Beer Run – Part 2
18:45 hours approximate
Location: Undead Central, San Diego, CA
We exited the block and ran into the parking lot of an apartment complex. Joel and I had dodged behind cars and concrete dividers at every opportunity. Our sprint had carried us nearly a hundred and fifty yards away from the dumpster and I, for one, had begun to feel it.
I panted, hunched next to a car; Joel did the same. He swept his ball cap off his black head and wiped sweat from his brow with his sleeve. San Diego might be a comfortable seventy degrees but running for your life has a tendency to make you sweat like a pig.
I pointed at my orange wristband and he gave me the finger. While we took a breather, I ejected the magazine from the M45 and filled the five rounds I’d emptied into Z’s. Joel took a moment to do the same with his AR. We waited and looked toward the area we’d just left, only to find that luck was on our side and we’d avoided a larger confrontation.
I eyed car interiors while Joel stayed on point. I actually found an old beat-up Ford that hadn’t been broken into and pressed the end of the wrench against the closed window. I looked around quickly, then pulled back and hit it just hard enough to break glass. It imploded with a soft pop and tinkle. I opened the door and felt around under the seat and came up with a small paper bag. The glove box had some mints and papers. I slid the items over my shoulder and into my Swiss Army backpack as I moved out.
“What’s in the bag?” Joel whispered.
“Not sure. It’s not very heavy; check it when we’re clear?”
“Sounds good.” He moved out in a semi-crouch, rifle stock pressed to his cheek.
We advanced on the apartment complex and came to a cross-street that had been a battlefield. Police cars overturned next to military vehicles. Blood splatters everywhere. Broken bodies, both civilian and military, lay on the pavement or over car hoods. Some hung out of broken windows, faces torn away or necks gnawed to the bone.
“Fuck me,” Joel said, and moved to a body. We did a quick check but only came up with a few stray rounds. Someone had stripped this place clean.
Joel eyed a map and then we were on the move again. A few minutes later, we had the condo in sight.
No Z’s in the immediate vicinity. Luck was on our side, for a change.
We dashed across what was once a very expensive plot of grass but was now a dry and yellowed bed of tinder. If a stray spark caught, this whole block would go up in flames.
We reached the stairway without challenge. At the top of the second flight, Joel advanced down a hallway on the outside of the building while I followed. Doors had already been ripped open and goods tossed on the balcony. Joel didn’t bother with the residences and kept moving with me right behind.
“This is it,” Joel said.
We’d reached something different, a solid door with no marks around the door jamb. Someone had tossed a car jack to the ground in frustration.
Joel knocked gently.
“Ty. You there, Ty? It’s Joel Kelly from the base. Come on buddy, at least let me know you’re on the other side of that door.”
He knocked a few more times then shook his head in frustration.
“What’s the plan?”
“Watch my back.”
Joel glanced left and right, dropped the backpack, and went to one knee. He rummaged around in the bag until he came up with a MacGyver-looking complement of tools and wires. He’d split a large coffee can in half and lined the concave surface with grey packs of something that looked dangerous. He yanked out a double wrapped freezer bag of water and added it to the package.
“The fuck?” I whispered.
Joel shook his head and held the can up against the door. He broke out duct tape and applied a few strips until the device was held in place. He stood back and tugged a wire out of the side of the can, then looked around again.
“Be right back.”
He dashed to the condo next to us and came out twenty seconds later dragging a mattress. I moved to help but he pointed at his eyes then forked his fingers, indicating that I needed to stay sharp.
Joel tugged the mattress over and draped it against the door. He pulled the wire out of the can while shielding himself with the mattress, then ran it down the hallway, gesturing for me to follow. We crouched around the corner while he plugged the wire into a detonator.
“Holy fuck balls,” I whispered. “Don’t. It’ll wake up the whole city.”
“In and out, buddy. In and out.” Joel smiled, then held the device up.
“Dude. How many will that bring?” But it was too late. He already had his finger on the trigger.
I covered my ears; he tried to do the same by using one hand and an elbow. Even with the mattress in place, the explosion was immense. The building shook and dust and debris showered the floor. Joel was level-headed and didn’t rattle easily, but when it came to fuck ups, this was a big one.
I looked at my watch and marked the time. Thirty seconds were going to come to an end very quickly. In fact, I doubted we even had fifteen seconds. Shaking my head, I followed him into his friend’s condo.
I waved smoke out of my face as we entered. Joel had his assault rifle at the ready, so I followed suit and pulled out my M45.
The door had been blown off its hinges. Joel walked over it in a half-crouch. He had the AR level with his shoulder and aimed into the smoky interior. I followed closely but kept my eyes on the entrance. Just as I cleared the entryway I got a look over the railing.
I gasped and reached for Joel to get his attention but he wasn’t there.
Out on the brown grass, the dead were gathering. Not a few, not even a dozen. It seemed like they were coming out of their undead comas from every corner of the city.
I swore and walked into the haze left by the explosion.
The entryway was a mess. The door had been blown into the small space and smashed whatever furniture had been there. The smell of smoke and explosives burned my nose. There was a mirror on one wall but it had been shattered, and when I looked into it, I saw my face splintered into five pieces.
“Ty, don’t shoot us, man!” Joel called. “It’s me, Joel. I told you I’d come.”
Hey Ty, we just broke into your house but it’s cool because you and Joel go way back, so don’t, you know, blow us away. If someone broke into my castle I’d be pissed whether I knew them or not, and would probably shoot them out of pure spite.
“Joel!” I whispered as loud as I dared. “A shitload of dead are on the way. We don’t have thirty seconds.”
Joel came back into the hallway and gestured. I followed him into the living room and found it filled with tech gadgets. A huge flat-screen TV sat dead on the wall, surrounded by speakers and stereo equipment. There were cables and wires everywhere, some attached to a huge car battery. Whatever the occupant had been trying to do had gone to the grave with him.
In front of a gorgeous tan leather couch lay an unmoving figure. He was a black guy in his twenties, as far as I could tell. He couldn’t have been dead all that long because his face wasn’t a rotted mess. He had a series of bite marks on his arm, the same arm that held a handgun which had been applied to his forehead before a bullet had torn his brains out of the other side of his head.
“Goddamn,” I said.
Joel dropped to one knee and said a prayer. He took the handgun from his dead friend’s grip, hit the safety, and slipped it into the band of one of his tactical vest’s many straps. He touched his friend’s eyes below the bullet hole and tried to close them, but they were frozen open.
“I wish you would have held out, buddy.”
I pointed out the bite marks. Joel stood up and moved away.
Joel and I advanced on the kitchen like the starving heroes we were. I raided the fridge and found Nirvana. A couple of six-packs of cheap PBR. An unopened package of store-bought pepperoni. No power, but that was okay. The fridge wasn’t that hot and pepperoni could sit for days. Joel and I devoured a half-pound of the thin slices like it was fucking filet mignon.
“We. Need. To. Go!” I said as I swallowed.
He tore open cabinets while I inspected the pantry. Ty had left a lot of goods. There were boxes and bags of pasta, jars of sauces, and canned fruits and vegetables. I practically fainted at the bounty. The problem was that we couldn’t carry all of it. I had my backpack and Joel had his, but if we weighed ourselves down, we’d be moving targets.
I grabbed the pasta and a few cans of fruit and jammed them into my backpack. I added one precious jar of spaghetti sauce and then tested the weight. I added a few cans of veggies, saw spinach and avoided it like the plague.
Joel moved beside me and packed his backpack as well. We’d been inside for a few minutes, and with every beat of my palpitating heart, I knew the dead fucks were getting closer.
“You pack the heavy stuff,” he said, and handed me his backpack. “We’re going out there and you’re not letting go of my shoulder. We move as one until we’re free of the mess.”
“Why do I have to be the fucking pack mule?”
“Because you’re built like one and I need to shoot shit.”
He made all kinds of sense but I didn’t have to be happy about it. Before we headed out, I grabbed a six-pack, jammed it into my backpack and tried to close the bag, but the beer stuck out of the top.
“Drop your wrench and use your Colt. It’s going to get hairy.”
“The fuck you say. I ain’t leaving my weapon.”
Joel wanted to argue – he gets like that – but we didn’t have time. I jammed the tool into my belt and fought to keep my overalls straight as it tugged them down toward my knees. I shrugged and pointed at the door.