Machines of the Dead 2, page 11
“Back to the house, now!” Jack ordered.
The group took off for the house. Jack wasn’t worried about anyone getting in trouble. The distance to the house wasn’t too far, but once they were there . . . well that was another story. This was the worst time for a zombie assault. Ammo, resources and energy would now be used, and they needed those things for when they attacked Cannibal.
The group made it to the house, Jack and the others yelling, warning the people who were out on the deck. They had only minutes to spare. Arms were taken up by most. People gathered along the deck’s railing and from windows and the roof.
The undead shuffled from the tree line. Ten became twenty. Twenty became forty. Shots were fired, the air filled with man-made thunder. Jack was afraid the noise might attract more undead, but with so many already here; there was no choice in the matter.
From the deck, he took out as many as he could, trying not to waste a shot. But with so many coming, it was difficult. The mass reached the house, slamming into it like a tidal wave. Arms reached up, fingers grasping for him and the others. Jack saw heads explode. Body parts fall from torsos. The air was rank with death and cordite, an odor in which he was all too familiar.
A young boy named Derek was positioned next to Jack. The kid couldn’t have been older than ten. He was holding a Ruger .22 and blasting away. His shots weren’t rushed. The kid wasn’t overly excited from what Jack could tell. His eyes were focused. He was on a mission. Maybe later, the event would unsettle the lad, but for now he was acting like he’d been born to do this.
Jack heard a scream. He looked up and saw a body fall from the roof. It landed in the horde and was quickly swallowed as undead began to tear away at its flesh. The screams lasted a few seconds. Jack couldn’t tell who it was. He looked at the kid next to him. Derek was wide-eyed and slack-jawed. He’d stopped shooting. And just like that things had changed for the kid, becoming too real. Jack wondered if Derek knew the person.
Jack grabbed the kid by the shoulders and turned him his way. “It sucks, but keep firing. We need to do him justice and slaughter these things. Keep everyone else safe.”
The kid nodded. Still seeming in shock, he took up shooting again, but the vigor from his eyes was gone.
When the last shot was fired, about sixty dead lay in the yard. Guts, brains and scattered pieces of rotting flesh lay about. The clean up would be horrible, Jack knew, but the bodies couldn’t be left to rot. He feared the bridge had been compromised and this was only the first wave, but that proved not to be the case, as no more undead arrived.
He was tired, achy, but rest wasn’t an option. The bodies were gathered and burned, which took a couple of hours, then he and the others went back to work on preparing for the assault.
When Cable finally returned to the house, he went straight to Cannibal. The big guy was furious. “I expected more from you, Cable,” the man said, then tore the fleshy piece of rib bone from the torso that was on his plate and tossed it across the room in anger. Cable took the verbal assault that followed, knowing if it came to blows, he could hold his own, even against such a foe. Cannibal had hardly ever laid a hand on his men—he never had to—but he did threaten to do so, by raising a hand or standing face to face, mere inches apart. They all feared him and did as he asked, even the craziest ones. With Cable, this never happened. Cannibal kept his distance. Maybe the big guy never laid a hand on Cable because he knew the man was dangerous and didn’t want to test the waters. At least that’s what Cable wanted to believe, plus he was far more valuable alive than dead.
“Get everyone together and make sure those fools are ready,” Cannibal ordered after his tirade was over. “Weapons checked, magazines loaded. We’re attacking in two days. We can’t afford to lose any more men, or all the weapons we’ve acquired won’t mean a thing. Cliff House has valuable supplies and food, food we can both benefit from.”
After leaving Cannibal’s repulsive quarters, Cable went room to room alerting everyone to the boss’ orders, then went to his own room for some alone time. He felt hollow. Unfulfilled. That man, Jack, had eluded him. When Cable set his sights on a person, that was it, the individual never got away. Angered, he smashed a fist into the sheetrock wall, creating a large hole. For sure, Jack was with Cliff House now. After Cannibal’s assault, many would be dead. Jack included. As far as Cable was concerned, Jack was his to finish, but there was no way he could put a “do not kill” order out on the man and expect it to be obeyed, especially with the group he was going into battle with.
Come to think of it, Jack’s friends were anything but normal people. They had been through Hell. Survived against tremendous odds, odds Cable wasn’t sure he could’ve endured. Alone, Jack had killed all the men sent after him, and the guy had started out without a weapon. Cable needed something to fill in the void he was feeling. If he couldn’t have Jack, then why not Jack’s friends? Zaun had proved dangerous earlier, and he did have a score to settle with the man.
Things were on the brink. Change was about to happen, whether Cannibal won this small battle he was preparing for or not. Many people were going to die. Would the prisoners be left to sit in the cage in the basement while the full-on-assault happened? Or would Cannibal worry and kill them all. No, not all, just the dangerous ones, like Zaun and Maria. Those two didn’t deserve to go out like that. They were warriors who deserved a fitting end. A chance. True, they were prisoners, but not of any war. Just of some maniac who liked to eat people.
Enough was enough. Cable had had his fill of this crazy place and its killers, rapists and common scum. He wasn’t like them. He was above them. It was time to move on, but first he had a minor score to settle in the basement. Win or lose, it was the proper thing to do.
Pain and stiffness radiated down Zaun’s arms and into his shoulders and back. His neck was cramped too. No matter how much he tried to move, eventually the position he was in—sitting on the floor, hands tied above his head—got to him. The only time he was allowed to lower them was when it was time to eat or use the bathroom. Two guards would stand before him with guns trained while he did his business. The task was humiliating. He was at least thankful that the people in the cage turned away as he did his business.
Since Jack’s escape, a guard had been stationed outside the basement door. The individual checked in on the group every so often. Zaun wondered why a guard wasn’t stationed in the basement. Why at the top of the stairs? The only thing he could think of was that Cannibal didn’t want the temptation of the women to cause one of his scumbags to act inappropriately with his food.
Sitting there, trying to adjust his position to a more comfortable one, Zaun heard the door open at the top of stairs.
“Hey, asshole,” he said, “I need to use the bathroom.”
“Piss in your pants for all I care,” the reply came.
He heard a conversation. Two men were talking. Then a large, well-built fellow came down the stairs. Zaun had seen him before. His name was Cable.
“Cable,” the guard said, hurrying after the burly man. “I don’t think you should be here. Cannibal said no one is allowed in the basement.”
When Cable reached the bottom of the stairs, he spun around, grabbed the guard by the head and twisted it to the left. Zaun heard a popping sound as the vertebrae clacked together. The man went instantly limp. Cable let him drop to the stairs and crumble to the floor.
Zaun’s heart was in his throat. He had no idea what was happening. Maybe this guy had had a change of heart and was going to free them all, but something inside him said otherwise.
Cable rifled through the man’s pockets and pulled something out. He held up a small key. Eying Zaun, he said, “I think we have a score to settle,” then walked over to him. He placed the key in Zaun’s hand and stepped back. “Free yourself.” He then removed his coat and tossed his sidearm across the floor where it rested against the dead guard.
Arms wide, Cable said, “I am unarmed, except for that which I carry inside me. I’ll give you a minute or two to stretch out your muscles.”
Zaun couldn’t believe it. The psycho was releasing and challenging him to a fight. It wasn’t just his muscles that needed a moment, but his mind too. This was too surreal, but it also might be the only chance he and the others had to escape. Cable was clearly doing this on his own, and there was no telling when someone might come along. He needed to kill this man quickly and get the girls out.
“End me, and you’ll have a chance at freedom.” Cable pointed to the dead man. “You’ll have two weapons, mine and the guard’s. And I’ll even throw in a bonus. Upstairs is a locked room. Inside is a stockpile of weapons. Guns mostly. Newly acquired since the last time Cannibal attacked Cliff House. Weapons from a State Trooper’s barracks, along with a private citizen’s highly illegal collection. Cliff House won’t stand a chance. Get past me, flee the house, and you can warn your people.”
Zaun didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but figured the guy was telling the truth. He had no reason to lie. He looked toward the cage and caught Maria’s glare. “Kill him,” she said.
Zaun rolled his shoulders, rotated his arms, kicked out his legs and loosened his neck. He also cleared his mind as best he could. The pressure on him was insurmountable. If he failed, everyone died.
“Ready?” Cable asked, bending his knees, arms out. His hands weren’t balled into tight fists. They were loose, ready to be squeezed on impact, Zaun knew. The man was much larger than he was, but as Zaun learned long ago, size didn’t always matter.
His pulse raced as he prepared to fight to the death; at least he imagined it being to the death. Cable hadn’t exactly said what would happen, but Zaun assumed the winner wouldn’t ever be getting up again.
Zaun stepped forward, keeping his stance low. Cable stepped forward as well. The two men circled each other, neither taking their eyes off the other.
“Kill him, Zaun,” Maria said. The other girls were quiet.
Zaun shot forward, then jigged to his right and launched a fist high. Cable sidestepped a fraction of an inch and Zaun missed. Committed to the move, he could only follow through and was met with a knee to his abdomen. He went with it, collapsing his center and absorbing the blow as best he could, letting the air out of his lungs and caving-in on himself. At the same time, he let his arms fly toward his attacker’s face, fingers pointed outward. Zaun felt them make contact, then heard the guy grunt.
Backing away, catching his breath, Zaun saw Cable rapidly blinking his left eye. But the guy remained in a fighting stance, facing Zaun, preventing him from attacking with ease. Cable winced as the two men continued to circle each other.
Zaun faked a kick on Cable’s left side, then switched to a punch, but his opponent was ready for it. Cable bent low, then lunged forward and slammed his shoulder into Zaun’s ribs.
Zaun had just enough time to brace himself, extending his legs back to keep from falling over. Instead, the man hammered Zaun into the wall. Pain exploded in his back as the breath was knocked out of him again.
Fighting through the pain, Zaun brought his elbow down on Cable’s spine, again and again in furious fashion and felt the man’s hold loosen.
Cable slid down, wrapped his arms around Zaun’s legs, and pulled him off his feet and into a sitting position. Zaun slapped the man’s ears as hard as he could while drawing in a much needed breath. Cable sat up quickly, flung Zaun’s arms out and started reigning down blow after blow to Zaun’s face. Zaun covered up, deflected a few punches, but the ones that got threw were sledgehammer-like. With each hit, Zaun saw stars. He knew he couldn’t remain where he was for much longer and survive.
Using his arms, Zaun wrapped up Cable’s arms. He wouldn’t be able to keep the man locked up for long. He pulled himself up and smashed his forehead into the man’s nose. He felt it crunch, then saw blood explode from both nostrils. He released his grip on Cable’s right arm, then reached up, curled his fingers around his attacker’s ear and yanked.
Cable howled as his head jerked sideways. Zaun took advantage and ripped part of the ear free, the tearing of flesh and cartilage almost sickening. Cable jerked back. Zaun brought his right leg up and shoved Cable off, having just enough room to push himself to his feet. Cable was hurt, but far from finished. Blood gushing from his head, Cable grabbed onto Zaun’s right ankle and yanked him to the ground. As he went down, he sent a chopping-hand into Cable’s throat, then rolled to the side.
Zaun was back on his feet in seconds, the big man clutching at his throat, coughing. Zaun launched kick after kick into the man’s side and felt a few ribs give. This fight was to the death; rules need not apply.
Cable spun on him, reaching for anything, but Zaun jumped back and out of the man’s grasp. Cable tried getting to his feet, but Zaun came in and hit him square in the face with a kick. Blood flew as the man arched over. Zaun jumped onto the man’s back. Cable, weakened but not done, bucked wildly, forcing Zaun off.
Cable was on one knee, rubbing his jaw and grinning. He spit blood, then said, “You’re one tough little dude, but if all’s you’re going to do is tick tack me to death, then we’re going to have to up the game.” He reached behind and pulled out a small, three-inch blade knife that was curved like an eagle’s talon. He launched himself at Zaun. Zaun stepped in and parried Cable’s knife-arm, then sent an open-hand strike to Cable’s chest, followed by a knee to his groin and an upper cut to the face, sending Cable sprawling backward.
Zaun glanced around the immediate area looking for a weapon, but saw only the cuffs. Cable’s gun was across the room.
The man was already rising to his feet, grimacing, but ready to continue the fight. Zaun rushed in with a kick, but Cable caught the leg and sunk the three-inch curved blade into his calf.
Zaun cried out. Cable had opened a large gash. Blood soaked his pants and dotted the concrete floor. Zaun kneed Cable in the side of his head, then backpedaled away, leaving a trail of red behind.
Cable attempted to rise, but fell over. He clutched at his chest, wincing. The earlier palm strike had done its job, internally damaging the big man—to what degree Zaun didn’t know.
“What the fuck,” Cable said, spitting up blood. He tried getting up again, but couldn’t.
“I wouldn’t move if I were you,” Zaun said.
The fight was over. Zaun hurried as best he could to where Cable’s gun lay and scooped it up. He racked the slide on the .357 Desert Eagle, then fished out the sidearm, a .45 Berretta, from the dead guard’s holster.
Holding the .357 out, he walked over to Cable.
“Kill me quickly,” Cable grunted. “Don’t let me die slowly like this.” Zaun bent down, smiled, then whacked the guy across his head with the butt of the gun, sending Cable into unconsciousness.
“Get the keys,” Maria said. “They’re on the guard.”
Zaun limped back to the corpse and retrieved a key ring, then returned to the cage and unlocked it. The prisoners filed out one at a time, most whimpering with relief.
Maria told everyone to be quiet. “We’re not nearly out of the woods yet.”
Zaun handed her the Beretta. She popped out the magazine. “Feels full,” she said, then slapped it back in place and racked the slide. Smiling, she patted Zaun on the shoulder. “You did great.”
One of the girls started kicking Cable in the ribs. “You sick piece of shit,” she said. Maria ran over and wrapped her up in a bear hug. The girl’s name was Jill. She was from the area and had lost her entire family, starting with her brother. Out of all the women, Jill seemed the most unflappable, yet the angriest.
“He deserves to die,” Jill said, “like the rest of these scum.”
“Yes, he does,” Maria said, “but we need to worry about leaving here. Get your head on right and pay attention. Can you do that for me?” The
Zaun called Maria over. “Should we leave him?”
“I don’t like it, but yeah. Leave him. Doesn’t look like he’ll be much of a threat anyway.”
“Depending on the damage,” Zaun said, “he might not make it.”
Maria grabbed the cuffs that had been used to lock Zaun up and cuffed Cable’s hands to his feet. “That should help.”
A woman named Margaret picked up Cable’s coat and put it on. “Sorry guys, but I’m freezing.” No one seemed to care.
Maria tore some fabric from Cable’s shirt and wrapped it tightly around Zaun’s still-very-much-bleeding leg. “You’re going to need something better, but for now that’s about the best I can do.”
“Thanks,” Zaun said.
“Okay, everyone,” Maria said, “it’s time to leave this place.”
Maria led the group up the stairs, Zaun at her heels. She cracked the door open, listened, then poked her head out. A hallway extended a short distance in both directions. She looked back at Zaun, motioning for him and the others to follow.
She had no idea which way to go and thought about heading upstairs to the weapons room, but didn’t want to risk it. Cable might’ve been lying, but even if he hadn’t been, the room might be locked. And, even if they got their hands on some more weapons . . . would the girls know how to use them properly? They’d most likely get mowed down in a firefight. It was better to get out of the house as quickly as possible. She decided to head left down the hall.
She came to a closed door, listened for a moment, then moved on, coming to an open door. She peered around the frame and saw that the room was void of life, but filled with plenty of death. Along with a long leather sofa, a wall-mounted television, and an enormous oak desk with an executive chair, were the heads of various animals—three deer; a moose; an alligator, and a lion. Maria wondered how long it would be before human heads lined the walls. She closed the door and moved on.