Fighting the Dead:The Last Town #4By: Stephen Knight
“Motherfuckers are practically ringing the dinner bell,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
Bates looked at Reese like he was dumb. “Detective, having helicopters flying laps over our position is probably only going to get the dead’s attention. Right?”
The sound quality of the helicopters’ beating rotors changed as they slowed and transitioned into hovers over San Vincente Boulevard, which was a couple of hundred feet from where Reese crouched behind a four-foot-tall ring of sandbags. Over the drone of rotors and the whine of jet engines, he heard distant pops coming from inside the hospital itself. The Guard was conducting another clearing operation, which meant that injured people who had been brought in earlier in the day had expired, then came back to life as the dead.
Another man joined Reese and Bates at the sandbag wall, this one clad in full battle rattle over his Army Combat Uniform. It took a moment for Reese to recognize First Sergeant Plosser. He had been the previous Guard commander’s senior noncommissioned officer, and had survived an attack from his commander when he had suddenly died and reanimated as a stench. Reese didn’t know the full details behind Captain Narvaez’s death, only that it had been abrupt and essentially immediate. His body was somewhere in a pile of corpses that had been stacked up on the southeast corner of Gracie Allen and San Vincente, a grisly tableau of what the hospital had become.
Plosser looked up at the hovering Apaches as they slowly pirouetted in the sky, maneuvering until they were several hundred feet apart in a tail-to-tail formation. While he didn’t know the first sergeant at all well, Reese’s first impressions had been that the tall, rawboned man was a hard charger. Now he looked shrunken, his cheeks hollow and his face covered with grime and dark speckles of what seemed to be dried blood. Flecks of gray stood out in his razor stubble.
“Oh, this shit doesn’t look good,” Plosser said.
“They lining up to start shooting?” Bates asked. “Somebody call in some close air?”
“Looks like,” Plosser said.
“What’s close air?” Reese asked.
“Close air support,” Bates said. “It’s where helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft start dropping bombs and shit on bad guys that are about to overwhelm a friendly force.”
Reese looked around, but other than the few zombies writhing about in the wire, he didn’t see much of a threat. “So does this mean a shitload of zombies are coming at us from both directions? Big enough to overrun us?”
There was a thunderous rattle as one Apache opened up with the thirty-millimeter chain gun in its belly pod. The noise reverberated off the hospital buildings that stood on either side of Reese’s position. A second later, the other Apache began as well, and Reese saw a hail of cartridges falling from the aircraft, tumbling and twinkling in the late afternoon sunlight as they descended toward the street below. That the attack helicopters were firing in opposite directions at the same time did not seem to be a good omen.
Plosser put a nail in the thought’s coffin. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, this shit doesn’t look good at all.”
SINGLE TREE, CALIFORNIA
It didn’t take long for Doddridge to get the rest of the prisoners into the desert and out of sight of the highway traffic. Once that happened, they doglegged to the left and started heading for the small town in the distance. There were other people in the desert with them—and they were carrying packs on their backs or riding along in ATVs. A lot of them looked like Mexicans, or maybe even Indians, but the last thing Clarence Doddridge wanted to do was get into a meet and greet with a bunch of people in the desert after waxing a bunch of corrections officers. So he just charged through the scrub brush as quickly as he could, the shotgun in his hands, the sweat pouring off his face. Even though it was October, the desert was still hot as shit. Lizards occasionally streaked away from the group, winding around the scrub and disappearing from sight. That kind of freaked Doddridge out. He’d never known he was frightened of lizards before, but then and again, this was the first time he’d ever seen them.
Who knew a hard-core prison rat like me’d be ’fraid of a lizard?
There was more activity in the desert aside from lizards and Mexicans or Indians. There were construction crews out there as well, tearing up the scrub as they got closer to town. To his surprise, he found a six-foot-deep trench had been dug in the desert floor, opposed by a tall earthen berm. Doddridge had no idea what to make of that shit. Why the hell would someone be digging trenches in the desert? Prospecting for water or something?
It took some doing, dropping into the trench, climbing out, and mounting the berm. Auto had to help Doddridge, since he wasn’t a big person to begin with, and hauling himself out of a dusty trench wasn’t something he’d ever practiced before, but they did it. It was a pain in the ass, and the berm wasn’t a treat, either—by the time he crested it and stumbled down the other side, his boots were full of dirt. To top it off, he almost stepped on a rattlesnake, and it took every ounce of will he had not to shriek like a schoolgirl and blast it with the shotgun. Thankfully, the snake figured out it was outnumbered and slithered away as fast as it could.