"I used to think I loved money, but now I realize it's just a dependency." The pistol barked loud as the flesh parted for the flying lead. I hated the sound, too fleshy and alive to be entirely comfortable. I was never particularly squeamish, but it was disgusting none the less. Then again, the idea of a .50 caliber handgun round splitting a head was disgusting enough as is, no need to give the squick factor company. I sighed, and adjusted my light.
The woman with me flinched as the gun barked. Not ready for the sound, I guess. "Gross." She shook her head, and took a deep breath. The smell must've been terrible, but she was coming back to her senses. "Why do we do this mercenary thing again?"
I hummed, musing. "There ain't no rest for the wicked, and money don't grow on trees."
"That song wasn't any good before the outbreak. Save your backwater country music for the rest of the hicks."
I reflexively adjusted the hat on my head. Cowboy standard, and fit comfortably on my head. I liked it, even though I never big on country living. "Don't look at me, I was born further north than you."
"Must be nice. At least growing up in Texas, I learned how to shoot a gun."
The chatter was pleasant, flippant, and was my insulating bubble from the worst of the world. I was always quick to a joke, but it just got bigger and bigger as the world went further into hell. Not so much fire and brimstone. Fires had gone out long ago, and I'm not sure brimstone would smell any worse than what I smelled anyway. The streets were thick with sludge, a squeamish cocktail of blood, acidic bile, waste, rotten skin, and decomposing corpse parts. The smell of burnt hair wasn't too common, only every ten or so paces. The corpses weren't exactly distracting, I'd seen hundreds like them, as I would see hundreds more, Zombie outbreaks suck. Especially when they get you before you get to middle age. I was looking forward to my midlife crisis. I never thought that I'd be screwed by never learning how to field-strip a gun until I was 24. Maybe I should have gone into the military or something. Instead of dwelling on all of this, I shoved my hand forward. "I don't think we were ever formally introduced. I'm Chad. And you are...?"
She looked at my hand, which I'd just realized was dripping with thick, dripping blood. "Disgusted, at the moment."
I wiped my hand off, and after a second thought, pulled a towel from my pack and scratched my hand through it. Most of the blood came off, though I'd have to douse it in alcohol before I could know for certain. Blood was nasty about never coming out of things. "Sorry about that. Chad."
"Sarah," she said, simply. Her fingers were incredibly calloused, as if they were used to holding wood and metal grips for hours at a time. I wondered how my hands felt briefly, and let go after the prerequisite hand-pumping. "Not bad with that pistol, competition shooter?"
"Not even. I was an architect back in the day, probably did the blueprint for a big outlet mall or two. I could never recognize my work, though. Too similar to every other one in this town."
She shrugged, and suddenly slammed into me. I thought about some ungracious things before landing in the sludge, groaning with both the surprise and the muck that climbed up my leg. Not to mention the concrete. Hurt like hell. Her shotgun roared, bathing the area in a flash of light, and I heard the pump eject a shell, and another roar. Something heavy and wet drenched my leg. I kicked reflexively, and sent the face of a little girl a few inches off of my thigh. Disgusting. I felt fingers grab my vest, and with their help, I pushed myself to my feet. "That was cheerful."
She pumped the shotgun, ejecting another shell. "You'll live."
"True. Likely wouldn't have otherwise."
She half-smiled, "Can I charge your for it?"
"Just a dependency." I said bitterly.
She shrugged, "Girl's gotta eat."
I resumed singing quietly, "I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed..."
She snorted. "Stop it. I hate that song."
I shook my head, and started walking back to town. 'Town' wasn't exactly the most accurate word, as I was already in a city. The power had long since failed, and water wasn't long to follow. Society crumbled quickly enough. Sewers below still flowed, sort of, but had congealed into human waste for which it wasn't intended. Lots of body parts and bloods. Town was an exterior outpost. Concrete walls and carefully guarded gates. There were always more guards on duty than entirely necessary, and it's all that kept the town from being overrun every second of every day. Folks like myself were mercenaries, who went into the city for folks to hunt for guns, ammo, food, mementos, heirlooms, or maybe to see if their cat was still alive. It started as a joke, postmen who took up the guns they've been culturally infamous for already, and to make sure letters got delivered. Five or six towns cropped up in the outskirts, and they took up passing letters between them.
I filled the other niche people needed, someone to go into the city to pick things up from the city. Sometimes I wondered if risking my life was worth the bullets or the money or whatever. One day, a little girl had managed to amass four hundred rounds in a cowboy hat, and offered me both for her teddy back. When I got back to town, careful not to give away the limp in my left leg, I saw her face light up as she hugged her teddy. It was a bit of a mess, but clearly the teddy it had meant to be. I still wore the hat, mostly to remind myself that I don't love the money as much as I love the work. Money's just the thing that keeps me alive to keep doing it.
The city was dark at night, and was no stranger to fog around this time of year. The air was humid enough to feel livable, but not really as thick as I was used to. It still felt chilling in the fog and calm breeze. I reached for my belt, and tapped each of the magazines on my belt. I counted all fifteen, for a total of 120 rounds, plus six still in the gun. The GI Model 2 was fitted for .50 caliber rounds, and fitted loosely with a flashlight. Between my gun-light, and the one on my hat and shirt, I had roughly five hours of continuous light. Useful when trawling warehouses and homes for earrings, rings, and dusty account ledgers or lock-boxes. Worse still if I had to find keys for lock-boxes first.
Most recently, I was hired to find a widow's wedding anniversary ring. When they got married, he was apparently poor. A day before the outbreak, he'd managed to buy her a dream ring, which she fawned over. They left it in a jewelry box and left for Disneyland. They made it twenty miles out of town before they ran into the traffic jam. She managed to get the car back to town, barely, and lost her husband in the process. Nasty business, but she was as safe as she could be in the new town. She had even set up well. I was glad to get her ring, but it had been a while since I had eaten. She offered enough money for ten or so quick meals, and even offered to share dinner if I got back in time. My stomach rumbled quietly, and I wondered what Sarah was out here for. "Hey Sarah."
"What'cha out here for?"
"Job. Coin collector's favorite coins."
"Any of 'em valuable?"
"Most are solid silver. He let me keep everything I could carry except the one he wanted."
"Must be nice. You buying drinks?"
"No. It's hard enough to move the silver. I'll probably fashion them to some other use, it's hard to sell precious metals in the zombie apocalypse."
When we got back to the gate, I stopped walking. The gates were closed, which wasn't too unusual for pre-dawn. What surprised me was the sheer mass of zombies pressed against the gate. A pile of corpses was growing at the base of the gate, and they didn't seem to stop. They were surging into the gates, threatening to break the hinges inward. I had never seen so many in one place before, much less all of them working toward the same task. The concrete walls would be safe, but the gate would crumble eventually. My home was there, I'd rather not lose it to a bunch of the shambling dead.
The guards were on the wall, clearly struggling against all of the zombies at the gates. They kept shooting all day long, but the numbers never seemed to dwindle. The echoing crack of gunfire was practically mute compared to the endless number of moans I heard from the mass of the walking dead. "Crap." I said honestly.
"Y'know," Sarah said into the stunned silence. "I think I need a drink."
"Last call," I said, checking to make sure I did indeed have six rounds left in the gun. Five in the magazine, one in the chamber. Yep. "You ready?"
"What? You want to punch through that?"
"It's either that or they get overrun."
"And I only have a shotgun. Unless you want to use that cute little Beretta to take out that huge swarm, then we're pretty much out of luck."
"GI, actually. An American company." I shook my head, "The guards are clearly lower on ammo than we are. If you want the outpost to fall, feel free to walk away. Not me, I have a client I need to see."
"Do you really love money that much?"
"Nope," I said, lining up my little handgun with the closest zombie's head. "It's just a dependency." The gun barked in my hand, and the head exploded into little bits of gore. I continued hissing a small exhale, firing five more shots in the space of a breath. After the first shot, I didn't bother with headshots, took too much time to line up. I took a step back as they turned to the source of the noise, and fired my last round.
Three of them had fallen, and I ejected the magazine into my waiting hand. I slammed it into a pouch on my belt, grabbed a fresh magazine from the clips on my opposite right side, and continued firing. The zombies started surging toward me, drawn more to the handgun's barks than our chatter. They didn't seem to feel pain, but they always grew more aggressive around noise. They didn't really walk fast, or even seem all that threatening, but there were just so many of them it was hard not to get overrun. Kinda like going to Wal-Mart on Black Friday, before the outbreak.
Sarah yelled obscenities about my mother, and the shotgun in her hands roared in timed bursts. Entire halves of zombies exploded in blood and gore, metal rasped across metal, and the gun roared again. I tried to block all of this out, most of the noise dulled by the ear plugs in my earlobes. I kept shooting, counting eight rounds before dropping my magazine into the pouch, and reloading a fresh one. I was keeping count in my head. Four magazines used, thirteen left, the gun barked in my hand twice, and six rounds in the gun. They were already gaining on us, and Sarah was already retreating carefully. Her feet stayed low and purposeful, more shuffling than stepping. It steadied her aim and prevented her from tripping over something easily.
I kept shooting, focusing my fire on the closest zombie. The guards hailed us, but over the sheer volume of gunshots, I couldn't hear him. I was having trouble even seeing over my muzzle flashes, so hand signals would be worthless. I dropped another magazine, slammed another one home, and kept firing. Their sunken eyes still bothered me, glassy and devoid of everything eyes should contain. Focus, cognition, and life. I panicked a little, and twitched on the trigger one too many times. The zombie was less than two arm lengths away from me, and the shots took it on the neck and head. The neck would've killed it by itself, spilling parts of the carotid artery onto the zombie behind him, but the second shot to the head splattered blood and bone fragments all over me. Some flecked over my cheek, and I snarled.
I took a deep breath, shuffling backward. Sarah was still firing, and I wondered how many rounds her shotgun held before she'd have to reload. Breach loaders weren't exactly the fastest weapon for on-the-fly reloading, but I suspected she had a lot of practice speed reloading it, even on the run. I kept my count going in the head, and lanced out with my foot. The zombie couldn't have been taller than 5' 4", was female once upon a time, and couldn't have weighed more than 115 soaking wet. She stumbled back, and I used the distraction to fire the last three shots in my magazine. The fallen zombies were easy targets, and two of the shots hit their marks. The third would've intercepted a fallen zombie in the head or throat, but it caught the arm of a passing zombie instead. "Crap!" I hazarded, jumping backward. I hadn't see the zombie whose arm I shot, and he was practically on top of me by the time I'd reacted.
I slammed into the side of his head with my gun, winced as I slammed into hard temple with my thumb around the grip, but managed to skip back out of reach. One zombie hit didn't hurt all of that much, but it usually slows you down enough to start a big party. Those never ended well. The hop showed me I had only gotten six or seven zombies' attention, and I counted my blessings. Blood blurred sideways as the zombie that would have eaten me exploded. Sarah stood next to me, shotgun to her shoulder. "Marry me," I said hastily, locking another magazine into place and working the slide on my gun.
"You couldn't afford me," she said, and blew another hole into the mess of zombies in front of me. I counted a half second's pause for the timing, and fired four quick shots in rapid succession. Two zombies left, double-tap each, and breathed a sigh of relief. Four bullets in gun, eleven magazines used, six remaining.
"I'm sure I could."
"You have a condo in Hawaii?"
I examined my thumb, trying not to worry too much about the redness and, even so soon, slight swelling. "Nope."
She sniffed, haughty. "Couldn't afford me."
I spared enough focus for a chuckle, but sobered as I looked at the gate. The zombies had thinned from our bullet party, but there were still way too many of 'em there. I was running out of bullets, and willing to bet Sarah wasn't doing well either. I asked her. "How're you doing, Sarah?"
"I mean on ammo."
"Maybe ten shots. I'm not really counting."
"Not enough to do that again, I guess."
"Good thinking, Sherlock." She sounded tired, and looked longingly at the twenty foot concrete wall stretching alongside us. "Any chance we can get in another way?"
"If we could, it would have gotten overrun. The whole point of this town is to be a safe haven."
"Go over, y'think?"
"One of us, maybe. I'm not tall enough to clear that unless someone's hoisting me."
She frowned, and turned back to the zombies. "What do you think they should play at my funeral?"
"Ain't No Rest for the Wicked, of course."
She barked out a phantom of a laugh, too dry of the emotion behind laughter to really count, and raised the stock to her shoulder. "Are you always such a wiseass?"
"No, sometimes I'm asleep."
She lost her game face for a minute, and gave in to a brief laugh. No more than a chuckle really, and looked at the last group. "Think we can take 'em?"
"Hell," I said, turning my gaze to the top of the wall. "I could do it by myself. Think you could survive a twenty foot fall?"
She paused, and turned to face me. "Uh... Why?"
I pointed to the wall, and made a foot-brace with my interlocked fingers. "If you jump, you can probably scramble over."
"Not with this pack, I can't."
"Throw it over first."
She looked at it. "It has all my stuff in it. I don't trust people not to loot it."
"They can loot it on your corpse afterward, if you want to stay out here. I'd trust them for the five-odd seconds it takes to throw you over the wall."
She hesitated, then shoved the shotgun in my arms. She smiled, "Two shots in the chamber. You probably couldn't handle reloading this thing anyway, so it's all you get." She heaved, throwing her pack up the wall. It tapped the lip, and fell back down with a loud thump. The zombies at the gate turned at the noise, and shambled over to investigate. She looked at them, then back at me, then back to her pack. "Fuck!"
I smiled. "Well said."
She threw the pack again, this time getting it over the wall, and turned to me in panic. I set the shotgun down, and braced my hands. She put a muddy, bloody, entirely gross shoe in my hands. I groaned with effort, and threw her up the wall. She gripped the lip, flailed her legs, and threw herself over the top. I turned, found an entirely huge zombie right in front of me, and threw myself to the floor. He seemed to have all the intelligence of a wind-up toy, and tripped over me. I grabbed my pistol, and put four rounds into him. Magazine empty. I got up, slammed my boot into his head, and jerked my ankle in pure vindiction. Bastard. From over the wall, "Thanks, I guess. I want my gun back, though."
So much for gratitude. Women.
I picked up the shotgun, where I'd dropped it earlier, and turned back to the gate. The gunshots had alerted the remaining fifteen zombies, and they started shambling toward me. The first two were big ones, a man and a woman in their thirties or forties, and comically fat. They practically oozed grease. "I knew McDonald's was poison, but seriously? Fast food zombies. That's just wrong."
Sarah hailed me from on top of the wall. I had forgotten there were walkways up there. At least I knew she hadn't fallen to her death. "I dunno," she said, "I had always thought that couples who eat together were cute."
"I'm the smartass here, stop stealing my thunder." I pointed the shotgun at them, and it exploded into bullets. The man of the couple detonated into gore, and the woman lost one of her arms. I slammed the butt of the shotgun into her temple, and earned a shock that rang up my arm for the effort. Between the arm and the concussive hit, she was probably down for the count. I jogged as best I could with my pack, trying to plow into the most remote corner of the mass. The little zombies barely weighed more than children, and I could practically wade through them on a bad day. Today, I had enough weight in my pack to be a bulldozer. I turned to the mass, and triggered the shotgun. It roared heartily, throwing five or six zombies to the ground, their legs turned to pulp beneath them.
I dropped my pistol's empty magazine into the pouch, and chambered another one. The shotgun was empty, so I shoved it's sling over my shoulder. Reloaded with my sidearm, I took to taking heads off of the zombies. It was the safest way to handle the problem of reanimation, so I rarely failed to do so.
There weren't too many left, but it only took one to kill me. I emptied this magazine and another one sweeping them up, and reached for the last one on my belt. "Son of a bitch," I told the last zombie in front of me. "I miscounted." There were no more magazine on my belt. I was out. "I'm dry," I shouted, mostly for no one's benefit, and dropped my G1 into the pouch. The last zombie turned toward me, glassy eyes interested in the fact that my mouth made noises. It looked vaguely like it wanted to kiss me, focused on the noises my mouth was making.
I retched, and the noise drew more curious stares. Gross. I punched the zombie in the nose, hard. It was risky as hell, considering their teeth were right next to their noses, and earned a notch on my fingers for the trouble. Good thing I had gloves on, otherwise it would have broken skin. I indulged in a bit of childishness. "This used to be a nice neighborhood!" I punched him again for good measure. Then a few more times.
What? I'm not petty.
I screamed, in a completely manly and dignified way, as I felt claws sink into my leg. McDonald's woman had gotten a grip on my pants, and tried to tug me down. I freaked out, automatically grabbing the shotgun and pulling the trigger. I had already fired off my two shots, so I'd just be dry firing, and it didn't make a difference considering I was doo-
The gun roared, and the zombie's head exploded into a huge blood splatter all over my face. Adrenaline was still surging in my body, and I felt blood dripping off of my eyelashes. Disgusting. I was probably covered in it, even in my hair and on my face. I turned to Sarah, "Two shots? Two? You damned liar."
"Don't look at me," she said, "I had told you I lost count."
"Open the damned gate," I said, slamming fist on the metal. "You owe me a god damned drink."
"Is that's really what's important?"
"No," I said honestly, and looked longingly at the bar. They let me in the city, and I toweled my face off. She was going to buy me my drink, and the widow was going to get her ring. All in all, not a bad day.
And hey, beer. "Although I admit dependency."