Kirkwood, Missouri, 3 June 2011, 2330 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 27 days

Evan Torrelli was deafened by the twin roars as he blasted the jumping humanoid creature with both barrels of his shotgun. He could barely hear its screech over the echoes of the shotgun’s report. Instinct took over as Evan snapped the shotgun’s breech open and yanked out the spent shells. As his hands dug around his pants for a pair of new shells, Evans finally got a look at what attacked him. In the odd combination of moonlight and orange-colored light from the streetlights, the creature looked like a withered human with slate black skin decorated with bright blue symbols. Its face was twisted into an inhuman snarl as it shook a crude black-bladed axe at him. The creature reminded Evan of a model of a caveman he’d seen on some field trip.

"Down kid!" shouted Jim. Evan barely hit the soft grass before Jim’s rifle boomed behind him. Evan heard the snap of the bullet over his head. The bullet lanced through the thin creature. The creature staggered back a step before sprinting at the cowboy. Jim shifted his grip on his rifle, holding the weapon more like a staff. The creature’s axe whistled through the air as it lashed at Jim. The cowboy caught the axe on his barrel before twisting and slamming the butt of his rifle into the creature’s chest. The blow drove the creature to the ground, but it sprang back and buried its axe into Jim’s chest.

"Stupid gollum," Jim grunted, dropping his rifle. As the creature struggled to free its axe, Jim drew a monstrous revolver. The creature realized its mistake an instant before Jim fired. The creature flew off of Jim, letting out the most horrendous scream Evan could have ever imagined. Jim straightened, took aim with his revolver, and placed a single round into the creature’s head. Evan stared wide-eyed as the creature’s head exploded like a pumpkin. Then the creature withered away to dust before Evan’s eyes. His mind was grappling with what his eyes were seeing.

"Jim, are you okay?" Mateo called out. Evan shook his head as he suddenly realized he had lost track of Zombie Strike’s leader. Mateo was crouched behind the school’s electrical box taking down the zombies now staggering towards the trio. The four men that with the zombies were now sprinting away from them.

"Chest plate’s cracked. I think I’m bleeding," Jim reported.

"Evan, how’re you doing?" Mateo asked casually as he placed a burst into a zombie’s head.

"I’m a little freaked out right now," Evan blurted out. He finally managed to fish out a couple of shotgun shells. With slow and steady movements, he managed to reload his shotgun.

"That’s fine," Mateo reassured the boy, "Would you please go check on Jim?" Evan nodded, and then cursed at himself. Mateo was busy killing zombies. He couldn’t see Evan nodding.

"Yes sir," Evan said, hoping Mateo didn’t notice his screw-up. Evan rushed over to the cowboy’s side. The man had stripped off his web gear and shirt. Evan could see axe buried in what looked like plastic armor. Evan started to grab the axe handle, but Jim’s hand clamped down him.

"Just help me get this piece off," Jim said. Evan could see the trickle of blood coming from the break in the armor. Jim showed Evan the quick release points. The plate clomped to the ground. There was a bloody gash in the undergarment.

"We need to get you to a doctor," Evan said, staring at the wound.

"Doc’ll be here in a moment," Jim said, standing up. Holding the big revolver in a loose Weaver stance, Jim took aim. With measured movements, Jim brought down four zombies with four shots from the revolver. Unconcerned about the approaching undead, Jim tucked the spent brass into a pocket and fed five fresh cartridges into the cylinder.

"Get into the fight, kid," Jim said, snapping the cylinder back into the frame. Evan swallowed hard and looked at the zombies. There was now only about a dozen of the walking dead. The closest were maybe fifty yards away. A bit long for buckshot. Evan’s mind slid back to his hunting days. Okay, so maybe zombies were a little different from hunting deer. Zombies made things easier by coming to you. Evan popped out the two shells in his shotgun. He loaded two of the four slugs he kept in his back pocket. Even in the moonlight, Evan could see the golden bead of his front sight. He chose one of the closer zombies. A little Kentucky windage, and Evan squeezed the trigger. The heavy slug easily shattered the zombie’s decaying head before nearly tearing off the arm of the walker behind it.

"Not bad," Jim commented, but Evan didn’t hear the words. He was too busy lining up his next shot. He felt as if he was taking forever to get a good bead on the zombie’s head. They were much smaller targets in real-life then they seemed on television. He jerked the trigger just a bit hard. Evan cursed under his breath as the slug tore out the zombie’s neck. It fell to the ground and started to crawl without pause. Then there was more gunfire. Suppressed bursts of automatic fire cut down zombie after zombie with an almost contemptuous ease. It took less than a minute before the last zombie dropped to the ground. Evan turned around to see the rest of Zombie Strike spread out in a traditional fire line.

"Clear!" shouted Chief Stahl as the last echoes of gunfire died away. "Sport, Slim, get down to that graveyard and make sure nothing else is coming up our way. Jess, cover them." Two of the men nodded and dashed across the corpse-strewn field. Jess crouched down and brought her rifle up. Her big dog sat obediently next to him. Evan closed his eyes and forced himself to look away from her. She was too pretty for his teenage mind to handle properly, and he knew it. Maybe later he could work up enough courage to talk to her.

"Dude, you look like you just got sliced by a samurai sword," The Steve commented as he started working on Jim’s wound.

"Gollum," Jim grunted out as The Steve slathered the wound in a thick, gray paste.

"A gollum? We haven’t seen one of those in months," Quentin McLintock said. The former linebacker’s face scrunched in thought.

"Which means your theory was incorrect," the last member of the team said. He didn’t look like the others. He reminded Evan of his dad’s accountant.

"Thank you for that contribution Tredegar," Mateo said, slinging his M4.

"Maybe not," Quentin said, "What if they were looking for medallions here?" Evan was completely lost. He hoped it didn’t show on his face.

"Possible," Mateo agreed cautiously, "That could explain their low numbers. Get down there and start searching." Quentin nodded before sprinting off to the graveyard. Evan couldn’t believe anyone that big could move that fast. Mateo, Tredegar, and Chief Stahl walked away, talking amongst themselves. Evan stood there, not sure where he was supposed to go or what he was supposed to do. Jim motioned for the boy to sit down next to him.

"Relax Evan, it’s just time for the head honchoes of this outfit to start figuring out what to do next," Jim explained. The Steve was finishing up with a patch of white gauze that stretched over Jim’s entire chest.

"Yeah dude, don’t worry," the medic chimed in, "We’ll probably be dropping you home pretty soon." Evan looked down. Part of him wanted to go home, curl up in bed, and pretend this never happened. Another part of him was heart-broken he wouldn’t get to stay with Zombie Strike. The two men didn’t say anything, but Evan could see their sympathy on their faces. His phone started singing Toby Keith’s latest hit. It took a moment for Evan to remember that was his new ringtone. Pulling the phone out of his pocket, he saw the number and froze. It was home. His parents were going to skin him alive. Evan slowly opened the phone, flinching as his father’s voice filled his ear.

"Evan, where are you?" he demanded. Evan shot upright. His father’s voice wasn’t the expected anger. His father sounded terrified.

"At the school," Evan said his voice cracking as he spoke.

"Thank God," his father breathed. Evan could hear his mother screaming in the background. The sound drove a spike of fear into the teen’s heart.

"Evan, listen to me, you need to go to the police station and stay there," Evan’s father said. It was the same tone his father always used to lay down the law. "I don’t care what you hear or see on TV, you are not to come home." There was the sound of shattering glass and then the unmistakable sound of gunfire.

"Dad!" Evan screamed into the phone, "What’s going on?"

"Zombies are attacking the house." Evan’s father said, "Remember, we love you." With that, Evan’s father hung up the phone.

Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 79