Machines of the Dead 2, page 13
He opened the door and saw that the hallway was clear.
He went to the second floor where his room was located and grabbed his pack—already filled with a few days supply of non-perishables, soap, a toothbrush, extra ammo, flint, matches, and a change of socks and underwear. He’d learned in both the military and in prison to always be ready to move.
His Heckler and Koch G36 assault rifle was also kept in his room, secured in a locked case, of which only he knew the combination. He also had a Kimber Tactical .45 handgun stashed in the wall behind a poster. He’d gotten the weapon off a dead detective. He had seen the body lying in a ditch, the badge gleaming proudly off the pig’s belt. The weapon fired smoothly and felt perfect in his hand. But more than that, it was a reminder that the law no longer applied to him or anyone else.
He opened the box and strapped on the .45’s gunbelt, then shouldered the HK G36 assault rifle. Anyone seeing him leave might be suspicious of him, but no one save Cannibal would dare ask him what or where he was going.
He went downstairs and out the front door. Mack was standing guard.
“Cable,” he said, “what’s up, man?”
“You didn’t see me,” Cable responded, staring the man in the eyes.
“Uh, okay. Whatever you say.”
“You’re all right, Mack. It’d do you good to get away from here. This place is just like prison, but without the walls and cells. Same people, same mentality.”
He turned and headed toward the woods. Cable had remained with Cannibal longer than he thought he would have. The episode in the basement was the final straw, and he guessed it was a definite way, win or lose, to get his ass moving. Cannibal was a crazy, sick bastard. A man like that would eventually fall one way or another and he didn’t want to be around when it happened.
Jack lay in bed, sleep eluding him. Tomorrow was a big day. He and the others would be going into battle. They would have the element of surprise, which should account for a swing in Cliff House’s favor, but they would be using semi-automatic, lever-action, and bolt-action rifles, along with handguns, shotguns and homemade bombs against whatever Cannibal had in addition to the M4’s, frag grenades and any other weapons the maniac had acquired. Unlike the people of Cliff House, who had dug in and rarely went out for supplies anymore, Jack assumed Cannibal had people scouring the area.
The M4s and frags shouldn’t make that much of a difference. It would come down to sheer will, numbers and fire power. Who had more . . . Jack didn’t know for sure, but most of the people from Cliff House seemed like they could be counted on.
He also worried about Zaun and Maria. What would happen to them during the attack? He had no idea if they were even alive. Maybe his escape had triggered Cannibal to act, to kill his friends as immediate payback.
A knock sounded at his door. “Jack, it’s Paul.”
Jack jumped out bed, his shoulder reminding him that he was still healing. He unlocked the door and opened it. Having lived in the city his whole life, and having been through hell itself he still felt the need to lock his door—even in the confines of Cliff House.
“Zaun and Maria are back.”
Jack just stood there, confused. Were they back in pieces? Sent in a box?
“Jack?” Paul said, smiling. “Your friends are alive. Zaun’s getting patched up down in medical along with a young woman; Maria’s in the living room.”
Jack followed Paul to the first floor before Paul headed off for patrol. The living room was crowded with people. Everyone turned when Jack entered the room. The crowd parted almost magically. He saw Maria, along with a young girl that Jack remembered from his time in Cannibal’s basement. Her name was Jill. Don was standing across from them. Maria’s face lit up, matching Jack’s expression. He walked over and wrapped Maria up in a big hug.
“It’s so damn good to see you,” he said. “Both of you.”
When they parted, Jack saw a teary-eyed Maria. She blinked rapidly, preventing any liquid from reaching her cheeks. Jack let his tears fall before wiping at them.
“How is Zaun?” he asked.
“He’ll be okay. A little banged up. If it wasn’t for him I don’t think we’d be here.”
Maria went on to explain everything, from Zaun’s incredible fight to their escape into the woods. There was a lull in the conversation just after the group entered the woods. Maria’s story stopped flowing, as if she were omitting something, or trying to remember it, or possibly making something up. Jack could be wrong, but he knew her well enough to know something was up.
“And the four of you are the only ones to survive?” Jack asked.
Maria nodded. “It was almost too easy though. I mean they didn’t pursue us.”
“It wasn’t easy,” Jill said, “but we did what we had to do.”
Maria glanced at Jill with a look of extreme contempt on her face, but only for a moment, then it was gone. Something must’ve happened between them. Jack had seen that same expression back in the city after Zaun’s apartment-hunting excursion that brought a crap-load of undead down upon them.
“Well,” Don said, “it doesn’t appear that you were followed. So count your blessings.” Don looked at Jill. “And what’s your name?”
“Jill. Jill Hannigan.”
“Good to meet you, Jill,” Don said, holding out a hand. She took it and they shook.
“So, the house is only full of Cannibal’s men?” Don asked. “All the prisoners are free?”
“I think so. At least in the basement. The cages are empty now,” Maria said.
“How about some payback?” Jack asked.
“Not sure if you’re up for it, but we could use another gun,” Jack said. “We’re launching an attack on Cannibal. Take out him and his men once and for all.”
Maria shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“They’ve got weapons. Lots of weapons. Besides what they took from us, they raided a State Trooper’s barracks. They also found some automatic weapons at a house. Cannibal doesn’t sit around. He’s always looking for more firepower and food.”
Jack sat stunned. He looked at Don.
“You think they’ll be on alert now?” Don asked.
“This sure does change things,” Jack said.
“We can’t attack,” Don said. “And now we’re sitting ducks.”
Talk burst out amongst the crowd. Worry and panic spread.
“People,” Don said, ushering everyone to quiet down. “This isn’t good news, but we can’t panic now. We have to remain vigilant and focused. Just like we have been.”
“We need to leave,” someone said.
“Pack up and go,” said someone else. “Find another place far from here and start over.”
“Don,” Jack said, “running won’t work. You’ll never get far enough.”
“I don’t know if we can stay here, Jack. If what Maria said is true, and they let her and the others escape, it was only because they are planning to attack us soon. I don’t see any other option.”
Jack had an idea. He’d thought about it last night, but it was crazy—especially while Maria and the others were still being held prisoner. With them free and this new information, Jack’s idea might be their only hope. Sure, it was nuts, but it was something—and it was better than running. Cannibal’s grasp would only grow if he took Cliff House for himself. There was no way these people could pack up everything quickly enough and take it with them. They’d leave behind too much, and like prey that runs from a lion, the lion will chase, capture and eventually kill it.
“I have an idea,” Jack said. “You all might think I’m crazy, but I think it’s worth a shot.”
“Let’s hear it,” Don said.
“Have your people start packing immediately. Thin out what they may have already packed. They’ll need to be able to move quickly.”
As much as he wanted to check on Zaun, Jack went upstairs to Don’s room with Maria. He wished Paul and Duane in on this, but they were still patrolling.
“Are you nuts?” Don asked, after Jack presented his idea.
“Wait,” Maria said, “I think it might just be the best bet.”
Don paced, rubbing his stubbly chin. “I think we should just leave. Take what we can, and go.”
“Where?” Jack asked. “How far do you think you’ll make it? You’ve got a few elderly and children. And you’ll have Cannibal on your trail. Do you think he won’t be able to find you? If you had a week’s head start, maybe, but a day?”
Don’s face was drained of color. The man looked truly worried. Digging in and staying put proved much easier, especially when fighting off the enemy had worked repeatedly. Now he had a tough decision to make, a different mindset to take.
“I need to talk to the others,” he said.
“Don,” Maria said, putting a hand on his shoulder, “I know this is a tough thing to consider, but I really believe it’s the best option considering everything.”
Don said nothing, only nodded.
“I know it’s a lot to think about,” Jack said. “We’ll leave you to it.” He and Maria headed for the hallway, Jack stopping in the doorway. “If my plan works, you’ll never have to worry about Cannibal or his people again. And you’ll have access to all those weapons.” With that, he closed the door.
Jack and Maria went to check on Zaun. He was lying on a cot. A kerosene heater sat a few feet away, keeping him warm. He had a bandage around his head and leg where he’d been stabbed.
“Doc said I’d be okay, just need rest,” Zaun said.
“That’s great news,” Jack said. “I heard you’re quite the hero.”
“Nah,” Zaun said. “Maria would’ve figured a way out eventually.”
Maria smiled at that, but shook her head. “I know you didn’t have a choice in the matter, but you fought well and smart. I was impressed.”
“Awww, you’re making me blush,” Zaun said, grinning.
Jack told him about his crazy plan, and how Don was thinking it over.
“Damn,” Zaun said. “That is nuts, but I agree with you guys. I don’t see a better solution to Cliff House’s problem.”
“Well,” Jack said, “we don’t want to keep you up. You need your rest.”
“Good night, Zaun,” Maria said, then kissed him on his forehead.
Neither Jack nor Maria received much sleep that night. Early in the morning, Don came and woke them, telling him Jack’s plan was a go. The people had packed up as much as they could carry and fit into the vehicles.
After getting dressed, Jack, Maria, Zaun, Duane and Paul got together in Duane’s room and worked out a plan. The house would be vacant soon, with two groups of residents heading in different directions to safe houses chosen in the event of an emergency. Each house was about a mile away. If Cannibal’s men attacked before Jack’s plan got off, at least the people would be split up. Maybe only half would be hunted down while the others managed to get far enough away. According to Don, there were other survivors shacked up in various places—they simply didn’t want to shack up at Cliff House, preferring to go at it with their own groups, or head somewhere else. Sure enough, many of those became Cannibal fodder.
When he thought about it, Jack imagined there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of people scattered all over, surviving. Not everyone could be dead or undead. He wondered how many. It seemed like Cliff House and Cannibal’s house consisted of the last survivors on the planet, but Jack knew this couldn’t be the case. And it made him feel better. Like any other creatures trying to survive a terrible situation—and during the winter—people wouldn’t be out and about. They’d be hunkered down and hidden.
With Zaun’s injuries, he would have to sit this adventure out. And as much as the guy protested, saying that he could help, Jack and the others refused, telling him that he was needed elsewhere. He went with one of the groups to a safe house, helping to keep everyone in order and from panicking too much.
Finally, with the house empty, the cold morning air blowing up against their forms, nipping at the tiny exposed areas of flesh, Jack, Maria, Jill and Paul—the four chosen for the mission—set out to the bridge. Maria protested quietly to Jack, telling him that Jill was not stable enough to come along.
“You have something you need to tell me?” he asked.
Maria rolled her eyes. “Leave it be for now. I just don’t want her around.”
“We need fast, able bodies in case the plan goes awry. She’s a former athlete, and as much as I like Duane, he’d older and agreed that he’d only slow us down. He’s better off serving as a guard for one of the groups.”
“Fine,” Maria agreed, then told Jack what had happened during the escape.
“She killed Susan? Even after you told her we had a cure?”
Maria nodded. “The girl may be athletic and want to kill the undead,” she tapped the side of her head, “but she’s not quite right upstairs.”
“We’ll keep an eye on her, but for now, we need her.”
With that, the four gathered outside, ready to ride out Jack’s plan.
Paul drove the Suburban. Chains had been secured to the tires, making the vehicle a beast in the snow. Jack sat in the passenger seat, bouncing up and down every time the chains collided with the pavement, the linked loops of steels chewing through the white stuff with ease. Jill was behind him in the second row. Jack could tell from the short time he’d been around her that she had some serious issues and was a complete hard-ass. She was young, had been through a lot, but she was tough and fearless too. Perfect for what had to be done.
Maria took up the rear, watching the road from behind, a Remington 750 semi-automatic rifle at the ready. The going was slow, the roads slippery, but the truck did all right. No one spoke as the group made its way down the mountain. Unplowed streets, not a single set of tire tracks, were simply a strange and unsettling sight. If there were other people about, there was no sign of them. The good news was that it also meant Cannibal hadn’t arrived yet.
They reached the bridge blockade thirty minutes after leaving the house. Paul killed the engine and everyone exited the vehicle. After listening to the chains’ jingle-like cadence, the silence was eerie.
The wind was fiercest down by the water, bringing an immediate chill to the survivors. Maria, Jill and Jack took up position around the SUV, keeping watch on the perimeter. Paul was familiar with using Front-End loaders, having driven the huge yellow monsters before. He fired up the tractor, smoke billowing upwards from the black exhaust pipe poking from the machine’s boxy rear.
One by one, Paul began pushing, sometimes rolling the staircase of vehicles out of the way. A lot of noise was made—the machine’s roaring engine and the crunch and scrape of metal as the vehicles were shoved into a muddled pile. The ruckus was all part of the plan. They would need as many of the undead on the bridge as possible.
With the wall-of-vehicles’ support gone, the structure wouldn’t be nearly as stable. Jack peered through a partially crushed pickup truck’s window and saw that hundreds of undead had made their way over to the blockade, with more coming. The sound of a rifle shot caused him to spin around. About thirty feet out lay a body. From the woods to the left, two more undead were making their way over to the group. Maria and Jill fired their rifles, each woman hitting their mark. It was figured that any undead nearby would come from the hillside, but Jack had hoped the number would be manageable, at least until the crux of what they needed to do was underway, then it wouldn’t matter much.
Now came the tricky part of the plan—getting the wall of vehicles to come down so that the zombies would be able to pour out like liquid, and not in a single file line. They needed
Paul parked the loader off to the side next to a bulldozer and joined Jack at the SUV. Maria and Jill kept picking off any undead that came too close. Jack and Paul grabbed propane tanks fitted with fuses and placed them in the car-wall, spacing them both high and low. All the fuses were then tied to a single fuse, which Paul lit. It was figured they had about five minutes.
Everyone hopped in the SUV, which drove about a hundred feet away before stopping.
The explosion was ground shaking. Four of the ten propane tanks went off at the same time, the others seconds later, obliterating the entire middle section of the wall. Pieces of twisted metal and plastic cascaded the area, kicking up snow and debris. Cars that hadn’t taken much damage tilted and tumbled down, crashing to the sides or into the river.
Everyone in the truck cheered.
As the smoke cleared, Jack saw the first of the undead appear from the wreckage. He imagined a large number were destroyed, but the explosion itself would only attract more. The wind picked up, quickly blowing the smoke away. Jack’s eyes widened at the horrific sight as an army of undead came through.
“Now,” he said.
Maria opened the rear doors and began firing into the horde. The zombies would now have a target.
“Wait until they’re close, then we move,” Jack shouted.
Within minutes, the roadway was filled with rotting corpses, each one coming for the truck. Paul drove slowly, keeping just ahead of the throng. Maria didn’t need to fire the weapon anymore, the meals-on-wheels locked to the zombies’ sights.
Just before reaching the incline that led to the mountain road, Paul stopped the truck. He waited until the undead were within a few feet, then took off; getting enough momentum to make sure he made it up the hill. The tires spun. The truck slowed. “Come on, Baby,” Paul said, giving it gas, “come on.” The truck continued to climb, the undead along with it. Some stumbled, falling into each other, but the hill wasn’t very steep, most able to ascend.