Closure, Limited and Other Zombie Stories, Page 2Max Brooks
I shake my head.
Kiersted returns from the cabinet and places a small automatic pistol into my hand. He checks to make sure there is only one round in the chamber, then he steps back, exits the compartment, and closes the hatch behind me.
I centre the laser sight on the subject’s forehead. It lunges at me, rasping and snapping. I pull the trigger.
Steve and Fred
‘There’s too many of them!’ Naomi shrieked, the sound perfectly matching the skidding of the motorcycle’s tyres.
They came to rest just short of the tree-line, the Buell’s engine purring between their legs. Steve’s eyes narrowed as he scanned the outer wall. It wasn’t the zombies that bothered him. The lab’s main gate was blocked. A Humvee had collided with the burned-out hulk of what looked like a semi’s tractor. The trailer must have continued forward, turning over as it slammed into the two vehicles. Bright, ice-like pools shone where fire had melted parts of the aluminum walks. Can’t get in that way. Steve glanced over his shoulder at Naomi. ‘Time to use the service entrance.’
The neuroscientist actually cocked her head. ‘There is one?’
Steve couldn’t help but chuckle. For someone so smart, Naomi sure could be dumb. Steve licked his finger and placed it dramatically in the wind. ‘Let’s find out.’
The lab was completely surrounded. He’d expected that. There had to be, what, a few hundred shuffling and groping at each side of the hexagonal perimeter.
‘I can’t see another gate!’ Naomi shouted over the bike’s roar.
‘We’re not looking for one!’ Steve shouted back.
There! A spot where the living dead had crowded against the wall. Maybe there had been something on the other side: a living survivor, a wounded animal, who knew, who cared. Whatever it was had been tasty enough to entice enough Stinkers to crush some of their buddies against the naked cinderblocks. The pressure had created a solid mass of compressed necrotic flesh, its shallow angle allowing the still-mobile Stinkers to literally walk up it and over the wall.
The ‘ramping’ must have happened at least a few hours ago. The original prey had long since been devoured. Only a few ghouls now stumbled or crawled over the undead ramp. Some of its parts still moved: a waving arm or a clicking jaw. Steve couldn’t have cared less about them; it was the mobile ones still slouching over them he worried about. Just a few. He nodded imperceptibly. No problem.
Naomi didn’t react when Steve aimed the bike’s nose at the ramp. Only when he gunned the engine did she look straight ahead to his target.
‘Are you—’ she began.
‘Only way in.’
‘That’s crazy!’ she screamed, loosening her grip on his waist as if to leap off the Buell.
Steve’s left hand instinctively shot out, holding her wrist and pulling it to him. Looking back at her terrified gaze, he flashed his signature grin. ‘Trust me.’
Wide-eyed and chalk pale, Naomi could only nod and hug him with all her might. Steve turned back to the ramp, continuing to grin. Okay, Gunny Toombs, this one’s for you!
The Buell took off like a rifle bullet, Hansen leaning into the howling wind. Five hundred yards... four hundred... three... Some of the zombies near the ramp began to notice them, turning and stumbling towards the oncoming crotch rocket. Two hundred yards... one hundred... and now they were massing, grouping into a small but tight swarm blocking the ramp. Without flinching, Steve swung the M4 out of its worn leather scabbard and with eyes still fixed firmly ahead he bit down hard on the weapon’s charging handle. It was a move he’d only tried once before, that night his Harrier had crashed outside Fallujah. The impact had broken one arm and both legs, but not his warrior’s spirit. He’d tried using his teeth to cock the automatic carbine. It’d worked then, and damn if it worked now. The first round clicked reassuringly into the chamber.
No time to aim. He’d have to shoot from the hip. Crack! The closest one’s left eye disappeared, a reddish brown cloud exploding out the back of its head. Steve might have commented on his marksmanship, if only there was time. Crack! Crack! Two more went down, falling like puppets with their strings cut. This time he smiled. Still got it.
The path began to open, but at the blinding speed they were traveling, would it open fast enough? ‘Oh my god!’ Naomi screamed.
With barely half a dozen bike lengths to go before they hit the ramp, Steve squeezed the M4’s trigger, spraying a fully automatic burst of copper-coated tickets to hell. Kiss Satan for me, Steve thought. Or my ex-wife, whichever you see first.
The carbine clicked on empty just as the last zombie fell, and with a soft crunch and a bang, one hundred and forty-six horses thundered onto the ramp. With the Buell’s wheels tearing up its putrid surface as they went, Steve and Naomi catapulted clear over the fence.
‘OOOH-RAHH!’ Steve shouted, and for just a split second, he was back in the cockpit, shrieking over the Iraqi desert, showering fire and death in a star spangled storm. Unlike the AV-8 jump jet, however, this machine couldn’t be steered once airborne.
The Buell’s front tyre smashed into the parking lot asphalt and skidded on a puddle of human remains. The impact catapulted both from the custom leather saddle. Steve tucked, rolled, and slammed against the tyre of a smashed Prius. The hybrid’s driver, armless, faceless, stared down at him from the open driver’s door. Too bad the ‘save the Earth’ car couldn’t do the same for its owner, he thought.
Steve sprang to his feet. He could see Naomi lying several yards away. She was face down, unmoving. Shit. The bike lay in the exact opposite direction. No way to tell if either of them was alive.
The moans and stench hit him like a one-two punch. He whirled just in time to see the first of the zombie horde begin to slouch towards them. Where the hell was the M4? He’d felt it slip from his grasp as they hit, heard it skitter across the hard surface. It must have gone under a car, but which one? There must have been several hundred vehicles still in the parking lot, which also meant that there must be several hundred undead former owners still on the grounds. No time to worry about that now, and no time to start looking for the weapon. The ghouls, about twenty of them now, advanced slowly towards Naomi’s motionless body.
Steve’s hand first went for the 9mm in his jacket. No. He stopped himself. If the M4 was damaged or lost, his Glock would be their only ballistic weapon. Plus, he thought, his finger’s closing on familiar sharkskin hilt behind his back, it just wouldn’t be fair to Musashi.
SSCHHIING! The ninjatô’s twenty-three-inch blade glinted in the noonday sun, as bright and clear as the day Sensei Yamamoto had presented it to him in Okinawa. ‘Its name is Musashi,’ the old man had explained. ‘The Warrior Spirit. Once drawn, its thirst must be slaked with blood.’ Well, he thought, let’s hope that syrupy crap those Stinkers have in their veins counts.
A zombie loomed in the blade’s reflection. Steve spun, catching it cleanly under the neck. Bone and muscle separated like ice under flame as the still snapping head rolled harmlessly under a torched minivan.
Ground and centre.
Another zombie reached out to grab Steve’s collar. He ducked under its right arm and came up behind its back. Another head went rolling.
Breathe and strike.
A third took Musashi’s blade right through its left eye.
Dodge and swing.
A fourth lost the top of its head. Steve now stood only a few paces from Naomi.
Ground and centre!
A fifth Stinker found its skull cleaved right down the middle.
‘Steve.’ Naomi looked up, voice weak, eyes unfocused. She was alive.
‘I got ya, babe.’ Steve yanked her to her feet, simultaneously slamming Musashi’s blade through the ear of a ghoul slouching between them. He thought about trying to find the M4, but there just wasn’t enough time. Plenty more where we’re going.
‘C’mon!’ Steve pulled her through an encroaching swarm and together they ran to the overturned Buell. When he felt the engine roa
r beneath him—Made in the USA!—he wasn’t surprised. Another roar could also be heard, dull and faint and growing with each passing second. Steve tilted his head to the smoke filled sky. There it was: their ride out of here, a small black speck set against the crimson sun.
‘You call a cab?’ Steve said, smiling at Naomi. For just the briefest of moments, the beautiful egghead smiled back.
They were only a hundred yards from the lab’s open double doors. No problem there. Four flights of stairs. Steve patted the motorcycle. Again, no problem. ‘We just gotta get to the heliport on the...’ Steve trailed off. His eyes locked on someone—no, something. A ghoul was shuffling towards them from behind a smashed SUV. It was short and slow, and even on foot, he and Naomi could have left it in their dust. But Steve wasn’t planning on leaving. Not just yet. ‘Keep the engine running,’ he said, and for once Naomi didn’t question him.
Even with the rotted skin, the dried blood, the lifeless, milk-white eyes, she’d also recognized Theodor Schlozman. ‘Go,’ was all she said.
Steve dismounted the bike and walked slowly, almost casually over to the approaching ghoul.
‘Hey, Doc,’ he said softly, his voice cold as arctic death. ‘Still tryin’ to save Mother Earth from her spoiled children?’
Schlozman’s jaw dropped slowly open. Broken, stained teeth poked through chunks of rotting human flesh. ‘Huuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaa,’ rasped the former Nobel prize-winner, his bloody hands reaching for Steve’s throat.
The Marine let him get almost close enough to touch. ‘As you used to say,’ he smirked, ‘arms are for hugging,’ and swinging Musashi like an honour guard rifle he sliced off Schlozman’s fingers, then hands, then forearms, before leaping into the air and smashing the paleoclimatologist’s head sideways with a roundhouse kick.
The brain that had once been hailed as ‘Evolution’s Crowning Achievement’ exploded from the shattered skull. Still intact, it went spinning towards the Buell, landing with a wet splat right at the base of the front tyre. Touchdown.
The Marine sheathed his assassin’s short sword and walked slowly back to Naomi.
‘We all done?’ she asked.
Steve looked up at the approaching Blackhawk. Five minutes till they hit the roof. Right on time. ‘Just had to take out the trash,’ he answered without looking at her.
He gunned the engine and felt Naomi’s arms grip him tightly around the waist. ‘Back there,’ she said, tilting her head to the spot where he’d rescued her, ‘did you call me ‘Babe’?’
Steve cocked his head in perfect innocence and spoke the only French he would ever want to learn: ‘Moi?’
Steve gunned the engine and the brain of Professor Theodor Emile Schlozman splattered under spinning rubber like an overripe tomato. Steve smirked as the bike thundered towards...
Fred closed the book. He should have stopped several pages back. The pain behind his eyes had now spread to his forehead and down his neck. Most of the time he could ignore the constant headache. Most of the time it was just a dull pulse. The last few days though, it was getting almost debilitating.
He lay flat on his back, his skin sticking to the smooth granite floor. He rested his head on the oily, crusty rag that had once been his T-shirt and tried to focus on the centre of the ceiling. The light fixture above him almost looked like it was on. At this point in the afternoon, sunlight from the small window struck the bulb’s prism glass bowl. Rainbow sparkles, dozens of them, marched beautifully across the cream-colored wallpaper. This was by far his favourite part of the day, and to think he hadn’t even noticed it when he first arrived. It’s the only thing I’ll miss when I get out of here.
And then they were gone. The sun had moved.
He should have thought of that, planned better. If he’d known what time it was going to happen, he could have read up until then. He probably wouldn’t have even gotten such a bad headache. He should have worn a watch. Why didn’t he wear a watch? Stupid. His cell phone always had the time, and date, and... everything. Now his cell phone was dead. How long ago had that happened?
Way to be prepared, asshole.
Fred closed his eyes. He tried to massage his temples. Bad idea. The first upward motion tore the scabs between skin and fingernail stubs. The pain drew a quick hiss. Fuckin’ idiot! He exhaled slowly, trying to calm himself. Remember...
His eyes flicked open. They swept the walls. One hundred seventy-nine, he counted. One hundred and seventy-eight. It still worked. One hundred and seventy-seven.
Counting... recounting, every bloody fist print, foot mark, panicked, frantic forehead indentation. One hundred and seventy-six.
This is what happens when you lose it. Do NOT go there again!
It always worked, although it always seemed to take a little bit longer. The last time he’d counted down to forty-one. This time was thirty-nine.
You deserve a drink.
Getting up was painful. His lower back ached. His knees ached. His thighs and calves and ankles burned a little bit. His head swam. That’s why he’d given up morning stretches. Dizziness was worse than anything. That first time he’d shot up too quickly; the bruise on his face still throbbed from the fall. This time he thought he’d gotten up slowly enough. Thought wrong, moron. Fred dropped back to his knees. That was safer. He kept his head turned to the right; from this angle you always looked to the right! One hand on the rim to steady himself. The other dipped the plastic coke bottle into the reservoir. The water was only a few degrees colder, but was enough to jolt him back to full consciousness. I need to drink more, not just for dehydration, but when I start to drift.
Four sips. He didn’t want to overdo it. The plumbing was still on. For now. Better to conserve though. Better to be smart. His mouth was dry. He tried to swish. Another bad idea. All the pain washed over him at once; the cracks in his lips, the sores on his soft palate, the staph infection at the end of his tongue he’d gotten while unconsciously trying to suck out any last particles of food between his teeth. Lotta fuckin’ good that did.
Fred shook his head in disgust. He wasn’t thinking. He’d left his eyes open, and that’s when he made the biggest mistake of the day. He looked left. His eyes locked on the floor-length mirror.
A sad little weakling stared back at him. Pale skin, matted hair and sunken, bloodshot eyes. He was naked. His janitor uniform didn’t fit anymore. His body was living off its own fat.
Loser. No muscle, just fat.
Pussy. Hairy skin hung in blotched, deflated rolls.
Pathetic piece of shit!
Behind him, on the opposite wall, were the other marks he’d made. Day Two, when he’d stopped trying to widen the twelve-by-twelve-inch window with fingernails and teeth. Day Four, when he’d taken his last solid crap. Day Five, when he’d stopped screaming for help. Day Eight when he’d tried to eat his leather belt because he’d seen some Pilgrims do it in a movie. It was a nice thick belt, birthday present from—
No, don’t go there.
Day Thirteen, when the vomiting and diarrhea had ended. What the hell was in that leather? Day Seventeen, when he became too weak to masturbate. And every day, filled with crying and begging, silent deals with God and whimpering calls for—
Every day that ended, fittingly, huddled in the foetal position because there wasn’t any room to stretch out.
DON’T THINK ABOUT HER!
But of course he did. He thought about her every day. He thought about her every minute. He talked to her in his dreams, and in the no-man’s-land between dreams and reality.
She was okay. She had to be. She knew how to take care of herself. She was still taking care of him, wasn’t she? That’s why he was still living at home. He needed her, not the other way around. She would be fine. Of course she would.
He tried not to think about her, but he always did, and of course, the other thoughts always followed.
Failure! Didn’t listen to the warnings! Didn’t get out when you could!
Failure! Let yourself get trapped in this little room, not even the whole bathroom, just the closet-sized toilet box, drinking out of the goddamn shitter!
Failure! Didn’t even have the fuckin’ balls to break the mirror and do the honourable thing you should have done. And now if they get in, you don’t even have the fuckin’ strength!
He’d said that out loud. Fuck.
The loud thumping against the door sent him crumpling against the far corner. There were more of them; he could hear their moans echoing back down the hall. They matched those coming from the street below. They’d looked like an ocean down there, the last time he’d stood on the toilet to look. Nine floors down they roiled like a solid mass, stretching almost out of sight. The hotel must be entirely infested now, every floor, every room. The first week he’d heard shuffling through the ceiling above him. The first night, he’d heard the screams.
At least they didn’t understand how to open a pocket door. He’d been lucky there: if it had been the kind of door that swung instead of slid shut; if the wood had been hollow instead of solid; if they’d been smart enough to figure out how to open it; if the doorway had been in the back of the outer bathroom, instead of off to the side...
The more the ones in the bedroom pushed, the more they pinned others in the bathroom helplessly against the rear wall. If it had been a straight line, their collective weight, their sheer numbers...
He was safe. They couldn’t get in, no matter how much they clawed and struggled and moaned... and moaned. The toilet paper in his ears wasn’t working as well anymore. Too much wax, too much oil had flattened them against the sides of the canals. If only he’d saved some more, and not tried to eat it.
Maybe its not the worst thing. He reassured himself, again. When a rescue comes, you need to hear the chopper.
It was better this way. When the moans got too bad, Fred reached for the book, one more bit of good luck he’d found by running in here. When he got out of here, he’d have to track down the original owner, somehow, and thank him for forgetting it next to the toilet. ‘Dude, it totally kept me sane all that time!’ he’d say. Well, maybe not quite like that. He’d rehearsed at least a hundred more eloquent speeches, all delivered over a couple of cool ones, or probably more likely a couple of MREs. That’s what they’d been called on page 238: ‘Meals Ready to Eat.’ Did they really make them with chemical cookers right in the packaging? He’d have to go back and reread that part again. Tomorrow, though. Page 361 was his favourite; 361 to 379.