The army engineers showed up at Bill's position at five in the morning. He and his men had been running on adrenaline and caffeine as they held the railroad bridge through the night against the zombies. Now the eastern sky was just getting lighter and they had to provide cover fire for the engineers as they set demolition charges on the bridge.
“It is going to be effective?” Ruben asked Bill as the two of them stood on the bridge, shooting slow zombies that were still attempting to cross.
Bill shook his head, “I would guess not. But my opinion matters as much as yours. I don't think zombies breathe, all this means is we will have to watch the entire river bank instead of focusing on the bridges.”
The zombies tended to gather at the roads and railway lines and then surge across any bridges that they encountered. They did not, as far as Bill and his men could see, willingly go into the river to try and cross. Bill's fear was that once the bridges were down the zombies would start to cross everywhere.
“Maybe,” said Ruben, the two had been debating the pros and cons of blowing the bridge for the last hour after the engineers had told them what they planned to do. Four of the squad were up on the bridge, the other five were taking a two-hour break to try and get a little sleep. Bill didn't think anyone would be able to sleep with the constant rifle fire interspersed with the occasional explosion, but he was wrong, the five laying on the railway bed behind him were out cold.
The zombies had stopped coming over in mass now, they seemed to be accumulating on the far end of the bridge, then coming over as a group. Bill didn't like this, it was as if they were getting organized. The rifle fire from the athletics fields continued and Bill was waiting for reinforcements to push across the bridge and go to the other squad's aid. So far word had come down for him to hold his position.
“Are you going to go after your boy?”
Bill nodded, “I will.”
“Even if we are told to fall back?”
“Yes. Not just for him. That is our squad out there. Eleven guys wanting someone to save them. We will go get them and bring them back.”
“I know I would appreciate that. Besides what kind of father would you be if you didn't go?”
“I'll need some people to stay and hold the bridge.”
“You think I am too slow.”
With some reluctance Bill nodded, he found himself reluctant to lie to the old man, “You are too slow.”
“I got the radio back.”
“I didn't say you couldn't go fast in short bursts when you needed to. I would rather have you with me, the fact remains that I can't leave the guys here without some sort of authority figure, and like it or not Corporal, you are second in command. Who do you want with you?”
“Dan, Kirk and Larry.” Ruben had just named the other old guys in the squad, which Bill had expected.
“That figures; you saddled me with all the young guys.”
“Us old, slow guys gotta stick together. When do you want to go?”
“As soon as the sun is up. The darkness only helps the zombies, if we can see them, we can get around them.”
“You better bring a lot of ammo, extra grenades and maybe the medical kit. Those guys down there have got to be almost out of bullets by now.”
Bill's squad had been resupplied with an old army truck when he called in for help, the army provided bullets, a light machine gun and a quarter ton of ammunition. The driver had tossed the keys to Bill and gotten in the next truck in the convoy, so the squad didn't even benefit from one extra rifleman. The machine gun worked brilliantly right up until it jammed, even Ruben couldn't get the thing to work, he admitted it was a newer gun than the kind he was familiar with and he thought maybe the firing pin was broken. The six extra rifles were appreciated too, they already were using three of them to replace the ones that had been broken or lost yesterday.
Looking at the glow to the east Ruben said, “You better go take twenty sarge. You've been up as long as us and a twenty minute nap is better than nothing. I won't let you oversleep, as soon as it is light enough I will boot your ass and get you moving.”
“Don't let them blow the bridge.”
“I won't. We got guys on the other side.”
Bill trudged down the track and laid at one end of his squad, certain he would not fall asleep on the rough stone and cross ties of the railroad. When Ruben shook him awake, it was light out with the sun just above the horizon chasing off the darkness. Bill checked his watch and noted that close to thirty minutes had passed, he did not want to get up.
“You good to go?”
“Yeah, I am up. What's happened?”
Ruben handed him a hot mug of coffee, “Locals brought us some grub. Careful it is hot!”
Bill sat up and gingerly sipped at the closed travel mug, “Good, very sweet.” he said, making a face.
Ruben stood and then lowered a hand to pull Bill to his feet. “You need the calories so I dumped a half a cup of sugar in. All we have is power bars for breakfast. Eat two or three. More if you can.” he said, pushing half a dozen bars into Bill's other hand.
Looking around Bill noticed something different, “Where are the engineering guys?”
“They left about fifteen minutes ago. Left us the detonator for when the orders came down. I've been on the horn with the Lieutenant, there is going to be an air strike on the other side in about five minutes. That will be something to see.”
“We'll go over right after that. Unless you've heard back from the Lieutenant?”
Ruben shook his head, “He is busy, told me to hold here and that if we could press across to recover the other squad we should do so.”
“I knew we should have left them the radio.” The other squad's radio had never worked reliably, even during training it had been shorting on and off, but they didn't have a replacement. The squad's suggestion that the radio be replaced with a cell phone was shot down without comment, although everyone believed it was to control information about the fighting.
“Well then we wouldn't... Fuck!” Ruben yelled as he seemed to lower himself to the ground in slow motion, reaching out and pulling Bill with him. A split second later a massive explosion tore through Bill's eardrums. Climbing to his feet he watched as his men on the edge of the bridge were engulfed in dust and debris.
Ears ringing Bill tried to say something to Ruben, who shook his head and mouthed something back at him. A moment later after he climbed back to his feet and helped Ruben up his ears started to ring, working his jaw open and closed as he saw Ruben doing slowly brought the ringing sound to a dull roar, through which he could hear the quiet whispers of his men cursing. They weren't actually swearing quietly, Bill discovered this as he tried out a few profanities of his own, his ears just were not working yet. Ruben leaned in close and yelled, “That is about like I remember air strikes; Never on time or where you wanted them.”
“I didn't even see the planes!” Bill yelled back.
“You're not supposed to. They go fast, remember? Plus with all these trees around us, we only would have spotted them if they came up or down the river. We better check on the boys, that was awful close.”
Bill and Ruben stumbled into the dust to round up their men. They started first with Jerome and Dan, who had been sleeping next to their feet. Both men were awake and Jerome was sporting a fresh wet spot in the crotch of his trousers. They left him in the care of Dan and headed to the bridge, the other squadmates were all there and unwounded with the exception of Javier, who had been hit by a piece of debris from the explosion, it had nicked the side of his head, cutting long, shallow gash just above his ear that was bleeding profusely. His squad buddy, Matt was already getting ready to put a bandage on the wound, Ruben stopped to assist him while Bill made sure the rest of the men were okay. By the time Jerome and Dan came up to the bridge Javier was bandaged and the dust had settled enough to allow them to see the far bank across the river.
“Where are the trees man?” Javier asked.
“No, where are the zombies?” Matt said, with a laugh, “I guess we need a few more runs like that to clear them all out for good.
“Listen.” Ruben said, straining to hear the pop-pop-pop of gunfire. “Sounds like they still have problems across the way.”
“Yeah, the fields over there didn't get hit. But the bridge did, look at it!” said Javier pointing. The squad had been walking forward along the bridge to assess the situation and damage better. Ahead of them the entire right side of the bridge was just gone. The twisted rail on that side had not fallen in, it spanned the hole alone and forlorn.
“Can we still get over it?” Matt asked, looking at the hole where gravel and dirt were still falling into the river far below.
“I think so, if we keep to the left hand side and hug the railing.” Bill answered. “We better go try and help those guys now. Vic, Jerome, Matt and Javier you come with me. Kirk, Larry, Dan and Ruben, you stay here and keep any zombies that lived from coming over the bridge. Lets go grab ammo and one of the spare rifles to take with us. I want to get out of here before the zombies come back.”
Before the men had a chance to recover or protest Bill's orders, Ruben yelled, “Let's move people! Do you want to get caught by them when they come back? Now is the chance to get in there and bring our boys back across the river. Go! Vic, you get the rifle and one of those packs I have sitting by the tracks. No! The other side, by the truck. Jerome, take the second pack and it is your lucky day, grab those three grenades. Matt and Javier, you each get packs too.”
“Why isn't Bill carrying an extra pack?” complained Jerome.
“He is an old man you idiot, he wouldn't be going at all except someone with brains has to go along to make sure you don't screw up. Now more moving and less talking. Vic and Jerome you head out in front, like they taught you in training, Matt and Javier you will be in the second rank, stay about fifteen feet behind the others, all of you get to the bridge and look for a way towards the fields, wait there for Bill, he will be along in a minute. Now go!” The men harried along by Ruben didn't have a chance to protest and Bill could only marvel at the older man's handiwork. His smile disappeared when Ruben turned on him and pointed to another pack, this one sitting in the back of the truck.
“I knew I'd have one too,” he sighed.
“Only officers don't work in this army, it is bad for morale if you don't pull your weight.” Bill hefted the pack, it had to weigh thirty pounds. “You'll thank me for packing it heavy if our buddies need ammo. Yours has three more grenades in it too.” Bill already had two-hand grenades on his belt.
“You packed all this up in a half an hour?”
“Me and Larry yeah, no problem for old hands like us. Each pack also has a canteen of water in it. You better get moving and eat another one of those power bars on the way. You need the food, it will keep you alert.”
“Yes mom!” Bill said with a grin.
“Don't give me that old man! I was retired from fighting before you were even born!”
Bill was able to get around the hole in the bridge with little difficulty, the gravel had fallen away into the water, making it look like a sinkhole more than an old railway bed. Underneath all the gravel was a concrete bridge supporting everything, enough gravel had fallen away to reveal that it was cracked and buckled, but it looked like it would hold for awhile. Reaching his men Bill saw the devastation of the bombs up close for the first time. He let out a long low whistle. There were body parts all over the riverbank where there had formerly been zombies. A few of the things were already creeping back and there were dozens, if not hundreds of slowly squirming zombies moving around on and through the tilled up earth.
“It looks like my dad's garden, just after he got it ready for planting.” Matt said.
Bill nodded, “You ready up ahead?”
“Yeah.” Vic said, smirking when he saw Bill lugging a pack.
“What you think I can't carry my own weight Vic? Watch out for zombie pieces and get us to those fields before any more show up here.”
Bill's words of advice were well heeded as zombies crawled towards them with whatever bits of them were left to move them around. A torso with a head attached, naked, white and dirt-streaked, moaned at them as they walked by, all four of the zombie's limbs were gone, severed neatly close to its body. The thing's flaccid penis was untouched and wiggling like a worm as the zombie flailed around uselessly in a quest to get closer to one of the men and bite him.
Vic led them about two hundred yards upstream before he had to fire at a zombie coming out of the woods towards them. The old woman with bluish white hair was missing part of her jaw and her right arm ended in a bloody stump at the elbow. Her dark skin and black clothing gave Vic quite a start, who thought she resembled a neighbor back in his apartment complex, one quick shot to the head brought her down, but also brought several other zombies running through the brush at them. Bill, Matt and Javier came abreast to Vic and Jerome and began firing as the zombies came at them slowly through the trees.
“We gotta keep moving, lets head to the right and keep pressing forward.” Bill said.
“There are too many, we gotta kill some of them first,” said Vic, firing rapidly.
“No if we stay here we'll get pinned down, our fire is drawing them to us, Jerome, head right, Javier, follow him. Matt you count to fifteen and then you and Vic break off and follow us.” Not waiting to see if the other two would follow or not Bill turned and went after Jerome and Javier. Bill had been playing a hunch that there would be a path by the side of the river. This close to the athletics fields he suspected kids and fishermen would have trampled a path through the trees in their search for fun and fish. Jerome found the path Bill had hoped for and started jogging forward along it, not firing at any zombies for a good three hundred yards. The firing behind them had stopped and when Bill looked back, he saw Matt and Vic coming along behind them. The trees didn't let him see much further back than that and he hoped there were no zombies following Vic.
After moving forward another hundred yards, Jerome stopped at a wider path that looked like it led up into a cleared area, which would probably be the first of many soccer fields. Bill gestured at him to go up, and whispered, “Stop at the edge of the trees, don't let anything see you.”
They worked their way up the path into the dense brush surrounding the edge of the mowed lawn. Sure enough, it was a soccer field and it was empty. From where they were the group could see across four or five fields lengthwise to a mob of zombies that had the concession stand mobbed. Periodically a shot would ring out from the stand and a zombie would fall back to be trampled to the ground. The concession stand had so many bodies around it that the zombies had been able to crawl up onto the roof of the place. Looking at it, Bill said, “Okay we have to make sure not to fire at the building, our bullets will go right through those doors and wooden shutters they have over the serving windows.”
“Look, over there Bill, I mean, uh, Sarge,” said Vic pointing beyond the concession stand towards the baseball diamonds, there was a centralized building with glass window about two stories high looking out over three different fields. In the window facing them was a soldier, frantically waving his arms, in one hand he had a pair of binoculars, in the other was a shirt.
“This means the squad is split in two, maybe more. Let me think a minute here.”
“There are too many of them. We can't kill all of them.” Javier said.
“We aren't leaving them.”
“I didn't say that. But we can't kill them all either. We gotta draw some of them off, they are stupid, like dogs, they come to you if you make a lot of noise.”
“Yeah, true, but we can't lead them here. We need to go around to the other side and lead them away from here. Let's see...” Bill took a small pair of binoculars out of his chest pocket. He scanned the surrounding playing fields and focused in on a building out on the other side of the baseball fields. “See that building way over there?” The younger men nodded, “If we can work our way around to that we could throw a couple of grenades into the crowd from that side, then run back to those other baseball fields, we can climb those little four-foot fences, but it will give the zombies a helluva time. If they follow us over there, the rest of them could get out. Maybe.”
“We don't need five guys to throw a couple of grenades.” Javier pointed out, “I can go, me and Matt can go. Do like you said, then, after we lead those zombies on a chase we can go straight south and get to the railroad tracks again, and head back to Ruben.”
“Good enough, can you work your way over there without being seen?”
Javier looked at the terrain, then nodded and said, “We will just go up the river bank and come around over at that parking lot there, then keep by the trees until we make it to the building. What will you guys do?”
“We will come with you to the parking lot, we'll have a better position there, but still be well north of where you will be at. If everything works out we'll be able to head straight to the baseball field, then to the concession stand, gathering up all the men and getting to Ruben before you do. Refill all your ammo, take a couple spare clips and the grenades, then give us your packs.”
The men transferred the backpacks to the others and then all five of them made their way back down to the river out of sight from the playing fields. They kept close to the river until Javier felt they were in the right spot and crept up to confirm that they had headed far enough north to be near the edge of the parking lot they had scoped out from the other side of the fields. Bill, Vic and Jerome squatted down in the grass and brush beside the parking lot while Javier and Matt ran along the road in an oblique approach to the building, which looked like some sort of grounds keeping shed. Bill watched while the two men looked into the back window of the large shed, then broke it and crawled into the building.
“What the hell are they doing? They will be trapped in the building!” said Jerome.
“Trust Javier, he has a plan, I think. Give them a few minutes. Get ready though, watch for any smart zombies, you know the kind, the ones that move fast, if any come out of that mob we should try and ambush them, they won't be expecting us to be here.”
Bill's patience was rewarded when inside the shed an engine roared to life, the front door of the shed slid up and a large, industrial sized mower pulled out of the building. It was loud and sped out of the open door at a quick pace, heading straight towards the mob of zombies surrounding the building among the baseball fields. The zombies had already turned towards the sound and when they saw the mower's rider even more went after it.
“Where is Matt?”
Bill answered, “There!” A golf cart came rolling out of the building with Matt driving, he had his rifle braced on the small windscreen and shot towards the mob a few times to draw their attention. Javier stopped the mower about fifteen feet away from the first of the zombie, then stood and tossed hand grenades into the crowd. As the explosions blew violent holes in the mob Bill said, “Jerome, Vic, check that zombie on the bleachers, get a bead on him, I think it is a super. Fire when I say so, if we all fire together we have a better chance at taking him out.”
The zombie Bill was pointing towards was a ragged haired, thin man dressed in a red and black flannel shirt. It was watching Javier on the lawn mower, but not moving towards him. “Alright, fire on three. One, two, three!” Bill and Jerome both fired a single shot out of their rifles, but Vic let loose with a barrage of automatic fire. The zombie stood up and jerked around as the shots hit him, one of Vic's slammed him in the head and toppled him over the top of the stands to the asphalt path that ran behind it.
“Fuck, fuck! Sorry sarge! I didn't mean to!”
“Damn it Vic! Duck down, don't let them see us! You got him so I can't be too mad at you.” The three of them slid down further into the ditch out of sight of the zombies.
“I did it, I blew that motherfuckers head off! Did you see how far that is? I am like a sniper.”
“Yeah, our fully automatic sniper. You two stay down here.” Bill slowly crawled up to the top of the ditch to see what was happening. No zombies seemed to be coming their way and he pulled out his binoculars to get a closer look as the undead followed behind the lawn mower and golf cart. “Okay, you two we got another one. It is staying on the side of the building away from Javier and Matt, but I can see her from here. Creep up slow, she isn't looking our way, but I would rather kill her without ever being seen. And for God's sake Vic, put your rifle on single shot!”
The three men got into firing position again and counted down, this time two of the three shots hit the woman, however neither was a killing blow. The zombie looked over at them and then was shot again from behind at close range, the top of her pony-tailed head flew off, with the blond tail trailing in the wind like a kite string as it rose fifteen feet above the baseball fence.
Jerome laughed, “Did you see that? They got her! Her hair, it just flew off!” Two more gunshots rang out from behind the building unseen from their position.
“Now what?” Vic asked.
“You two hunker down again, we will wait for another five minutes for most of these ones to clear out, then make a try for it. I will keep an eye out for any supers running around. Oh and you guys watch our backs and sides.”
The five minutes dragged by for the men, Javier and Matt were out of sight now, having driven along the road towards the town further west of Bill's position.
A hand tugged on Bill's pant leg, “Sarge!” whispered Vic, “Sarge!”
Bill slid down a little and looked at where the younger man was pointing. He saw three small zombies, children really, darting among the trees and low scrub bushes, working their way towards the three men from behind. Two boys and one girl, the boys were wearing summer clothing, both in shorts and one bare-chested. One was wearing a flip flop on his left foot, the other had a red plastic shoe on his right. The girl was dressed in a thick winter coat, she had the hood pulled up and tied down, leaving her the barest of holes to see through. She had on a short white dress that lifted up as she ran, underneath she was wearing tighter black shorts. Of the three only she had a complete set of footwear, converse sneakers. The girl was dark skinned and the boys had deeply tanned skin, but were Caucasian with sandy blond hair. All of them were moving fast.
“Get ready for them! Try for the girl first, she looks to me the most together of all of them.” Vic aimed his rifle and fired at the group, hitting the bare-chested boy in the top of his right shoulder, a spray of blood and bone chips radiated out behind him to coat the other boy's shirt and face. The boy with the bloody face licked his lips as they both ducked further back into the brush.
“Damn it Vic! You fired too soon, they were too far. And I said aim for the girl!”
“I was aiming for the girl!”
“Some sniper.” Jerome said.
“Fuck you! At least I've actually killed one of them so far!”
“Stop it you two, we need to move, no sense making things easier for them by staying in one spot. Grab your packs and follow me.”
Bill grabbed the two packs he was carrying and headed up over the road, making for the shed Javier and Matt had left open. The other two kept pace with him easily and they made it to the shed without any problems. Most of the zombies were gone, but three were wandering aimlessly in front of the shed and there were many stuck inside the baseball fields, unable to get over the low chain linked fences that defined the play areas.
Bill shot two of the zombies as they came around to the front of the shed, Vic killed the other one. There was another mower, another golf cart and various tools in the shed. Bill checked the mower and saw that the key was in the ignition, the same with the golf cart. There was a large wagon in one corner of the shed as well, with a hitch designed to attached to the mower. Bill dropped his packs into the wagon and pulled it out so it the trailer tongue was even with the shed door.
“What are you doing?” asked Vic, nervously eying the zombies trapped behind the fence a dozen yards away.
“They might have people who are hurt, why carry them if we can haul them instead. Watch for the kids with Jerome.” Bill turned back to the lawn mower started and then drove it over to the trailer, where he killed the engine.
Vic started shooting at something unseen by Bill, Jerome went down to one knee and took aim before firing a single shot. Looking smug, he flashed Bill a smile, “Got one of the boys.”
“The other two are in the ditch where we were. You were right Bill, they went right over there.” said Vic, “You need a hand with that?”
“No I got it, put your packs in the wagon, I will be ready to go in a minute.” Bill looked at the mower, trying to figure out if he could get the grass cutting deck off of it. The riding mower he had at home allowed him to drop the deck off quickly and the machine would go faster if it weren't carrying the huge metal mowing mechanism. This one looked like it released the in the same quick manner. Looking closer, he spotted a couple of cotter pins holding the sides of the thing on in the front, in the rear there were two more substantial bars anchoring it to the bottom of the mower. Grabbing a pair of pliers off the workbench in the shed he pulled the front pins out and lowered the deck down, then got to work on detaching it from the back.
“Vic look down the along the road, I think they are moving, we moved, right? So they will too.” said Jerome.
“If they go too far they will get behind the shed where we can't see them!”
“I know, but maybe they will pop up too soon, so be ready!” Jerome said.
The mower deck dropped to the ground and with some effort Bill pulled it out from under the tractor. He was sweating profusely and after wiping his arm across his eyes he was startled to see a zombie woman rushing him through the open doorway. His rifle was in the wagon, too far away before impact. Bill had just enough time to get up from where he was bent over and shout a warning before the zombie slammed into him.
The thing immediately tried to bite him, Bill shoved the pliers towards the zombie's face, trying to put them into her mouth, he missed and the pliers slid into her eye, pushing beside it to lodge in the crevice where her eye met her nose, a clear liquid mixed with blood streamed down his hand as her eye was cut open by the rough edge of the pliers. This didn't stop the woman from biting at Bill if it were not for the leverage of the pliers her mouth would have bitten off the tip of his nose. Vic and Jerome sprang up and came to Bill's aid. Vic clubbed the zombie in the back with his rifle barrel, Jerome went down on one knee and aimed at the woman, who was on top of Bill.
Remembering the wrestling moves he hadn't used in twenty years Bill bucked and tilted sideways as Jerome fired. The bullet clipped the back of the woman's ribcage, then spun sideways and into her torso before exiting her pelvis to hit the ground between Bill's legs a microsecond before that gap was closed by his rolling effort. The woman was young, perhaps seventeen and in good condition, as most of the super zombies seemed to be. She was also very, very strong, her arms, clamped around Bill's shoulders inexorably brought them closer together.
“I will eat you,” the woman whispered, causing Bill to lose his concentration and be pulled a couple of inches closer to her ruined face.
“She talked! She talked!” Bill yelled as adrenaline surged through him again.
“Fuck you girl!” Vic screamed swinging his rifle barrel overhead and smashing the woman on the side of the head. This dazed the girl and Bill was able to pull away enough to let Vic take a shot with his rifle, but when he did so there was an explosion near his hand and he fell backwards screaming. Bill rolled onto his back when Jerome yelled for him to get down. Another shot rang out and Bill felt a damp mist hit the side of his head, then the girls’ hands clenched tightly before letting go of him. Jerome stepped up and fired into the zombie's head again.
Behind Jerome, Bill saw the little zombie boy dart into the shed towards them, followed immediately by the girl, who came right at him. Bill yelled a warning to Jerome, but the young man was not able to get turned around before the boy hit him around the waist, knocking him back a few steps. Bill swept his leg around and took the zombie girl down before she leapt on top of him, then he kicked her repeatedly forcing her underneath the tractor into the space where he had removed the mower deck. He stood up, but when the girl tried to stand she found the tractor was on top of her and had to crawl out and around the other side. Vic was screaming on the ground writhing and clutching the side of his head and face, there was blood everywhere. In the seconds it took for the girl to get under the tractor and stand on the other side Bill turned and picked up the little boy by his ankles. The kid was strong, but still only weighted the same as any nine year old. The boy's head was streaming blood as Bill swung him around to force the little girl back. Jerome turned about and fired into the girl from point blank range, the bullet flew through her chest and ricocheted off of the cement floor, whizzing out of the shed and hitting a fat, bald zombie by the baseball fence in the eye.
The girl screamed and launched herself at Jerome, smashing a foot down on Vic's head as she went. Bill swung the boy around and up, hitting his head on one of the low wooden supports of the shed roof. He made one more spin and tossed the kid out of the shed, aiming for a pile of broken cement. He didn't have time to see if the little zombie was dead again or not as he turned to help Jerome. The younger man had his rifle wedged between himself and the girl, but she had one hand on his throat, it looked like she was wedging her fingers underneath his skin. Blood was staring to seep out from under her fingertips when Bill grabbed her by the head and twisted her violently to one side, a sharp, wet crack sounded as her neck broke. She was not dead again, but started twitching so violently that Bill couldn't hold onto her, the girl fell to the floor and vibrated up and down like a child's windup toy. Bill sat Jerome down on the edge of the wagon and got the first-aid kit out, pulling out bandages while the man tried to keep in his lifeblood. Jerome fell over backwards into the wagon before Bill could get the blood stopped.
“Goddamn it! God damn it!” Bill repeated to himself as he tried in vain to staunch the flow of blood from his soldier. Several minutes had passed when the bleeding finally stopped, Jerome was obviously dead. Turning from the dead soldier Bill looked towards Vic taking a step towards him to help him up. He had thought Vic was not hurt that badly, but the other man too was laying deathly still. “Oh Christ.” Bill said as Jerome started moving again behind him.
As Jerome sat up on the wagon it creaked, alerting Bill to the movement, he whirled to see the man getting up, his face lit up with a smile, thinking he was only mistaken that his soldier had died. The joy died as he noticed the opaque eyes and dead stare of the zombie that had been Jerome. This zombie was not fast, only a shambling shadow of a human. Bill picked Jerome's rifle up from where it lay on the ground and put a bullet through the zombie's head.
“Damn, damn, damn.” Bill watched Vic closely, then knelt to feel for a pulse as he had been taught in the first-aid class the army had given him five days ago. Nothing. And Vic wasn't coming back, either. Checking for wandering zombies outside the shed Bill didn't spot any, the zombie boy's body was not there or anywhere else he could see. Bill turned his attention back to Jerome, rolling the body over to look for bite marks. He recalled the boy's face being bloody as he pulled the kid off of Jerome and sure enough the soldier had been bitten just above the hip where the little beast had grabbed onto him.
“Now what?” Bill said out loud. A shot rang out from the concession stand, seemingly on cue to give him direction on where to go from here. Shaking his head, Bill reloaded both his and Jerome's rifles, putting one in the wagon and bracing the other on the tractor. Vic's rifle was severely damaged, it looked like part of it had blown off and into the man's head when he tried to fire it, so Bill left it there, but he did pull all of the clips of ammunition off of the soldiers along with their id tags before driving the tractor out of the shed.
As he passed under the overhanging roof, he leaned back to try and get more comfortable in the thick plastic seat, when he did so the small zombie leaping onto him from the roof missed and hit the steering wheel of the tractor, bending it until it almost touched the dashboard. A pair of small, scabby legs was thrust into Bill's face, he swept them aside with one arm, but the little boy latched onto the tractor's steering wheel with one small hand. Before the last day Bill may have hesitated, now he just struck the boy's head with his fist repeatedly until, dazed, the zombie fell off and was run over by the tractor's rear wheel. Bill grabbed his rifle from where it was propped up and fired three bullets into the kid as he slowly appeared from under the tractor wheel.
Stopping the tractor Bill looked around for any more immediate threats and when none appeared he sat down the rifle again and used both hands to correct most of the damage to the steering wheel. Starting up he kept his rifle in one hand and steered towards the baseball building with the other. As he drove forward the zombies stuck behind the fences paced him, he noticed that some were going to be able to get out of the pen by bumbling their way through the dugouts on each side, but he didn't plan on sticking around long enough for them to catch him. As he pulled up to the only doorway, he saw at the base of the building Bill cut the engine on the tractor. He immediately heard running footsteps to the left of him and swung the rifle around. Bill held his fire only for a split second, all the time it took him to recognize that the oncoming elderly man was not alive anymore. The old guy was wearing a faded gray shirt with boxing shorts and Bill's shot hit him right in the face smashing through his jaw and spraying pieces of yellow teeth over the ground behind him. The door opened and Bill pointed his rifle that direction.
“Don't shoot! Don't shoot please!” said the pale, bleary-eyed soldier in fatigues as he slowly came through the door with his rifle barrel pointed down at the ground.
Bill looked him over and when no one else came out of the doorway, he asked, “Is there anyone else?”
“No, uh, Sergeant,” said the young man looking at the stripes on Bill's sleeve.
“Where is Sergeant Williams?”
“He got killed when they ambushed us at the concession stand. There are some really fast zombies out there, we weren't expecting that.”
“What about your corporal....” Bill let the sentence drag off as he tried to remember the corporal's name.
“Yeah, Jim, right? Where is he?”
“He got it when we broke out of the concession stand to get here. He turned into one of them, I saw him following the guys with the mower and golf cart.”
“Get on the cart, I'll drive us to the concession stand.”
“There isn't anyone there! Three of the fools wouldn't break out with us and they got mobbed when we left.”
“Then we'll grab their tags and get back across the river.” Bill said as the soldier got onto the wagon behind him. “What is your name son?”
“I'm Bill, ah, I mean 'Sergeant Carson.' You keep a look out and if you see anything we aren't outrunning you let me know or fire at it, or both.”
“There are zombies coming at us from the fields! I only have, like, ten bullets left.”
“The zombies are slow, worry about the fast ones. The packs there in the wagon are full of ammunition. Put in a fresh clip and reload your other ones. I'm going to get us out of here now at top speed, so hold on.”
Barry immediately did as ordered and Bill started the tractor and drove off at full throttle. The tractor was not designed to compete with a passenger vehicle, but it was designed to mow large swathes of grass as quickly as possible, so it could make a respectable twelve to fifteen miles an hour. Even at that slow speed it easily outdistanced the zombies coming towards them from the baseball fields, Bill was a little less tense as they drove out of the tight confines between the fences and bleachers and onto the open soccer fields. There were still thirty or forty zombies around and on top of the concession stand. Bill halted the tractor fifty feet from the building, cut the engine and said, “Barry start picking them off, there are not that many, go slow and get the ones closest to us.”
Both men started firing and steadily whittled away at the zombies’ numbers, being careful not to put the building behind any zombies they were firing at. Once they had killed all of the zombies they could get from their current position Bill drove a quarter circle around the building and they took care of the remaining slow moving zombies. The zombies were from a cross section of society; they shot everything from old men and women to zombies as young as ten or twelve years old. Most of them were Caucasian and lightly dressed, a few still bore hideous wounds that were probably the cause of their deaths, but others were riddled with pockmarks of rifle bullets.
“We really need shotguns for this kind of work.” Bill mumbled to himself as he hopped back on the tractor to slowly circle around the building to approach the main door.
The zombies from the baseball fields were about halfway to them when they stopped at the door, which would give them about three to five minutes by Bill's estimation.
“Sarge, more are coming in from the trees. That is what happened last time. How we got stuck here.”
“Barry we will be here less than three minutes, then we are driving out of here as fast as the tractor can take us,” speaking loudly in the direct of the concession stand Bill said, “Anyone alive in there?” He walked over to the door and had to step on the bodies of the dead to get there, they were not laying next to each other, there were too many of them, they had piled up around the doorway to a depth of two to three feet. Bill kept a close eye on the bodies he was stepping on, to make sure they would not start moving. Pounding on the door he said, “Open up!”
A weak voice replied, “Hold on.” Then there were sounds of stuff being removed from behind the door. Finally, the door opened a crack and a dirty face looked out at him.
“Who are you?”
“Sergeant Carson, I've come to get you out of here.”
The door opened wider and Bill was able to see into the room a little better. The smell that hit him reminded him of a sewer and butcher shop combine, a slightly sweet, rotting smell.
“Phew, get out of there private and bring anyone else you have with you too.”
“It is just me and Joe now. The others are gone.”
“What is your name?'
“Glen Edwards,” the young man said dully.
“Get out of there Glen, now, and bring Joe with you.”
Glen turned and stumbled into the dimly lit interior then reached down and helped another man to his feet. Bill thought the other man might be wounded, but he did not appear to be, neither man picked up their rifles as they made their way to the doorway.
“No!” screamed Glen as he caught sight of the zombies slowly approaching from the baseball fields. If Bill had not been there to catch the door, the other man would have slammed it shut.
“Out! Now!” Shouted Bill into Glen's face. He grabbed the man by the shirt at the shoulder and pulled him out of the doorway, then pushed him towards the tractor, which was about thirty feet away from the door. Bill treated Joe with no more delicacy than he had Glen and soon both men were falling and stumbling over the dead to reach the tractor.
“C'mon sarge! We gotta go!” yelled Barry after getting the other two loaded up.
“You hold tight! I gotta go get the tags off the dead.” after saying that Bill ducked inside, pulling out his penlight as he did so. Walking around the small building, he kept repeating 'Please, please, please!' to himself, hoping not to find John's body among those on the floor. There were only four bodies, three soldiers and one civilian and Bill was happy to see that John was not one of them. He grabbed the tags off of the soldiers and picked up the three rifles that were sitting on the counter not too far from the doorway, then got out of the building.
Outside Barry and Joe were restraining Glen, who was yelling and spitting at the other two, his screams were incoherent, but served to draw even more zombies towards them. Bill made his way to them and slapped the young man across the face, “Shut up Glen!”
The slap did nothing to the man except make him struggle more. Reluctantly Bill used more force to get the man to quiet down. A punch in the stomach quenched the screams long enough for Bill's words to get through to the man, “Shut up so I can drive us out of here if you scream more of them will come. So shut up!”
All of the soldiers were looking at him, “Now sit down, Barry, Joe make sure your rifles are ready and fire at any zombies who get close, Barry you aim towards the front and right side, Joe, you aim towards the left and back.”
“What about me?” asked Glen weakly.
“You keep your goddamn pie hole shut and stop making problems. I came here to get you out, not to get killed.”
Bill jumped back on the tractor and sped off towards the access road that William's squad had cut through on their way to the athletic park only sixteen hours before. The road was little better than a four-wheel drive muddy lane, but the tractor had no trouble getting through the notch cut in the trees. When he reached the railroad grade he angled sideways and the tractor almost tipped over, somehow he wrestled it back into balance and shot up onto the rough gravel rocks that made up track bed. The men in the wagon fired their rifles at any zombies who got close to them, but the roughness of the ride and their fatigue made most of their shots wild and inaccurate. In minutes Bill had the tractor to the bombed out section in front of the bridge, he gunned the engine and hopped for the best as he hit the rough terrain. A cry went up from the wagon behind him, but he couldn't slow down or he risked stalling, when he finally fought the machine up to more level ground he stopped and looked back. Joe had fallen off the wagon and was rolling around in the dirt, clutching his leg. Bill put the tractor in neutral and hopped off of it. Zombies and pieces of zombies immediately made the landscape come alive, it was like the ground was moving and Joe was in the middle of them.
“Barry, you stay here and cover me. Glen stay in the wagon. I am going to get Joe. Bill ran back the twenty yards to the fallen man whose lower leg was twisted sideways and bent in a spot that didn't correspond to human anatomy. Reaching down Bill pulled the man up and said, “Sorry Joe, it was a rough ride, this is gonna hurt, but we are almost there.”
Rifle shots whizzed by the men as Barry fired at something behind them. Bill watched as Glen crawled out of the wagon onto the tractor seat.
“Get Glen off the tractor! Don't let him drive on the bridge!”
Barry shook his head and kept firing behind the men, finally Bill heard a meaty thunk of a bullet hitting flesh, from what sounded like only a few feet behind him. Barry then turned and tried to stop Glen from driving the tractor forward onto the bridge. From across the other side Bill saw Ruben and a couple of other men from the squad making their way across the bridge with their rifles. Barry barely grabbed the back of the wagon as Glen started driving forward, then was carried along dragging on the ground for a couple of seconds before he rolled free. When the tractor jerked forward Joe too was thrown out onto the ground from the kneeling position he had taken in the wagon. One of the pack straps was wrapped around his leg and it got caught on the end of the wagon, dragging him along. Ruben and his men were waving Glen to stop driving the tractor forward, but the man didn't notice or didn't care, he drove it right into the crater in the bridge. As the tractor drove over the edge, Joe pulled out a knife and slashed at the backpack holding him to the wagon, the strap didn't give and the man turned over onto his belly and plunged the knife into the rocky gravel, trying to gain some traction and not be dragged into the hole.
The tractor had been heading parallel to the tracks on the left hand side, Bill had not been able to steer it towards the less damaged right side, when it hit the sink hole Glen screamed and jumped from the tractor as it fell, he managed to catch hold of the twisted rail that was left hanging over the opening. Joe's knife finally got purchase on a wooden rail tie right before he was pulled through the hole, the pack strap, weakened by his earlier slash, ripped free. Joe, legs and feet hanging over the opening, lay on his belly panting in exhaustion. The tractor was heavy and the momentum it had caused it to hit the opposite side of the crater before it fell and disappeared through the bottom of the bridge. As it struck the concrete going down the entire bridge vibrated so badly that everyone on it stopped in their tracks. Worse yet the tractor bounced right, careening into and through the shattered cement that made up the remaining base of the bridge, dust and gravel flew everywhere momentarily obscuring Bill's view of Ruben, then the bridge shuddered again and creaked ominously.
Dragging Barry along with him Bill approached the hole, where Glen was still holding onto the swaying rail with his feet dangling sixty feet above the river below. With Barry on his one arm, Bill reached down with his other hand to pull Joe up and onto firmer ground. In the river under the hole, Bill could see the tractor sitting in water that looked to be about two feet deep. The backpack that Joe had slashed was sitting on his side of the hole, caught up on some reinforcing pipe the stuck out at an angle from the concrete. The section of the bridge they were on was still shifting dangerously. Bill eyed the remaining bit of bridge that was still present, then looked back at the zombies that were behind them.
“We gotta get across here.”
“I'm done.” Joe said flatly, and he looked very bad, the lack of rest had taken a toll on him and Bill didn't know how the man was still standing.
“No. You are not. You go first. You weigh less than Barry and I, so you have a better chance of making it. Watch for the loose gravel.”
“Sarge. I can't make it, I can't hardly stand.”
“Then crawl, but you go.” Calling out to Ruben Bill yelled, “Get up here and help him!”
“I'm getting there. You two fire at the close ones.” Ruben said to the soldiers he had brought with him. Both started firing methodically at the zombies moving towards Bill and the other two.
“What about me! Help me!” cried Glen, “I can't hold on much longer!”
“Glen, we can't do anything for you, you have to climb over yourself, just use your hands and slide over slowly.” Bill said.
Glen put one hand forward and grabbed at the rail, his hand missed and he swung violently down and off balance, his other fingers slipped from the rail and he fell, screaming into the river below. It happened so fast Bill didn't even have time to react, the soldier hit with a shallow splash and his screaming redoubled. Peeking into the hole Bill saw the Glen in water about two feet deep thrashing around. The man had just missed the tractor and wagon, but that didn't make his fall any less devastating. Glen could not seem to keep himself above the water and his voice came out as a constant incoherent scream when his head rose above the surface.
“Here!” shouted Ruben, focusing Bill back to the task on hand, “Worry about private dumbfuck later, we need to get you across.”
Perhaps seeing Glen fall motivated Joe or maybe he just found the very last bit of energy inside of him, either way he crawled forward onto the gravel strewn concrete to make his way across to Ruben. A few pieces of concrete flaked off and a lot more gravel fell through the hole, peppering Glen below. The man's screaming could not get any louder, but it changed pitch as each chunk of gravel hit him. Bill slid Barry down the gravel incline towards the cement base, standing on his good leg Barry braced himself against the crumbling side of the bridge and then tilted over towards Ruben's outstretched hand. He started to fall and Ruben hopped halfway down the slope to catch the wounded man's arm, he pulled the man up the slope and with a few muffled moans of his own Barry was safe.
Bill looked at the hole in the bridge, at the remaining slender ledge with twisted support wire sticking out of it and then back at the zombies behind him. There was no need to rush things, he had a minute to catch is breath. Down below in the river Glen's screaming had attracted unwanted attention, three zombies were stumbling through the water to his position.
“Shit.” Bill said, looking down.
“Shit,” echoed Ruben when he saw what Bill was looking at. “I wouldn't want to be eaten to death.”
“No rope?” Bill asked hopefully.
Ruben just looked at him and frowned, then shook his head. The bridge shuddered again.
“With all due respect Sergeant. I think you better get over here.”
“Did Javier and Matt make it back?”
“Yeah. About five minutes before you did.”
“What happened to their tractor?”
“What tractor? They came back on foot.”
“Yeah, think light thoughts.”
Taking Ruben's advice Bill smiled and started across the ledge saying, “I am a cloud, a balloon, a...” and the concrete he was standing on fell out from underneath him.