TNW – Day 46

This is the sixth chapter.
Start at the beginning or read the previous chapter.

Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.

All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.

The Nudist War – Day 46

Her skin was smooth and slightly freckled, bronzed with a healthy tan. She had long red hair that hung down, encircling his face. Her deep green eyes studied him intently. They were like pools in an oasis in the middle of a parched, arid desert.

• • •

Jess rolled over, looked at the clock and sighed. “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. I don’t think the Zs are capable of scaling the outside of this building,” 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 Russian made 410 semi-automatic shotgun. What it lacked in gauge, it made up for with its 15-round magazine. 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. “Okay, okay,” 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. “We’ll fix that,” 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 door opened onto the roof next to the backup generators. At this elevation the possibility of flooding was nil and there were no known hurricane force winds that could damage them. Jess 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 lay down and proceeded to lick himself.

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. 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 in. It 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 chorus of voices slowly increased in number of voices and intensity. The sound sent a chill up and down Jess’s spine. It was suddenly too cold to be outside.

Jess turned, descended the steps back down 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. Satisfied, he walked slowly in, closing and locking the door behind him. He felt as if he were looking through a fog and moving through molasses. The place looked like it had been raided once or twice already. 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 stirred. “So far, so good,” he thought.

Unzipping the large duffle-bag, he went from aisle to aisle shoving anything of value into it. Eddy stopped and listened again. Nothing. Slowly he made his way back to the pharmacy counter and assessed the situation. The security bars had been cut through with bolt cutters by a previous raiding party, so getting in would be much easier than he expected. Too easy. He jumped over the counter into the back.

Once again; stop, listen, wait. Eddy 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, pseudoephedrine-containing antihistamines, birth control pills, erectile dysfunction meds, and prescription hemorrhoid treatments. “Oh great,” he swore to himself. “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’m sure we can trade this crap for something useful,” Eddy thought sarcastically as he 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 locked 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. “Got to get out of here. Only one way out.” Slowly he aimed the 12 gauge at the drive-thru window and fired. BOOM. This got the Zs’ attention.

Eddy pushed the broken glass out of the way, climbed through the window and fell out onto the pavement. “Unh,” he muttered as he hit the pavement, landing harder than he had expected. The duffle-bag was nowhere to be found. “Get back to the car. Get back to the car,” was the mantra he chanted in his mind 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’s not 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. Taking the shotgun, Eddy took off across the parking lot toward the hotel. No matter how fast he tried to run, it never seemed to get any closer. Finally, finally he reached the courtyard. Eddy looked over his shoulder, the Zs were gaining on him. He turned and fired; once, twice. Click. Out of ammo. “Oh 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 woman with firm perky breasts and hard erect nipples began to climb on top of him. He stared in awe at her exotic animal beauty. Her skin was smooth and slightly freckled, bronzed with a healthy tan. She had long red hair that hung down, encircling his face. Her deep green eyes studied him intently. They were like pools in an oasis in the middle of a parched, arid desert. Eddy felt as if he could swim forever in those eyes. She ripped his shirt open, buttons scattering on the pavement, and she begin to nuzzle his chest. “So beautiful,” he thought, “so beautiful.” She moved her face directly in front of his. Her lips brushed sensuously across his. He found himself wishing she would linger there a bit longer. She moved her lips further up his face and gently kissed his nose … then bit it off. A bit of blood dripped out of her mouth as she chewed, crunching the nasal cartilage.

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 former 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 the request from the WHO had her more than a little concerned.

“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.

“Okay, 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 Zürich 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.

Matthew lives out at the Seaside Hotel with a few dozen refugees who, like you, refused to leave with the Army when they came through offering refuge on the mainland. They may be a ragtag army, but they make up for it in weaponry and Mathew’s Navy SEAL experience. He also has access to just about all of the resources 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 still 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. They called it a “Winter Bee Cluster”. Instead of a Winter Bee Cluster, maybe they’ll form a Winter Z Cluster.” Eddy smiled, proud of his bad pun. “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. “They 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 philosophy 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 more 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.”

“What? 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. “Forty-five 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.” Eddy ended the conversation abruptly. The Seaside was visible in the distance. He 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 flights of stairs to MAN’s penthouse operations center. It wasn’t originally a penthouse; MAN had simply 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 Eddy 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.

Edmond winced at being called Edward, but he let it go unchallenged. They needed MAN’s help. “MAN,” Eddy replied,

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 & pepper hair in a ponytail that hung to his waist; his beard neatly trimmed. Eddy’s face bore the stubble of shaving maybe once a week; 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.

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.

“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. “Come, sit, talk.” MAN ushered them to a large table in the next room. “Now … what can I do for you?”

• • •

“Two days ago,” Eddy began, “Heinrich Mueller of the World Health Organization in Zurich called to ask us to catch some live Zs for them. Two each; male and female. They need living brain and nerve tissue.”

“Why here? Why us?” MAN asked.

“Something about seeing an interesting mutation and needing samples from a wider population. Maybe we are the only other site still in communication with them or maybe they are contacting other sites too,” Eddy opined. “Oh, and they will send a plane to pick them up, but they will need jet fuel for the return trip. They are also expecting us to check out fuel availability at the airport.”

“Hmm,” MAN replied. “this is going to take some thinking and some planning. The aviation fuel is simple enough; we can check on that tomorrow. Catching the Z’s, that’s another thing altogether.

“We need to start cataloging the Zs,” Jess interrupted, “as it stands now we don’t know if there’s one pack or two or even three. We also need to catalog the members of each pack, as well as track their day-to-day movements.”

“Yes, yes, I agree,” said MAN. “How far back do your cameras record? Ours only record for a week. We should review the videos and start documenting as soon as possible. Then we should start following them and continuing to document and photograph until we know the exact number and composition of each pack. We also need to know if there are lone Zs out there, not affiliated with a pack. Once we’ve done that, we can begin tracking their movements and trying to devise the best way to capture them.”

Not to be ignored, Eddy jumped in, “Our cameras are Hi-Def and go back at least a month or two. They may go back as far as the original outbreak. We can get Tom and Cindy to begin reviewing the videos as soon as we get back. We should also begin carrying cameras everywhere we go and record any encounters we have with the Zs. We need to identify individuals and document them so we can tell them apart. Jess what do you think?”

“I can do that. MAN, can you appoint someone to do that on your end?” Jess was already thinking about how she would get this done. She smiled as she realized that this might get her out of the lab and into the sunshine. This was almost going to be fun.

“I will take care of things on our end”, Man replied. “I’ll send a team to the airport to check on the availability of the jet fuel and we will begin reviewing our videos. Today is Sunday; we meet again on Wednesday. Are we done here?” Eddie and Jess both nodded yes. “Brian see them safely back to their car.” With that the meeting abruptly ended. MAN stood up and left the room with Maggie following close behind wagging her tail.

Eddie turned to Jess. “That was fast.”

Jess smiled back. “That’s MAN. Short and sweet.”

“Not that sweet. But the beer was good … and cold,” Eddie acknowledged. “At least he volunteered to check on the jet fuel.”

• • •

After adjourning the meeting, MAN and Maggie walked to the roof-access stairwell and climbed to the roof. “Morning Brad, has there been any activity?” he asked one of the men on spotter duty as he walked across the roof to the side facing the compound entrance.

“Been pretty quiet this morning. No sign of Zs so far. Probably too cold for their naked asses.” Brad Roberts was MAN’s first lieutenant. Above everyone else, MAN trusted Brad to get things done.

“Give me a minute. Then let’s talk.” Man walked to the edge and looked down. Eddy and Jess had just reached their car and were checking the back seats. “You still don’t trust us, do you? I’m offended,” MAN yelled down from the roof.

Jess waved up at him. “See you on Wednesday.” She yelled.

MAN returned the wave and silently watched them back out of the compound and drive away down the deserted beach highway. Then he turned to face the others on the roof. “Brad, Ray, Monica … we need to talk. Now!”

The other three wandered over. “What’s up chief?” Monica asked. Ray and Brad quietly waited for MAN to speak.

“Those fools need our help, in a big way,” Man replied. “Seems they’ve volunteered us to help them catch some live Zs for the World Health Organization in Zürich. Four, to be precise, two males and two females.”

Brad whistled quietly under his breath. Monica and Ray each muttered something.

“Oh it gets better. They’re sending a plane to pick up the Zs and we need to make sure there’s enough jet fuel for the return trip. So tomorrow, Brad and Monica, you round up four or five people to help you and go to the airport and check on the availability of jet fuel. Ray you grab some volunteers and start searching through our video archives. Try to find out as much information about the Z packs as you can; number of Zs, distinguishing features, time and location of sightings. From now on we document time and description of all Z sightings. Pass it on to everyone. Ray you’re in charge of cataloguing the information.”

“Roger that,” Ray replied. Brad and Monica nodded in agreement.

“And be thinking of a way to catch the damn things without killing them …”

• • •

After MAN and Maggie left the room, Brian silently motioned for Jess and Eddy to follow him out of the room, then escorted them down the stairs and outside to their car. When they got to the car they quickly checked to make sure their shotguns were still in the back. “You still don’t trust us, do you? I’m offended,” they heard booming down from above. Man was staring down at them from the roof.

Jess waved. “See you on Wednesday.” She yelled up. MAN silently returned the wave.

Eddy was already in the car. Jess opened the door, got in, and put on her seatbelt. “Let’s get back and start looking at those videos,” Jess said. Eddy pushed the start button, backed out the compound, and silently zoomed on to the main road.

Jess was immediately lost in thought as she began planning the best way to document the Z packs and the pack members. She would immediately have Tom and Cindy begin watching all of the security camera videos and documenting the composition of any Z packs they saw. They would all need camera gear with them whenever they were outside. “Would cell phone cameras be sufficient?” she wondered. “What about dashcams? Where is the nearest camera shop? Electronics shop? What was the likelihood that camera gear had been left unplundered?”

She stared absent-mindedly out the window at the beach as her mind pondered dozens of scenarios. How soon could they get the cameras? How dangerous would it be? Where was the Surf Pack? Was the Garage Pack the same or different from the Surf Pack? How would the Zs cope with cold-weather? What about the Zs farther north; what would happen to them when winter came? Could Zs be rehabilitated? Were they really monsters or were they just ill men and women? Why hadn’t she or Eddy been affected? Eddy had been bitten that night with Ruth but showed no signs of infection. Did MS really protect against infection? So many unanswered questions.

Her reverie was abruptly shattered as the car screeched to a jarring halt. Jess slammed hard against her shoulder belt. “Damn it Eddy,” she swore. When she looked up, she was looking at a young girl standing directly in front of them. Her shirt was torn and she was naked from the waist down. She appeared to be in her mid-teens. Her arms reached out toward them with palms up and fingers open wide, as if she were asking for something. As they got closer they could both see and hear that she was crying. She appeared to be cold and scared.

“You said they wanted you to catch a live Z,” Jess quipped, “Here’s your chance.”

“Do we just open the back door and ask her to get in?” Eddy replied.

“I don’t know, but she looks terrified.” Jess pulled out her cell phone began snapping photos. She unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door.

“What the hell are you doing?” Eddy yelled.

“Maybe we can coax her to get into the car with us.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Eddy screamed. “Get back in the car before you’re her next dinner.”

“I’ve got a feeling about her.” Jess walked slowly toward the girl. The sun was now just west of directly overhead and a cold wind was still blowing in from the Gulf. Jess shivered, as much from the cold as from fear. She walked halfway to the young girl, stopped, and extended her hand. “Do you still have that blanket in the trunk?” Jess yelled back to Eddie.

“I might.” Eddy reached down and popped the trunk.

Jess backed slowly to the rear of the car, always keeping her eyes on the girl. She opened the trunk, rifled around in it and found the blanket. Jess held the blanket open with both hands and walked slowly back toward the girl. Jess took the blanket and wrapped herself up in it to show the girl how to do it. She then removed the blanket and held it out to the girl who seemed to understand what Jess was offering. They each took a few tentative steps toward each other until they were standing almost face-to-face. Jess held the blanket open with both hands and moved to put it on the girl’s shoulders. Miraculously the girl dropped her arms and turned her back toward Jess, who then put the blanket on her. The girl somehow managed to finish wrapping it around herself. She then turned to face Jess … and smiled. She was no longer crying.

“Holy shit,” Eddy uttered under his breath. “What now?” It seemed like they had been there an eternity. Eddy glanced at the clock on the dash. They had been stopped perhaps 15 or 20 minutes.

Jess backed up and opened the rear passenger side door.

“You’re serious, are aren’t you?” Eddie couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“I can’t just leave her out here by herself. She doesn’t seem dangerous; just cold and scared. Jess slowly walked back toward the girl with her right arm and hand outstretched. The girl smiled and offered her hand and arm to Jess.

Suddenly Eddy saw something at the far left edge of his peripheral vision moving rapidly their way. “RUN,” he screamed, “get back in the car.”

Jess stopped in time to see a pack of perhaps six to eight Zs tackle the girl and drag her off the road to the right. The girl let out a bloodcurdling scream and then stopped screaming as if being choked. Jess ran back to the car, slammed the back door, got in the passenger side and closed the door. “GO GO GO” she screamed.

Eddy stomped on the accelerator. Then almost immediately stomped on the brakes, screeching to a halt. “Wait, we need to get this on video! We’re safe in the car.” He backed up. He touched Jess on the shoulder. “Can you see them? Get your cell phone camera out. Can you see them?”

“I see something. Recording now. Oh my god they’re eating her. No, no they’re raping her. I can’t tell. I’m getting it on video, but I honestly can’t tell what’s going on. All I can see are about a half-dozen Zs scrambling over something on the ground. They might be raping her AND eating her. I can’t tell.”

Eddy put the car in park, opened his door, and stood up on the doorsill. He pulled out his cell phone and began recording the event as well.”Let’s both get this on video. We can analyze it when we get back to the lab.”

The “Zorgy” went on seemingly forever. Finally the activity died off and one by one the Z’s wandered away until only a lifeless form was left lying on the ground. Then miraculously the form got up and shook itself off. It was the young girl, all of her clothing now torn off. She turned to look at Jess and Eddy for a long moment, then turned and ran after the rest of the Zs as if nothing had happened.

“What the hell was that?” Eddy asked.

“Beats the hell out of me. Initiation ritual? Mass mating? I think that some of the other Zs were female.”

Eddy gave a low whistle. “Females?”

“I can’t be sure until I study the videos. Let’s get back to the lab.” Jess tightened her seatbelt.

Eddy pushed down on the accelerator and brought the car up to 110 miles per hour. The car’s tires squealed on every curve of the beach road. The sun was now half-way down in the western sky. “What time is it, Jess? How long were we stopped?”

Jess looked at the clock on the dash, while Eddy kept his eyes on the road. “It’s 3:30; so three hours or so.”

“That long?” Eddy questioned, as he steered the car through a particularly tight turn. “Didn’t seem that long.”

“Time flys when you’re having fun,” Jess quipped. “Must you drive so fast?”

“I’m having fun … and I’m anxious to get back to lab to review the videos.”

“Gotcha.” Jess braced for another curve. Up ahead on the right, near the shoreline, something caught her eye. “Slow down, I see something up ahead.”

Eddy took his foot off the accelerator and held it over the brake pedal. 105 … 100 … 95 … 90 … another curve … 85 … 80 … straightaway … 75. He looked ahead to his right and spotted what Jess had seen – Zs running toward them on the beach. 70 … 65 … Eddy began braking. 60 … 50 … 40 … 30 … 20 …

“Are those the same Zs we just left?” Jess asked.

“Not unless they can run at over a hundred miles an hour. They’re running the wrong way too. Is that the Surf Pack?” Eddy brought the car to a stop. The Zs were still ahead in the distance. Running toward them along the shore, oblivious to the car’s presence on the road.

“I’m not sure. No, yes, yes it’s the Surf Pack. I’m sure of it. There’s the tall gray-haired male … and the female with the long red hair.”

That got Eddy’s attention. “Get this on video!” he urged.

“Recording now …”

Eddy got out on the driver side like the last time, stood up on the doorsill, and began recording too. They were now almost directly alongside them between the road and the surf. The red-haired female was in the lead. By rough estimate there were maybe two dozen of them. They really did look for all the world like a track team practicing in the afternoon. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. As he watched, the red-haired female pulled farther ahead of the pack and the gray-haired male fell back to the rear as if to urge along the stragglers.

“Damn it!,” Jess exclaimed, “I’ve run out of space in my phone. It just stopped recording.”

“Yeah, I’m almost out of space too” Eddy responded. He continued filming for a few more minutes. “Yep that’s it. Out of space.” The Surf Pack had now passed them and was running away to the south west into the low afternoon sun. They never even noticed the car.

They got back in the car and continued on. “How about a nice leisurely drive back?” Jess asked.

“Okay, okay,” Eddy gave in.

They drove in silence for a while, both of them deep in thought. Jess was the first to speak. “That first pack of Zs back there … and the girl; they obviously weren’t eating her and I don’t think they were raping her.”

“And …?”

“You mentioned it this morning. Bees. I think they were warming her. She was crying and shivering and obviously very cold. I never really got a good view of what was going on. Maybe the video will show us more. It looked like they were just huddled on her as if trying to warm her up with their body heat … and afterward she seemed fine.”

“My grandmother gave me that blanket.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. You should have said something. We can go back and try to find it.”

“No, I think not. It’s okay. Consider it the price of doing business.”

“Want to try to score some more camera gear before we head back to the lab?” Jess asked.

Eddy looked over his shoulder at the sun low in the western sky. “It’ll be dark soon. I think it would be too dangerous to do it now. Tomorrow is another day. Let’s go watch those videos.”

They made a victory lap around the lab complex to make sure that the coast was clear and pulled in. They quickly checked their surroundings to make sure they were safe and then got out with their shotguns armed and ready. Eddy plugged in the car and they headed for the stairs.

Tom met them when they came out of the stairwell. “How did it go?” he asked.

“The meeting went quite well and the drive back was very, very interesting,” Jess replied.

During dinner Eddy and Jess described the events of the day.

“Wow so exciting,” Maxine exclaimed.

“Exciting is one word for it,” Eddy answered. “Another is terrifying.”

“Hey, you were safely in the car.” Jess blurted out, “I was the one outside.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t scared.”

“Oh hush. Let’s watch the video. The more eyes we get on this, the more likely we are to understand what the hell was going on. Everyone take a break. Let me get the video transferred so we can watch it on the big screen.”

• • •

“We will start with my camera first,” Jess announced. “This first set of stills was taken from the car while she was standing in front of us.”

“She is so young,” Cindy commented. “How old do you think she is?”

Maxine answered, “not more than 15 or 16, I should think, high school age.”

“Okay everyone take notes. Let’s get a description of this girl down and we will go through and describe the others as we see them.” Jess handed out notepads and pencils to everyone. They all chimed in.

“White female age 15 to 16.”

“Hair brownish blond, medium cut.”

“Medium height, medium weight.”

“Slender, fit, but probably not athletic.”

“Let’s call her Medium Girl,” Maxine laughed.

“Okay, Medium Girl of Surf Pack 2,” Jess agreed. “Next is the video I shot after she was tackled by the other Zs. It’s hard to see much of what’s going on because of the vegetation.”

“Looks like a giant naked pile on.”

“No obvious humping.”

“Oh hush.”

“Just sayin’.”

“There is movement. It’s as if they’re rotating positions in and out of the pile.”

“Looks like the winter bee cluster I saw on that nature show.”

“Okay now pay close attention. We’re almost at the end. The Zs are going to start leaving the pile. We need to document each of the members as they stand.” The first Z climbed off the pile and stood up. Jess stopped the video. “Description?”

“Very tall, extremely fit, African-American male.”

“Could he be the alpha male? Do they even have alpha males?”

“How do you know he’s African-American? Maybe he’s African-African or African-West Indies. Galveston is a port city you know.”

“Okay, okay, tall, fit, black male.”

“Very tall, extremely fit, black male.”

“Okay, fine, FINE!”

“I know, I know,” it was Maxine again. Let’s call him Morpheus.”

“Morpheus? Like the Matrix Morpheus?”

“He was tall and black and an alpha male.”

“Okay,” it was Eddie this time. “We’ll call him Morpheus.”

And so it went on Z after Z; discussion, debate, naming. Surf Pack 2 had four males and three females, not counting Medium Girl. Finally all of the Zs had gotten up and walked away. Medium Girl lay on the ground obscured by vegetation.

Finally she got up and shook herself off. Then she turned and looked straight at the camera. She was now completely naked. She stared straight at them for a while and then …

“Stop! Back that up,” Eddy said.

Jess backed it up and replayed it.

“Holy shit, she did, she winked at us,” Eddy said in shock.

The video continued. Medium Girl turned and ran away after the others.

A low level alarm went off. It was the garage motion detector. Jess quickly brought the garage camera feed up on the wall display. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. She backed up the video a few minutes and they watched it intently. Nothing but a slight blur of motion at the edge of the camera’s field of view.

“We’ll check it out in the morning,” Eddy said. “It’s already 11:30, bedtime.”

“Tomorrow is another day,” Jess said. ” We will finish watching these videos tomorrow morning and then will start going back through the archives.”

“What about Wolf?” Maxine asked. “We need to take him for a walk.”

While Jess and Maxine took Wolf for a walk, Tom, Eddy and Cindy reflected on what they had just witnessed on the video.

“I never would’ve guessed that I would see what I have just seen.”

“Nor I.”

“This all just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.”

Eventually Jess, Maxine, and Wolf returned from the roof.

“It’s a quiet night out there, but cold, very cold,” Jess said. “Let’s go to bed. I’m exhausted. It’s been a very busy day.”

With that they all retired for the night.

• • •

>> NEXT: TNW – Day 47

3 thoughts on “TNW – Day 46

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