[Author’s note: This is the fifth chapter. To start at the beginning go >> HERE << ]
Copyright © 2013 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
– Day 46 Part One –
Jess rolled over and looked at the clock. “[sigh] 2:00 AM. Maybe some fresh air will do me some good. Can’t be any worse than lying here staring at the ceiling,” she mused. “Maybe a walk on the roof?” She reached over and grabbed the notebook computer on the nearby table and brought it into bed with her. Deftly she opened the lid and scanned the stairwell security cameras from the garage level up to the roof. Seeing nothing amiss, she disarmed the motion sensors between the lab and the roof so as not to wake anyone. “I doubt that they will be coming down from the roof tonight. Zs are not known for their climbing ability,” she chuckled to herself.
She had been cooped-up in the lab far too long and desperately needed to get outside, even if it was just on the roof. She grabbed a raincoat from the closet, a pair of binoculars, and her favorite 20 gauge semi-automatic shotgun. Eddy was asleep in the next room while Tom, Cindy, and Maxine were sleeping soundly in their makeshift accommodations in the break room. Wolf wagged his tail as Jess passed him. “Want to go for a walk?” Wolf whined and wagged his tail excitedly. “OK, OK,” Jess answered.
She looked through the small window in the stairway door to make sure that it was safe, then quickly unlocked the door with her key. Once in the stairway she immediately relocked the door. She and Wolf quickly climbed the stairs to the roof door. She looked out the small window, but it was too dark to see anything. “Never been a problem before,” she thought and threw the switch that turned on the massive roof floodlights. It was now brighter than daylight on the roof with no shadows in which to hide. She then unlocked the door, let Wolf out, and silently stepped outside locking the door behind her … just in case.
Wolf immediately ran over to one of the floodlight supports and marked his territory. He then ran back and forth across the roof looking for just the right place to poo. With his immediate needs taken care of, he proceeded to inspect the area, stopping here and there to further add his scent. “All clear,” she noted mentally.
The wind was cold and damp blowing in from the Gulf. The salt smell of the sea was full in Jess’s nostrils, clean and fresh, unlike the filtered and re-filtered air of the lab. The door opened onto the roof next the well-anchored backup generators. At this elevation the possibility of flooding was nil and there were no known hurricane force winds that could damage them. She stepped out from under the helicopter landing platform and looked up to see the full moon “sailing” through the low scudding clouds. Every so often a wave of light rain washed over her, pushed on by the wind. Jess did a quick inspection tour of the roof herself and then climbed the metal stairway up to the helipad above the generators. Wolf bounded up after her. There she opened the weatherized control box to shut off the flood lights and waited for her night vision to return. “Down, stay,” she commanded. Wolf obeyed.
Jess walked over to the edge of the railing and scanned the beach with the binoculars. Nothing. She scanned the streets surrounding the lab building, following them back to the beach. Nothing. “Wonder where they are sleeping tonight?” she mused. The fact that Zs had been in the parking garage the day before was cause for concern. After several minutes, Jess heard a distant wailing cry. It sounded like it was several miles away. The shrieking grew as other voices joined it and rose and fell in volume as it was carried along by the wind. Wolf picked up his ears and began to whine. It could have been a pack of coyotes or wolves, but these were all too obviously human voices. The sound sent a chill up and down Jess’s spine. It was suddenly too cold to be outside.
Jess turned, descended back to the roof, and walked briskly back to the stairwell. “Lets go Wolf. Enough fresh air for tonight,” she said as she closed and locked the door behind them and descended the stairs to the lab.
– – –
Eddy opened the door to the drug store and looked right and left to make sure he was alone. He felt as if he were looking through a fog and moving through molasses. The place had been raided once or twice already and it was a shambles. “Why did I agree to go on this fool’s errand?” he swore under his breath. “I told her that all of the easy sites had already been raided.” He stopped and listened for any sign of movement. Nothing.
Unzipping the large duffle-bag, he went slowly from isle to isle shoving anything of value into it. Eddy stopped and listened again. Nothing. Slowly he made his way back to the pharmacy counter and jumped over the counter into the back. The security bars had been cut through with bolt cutters by a previous raiding party, so getting in was much easier than he expected. Too easy.
Once again; stop, listen, wait. He made a mental inventory of the shelves. Most of the pain killers and antibiotics had been taken. What was left were sundry salves and ointments, pseudo-ephedrine-containing antihistamines, birth control pills, erectile dysfunction meds, and prescription hemorrhoid treatments. “What the hell,” he swore in a low voice. “I’m sure that we’ll run into someone with a bad rash who has allergies who doesn’t want to get pregnant, or can’t get a boner, or can’t take a dump because of the pain. I sure we can trade this crap for something useful.” Eddy shoveled what he could into the duffle-bag.
CRASH … Eddy froze, listening carefully. CRASH … TINKLE … TINKLE … “Uh oh,” He silently mouthed. He was not alone. Eddy looked for a back door, but there was none. The closest thing to an escape route was the drive-thru pharmacy window. He crept slowly toward it dragging the duffle-bag with him. Several Zs had come into the drugstore through the open front door. “Damn it,” Eddy searched his memory, “I’m sure I closed and bolted it behind me.” The Zs were now moving his way, sniffing the air as they came. “What to do? What to do?” Eddy asked over and over in his brain. Slowly he aimed the 12 gauge at the drive-thru window and fired. BOOM. The Zs all looked his way.
Eddy slowly pushed the broken glass out of the way, climbed through the window and fell out onto the pavement. The duffle-bag was nowhere to be found. “Get back to the car. Get back to the car,” was the mantra he chanted as he crept along the pavement to the edge of the wall. He looked around the corner of the drugstore wall toward his car. Half a dozen Zs were trying to get into it. They had already smashed out the driver side window and were trying to open the door. Eddy looked behind him to see the remaining Zs climbing out of the drive-thru window. “That can’t be good,” he thought.
Across the parking lot was an abandoned hotel. “If I can just get to that, maybe I can wait them out,” he thought out loud. Taking just the shotgun, Eddy took off across the parking lot toward the hotel. No matter how fast he tried to run, the hotel never seemed to get any closer. Finally, finally he reached the courtyard of the hotel. Eddy looked over his shoulder, the Zs were gaining on him. He turned and fired; once, twice. Then his shotgun jammed. “Shit, SHIT” he yelled. He started running again, but another group of Zs had outflanked him. He was surrounded; the only way out was up. He jumped up as high as he could and grabbed on to the ledge of a second floor balcony. As he tried to pull himself up, the nearest Z grabbed his ankle with both its hands and sank its teeth into Eddy’s foot. Eddy kicked at it with his other foot, but lost his grip and fell in slow motion down, down, down onto the Zs. Now they were on top of him; biting and clawing. Eddy punched and clawed and bit them back; anything to escape.
Suddenly he was alone on the ground, lying on his back. A beautiful naked red-haired woman with firm perky breasts and hard erect nipples had climbed on top of him. He stared in awe at her exotic animal beauty. Her skin was taut and slightly freckled; bronzed with a healthy tan. Her eyes were deep green pools that Eddy wanted to swim in like an oasis in a parched, arid desert. She ripped his shirt open, buttons scattering on the pavement, and she begin to nuzzle his chest. “So beautiful,” he thought. She moved her face directly in front of his. Her lips brushed sensuously across his lips. She gently kissed his nose … then bit it completely off. He could hear her crunching the cartilage as she chewed. Eddy screamed.
Eddy sat bolt upright on his cot, trying to figure out where he was. He was drenched in sweat and shaking noticeably. “Damn! Damn these dreams!” Eddy swore out loud as he turned to look at the time. “5:00 AM on the dot.” It took a minute or two for him to gain some semblance of composure. “Better take a shower before anyone else gets up. It’s going to be a long day.”
Jess was awakened from her sleep by Eddy’s scream. She bolted out of bed, threw on a robe and dashed toward Eddy’s room. She met him in the hall as he was heading to the shower. “The Dream,” Eddy muttered as they passed in the hallway. Jess nodded her understanding. Eddy had been having “The Dream” off and on for a while now, ever since one of the supply runs very nearly ended in disaster. Jess had learned to not grill Eddy too closely on what had happened.
When she reached the break room, the Brauns were already up and stirring. “What’s going on?” Cindy asked.
“Did someone scream?” Tom joined in.
“Eddy. Bad dream,” was all Jess replied. Tom and Cindy both nodded acceptance, but neither one grasped what was happening.
“Busy day ahead,” Jess stated matter-of-factly. “Eddy and I need to meet with MAN out at the Seaside at 10 AM. You guys need to hold down the fort while we are gone.”
“MAN?” Tom asked.
“Matthew Augustus Nobel, our local ex Navy SEAL. He likes to be called MAN. He’s eccentric, but he’s also smart as hell and commands the closest thing to an army left on the island.” Jess got herself a cup of coffee and rummaged around in the pantry for a package of Twinkles. As she ate her Twinkle and sipped her coffee, she explained the request they had received from the WHO, the need for live Zs, and how they hoped that MAN would help.
“Sounds dangerous,” Maxine commented when Jess was finished.
“No shit … pardon my French,” Jess replied. She didn’t like to swear as a general rule, but desperate times called for desperate words.
“Bathroom’s free”, Eddie announced as he strolled in still drying his hair. “Fix me a coffee too … pleeeeze,” he asked, batting his eyes at Jess.
“OK, but only ’cause you asked nice.” Jess replied as she put a cup under the brew spout, put in a coffee pod, and pushed the brew button. Tom and Cindy excused themselves and headed off toward the bathroom, leaving Maxine and Wolf behind. “Maxine,” Jess asked, “would you like to take Wolf up to the roof for a potty break?”
“By myself?” she asked sheepishly.
“We’ll go together,” Jess replied, “as soon as we are dressed.” she finished the last bite of her Twinkle and downed her coffee. “Back here in twenty minutes … go get dressed.”
– – –
Eddy finished his coffee and had a second cup while Jess, Maxine, and Wolf were up on the roof. Tom had wandered back into the break room. “So tell me more about this capturing live Zs adventure of yours.” Eddy patiently went over the phone call with Heinrich Mueller from the World Health Organization in Zurich two days earlier. He explained the need for live Zs, the plan to send a special plane to pick them up, the need to find fuel at the airport to refuel the plane. “That’s a tall order. Where does this ‘MAN’ come in?” Tom asked.
“As Jess said, Matthew commands the closest thing to an army left on the island. He also has access to just about all of the resources left on the island … and the smarts and/or personnel to make them work. He and his people are our best chance of pulling this thing off … and living to tell our grandchildren about it.”
“Sounds like this ‘MAN’ is quite the deal.”
“The sonofabitch sure knows his stuff and he commands the respect, and the allegiance, of everyone living at the Seaside. As much as he annoys the hell out of me most of the time I have to give him that,” Eddy conceded.
“So what’s the deal with him wanting to be called ‘MAN’?” Tom asked.
“Hell if I know. The guy’s got some kind of ego trip going on. Refuses to respond to any other name but ‘MAN’. Once you get past that, he really isn’t that hard to deal with. Jess seems to have him wrapped around her little finger. She can get him to do stuff no one else can. She got him to grant us an audience for today, when I couldn’t even get him to answer the phone. I can’t figure it out,” Eddy sighed.
“Jess always was persuasive,” Tom acknowledged.
– – –
Jess, Maxine, and Wolf got back from the roof just before nine o’clock. “Cold front came through,” Jess announced, “the sky is clear blue and the air is crisp and cold. I’d hate to be a naked Z out there now. Brrrrr. Hmm, come to think of it what will the Zs do when winter comes? How will they keep from freezing to death?”
“I saw a thing on some nature show about bees huddling together to stay warm. Maybe the pack Zs will do this,” Eddy ventured. “They do have an increased metabolism, that’s why they are alway’s hungry. This should cause higher body heat. Has anyone documented higher body temperature? Hell, has anyone even studied them? Sure we’ve killed them and studied them … or just killed them … but has anyone actually studied them alive?”
“Isn’t that the whole idea of capturing them?” Jess rebutted.
“Heinrich said that they needed living tissue, nerve and brain samples. He never said they planned to study the captured Zs,” Eddy replied.
“So? What? They’re just going to dissect them? I can’t imagine they can extract brain and nerve samples without killing them; or at least without hurting them,” Jess asked. “These used to be people. Hell, they still are people.”
“Whoa, aren’t you the one that was absolutely petrified the day before yesterday at the thought of getting close to a live Z again? I’m confused.”
“That was before I really began to watch them on camera. They’re still people. Naked, hungry, hyperactive people. Even dangerously aggressive, carnivorous, cannibalistic people, but still people. Nothing like Zombies or the Undead. They are so graceful; and so very alive.” Jess seemed suddenly defensive.
Eddy glanced at the time. “Let’s continue this anthropological discussion on the way to Matthew’s. Tom, Cindy, don’t let anyone in while we’re gone.” He walked over to the weapons closet, opened it, and handed them each a semi-automatic shotgun. “You know how to use these?” Tom and Cindy shook their heads ‘no’. Eddy chambered a round in each shotgun and set the safety of each to off. “They are loaded and armed. Just aim and pull the trigger. Don’t shoot each other.” He walked back to the arms closet, got two shotguns, and tossed one to Jess. “Let’s go.”
“Hold on cowboy,” Jess interrupted, “let’s check the security cameras first.” She walked over, picked up the remote, and cycled through the cameras on the break room monitor; rapidly cycling through the stairwell cameras and ending with the garage camera. All appeared clear. “Now, let’s go!”
When they got down to the garage, they inspected the site of the Z feeding frenzy Jess had watched the day before. Other than some blood and urine stains and a few piles of scat there was no indication that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. “They even carried off the bones,” Jess observed.
– – –
On the drive to the Seaside, Jess kept a lookout for the ‘Surf Pack’, as she began to think of them. “Where are they?”
“Where are who?” Eddy replied.
“The Surf Pack.”
“The who? Oh you mean the pack of Zs that were running on the beach the other day? What did you call them?”
“The Surf Pack.”
Eddy glanced at the outside temperature readout. “Sixty-eight degrees. I’m sure they are huddled together somewhere trying to stay warm. The Surf Pack, eh?”
“Sure, why not. We need to start tracking them; observing them; cataloging them. Let’s call them the Surf Pack to differentiate them from the ‘Garage Pack’, assuming that they are not one and the same.”
“OK. Makes sense. We also need to go back and review the security video recordings and try to identify and track specific individuals. We need to understand their behavior and movement if we’re going to catch them. And here we are.” The Seaside was visible in the distance. Eddy took his foot off the accelerator and let the car coast the rest of the way.
– – –
Jess and Eddy were ushered into the Seaside through one of the side doors that was not boarded up. With one guard leading the way and another following, they climbed the six fights of stairs to MAN’s penthouse operations center. It wasn’t originally a penthouse; MAN had simple commandeered three rooms in a row and knocked the walls out. The lead guard knocked on the door and announced their presence. After a short wait they were led inside. Almost as soon as the door closed behind them, Jess was ambushed by a large white pit bull who almost knocked her over trying to lick her face. “Hi Maggie,” Jess managed to get out between slurps, “has MAN not been giving you enough luvins?” Jess began scratching Maggie’s ears. Eddy’s shin was almost fractured by the strength of Maggie’s wagging tail. He backed away from the love fest while he could still walk.
Jess and Maggie had been fast friends since the day Maggie wandered up to them on one of their supply runs. Jess and Eddie agreed that the lab was no place for a dog, but they couldn’t just leave her to be Z bait either. Luckily they knew the perfect person to look after her, Matthew Augustus Nobel. MAN beamed when they presented the pit bull to him. “What will you name her?” Jess inquired.
MAN didn’t blink an eye. “Maggie,” he replied. Man never did tell them why he named her Maggie and they knew better than to question MAN too deeply. Maggie soon had run of the Seaside. She was a natural Z detector. Whether it was by smell or hearing or keen eyesight she could detect the presence of a Z up to forty yards away. While MAN was ‘home’, Maggie tended to stay at his side. When he was out on ‘missions’, she would make the rounds of the sixth floor, then climb the stairs to the roof and visit the spotters up there. Maggie was always welcome wherever she went. More than once she had sounded the alarm before anyone else had noticed.
“So what do you need my help with this time?” MAN boomed as he strode into the room. Without giving them time to reply he gave Jess a big bear hug. “You are looking as lovely as ever. I see that you and Maggie have gotten reacquainted.” Maggie wagged her tail even faster. MAN glanced at Eddy. “Edward,” he said curtly.
“MAN,” Eddy replied just as curtly.
MAN returned his focus to Jess. “Girl you need to get out more. You’ve been cooped-up too long in that lab of yours.”
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing at 2:00 AM this morning.” Jess answered.
The contrast between Eddy and MAN was striking. Although Eddy was half the age of MAN, the latter was in much better shape. At sixty-five, MAN was still as fit as he ever was thanks to a rigorous daily workout regimen. MAN was lean and well muscled, whereas Eddy was slender but soft from too many hours in the lab. MAN wore his long salt and pepper hair in a ponytail that hung to his waist; his beard neatly trimmed. Eddy’s face bore the stubble of shaving every other day; his head the same. MAN was darkly tanned. Eddy was almost a pasty white. It was obvious that neither cared that much for the other.
“Coffee? Tea? Beer?” MAN offered.
Jess perked up. “Tea? Yes please.”
“Cold beer?” Eddy inquired.
“Hot tea and a cold beer for our guests,” MAN bellowed into the next room. “Come, sit, talk.” MAN ushered them to a large table in he next room. “Now … what can I do for you?”