guy into the bed, Kacey had picked up the bandit’s weapons and thrown them into the blue bag. As she moved to get into the bed Daren stopped her with a touch on the arm. “I’ll take the back, you go up front with Danny.”
Grey’s brilliant green eyes drilled into his psyche as she turned to face Daren, as though she could see through his flesh and bone disguise straight to the soul underneath.
She flinched. “Ok Daren,” she said. “Where are we heading?”
“I don’t know,” Daren scrubbed his face; it was like his mind was shattered into a thousand pieces. “Just get Danny to start driving, I’ll see if our friend can tell us any good places to lay low…that is if he ever wakes up.”
When Kacey didn’t move to the front of the truck, Daren hopped onto the bed. It was her turn to stop him; before he could haul up the tailgate she rested her good hand on it. “Daren, back there…I know that wasn’t you, you just had a moment. We all have them Dar, you just can’t let those moments define who you are. I know you…you’re a good man no matter what happened here tonight.”
When he didn’t say anything, Kacey made for the front of the truck. He pulled the tailgate up just as she closed her door, the soldier kicked his booted foot against the side of the bed and the truck lurched into motion. Despite the cramped conditions, Daren put his limited medical training to use; he soon had the wound bandaged neatly and an IV drip snaked from the man’s arm and up to a clear bag that hung from the ceiling of the cap.
After Daren stabilized the man, he leaned back against the bed and buried his head in his arms. She had saved him all those years ago but he hadn’t been there to save her…Daren was glad nobody could see the tears that rolled down his face.
"What the hell are you doing? Praying for rain?"
Somewhere in the back of Zeke's mind, he knew that the question was addressed to him. In response to the man on the radio, he'd hit the ground on one knee, staring right into what resembled rainbow-colored water comets hurtling toward his face. The glory of Heaven shone kaleidoscopically from within each raindrop. Lightning flashed somewhere in the distance. Thunder roared, but not loudly enough to trump the sonic boom of Zeke's mighty heart.
"The rain is already here, asshole. I've still got a gun pointed at you. You may want to get up 'less you think prayer can stop a dose of lead shampoo."
"Yo, chill the fuck out, dawg." The voice from the other side of the communicator was back. Still staring at the sky, Zeke smiled, thankful that the tinny crackle of static no longer tainted this blessed noise, the source of which stood just feet away. "You nervous because some big guy with a giant cross wanna pray to God for rain? Maybe he's just grateful no mothafuckin' runners done crawled up his ass and ate out his liver."
"But Mandingo, you ever seen anything like this asshole before?"
"Niggah please! You talking like dis motherfucka be the missing link and some shit. Look at him. His big, dumb ass look dead to you?"
Heart set to burst, Zeke almost grit his teeth, no longer able to contain his joy. "I say, my dear brother, how glad I am to know that you still live, thanks be to the Holy Father."
"Thanks to the who to the what now, 'Reynaldo Short-niggah?'"
Zeke laughed, a rich and powerful sound that sent ripples of thunder over the earth before him. He stopped staring at the churning, violent sky and set his watery gaze upon the very image of the one who'd been lost to him. The man stared back at him, somehow taller and more imposing than he once seemed, his dark face further obscured beneath the large hood of a rugged-looking blue rain slicker.
Taken aback by the visage, Zeke paused until he remembered the deluge from the Heavens above. "How great it is to see you again, my brother."
"Mandingo, what the fuck's this asshole talking about? You know this guy?"
Zeke's right knee began to burn, and he realized that he'd forgotten to stand. He raised himself from the ground, a Lazarus man, and stood tall. He waited.
The man in the slicker didn't seem to want to move. The two stared at one another for seconds. The seconds became minutes, and the minutes soon felt as though they would stretch into hours. Zeke watched large water droplets plunk off the slicker's shoulders while others beaded on the hood like water off a duck's back feathers. He allowed the world to come into crystal clear focus, sure his saintly patience would soon bear the sweetest of fruit.
"Mandingo?" called the other man, removing his glasses with his free hand. "What's goin' on, man?"
'Mandingo' stood tall and raised his dark hands. With a short, deft movement, he flicked the large hood back from his face.
Electric joy pulsed through Zeke's blood with every beat of his heart. There, with God as but one of his witnesses, stood the first survivor for whom Zeke had ever been responsible in this ravaged city. Zack's brow crinkled in what Zeke could only guess was shock and consternation. After all, the two had been apart for quite some time. It was only then that Zeke began to wonder at his own, battle-worn appearance. A deep, rumbling chuckle burst past Zeke's dry lips, seemed to pick up energy, and before long, evolved into the beginnings of hearty laughter.
Zeke advanced without further pause, his arms outstretched in gratitude and greeting. "You bare no scars of battle, my brother. I must apologize, for it appears I underestimated both your skill and the favor you curried with the Almighty."
"Yo Mandingo, why's the Dominican Triple H keep acting like he knows you?"
"Shut the fuck up, dawg," came Zack's quiet reply. He continued to stare, agog, at Zeke as though he'd never seen him before.
"I assure you, my brother, blood does eventually wash off. Perhaps God has sent the rain to cleanse us all, and grant us a reprieve from this -
"Bullshit, King Kong!" The young gunman seemed to be taking in air at about half the rate of a normal human being. His eyes, overlarge with alarm, darted to Zack. "Mandingo, he's got five seconds to back off you, or I'm going to fucking shoot him."
Zack's wide, glittering eyes, which had been drinking in his former friend and champion, seemed to glaze over. In one dazzling movement, he snatched something from behind his back, pivoted toward the irate gunman, and snapped the object out in front of him almost as though it burned him. Eyes narrowed, his heart hammering against his bones, Zeke watched as the man who would be his former travel companion and fellow survivor brandished a semi automatic pistol with the well-practiced discipline and grace of a Knight Templar.
"This is not the behavior of the man I met at the beginning of this journey," Zeke uttered, almost breathless.
"Then again, mijo, how well did you know your long lost bosom buddy?"
"You gon' run dat by me again, you cracker ass motherfuckah?" Zack said, his voice nearly a whisper.
The other gunman stopped short and blinked as though he'd been slapped. Shaking his head, he tried hard to suppress a tremulous laugh. "Point that gun somewhere else, you little Eddie Griffin-looking bastard."
"Man, shut yo bitch ass up," Zack sneered. "If you meant to shoot motherfuckas, you would've done that shit by now 'stead of calling my motherfuckin' black ass down here for backup!"
The man with the revolver whirled, pointing his large weapon at Zack's face. "You stupid son of a bitch! Do you even know who the fuck this jolly brown giant is?"
"Motherfucka, you better back de fuck up and get dat shit out my goddamn grille!"
Another thunderclap ripped through the air. By now, "revolver man," who seemed determined to ignore nature's fury even as it pounded down on the trio, was shaking with fury. "I asked you a simple question, you brain-dead thug motherfucker!"
"Who the fuck you think you talking to, you inbred, redneck sombitch!"
"Answer the fucking question and I'll get the gun outta your ugly, Mick Jagger-lip face."
"Oh, now you done gone too far, Billy-Bob Thorton-lookin asshole!"
"Who the fuck is this guy?" revolver man shouted, flicking his free hand in Zeke's general direction.
"Get that pea-shooter out my face, man! I don't fuckin' know -"
The two men, apparently hell-bent on getting the last word on one another, didn't see Zeke take up the pole that still stood to his left. They didn't notice him lift it straight into the air, the cross looking as though it would scratch the sky. Neither man even blinked as Zeke kicked the bottom, sending the tail end shooting straight up underneath 'revolver-man's' gun hand. The enormous weapon rocketed out of the man's grip and came sailing toward Zeke in what some would have deemed a miraculous parabolic trajectory. At the arc of the silver weapon's path, Zeke pondered the mystery of life and the course of human events. Now more than ever he was certain of Heaven's divine intervention, and wanted nothing more than to give thanks and praise to the Father and his Holy Son for the blessings they bestowed upon their anointed champion. Though Zeke's expert timing and quick thinking was about to garner him an advantage over his would-be attacker, he could scarcely have been prepared for what came next.
Snatching the gun at the bottom of the invisible rainbow over which it seemed to slide, Zeke made another quick decision. He held the weapon above his head and glared at its former steward, the fires of Heaven's fury sure to burst forth from his searing gaze.
"Mijo, remember what I taught you."
Zeke continued to hold the gun, allowing himself to take in the weight of the cold silver steel in his hands. Now that both hands were full, it was to him to decide his next course of action. Wielding the revolver in his right hand, he noted the throbbing of his thumb as it rested on a concave, metallic protrusion. In one quick movement, he pushed forward with his thumb while flicking his wrist inward at a ninety degree angle. A loud click told him he'd succeeded in removing the chamber from its resting place. With a grim smile, Zeke waited for gravity to finish the job, determined to count the plummeting bullets that had once been aimed at his proud chest.
He hadn't expected the number to be "zero." A flash of warmth came to his cheeks in response to yet another unexpected blessing. He fought not to crinkle his eyes in pure mirth. Ignoring Zack for the moment, he continued to peer at the other young, trembling man before him.
"Um.. Like I said, motherfuckah," Zack bleeted, a lost sheep suddenly found. "I don't know what the fuck took this big gladiator so long to show the fuck up again."
"Holy fucking shit," came the tiniest of whispers from the pale man's thin lips.
"So," Zeke addressed him as though this was a pleasant discussion at a random café. "Do you know what a dingo is?"
The stranger paused, his splayed hands in the air, his brow crinkled in utter bemusement. "Erm..."
Zeke chuckled. "A dingo is a wild dog with a sandy colored coat found in Australia. One of these was once reported to have eaten a young Australian mother's baby. Do you recall such a story in the American media?"
"Yeah yeah, years ago, motherfuckah," Zack chimed in. "You do realize I still have a gun, right?"
"It is empty, Zacharia. I know this. You can now relax."
"Fuck!" Zack swore as though he'd been caught with his hand in a cookie jar. "Guilty as charged, big man."
"Mandingo, what the fuck are you doin'?"
"Shut the fuck up, you ignant motherfucka. You remember the dingo that ate the motherfuckin' baby or not?" Zack blurted, silencing his new friend.
The young stranger nodded so fast, Zeke was certain he would hurt his neck.
"Sir," Zeke continued. "What is your name?"
"M.. my name?"
"Go ahead and tell him, Cracker-Jack," Zack sighed.
"My name's W-Wilbur."
"Mr. Wilbur, I am no longer in the habit of allowing men to point guns at me without good reason. The last two to do so have vanished."
"Damn, man! You're a killer with a big cross like that?"
"Nor am I willing to tolerate further blasphemy from you, Mr. Wilbur," Zeke rumbled, his muscles aching with the desire to strike. "Turn to your friend and ask him if he's been to Australia."
"Are you fucking serious?"
"Do I appear otherwise, young man?"
"Just ask me the fuckin' question, ya stupid bastard. He already made you look like the dumb motherfucka you are. You wanna push this big niggah?"
Wilbur did as he was told, then turned back to Zeke. Satisfied, Zeke pressed on. "Now ask him if he's ever eaten a baby."
"What the hell kind of bullshit is this?"
"You're one weird motherfucker, man," Wilbur remarked, rolling his eyes. Nevertheless, he asked the question.
Zack simply shook his head.
"Now you know the truth, Mr. Wilbur. In the future, I suggest you refrain from insulting my friend with so ridiculous a moniker as 'man-dingo.'"
Zack and Wilbur exchanged confused glances before nodding at Zeke.
"Alright man. He's Zebbediah or whatever the fuck you keep calling him," Wilbur muttered.
"Zacharia. Now, to the most important matter at hand." Raising the staff in the air, Zeke grinned before slamming it into the ground, tail first. A massive sonic boom reverberated through the air. Zeke's smile widened. "Mr. Wilbur, do you accept the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into your heart and soul?"