Katie was standing mauled and naked in the rubble; her fingers were broken, twisted things that resembled wriggling worms more than flanges. She shifted the rocks away from the street, just one zombie in a seemingly endless line, clearing out pieces of broken concrete and the odd corpse or broken bit of office furniture from the collapsed building. Two zombies, their eyes glaring at her in intense hatred, carried a squirming man dressed in cut off shorts and a t-shirt towards her from the end of the line. The two stopped in front of her and held the man steady while Katie tore into him. With each bite she healed, with each swallow her mind came back and she remembered what she was and the details of her fight with the zombie on the roof. She remembered she had been bitten several times by the zombie during the fight before the first shell landed on the roof.
Katie pulled away from the dying man, remembering enough to be disgusted and reject this unlife she had been gifted. ‘Eat. Eat and forget.’ Came the persistent voice inside her head.
Aubrey. The woman was buried in the rubble that Katie was clearing. The woman wanted Katie, wanted her functional. At first Katie thought it was for revenge, Katie had throat shot the woman and killed her partner Harry too. When Aubrey was finally revealed, a compact, ragged figure, so covered with dust that she resembled the concrete that was found covering her, revenge seemed imminent. The woman had sent Katie to stand inside one of the other downtown buildings, along with hundreds of other zombies. Katie thought maybe she would just end up being another wheel on the cog, forgotten.
But the living kept arriving like clockwork, a child here, someone old enough to be her grandparent there. All for Katie, all a constant reminder that she was not forgotten. The zombies around her were mindless dead, and stared only at the victims hungrily, held in check from ripping them apart only by Aubrey’s will. The ones bringing her the food knew, they knew, but could not talk to her, just as Katie herself was compelled to remain silent as they held the victims in place.
Days went by, the feeding continued and Katie grew stronger. As much as the process disgusted her, she had hopes that Aubrey would go too far, that the woman would overfeed Katie and make her strong enough to break free from the bitch’s shackles. Eventually Katie tried; she shrugged off the other woman and managed to race almost three steps before Aubrey’s will re-asserted itself.
Soon after she was summoned to Aubrey’s presence, what she saw along the way was not comforting. There were zombies that were very clearly not right. They looked like the intelligent kind, the fast ones who could talk, however, most were babbling incoherently. One was reciting what sounded like the Gettysburg address while walking into a wall. It would fall over, get back up, say another line from that historical document and walk into the wall again and then it would start over. Others were crying, one was using a piece of glass to cut its wrists to the bone. The wounds healed quickly, but not before spilling a black mess out of his veins, he had been at it a long time, given the size stain on the ground beneath him. Aubrey was not in a conference room, she held court in an empty street, surrounded by other super zombies.
The memories faded out and Katie found herself back in the pizza parlor. ‘Now what was that daydream all about?’
“Katie, when did you last eat?” Randy asked her again. She looked around to see him standing beside her.
“Randy! Good to see you…” Katie faltered.
“You’re dead Katie, you need to remember. Tell me what happened.”
“I...” Katie’s world disappeared again, the pizza place fading in and out, with only Randy remaining beside her, a steady beacon, an anchor in the swirling chaos of time, places and memories.
Back on the street in Chicago Aubrey gestured behind Katie at the insane zombies, “I’ve been experimenting and I think I just about have this down. I need to act now. It’s sooner than I would like, but we can’t always choose when to do what must be done, wouldn’t you agree.”
“I shot you.”
“Yes, very observant. I survived and you did too, in a fashion. I need you and I will have you. How would you like to kill the man responsible for all of this? Isn’t that better than just taking out a couple of his leaders?” Aubrey asked.
Katie shook her head, “You killed Randy. I’ll kill you, I swear I will, if it’s the last thing I do.”
“I’ve killed a lot of people; it wasn’t personal, but you almost got me, it if that is any consolation.”
Katie remembered struggling, pitting her will against that of Aubrey, she was like a kitten fighting against and elephant.
“I see we’ll have to do this the hard way. Well, that is what I’ve been practicing for. Now I’ve learned that what is taken away can never be restored, but I’ve also been trying some things to work around that problem. You might think I am just shaping you to be a tool that I never think about again, and truth be told if you accomplish what I need, the end would justify the means. However, my tests have proven that I am more of a mechanic than a surgeon. I lack the finesse of wiping out vast swaths of your memory and replacing them with my directions and I need your skills and abilities as intact as I can have them.”
“I will kill you.” Katie ground out between clenched jaws.
“Yes, yes, we’ll get to that later. First things first. You’re alive. You never died. You will forget all of this until I tell you otherwise.” Aubrey said the words and Katie felt the changes in her head. The woman was inside her head, moving things around. She wasn’t removing things, she was putting instruction in Katie’s brain of what to remember. Katie screamed, raising her head to glare up at the shattered windows of the office building on one side of the street. That was when she saw Randy.
He looked serene, a link to her past and, thankfully, he was not a zombie. Katie was sure of this. “Shoot me! Kill me Randy! Shoot me!” Katie begged.
Aubrey paused in her work, “Randy?” the woman looked closer into Katie’s head, “Ah, your partner. You’re lover. Naughty-naughty, you know the rules against what you did! You were a cold, standoffish bitch to him weren’t you? Just a friend with benefits?” Aubrey snorted, “Well I think you did a pretty good job of deluding yourself there, didn’t you?” She turned back to her work.
Randy stepped out of the building and approached Katie’s side, holding out a hand and shaking his head quietly, finger held to his lips, his voice, a bare whisper said, “Don’t speak. I don’t know everything, but I can keep part of you, for a little while. I can come with you. I can help.”
Katie screamed again and yelled, “Yes! Yes!”
Aubrey, misunderstood Katie’s outburst, she nodded her approval, “It is better if you just accept it. After this we’ll work on hiding yourself from our kind. I think you will be the best pupil yet. I have a whole slew of mission objectives for you, don’t worry; we’ll get through this.”
The memories faded again to the present where Randy’s arms encircled her in the restaurant, holding her tightly. She quickly composed herself and tried to pull away. He held onto to her.
“All done?” he asked.
Katie relaxed and leaned back. Randy wasn’t real, she had nothing to pull away from. “I’m missing large chunks of memory.”
“I was too. Whatever Aubrey did to you almost affected me. I’ve been a little off ever since you started heading south. I knew something was wrong, I knew I had to provoke you to figure it out, but I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Randy’s soft laughter echoed in the deserted shop. “So are you.”
“But you’re not a zombie.”
“No. I guess I just wasn’t finished here yet.”
“So, you’re a ghost?”
“Listen, Katie, I don’t know what to think. I suppose ‘ghost’ covers it, well enough, but I think we have to make a decision about some things and we have to act fast. Do you remember the old guy who was just here?”
“Good. I don’t think he is alone. I think the man who started this mess is across the street and we might have a chance at taking him out.” Randy said.
“Why bother?” Katie asked bitterly, “I’m on his team now.”
“He killed me. He killed you. He killed the entire world. I’d like a little payback.”
“Again, what’s the point?”
“Where the hell is the old Katie? We hate these things we want to send them back to the grave. Nothing has changed.”
Katie snorted and wiped her arm across her eyes, “Except we’re dead. I find this whole thing pretty goddamned pointless now. God I just want to throw up. But I know I can’t. If you want this guy so much, you go after him.”
“I doubt my ability to press keys on a laptop will impress him much. But a bullet in his brain would be nice.”
“If he doesn’t stop us first.” Katie said, “Aubrey controlled me like a puppet on a string. And this dude was her boss.”
“I don’t think he knows you’re here.”
“How can that be?”
“I…well if he knew you were sitting outside his evil lair, I think you’d be dead by now. Dead again, I mean. I think Aubrey did something to you to keep you below his radar.”
“If she could make me go below his radar, that means she could do the same thing. So…she might be there too. I could kill her.”
“After killing him.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“I think there are two revenges to get here, one for humanity, one for you. Which is more important?”
“Damn it, Randy! You’ll always be a soldier, won’t you?”
“This we’ll defend.” Randy answered, quoting the Army service motto.
“I hope you like it cold.”
Katie laughed, “Okay. You win, again. But I am saving a bullet for when I run into that bitch Aubrey.”
Katie rolled over onto her hands and knees, the memories still spinning in her head made her pause for a moment.
“You okay? I thought you said you were okay?”
“Gimme a minute.”
“You might not have it.” Randy said, he was staring out the window.
“What? What do you see?”
“Your good friend Aubrey has arrived, and she brought help, it looks like.”
Katie pulled herself up to the low window, no longer too concerned about avoiding the eyes of the zombies across the street. What she saw was amazing. Randy was right, Aubrey was there and she hadn’t come alone. The dark cloud hanging over the clinic continued to pour rain down on the street and it made the fighting all that much more interesting to watch.
The zombies stationed outside the building across the street didn’t seem to notice anything going on at first. Then, as one, they turned towards the attack. One of the people outside the yacht restoration place turned too late to avoid being axed in the head by another zombie, but he did convulsively pull the trigger of his assault rifle and sent a trail of bullets right at Katie, the window shattered inward with the rain and wind.
“Fuck me! That was close!” Katie said, pointing at the bullet holes in the wall behind her.
“Look! The second stringers are all down! Looks like the royal guard is coming out now.” Randy said.
“How can you see anything in this shit?” Katie asked picking up her rifle and hoping that the scope would help her see things more clearly. Putting the rifle to her eye Katie saw the zombies moving so quickly that they looked like a special effects stunt from a movie. Two of the attackers went down under the onslaught, none of the defenders who were left were using guns now, instead they all had clubs or blades of some kind. In a moment Katie knew why, Aubrey’s troops tried to shoot them and they simply stepped out of the way.
The defenders outnumbered the attackers and moved faster and more fluidly than their opponents, the sole exception was Aubrey, she more than matched them for speed and agility. Katie rested her sight on Aubrey’s head, tracking it as best she could. ‘Can she dodge it, if she can’t see it coming?’ Katie wondered.
“Don’t.” Randy cautioned.
“Don’t what?” Katie asked innocently.
“I know you. If you have to shoot, kill one of the ones she is fighting. I think Aubrey could use the help.”
“So you can see what I am doing now? If you ask me there are too goddamned many people in my head.”
Randy shook his head, “No. I just know you. If you’re going to help her you better do it soon, she’s down to three guys against about twenty.”
Katie signed and changed her sight to the men fighting across the street. “I ain’t got shit for a shot here.” She switched her aim away from the men fighting Aubrey to those fighting the most competent of her supporters. When a head popped into view, Katie stroked her trigger. The shot went wide and stuck another defender in the throat.
“Nice,” Randy commented, “Aim for the head. That won’t keep him down long.”
Katie grunted, too embarrassed to tell him she had missed her intended target. She aimed again and her second shot caught the man trying to clobber Aubrey’s boy full in the face. His brains sprayed out onto Aubrey, who Katie swore was smiling. “Yeah, laugh it up bitch. I’ll get you too.”
The fight continued with Katie taking pot shots that slowly turned the tide of the battle. At least until the group of defenders fell back into the building. A zombie shoved one of the wide door closed and obscured the fight from Katie’s sight.
“I’m gonna have to move. I can’t see any targets from here. I thought being dead came with the ability to see through walls?”
“Maybe Aubrey blocked it, so you wouldn’t get suspicious?”
“Her fucking loss then. I’m going across the street and getting under one of those vehicles.” Katie said, pointing at a row of cars that would let her see into the building.
“That’ll only help until they close the other door.”
“I am not going in there.” Katie fished around in her duffel bag for more ammunition to reload the rifle’s magazine, then picked it up and headed out into the rain to cross the street.