19:05 hours approximate
Location: Undead Central, San Diego, CA
We hit the landing and tore to the right. I gripped Joel’s shoulder while he moved (once again) in a crouch. I drew my M45 and switched it to my dominant right hand. On the grass, an army of the dead had congregated. Joel leaned over the railing, aimed…and fired at a car of all things. What the hell? He’d picked a high-end BMW; when the bullets punched into the hood, they set off an alarm.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” I cried.
The dead turned toward the sound and I realized Joel was smarter than he looked. Give a Marine a gun and they suddenly turn into a fucking brain surgeon.
We rounded the corner we’d hidden behind when Joel had blown the door off. I wished we could have stayed, but this place was going to be swarmed. Once the dead moved on, scavengers would surely pick the place over before we could make another trip. Dammit! The condo had been a treasure trove of goods.
We moved to the other side of the building and took the stairs. I’d been sweating before, but now the last few minutes of activity hit me. I was carrying about forty pounds on my back and we were rushing down hallways and stairs.
Luck was still on our side when we hit the ground level – it wasn’t swarming with Z’s. The car alarm continued to howl behind us, but that just drew away any that were on the other side of the building.
A small pack wandered away at nine o’clock. Joel motioned to stop and stay still. The pack didn’t see us, so we moved toward the street. Making our way north, we skirted the block that hosted the swarm and kept on jogging. The pack beat at my back with each step and I had no doubt the wrench would leave bruises.
We came to a house and stopped for a breath. As I stood there gasping, Joel, with no respect for my lack of stamina, moved on. We rounded a corner, found a trampoline, a pool, and four Z’s. I broke right and fired as soon as I had a bead. Joel followed suit and pumped two rounds into the lead crawler’s head. The old man fell down but another, even older guy in a tropical-print shirt stumbled over him. Joel put that one down, as well, while I took out their wives. It must have been the world’s worst pool party even before the shit had hit the fan. One of the women had to be in her sixties and was dressed in a one-piece swimsuit. I shot her out of pity.
We had to skirt a tall chain-link fence before the area started to look familiar.
Joel and I moved at a fast pace, again taking out stragglers as quickly as we could. A few more minutes of hiding behind houses, ducking behind cars, and then Fortress came into view.
The house we occupied was set behind a few tall trees. We’d boarded up everything on the first floor and had left no easy way to the second. We had a ladder, but it was buried under a pile of old leaves and branches, and when we were inside, we just pulled the ladder up. Even if Z’s surrounded us, we’d be able to wait them out.
I still worried about determined human scavengers.
Joel moved out on point and I was left behind a hedge to catch my breath. I wiped sweat off my head again and studied the area. No zombies stumbling around made me smile. It had been a bitch of a mission but at least we’d made it with food and a six-pack of beer intact.
Then my day went downhill.
The first crawler broke free from a cluster of dying hedges and was followed by six or seven other equally ugly, rotting souls. White eyes swiveled to find me, and like an army, they advanced.
“Oh fuck-knuckle!” I swore, falling back and drawing my M45A1 as I went. I drew a bead, fired, and missed the head zombie—a guy dressed in a sanitation outfit. It was on me before I could scream for help and, just like that, I was fighting for my life.
I slammed it to the side, my forearm working like a hammer, but it just kept on coming. A shot rang out and I swore again. One thing we tried to avoid at all cost was the sound of gunfire near our home base. We’d already broken that rule twice in the last fifteen seconds.
Another shot and one of the Z’s dropped. I punched my attacker again. His head cocked to the side, but then he snarled and I got a look at broken teeth. There wasn’t time to make a smart-ass quip. I tried to avoid a bite but screamed in horror as his mouth closed on my arm.
Thank god for my jumpsuit. It was hot as hell but the zombie’s mouth closed on fabric, and when he tore, he got a piece of that instead of my skin. I pushed him away, raised my Colt .45 and blew off the back of his head.
A shuffler took notice and was in the air before I could take aim. I emptied the magazine but didn’t have a chance to reach for a fresh one because the shuffler came in with flailing arms and a screaming mouth. I kicked his legs out from under him and shrugged out of my backpacks so I could maneuver. When the shuffler hit the ground, I ducked away from his wild grasping, got behind him, and kicked him in the ass.
He went down but was back on his feet in a heartbeat.
I reached down and grabbed my wrench. When he leapt at me again, his mouth a snarling howl of hate, I swung the wrench around and caught his jaw, ripping it loose.
But that was the problem with shufflers. They were so psychotic that even a massive amount of damage couldn’t put them down. Headshot or enough damage to squish the brain had to be applied.
Joel’s AR jammed. He dropped it and drew the pistol his friend had used to kill himself, then moved on the last couple of Z’s. He put one down and fired a few more times until the gun was dry.
The shuffler, minus a jaw and part of his face, was on me again. I stepped on the body of the sanitation worker I’d shot and went down on my ass. The shuffler, arms still flailing, hit me hard enough to knock the breath out of my body for the second time.
I got a foot up and caught him in the chest as he bent down for me. Joel barreled into the shuffler, allowing me to roll to the side. I came up slowly because my body was all beat to hell. Another Z was on Joel, so he drew his Ontario 498 combat knife and slashed the creature across the gut, spilling intestines in a wet pile of gore. He reversed his grip and drove the blade into the dead woman’s head.
He faded back as the shuffler looked between us.
He must have made up his mind because he went for Joel, the remnants of his mouth producing gurgles in place of a howl of fury.
I grabbed the wrench and closed in on the shuffler. Joel saw me coming and pushed the psychotic Z back. I hefted my weapon and let him have it, crushing his skull like it was a soft egg. The corpse dropped to the ground; Joel nodded at me and then the wrench with a half grin.
We dragged the corpses away from Fortress, retrieved the ladder, and scurried up as soon as we were sure no one was watching. Inside, we unpacked our treasure. I was not a happy camper to learn that a couple of our beer cans had exploded in one of my falls. At least we survived another expedition and came back with food and a new weapon.
“Sorry about your friend,” I said.
Joel nodded. “Thanks, man. We saw some action in Iraq. He always had my back and I had his. Like you and me.”
“Are you going to look that sad when it’s my turn to bite it?”
“Depends on if I have to put you down myself, motherfucker.” He grinned.
I grinned back and we toasted the day with warm PBRs.
“Oh yeah, what was in the paper bag?”
I dug out the bag I’d pulled from under the front seat of the old Ford pickup and looked inside.
“Shit yeah,” I said, and pulled out an ounce of weed with a California medical dispensary logo on the bag.
“Stay sharp and don’t smoke that shit. You white boys get all sad-eyed when you’re high.”
“Only on special occasions. Besides, I bet we can trade it if we run into other survivors.”
“Good call. I’m gonna go use a few baby wipes to take a bath.” Joel rose to his feet and headed toward his room. “Good work out there, Creed. And thanks for saving my ass.”
Joel nodded again and left.
I sat back and drained my beer, then eyed the weed. Special occasion, eh? How about still being alive.
This is Machinist Mate First Class Jackson Creed and I am still alive.