“Gotta leave you here, Charlain,” he said to the bike and climbed onto the elevator. “Sorry, babe.”
Jack caught up and leaped onto the elevator just as it began to lift. Jason went down on his knees to hold onto the dog.
Travis and Rune began to calmly fire at anything that staggered out of the smoke as they were lifted back into the safety of the fort.
Just as they reached the top, a shift in the wind blew much of the smoke away from the fort. Jason looked over the wide expanse of land and saw that a lot of the zombies were moving off away from the town. The fire had spooked them. Once they were moving in one direction, they kept going.
What remained was a large number of zombies still approaching and moving into the kill zone.
“We’re clear,” Travis said as they reached the top of the wall as Katie grabbed up Jason to hug him.
“No one is bitten? Right?” Katie ran her hands over Jason’s arms.
Calhoun reluctantly let Reggie check him for bites. “Damn things smell to high heaven, don’t they?”
Reggie, trying hard not to smell the old man, nodded. ‘Oh, yeah.
Katie watched anxiously as Travis and Rune were checked for bites. The moans of the zombies grew louder as they drew ever closer to the fort.
Cleared of any bites, Travis kissed his wife as Rune heaved his bag of grenades over his shoulder.
“Time to get to work,” Rune said.
Together, Travis and Katie looked out over the wide expanse of land before the fort. It was filled with the shambling dead.
Within seconds the catapults began to creak and moan, then sling their heavy loads into the air and down on the zombies.
It is common knowledge that war is hell. But what is also not so well known is that war is surreal. Hyper-reality often mixes with moments of feeling oddly disconnected from reality. A sense of fragility wrapped up in a feeling of invincibility. Nothing about it makes sense. Nothing about it registers fully in the human senses.
The morning air was filled with the creaking of catapults showering the undead with their loads of discarded junk. The sharp twang of the massive crossbows was followed by the hissing whistle of twenty arrows splitting through the air in a gentle arch only to slam into the battered, mangled bodies of the dead. The sudden whoosh of the gas jets being activated out on the field below, then the loud bang as they ignited, was followed by the intense wail of the zombies on fire.
The smell was unbelievable. Charred flesh. Rotting flesh. Fire. Human sweat and fear.
From the massive crossbows to the catapults to the gunmen, everyone had a section of the area lying before the fort which they were responsible for. Target zones were erected along the wall with colored paint. If something crossed into your zone, you fired. It was easy. Yet there was swearing and screams of anger as something undead and rotting would pass out of the zone just before a toilet smashed right where it had been standing or the ground was skewered with twenty arrows instead of the shambling dead.
Juan activated the traps on Nerit’s command. The fire jet traps, the quick drying cement traps, the stake traps. He listened and obeyed. He never saw the shuffling family of four complete with a toddler get stuck in the quick drying cement and flail about uselessly until the snipers shot off their heads. He didn’t see the former nurse with both arms missing ignite into a torch as a gas jet went off. Nor the zombified firemen get skewered on the stake traps. But he would hear “Good job” from Nerit and smile with satisfaction.
Katie worked with feverish intensity loading up her crossbow, then waiting for something to move into her zone. Every time the shambling dead went down under the hail of her arrows, she would grin fiercely and reload. More than once she felt Jenni’s presence nearby and it pushed her to keep going even when the heat and the smell seemed overwhelming.
“This is for Ken, fuckers,” Lenore said further down the wall as her crossbow split zombies apart pouring their putrid innards onto the ground. She would pump her fist in the air then reload to do it all over again.
Jason helped man the slingshot. The teenagers launched Molotov cocktails with startling accuracy at the undead. They all wore t-shirts with the words “For Roger” written on them with a sharpie pen. Jason’s read on the back: “For my Mom.”
Rune ran across rooftops to gun down anything trying to come up the side streets. Most of the traps had already gone off with zombies dangling from the razor wire. He took out anything that stirred down the side streets.
Most of the first zombies were still trailing off into the distance in two long columns.
Linda and Bette reloaded their catapult countless times. The discarded junk of the old world flew out over the battlefield, picking up force as it fell to earth and landing amongst the dead with brutal devastation. They would high five whenever they got a particularly gruesome death. Their favorite was a zombie priest who lost his head to a flying toaster oven.
Calhoun, followed by his pack of dogs, ran along the wall activating the traps closest to the fort. If the zombies began to congregate in one area, he would trip a variety of swinging arms made of old telephone lines and lawnmower blades. The big swinging arms were his pride and joy. They’d swing through a group of zombies and obliterate anything they’d hit.
The helicopters, on standby, had one bad moment when confronted with a handful of terrified people demanding to be removed from the fort.
With no answer to her question, the people had slunk away.
Travis wielded one of the five bazookas the fort had. With Kevin’s help, they loaded it up and sent zombies flying in pieces across the battlefield.
Despite the tension in the air, they found themselves laughing more than once.
Katarina took out the living dead with terrible accuracy. Being a sniper meant she was a little more up close and personal with the undead as they went down. She could see their ravaged faces, their empty eyes, their mutilated forms before her bullet put them down. Every age, every walk of life, every race wandered into view and every single one was put to final rest. Having lived with fear so long, she was startled to feel peace instead.
Instead of feeling rage against them, she felt sorry for them. Every bullet, she realized was a blessing to those creatures. A final exit from their hell.
Yolanda sat in the communication center and listened to teams reporting in and Nerit’s voice steadily giving commands. Next to her sat her own pistol. If there was a breach in the wall, she would fight. And, of course, keep one bullet for herself.
In the opulent ballroom of the hotel, the elderly and children of the fort waited. Despite themselves, they had all watched from the windows as the dead had swarmed toward the fort. They had watched mesmerized as the dead had been met with fierce resistance. Now the battlefield was a ruin.
Smoke filled the air. Fear and hope filled their hearts.
Katie was gagging on the putrid stench as she reloaded her crossbow.
Nothing was moving in her zone anymore. Only a few of the twenty catapults along the wall were still firing, most of those on the east side.
“Is it done?” someone yelled from nearby.
“I don’t have any in my zone,” Lenore called out.
Katie lifted her walkie-talkie. “Hey, what is going on?”
From his point on the wall, Travis could see most of the west side of the battlefield. Only a few severely mutilated zombies were trying to pull themselves along the ground. Kevin craned his neck, trying to look past the smoke.
“This might be it,” Travis said, his voice trembling. His body was shaking as the adrenaline rush left him.
“It might be,” Kevin said in awe.
“Let’s get the copter up,” Travis said into his walkie-talkie. “Check on the status of the zombies.”
Lenore glanced over at Bette and Linda as they struggled to get a few microwaves onto their catapult. “It might be done!”
“What?” Linda looked over the wall at the decimated battlefield.
“Babe, nothing is shambling down there,” Bette said in awe.
“Muthafuckin’ zombies are dead,” Lenore said with satisfaction.
“There might be more,” Linda said pragmatically. “We can’t get our hopes up yet.”
A lone helicopter lifted up over the hotel and swung out over the hills.
Katie sat down in the chair next to her massive crossbow, her arms wrapped around her stomach. She tried not to breath too deeply through the kerchief over her mouth. The smell was unbearable, but the view was amazing. The enormous horde of the dead was not in view. Of course, maybe a second wave was on its way.
Nerit surveyed the map of the battlefield as she waited for the word. Eric stood near her, his face covered in a silk handkerchief. His hands were bloody from loading the catapult near her position. Stacey was sitting on the wall, wiping her face with her shirt. They were sweaty, dirty, and afraid to hope for the best.
“Think they’re scared off? Think we did it?” Eric asked.
An eerie silence filled the morning. The sound of the catapults, explosions, and other weaponry had faded away. There was only a dull hum that Nerit realized was the moans of the dead in the distance.