Category: Monday Fiction

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 80

Kirkwood, Missouri, 4 June 2011, 0100 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 26 days

Evan Torrelli almost went deaf as The Steve opened up on the zombie horde with the machine gun. The Steve swept the flame-spewing weapon in a tight arc. On the other end of Zombie Strike’s position, Chief Stahl was making similar patterns with his machine gun. A couple hundred yards down the street, scores of zombies tumbled to the asphalt. Only a few of the zombies were taking head shots from the two machine guns. The rest were either standing back up into the fusillade of gunfire or crawling along the asphalt. Five explosions erupted in the middle of the horde. Evan swallowed back the sudden taste of bile as body parts were thrown through the air. It wasn’t like when someone used a grenade in the movies. In real life, the grenades shredded everything around them.

Evan focused on the zombies closest to him. Two caught his attention. They were shambling just outside the machine gun’s firing arc. Evan gauged they were about a hundred and fifty yards away. A bit long, but Evan’s patience was almost gone. He needed to do something.More by instinct than rational calculation, Evan aimed the shotgun and squeezed the first trigger. The heavy slug slammed into the zombie’s forehead and tore the head apart. Evan was already aiming for the second zombie. The shotgun bucked as Evan placed the second slug a little lower. The slug lanced through the zombie’s right eye. Evan was reloading before the second zombie hit the ground. Evan searched for more targets. That’s how he had to think of them. These were just mere targets with not even the dignity he gave a deer. Four shots took down three more zombies. The last one tore off an arm, but the target wasn’t down. Evan slammed two fresh shells into his shotgun. Before he could finish off the zombie, Jim came up behind him and took the zombie down.

“Slow down, kid,” Jim said, working the lever of his rifle. “Take your time. You’ll get a more harmonious outcome.” Almost as if to prove his point, Jim casually aimed at a crawler and fired. Evan took a deep breath. He could feel his blood pounding through him. Evan brought the shotgun to his shoulder, drew a bead on a zombie that just stood up, and fired. The zombie collapsed back to the ground.

“See, easy,” Jim said, clapping the teen on his shoulder. Evan smiled as he took down another zombie. He quickly fed two new shells into the shotgun. As he brought the weapon back up, Evan noticed the two machine guns stopped firing. Evan looked over at The Steve, who was staring at something in the air behind him. Evan started to turn, but The Steve yanked him to the ground.

The night turned into a surreal daytime as powerful beams of light illuminated the street. Evan had a bare second to recognize the sound of helicopters before the area exploded with the sound of chainsaws on steroids. Looking underneath the SUV, Evan watched with horrified fascination as the zombie horde was torn apart as thousands of bullets rained down. When the chainsaws finally stopped, The Steve let go of Evan. The four attack helicopters screamed over them. Two other helicopters hovered above the team. Ropes were flung out the sides. In less than a minute, a dozen soldiers in full gear were on the ground. At least, Evan though they were soldiers. Chief Stahl quickly corrected the teen.

“Figures. Marines are always horning in our action,” the former soldier growled as the Marines cautiously approached the team.

“Kenn was a Marine,” Mateo reminded his deputy.

“And I haven’t exactly forgiven him for that,” Chief Stahl retorted.

“Place your weapons on the ground and identify yourself!” demanded the lead Marine. Evan mimicked the rest of the team and slowly placed his shotgun on the asphalt.

“Mateo Cortez. Zombie Strike. This is my field team,” Mateo explained. The lead Marine motioned to the other Marines, who relaxed.

“We thought it might be you, Mr. Cortez, but we had to be sure,” the lead Marine said, slinging his M16.

“How many other groups are fighting off zombie hordes with fully automatic weapons?” Chief Stahl asked, sarcastically, “And why are the Marines here?”

“To answer your first question, sir, a few civilian militias ransacked the National Guard Armory. There have been reports of automatic fire all over the city. As to the second, we’re here to kill zombies,” the Marine answered.

“Hurrah!” the other Marines chorused. Mateo shot the chief a look. The chief shrugged and went to put away the machine gun.

“So why are the Marines out looking for my team?” Mateo asked.

“Orders are to bring you to the command post, sir,” the Marine said. “Since headquarters is establishing the CP, we need you to remain in place.” Evan felt his stomach drop. He still had to get home. He still needed to try and save his family. Mateo looked over at Evan and nodded.

“Marine, I appreciate you have your orders, but we have our own. Now you’re welcome to come along, but my team can’t wait here for your commanders. Team mount up. Drop the running boards if the Marines want to tag along.”

“Mr. Cortez, I can’t let you-“ the lead Marine started before The Steve slid up next to him. The Steve said something to the Marine, but it was too low for Evan to hear. Evan snatched the box of shells off the hood and climbed into the back of the first SUV. The lead Marine grimaced, but waved his men to the SUVs. Evan was squished between two Marines. Four others climbed onto the running boards. Evan smiled weakly at the two Marines. They stared down at him questioningly.

“Um, sir, you’ve got a kid back here,” one of the Marines said to Mateo as the Zombie Strike field leader stepped into the SUV.

“Local guide,” Mateo said.

“But he’s a kid,” the Marine continued. Evan’s ears burned with embarrassment and anger at the Marine’s tone. He wasn’t more than a few years older than Evan.

“Son, let me explain something to you,” Jim said as he slid into the driver seat, “That kid just battled two hordes of zombies with us. And he was taking them out at a hundred and fifty yards using that scattergun of his. As far as this team’s concerned, the kid’s proved himself more than the Marines have so far.” The Marine looked down at Evan with wide eyes. The SUV’s sped through the remains of the zombie horde toward Evan’s home. From what Evan could see, Kirkwood was now a war zone. Buildings, cars, even people were on fire. Several buildings looked like they had been hit by a bomb. From every direction, gunfire and zombie moans could be heard.

The two SUV’s turned onto Evan’s street. His heart plunged as he saw his neighbors’ homes. A few were blazing infernos. The others were deathly quiet. His own home was around the bend, at the bottom of the cul-de-sac. He wanted to shut his eyes, to not see what happened to his home. He forced his eyes open. As his house came into view, Evan started to hope. It wasn’t on fire, and it was brightly lit. That hope died when he saw the zombie horde standing in the cul-de-sac. Then, the headlights of the SUV shone on his mother. She turned and moaned.

[Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 81]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 79

Kirkwood, Missouri, 4 June 2011, 0030 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 26 days

Evan Torrelli’s heart was in his throat as Jim sped through the streets. The teen didn’t even notice his surroundings. His mind kept replaying the last words his father said. Zombies were attacking his house. Instead of going to the police like his father told him to, Evan was going back to his house in the company of the world’s finest zombie hunters. That should have given Evan some hope, but all he could hear was the zombies crashing through the windows of his home.

“Boss, we’re starting to see the edge of the panic,” Jim said to Mateo Cortez, the Zombie Strike field leader. Evan looked up and saw a wave of stampeding humanity coming down the road at them.

“Side street, now!” Mateo snapped. Evan was smashed against the window as Jim whipped the SUV through a quick turn and raced through a parking lot. The SUV bounced over landscaping as Jim dodged speeding cars fleeing the area. Jim drifted the truck onto a street and hammered the gas pedal. The truck jerked with the sudden acceleration.

“Oh good, I only have to play dodge-car now,” Jim commented as he slalomed through cars driving down the wrong side of the road. “Chief, this is getting a bit insane, even for me.”

“I am sticking right behind you,” Chief Stahl said over the team radio net, “Try not to get us killed before we even get to the horde.” Jim didn’t respond. He gripped the steering wheel tight and gritted back the pain from his earlier wound.

“With this much traffic, we should be seeing the horde soon,” Mateo said, “As soon as we see the horde, we stop and evaluate.”

“But we’re still a few miles from my home,” Evan argued. Mateo looked back at the teen with a sorrowful expression.

“Evan, we will do everything we can to get to save your family, but we can’t do anything if we’re dead,” Mateo said, “That means we have to fight smart, or we’ll find ourselves beyond crush without a way out.” Evan wanted to scream at his hero to save his family. Wasn’t that what heroes were supposed to do? Evan slammed his fist against the seat. He knew Mateo was right. Evan spent too much time learning about how to fight the undead. After getting past the whole “shoot ‘em in the head” basics, most of the posts were on how to push back the point of crush. The theory was simple. At crush, the sheer mass of a zombie horde would overcome the speed at which the defenders could put them down. The idea was to push back the point of crush through the use of modern weapons, prepared defenses, trained persons, and tactics.

“Chief, we’ve found the horde,” Jim said an instant before slamming on the brakes and sliding the SUV. Evan was sure the truck was going to roll, but it just teetered at the edge through Jim’s slide. The second SUV slid next to them, forming a defense line against the horde of zombies. Quentin half-shoved, half-carried Evan out of the SUV. The teen barely kept a hold of his double-barrel against the rushing wall of human. Evan’s feet barely hit the asphalt before the meaty hand guiding him out shoved Evan against the side of the SUV.

Quentin’s expression clearly told Evan to stay put and not get into trouble. Evan nodded and the obsidian face broke into a comforting smile. Evan smiled back weakly. The smiles were wiped away by the cacophony of moans from the horde. Evan turned around and peered through the SUV’s windows. The entire six-lane street was filled with hundreds of zombies. Evan couldn’t make out much in the dim light from the streetlights, but the shambling walk was distinctive. Was his family in that horde? Could he fight them if they were? The questions and fear raced through him as he stared at the solid mass of undead.

“Matt, we got a mix of old corpses and fresh kills in that group,” Jess reported. The girl sniper was perched on top of the second SUV. “I don’t see any minions or gollums.”

“You have a count?” Mateo asked.

“A lot,” Jess answered, “They’re hard packed in there, and that horde has to be at least a hundred yards deep.”

“Boss, there are at least a thousand head out there,” Chief Stahl said, “If we’re going to engage them, we need to break out the MG’s quick.”

“Do it,” Mateo ordered, “Jess, Slim, and Jim, engage at max range. Everyone else will engage as soon as the Chief and Quentin have the heavies up. Sport, I want a wall of frags about midway. See if we can break this up into some smaller hordes.”

“We’re not going to make it home, are we?” Evan asked Mateo as evenly as he could. Mateo looked Evan in the eye with a neutral expression.

“I can’t let a horde this size keep moving. It’ll keep growing until it wipes out Saint Louis,” Mateo answered. Evan looked back as Chief Stahl and The Steve hauled out two large machine guns from the back of the second SUV.

“Then I’ll go home on my own,” Evan said defiantly. Jim’s hand grabbed the boy’s shoulder and spun Evan around. The normal cheerful expression on the cowboy’s face was replaced by a stone cold look of authority.

“No, you won’t,” Jim said, “Even if you get past that horde, there’s probably more zombies. Past that will be the survivors, most of who will shoot first and ask questions later. You want to get home, then you got to help us fight.” The cowboy shoved a box of shotgun shells into Evan’s hands.

“But my dad,” Evan said before Jim cut him off.

“Your dad’s a good man. Would he want you to save his life at the expense of everyone else?” Jim asked. Evan shook his head, barely holding back the tears.

“Evan, I need you in the line,” Mateo said, “Get over by The Steve and make sure nothing gets near him.” The sudden order was a life line for Evan as he nearly drowned in a sea of emotion. Evan focused on Mateo’s order and trotted over to The Steve. The medic rested the machine gun’s bipod on the hood of the SUV. Evan set the box of slugs on the hood. He broke open his shotgun and loaded the first two slugs.

Three rifles cracked almost simultaneously as the team’s sharpshooters went to work. Evan’s mouth went dry. This was different then the fight at the school. Things seemed to happen so quickly. This time, Evan could only wait as the zombies inched into range. His mind raced through all the worst possibilities. Evan was terrified. Not about fighting the zombies. He knew he could do that. Evan was terrified that Zombie Strike couldn’t finish this fight in time to get to his home.

The thoughts stopped as the two machine guns opened up.

[Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 80]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 78

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]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 77

Kirkwood, Missouri, 3 June 2011, 2300 hours local; Countdown: 6 months, 27 days

Evan Torrelli waited in the shadow of a large tree. The fifteen-year-old’s shotgun was tucked in the crook of his arm. His dad would skin him alive if he knew Evan was toting the coach gun around on his bike. Evan hoped his dad would understand. The email said Evan would be safe waiting in the park, but Evan needed the extra reassurance. He’d seen too much in the last two days.

Evan didn’t much care for living so close to St. Louis. He was a farm boy, and he liked the wide open spaces. The city felt confined, almost to the point of claustrophobic. Evan understood Dad couldn’t run the farm anymore after his heart attack. They needed to go where the family could make a living. Teaching at a small Christian school wasn’t much, but the family was making it. Evan did his best to adjust.

Evans looked up into the night sky as he heard what sounded like a crop duster coming in close. He could barely see the darkened shape in the night sky. It looked like a sleeker version of the Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter Evans had seen at an airshow. A bullet shaped body with two huge props at the end of the straight wings. The sound of the props roared as they rotated up. The tilt-rotor came down in the park’s open area. Red light spilled out of the back of the plane as a ramp came down. Ten dark-clad figures and what looked like a big dog tromped down the ramp. Almost before all of them were off, the tilt-rotor levitated back into the sky. As soon as it was above the trees, the props came back down, and it shot off into the night sky.

“Easy with that scattergun, son,” a voice whispered in Evan’s ear. Evan froze in surprise. He didn’t even notice one of the figures slipping around him. A strong hand snatched the coach gun from under his arm. Evan turned around. The man was a foot taller than Evan, maybe six foot even. The man looked exactly like Evans imagined a spec ops soldier would look like. The soldier’s own weapon was slung as he unloaded Evan’s shotgun.

“Took a chance coming out here with a shotgun,” the man said with a low baritone voice, “What would you have done if you’d come across those guys you told us about?”

“Run like hell and only shoot if I didn’t have a choice,” Evan answered. The soldier smiled, his ivory teeth distorting the black streaks across his face.

“Good answer kid,” the soldier said. He handed the shotgun and shells back to Evan before motioning to the others. Evan’s eyes went wide as he recognized a few of the faces. Evan had been a huge fan of Zombie Strike! Well, at least until his mom couldn’t take the sight of undead anymore and banned it. The events of the last year didn’t help Evan’s pleading to watch the reruns. Still, he recognized three of the people. Quentin McLintock, Steve “The Steve” Mountain, and Mateo Cortez were all champions of the reality show. Evan swallowed and tried to keep cool. He wanted to impress his heroes. He didn’t recognize the others, but they looked a lot like the soldier who took away his shotgun. Except for the guy with the cowboy hat. Then his eyes locked on the face of the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. His mind froze in shock. Any chance of keeping his cool was shot as he stared at the girl for a long moment.

“Eyes back in the head kid,” the soldier said, slapping Evan in the back of the head.

“Sorry,” Evan said, sheepishly. He could feel his ears burning with embarrassment. He didn’t feel any better when the others laughed. All except the girl. She just gave him a polite smile.

“Evan, I’m Mateo Cortez,” one of his heroes said, and outstretched his hand. Evan snatched it greedily. Mateo wasn’t flashy or had some gimmick. He was the everyman of Zombie Strike!, and Evan was a fan.

“I know,” Evan blurted, and then stopped. Cool, he needed to play this cool. Especially with that girl watching him. He tried not to look back over at her.

“Good. Are the vehicles parked where they were supposed to be?” Mateo asked.

“Yes sir,” Evan answered, “Right outside the park.” Evan pointed to where the three vans were parked.

“Good, you’re riding with me,” Mateo said, “Jim, you’re driving. Chief, get the others divvied up.” The soldier nodded. Mateo led Evan away from the group. The guy in the cowboy hat followed closely behind him.

“Did you actually see a zombie?” Mateo asked in a low voice. It took Evan a moment to realize the question was directed at him.

“Yes sir. There were a bunch of them,” Evan answered, remembering back to two nights ago.

“Can you remember how many you saw?” Mateo asked. Evan concentrated hard. He stumbled onto the guys in black raising zombies. He wasn’t trying to count the zombies. He was trying to run away. He settled down and framed the last image in his head.

“Ten or fifteen or so,” Evan finally answered.

“You sure?” Mateo asked. Mateo’s eyes bored into Evan’s. The boy swallowed hard and steeled himself.

“Yes sir,” Evan said, squeezing every ounce of confidence into his voice.

“Well, hell kid, you might just be useful,” the cowboy said, his light words filled with twang.

“Stow it Jim,” Mateo ordered. “Evan, I’m going to need you to take us back to exactly where you saw the men.” Evan nodded, trying to keep his fear from showing on his face. If Mateo saw past Evan’s façade, he didn’t say anything.

Mateo, Jim, and Evan climbed into the first van. Evan clung tightly to the seat at the cowboy sped through the streets following Evan’s instructions. Evan closed his eyes and waited for the van to roll over as Jim took a turn at nearly fifty miles an hour. The ride was mercifully short. In less than ten minutes, the van pulled up to the Christian school where his parents taught.

The cowboy unslung his big rifle as he stepped out of the van. Mateo unslung his M4 carbine. Evan loaded his shotgun. The cowboy looked over at the noise of the shotgun clicking closed and smiled. Evan led them around the converted church and through a small playground enclosed by a chain link fence. Maybe a hundred yards beyond the chain link fence was an old graveyard. Some of the older students snuck out to hang out amongst the gravestones. Evan liked to come out there at night. It was the only place that felt open enough and quiet enough to remind him of nights on the farm. Evan froze. They were back. In the moonlight, Evan could clearly see the four black-clad figures and the over twenty zombies. The undead were standing as if statues made of decaying flesh. They weren’t even moaning. The four figures were darting about the graveyard. It looked like they were searching for something.

“We have contact,” Mateo whispered into his mike. He had his M4 up and trained at the figures in the graveyard. “Four minions, maybe two dozen zombies.” Evan’s eyebrow quirked upward. Minions? Minions of who? Mateo listened for a moment and then made a hand motion to Jim. The big cowboy moved maybe thirty yards to the right before crouching down and aiming his big rifle. Evan was about to ask Mateo what to do. He stopped when his eyes caught movement behind the three of them. He turned back around, his shotgun coming to his shoulder. His shoulders tensed, like they did right before that hog had come out of the bush on his last hunting trip. It was something in the playground. Evans took a step closer, and something leapt into the air. Its screech broke the night’s silence. Evan pulled both triggers.

[Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 78]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 8 – Chapter 76

Johannesburg, South Africa, 1 June 2011, 2100 hours local; Countdown: 7 months

The man known as Castle studied the report on his tablet. Zombie outbreaks caused by the Truth’s sorcerers and Champions were pushing the world just as he expected. The panicked populaces were demanding strong and capable men and women to lead them through these troubled times. Men and women the Truth was more than willing to provide, even if the populaces didn’t know who their true benefactor was. With the report in his hands, Castle’s chosen acolytes were now in control of Africa, Latin America, most of Asia (with the noticeable exception of China), and nearly all of the old Soviet bloc in Europe. Even in those nations not under the direct control of the Truth, Castle’s people held key positions in business, governments, and the media.

Commenters were calling it the second rise of the dictators. Many were trying to bring back the ghosts of Stalin, Hitler, and all those other ruthless dictators that slaughtered their own citizens in job lots. Most people didn’t really care. There were zombies rising and wiping out entire towns. Even the mighty Americans couldn’t protect the world from this threat. As far as most of the world cared, protection from zombies was far more important than little things like freedom and the rule of law. Well, if everything worked as prophesized, in seven months the zombies will no longer be needed. The Truth will have saved the world from the Great Death, and the Truth would take its rightful place as the supreme religion of the world. Castle took a sip of the rum from the crystal tumbler and smiled. Most men never saw the dawning of a new age, much less led the change, albeit from the shadows.

Alan walked into the office without knocking. Castle swallowed his annoyance as his head sorcerer strode into the room and plopped into a leather chair. Of all of his direct subordinates, Alan was probably the most arrogant, brash, and outspoken. Castle ignored all of that because Alan was perhaps the greatest sorcerer the Truth had produced. The Flayed One liked this American for some reason, and Castle wasn’t about to cross his god’s apparent wishes.

“Flayed One, I’ll be glad when I can get these bandages off,” Alan said. Half of the man’s face was covered in thick white bandages. “If I ever get my hands on that Brit with the grenade launcher…” Alan’s voice trailed off.

“At least Zombie Strike didn’t succeed,” Castle said. The freelance zombie hunters were becoming a real problem for the Truth. In the time since the Little Death escaped into this world, Zombie Strike had been hitting Truth installations all over the globe. Several key operations were disrupted and two nations were kept from coming under Castle’s dominance. All Castle could do was have them branded as terrorists in most of the world.

“Has Mikhail had any luck in running down the mole?” Castle asked. Castle was convinced there was a mole in the Truth. Zombie Strike was just hitting too many targets at the most opportune time.

“Actually, I think we’re trying to hunt down the viper,” Alan said dismissively.

“What do you mean?” Castle asked, confused by the statement.

“Old GI Joe episode. One of the Joes keeps getting telephone calls from someone in a thick accent that calls himself the Viper and leaves cryptic messages. The Joes end up crashing a whole slew of Cobra ops. Everyone keeps wondering who this wonderful source of intel is. Turns out it was a little old man who was coming to wash the windows. I’ve come to vipe your vindows.

“As charming as that sounds, what is your point?” Castle asked, his reservoir of patience quickly draining.

“I asked our computer guys to see what files were being dumped first from the last three times Zombie Strike hit us,” Alan said, “Want to guess?” Castle gave Alan a weary expression.

“Files regarding the prophecies,” Alan announced. “I think that they’re focusing on getting the prophecies, and all the disruption to our activities is just a byproduct.” Castle’s eyebrow crooked upward. As much as he hated it, Alan’s theory was plausible. The prophecies surrounding the Great Death were some of the Truth’s most guarded secrets, and as a consequence, were stored in the same places that many of their other sensitive activities were occurring.

“Assuming you’re correct, do we know how much of the prophecies they have acquired?” Castle asked.

“We should know in a few days,” Alan said, “I handed it over to Frederick.” Castle nodded in agreement. Frederick was the Truth’s head security specialist. He knew what resources to use for this kind of investigation.

“We’ll give Frederick some time to run this theory of yours down a bit,” Castle said, “I want your people to use that time to prepare. If he confirms your theory, then I want to move quickly on our next operation. Zombie Strike must still be recovering from the last battle, and I don’t want them involved if we can help it.”

“What operation?” Alan asked, “Why wasn’t I told about this?”

“Because you were still recovering from the Brit’s white phosphorous grenade,” Castle explained. “I did most of the work while I’ve been here.” Alan smirked, and then groaned in pain. The same attack where Alan was wounded also nearly revealed Castle to Zombie Strike. The Truth’s leader fled to the safehouse in Johannesburg. It was secure, but it lacked many of the luxuries the Truth’s headquarters in Lisbon possessed.

“So what’s the plan?” Alan asked. Castle brought up a map on the tablet and showed it to Alan. The sorcerer let out an off-key whistle. “That’s a bit on the audacious side, isn’t it? Did you consult the Flayed One about this?”

“Are you questioning my ability?” Castle snapped. Alan held up his hands in mock surrender.

“No, relax,” Alan said, “I think it’s a good operation, but for something this big, we’ll need the Flayed One’s blessing. If for no other reason than to increase the ability of my people.”

“I see your point,” Castle conceded, “Yes, we have his blessing. If all goes well, then we will fulfill another stanza of the prophecy, and we will control the United States.”

[Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 77]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Interlude – Sissy’s Story

Baltimore, Maryland, 10 February 2011, 2000 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 18 days

Sissy O’Connell nervously smoothed her skirt at the knock on the door. When she’d agreed to this appointment a month ago, it seemed so far away. Now it was here. She wasn’t sure if she had the strength. The door opened. The ivory white smile contrasted with mahogany face. Quentin McLintock filled the doorway, literally. Quentin was a graduate of West Virginia University where he’d been a linebacker for three seasons, and he looked the part. A head over six feet and probably four feet wide at the shoulders, Quentin was a three hundred and fifty pound wall of a man. Sissy hadn’t seen Quentin in over a year. She could see the new scars on his hands. They made her cringe.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. McLintock,” Dr. Perez said as Quentin walked into the room. Dr. Ramona Perez was Sissy’s current psychiatrist. The last two just couldn’t handle dealing with the root causes of Sissy’s mental trauma. Dr. Perez was a sharp-faced woman whose strong features could be called handsome at best. Her straight, black hair was cut short and professional. Behind the blue horn-rimmed glasses shone black eyes that flashed with intelligence and passion. Even the normally easy-going Quentin seemed to be taken aback by the woman’s intense look.

“Not a problem, Doctor,” Quentin said. The doctor pointed at a chair for him. Quentin sat down cautiously. It was habit for him. Furniture didn’t always survive his mass. The doctor waited for him to get settled before continuing.

“Sissy, it’s time,” the psychiatrist prompted. Anxiety swelled from the pit of her stomach. Sissy practiced what she was going to say a dozen times. Looking into those brown eyes the words wouldn’t come. Quentin’s patient face was enough to bring tears to Sissy’s eyes. Quentin always treated her like a sister. He’d never made a pass at her, never leered at her, never treated her like she was only as good as her beauty. She knew what she had done to him was because her reality had come unglued, but that didn’t make the guilt go away.

“Quentin, I’ve been able to piece together what happened when we entered the temple,” Sissy said after a few minutes, “I remember giving Matt Jack’s pistol. I remember the beginning of the fight in the temple.” She shuddered as the horror shot through her. It was easier now. Not easy, but easier. Sissy swallowed hard and plunged ahead. “I can remember when that gollum jumped us. I lost it and just sprayed bullets all over.”

Sissy couldn’t stop the tears. Everything was so clear in her mind. She could feel the MP7 jerk in her hand. She could see the hail of bullets shatter the tiles that lined the walls and floor of Xipe Tzin’s temple. She watched at the stream of bullets hit Quentin. Sissy saw Dr. Perez wave Quentin back. True to form, he was trying to comfort her. Dr. Perez was right. She needed to deal with her tangled ball of emotions.

“I remember shooting you,” Sissy said between sobs. She forced herself to meet Quentin’s eyes. How could they be so sympathetic? Why didn’t he hate her for what she had done to him.

“Quentin, I’m so sorry,” Sissy blurted out, “I know I wasn’t right in the head. I know.” Shame and guilt tormented her. Sissy pulled all of her will together and forced out the words. “I can’t take back what I did to you, but I am so sorry, and I wanted you to know that.” Sissy looked over at Dr. Perez. The psychiatrist smiled reassuringly. She’d done it and survived. Now she just needed to survive whatever Quentin did in response.

“Sissy, I want you to see something,” Quentin said. He rolled up his right pant leg. The shiny plastic shell of the prosthetic limb gleamed at her. Shame and fascination battled in her mind as she looked over the artificial leg. Quentin just smiled at her.

“MacKenzie and Winston made sure I was well taken care of, and this thing’s saved me a couple of times,” Quentin said. She could see the gouges in the outer shell. “More importantly, what the docs learn from my leg, they’re using to build better prosthetics for others.” Quentin rolled his pant leg back down.

“You didn’t ruin my life. You didn’t cause me unending pain and misery,” Quentin said, “I’m still your friend and I’ll always be here for you.” Sissy couldn’t stop. She flung herself into Quentin’s waiting arms. He let out a low laugh and kissed her on the top of her head. He didn’t make it all better, but he did make it more bearable.

After a few minutes, Sissy let go of her friend. Was that right? She took another look at Quentin’s smiling face. Yes, he was her friend. Dr. Perez told her over and over that her friends cared about her. They understood what had happened to her, and they still loved her. The faces taunting her in her dreams were just that – dreams. Reality felt a bit more real in that moment. Sissy stood up and pushed back her hair. She smiled at the psychiatrist.

“Well, Dr. Perez, does this rate noting in your paper?” Sissy asked with a light tone.

“What?” Quentin asked, shooting an angry glance at Dr. Perez.

“Calm down Quent,” Sissy said, “Dr. Perezís been real upfront about it.” Quentin continued to glare at the psychiatrist.

“Mr. McLintock, just as your experiences with your prosthetic will help the medical community, so will Sissy’s unique experience,” Dr. Perez said neutrally. “Sissy is the first person we know of that has ever come back from a psychotic break with reality due to prolonged exposure to the undead. I have been completely candid with her about the need to properly document her process for later publication. I assure you, this is not about my need for self-promotion, but to assist other professionals who might be dealing with a similar situation. That is why we’re supposed to publish, after all.”

“How are you going to explain the conditions under which Sissy had her psychotic break? M&W hasn’t released anything about that mission except to a few governments and even fewer individuals,” Quentin said, not relenting an inch.

“M&W is fully aware of my work with Sissy,” Dr. Perez replied, “I am working with them to determine how to present the paper once it is completed. They understand that you cannot bury this kind of information. Not if you want the world to survive the next few years.”

“Quent, stop, please,” Sissy pleaded. His mouth snapped shut.

“Are you okay with this?” he asked. She nodded. “Okay. I don’t like it, but if you’re okay with it, I’ll drop it.” A wave of relief swept over Sissy. She needed to believe that others would be better because of the hell she went through.

“As to your question Sissy,” Dr. Perez said, “Yes, this encounter will definitely make it into my paper. You managed to confront your fears and emotions surrounding what happened to Mr. McLintock. It’s been a rough few weeks, but you did it. You hit a milestone in your recovery.” Sissy just nodded. She felt exhausted, even more than after any of her physical therapy sessions.

“I think we’re done for today. I know this was emotionally exhausting,” Dr. Perez said to Sissy before turning to Quentin. “You are going to be in town for a few days, Mr. McLintock?”

“Yes. Since I was going to be in town, I’m meeting with some of the folks over in the anthropology department at the university,” Quentin said. He turned to Sissy. “There’s a possibility I might be starting on my doctorate here. Would that bother you?”

“No!” Sissy exclaimed, her face lighting up with a smile. Once she’d emerged from her catatonia, her family tried to help, but they just didnít understand. They couldn’t understand. To them, zombies were just things they saw on television. Quentin was someone who would understand. Her thoughts came to a screeching halt. Would Quentin understand? He was one of those few humans who didn’t suffer from the primal panic that overtook the vast majority of humans when they came into contact with the undead. Sissy still wasn’t sure how she’d lasted as long as she did before finally succumbing to it on that island.

Her thoughts came to a stop as the office suddenly went dark. The familiar background noises of the air conditioning and the cooling fans on the computers clicked off. Power outage was Sissy’s first instinct, but that was odd. Power outages weren’t unheard of, but they were uncommon at this time of year. With a start she realized she wasn’t scared. Ever since Sissy woke up from her catatonia, fear was an almost constant companion. Now, here, in a dark so deep she couldn’t even see her hand in front of her face, she wasn’t afraid. It was exhilirating.

A beam of white light split the dark. Quentin tilted the small flashlight towards the ceiling to illuminate the office. For the briefest moment, Sissy was incensed her darkness had been taken away from her. Her mind seized on that fact. Anger, not fear, was her first emotion. Was she finally starting to push through all of her emotional damage?

“Everyone okay?” Quentin asked, pointedly not directing his question at just Sissy.

“I’m fine Quent,” Sissy said. She looked over to Dr. Perez when the psychiatrist didn’t immediately answer. Dr. Perez was staring at her cell phone with a confused look on her face.

“That’s odd,” Dr. Perez said, echoing Sissy’s initial reaction, “Why would a power outage disable my cell phone?”

“Your phone could’ve just discharged and drained the battery. It happens. Here, you can use mine,” Quentin said, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He paused as he saw his phone wasn’t working as well. Sissy pulled out hers. A dead screen looked up at her. The three traded looks.

“Do you have a land line?” Quentin asked, his normally light tone gone.

“At the receptionist’s desk,” Dr. Perez said, motioning to the door.

“Okay, I’m going to check it,” Quentin said. The room went dark as Quentin and his flashlight went in search of the receptionist’s phone.

“How are you doing really?” Dr. Perez asked Sissy in a low, almost conspiratorial tone. Sissy stifled a giggle. How long had it been since she’d done that? Months, at least.

“I’m fine. Really,” Sissy answered. The doctor fell quiet. Sissy could imagine the stern, not quite believing face of the doctor at that moment. Dr. Perez always wore that expression when she thought that Sissy was trying to cover up her feelings.

“Okay ladies, we’re leaving,” Quentin said as he stepped back into the room. The room lit back up. Sissy couldn’t hold back the giggle. The doctor was wearing the exact expression Sissy imagined. Both Quentin and Dr. Perez stared at her in surprise. Sissy swallowed the rest of her giggles.

“Why are we leaving?” asked Dr. Perez, “If the power’s out, it would make sense to stay here until it comes back on.”

“Land line’s out. As one of my friends used to say, ‘Once is an anomaly, twice a coincidence, third time’s enemy action.'” Sissy recognized the words. Collin DuBois told her that when they were training on Skull Island. She suddenly realized she missed the ugly man. Then, Quentin’s choice of words hit her with the force of a punch. Quentin saw Sissy’s expression and grimly nodded. So, Collin was dead. It was a shock, but not really surprising. As was often repeated, zombie hunting wasn’t exactly a safe profession. Collin wasn’t the first friend she’d lost to the zombies. Most likely, he wouldn’t be the last either.

“What do you mean ‘enemy action?'” Dr. Perez asked, her voice tinged with the barest hint of annoyance.

“Something just took out the building’s power and phones and had enough juice left over to knock out our cell phones. That’s not your normal power outage, and it’s not something I want to hang around and deal with,” Quentin explained. The doctor didn’t look convinced, but she obediently stuffed her laptop into its satchel. Sissy grabbed her purse and followed Quentin out of the office. Dr. Perez was a few steps behind her. The three walked under the light umbrella from Quentin’s flashlight. At this time of the day, the floor was deserted. That was one reason Dr. Perez scheduled Sissy’s appointments at this time. Now, the quiet was almost eerie.

The three started down the stairs. The stairwell was filled with shadows from the emergency lights. Sissy knew she should be scared, or at least a little frightened. Normal people would have been. Sissy could tell that Dr. Perez, for all stern control of her emotions, was frightened. Not enough to get through her calm, professional façade, but Sissy still saw the fear. Quentin wasn’t so much scared as uneasy. Sissy hadn’t seen Quentin in over a year, but she could still detect the small undercurrents in his voice as he tried to reassure the ladies that the power outage was probably nothing and he was being a little paranoid. It was almost amusing.

Sissy’s amusement came to a crashing stop. Almost forgotten instincts and awareness flooded her mind. She heard something. Maybe an echo, maybe it was just a scuff of feet. All Sissy knew was everything in her was screaming warnings. Long dormant training resurfaced from its hiding places in her mind. Sissy froze and flattened against the wall.

“Quent, stop,” Sissy whispered. The big man immediately recognized her tone. He mimicked her and was against the wall. Sissy strained to listen for the faint sound. Dr. Perez started to talk, but fell silent at Sissy’s angry glare. Sissy ignored the psychiatrist’s indignant face. As long as the doctor was quiet. She concentrated and found what alerted her. Two voices talking to each other in hushed voices. They were male, and they sounded conspiratorial. Her mind froze when she finally recognized a word. Zombie. For a brief moment, she was frozen in a surge of fear. Sissy shook her head. Just because whoever was talking said zombie didnít mean any of the undead were actually here. The term was used in normal speech all the time. Sissy had a long discussion with Dr. Perez on that very subject after she had an incident. The word couldn’t hurt her. She took a few deep breaths to calm her galloping heart.

“Quent, there are intruders below us,” Sissy whispered. She could almost see the switch flip in his eyes. Intruders meant potential hostiles. This went from a simple evacuation to a possible combat situation. He pulled up his shirt and drew a black handgun from an inside the waistband holster. Dr. Perez gasped as she saw the pistol. Sissy just cocked her head in curiosity.

“When’d you start carrying a 1911?” Sissy asked, “I thought you were a Glock boy.”

“I like shooting 10 mm more, and this Colt Delta Elite feels better shooting that than the Glock,” Quentin answered, “If you want a Glock, there’s a 33 in my ankle holster.” Sissy beamed at the offer. She stooped down and snatched the diminutive pistol from its holster. It had been a long time since she held a weapon. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it until she felt the hard polymer in her hand. Quentin handed her a spare magazine. He looked slightly embarrassed as Sissy tucked it into her bra.

“What in God’s name are you two doing?” Dr. Perez demanded, just barely keeping her voice to an angry whisper. “What are you even doing with those? You can’t carry those in Baltimore.” Sissy mentally groaned. Like most of her profession, Dr. Perez didn’t like guns. She didn’t even like when Sissy talked about shooting.

“Actually doc, I have a nice card from the Department of Justice saying I can,” Quentin said, “Now, if we’re lucky, we can slip out of this building without needing to use these. If we run into trouble, my car is parked right outside. Red Dodge Magnum. There’s another phone in the car as well as an emergency radio. Sissy, get the doc to the car and call in the cavalry.” The psychiatrist looked at the two with a mixture of horror and indignation on her face. Quentin ignored it, and motioned for the two women to follow him.

Sissy fell into remembered habits as she slinked down the stairs after Quentin. She listened for the two voices. Either they left the stairwell or they stopped talking. Or she just couldn’t hear them over Dr. Perez’s clomping down the stairs. Sissy knew the psychiatrist didn’t have the training to know any better. Most people didn’t. It was still annoying. After a couple flights of stairs, Sissy finally had enough. She whirled on the psychiatrist. It was time for the older woman to learn a few things.

“DOWN!” Quentin yelled as the stairwell rang with the sound of gunfire. Sissy grabbed Dr. Perez by the hair and shoved the woman to the deck. Sissy heard the throaty booms of Quentin’s Colt and the higher pitched crack of lighter rounds. Probably nine millimeter by the sound. Bullets spanged off the metal railings with brilliant sparks. Sissy spun as fast as she could. She needed to get into the fight. Quentin was squashed against the wall as best he could and still keep his isosceles shooting stance. Sissy darted to his left and saw the men firing at them. Three bad guys dressed in tight-fitting black clothes with matching balaclavas. One was unmoving on the ground, but the other two were firing wildly with semi-auto pistols. Sissy brought the small Glock up. Quentin replaced the crappy Glock sights with an XS Big-Dot. Well, it was his back-up, so of course he set it up for close quarters engagements. Sissy put the huge front dot on the closer bad guy’s head. She stroked the lightened trigger. The bad guy’s head snapped back as he collapsed to the ground. There a brief moment to make sure the bad guy wasn’t getting back up then Sissy turned to engage the other bad guy. Quentin put two rounds into center mass and the final bad guy went down.

“What in the hell are minions doing in Baltimore?” Quentin asked loudly as he replaced the spent magazine in his Colt. Before Sissy could ask what a minion was, another black-masked head popped out from around the corner of the landing. Sissy saw the carbine and whipped her pistol around. The two weapons fired at the same time. Sissy heard the staccato of automatic fire followed by the sound of shattering plastic and Quentin’s grunt of pain. Sissy charged down the stairs and checked the landing. No more bad guys. The last one was lying dead gripping an HK G36C. Sissy looked up at Quentin who was holding his knee and cursing in pain. Blood was soaking through his pants.

Sissy grabbed the carbine and darted up the stairs to her friend. She pried Quentin’s hands off of his wound so she could inspect it. As soon as her hand touched the blood, she knew something was wrong. It wasn’t blood, but some sort of oily-smelling fluid. Then she saw the shards of plastic and circuit board littered the stairs. Quentin nodded as he saw the realization hit her.

“Yep, he destroyed my leg,” Quentin grunted, “When I get my hands on the tech who decided to put a pain response into the feedback routines, I’m going to strangle him.”

“You felt the pain from the bullets?” Sissy asked.

“Not exactly, but enough pain to let me know the leg’s thoroughly trashed,” Quentin said. He turned to Dr. Perez. Sissy looked up guiltily at the psychiatrist. She’d lost track of the woman in the middle of the fight. Dr. Perez looked down at the dead men. Her eyes widened in horror. Her mouth fell open, but no sound came out. Sissy cautiously climbed the few steps.

“Dr. Perez, are you okay?” Sissy asked. She flushed with embarrassment as soon as the words came out of her mouth. The doctor swiveled her head to stare at Sissy with a look of incredulity. Of course she wasn’t okay. Sissy could only nervously look away.

“Um, sorry, Dr. Perez,” Sissy said, “Can you look at Quent? He’s hurt.” The shock fell from the older woman’s face. This was something she could deal with. The psychiatrist fell back into her professional mode. Dr. Perez gently pushed past Sissy and bent down to examine Quentin. As the two talked in hushed voices, Sissy slipped down and slid through the door to the third floor. The only light came from the few emergency lights. Large stretches of dark filled the gaps between the lights. Sissy slipped into the shadows and walked towards the large window at the end of the hallway. From what she could see, the entire city around the building was dark. That wasn’t a good. She took another couple of steps and froze. An unmarked door opened maybe twenty feet from her, pouring light into the darkened hallway.

“You can’t do this!” screeched a high-pitched male voice, “Castle would never sanction this!” The sound of metal smacking flesh floated out of the door followed by the sound of painful whimpering.

“Who do you think ordered this?” another voice asked. This one spoke with a flat Midwestern accent, but with a controlled menace that made Sissy swallow. She tightened the grip on her pistol and waited patiently.

“Did you actually think you could betray the Truth for petty greed?” the second man asked. “Now quit sniveling on the floor, and come with me. Mikhail is waiting.” The first man gasped. The second man chuckled in amusement.

“No, I won’t,” the first man said, his voice trembling, “My men will stop you.” The second man laughed.

“We killed the ones downstairs,” the second man said. “They’ll make decent zombies. Right now, I have six Champions with me. Exactly what do you think your mundane mercenaries will do against Champions?” The first man started babbling incoherently. There was the sound of a hard slap. The babbling ceased. The two men appeared in the doorway.

The first voice belonged to a tall, thin, balding man dressed in a nice, if rumpled, dark suit. His long arms hung loosely at his side, barely moving in time with his gait. The man’s head drooped in resignation. He looked like a man being marched to the gallows. The other man was dressed like the intruders in the stairwell. His dark jumpsuit was pulled tight over his bulky form. He moved with a silent step. Sissy guessed this man had some martial arts or dance training in his background. The second man pressed a pistol the back of the first man’s head.

Well that explained what the bad guys were doing in the building, Sissy thought to herself. The two men walked slowly towards the stairwell exit. Neither saw her crouched in the dark shadows. She brought the Glock up, moving slowly so as not to catch either man’s attention. She held her position and waited long seconds as her target closed. She took a deep breath, let out a little and squeezed. The ball of flame from the Glock’s muzzle lit up the hallway for an instant. Just long enough for Sissy to see that she’d missed.

Tight-suit man flinched an instant before Sissy fired. The .357 Sig round passed by within millimeters of the man’s head before burying itself in a wall. Gangly man was pushed to the ground. Tight-suit man brought his pistol down. He fired a double-tap at where the flash originated, but Sissy was already in motion. She felt one of the rounds tug at the cloth of her dress, but she didn’t feel any pain. She took a snap shot over her shoulder and was rewarded with a grunt of pain. She instinctively dove for the floor as the second man sprayed the hallway with indiscriminate fire. Bullets cracked above her. She heard the window at the end of the hall shatter. She scampered up as the bad guy reloaded his pistol. She fell into her isosceles stance as the man snarled obscenities. He managed to jam his weapon with a bad reload. He threw the pistol at Sissy. She ducked as the pistol slammed into the wall behind her. As she came back up, Tight Suit man dashed past her and jumped out of the window.

Sissy just stared. They were four stories up. Why had he done that? She cautiously walked down the hallway and looked out the window. The man was standing on the sidewalk outside the building. How in the hell did he fall four stories and not splatter himself all over the concrete? He looked up at her. She could feel his smoldering anger. Sissy backed away from the window. The man brought back a terror in Sissy that she’d fought against for the last several months. She took a few deep breaths as she pushed down the fear. Her mind came back into focus. Sissy whirled on the suited man on the carpet.

“Get up,” Sissy growled with as much menace as she could squeeze into her voice. The man scrambled to his feet. His eyes never left the Glock in her hand.

“Walk to the stairwell,” she ordered.

“Who are you?” the man asked, unsure if he was walking to his salvation or his execution.

“Move!” Sissy said, adding emphasis with her pistol. The man hustled into the stairwell. He stopped as he saw the bodies sprawled across the landing. There was a sharp intake of breath as he saw Quentin training the carbine on him.

“Flayed One,” the man breathed, “Quentin McLintock.”

“Well that makes you a Truther,” Quentin said, gripping the carbine tighter.

“You can’t just kill him!” shrieked Dr. Perez.

“He’s with these folks. You know, the ones that just tried to kill us. Trust me doc, these are evil people,” Quentin said. The man brought himself to his full height. He looked like he was ready to face his fate.

“Stop Quent. He’s who these guys are after,” Sissy said, putting herself in front of her prisoner. Quentin immediately lowered his weapon. He nodded for Sissy to continue. Sissy quickly related the encounter in the hallway.

“Perhaps you should introduce yourself friend,” Quentin said to the man after Sissy finished.

“I am known in certain circles as the Turk,” the man answered. Now that he was calm, his voice lilted with a slight Mediterranean accent. “I am, or was, one of the Truth’s logistics people.” The Turk shrugged his shoulders. “Apparently I have fallen out of favor. Perhaps Zombie Strike would like to avail themselves of my services.” There was a new confidence in the man’s countenance.

“You’re assuming we’re going to survive getting out of here,” Quentin said, “What are we facing?”

“Jean mentioned six Champions. I see three dead here. That means three or four more. Plus, the walking dead. I do not how many of those he has brought with him.” The Turk shrugged his shoulders. Sissy’s grip on her pistol tightened. She hadn’t even looked at a zombie since coming out of her catatonia. The idea of facing the undead terrified her.

“Let’s go back upstairs and wait for help to arrive,” Dr. Perez suggested. Sissy and Quentin looked at the psychiatrist. The calm, collected woman was now a shaking and terrified person. Quentin hobbled up the stairs and laid one of his big hands on the doctor’s shoulders.

“Doc, there is no help coming. The cops will turn and run the moment they see a zombie because of primal panic. The few who might hold their ground will either get slaughtered trying to fight them or will call in the Army. Task Force 11 is stretched thin. Probably take hours to get down here. All the cops can do is cordon the area off and wait. In that time, those minions will do everything they can to find and kill us. Kill us. We have one and only one chance. We have to get to my car. I’ve got weapons, armor, and a direct line to Zombie Strike.”

“They want him!” Dr. Perez said, jabbing her finger at the Turk, “Just give him to them and they’ll leave us alone!” The Turk laughed softly at the comment.

“First, I’m not about to hand over a potentially valuable resource to my enemies. Second, I wouldn’t hand anyone over to the Truth. Third, they’ll just kill us any way,” Quentin said calmly. “Doctor, you’re afraid and not being rational. That’s understandable, but I need you rational if you want to have any chance of getting out of this alive.” Dr. Perez’s mouth snapped shut as she swallowed her next outburst. Satisfied the doc wasn’t going to make any further protests, Quentin turned to the Turk.

“What’s your backup escape plan?” Quentin asked. The Turk started to say something and then thought better of it.

“Follow me,” the Turk said, starting to walk back into the hallway.

“Hold it,” Quentin said, “You’re the only one who’s strong enough to help me. So you get to play human crutch.” The Turk’s face flashed in disgust, but he quickly smoothed his features back to his normal slightly pleasant face. Quentin turned to Sissy. “You still decent with a rifle?”

“I think so. I haven’t really been practicing lately,” Sissy answered.

“Here, take the carbine. You’re on point,” Quentin said, handing her the German weapon. “Dr. Perez, I need you to take that man”s pistol.” He pointed to one of the dead minions.

“Are you insane?” Dr. Perez demanded, “I don’t know how to use a gun. I’m not about to touch that thing.” She physically recoiled.

“Doc, we need you to cover our rear,” Sissy said, picking up the Beretta. She inserted a new magazine and forced the gun into the psychiatrist’s hands. “If you see anything, shoot it.”

“I’ve never fired a gun in my life,” the psychiatrist protested.

“First time for everything,” Sissy quipped. Dr. Perez glared at the young woman. Sissy glared right back and continued. “Just point this at your target and squeeze the trigger. You’re probably not going to hit anything, but it should give us enough cover to react to anything trying to sneak up behind us.” The doctor nodded resigned to her role.

“You could just give me a gun,” the Turk noted, waving his hand as if it wouldn’t be a problem for him.

“Not a chance,” Quentin said. The Turk nodded, expecting the answer. As the Turk worked at lifting Quentinís enormous frame, Sissy managed to get the magazine pouch for the carbine and a belt off of the dead minion. The black corded belt looked incongruous with her yellow sun dress. Sissy tucked her Glock into the small of her back and hefted the carbine. It was one of the German G36’s, the spec ops version. It took her a moment to find all of the controls. Not bad, but she still preferred an M4, or even better, her old L96. Sissy wondered what happened to her beloved Danny Boy.

“We need to get back to my office,” the Turk said, helping Quentin balance on his one good leg. Quentin hugged the Turk with one arm, while keeping his other hand free for his Colt. Dr. Perez held the Beretta shakily, but nodded when she caught Sissy’s eye. One deep breath and Sissy strode into the hallway with the G36 raised. The quartet slowly moved down the hall back into the Turk’s office. The front room had been a well-appointed reception room. Most of the furnishings were either tossed or just destroyed. The Turk looked around mournfully as the team walked past the destruction into the Turk’s office.

“Jean caught me before I could slip out,” the Turk explained walking over to a non-descript wood panel. He waved a key fob. The panel slid back to reveal a small elevator car. “Getting all of us in will be tight, but it should be doable.”

“Just remember to keep your hands to yourself,” Quentin said with a menace Sissy never heard before. The Turk looked offended, but said nothing. The Turk led Quentin into the car and the two men flattened themsleves against the far wall. It was just enough room for Dr. Perez and Sissy. The doors closed and suddenly they were falling. Well, maybe not falling, but it was a quick ride down. The doors snapped open. Sissy froze as her eyes locked on the two zombies.

Sissy heard the others telling her to get out of the car, but all she could do was focus on the two undead as they turned towards the noise. A familiar terror spread across her body. She didn’t have the urge to run, but to just stay in place. To let the two zombies shamble over and kill her. Wait, what? She fought hard to come out of that endless nightmare. Even after she woke up, she forced herself to fight for every day. All because of these things. The G36 was at her shoulder. She looked through the holographic sight. Two quick strokes of the trigger and both zombies were reduced to unmoving corpses. No one moved as she strode out of the elevator. Dr. Perez and Quentin were looking at her with amazed looks. The Turk, on the other hand, just leered at her.

“C’mon, we need to get to Quentin’s car,” Sissy said. She knew something inside her had just broken. All of that fear transformed into a burning anger. Sissy had been around mental health professionals to know the anger was something new she’d have to get under control. Right now, she was going to use it to keep her friend and her doctor alive. Maybe the Turk also. The others didn’t say anything as they followed her. The tunnel went a few hundred feet before ending at a stairwell.

“Go up,” the Turk grunted from under Quentin’s mass. Sissy hesitated.

“How did two zombies get down here?” she asked, looking for some clue. There was movement from the stairwell. She was moving before she realized the danger. Her reactions were returning. All those training drills Mateo forced on her back on Skull Island. She clamped down on that thought. She’d deal with Mateo later. She crouched in the shadow of the stairwell as someone pulled the charging handle on a weapon. Who waited until enemies showed up to chamber a round?

“Hello Turk,” a male voice said from the stairwell. Sissy was sure it was another of these Champions, whoever they were. “Jean thought you might come this way. Using your own dead as a tripwire was a stroke of brilliance though.” The man let out something between a gasp and a shriek.

“Is that Quentin McLintock?” the Champion asked.

“No, I’m Shane, from Tuscon,” Quentin said. The Champion bounded down the steps. He didn’t even look back to where Sissy was hiding under the stairs. The Champion was dressed just like Jean, but much shorter. He pointed a large silver revolver at Quentin. The tunnel exploded with sound. The Champion dropped to the ground. Dr. Perez stood over the stunned man and fired twice more before Quentin’s meaty hand snatched the pistol.

Sissy stormed out of her hiding hole and up the stairs. If anything followed that Champion, she was going to hose it with gunfire. Instead of another Champion or even zombies, a bearded man in a hunting vest and ballcap peered into the upper doorway. The man gave her a quizzical look. The incongrous sight was enough to stop Sissy from shooting.

“Y’all aren’t one of them,” the man said in a strong Southern accent. He looked back to someone. “Rupert, you might need to get over here.” Rupert turned out to be a lanky black man with a look that screamed military just barely going to age. He carried a decked-out and suppressed AR. He reminded Sissy a lot of Collin. He took one look at her and his eyes went wide.

“You’re Sissy O’Connell,” he said in astonishment, “What are you doing here?” Sissy was taken aback. It had been a long time since a stranger recognized her.

“We were caught in the building,” Sissy answered.

“We’ve secured up here, ma’am,” Rupert said, “You can come up.”

“Who’s we?” Quentin asked, hobbling up the stairs with the help of the Turk and a pale Dr. Perez. Rupert’s eyes went even wider. He actually went to attention.

“Maryland Citizens Anti-Zombie League,” Rupert said. Sissy and Quentin traded looks. What in the hell was that? Rupert pointed behind him and made a come-here motion. The bearded man and another came into the stairwell. As soon as they saw Quentin’s injury, the men slung their rifles and respectfully took over supporting Quentin. The Turk started to inch back down the stairwell until Sissy stuck the muzzle of the G36 in his ribs. As the group climbed the stairs, Rupert explained.

“It’s kind of an informal militia for dealing with zombies,” Rupert said, “There’s maybe thirty of us, but we knew we were needed when a zombie outbreak was reported in Baltimore. We were doing fine until this guy dressed like a ninja fired a laser and blew up Bubba’s truck. A lot of the guys scattered. Can’t blame them.”

“Where are the police?” Dr. Perez asked.

“Weren’t none around when we showed up,” the bearded man answered, “We saw a few abandoned cop cars. Figured they high-tailed as soon as they caught sight of them.” He motioned to a couple of zombies staggering towards the commotion. Rupert smoothly brought his AR up and fired twice. Both zombies went down. Sissy was amazed at how quiet the carbine was. Rupert grinned.

“Get me to my car,” Quentin said. “I can call in for back-up. Zombie qualified help. Plus, I’ve got a few goodies to handle the minions.” Quentin quickly rattled off where he’d parked. Rupert nodded and motioned to two others. The men dashed down the deserted street.

“He comes with us,” Sissy said, motioning to the Turk with the G36, “He’s what they’re after.” The men carrying Quentin looked at Rupert, but the black man just inspected the Turk. Silently, Rupert nodded and motioned for his men down the street. Sissy corralled Dr. Perez as Rupert slid behind the Turk. The group went as fast as they could the hundred yards to the waiting station wagon. The car was a treasure trove. It even had a spare leg for Quentin. The G36 was discarded when Quentin handed her a very familiar black case. She tossed the lid open and squealed. It was her rifle. Her Danny Boy. She gently lifted the rifle up. No, it wasn’t hers, but it was a close-copy.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Quentin said, “Yours was lost in Mexico City. This was the backup you set up back before we went to the island.” The rage bubbled up and threatened to overtake Sissy. Her precious rifle was gone? Who was using her rifle? And then lost it?

Deal with it later, she told herself. Quentin thoughtfully brought her working clothes. The men respectfully turned around as she shed her dirty and torn sun dress and quickly donned the heavy pants, shirt, and pads. Quentin got on the emergency radio and called for backup as Rupert found some zip-ties among the myriad of stuff. He efficiently trussed up the Turk and through their prisoner in the back seat of the Magnum. Dr. Perez collapsed in the passenger seat. The poor woman just couldn’t deal with what was going around her.

“What now, Rupert?” the bearded man asked. Then, he was gone in a brilliant flash of light. Quentin was already firing at the trio of Champions or minions or whatever they were called. One holding some kind of jewelry box went down. Sissy recognized Jean as the man spun a heavy sword in front of him. The blurring blade shimmered as Quentin’s bullets bounced off.

“If all of you put down your weapons, I will not kill you,” Jean said in a calm, but menacing voice. “I assure you, your obsolete weapons can’t harm me.” Then his head exploded in red-gray mist. Sissy worked the bolt on her rifle and fired again before the other ninja-clad guy could react. The men still seemed frozen in place as she sauntered over. Those idiots never even looked as she’d slid across the street.

“If you’re done staring, I think there’s still zombies that need killing,” Sissy told them.


Sissy savored the cold water as she drank from the proffered bottle. She splashed the remnants across her face. Baltimore was not a fun city to fight zombies. Quentin sat down next to her. The Army finally arrived and took over from Rupert’s people and the M&W Armed Response Team. Sissy was impressed with the Maryland folks. Even those who retreated from the minions didn’t go far. They quickly rejoined their friends when the zombie fighting started back up.

“It’ll be good to have you back,” Quentin said, “You’ll like Jess, and she could really use your help.”

“I’m not going back to Zombie Strike,” Sissy said.

“Why?” Quentin asked, surprised. “You were great out there. Whatever happened, you were taking down zombies down left and right.”

“The fear’s gone, but there’s an anger now,” Sissy said, “That’s what I used to keep fighting. It’s still burning inside of me. I can’t go back yet. Not with Mateo still there.”

“You still hate him?” Quentin asked.

“Yes, no, I don’t know,” Sissy answered, feeling emotionally drained, “All I know is when I think of him, the anger comes back. Until I deal with that, I can’t come back to Zombie Strike.”

“So what are you going to do?” Quentin asked. Sissy didn’t say anything for a bit.

“One of the M&W guys told me they were looking for someone to work with all these small militias that are popping up. Helping to train them, find the bad ones, and so on,” Sissy said, trying not to meet Quentin’s disappointed eyes. “Please don’t hate me, but I just can’t go back yet.” The immense arms wrapped around her.

“Just get better,” Quentin whispered, “I’m afraid we’re going to need you soon.”

[Zombie Strike Part 8 Chapter 76]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 75 – Epilogue

Panama City, Panama, 6 February 2011, 1200 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 22 days

Eric Stahl recognized the familiar antiseptic smell of a hospital as he emerged from the blackness. He heard people around him, but they were talking too low to make anything out. His body felt weak and unresponsive, but he didn’t feel any pain. He must have been out for a while, at least a couple of days. He remembered the unique sensations of an unused body and heavy pain medications. At least they hadn’t tubed him.

Stahl forced his eyes open. The room was dim and he could make out a few people-sized blotches moving about him. One of the blotches froze and then let out a string of excited Spanish in a high-pitched female voice. A plastic straw was thrust in his mouth. The water tasted horrible and wasn’t even cold. Stahl drank greedily until it was snatched from him. Then, a blinding light shone in his eyes. Why did docs always insist on blinding you right when you were trying to see?

“Mr. Stahl, can you hear me?” asked a voice in precise, if accented English.

“Get that light out of my face,” Stahl snarled. The light vanished. As soon as the dancing orbs cleared from his vision, Stahl could see a smooth face hovering over him. Why did the docs get younger every year? This one looked like he had just stepped out of a Menudo video.

“You’ve been unconscious for a few days. We were concerned about concussion,” the doctor explained. He laid a restraining hand on Stahl’s chest as the former soldier started to get up. “Please Mr. Stahl, you need to rest. Your body sustained several serious injuries.”

“I’ve been resting for three days,” Stahl snapped back, but he fell back into the bed. His head spun the moment it came up from the pillow.

“Unconsciousness is not the same as rest. You have some broken ribs, substantial contusions all over your body, and you’re recovering from extreme fatigue and blood loss. For God’s sake, give your body time to heal.” Stahl grumbled something the doctor took as agreement. “The good news Mr. Stahl is that if you keep recovering at this rate, we should be discharging you in less than a week. More to the point, we’re discharging you to the medical facilities on Skull Island. They should be able to keep you in bed until you’ve actually healed. Now if you could please be nice to the nurses, I have to go tell all of your friends that you should recover.” Stahl scowled, but nodded.

As the doctor left, a small form slipped into the room. Before Stahl could move his lethargic limbs, the face of Father Rodriguez materialized above him. The bright brown eyes twinkled with amusement. Stahl opened his mouth to yell for a nurse, but nothing came out. The former soldier fixed smoldering eyes on the tiny Jesuit priest. Father Rodriguez smiled serenely, ignoring Stahl’s anger.

“I’m glad to see you are recovering,” the priest said, “Human bodies were not created to handle the raw power of the Almighty. Do not worry Chief Stahl, I didn’t come here to preach to you. I just came to return something to you.” Father Rodriguez reached into his coat. Stahl’s eyes fixated on the copper metal and chain as it glinted in the little light of the hospital room. The amulet had been shaped like a heart with intricate engravings. Now it looked like a half-melted nugget of copper. The priest dropped the amulet on to Stahl’s chest. Stahl could feel warm pulses from the amulet though his hospital gown.

“I warned you that you shouldn’t keep that thing out around the vampires,” Father Rodriguez said, his warm tone erasing any reproof in his words. “Funny things happen when a human does battle with a holy relic. Especially when it’s someone who is not a follower of the Almighty. Sometimes, the relic bonds with the wielder. Of course, it becomes useless to men like me. To men like you, however, they can amplify all that power that lies in your heart.” Father Rodriguez strode back to the door.

“You may not trust the Almighty yet, but He trusts in you,” the priest intoned, “You hold the evidence of His trust in your hands. Think on that while your body heals.” Stahl frowned as the tiny priest slipped back out the door. You knew your life was screwed up when the easiest part of it was just fighting zombies.

Mateo Cortez knocked once and walked into the hotel suite. Kenn Blanchard sat in an overstuffed chair. His charcoal suit was slightly rumpled, and he was working on a glass of the local rum. The head of Zombie Strike flew into Panama City less than twenty-four hours ago. Global communications were still too shaky to trust with the information gathered on this mission. Kenn arrived on the chartered transport that would ferry the team back to Skull Island once the chief was recovered enough to travel.

The couch was taken up by Robyn Adams, the liaison to Zombie Strike from McKenzie and Winston, the insurance firm that funded Zombie Strike’s operations. Her blue eyes glittered as Mateo walked into the room. He gave her a quick smile. They’d been together for the past couple of months, and Mateo had made plans for the two of them after the meeting. Right now, it was time for business. At least if he concentrated on that, maybe he could ignore what that green silk dress did to Robyn’s curves. He shook his head and focused his attention on Special Agent Tredegar.

The FBI special agent was sitting at the room’s desk poised to enter everything discussed into his laptop. Tredegar had three roles. First, he was the American government’s liaison with Zombie Strike. Second, he acted as Zombie Strike’s representative to the American government. Third, he was the FBI’s point-man on dealing with the Truth, the cult that had emerged as Zombie Strike’s nemesis over the past year or so.

“Quentin’s plane get off okay?” Kenn asked as Mateo sat down on the couch next to Rachel. She handed him a bottle of beer.

“Yeah, but I wish he was here now,” Mateo answered.

“Couldn’t be helped,” Kenn said. “So, what did we learn on this job?”

“We learned the Truth’s motivation for all of its actions,” Mateo said, “Sometime in near future, there’s going to be a collision between our world and the world of these vampires. Demons. Whatever you want to call them. As far as the Truth is concerned, the only way to fight them is to take control, raise a zombie army, and use the artifacts Xipe Totec left scattered around along with sorcerers that can actually call down the god’s power.”

“So what does that give us exactly?” Tredegar asked.

“Giant kept mumbling about prophecies when he and I were stuck in Redencion,” Mateo said, “If we can find some copies of these prophecies, maybe we can figure out how to stop both the Truth and the vampires.”

“Plus figure out how you fit into these prophecies,” Tredegar observed.

“That too,” Mateo admitted. “We also learned the Truth is augmenting its forces with some pretty well trained believers. From what the others deduced, the Truth has formed a core of former soldiers and shooters to protect their sorcerers and whatever other mischief they can think of. That means our next operation could get more dangerous than normal.”

“What do you mean?” Kenn asked.

“We have to go after the prophecy. Even if it’s a crock, it’s what the Truth believes is true, and the roadmap of what they’re going to do.”

“Okay, do it.” Kenn said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been on the go for the last thirty hours or so, and I’d like to get some sleep.” The others stood up and walked out of the suite. Tredegar hustled down to his own room, leaving Robyn and Mateo alone.

“Well that was quick,” Robyn said.

“I just hit the highlights and what our next move will be,” Mateo answered, “Tredegar’s going to give Kenn the big briefing in the morning. As for now, you and I have reservations.” Robyn smiled and took Mateo’s arm as the two walked to the elevator.

“Where did Quentin go?” she asked.

“Baltimore. Sissy called.”

It hurt. The pain was finally tolerable, but this was the longest the daemon had ever felt pain. It hated this world. It hated the pathetic creatures that lived on this world. It hated the pain. The demon curled up in the small cavern. It knew that it would be a while before it would be well enough to venture out beyond the cave, much less fulfill its duty as a scout. When it was finally well enough, the demon would find that human and shred him. And take the hated bauble.

[Zombie Strike Interlude -Sissy’s Story]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 74

Fifteen miles north of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 2005 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Eric Stahl threw all of his might behind the punch to the tiny vampire’s face. Pain shot up his arm as his fist landed right on the vampire’s chin. He almost dropped the amulet as he worked his hand. It felt like the time he punched the side of a tank. Okay, nothing was broken. He heard the whoosh of the air as the vampire sprinted back. Stahl sidestepped and punched with the amulet. This time he aimed lower and caught the small vampire in the center of her chest. A flash of brilliant light erupted from the strike as the vampire shrieked in pain. As his eyes cleared, Stahl watched the vampire pick herself up nearly ten yards away. Her chest looked like it had been hit with willy-pete.

“That HURT!” the vampire screeched, “How did you hurt me?” Stahl didn’t answer. He rushed the vampire. The forest blurred around him as he shot across the distance between them in an eye blink. He thrust his fist into her chest once more. His strike passed through her body effortlessly. Her eyes went wide and her mouth moved, but no sound came out. Stahl yanked his arm out of her body. The vampire collapsed to the ground. There was a brilliant flash of flame and heat as the body was yanked out of this world. Stahl whirled on the other vampires.

The monster vampires that had been ready to kill the Zombie Strike team and the Truth cultists charged him instead. Stahl picked out the monster in the lead and flung himself at the creature. Stahl leapt and met the monster in mid-air. Stahl felt his collarbone crack, but the intense energy swirling inside of him shielded him from the pain. The vampire whipped a claw strike at Stahl. The former soldier rolled under the blow and sprung up into the monster’s gut with a jackhammer blow. The vampire doubled-over and Stahl slammed it in the face with a right cross. As the amulet slid across the vampire’s face, it burned off fur and flesh. The vampire let out a rumbling growl as it stood back up. Stahl brought up his fist for another strike.

The world spun uncontrollably as all of Stahl’s energy vanished. Pain from the built up injuries flared angrily. He was on the ground without even remembering falling. The vampire loomed over him. It paused, almost as if gloating the sudden turn of events. Was this what Evans meant? That he only had a small reservoir of power, and he used it up fighting the female vampire. Well, he wasn’t going down without taking something with him. His hand slipped down his leg until it found the familiar grip. Stahl jerked the Ruger SP101 revolver out of his ankle holster. The vampire flinched as the red laser beam lit up its eye. Stahl exhaled and squeezed. The small revolver barked once, twice, and then three more times after that, emptying the cylinder. The vampire’s head snapped back five times as each .357 Magnum round hit. It swayed on its feet for a moment and then shook its head. It snarled angrily and took a step towards him. Stahl dropped the revolver and tried to drag himself along the ground.

“FIRE IN THE HOLE!” hollered a British-accented voice a bare instant before three thunderous booms rocked the clearing. The combined shockwave drove the vampire to the ground and pushed all of the air out of Stahl’s lungs. As the former soldier gasped for air, the vampire stood and charged back towards Zombie Strike. The vampire took maybe two steps before a dark form slammed into it. For a moment, Stahl thought Billy was finished with Pretty Boy and was taking down another vampire. Then the form materialized into the decaying corpse of a jaguar.

Stahl watched in horrified fascination as the various animal corpses stood up and charged the vampires. Collins, the cowboy, mentioned in passing the Truth had created zombies from animals, but Stahl had been skeptical. His shocked mind could only latch onto the fact that he now owed the cowboy five bucks. The zombie jaguar savaged the vampire with its claws and teeth. The vampire flailed uselessly at the undead animal. Its blows would knock the zombie jaguar off for the merest instance, and then the jaguar was back on the vampire. The jaguar finally grabbed the vampire’s neck with its jaws. The vampire screamed in pain and the two were consumed in burst of fire.

Stahl felt someone grab the drag handle on his armor. He craned his neck around to see Montgomery straining to pull him back to the tree line. A vampire dodged a charging zombie ram and lunged at them. Then there was a deafening boom and vampire bits rained down on the two. Stahl grunted as some metal splinters slashed across exposed skin.

“Sport, watch where you’re lobbing those things!” yelled Montgomery, “Chief, when did you get so heavy?”

“Montgomery, drop me and get behind some cover,” Stahl said with as much authority as he could muster.

“And let you pick up stray rounds and fragments? Not a chance,” Montgomery snapped back. Stahl wanted to argue with her, but he didn’t have the strength. She jerked him behind a copse of trees. Grunting, Montgomery propped Stahl up to see the unfolding battle. The Zombie Strike and Truth shooters formed a ring around the two sorcerers. Those two were busy chanting. About half the remaining vampires were fighting off zombie animals while the rest were trying to close with humans. Coordinated automatic fire punctuated with Sport’s grenades was making that a losing proposition.

“Where’s that wolf of yours?” Stahl asked.

“Fighting that other evolved vampire,” Montgomery answered, “Somewhere out there.” Montgomery nodded eastward. She unslung her rifle and took aim at a vampire fighting off a zombie bull. She casually placed two headshots. The two rounds weren’t enough to take down the vampire, but they distracted it long enough for the zombie bull to gore the vampire. The two creatures vanished in the blast of flame. Stahl wanted to join in, but he was completely out of weapons and ammunition. All he could do was watch. One by one, the vampires were brought down. The last two died when Sport dropped five grenades between them. The silence after a furious battle always seemed eerie to Stahl. It was an odd moment of calm after such intense violence. Minutes passed as the Zombie Strike and Truth people came to grips with the fact that they’d survived. Then yells of joy erupted across the clearing. Montgomery sank down next to Stahl.

“Oh my God, we did it,” Montgomery breathed.

“Yeah,” Stahl said, “You did good Montgomery. When we get back, I’m going to show you some new stuff. Think you’d make a pretty decent LRRP.”

“I have no idea what you just said,” Montgomery commented. “You know Chief, you can just call me Jess.” Stahl started to answer, but the last of his energy ran out. He could hear Jess screaming his name as the world went black.

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 75 – Epilogue]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 73

Fifteen miles north of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 2000 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Eric Stahl slid back as the tiny female vampire grinned at him. He brought up his M4. Maybe he could slow her down. The vampire’s form blurred. Stahl’s mind couldn’t keep up with how fast the little form moved. A tiny fist slammed into his chest plate. He felt the ceramic plate crack. A second hammer blow landed, and Stahl’s ribs cracked.

“Where is the bauble human?” the vampire asked casually. “I know you have it. I need it please.” She punched him again forcing all the air from his lungs. Stahl gasped for air. Pain wracked his chest. The ribs weren’t just cracked, they were broken. With as much strength as he could muster, Stahl slammed his M4 into the small vampire. She tore the front of his armor off as the blow threw the vampire off. She rolled for a few feet before coming up to a crouch. The vampire hissed and barred her fangs.

Good news, she couldn’t defy basic physics. Bad news, Stahl just pissed her off. Stahl brought up his carbine. The barrel was bent from hitting the vampire. She giggled like a schoolgirl as Stahl transitioned to his pistol. The vampire took sprinted towards him and then froze in midair. It wasn’t just her. The entire clearing looked like time stopped. Stahl could even see the bullets from Montgomery’s SCAR hanging in the air. Montgomery’s wolf trotted out from behind the girl.

“Did you do this?” Stahl asked the spirit wolf pup.

“Wolf does not have that power,” said a new voice from behind. Stahl whirled to bring his pistol to bear on the speaker. The wolf leapt next to him. A man walked from behind a tree. He matched Stahl’s own six feet. His features reminded Stahl of the Jordanians he’d worked with some years back. He was dressed in a light gray business suit. He walked towards Stahl as if oblivious to the incongruity of it all.

“Who are you?” Stahl blurted out.

“I am the Metatron,” the man answered. His words echoed with power. “The Lord God sent me to speak with you.”

“You don’t look like Alan Rickman,” Stahl quipped as he tried to recover. Metatron crooked up an eyebrow. “Sorry. Movie reference.”

“You stand at a crossroads. Both of this world’s survival as well your own beliefs,” Metatron said, ignoring the joke. The man, no angel, pointed at the amulet that hung at Stahl’s chest. “Are you prepared to let the Lord God help you?”

“If I’m not, then the world dies? What kind of BS choice is that?” Stahl demanded.

“You misunderstand. Your choice here will not doom the world. It will push events down one path or the other,” Metatron answered emotionlessly.

“So, it’s just my own fate,” Stahl shot back. He clamped down on his next words. He was letting his anger cloud his judgment. “Why me?”

“This moment is the sum of your choices,” Metatron answered. “I am here because the outsiders have once again challenged the Lord God. He wants you to act as His Champion in this.”

“Why the choice? Why not force me?”

“It would make free will worthless. It is free will that allows you to be truly powerful.”

“How can I be a Champion of God?” Stahl asked, “I acknowledge His existence, but I’m still unsure of Him being a force of good. Too many unanswered questions.”

“Right now, that’s enough. Accept that He exists and He can give you the power to defeat this outsider,” Metatron said. Stahl looked around the clearing. The fourteen monstrous vampires loomed over his Zombie Strike teammates and the Truth soldiers. Pretty Boy was bearing down on Montgomery. In a few seconds, the entire team would be wiped out. That was what was gnawing at him. He was given a binary choice. Accept the power and save everyone, or refuse it and the vampires win. Nothing was ever that simple. There were always more options.

“That is why you are such a dangerous individual,” Metatron said, startling Stahl. “You are rational and unwilling to accept things as they seem. Even with the Lord God, you are looking for options.”

“You can read my mind?” Stahl asked, his anger rising.

“Of course he can, he’s an angel,” answered Evans, coming alive. Stahl stood in shock as the Truth soldier walked off the line. Evans gave the angel a smug smile. “This one is still in play, but the Flayed One is willing to foreswear him. If you’re master is willing to just give him the power he needs.” Metatron cocked his head, but his face remained an emotionless mask.

“Done.” Metatron said. Without another word, the angel spun and walked into the forest.

“How in the hell are you walking about?” Stahl demanded from Evans.

“Xipe Totec. No to explain fully. You have to kill the maestro as soon as time starts back up,” Evans answered, pointing at the female vampire. The Truth soldier looked around nervously. “Damn, less time than I thought. Chief, remember, you’re the key.” Evans hurried back to where he’d been standing in the line of the prisoners.

Stahl started to ask how he was supposed to kill the vampire when his head exploded in pain and sudden knowledge. For the barest instant, Stahl’s mind was linked to God. He knew everything. He could see all the paths that everyone could take, and how they all interconnected. The instant finished, and he suddenly felt very small. Then his mind found two things. Knowledge and power. Smiling a predatory smile, Stahl walked over to his position. He looked over his shoulder. Evans nodded with understanding. Stahl craned his neck back to see Montgomery’s wolf. The creature nodded and even seemed to smile. It was ready to pounce on Pretty Boy.

Stahl braced and felt time unfreeze. The little vampire screamed down at him. Holding the amulet in hand, Stahl struck.

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 74]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 7 – Chapter 72

Fifteen miles north of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1915 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 day

Eric Stahl slid through the darkened forest. For the first time in a long time, he felt alive. He barely kept himself from grinning as he crept through the trees. The vampires were good. They might have even detected him if they weren’t busy escorting the prisoners. Apparently, entranced humans tended to make a lot of noise tromping through the forest. More than enough noise to hide Stahl. At his heart, Stahl was a true LRRP. He might have been a US Army Ranger, but most Rangers were little more than jumped-up airborne soldiers. Stahl made his bones in recon, and had been mentored by one of the few remaining LRRPs. The old sergeant trained Stahl to be silent, steady, and deadly. Ninjas were rank amateurs compared to LRRPs. They just worked at night. LRRPs owned the night. Now, it was his turn to pass on the traditions.

Montgomery and her wolf were about twenty meters behind Stahl. The girl mimicked Stahl’s movements through the forest. She wasn’t as quiet as Stahl, but she was quiet enough. The raw talent was definitely there. Then, there was her wolf. Stahl didn’t know how Billy went from a mottled white coat to the brown-black pelt. He was pretty sure it had something to do with the wolf’s origin. Stahl also suspected the wolf was somehow helping Montgomery creep through the forest. He’d made the mistake of dismissing the wolf as a simple pet. If he got out of this forest alive, Stahl would figure out exactly what was going on with those two.

The trio trailed the vampires and their prisoners. The Zombie Strike and Truth people shuffled along behind a new vampire. This one looked like a traditional vampire, instead of the seven to eight-foot man-bat monsters the team had been fighting. The vampire was very tall, easily six-six, with the stereotypical pale skin and black hair. His features were smooth, reminding Stahl of a long-list of pretty-boys he served with over the years. Except for his eyes. Human eyes tended to show up like bright orbs in nightvision, but the vampire’s eyes didn’t show up at all. There were just pockets of black in the white-green face. The vampire was talking constantly in a low, even voice. It was probably part of how he controlled the others.

The vampire and the group continued up the mountain. Stahl and Montgomery followed cautiously. He still wasn’t sure how he was going to free the prisoners. Heck, he wasn’t even sure they could be freed. Mind control was new territory for Zombie Strike, much less the mechanics of it. All Stahl could do right now was follow the group and hope for an opening. It was maddening, but that was part of the job. He learned that lesson the first time he watched a hostage die in a place not too far from this forest. The air started to warm noticeably. Musky scents floated through the air like invisible clouds. Stahl instinctively slowed down. He was picking up something from the six vampires guarding the prisoners. They weren’t as tense, and their gait opened up. Stahl stopped behind one of the thicker trees. Montgomery almost ran into him when he didn’t move. Instead she just slid past him and took up a position behind another tree five meters away. The girl was good.

Montgomery flashed the question hand sign. Okay, she needed work on her patience. He hand-signed back for her to wait. Stahl could make out her grimace as she took up her position. Stahl ignored her expression. He scanned the trees in front of him. They looked like a big clump of dark with a few shadows of green from the tiny bits of starlight. Did vampires act like humans, or was that just normal for them?

There was a sudden glint from a tree to Stahl’s eleven o’clock. The branches rustled. Something big just landed there. A sentry. They just wandered into the home of the vampires. Stahl waited patiently, intently watching the tree. He couldn’t see the vampire. The creature was hidden in the blackness of his nightvision. There were other ways to figure out where it was. The vampire couldn’t hide from the entire physical world. One of the branches was much lower. Stahl guessed the vampire was about halfway out. It looked like a good vantage point. Minutes stretched out endlessly as Stahl watched the tree. It always amazed Stahl that something could be exciting and boring at the same time. Finally, the tree shook again as the sentry continued his rounds. This time, Stahl did smile.

Montgomery followed as Stahl hustled towards the tree the vampire just vacated. Stahl didn’t know how many vampires were on guard duty, but he wanted to be inside their line before the next sentry came round. After about a hundred meters, the trees became sparse. Stahl could see where the vampires cleared out the forest. Jagged stumps littered the clearing. Carcasses of dead animals were strewn carelessly about. Stahl found a standing tree next to one of the carcasses. The putrid smell turned his stomach, but it should cover his own scent. Montgomery followed his lead, and dragged what had once been a panther next to her position. He couldn’t see the wolf.

About a dozen vampires were clustered in the center of the clearing. The prisoners were lined up in the center facing away Stahl and Montgomery. Pretty-Boy looked like he was talking to someone on the other side of the prisoners. Someone short and powerful from the way Pretty-Boy was bending over with his head pointed directly at the ground respectfully.

“These were the ones sent after us?” asked a beautiful soprano voice from the other side of the prisoners. Stahl almost dropped his weapon at the sound. The amulet burned under his chest plate, snapping him out of his stupor. Montgomery shot him a sidelong glance.

“They look different from the last time we came to this world,” the voice said, “Why aren’t any of them wearing crosses? Aren’t they supposed to be knights?”

“I don’t think so,” Pretty-Boy said, his voice finally loud enough for Stahl to hear. “These ones here are tainted.” He pointed at the Truth soldiers and sorcerers.

“Tainted, how?”

“I don’t know. Something is protecting them. Something we haven’t dealt with before,” Pretty-Boy answered. “The others are just common thugs with very good weapons.” He waved dismissively at the Zombie Strike team.

“No paladins or clerics of this world’s god?” the voice asked surprised.

“Not amongst this group. Just the one cleric in the village when we came in this world.” Pretty-Boy quickly stepped to the side as a small form emerged from behind the prisoners. She was barely five feet tall with a slight, but definitely feminine, form and cascades of black hair. As she turned, Stahl could see her doll-like face with the black abysses where the eyes should have been. An evil smile darted across her lips. She gently laid a hand on Pretty-Boy’s forearm, and then brought the tall vampire to his knees with a powerful jerk.

“Then where is the little bauble causing all of the commotion?” she asked pleasantly. The smile returned as Pretty-Boy gasped in pain, unable to answer. Stahl swallowed. The little form’s head snapped up. Her face locked onto Stahl’s.

“Oh never mind, I found it.”

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 73]