“Jesus fucking Christ Harry!” Max heard the woman's voice call out from the street. He could barely hear anything above the ringing in his ears so the woman must have been shouting in order for him to make it out. 'Great they are affected by the hearing loss too.' Looking around Max watched as Bill and another soldier fired on the last zombie in the room. The thing made the wrong decision to stick its head over the massive counter it was hiding behind and the two soldiers blew it off.
Ruben checked Kirk's body quickly and pulled the gun out from where it was still clenched in the old man's hand, he then headed over to Max.
“Go get them, keep them running. I'll take care of her now.” He said, tucking the pistol in his belt while he reached around and pulled some bandages from a pocket in his combat webbing.
Max looked to Stewart, then to Ruben and then to where Bill and Javier were getting up.
“What would she do? Just go Max, I can manage her.”
Finally, Max relented and moved to the front of the building, pausing only to retrieve his shotgun. Bill and Javier were reloading as they paced Max from the other side of the room.
“I am retreating out the way we came, meet me at the door to the courtyard.” Ruben called after them.
“Reload Max.” Bill said. Max felt around for some shotgun shells and was surprised to find he still had a pocketful. The three of them approached the windows in a line and looked out to see zombies pouring into the area in front of the building.
“Good God.” Javier muttered, then pointed, “There!”
Bill and Max followed his finger and saw that Aubrey and Harry were standing by a large ornamental sculpture at the base of the long, broad staircase, where they were taking cover from Bill and Max.
“Where is our sniper?” Max wondered.
“They are around, I hope they are anyway. We better fire at them and keep their attention on us, to give the sniper a chance to shoot.” said Bill as he readied a hand grenade.
Up above on the roof of the building across the street from them Katie took aim on the two zombies that had come out of the Art Institute. The two had been moving around since they were blown out of the building. Finally, they had stopped behind a huge piece of what passed for 'art' at the base of the stair. Perfect cover from the Art Institute, but no cover at all from her. Katie took a bead on the woman this time, trying not to count the number of seconds she had before the artillery landed. She saw the hand grenade fly as she squeezed off a bullet, she saw the woman zombie jump up a microsecond before Katie's bullet hit her in the head, the zombie woman went down.
“Fuck.” Katie whispered, the shot had looked clean, but the last minute jump had resulted in a neck shot instead of a head shot. 'Well, I can pick it up in a minute after I tag Barbie's Ken.'
The hand grenade went off and the male zombie threw himself flat at the bottom of the stairs. The zombies rushing into the street were still too far away to provide the man or woman down there with any cover. Katie lined up her shot, wondering how long it would be until the first of the artillery hit, by her count it was already overdue.
Max led the charge out of the building as soon as the hand grenade went off, his fast moves caught Bill and Javier by surprise and he was halfway down the steps before they started moving.
“Did you know he was going to do that?” Javier asked panting.
Max saw Harry laying on the sidewalk next to the bottom step, behind the sculpture Aubrey was twitching, injured, but not out of it. 'I knew the grenade wouldn't work.' Max thought, lining up his first shot on Harry. The zombie twisted sideways and raised his arm in front of his head, the shotgun shell passed through the thing's forearm severing its hand. Some of the shot peppered Harry's face as well and sent the zombie reeling backward from where it was trying to get up.
Bill and Javier fired into the zombies that were closing in on the front of the building while Max took another shot at Harry. Moving fast Harry ducked and rolled to his feet while Max tracked him. Running to point blank range Max pulled the trigger again, Harry couldn't dodge entirely out of the way, the shot caught him in the shoulder of his missing hand and twirled him around completely so that he was facing one of the zombies walking towards him. This female zombie was pushing a baby carriage, a blood splattered light blue carriage trimmed with dark blue padding. The young mother was wearing a set of gray sweat pants and an oversized baseball shirt, her black hair rested on the fair skin of her face, making a perfect frame for her hazel eyes. In the carriage a small hand flailed out of the stroller, it too was bloody and missing the smallest two fingers. Harry ducked sideways and sent a command to the mother to throw her carriage at Max as a distraction. His command was too late; Max shot the woman full on in the face as Harry dodged to one side, exploding her head like a balloon and spraying red ocher chunks onto the zombies behind her.
'How many shots does he have?' Harry thought, running sideways and then spinning to face Max.
Max was concerned with his ammunition too, he tracked Harry with his gun and struggled to reload the shotgun's magazine by sliding another shell into it. Harry took the opportunity and stepped into Max, knocking the shotgun sideways off target. The zombie then seized Max by the throat and lifted him up off of the ground.
“Max!” screamed Bill, who charged forward to his friend's aid.
“Jesus-Christ!” Javier said softly trying to aim at everything at once.
“Stop!” yelled Harry, lifting Max off of his feet. The zombies obediently stopped, as did Bill.
Up above Katie heard the crunch of feet on the gravel roof behind her. 'I gotta take this shot.' The shot was a poor one, the zombie had one of the living soldiers lifted up in the air and was swaying slightly from side to side. From her angle, Katie was afraid the bullet, whether it missed or hit would travel through the target and hit the soldier as well.
“I know you are here. I can smell you, I can hear you breath, but I can't see you!” came a voice surprisingly close to behind her. “Is that a gun? Why, I do believe it is!”
Katie fired as the voice yelled, “Gotcha!” in triumph.
“Stop! Put down your guns or I'll.." Harry's threat came to a sudden, messy end. Max looked down the length of Harry's arm just in time to see the zombie's head explode like a firecracker, splattering him from the waist down with brain matter and blood. Max felt a sharp tug as something tore through his pants at the same time. For a few seconds everything seemed to stop, Max was held up high by a headless zombie, grasping for breath as Harry's hand convulsed. Slowly the strength in Harry's arm weakened, then finally went limp, dropping Max to the gore covered pavement.
Frantically Max pulled at Harry's hand, trying to get it off of his throat, the world went black and he heard Bill yelling his name. Max didn't quite lose consciousness, just his vision for a moment, then air, foul, smoky air reeking of blood poured into his lungs.
Bill supported Max, holding him steady while asking, “Max are you all right? Are you okay?”
“F-fine.” Max said through a bruised throat. Looking around he saw the zombies all standing around in the street, stock still. The zombies didn't move much, except for their eyes, which shown with a malevolent hatred. “What the fuck?”
“I know, we gotta go,” said Bill. Harry's last order was still holding the zombies in check, they continued to stare at the trio of men, but none of them took so much as a single step towards them.
Katie was grasped around the waist from behind, the arms that gripped her was like steel and she dropped her rifle as she was lifted up. “Got you! I got you! You tricksy little thing!”
Both of Katie's hands were free, the arms gripped her around the waist and started to squeeze the breath out of her. She struggled to reach the pistol she had tucked into her belt and kicked backwards at the zombie holding her to no effect. The camo suit was being torn into pieces as she struggled and finally she got her hand on the butt of her gun. Then the building rocked sideways and she was suddenly thrown free.
“Fuck!” Max yelled as an explosion slammed into the building across the street about halfway up. Debris started to rain down on the zombie mob, sizable chunks of concrete that squashed zombies flat when they hit.
“We gotta go!” Bill said, grabbing Max and retreating up the stairs, Max managed to get one hand on his shotgun before being half carried up the stairs of the Art building. The two of them followed Javier across the lobby back towards the side exit to the courtyard they had originally entered the building through. Dust and chunks of masonry fell around them as the artillery barrage started to fall in earnest.
“Out! Out! Out!” Yelled Bill urging them through the courtyard and towards the raised road. Ruben and the other man, Chen, each had a shoulder under Stewart's arms and carried her through the explosions until they reached the marginal safety under the street. Javier shot the only zombie they saw along the way, a tall African American zombie dressed up in gold chains and a long basketball jersey. Once that weak opposition was taken care of the group made their way to the chain link fence separating them from the rail line.
“Can you stand Max?”
“Yeah. I am okay. Thanks.” said Max letting go of his friend. Bill turned to the fence and took out his combat knife, reversing it he caught the links on the back of the knife and pulled downward sharply, the wire of the fence parted quickly. Ruben looked on dumbfounded, then over to Max, who shrugged his shoulders.
“Go, get down there and start heading east away from here, keep the wall next to your right arm and let's hope none of the bombs drop to the left of us.” Bill said once the hole in the fence was wide enough to pass through.
Max went down first, followed by Bill, the two of them then took Stewart from Chen and Ruben, it was a surprise to them when Stewart tried to stand up. She was unsteady on her feet and one of her eyes was glued shut with blood, but she managed a half smile as she saw Max was holding her. “Hi!” she said, “What is going on?”
“Shh...” Max started.
“You got her? She isn't the only one hurt.”
“Yeah, I will start off you, catch up.”
“Keep your gun handy.”
Max shook his head, “No need. There isn't anything up ahead.”
“Good, go,” said Bill, turning to help Chen down from the park to the level of the rail bed, a short distance of about three feet.
Max started stumbling forward while Stewart asked him how he was and what happened again. The others were still faster than he was and caught up with him after only fifteen or twenty seconds.
“This should be far enough,” said Bill as the bombs reached a crescendo behind them.
Turning they looked back as the street they had been hiding under disappeared under a dense cloud of dust.
“Well, maybe we should go a little farther...” Bill began.
“The boats sarge! We need to get to the boats. Like we planned.” said Javier.
Nodding Bill said, “Yeah, good idea, while they are all distracted.” He led the group across three sets of rail lines to the concrete embankment on the other side, where once again he quickly made a hole for them to pass through.
As he helped Stewart through the fence, Max heard her ask, “Did we win? Did we win Max?”
“I think so Stewart. Yeah, I think we got him.”
“Good Max, that is real good.” She stood up, took a couple of steps with Bill's assistance then lurched sideways to the ground where she lay still.
“Stewart!” Max yelled, pulling himself through the fence. He rushed to Stewart's side and rolled her onto her back. She was still conscious, but just barely.
“What happened?” she asked, her voice slurring slightly.
“You fell over!” said Max as he checked the bandages on her head and looked her over. “Are you okay?”
“Sure. Fine...if I can...” and she slipped into unconsciousness.
Bill knelt down opposite of Max, with Stewart between them, “Well?”
“I don't know. She is out.”
“It is the head injury. Her skull is busted in, she shouldn't be walking around.” said Ruben, “Not that I am a doctor or anything.”
“Can we move her?” asked Javier.
“Leave her,” put in Chen, the rest of them looked at him until he looked away, “Look we gotta get moving. Max, where are the zombies?”
Max paused for a moment then said, “Behind us, a lot of them seem to be staying still, maybe buried under the rubble of the buildings. There are a bunch that way too.” He waved his hands to the north of them.
“Great. Isn't that where the boats are?” asked Javier.
Bill nodded. “Well, we will skirt around one edge. Chen can you manage on your own?”
“Not too well. If I had a crutch, I would do better.”
“We'll work on that. Max are there fewer zombies to the east or west?”
“That is good the boats are kind of that direction too. Now that the bombs have stopped do we take our chances on the streets or duck back down and follow the railroad tracks?”
“Through the smoke? That would be crazy.” said Chen, eying the impenetrable cloud behind them warily.
“Maybe, but we would get clear of the dust in a couple of blocks then head straight north to the harbor. Max, can you sense anything along the tracks?”
“Well, it isn't really a precise ability. I can only sense them, it isn't like I can see a map or anything overlaying where they are. But when I look where the tracks are going I don't sense anyone in the cloud.”
“It is a straight shot, so I suggest we go for it. It won't be clear for long, I bet those zombies will start wandering around again soon enough.”
Bill turned and passed through the break in the fence, dropping down onto the railroad tracks, where he turned and waited for the others to follow.
“Don't we even get to vote on it?” whined Chen.
Ruben chuckled, “A Sergeant's 'suggestion' is the same as an order private. Let's get going. Javier, help Max out with Stewart. Chen I will help you down. C'mon.”
Once they were back into the trench that held the railroad tracks they made good time getting into the dust. The men wrapped camouflaged bandannas around their faces to keep out the dust. Max got one wrapped around Stewart's face too, he pulled it up over her eyes, which made her look all too much like a corpse to him. He was sure they had traveled back to a point where the art center was once again beside them when a huge explosion went off to their right. All of the men dropped down between the rails, Javier and Max dumped Stewart between them and each held one arm over her neck and head while the bombs continued to rain down. This bombardment seemed to last forever to Max, every time he thought it was over another explosion would go off and more debris would fly over his head. Dirt and pieces of rock were pouring down on them like a heavy rain. In his gut Max started to worry about heavier debris, when he lifted his head to see if he could spot better cover he saw a semi-tractor crash down ten yards behind them. The windshield was strangely intact and it landed upright. One of the massive front tires broke off and flew through the metal wheel well and came bouncing their direction. Max ducked and screamed at the same time as the tire missed his head by inches then bounced up and out of his sight. After that he buried his face in the dirt and found himself praying, something Sarah would have been proud of. He could see her in his mind, arms crossed and an amused look on her face. “So this is all it took to get you to accept God? If I had known being in the middle of a field of explosions would do that I might have arranged for it to happen while I was still alive.”
“Oh yeah? I don't think that even you could have arranged that.” Max said to his dead wife.
“Don't rule out my determination buster. Father O'Maly said you would find something that would bring you around someday.”
“You spoke to Father O'Maly about my faith?”
“You didn't think we just talked about our brownie recipes at all those bake sales did you?” Sarah snorted in amusement, “It was always the women, and that one guy Bob, lamenting about how their spouses didn't seem to 'get' it. That their partners needed to do more than pay lip service to the Lord. Look at you now. You are about to swear to follow his laws if he will just get you out of this mess alive. Maybe if you had been more faithful to begin with this wouldn't have happened.”
“Geez. And this is coming from a dead woman who was killed by Satan's zombies?”
“I died faithful. I am in heaven awaiting you, don't knock the Lord's ways.”
“We can talk about it when I get there I guess.”
“If you get here.”
“Touché. Why can't I even win a fight with you now? I mean you are dead and all. This whole conversation is in my mind...”
“Am I? You better thank God for seeing you through this. And don't forget your promise.”
Max thought about the promise he had made his dying wife that he would raise the kids in religion, sighing he said, “Yeah about that...”
“I will follow through as best I can. I am just really sorry we left you there.”
“You left me there? Well, I guess you couldn't take me with you...”
“Well....you sort of turned into a zombie and tried to kill me.”
“Did you...did you finish me off? I wouldn't want to be running around eating people.”
“Sorry...I didn't get the chance, you kind of pushed me out of the attic. We barely got the access closed before you got down.”
“I hope the kids didn't see.”
“No, they were all...you know I am having problems breathing..Not feeling so good.”
“Max! Max!” Sarah's voice called after him as he faded into blackness.