CategoryMonday Fiction

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 2 – Chapter 12

Five miles south of Forreston FL, roughly fifty miles north of Lake City FL, 1600 hours Local, 18 October 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 2 months, 13 days

Mateo grunted as the speeding van hit another bump in the road. His shoulder protested as his armor jostled from the sudden jolt. Mateo looked at the others in the converted cargo van. The four men from M&W looked like faceless stormtroopers in digi-cam. Under normal circumstances, Mateo was sure it would be impressive to see them charging out with their armor and suppressed carbines. Problem was zombies didn’t impress easily – or at all. It all seemed far too complex for the task assigned to the team.

Mateo and The Steve were contacted by M&W’s armed response team less than thirty-six hours after Mateo left the clinic. The next twenty-four hours were a whirlwind of getting the duo fitted with the armor, checked out on the carbines, and a very quick mission brief before piling into the van that rocketed north to Forreston. The team was being sent in to retrieve M&W’s investigative agents. The agents missed their last two check-ins and weren’t responding to any attempts to contact them. It was enough for M&W to send in the cavalry.

“Ten minutes lads,” announced Collin Pryce, the leader of M&W’s armed response team. The four M&W members were all British. Mateo’s initial impression of the team members was professional, but very cool to Mateo and The Steve. Mateo ignored the coolness. They were probably trying to figure out why Mateo and The Steve were brought in. The Steve was, well, The Steve. That was about the best Mateo could hope for from the gregarious medic. As it was, everything moved so fast Mateo couldn’t remember the other three’s names. He kept them straight by referring to them as Slim, Spiff, and Sport.

“Still no contact with the agents, sir,” reported Spiff, the team’s communications specialist. “There are no signals at all from the village. It’s like they fell off the EM spectrum.” Pryce nodded and touched his forearm bracer. A satellite photo of Forreston sprang up in Mateo’s face shield. The town looked completely deserted. In a town of five hundred souls, that apparent desolation was not a good sign.

“Gentlemen,” Pryce said, drawing Mateo’s attention from the photo, “Our last communication with our agents had them investigating an abandoned grocer’s market. We will secure the building, locate our agents, and extract them. If we run across the smugglers, we will destroy their cargo and attempt to apprehend them.” The satellite photo vanished from Mateo’s view. “Do not hesitate to use lethal force if the smugglers refuse to surrender.”

“Great, what about if your agents aren’t there?” Mateo asked.

“Then we still secure the building until others can determine where we will go next,” Pryce answered with an annoyed tone. Mateo scowled behind his face plate.

The van jolted as it screeched into the supermarket’s parking lot. The driver gunned the van to the entrance, slamming on the brakes just shy of the building. The rear doors of the van sprang open, and a ramp slammed down on the asphalt. Mateo and Slim charged down the ramp. Mateo was acting as point for this operation with Slim backing him up. The supermarket was the familiar concrete block with large windows in front. Mateo slowed as he saw the bullet holes in the glass. His instincts were screaming warnings.

“What are you doing Yank?” Slim said, nearly tripping over Mateo.

“Bullet holes in the glass,” Mateo said, pointing with his carbine, “Your agents may have walked into an ambush. I don’t want to repeat that mistake.” Slim made a noise that could have been a grunt or a growl, but the tall man matched Mateo’s cautious stride. The two men slipped through the broken glass doors and crept into the dimly lit building. Mateo could make out the checkout aisles in the faint light, but the darkness swallowed everything back. A beam of light shot out from behind Mateo. Mateo swore under his breath and scrambled away from Slim. Didn’t M&W teach their people anything about clearing a building? Slim was lucky. No assassins hiding in the darkness rained bullets down on the tall man. Mateo took cover behind one of the checkout stations as The Steve reamed Slim for his mistake. The medic certainly had a colorful vocabulary.

Pryce knelt down next to Mateo. Mateo said nothing as he continued his search of the darkness. There were no unusual sounds or movements, nor any unusual shapes in the faint ambient light. Mateo knew Pryce wanted him to slap on his nightvision and continue forward. Mateo didn’t trust nightvision inside a building. He lost depth perception with the nightvision. Worse, it would cut out the instant Mateo stepped into a part of the building without enough ambient light for the device to work with. The heavy helmet and face plate took away enough of Mateo’s hearing and peripheral vision as it was.

“Would you care to proceed, Mr. Cortez?” Pryce asked, his British accent dripping with sarcasm and annoyance.

“If you mean charging blindly into the darkness, then no,” Mateo answered flatly, “Something’s not right. I can feel it.”

“Listen you bloody piker,” Pryce said in a low and angered tone, “I will not have my team lollygagging around because you have the willies. We may bloody well have agents down.” Pryce turned to Slim. “Owen, you’re on point. Mr. Cortez is afraid of the dark.” The tall man nodded and slapped the nightvision device to his face plate. With his carbine up and ready, Slim began walking deeper into the store.

“Pryce, the store’s too quiet,” Mateo said, grabbing the team leader’s arm, “We should be hearing some human sounds, but we’re not. There aren’t even any sounds from vermin. We’re walking into an ambush.”

“Coward,” Pryce spat at Mateo, shrugging out of Mateo’s grip. Rage flared in Mateo. This idiot was calling him a coward? When did this fool fight back wave after wave of zombies? Mateo barely managed to keep himself from decking Pryce right then and there. Mateo’s hot retort died on his lips as Slim reported.

“We’ve got a bleeder!” Slim exclaimed, “Looks like one of the smugglers. He’s been hurt pretty bad.” Something about the words flashed in Mateo’s head. He shouldered past Pryce and sprinted towards Slim. The Steve was right behind Mateo. The two caught up with Slim and shone their lights on the smuggler. The smuggler was trapped under some collapsed shelving units. His neck and face were covered with blood. The smuggler was desperately reaching out to Slim.

“Don’t!” was all Mateo could scream as Slim bent down to take the smuggler’s hand. The grab took Slim by surprise. The smuggler – now a zombie – jerked Slim off his feet. Slim screamed as the zombie tried to tear into him with savage bites. The zombie’s frenzied biting just couldn’t penetrate the armor. Slim tried desperately to escape, but the zombie held fast.

“Y’know Matt, that’s kind of funny,” The Steve said, pointing at Slim and the zombie. When Mateo didn’t say anything, The Steve shrugged. “I’m just saying.”

“Just kill it,” Mateo said tersely. Mateo snapped on his carbine’s light and searched around. He wasn’t worried about a human ambush anymore. At that point, visibility was more important than stealth. The Steve took aim, and the suppressed carbine coughed. A single round tore apart the zombie’s head. The Steve shouldered his carbine and pulled Slim away from the zombie. Slim tried to get under control as The Steve checked him.

“Relax dude, you’re shiny,” The Steve pronounced. Pryce, Spiff, and Sport hustled up to the trio. Like Mateo, they had their lights on and were busy searching the area surrounding them. Mateo shook his head as he drew his pistol. The team, minus The Steve, jumped as Mateo fired two rounds into the unmoving zombie. The echoes of the thunderclaps bounced around the store. Mateo could feel Pryce’s glare from behind the face plate. He didn’t care. Buried instincts were coming back.

“That should draw every zombie in this store down on us,” Mateo said, “Split into pairs and spread out. Engage anything that doesn’t answer a challenge.” The commanding tone brooked no questions. Pryce took Sport and moved towards the back of the store. Slim and Spiff strode over to the next aisle.

“Welcome back boss-dude,” The Steve said, sidling up to Mateo.

“Head back that way,” Mateo said, pointedly ignoring The Steve’s comments, “You and I better clear the offices.” The Steve answered with a thumbs-up. The two skulked to the front of the store where the offices were located. Mateo didn’t trust M&W’s team to handle a fight with a zombie in the tight confines of an office. As they neared the offices, Mateo noticed the door was shut. That was unusual enough. Then, there was the odd green glow leaking out from behind the door. Mateo pointed to the light and The Steve nodded. This called for quick action.

The Steve shouldered the door in. Mateo charged in behind him with weapon up and ready. Mateo saw the bright flash an instant before his chest was hammered twice. The armor stopped the bullets and absorbed most of the impact. The remaining energy seemed to jump to Mateo’s shoulder. The pain forced Mateo to his knees. The shooter stepped out of his cover and into the green chemlight. Collin DuBois loomed over Mateo with pistol in hand.

[Zombie Strike Part 2 Chapter 13]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 2 – Chapter 11

Tampa, Florida, 2300 hours Local, 15 October 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 2 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez woke with a start. Pain flashed through his body as he realized he escaped the nightmare. As he lay back in the unfamiliar bed, Mateo decided it was probably time to seek professional help. The nightmares were getting worse. Mateo finally looked around the room. It looked like a hospital room. Some sort of IV drip was hooked up to his left arm. Other unfamiliar machines beeped and displayed what Mateo assumed were his vitals. There was something though that said this wasn’t a hospital room. Could it be an infirmary in the county jail? Mateo could remember the end of the fight with the zombies in the office complex. The men who appeared at the end were definitely cops. Did they arrest him? He didn’t have any restraints on him.

“Yo, boss-dude, glad to see you’re awake,” The Steve said as he entered the room. Mateo relaxed a bit. If The Steve was here, it wasn’t jail. Unfortunately, that meant Mateo had no clue where he was. The Steve ambled into the room with a casual walk. He was dressed in a black t-shirt, tan cargo shorts, and flip-flops. The Steve picked up Mateo’s chart from the foot of the bed and read silently for a minute. Outward appearance notwithstanding, The Steve was an excellent medic – as Mateo could attest to personally.

“Well my man, it looks like you managed to dislocate your shoulder,” The Steve pronounced, “Doc put it back in and knocked you out with some pain killers. You’re shiny. It’s just gonna hurt a lot. You should be out of here, no prob.”

“Where exactly is here?” Mateo asked, “I take it this isn’t Tampa General. Are we even still in Florida?”

“Oh, yeah, we’re still in Tampa,” The Steve answered, putting down the chart, “Mackenzie and Winston rented out one of those medical parks and stashed you. They even had a doc come in and fix you up.” Mateo was trying to forget about being involved with the shadowy insurance firm. Now, they just showed back up when he least expected it. What was that line from The Godfather?

“Exactly how did M&W know about this little incident?” Mateo asked in a controlled voice.

“C’mon my man – zombies?” The Steve said as if that explained everything, “As soon as the cops reported zombies in Tampa, M&W swooped in, plucked you out of police custody, and snagged me to watch over you. I think they’re tracking something.” Mateo arched an eyebrow in a silent question. Zombies showing up in Florida spontaneously was ludicrous. If M&W was involved, then it was likely the zombies Mateo fought were linked to something bigger. Possibly, something world threatening.

Mateo’s stomach dropped as Nigel Brown walked into the room. Mateo had nothing against Brown personally. The representative for M&W had done right by Mateo and his team the last time. That said, the last time Mateo ended up leading his team against an acolyte of an Aztec god, and not everyone made it out alive, in one piece, or even sane. Every instinct in Mateo was screaming the immaculately dressed Brit’s appearance in Tampa boded ill.

“I’m glad to see you’re awake, Mr. Cortez,” Nigel said with a sharp English accent. Brown was smiling, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. Nigel was worried about something. That wasn’t good. Nigel didn’t worry about small things. Mateo decided not to waste time dickering around with pleasantries.

“What do you want Nigel?” Mateo asked, trying to soften the blunt words with a calm tone, “Or more to the point, what does M&W want with me? Enough to do all of this?” Mateo motioned to the room. The bluntness caught Nigel off-guard. His brown spectacled eyes darted around as he collected himself.

“Um, well, yes, I can see how it appears,” Nigel temporized, “Please believe me that M&W didn’t provide this medical care to place you in our debt. You’ve done us a service, and this is the least we could do.” Nigel paused long enough to clean his glasses with a handkerchief.

“As you’ve clearly surmised, there is more to those zombies you dispatched earlier,” Nigel said, “M&W has reason to believe that an unknown party absconded with at least one zombie from Skull Island.” Mateo frowned. Skull Island was the one place on Earth known to be habitated by zombies. It was also home to Zombie Strike!, the reality-slash-game-slash-extreme sport show.

“How did they do that?” Mateo asked. The revenues from the television show and hunting trips, along with M&W’s covert support, paid for highly-trained teams of game wardens to prevent people from snatching a zombie off the island.

“We don’t know. We weren’t even aware of what happened until an outbreak occurred in Panama around the Canal Zone. At that point, we started an investigation and discovered the theft,” Nigel continued, “Now the outbreak here. Needless to say, this has the firm’s attention.”

“So, what?” Mateo asked with a touch of frustration, “You want me to track down a possible smuggler? I’m not a PI. I wouldn’t have any idea of how to investigate something like this.” Nigel was unfazed by Mateo’s retort.

“That part wouldn’t be your concern,” Nigel said, “The firm already has retained some of the finest investigators available. Former members of your Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as some from Thames House.” Those people would be from the British Security Service, also known as MI5. “We already have an investigative team tracking the perpetrators. What the firm requests from you would be to lead the armed response team being assembled to assist the investigators.” Mateo’s eyes narrowed.

“Lead a team again?” Mateo asked with a deadly quiet voice, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

“No,” Nigel said shaking his head, “I don’t think you’re ready. Yet, you are one of the rare individuals on the planet who can do combat with the undead, and you have led a team previously into combat with zombies. Those qualities cannot be overlooked. Especially with time being a critical factor. We must stop these perpetrators before another outbreak occurs.”

“C’mon boss-man, I got you’re back,” The Steve said, striking his familiar pose – brilliant smile and both thumbs up.

“I can’t,” Mateo said, “You’re right Nigel, I can face zombies without fleeing in terror, and I can fight them, but I can’t lead a team for you. I’ll help your team out as a shooter. I can do that much.” The Steve looked crestfallen, but Nigel nodded in understanding.

“Will you be willing to be an operator on the armed response team?” Nigel asked The Steve, “Even if Mr. Cortez is not the leader?”

“Yeah,” The Steve said grudgingly, “Someone’s got to show the newbs how things are done.”

“Well then, I will leave you two to catch up,” Nigel said, “The doctor will be by in the morning to check the shoulder. Barring anything unforeseen Mr. Cortez, you should be released shortly after that. Please expect our team leader to contact you within forty-eight hours.” Mateo and The Steve said goodbye as Nigel walked out of the room.


Nigel stepped out into the muggy Florida night. He couldn’t understand how civilized human beings could live in such an environment. The humidity was bad enough Nigel wondered if he would need gills to just walk around. Grumbling, Nigel pulled the phone out of his jacket. He still had one phone call to make before he could retire for the evening.

“I assume you owe me twenty bucks now,” said the deep melodic voice in greeting, “How’s our boy?”

“He dislocated his shoulder during his brief skirmish, Mr. Blanchard,” Brown asked, annoyed more at himself than anything else, “Mr. Cortez should be fine for our purposes. How did you know how he would react to our proposal?”

“My brother, I know my people,” Kenn Blanchard answered. Kenn, aka The Black Man With A Gun, was popularly known as the host of Zombie Strike! and head honcho at Skull Island. Unbeknowst to the general public, Kenn was also M&W’s operational commander for dealing with the growing number of zombie incidents. Kenn liked to see himself as a sort of Nick Fury-like leader of the anti-zombie forces. After being forced to watch some of the American superhero movies, Nigel could see a bit of the character in Kenn’s bearing, but Nigel believed it was the compassionate preacher side of the man that truly allowed Kenn to bring out the best in those under him.

“I won’t deny Mr. Cortez’s ability as a zombie hunter, but I still believe we’re doing him a disservice by bringing him into this operation,” Nigel protested, hoping to change Kenn’s mind.

“Nigel, that man’s been Chosen, with a capital C,” Kenn said with an earnest sincerity, “You’ve read over what we recovered from that temple. You can call it fate if that makes it easier for you, but Matt’s one of the keys. He just needs a nudge down the right path.”

Zombie Strike Part 2 Chapter 12

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part 2 – Chapter 10

Tampa, Florida, 1400 hours Local, 15 October 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 2 months, 16 days

Mateo Cortez stepped out of his cool, air-conditioned car into the muggy heat of the Florida afternoon. He felt sweat spring out across his face and back. Florida never really shook the summer heat until late November at the earliest. Mateo could easily expect to wear shorts and sandals for Christmas. At least the bay kept things sort of tolerable.

The office building in front of him gleamed with its newness. Mateo was here to talk with the crew completing the offices for the first tenants. The owners wanted another status report. At least he got along well enough with the crews. They understood he didn’t like these interruptions anymore than they did. He was reaching in for his briefcase when he heard the screams.

Mateo instinctively sprinted into the office building. All he could think was a horrific accident. He fumbled for his phone. Mateo stopped as he saw the workers stampeding to get out of the building. That wasn’t right. These men worked on enough construction sites. Most of them had seen some pretty nasty accidents during their careers. What would send them running for their lives? Mateo spotted the crew’s foreman, Red Shaleman, and yanked the man as he tried to pass Mateo.

“Matt, we need to get out of here. Right now!” the foreman demanded. His eyes were wide with panic. This was definitely not right. Red had nearly thirty years in the business. He was known for being calm under pressure and unflappable in the midst of any crisis. Red wasn’t evacuating a job site after an incident. He was fleeing as fast as he could.

“What’s the problem Red?” Mateo asked as calmly as he could, ignoring the growing pandemonium around the two. Red’s weathered face was tense with shock. The older man couldn’t understand why Mateo wasn’t getting out of the building as fast as he could. Red tried to answer, but the words wouldn’t come. The howling moans that pierced the frantic din answered all of Mateo’s questions.

“Don’t let anyone in here,” Mateo ordered the foreman. Red nodded furiously. Mateo let the man continue running out of the building. He sidestepped as the last few workers sprinted by. Mateo put away his phone. The police weren’t going to be any help until he dealt with the problem. He walked cautiously towards the sound. The moans were definitely coming from the office suite the crew was working on. One of the wooden double doors was jammed open. Mateo stood behind the closed door. He closed his eyes and listened. The moans sounded again. Mateo opened his eyes. There were at least three of them in the office suite. More to the point, those were homing moans. The three weren’t together, but were trying to find each other. Mateo slid off his sports jacket and removed his tie. He drew his Sig P229.

What are zombies doing in Florida? Mateo thought as he peered into the office suite. The reception area was dark with only a little light filtering in from one of the offices. Mateo snuck into the room and pressed the light switch. Nothing. One of the workers probably tore something out by accident in their panic. Mateo took careful steps up to the door separating the reception area from the rest of the office.

To Mateo’s right was a cubicle farm. To the left were the offices. The midday sun streamed through their doorless openings. The light brightened the space between the offices and the cubicles, but the high walls of the cubicles kept the cubicle farm dark. Hunting in there would be nasty and difficult. The walkway between the offices and cubicles stretched back some fifty feet before curving back to a conference room. The zombies moaned again. From the sound, one zombie was in the cube farm. The other two sounded like they were in the conference room. That was a piece of good luck. If they were separated, that made Mateo’s task easier.

First, Mateo needed to deal with the zombie in the cube farm. It was by itself and the closest. Mateo took one look at the darkened cubicles before he fished out the small Surefire flashlight out of his pocket. With the Sig in his right hand and his flashlight in the left, Mateo slowly advanced into the cube farm. The movement was awkward at first, but Mateo’s instructors drilled it into him. It was slow, but it always made sure Mateo was in a stable firing position. It was also very quiet, which was a great benefit when hunting zombies.

Zombies were strange creatures. Not just because they were the walking dead. They didn’t act like any other creature in nature. A zombie would ignore the high-power beam from the Surefire, but any decent noise would bring any zombie within earshot. It was why their moans were so dangerous. A zombie moan could bring the living dead for a half a mile. Of course, if you got too close, the damned things could smell you.

The cubicle farm consisted of two rows of approximately fifteen cubicles with a walkway wide enough for two people. Mateo shone the light down the walkway. No zombie. Probably in one of the cubicles. Mateo wasn’t about to go root it out armed with only a pistol. There were easier ways to commit suicide. A sufficiently dull spoon for example. It would be easier to play the bait. Mateo slipped into the nearest cubicle. It was only the four carpeted walls. The work crews wouldn’t have installed the desks and furniture until the next week. Still, it would give Mateo decent cover.

“COME ON OUT!” Mateo hollered. The sound of a human voice was an irresistible draw for zombies. Better than peanut butter for a raccoon. Mateo braced with his pistol and flashlight up. He was ready to take down the zombie.

Mateo jumped as the cubicle wall crashed down behind Mateo as the zombie burst through. Mateo spun as the zombie stumbled at him. The familiar smell of rotting flesh filled Mateo’s nostrils as he barely escaped the lunging arms. His body fell into the familiar fighting stance as the zombie lunged again. Mateo batted the arms away with his left hand, but couldn’t get his right up for the kill shot. Mateo took a step back and felt the rear foot slide out from under him as he hit the plastic paint cover. Mateo cursed as he hit the carpeted floor. Mateo managed to twist so he fell on his left side. The shoulder shot pain throughout his body as it hit. Mateo managed to ignore the pain as his training took over. The pistol snapped up and barked twice. The bullets slammed into the bridge of the zombie’s nose. Mateo remembered just in time to roll as the zombie collapsed next to him.

Mateo looked at the unmoving corpse. Oh Lord, it was Chris Anders. Mateo despised him when he was alive. Anders acted like the worst stereotype of a construction worker and made Mateo’s job hell on more than one occasion. Yet in that instant, Mateo felt an overwhelming sympathy for the man. In Mateo’s view, death by zombie was one of the most horrific ways to die. At least Anders should be at peace.

The moans snapped Mateo back to the present. Adrenaline shot through his body. He felt the shooting pain from his shoulder lessen. Mateo stood up. The other two zombies were closer. Worse, those were definitely the short, high-pitched hunting moans. Mateo slid out of the cubicle farm back into the main walkway. The filtered daylight illuminated the two shambling zombies. Mateo tried to fall into the Weaver stance, but his left shoulder screamed in pain.

“Buck up boyo,” Mateo said to himself, mimicking his former teammate Collin Dubois, as he brought up the Sig. “Put the bloody lollipop on the stick and squeeze.” The zombie on the right fell as Mateo placed a double tap into its head. Mateo pivoted and placed the white and green dot on the last zombie. It completely ignored its counterpart’s death. It was focused on making Mateo its meal. A second double-tap stopped that from happening.

“Put the weapon down!” commanded an angry voice behind Mateo. Mateo carefully lowered the pistol to the ground. Rough hands grappled Mateo instantly. He was shoved to the floor while his arms were immobilized. One of the hands gripped Mateo’s left shoulder. The pain shot through Mateo’s body with a vengeance. Mateo could feel his body shutting down from the pain and the loss of the adrenaline.

“Oh my God, those are zombies!” exclaimed another voice. Mateo wanted to say something witty. The blackness consumed him before he could make his mouth work.

Zombie Strike Part 2 Chapter 11

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Nine – Part One Epilogue

Skull Island, Southern Pacific; 1200 hours Local, 31 July 2009; Countdown: 2 years, 5 months

Mateo hesitated before rapping on the door. This was his final task before going back to the real world. The deep voice beckoned Mateo to enter. The conference room looked the same as it did when the team gathered that first time. Good Lord, was it less than a month ago? It felt like a lifetime.

Kenn Blanchard sat at the head of the table. Kenn was dressed in black with his preacher’s collar still on. That morning, Kenn presided over Jack’s burial in the island’s small cemetary. In an odd twist of irony, the Australian government forbade Jack from being buried on his native soil. The officials feared the body was contaminated. So, Jack – who so hated this island – would reside here for eternity. Sitting to Kenn’s right was Nigel Brown. The representative from MacKenzie & Winston looked exhausted. From what Kenn said, Brown fought hard with his own firm’s entrenched bureaucracy to ensure that the firm’s ship stayed to extract the team. Then, the liaison went another round with the paper-pushers to ensure the team was taken care of properly. Just when M&W’s middle managers thought Brown would leave them in peace, Nigle charged back in to make sure that the team was paid what was promised by the firm. Mateo was surprised Brown was still employed. To Kenn’s right was Collin DuBois. Collin’s left arm was in a working cast. His normal graceful movements were jerky from the numerous injuries he’d collected during the fight in the temple room. The three men wore compassionate looks on their faces as Mateo lowered himself into a chair across from them.

“The processing of the island has been completed,” Brown reported, “We are still unable to determine how the zombies were raised in the first place. They show none of the expected infections, mutations, or substances that we have observed in other zombies. Mister DuBois believes it was magic.”

“That’s about a good enough explanation as any other,” Mateo answered.

“Yes, well. I thought you, as an American, would frown on such supernatural explanations,” Brown said. Mateo could tell Brown was probing him. Mateo wasn’t in the mood for such nonsense.

“I saw enough on that island. Magic will work fine as an explanation,” Mateo said, flatly. Brown pursed his lips, but changed the subject.

“As to this Dr. de Castilla you encountered, we have been unable to find any trace of the man,” Brown said, “Did he mention any way he could have escaped the island on his own?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have had one. It’s not like we asked him about it,” Mateo said, “From what we gathered, all of the remaining zombies dropped when I shot Xipe-tzin. Maybe the doc overheard something from Xipe-tzin about a boat or something.” Mateo paused as he considered the possibilities. “No sign of him at all?”

“None. If your teammates hadn’t corroborated your account, I might have thought you hallucinated the doctor.” Brown’s mouth snapped shut as he realized what he said. Mateo shook his head in annoyance. Everyone, with the glorious exception of The Steve, had been walking on eggshells around Mateo since the team arrived on Skull Island.

“Mateo, we’re worried about you,” Kenn said, “You’ve been walking around here with a bad vibe. I’m worried you’re eating yourself up. You can’t blame yourself for what happened.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Mateo shot back, a little too loud. Collin and Brown flinched a little, but Kenn just kept looking at him with those caring eyes. “Because of me, because of my decision, Sissy is probably going to be in the asylum for the rest of her life. She told me she couldn’t go on, and I forced her into it. Because I wanted another damn shooter along, things went to hell and Quentin lost his leg! Jack’s death I can understand, and I put paid to that debt. Sissy, Quentin, how am I supposed to make it up to them?”

“You saved them didn’t you?” Kenn asked, “Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“I don’t know! It damn sure doesn’t feel like it,” Mateo said before storming out of the room. The three men looked at each other. A tension rose between them.

“I don’t know,” Brown said, finally breaking the silence. “He’s bloody damaged. Right now, that man is no good to us.”

“I hate to side with Nigel, but it looks pretty bleak Kenn,” Collin said, “If what M&W found on the island is true, can we really rely on him? Wouldn’t it be better just to get a new team together?”

“My brothers, you saw a broken man. I saw one who finally opened up so he can be put back together,” Kenn said serenely, “This good Earth of ours is about to go through a tribulation. If we don’t have good men and women ready, we could be facing down an apocalypse.”

“And Mr. Cortez is one of these good men?” Brown asked skeptically.

“Mateo could very well be the best of them all.”

Zombie Strike Part Two Chapter Ten

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Eight

Cultist Temple, Central Jungle of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1800 hours Local, 26 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 5 days

Sissy screamed as the snarling gollum leapt at her. She clawed for her MP7 as the hurtling creature crashed onto her, knocking her to the ground. The gollum’s wooden club came down on her prone form. Quentin grasped the gollum’s wrist before it could strike again. Quentin yanked the gollum off of Sissy and slammed it into the tunnel wall. The gollum wasn’t even fazed, but did let go of its club. The gollum wriggled out of Quentin’s grip. Quentin barely had enough time to get his arms in from of his face and body before the gollum raked across him with its claw-like nails. Quentin screamed in pain as the gollum attacked again. He felt the bite.

The tunnel exploded with sound. The gollum jerked to the side. Collin fired again. And again. And again. Each bullet drove the gollum back a bit more. Collin kept firing until his Glock locked back on an empty magazine. The gollum lunged as Collin reloaded, but Mateo’s first round landed a bare instant after Collin dropped the magazine out of his pistol. Mateo’s fire wasn’t the steady staccato that Collin used to drive the creature off of Quentin. Mateo’s fire was slower. Mateo wasn’t trying to drive the gollum off his teammate. He was aiming at the stone talisman the gollum wore around its neck.

“Hold your fire!” Quentin yelled over the gunfire. Mateo dropped his Sig P226 to a ready position. Quentin charged the gollum. A deep guttural roar erupted from Quentin. The warhammer flashed in the reflected light. The hammer shattered the stone talisman before picking up the wiry gollum and flinging it clear out of the tunnel. The gollum crashed into the zombies still meandering at the tunnel’s opening. Strangely, the zombies began shuffling away from the gollum as fast as they could. Granted, it was like watching turtles running away from a ferret. The gollum ignored the zombies’ retreat as it scrambled to its feet and sprinted back into the tunnel. Mateo and The Steve opened fire, but the gollum’s zigzagging run threw off their aim. The gollum bounded off the tunnel’s wall to launch itself at Collin with its claws outstretched. Collin casually brought up his Glock and fired. The gollum’s body fell lifelessly at Collin’s feet.

The Steve holstered his weapon and sprinted to Sissy. The team sniper was curled up whimpering. The Steve whispered into Sissy’s ear as plunged a syringe into her. The medic laid Sissy down on to the dirt floor and began splinting her left arm. As The Steve tended to Sissy, Quentin walked over to Mateo. Quentin’s face was pale.

“Matt, the gollum bit me,” Quentin whispered to his team leader.

“Damn. Are you sure?” Mateo asked. Quentin could only silently show the wound. Mateo fought back sudden grief. The team just lost Jack. That was bad enough. This was every zombie hunter’s worst nightmare. Not getting turned into a zombie. Having to put down your friend before he turned into one.

“Collin,” Mateo said quietly, “Take over for Steve, please.” Collin gave Mateo a level look before nodding. The medic looked up at his name. One look at Quentin’s face was all the explanation The Steve needed. Mateo, The Steve, and Quentin walked a few yards further into the tunnel. The light was dimmer and the shadows danced around the three men. The Steve said nothing as he drew his Kimber.

NO, NO DISPARA!” shouted a voice in the darkness. The three men spun to the voice. Out of the darkness emerged a disheveled Hispanic man. The man was short and thin, with unkempt black hair and a ragged beard. His clothes were stained and torn. The man took another step closer and began speaking in rapid-fire Spanish. Mateo motioned for The Steve to put his weapon away. The man spoke for a couple minutes before Mateo silenced him.

“He says his name is Dr. Miguel de Castilla,” Mateo translated, “He says a bite from a gollum doesn’t turn a man into a zombie.”

“How?” Quentin asked, his voice breaking with sudden hope.

“The gollums are some sort of special warrior for Zie Pay Toe Teck,” Mateo said, uncertain of the translation. “They were created using some sort of special ritual. They’re some sort of recreated Aztec warrior, not really zombies.”

“Xipe Totec?” Quentin asked, carefully enunciating the name. “Is that what he said?” The disheveled man nodded. Even in the dim light of the tunnel, Mateo could see Quentin pale.

“Okay, so who’s this Zippee Tictock?” The Steve asked.

“Xipe Totec was an Aztec god,” Quentin explained, “He was known to the people as Our Lord, The Flayed One.”

“Flayed?” Mateo asked, “Like what the Romans did to Jesus before crucifying him?”

“Similar. For the Aztecs, Xipe Totec was a god of life, death, and rebirth,” Quentin said, “Those statues at the front of the tunnel were of him. This is starting to make sense.” Dr. de Castilla grabbed Mateo and began speaking again.

“Okay, the doctor is an archaeologist who was working a dig in the Yucatan when someone snatched him,” Mateo said, “He woke up here. Apparently the person in charge of this calls himself Xipe-tzin. This guy snatched a bunch of Aztec specialists and forced them to help create the zombies. The doc escaped yesterday during some consecration ceremony. He thinks all of the others are dead. Killed by Xipe-tzin. He’s terrified of this guy, but he’ll lead us back to the temple room.” Dr. de Castilla nodded furiously.

“Matt, this sounds exactly like what we’re looking for,” Quentin said, “We’ve got to stop Xipe-tzin before it gets really bad.”

“How bad?” Mateo asked.

“End of the world bad,” Quentin said.

“Oh, is that all?” The Steve asked.

Xipe Totec Temple, Central Jungle of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1900 hours Local, 26 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 5 days

The soft, green light from the team’s chemlights was overshadowed by an angry red light illuminating the tunnel. The sloping switchbacks meant the team was burrowing deep underneath the pyramid. Collin was in front with Dr. de Castilla. About fifteen feet behind the pair, The Steve was creeping along with his M4 up and hunting for targets in the shadows. Mateo was another fifteen feet behind The Steve. He knew he should be paying attention for threats, but his thoughts kept going back to the woman holding down the rear guard.

After Mateo, The Steve and Quentin returned to the others with Dr. de Castilla in tow, Mateo went to check on Sissy. She was trembling uncontrollably. Mateo was about to call for The Steve, but Sissy grasped his hands. Her brown eyes were alight with terror.

“Relax Sissy, everything’s going to be alright,” Mateo said quietly, trying to get his hands free. Sissy shook her head and pulled Mateo close.

“No, you don’t understand,” Sissy said in a hoarse whisper, “I’m not like the rest of you. I thought I could hide it. I thought I could just push it down and do my job, but I can’t.” Sissy choked back a sob. “I can’t face the fear anymore.” Mateo was at a loss for words. There was something desperate in Sissy’s pleas. Instinctively, he hugged Sissy close and rocked her like he had done for his daughter a lifetime ago. The others politely ignored the two.

“Sissy,” Mateo said quietly, “I need you to push it down once more. I need you to fight just a little more. We’re almost done.” She nodded slowly. Her hand reached into a pocket and pulled out one of Jack’s pearl-gripped stainless Browning Hi-Powers. She thrust the weapon into Mateo’s hands.

“You keep this,” Sissy said with a pleading voice, “I’ve got the other. Jack will keep us both safe.” Mateo nodded and tucked the pistol into the small of his back. If keeping the pistol as some sort of talisman would get Sissy back into the game, then Mateo would hold on to the weapon. He needed every shooter he could get. Mateo motioned for The Steve to finish bandaging up Sissy.

Sissy couldn’t use her rifle. The gollum broke her left arm with the club strike. She could one-hand the diminutive MP7 if it was kept to short bursts. Mateo ordered her to stay next to Quentin. The big man acted like a protective big brother to Sissy. He wouldn’t let anything get close to her. Still, Mateo was second-guessing his decision. Something about the terror he saw in those brown eyes. Something that said he made the wrong decision by not leaving her behind.

The tunnel narrowed down to a door-sized opening. The red light poured out of the opening. An indistinct male voice emanated from the door. Dr. de Castilla whispered in urgent Spanish to Mateo as the group formed up outside the door. Mateo nodded and fired back with chopped Spanish. Dr. de Castilla nodded and ran back up to where the team came into the temple.

“Okay team, this is it,” Mateo said, “Xipe-tzin is in that room with a bunch of gollums. The gollums are bound to Xipe-tzin. Kill him, and they drop, according to the doc. There may be some hostages, so we have to do this carefully.”

“Would you stop whispering at my door, and just come in hunters?” boomed the male voice. “Come in nicely, or I’m going to have to finish off the hostages.” Mateo scowled. He motioned for Collin to enter. Mateo followed Collin into the room. The temple room was huge. It was at least a hundred feet on a side. In the middle of the room was a ten foot wide trench. From where the team stood, Mateo could see the tops of sharpened stakes sticking up in the trench. Evenly spaced were three stone arch bridges spanning the trench. The temple room was completely covered with small, reflective tiles. Mateo couldn’t tell the color because the eerie red light bathed the room. He couldn’t even tell where the light was coming from. It was almost as if the room just emanated from the walls.

Xipe-tzin was on the other side of the trench. He was standing on a raised dais. Next to him was a stone altar easily the size of a large dining table. Xipe-tzin was a tall man, topping six-and-a-half feet tall, and whip-cord thin. The cultist had his long dark hair tied back and was wearing what looked like a leather cape. He held a glistening whip in his hand. There was an amused smile on his strong Native American features. Surrounding the platform were six gollums. Something was wrong.

“Where are the hostages?” Collin demanded.

“I was lying about that,” Xipe-tzin said. His voice held just a faint hint of a Spanish accent. “I just didn’t want you coming into my beautiful temple with guns blazing.” There was something boastful in his voice. Mateo made a quick mental decision.

“It looks more like a bad movie set,” Mateo said nonchalantly.

“Trying to provoke me? How amusing,” Xipe-tzin said, “Exactly who do you think you are?”

“BIG DAMN HEROES!” The Steve yelled. Xipe-tzin stared at the medic with consternation. It was the opportunity Mateo wanted. Simultaneously, Mateo and Collin brought their weapons up and fired. Xipe-tzin bellowed in rage as the bullets slapped harmlessly against his exposed skin. The deformed bullets clinked as they fell on the tile floor.

“Fools, I am Xipe-tzin!” he yelled at the team, “I am the favored son of the Flayed One! He gave me his blessings! I can raise his blessed warriors! I cannot be harmed by the weapon of any living person! I will harvest your blood and bring the Flayed One into this world! He will save us from the coming Death.” Xipe-tzin cracked the whip. The six gollums stood up straight. “Seize them! They will be sacrificed to Our Lord.”

The gollums ignored the bridges and simply leapt across the trench. Mateo snapped his weapon up at the gollum boring down on him. The M4 spat out a long burst. The force of the rounds forced the gollum to land short. As it stood, Mateo emptied the rest of the magazine into the gollum’s torso. The gollum staggered from the impacts before falling back into the trench. That one should be out of the fight for a bit. Mateo was slapping another magazine into his weapon when Sissy screamed.

Time slowed as Mateo whipped his head around to the sound of the scream. A gollum was in close with Sissy. She was trying to bring up her MP7. She wasn’t going to make it. The gollum easily knocked the weapon aside – just as Sissy pulled the trigger. The MP7 let loose a stream of bullets straight through Quentin’s right leg. Mateo watched in horror as the big man collapsed. Two gollums leapt on Quentin’s back to ride him down as he fell to the tiled floor. Mateo started running to his teammates as the gollum in front of Sissy knocked her to the ground with a savage blow.

Mateo stopped for a brief second to place a burst into the gollum looming over Sissy. The creature snarled at Mateo over its shoulder before grabbing Sissy by her web gear and leaping over its brethren attacking the rest of the team. It landed on one of the bridges. Right where Mateo was aiming. Mateo hammered the gollum with five quick shots. The last finally shattered the stone talisman. The gollum realized it was no longer invulnerable and leapt into the trench. Mateo ran through the raging battle between Collin, The Steve, and the other four gollums. He slid next to the woman who had so befuddled him on this mission. She looked so helpless. She didn’t even look at him as he cradled her in his arms. She just stared glassy-eyed into the distance. Mateo looked back at the team. Collin was down to his pistol, and it looked like one of the gollums managed to break his other arm. The Steve was hunched in pain, but dispatched a gollum that managed to fall to the pair’s teamwork. The last two gollums were cautiously approaching Mateo and Sissy. Quentin wasn’t moving. For all Mateo knew, the friendly giant was dead. Just like Jack.

The sudden realization hit Mateo with all the force of a hammer. It couldn’t be that simple. Mateo looked up at Xipe-tzin. He was watching Collin and The Steve fight it out. He turned to face Mateo. His smile was smug. He knew that the team wouldn’t be able to stop him. Mateo reached back to where he’d tucked away Jack’s pistol. What did Xipe-tzin say when Collin and Mateo attacked? No weapon of a living person could hurt him? What about the weapon of a dead person? Mateo flicked off the safety. Xipe-tzin gave Mateo a condescending look as the team leader leveled the pistol at him in a classic Weaver stance.

Xipe-tzin was still smiling smugly as the double tap ripped out his heart. There was no chance for the cultist to question how a mere mortal slew him. No chance for him to realize the Achilles heel of his god’s blessing. The shot was perfect and instantly lethal. Xipe-tzin toppled off of his platform to the sudden screams of his gollums. The screams cut off as the gollums dissolved back to their skeletons.

The temple echoed with the sudden silence. A tiny whimper dragged Mateo’s gaze away from Xipe-tzin’s body. He snapped the safety back on and tucked Jack’s pistol back into the small of his back as he knelt back to Sissy. She was curled into a tight ball, rocking herself and letting out small unintelligible sounds. Mateo wrapped his arms around the woman who once so intimidated him.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered into her ear, “It’s going to be alright.”

[Zombie Strike – Part One Chapter Nine – Part One Epilogue]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Seven

Base Camp, Southern Beach of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1000 hours Local, 26 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 5 days

Mateo Cortez covered his face with a bandana to ward off the smell. The clean-up crew from the mercs – oh, wait, private security company – was efficient, but there were over three hundred “re-killed” zombies strewn across the area surrounding the base camp. The clean-up crew was required to make sure there were no corpses still animated, then pull DNA or fingerprints from each corpse before loading it into a portable crematory. Mateo would have just dug a big hole, pushed all of them in with some white phosphorous, and lit the whole mess on fire. The apparent care M&W was taking with the corpses stoked the raging anger inside Mateo. He closed his eyes and pushed it back down. He needed to be rational at the moment.

“Mr. Cortez, the fortifications are deconstructed and secured for transportation,” reported Nigel Brown, the team’s liaison from M&W, “The processing of the corpses should be completed within the next two to three hours. And, I’ve just received word that Mr. Winchester’s remains have been secured aboard the Morning Star. We can ferry your team back to the ship at your convenience.” Mateo turned to face the British insurance representative. Dear God, the man was actually wearing a pith hat!

“Yeah, we wanted to talk to you about that,” Mateo said.

“What is there to discuss?” Brown asked, clearly surprised by the question, “You’ve completed your mission.”

“I need to show you something,” Mateo said, motioning for Brown to follow him. Brown was the same medium height as Mateo, but he struggled to keep up the same stride across the base camp grounds. The team gathered around a long folding table. Two laptops and some other items were carefully arranged on the table.

“Okay Quentin, explain it to the man,” Mateo said, jerking his thumb at their liaison. Brown eyed the team leader quizzically.

“Okay, we have reason to believe that this outbreak was caused by followers of one of the Aztec gods,” Quentin said, “We believe those followers are still on the island.”

“Perhaps you would care to elaborate,” Brown told Quentin, his face showing his clear surprise.

“While we’ve been on this island, we’ve come across what we first thought was some new type of zombie,” Quentin said. He motioned to one of the laptops. Pressing a key, the video of the fight between the Quentin and the first creature played. Brown watched with rapt attention, both intrigued and horrified with the discovery.

“I talked to some archeologists I know who specialize in Aztec culture,” Quentin said when the video finished, “One finally told me about an obscure myth where some Aztec priests not only enslaved the dead, but could create monsters built from human corpses. Kind of like a flesh robot.”

“Like the Gollum from Jewish folklore,” Brown supplied. The group looked confused, so Brown elaborated. “It was the basis for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Brown unconsciously trembled momentarily. The liaison was like most people. Faced with zombies and other monsters, the overwhelming majority of humanity felt a primitive terror that couldn’t be overcome. The small minority, like the team of people in front of Brown, were lucky enough to be immune to that peculiar fear. “I’m sorry Mr. McLintock, but how did you know to focus on Aztec histories?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry,” Quentin said. He picked up the carved stone fragment he recovered from the fight with the gollum. Quentin handed it to Brown, who scrutinized the odd carvings on the stone. “The carving on this stone looked similar to Aztec carvings I’d run across before.” Brown held the carving for a moment before gingerly setting it back upon the table.

“So, your theory is that Aztecs are somehow mystically raising the dead?” Brown asked, looking at Mateo with a skeptical eye.

“Perhaps, Mr. Brown, you should consider the following,” Collin interjected, “Cultists followers of ancient Aztec gods have managed to obtain a method by which they could create not only zombies, but these gollums as well. This is not particularly far-fetched considering the recent discovery of the methods by which voodoo practitioners create their zombies. Not to mention the existence of the zombies on Skull Island.”

“Yes, but to what end?” Brown countered, “What are these cultists hoping to accomplish with their activities here?”

“That we don’t know,” Mateo admitted, “I’m willing to bet every dime you’re paying us that it isn’t good.” Brown looked down at the screen shot of the gollum. From the expression on his face, Brown was still skeptical. Oh well, Mateo didn’t need Brown’s approval. The team already agreed on finishing the job. Having M&W backing would just make things easier, as well as up the chances that they’d get paid if they survived.

“You have developed an interesting theory, but no conclusive evidence to give it any credence,” Brown said. He paused, as if almost waiting for one of the team to voice an objection. Brown scrutinized each team member. “I can give you seventy-two hours to come up with conclusive evidence, or handle the matter on your own. Then I will have no choice to demand you leave this island or forfeit your pay to cover the additional cost of keeping the Morning Star moored here. I’ll see about making sure you have adequate supplies for those seventy-two hours.”

“Thank you, sir,” Mateo said, feeling part of his burden lighten.

Central Jungle of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1500 hours Local, 26 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 5 days

“Four walkers at our eleven o’clock,” Collin reported quietly over the team radio, “Maybe fifty yards ahead of us. No others in sight.” Collin was acting point for the team. Mateo, three positions behind, looked through the scope.

“Route around them,” Mateo said, “Sissy, Quentin, if they show any sign of noticing us, take them down fast.” This was the second small group the team encountered. Mateo was guessing the leader of the cultists was using the small groups of zombies as tripwires. By not engaging the zombies, the team stayed invisible. At least, that was what Mateo hoped. Following Collin’s lead, the team skirted the four zombies. They walked deeper into the jungle.

Mateo guessed the cultists were somewhere in the jungle. The heavy canopies were impenetrable by general commercial satellites the team was using for reconnaissance. The good news was the island’s land mass was only about a square mile. The bad news was that the island’s land mass was a square mile, about three-quarters of which was the central jungle. Hot, stick, smelly jungle. If I survive this, Mateo thought, God help any fool asking me to save the rainforests. Mateo agreed with Quentin. Burn them all down.

“Team stop,” Sissy said. Mateo crept up next to the sniper.

“What you got, Sissy?” Mateo asked. Sissy didn’t say anything for a moment. It was like watching a wax statue, Sissy held so still. Mateo waited patiently for her to report.

“I’ve got several zombies, but they’re acting strange,” Sissy said, “Ten or so, dragging something. I can’t make it out, but I’d swear it was a stone slab.” Mateo tracked to where Sissy’s rifle was pointed. Ten zombies were lashed with crude ropes to a large, rectangular stone. The zombies were struggling to drag it across the jungle floor.

“Quentin, are you seeing this?” Mateo asked over the radio.

“Yeah,” Quentin answered, “Matt, this could be what we’re looking for. I’ll bet that this is a construction crew.”

“What would zombies be building?” Collin asked.

“Temple, probably,” Quentin said, “Some sort of sacred building. It probably figures into why they’re here on this island.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Mateo said, “We’ll shadow them.” Collin double-clicked his mike in acknowledgement. The team stalked the oblivious zombies. It was a slow, monotonous task. Mateo wondered how something could be both exciting and boring at the same time. The monsters were focused on their task of dragging the stone. If the stone snagged, they just strained against the ropes until the stone came free.

The jungle suddenly opened up into a large clearing. Only the highest canopy shaded the roughly two hundred yard by two hundred yard expanse. The team froze at the tree line. The clearing was dominated by a two-story Aztec-style stone pyramid. A couple hundred zombies were working tirelessly to make it a three-story pyramid. There was no sign of any gollums or any other humans around the worksite. Stones littered the clearing around the pyramid. Some were large and roughly cut into blocks to build the pyramid. More were smaller and either shaped to fit somewhere on the structure, or looked as if they were scrap. Mateo paused suddenly – how were zombies fashioning stones into proper building materials?

The howling moan caught Mateo by surprise. He whipped around to the sound. Three feet from Mateo was a crawler. The zombie’s lower body was crushed almost flat, but it was reaching out at Mateo’s leg. Mateo jumped to the side and cursed. His hand snatched the extendable baton from his waist and snapped it out with a flick of the wrist. A fierce, fluid motion brought the tip of the baton crashing down on the crawler’s skull. It ceased moving instantly. Mateo hoped the horde some twenty yards away from him didn’t hear the single moan.

Unfortunately, one moan was all that was needed. A ragged chorus of hunting moans erupted from the working zombies. All work ceased instantly as the horde began its staggering walk towards its prey. Collin and Sissy were the first to open fire, quickly followed by the others. Zombies fell as the team began their steady staccato of fire into the horde. Mateo surveyed the scene around him. Without strong defensive positions – or Jack, God rest his soul – the team couldn’t fend off two hundred zombies. That didn’t include the ones that were no doubt homing in on the racket of the gunfire. The smart option would be for the team to retreat into the jungle, split up the horde, and take it out in detail. Something inside Mateo was screaming at him that if the team left the clearing at this moment, they would lose their chance of getting the cultists behind this outbreak. There had to be a better option. Mateo figured he might as well tap those more experienced than him.

“Collin, we need to get into that pyramid,” Mateo said, “Find me a way.” Collin took a split second to shoot his team leader an evil look. Seconds passed as the team whittled away at the horde. Without slowing down his rate of fire, Collin started issuing orders.

“Quentin, The Steve, pivot left and work your way to that large stone to my ten o’clock,” Collin said, “Set up a firing position.” Quentin followed The Steve as the two men sped into the clearing. The large stone was cut as a large building block. It would give Quentin and The Steve an elevated position to rake the horde’s flank.

“Sissy, you’re next, lass,” Collin said. motioning toward the large stone. The sniper slung her rifle and drew the small but boxy MP7 submachine gun. She sprinted to the others as the tiny SMG chattered. Quentin reached down and slung Sissy up to the top of the now crowded stone. Collin measured the battlefield as he changed magazines. “Okay lads, next movement.”

Collin directed the team through a zigzag course, leapfrogging from stone to tree line to stone to whatever he could find. A zombie horde was many things, but maneuverable was not one of them. Collin’s plan was simple. By the time the zombies focused on the team’s new position and managed to start shuffling toward them, Collin rapidly moved everyone. The plan allowed the team to take advantage of the horde’s flanks – and pull them away from the pyramid. A clear path opened up for Mateo, who sprinted to the stone structure. As he ran the perimeter, Mateo found a darkened opening flanked by two crudely carved statues.

“Team, there’s an opening on the east side of the pyramid,” Mateo said over the radio, “We’ve got a couple of statues we can use to reinforce the opening. Everyone rendezvous here.” Mateo took two steps into the darkness, scanning the tunnel with his flashlight. It went down at a slight angle for at least fifty feet. Beyond that, his light was swallowed by the darkness. The walls were stone and the floor was made of dirt and covered in indistinguishable tracks.

“Coming to you bossman,” The Steve said, “We’ve got some following us.” Mateo braced at the opening’s mouth as Quentin and The Steve rounded the corner. The two men fell in line with Mateo as the zombies appeared. Rapid shots dropped the first five zombies. More tripped over the sudden roadblocks. Mateo, Quentin, and The Steve stood their ground, pumping round after round into the quickly growing bottleneck. Collin and Sissy landed behind the others after running across the top of the pyramid.

“Sissy, take over for Quentin,” Mateo ordered, “Quentin, help Collin knock those statues down and make us some cover.” The two switched places so seamlessly, the rate of fire from the line never dropped. Mateo heard Quentin let out a loud string of curses.

“Matt, forget the zombies,” Quentin said, “We’ve got to find the cultists.”

“What are you talking about?” Mateo shot back, “We can’t ignore the hundred or so zombies bearing down on us. They’ll tear us apart. How are we supposed to find the cultists then?”

“The zombies won’t follow us into the temple,” Quentin said, “They can’t.” Mateo wanted Quentin to explain, but there wasn’t time. The horde of zombies was starting to surge the bottleneck. In a few seconds, the team would be overwhelmed by the crush of the living dead.

“Everyone, into the temple,” Mateo ordered, “Fall back a hundred feet and form a line.” The fighting retreat was a maneuver the team practiced over and over. All of that practice paid off as the team fluidly slid back into the temple’s opening into the darkness. As the daylight shrank, the team’s weapon-mounted flashlights created a globe of illumination around them. At the hundred foot mark, the team braced in a line across the width of the tunnel. The zombies approached the tunnel’s opening and stopped cold. More swarmed around the opening, dimming the little ambient light that reached them, but not one zombie took a step into the tunnel. Mateo slumped against the cool stone wall.

“How’d you know we’d be safe in here?” The Steve asked Quentin as the team caught its collective breath.

“We’re not safe,” Quentin answered ominously, “If anything, we may have just jumped into the fire.” Mateo turned to ask Quentin for an explanation. He was stopped by the snarls.

Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Eight

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Six

Base Camp, Southern Beach of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 2000 hours Local, 25 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 6 days

Former Staff Sergeant Steven “The Steve” Mountain crawled down into the lower level of the base camp fortification. He looked over at the jury-rigged “command center.” It consisted of a card table with a laptop hooked into the video cameras surrounding the base camp. Mateo was crouched over the computer with a worried expression. The Steve coughed as he neared. Mateo’s head whipped to the sound, and his body relaxed as he saw The Steve standing beside him.

“Dude, you seriously have to relax,” The Steve said, “You are wound up way too tight.”

“How’s Quentin?” Mateo asked, ignoring The Steve’s advice. Staff Sergeant Mountain would have been annoyed if his still novice leader ignored his advice. The Steve, on the other hand, knew better than to get upset. Mateo needed careful nudges, not blunt statements.

“Quentin’s still chatting with some old dude from Arizona,” The Steve answered, “Dude is racking up the bills. Ran the test on his blood when I changed his dressing. He’s cool.” Th Steve gave Mateo his biggest smile. Mateo never asked, and The Steve never said anything, but the silent agreement stood. If any of the team arose as a zombie, The Steve was the one to put them down. If The Steve turned, then Mateo would put the medic down personally. It was cold, calculating, and ruthless, but utterly necessary when dealing with zombies.

“So, Jackie boy’s still being prickly, so Collin sent him to the OP with one of the MAGs,” The Steve reported. The observation post was a small dugout semi-circle with a good view of the most likely approaches. With an FN MAG medium machine gun, even Jack in a bad mood could give the team plenty of warning. Then, there was the small fact of the thirty or so Claymore mines Collin and Sissy emplaced around the perimeter a few hours earlier.

“Collin and the chick racked out. You should probably join them boss,” The Steve said.

“I know, but it’s this new creature,” Mateo said, “It’s like nothing anyone has encountered before. To be honest, I don’t know what to do about it.” The Steve cocked his head back and smiled.

“Sure you do boss man. Bullet to the brainpan. Squish. No more problem.” Mateo smiled at the medic’s lighthearted comment, but completely missed the reference. Mateo put the laptop aside and stood in front of The Steve.

“Okay point made,” Mateo said, clapping The Steve on the shoulder, “Any other sage words of advice, Steve?”

The Steve, boss man” The Steve stressed. He just couldn’t understand how Mateo kept messing that up. “And now that you mentioned it, what are you going to do about Sissy?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mateo answered in a tone that would freeze nitrogen. The cold tone was contrasted by the burning look of warning in Mateo’s dark eyes.

“Whatever dude,” The Steve said, waving a dismissive hand, “But if you don’t clear it up with her, it’s going to be bad for the team. The Steve knows what he’s talking about.” Mateo’s stern look softened as he contemplated The Steve’s words. The Steve agreed with Collin. One of the things that made Mateo a good team leader was his ability to listen to those under him who knew more than him.

“Okay The Steve,” Mateo said, playfully stressing the medic’s chosen moniker, “I’ll take care of it. Not right now, but when we get done with this mission.”

“Shiny,” The Steve said, giving Mateo a thumbs-up.

“Huh?” Mateo asked, arching an eyebrow. The Steve rolled his eyes. Good Lord, didn’t anyone on this team know about the greatest television show ever? The chattering of a machine gun stopped The Steve from educating his team leader. Mountain’s arm shot out and snatched an M4 and magazine pouch from a wall rack. Mateo was already climbing back to the top of the “ice cream cone.”

The main fortification consisted of a cylinder that was twenty feet in diameter and about fifteen feet tall. Its smooth walls sloped slightly outward to make climbing difficult. On top of the cylinder was an armored dome with a narrow balcony that served as a firing position. From a distance, it looked like a grey ice cream cone – hence, the nickname. The Steve strode over to one of the firing slits and slid open the panel. Searchlight beams lanced out into the night. As the beams swept the tree line, The Steve saw the familiar stumbling gait of dozens of zombies. He made a quick mental count. Maybe a couple hundred of them. If reports were right, then every zombie on the island was bearing down on the team. The Steve heard Collin slide down from the upper level. With practiced ease, Collin placed a radio, ear bud, and throat mike on The Steve. A quick double-thump on the shoulder and the radio came to life.

“Jack, fall back!” Mateo half-yelled over the radio, “You aren’t doing anything to them!” Mateo was right. Jack was dropping swaths of zombies with the machine gun, but he was just mowing them across their chests. The zombies simply stood back up and continued their unyielding march. Worse, Jack showed no signs of listening to Mateo’s shouted commands. There was only one chance.

“Jack, look in your left thigh pocket,” The Steve said calmly. The machine gun ceased, and The Steve saw Jack holding the cylinder in his hand.

“What the bloody devil is this?” came the angry voice.

“Twenty cc’s of The Steve’s patent-pending Happy Juice,” The Steve answered, “Slam it into your upper arm now!” Jack hesitated for the briefest instant before jamming the hyperdermic needle into his arm.

“Bloody—“ Jack murmured before he let out a string of pained curses. The MAG started chattering again, but the bursts were ragged. The team joined in attacking the oncoming horde. The Steve counted under his breath. Sissy was using her big rifle. The rest were using M4’s. Zombies were dropping, but not fast enough. The fifteen seconds seemed an eternity.

“Fifteen Mississippi,” “The Steve” said to himself. The MAG fell silent, and for a heartbeat, The Steve questioned his judgment. Did he mix up the Happy Juice correctly? Then, Jack cut down a half-dozen zombies with a long burst that disintegrated their heads. The Steve smiled as he downed his own target. Oh yeah. Jack was back. Mateo didn’t waste any time reacting to Jack’s sudden change.

“Jack keep killing as many as you can for the moment,” Mateo ordered, “Collin, at twenty yards I want you to blow the Claymores. Jack when those mines go off, drop the MAG and move to your left to flank. Sissy, when Jack goes, you cover him. Everyone else, service your targets.” The Steve scowled. The plan was decent, but The Steve promised himself not to give Mateo any more John Ringo books. The team leader was picking up bad terminology. Mateo could’ve just told them to keep killing zombies and everyone would’ve understood just fine.

When not in one of his bad moods, Jack was truly a sight to behold in a firefight. In the few minutes it took for the zombies to shuffle through the twenty yards, Jack took down probably a quarter of them with constant, precise bursts from the machine gun. As the first few zombies crossed the twenty yard line, Jack dropped the machine gun. The Steve could see smaller flashes from the OP. More zombies fell as Jack started with his Glocks. Out of the corner of his eye, The Steve saw Collin clench the clacker to detonate the claymores. Nothing happened. Collin let out a long string of curses as he squeezed the remote twice. No explosions, no scything hail of steel balls, nothing. Collin quickly switched batteries in the remote and squeezed again. No joy.

“Jack, get moving. The mines are a no go!” Collin said. Jack didn’t ask for an explanation. He just scrambled out of the OP firing the two pistols. The Steve focused on his own targets when he saw a dark form leap from behind the shambling wall of decaying flesh. Jack never had a chance as the form crashed down on him. The searchlight illuminated another of the creatures Quentin tangled with earlier. It was naked except for another of those stone carvings it wore around its neck with some kind of rope. The blue and white symbols glittered in the searchlight’s intense beam. It slammed down its wooden club onto Jack’s prone body. The Steve heard the sickening crack over the din of the fight. He aimed at one of the painted symbols on the creature’s black skin and fired. So did every other member of the team. The creature was thrown to the side as five bullets hammered into the creature. It jumped back to its feet. Its rotting face snarled at the humans.

“Sissy, shoot the stone!” Quentin yelled over the radio. Less than a heartbeat, then the creature’s chest disintegrated. The big .338 Lapua round easily shattered the stone before tearing away the soft flesh behind the carving. A second round decapitated the creature. The Steve didn’t even wait for the creature’s body to fall.

“Going for Jack!” The Steve said as he slammed open the door and dashed out into the night. The zombies were maybe fifteen yards from Jack’s body. The Steve sensed Collin running with him and taking out the zombies closest to their fallen teammate. The Steve slid next to Jack’s still form. The blood from the blow to the back of the head coated everything. No pulse. Not good. The Steve unfolded a stretcher and strapped Jack in. Collin dispatched two more zombies before slinging his M4 and grabbing the other handles. The two former soldiers hustled over the ground with their teammates raining down suppressive fire. Collin slammed the door shut and sealed it. The Steve examined their fallen comrade. A quick spray of water revealed the wound. The club severed the spine at the base of the skull. It was a lethal blow. The Steve looked up and met Collin’s eyes. The Steve shook his head. The zombie horde let out a moan. It sounded like gloating.

“Steve, how’s Jack?” Mateo asked between shots.

“He’s gone, sir,” Mountain said with a flat tone. The entire team fell silent. No one noticed the change in their medic. The Steve was gone. Staff Sergeant Steven Mountain awoke from his long-dormant sleep.

“Okay,” Mateo said, “Collin and Steve, engage from down there. Sissy, Quentin, you two are with me. Everyone keep taking out the targets.” SSG Mountain strode over to the nearest firing slit. The horde was maybe ten yards away from the fortification. He placed the holographic reticule over the nearest zombie. He squeezed the trigger. The head was torn in half by the bullet. As he switched to the next target, SSG Mountain fell into a familiar rhythm.

SSG Mountain didn’t notice time. He was a machine. Target. Squeeze. Target. Squeeze. Change magazines. Target. Squeeze. He heard Sissy reporting a second wave of zombies and remembered working harder to beat back a surge. Once, he needed to switch to his Kimber long enough to refill his magazine pouch. Then it was back to the M4. Target. Squeeze. The rumbling moans of the zombie horde did nothing to stop his automated killing.

Then, there were no more targets. Staff Sergeant Mountain searched across the field. Only the unmoving corpses of zombies. The Steve blinked and lowered his weapon. He felt Staff Sergeant Mountain fall back asleep. The darkness was fading with the morning light. The Steve took deep breaths. The air was tainted with the smell of decay and burnt gunpowder. The dirt floor was littered with spent brass. The Steve’s eyes fell on Jack Winchester’s body. Collin, weapon slung, was reciting something in Latin as he placed two copper coins over Winchester’s closed eyes. After Collin crossed himself, the two former soldiers solemnly placed the body into a black bag.

“A helo’s coming to pick up Jack’s body,” Mateo said as he came down from the top, “Our employers are also sending a clean-up crew. From their estimates of the carnage outside, we cleaned out all the zombies on this island.”

“You don’t believe them,” Collin said. It wasn’t a question.

“Quentin told me everything he found out before that horde showed up,” Mateo said, his teeth grinding in fury, “From what he dug up, this couldn’t have been all of the zombies. It may have even been just a small force.”

“Force?” Collin and The Steve asked simultaneously.

“Force,” Mateo answered, “This was a directed attack against us by the person responsible for this breakout. He bet on us being overwhelmed or killing enough to be satisfied.” Mateo squared his shoulders. “M&W wants us off. They’re sure we’re done, and they don’t want us risking ourselves on a fruitless search. I really don’t care. I want this guy, and I want to stop him. I need your support in this.” Collin and The Steve traded a glance. Collin motioned for The Steve to answer.

“I say we aim to misbehave,” The Steve answered with an evil grin.

“Huh?” Mateo asked. The Steve could only shake his head in frustration.

Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Seven

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Five

Base Camp, Southern Beach of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1000 hours Local, 25 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 6 days

Quentin McLintock’s head snapped around to the crack of Sissy’s rifle. Quentin was only a second behind Jack as the two ran to Sissy and Collin. Quentin felt the expected rush as his legs pumped with the familiar rhythm. More than one unwary quarterback had been surprised by the huge man’s speed. Quentin easily overtook Jack. With his new warhammer in hand, Quentin crouched next to the lady sniper. Sissy and Collin were searching the darkened tree line of the jungle with their weapons. Quentin couldn’t see anything that looked like a zombie. Truthfully, Quentin couldn’t see much of anything besides the tall trees covered with leafy green vegetation.

“Collin, what’s going on?” Mateo asked over the team’s radio net.

“Sissy engaged a possible threat,” Collin reported in a flat voice.

“Zombies this close?” Mateo asked, clearly surprised at the prospect.

“Not likely,” Collin said, “Sissy reported something that moved rapidly. I’m thinking one of indigenous threats.”

“I’m telling you it looked humanoid,” Sissy protested to Collin. Over the radio net, Sissy reported, “I don’t know what it was, but it was standing on two legs and moved like lightning.” Quentin looked over at Sissy. Her normal cool voice was shaking. She was breathing hard. What could have spooked her? She was normally unshakable.

“Sissy, I want you to hold where you are. The Steve and I will be joining you,” Mateo said, “Collin, take Jack and Quentin and investigate.” Collin clicked his throat mike twice in acknowledgement. He motioned for Jack and Quentin to follow as he slid through the tall grass. Quentin tried to mimic Collin’s movement, but he just couldn’t move as quietly as the smaller man. It was like trying to follow a shadow.

Collin neared the area where Sissy said the target was, about ten yards into the tree line. The heavy jungle canopy filtered the sunlight. It gave the area an odd coloration. Shadows loomed in odd spots all around the three men. Unfamiliar sounds and scents came from every direction. It was completely different from the forests of Alabama. Quentin decided he did not like the jungle. He suddenly felt very close to his uncle who told harrowing stories of Vietnam. Collin’s call broke into Quentin’s thoughts.

“Over here,” Collin said in a low voice. Jack and Quentin crept over to Collin. The familiar smell of zombie hit Quentin before he saw it. At the commando’s feet was a hunk of rotted flesh. One side was shredded, most likely from a fragmenting .338 round. Collin looked up at the two, and gave a quick smirk.

“I think Sissy did manage to hit something,” Quentin said.

“Too right,” Collin said, “So what is that bloody thing?” Maybe two feet from the hunk was a broken piece of stone. Quentin bent down and picked up the stone fragment. Hints of memory were tickling his mind.

“What’s the matter mate?” Jack asked, his voice growling. Quentin glanced up at Jack. The Aussie was definitely in one of his bad moods. Jack was almost vibrating with impatience.

“The carving on this stone. It looks like something from the Mesoamerican period,” Quentin answered. Quentin was so intently studying the stone in his hand he didn’t notice Collin and Jack staring at him in amazement. “I’m guessing this might have come from the Aztec Empire. The craftsmanship says late fourteenth-century, common era.”

“How in God’s name –“ Jack started to ask. The sudden loud moans caught all three by surprise. Five zombies stumbled out of a patch of shadow, maybe ten feet from the group. All five zombies were intent on the three humans. They shambled forward with all the speed their decomposing bodies could muster. Collin brought up his MP5/10 just in time to bust open one’s head with a burst. Jack drew his two hi-Powers up and wildly blazed away. Quentin swore as he watched the bullets punch uselessly into the zombies’ torsos. With one hand, Quentin grabbed Jack’s shoulder and slammed the smaller man to the ground. Jack was almost useless when he was in one of his bad moods. Quentin whipped his warhammer at the nearest zombie. The lighter weapon wouldn’t decapitate like his old sledge, but it cracked the zombie’s head open just fine. Quentin swung outward and caught a second zombie. The warhammer was also a heck of a lot faster than the sledge. In these close-quarters, speed was life. Quentin brought the hammer around, but the last two were already down. Collin stood over his two kills, changing magazines in his sub-machine gun.

“Fall back,” Collin hissed as he searched the shadows for any other surprises. Jack started to argue, but it died with one look at Collin’s face. Quentin tucked the stone carving in his pocket before turning to sprint out of the jungle. He took two steps before something grabbed his leg. Quentin stumbled, but years of playing football kept him from falling. He swung the warhammer down at whatever grabbed him. A blur of motion shot into the air, missing the low branches by scant inches. As it fell out of the air at him, Quentin caught the form in the side with a swing that would have made Jackie Robinson proud. The creature screamed as the force of Quentin’s blow slammed it into a tree. Quentin’s eyes went wide as it quickly picked itself off the jungle floor.

The decaying and putrid flesh hanging off the small, wiry frame was like a zombie. The quick, jerky movements as it stood upright was completely unlike any undead Quentin fought before. The humanoid thing’s dark skin was covered with strange symbols done in blue and white body paint. Quentin ignored the familiar tickle of remembrance as the thing hurtled itself at him. Quentin sidestepped a moment too slow. There was a burning pain as the thing’s claws raked his hip. It slid past Quentin and dove at him again. Quentin slammed the ball of the hammer’s pommel squarely into the creature’s broad nose. It fell back a few feet and then reached out again like it didn’t even feel the blow. Realization lit in Quentin’s mind. It wasn’t attacking him. It was trying to get at the stone! Quentin stepped forward, exposing the pocket where he tucked the stone. As the thing’s arms reached out, Quentin struck its hip with a powerful blow. As it tried to scamper up from the ground, Quentin whirled the hammer in his hand. The sharp hook of the metal beak easily punched through the thing’s skull. It jerked once and then went limp. Quentin searched around as he fought to catch his breath. He didn’t want another of those things sneaking up on him. Quentin’s body felt like the fight lasted an hour, but experience told him only a couple of minutes elapsed. Collin came out of nowhere and tugged at the Quentin’s sleeve.

“What are you doing? Get out of here!” Collin snapped.

“We need to grab –“ Quentin started, but stopped as he watched the creature dissolve down to a dirty skeleton. Without any of the connective tissue to hold them together, the bones collapsed to the jungle floor. Quentin was too shocked to say anything else as Collin pulled him out of the jungle.

Collin, Jack, and Quentin ran back to where Sissy was crouched in the grass with The Steve and Mateo. The Steve took one look at Quentin’s hip and went to work. Medical supplies appeared in the medic’s hand as he expertly cut away the fabric. The Steve paused for a split second as he examined the wound. Quentin’s hip blossomed with pain as The Steven slapped on some sort of clear gel. The medic quickly covered the wound with a pad.

“What got you?” The Steve asked, completely devoid of his characteristic good humor, “It didn’t look like a bite.” Quentin shook his head.

“That thing scratched me,” Quentin answered, “I don’t know what it was, but I think it was what Sissy took a shot at.” There was an odd relief in the medic’s eyes, and the familiar smile spread across his face. Before Quentin could say anything, The Steve holstered a small pistol. Quentin realized if it had been a bite, the Steve would’ve been the one to put him down before he changed. It was disturbing and comforting at the same time.

Collin and Sissy kept watch over the jungle as the others went back to erecting the pre-fab fortifications. It was hard physical labor, but it let Quentin think about the creature and the stone. Why did the creature want the stone so badly? His thoughts were interrupted as Mateo stopped them at mid-afternoon to rest.

“Quentin, would you come over here?” Mateo asked. Quentin wondered what was going on as he walked over to Mateo. The team leader pointed at his laptop. A slightly distorted picture of the creature was displayed.

“How did you get that?” Quentin blurted out.

“M&W sent us some new advanced video camera. I recorded the whole encounter for debrief,” Mateo answered, “Do you know what that thing was?”

“No, but it was after this,” Quentin said, holding up the stone carving, “And no, I don’t know why.”

“Jack said you knew what that stone is,” Mateo said.

“Actually, I have no clue,” Quentin said, “I recognize some of the markings. I’ve never encountered an artifact like this before.”

“Then, Mr. McLintock, Masters in Anthropology, I think it’s time for you to call in some lifelines,” Mateo said, “Shake whatever trees you need to find out what that is. I have a feeling we’re about to walk into the meat grinder.”

Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Six

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Four

Fifty Miles Off of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 1830 hours Local, 24 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 1 week

Sissy O’Connell watched the gorgeous Pacific sunset from the stern of the converted cargo ship. She regretted leaving her long blonde hair down and loose. The downwash from the helicopters kept sweeping it into her eyes. Still, the view was worth the hassle. The orange sun melted into the blue waters highlighted by a sky lit with reds and purples. It was more beautiful than any of the paintings Sissy adored. She watched with constant fascination as the sun slowly dropped under the horizon, and then a bit longer until the natural light was replaced by the blazing white of the lights on the flight deck. The time gave Sissy a chance to get herself centered.

Sissy left the flight deck and made her way down to her team’s rooms. They were two levels below the flight deck and separated from the ship’s crew and M&W’s security people. Sissy was still amazed an insurance company owned and operated its own helicarrier. Mr. Brown, the bespectacled liaison from M&W, mentioned something about the ship being a prototype for the British Navy to convert cargo ships to Harrier carriers during the height of the Cold War. Considering Sissy had been five years old when the Iron Curtain fell, that historical fact meant absolutely nothing to her. What did matter to her was that the technological improvements M&W put into their private warship meant the vessel didn’t need much in the way of crew, and gave the team an inordinate amount of privacy. Sissy was relieved as she finally descended into the empty corridor. She was getting tired of the stares from the sailors.

Her room was the first on the left from the – ladder? Stairs? Ships were so bizarre. Opposite of her room, Sissy heard a pitiful moan from Quentin’s cabin. The former rough and tumble football player was laid low by seasickness. Dramamine didn’t do a thing for Quentin, and the team medic wouldn’t give him anything stronger. Sissy admired Quentin’s grit as he joined the team for exercise and weapons training every morning – even when he looked like death warmed over. Sissy decided to check back on Quentin after she was done with her other teammates. He needed the most attention at the moment.

“Hey Matt,” Sissy said, gently rapping on the open door, “Everything going okay?” Mateo spun in his chair. He clenched the papers in his hand in a death grip as he looked at Sissy. His eyes darted all over his room.

”Um, yeah. I’m just – I’m just getting the final bit of the planning finished,” Mateo half-stammered. His twitching shoulders telegraphed his unease. Sissy stifled the sigh before it escaped her lips. During exercises, Mateo was completely different. He was never uneasy or had any trouble speaking to her. The times when the team wasn’t training, like now, he just looked like he was trying to escape from her. She didn’t know what it was about her that made Mateo so uncomfortable, but she figured she’d try one more time tonight to pull him out.

“Okay,” Sissy said warmly, “Don’t stay up too late. Early morning. Could be a long day.”

“Uh, yeah,” Mateo said, staring at the papers in his hand, “Thanks.” She grimaced as Mateo whirled back to his work.

“Don’t worry too much about him,” whispered a voice behind her. Sissy jumped in surprise, and then whirled on a smiling Steve “The Steve” Mountain. How did he always manage to do that? Frustrated and angry, she punched the smiling medic in the chest.

“Idiot.”

“Relax chica,” The Steve said, ignoring the punch and the insult with his characteristic smile, “The Steve understands the boss man. The Steve sees the signs. Let The Steve handle this.” Sissy looked into The Steve’s brown eyes. There was a steady dedication behind the normally laughing eyes. The Steve may be a bit touched in the head, but he was dedicated to healing the physical and emotional wounds of his teammates.

“Well I guess I better check on Collin and Jack then,” Sissy said.

“Don’t bother,” The Steve said, “Collin racked out fast. That whole grab-sleep-when-you-can thing. Jack’s in one of his bad moods, so The Steve locked him in his cabin until the morning brief.” Sissy nodded in tired resignation. She didn’t even want to contemplate Jack walking around the ship in one of his dark moods. Someone was bound to wind up hurt – or dead.

“Listen, get some rack time. You’re worrying too much,” The Steve said with as much sincerity as the medic could muster. Sissy turned back to her room as The Steve went to his own room. She changed out of her fatigues into a comfortably over-large T-shirt and pajama bottoms. Sissy looked at herself in the small mirror of the room. She finally admitted it. She was terrified. She couldn’t hide from it anymore by taking care of the others. Sissy was scared. Scared that she would die, or she would make a mistake and one of her teammates would die. They reminded her so much of her brothers.

No, she admitted to herself, her fear wasn’t that simple. She knew where her fear came from, but she just couldn’t face it. Sissy snatched Frederick off the bed. The stuffed toy monkey usually chased away the fear. Not this time. As she clutched at Frederick, her eyes fell on the long black case. Her rifle case. Her father’s deep, warm voice filled her ears and heart. Don’t worry Little Bit, everything’s going to be all right. The fear was finally banished for the night. Sissy gently placed Frederick back on the bed. She put on her slippers. Quentin still needed some looking after before the morning meeting.

Fifty Miles Off of Target Island, 200 Miles West of Hawaii, 0630 hours Local, 24 July 2009, Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 6 days

Sissy watched the water as the helicopter sped towards the target. The island didn’t even have a name, just a long alphanumeric designation Sissy couldn’t remember. The mission was simple. Land and disembark, set up base camp, and then eradicate every zombie on the island. She smiled as she remembered Mateo’s words from the morning meeting.

“Now we all know the saying’s easy. The doing’s going to be a mite bit harder,” Mateo told the group. Sissy didn’t know where that southern accent came from, but it relieved a little of the tension of the team. Sissy closed her eyes and tried to keep calm as the helicopter neared the island.

The distinct buzzsaw sound of miniguns signaled the descent to the island. Two escort gunship helicopters provided a distraction to cover the team’s insertion. Zombies were attracted by loud sounds, and the sound of two helicopters spraying thousands of 7.62mm NATO into the jungle was a very loud sound. Hopefully, it was loud enough to cover the sound of a single helicopter dropping off six people.

The helicopter made an easy descent. Sissy barely noticed the helicopter touching the grassy ground. Collin and The Steve were the first off. The two former military men jumped out of the helicopter with an easy grace. They were already thirty feet from the helicopter with their weapons up and searching before Sissy and Jack were ushered off by the hurried crew chief. Sissy hit the deceptively hard ground, barely remembering to move away from the helicopter. She moved as fast as she could while crouched, keeping the little H&K MP7 submachine gun braced. The roar of the helicopter’s engine meant Mateo and Quentin were off as well. She felt the intense downwash as the helicopter lifted back into the sky.

“Okay team, huddle up,” Mateo said. Mateo held a green plastic device, about the size of a hardcover book. A large screen dominated the top of the device. A map of the island appeared. Their current position on the south end of the island was designated as “Landing Zone One.” The island was roughly circular and was maybe a mile at its widest point. There was a dense jungle in the center of the island with a band of tall grasslands and smaller sprouts of jungle between the center and the beaches.

“Latest intel has most of the zombies still on the north end of the island,” Mateo said, pointing to the grassy area with a small growth of jungle, “Numbers still estimated at a few hundred.”

“Do you believe that?” Jack asked, sarcastically.

“I’m willing to use that as the low figure,” Mateo answered. He took a moment to look at the time display on the device. “We’ve got about nine hours of daylight. Collin, I want you and Sissy to clear the immediate area while the rest of us set up base camp.” Jack scowled and Quentin made a playful groan as the two walked over to the large metal boxes dropped off the helicopter with them. The Steve smiled as he strode behind the two.

“Well lass, let’s get this done,” Collin said, hefting his MP5/10. Sissy folded up and holstered the MP7 and removed her beloved “Danny-Boy” from its protective bag. Sissy worked the bolt and felt the welcome sound of the .338 Lapua round feeding into the chamber. The two strode away from the others. For Sissy, the stride was a familiar hunting walk. The two quietly walked about fifty yards from where the others were erecting the base camp. The edge of the jungle was another hundred yards off. Strange sounds emanated from the darkened forest that stirred up the terror from the previous night. Sissy gripped her rifle closer.

There was a blur of motion from the jungle. She spun to bring the rifle at the dark shape. It was indistinct, but humanoid. The scope did nothing to resolve the form as she brought her rifle to her shoulder in a single fluid motion. Sissy took a quick breath and let it out as she gently squeezed the trigger.

Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Five

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike – Part One – Chapter Three

Skull Island, Southern Pacific – 2000 hours Local – 14 July 2009 – Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 2 weeks

Collin DuBois looked at the other two men in the small office. Kenn Blanchard’s ready room was located just off of Skull Island’s command center. Twelve large plasma screens beamed views from all over the island. Kenn was dressed in black fatigues and sitting behind a metal desk. Smoke from a burning Monte Cristo swirled around the infamous “Black Man With A Gun,” giving Kenn a mysterious visage. Mateo, Collin’s team leader, was slumped in a leather chair with a distinct air of self-recrimination. Mateo loosely held a glowing Cusano cigar, but he hadn’t taken more than a few puffs. Mateo’s normally tan skin was pale. Collin didn’t understand the American fascination with cigars. Instead he was nursing a tumbler of a very good Glenfiddich scotch. The former SAS soldier stood with a relaxed ease as he studied one of the plasmas.

“So what happened?” Kenn asked Mateo. Kenn didn’t glower in anger as he asked, but gave Mateo a look of concern.

“Jack just lost it during the fight,” Mateo said flatly, “I can’t figure out how I missed it. I mean Jack was loud and mean to everyone but Sissy on the training ranges, but he always did what we needed him to do. I just chalked it up to his resentment of being forced to come back to Skull Island. I never thought he had a death wish.” Mateo took another puff on his cigar, but didn’t seem to enjoy it.

“He doesn’t Matty, so quit being so rough on yourself,” Collin answered, his normal London cockney replaced with the crisp King’s accent, “Mr. Blanchard, would you be so kind as to replay Jack’s actions this morning, sir?” Kenn tapped on the keyboard, and the three watched the replay of the fight with the zombies. Kenn paused it after Jack was dragged back to the line.

“I must admit Collin, Jack’s sure acting like he’s trying to get himself killed,” Kenn commented.

“Really?” Collin asked, with a soft reproach in his tone. The same kind sergeants always used to rebuke their headstrong officers, “I see a young man breaking free of a role he was never intended to play.”

“Spit it out Collin,” Mateo said, his dark eyes flashing with an annoyance, “Tell us what we’re missing.” Collin’s ivory smile broke his obsidian face. He liked his team leader. Mateo was an odd choice. Unlike so many of the team, Mateo had no military or other professional combat background. He was just a civilian who took some of the combat courses offered in America by private companies. Yet that civilian knew how to listen, and the shorter man took great pains to make sure he didn’t make the same mistake twice. That was head and shoulders above what Collin faced with so many of his officers.

“The plan was good for a normal squad of soldiers, but we don’t have a normal squad of soldiers,” Collin said, “Each member has unique talents and styles of fighting. If we’re going to be an effective team, our plans are going to have to take those into account.” Mateo took a long draw on his cigar as he shot Collin a skeptical look.

“Okay, how long did it take you after we landed back at base to come up with this?” Mateo asked, “Because, if I remember correctly, you were pretty pissed when we left the field. I was half-expecting to need to order Quentin to keep you away from Jack.” Collin shifted under his team leader’s look. Sometimes having a perceptive leader was a double-edged sword.

“Yes, well, heat of the moment and such,” Collin said with an uncharacteristic uncomfortable look, “Still, once away from the field, it’s quite easy to see how uniquely talented young Mr. Winchester is.”

“How is charging into a mess of zombies a unique talent?” Kenn asked, his eyebrow arched quizzically.

“Did you see how many of the walking dead Jack put down before we dragged him off?” Collin asked in response, “The boy may be a bit loose in the head, but his dance of death is the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.” Collin gulped down the last swallow of Scotch and pointed at the monitor. “Look at him. It’s like watching a Hollywood-choreographed gunfight, right up to the two pistols blazing away.”

“He almost got himself killed,” Mateo said. Collin nodded grudgingly.

“Yes, well, I didn’t say it was a perfect thing. Just spectacular,” Collin admitted, “That’s why we have a spread of talent, as it were. If we manage to get all of us working in synch – well, we could very well shake the pillars of heaven.”

“That good, huh?” Mateo asked.

“Quite.”

Skull Island, Southern Pacific – 0930 hours Local – 16 July 2009 – Countdown: 2 years, 5 months, 12 days

Collin silently slid through the undergrowth. For the first time in months he felt alive. At his core, Collin was a predator. The slow track built up the tension just waiting for the explosion of action as Collin took down his prey. The SAS were more than willing to hone young Collin’s natural talent for hunting hominids, and they rewarded Collin by dropping him in every hell hole the British commando forces operated. Collin was put to the test against the best of his enemies: the Irish, the Iraqis, the Taliban, and even the bloody Chileans. He missed that constant testing when he joined up with one of the many private security companies operating in the Middle East. If he hadn’t needed the bloody money… Oh well, at least he was back hunting the undead. Compared to the humans Collin had been hunting, zombies were easy to track and had all the survival instinct of – how did The Steve put it? Ah yes – “lemmings on crystal meth.” Yet, they were still the most dangerous hominids Collin hunted. Not individually, but the walking dead was rarely caught alone.

Collin followed the tracks of the zombie horde to a clearing in the normally dense jungle forest. From the burnt ground of the clearing and the new foliage around the edges, this was where Tampa Team did one of their insertions. Bloody Americans – burn everything down, shoot anything that moves, and then figure out the situation. No grace, no finesse. Collin surveyed the scene before him as he reported to the rest of the team.

“Mattie, I’ve stumbled across a few of the buggers,” Collin said in a low voice into the throat mike, “Maybe about thirty or so. Looks like they’ve managed to dig up the odd smuggler band for morning tea.” Collin read off the GPS coordinates.

“Oh good, the Gunny’s been wondering what happened to that group,” Mateo said, “Jack and Quentin, close up on Collin. Sissy, find a spot you can work from. Steve, you’re with me.”

“The Steve, boss-man,” the medic chimed in. Collin could almost hear Mateo roll his eyes.

Collin kept himself occupied studying the zombies before he heard his two teammates tromping through the jungle about ten minutes later. To be honest, they were doing a fair job of keeping the noise to a minimum. They just weren’t up to his standards. Granted, the zombies were making more noise with their constant moans. Considering the undead tended to hunt by homing in on loud noise, this was a good thing. Still, there was the principle of the thing. Collin swallowed the tiny annoyance and put on his game face as Jack and Quentin moved next to him.

“Okay, so there are plenty of them for all of us,” Collin said, nodding to the zombies.

“Let’s not keep them waiting, shall we?” Quentin and Jack mirrored Collin’s own smile. The three spread out along the tree line. Collin crouched and brought up his weapon, a suppressed MP5/10 with a mounted EOTech. He glanced left and right to check on the other two. Satisfied, Collin triggered a burst into the closest zombie. Over the collective moans and half-screeches, the MP5/10 was effectively silent. The three ten millimeter bullets slammed into the base of the zombie’s skull and effortlessly shredded the brain. Collin waited a half-second just to make sure the horde of zombies didn’t suddenly turn and charge the three humans. Satisfied, Collin motioned Jack to attack.

Jack strode out into the clearing with the two pistols clutched in his hands. These weren’t Jack’s precious Brownings. Those were holstered on his thighs. Instead, the Australian wielded a pair suppressed Glock 17’s, each loaded with big 33-round magazines. Jack paused for the briefest moment before he unleashed a pair of double taps at the zombies closest to him. As the first two zombies crumpled to the burnt ground, Jack slid to the right. From where Collin was sitting, it looked like Jack was simply spraying the zombies with random gunfire, but the commando knew the truth. Jack was fully in the zone and letting loose with aimed double-taps at a speed that few competition shooters could hope to match. Collin focused on his own prey and triggered another burst at a zombie that managed to get a whiff of the new humans.

“Team, Jack is on the southern end of the clearing and working his magic,” Collin reported, “Quentin and I are on the west side being a bit quieter.” Collin felt the thump as Quentin took the head off of a zombie with a long hafted twenty-pound sledgehammer. With one hand. Good God, what did the Americans feed their children? Quentin just gave Collin a slow, lazy grin – a split second before slamming the hammer down on another straying zombie. Again with one hand, much to Collin’s private amazement.

“Sissy, cover Jack,” Mateo ordered, “Collin, we’re coming in from the northwest. Let’s backstop Jack.”

“Too bloody right,” Collin said, rising to open fire on a pair of zombies that suddenly turned to walk towards Collin and Quentin. Both were quickly dispatched with bursts to the head. Mateo hit the nail on the head with this idea. Let the close-quarters fighters engage with “quiet” weapons and take full advantage of their mobility against the slow moving monsters. The others were there to provide additional support with the heavier, noisier weapons once the monsters finally figured out they were being attacked.

The unique crack of Sissy’s L96 signaled the zombies were finally aware of the humans putting them down. Jack was bounding back towards Collin and Quentin as another zombie was decapitated by a .338 Lapua round from Sissy. The woman was scary fast with that rifle. Collin wished Sissy had been with his SAS team during that last romp through Ulster. The sudden sound of pistol fire snapped Collin back into the present. The empty Glocks were at Jack’s feet, and the Aussie now held his shiny, nickel-plated Brownings. Collin methodically placed three-round bursts into the zombies drawn into the kill zone by Jack’s movement and gunfire. The thirty zombies were down to maybe a dozen or so when Mateo and The Steve opened on their flank with M4’s. There wasn’t the confusion Collin would have seen in humans. Humans would have scrambled to deal with the new threat and blundered badly. Yet, that lack of reaction made it easier for Mateo and The Steve to pick off zombies with almost a casual ease. Between the six teammates, the dozen zombies lasted maybe fifteen seconds.

“Well, that worked out much better,” Quentin commented as the team regrouped.

“Quite,” Collin said in a stereotypical British understatement. Collin caught Mateo’s eye and nodded. The team was ready to do some zombie clearing.

Zombie Strike Part One Chapter Four

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