I’m not crazy about flying. I thought it was a control thing, you know, you’re not in control of the plane so somebody else has your life in their hands? That’s bullshit. Ship taught me the ins and outs of flying that thing in ten minutes. Now, I’m not saying I could fly by myself, but I had the basics about what does what and why, and I got used to making small corrections quickly.
I was still scared. Something about being up so high and looking down on the world was unnerving. Especially when the world had totally gone to Hell. We were only about five hundred feet up, but I could see that entire towns were on fire or just gone. There were traffic jams as far as I could see on the big roads, all the vehicles abandoned. Several bridges blown up and streets destroyed. A downed airliner, which seemed to have caused a raging fire, chasing infected out of the woods, all of them reaching up to grab us as we sped off overhead.
Town after town moved by underneath us, and the only thing they had in common was infected. They were everywhere, and it got worse as we got farther south. Eventually, we passed over a small city. Ship pointed to a chart and it was Albany New York. It was pure Hell. We saw carnage and destruction all over, and the infected were still hunting. They were spread out over the city, moving in crowds. The plane was going fast, but I could see living people. They were on a roof, and at first I thought they were infected because they all reached for us, but the way they moved told me they were human.
They were doomed. The building they were in was surrounded by the dead, and smoke was billowing out of one side. I was really scared, but not for them. We were travelling over the city, and if anything happened to the plane, there was no way we were getting out alive even if Ship landed it like a pro. I heard sobbing from the passenger compartment, and turned to see Kat very upset.
She looked at me with wide, sad eyes, “It’s everywhere. All those people…”
I moved back and sat next to her, and she wiped her tears away, beginning to get mad, “They killed my mom and dad. They killed everyone I know. I’ll take as many down as I can before they get me.”
I took her hand in mine, “I believe you.”
I sat with her for an hour or so in silence before Ship gave a hard whack to the cockpit bulkhead. I looked up and he motioned me in. Big guy had to pee. He pointed to the controls and I understood. He wanted me to fly the damn plane. Me. Terrific. He passed me his notebook and I didn’t know whether to be proud or insulted. Don’t touch anything unless you have to.
He moved his giant ass past me into the cabin and toward the back. The plane didn’t have a bathroom, and I remember thinking he might just open a door and piss out into the sky. When he came strolling back, I pointed off to the right side. A river was on fire. It was weird.
My shoulder hurt. I started thinking that I would probably never eat another slice of pizza, even though the pizza in the joint was atrocious. Then I got to thinking about Legos, and Iron Man posters, and I almost started to cry. I wondered how many kids were eaten by the very people who were supposed to protect them. Or vice versa. Could you shoot your kid if you had to?
It was mid-afternoon when the plane began to descend. I had moved into the passenger area and fallen asleep after taking some antibiotics with water. I woke with a start as the sound of the aircraft changed. Kat was nowhere to be found, and I suffered a moment of panic and shouted up front. She stuck her head around the bulkhead and smiled at me. She gave me a thumbs up and told me we were landing. She looked cute with the airplane headphones on. I looked out the window, and was wondering how we were going to land in the middle of a forest, when I heard the radio come to life. Ship had set it to blare out over the intercom, as he can’t speak back.
Unidentified aircraft, this is Arlo tower…
Then the radio went dead. The voice had sounded panicked.
We flew over a single dead woman standing on the white 6 designating runway 16. She immediately started after us. The tarmac was one mile long, and she was on the extreme far end of it. I was guessing the dead stumble at about three miles per hour. Using my phenomenal mathematical skills, I deduced she would reach us in twenty minutes. This didn’t account for the rest of the country, most of whom were dead, and all of whom looked at us like the coyote looked at the road runner.
We landed with a squeak of tires and a jerk of the plane, and taxied to the end of the runway. We grabbed our stuff, Ship sticking a ton more MRE’s and ammo from the plane into our ALICE packs and pouches. Kat was carrying some kind of rifle with a wooden stock and a scope,and had a little black pistol in a holster on her hip now.. I had my M4 and other weapons. Ship was Ship, and probably had a nuclear device on him someplace.
The sasquatch opened the door and the sun hit us in the face. I raised my hand to cover my eyes from the sun, but I used the wrong hand and pain lanced through me. When I was done bitching, we took the four steps down the fold out stairs and were heels down on the tarmac. It was warmer in Tennessee, but it wouldn’t have been comfortable very long without a jacket. Maybe high forties. The dead broad had halved the distance, and I didn’t want to waste ammo, so I tugged on Ship’s sleeping bag poncho and pointed. He grabbed my hand like a big-foot-ninja, and I thought he was going to break my arm.
He let go immediately and mouthed a sorry. My wrist hurt like hell too, and I couldn’t even rub it properly. The big bully wrote one word in his book and showed it to me: Listen. I didn’t hear shit. I mean it too. Other than the sound of the birds, there was nothing. Then Kat said she heard something too, and I finally heard what sounded like an engine.
It ended up being three engines. One a Jeep full of, (wait for it) rednecks, all armed and all in flannel. Picture a blue Jeep with rifles sticking out every which way, cigarette smoke pouring out the top and sides, and lots and lots of beards and baseball caps, and you’re right on the money. The others were military Humvees, and these were full of soldiers and the Hummers had the biggest guns I had ever seen on the roof. They got out of their vehicles, and the army guys approached us while the hillbillies checked the perimeter. One of the army guys moved past us and went into the plane. All of them stared briefly at Mr. Enormous because he was, like, enormous.
An army guy with a gray buzz cut stepped forward and introduced himself as Captain Simmons. We told him our names, and that Ship didn’t speak. The man asked us where we were from and if any of us were bitten. He looked right at me. We replied that we were from New England and no, the bandages were from a gunshot wound. He frowned, “Why were you being shot at?”
I nodded toward Kat, “Ask her.”
Simmons and his soldiers looked at Kat, who looked terrified. Yup, I was a dick again. Cut me some slack, a month ago I was in prison.
“It was an accident,” I said, rubbing my wrist where Ship had grabbed it against my shirt, “she thought we were evil rednecks.”
He looked back at her, “And are they?”
Kat looked right in the Captain’s eyes, and to her credit, showed no more fear, “No sir. They saved me.”
A shot sounded, and the dead woman was face down on the runway. Simmons told us that we would have to come with him and get checked out by a doctor if we wanted to stay.
Kat perked up, “Stay where?”
“At the compound,” replied the Captain, “isn’t that why you landed here?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about Captain, we landed here because we were out of fuel, and my large friend here knew about this landing strip.”
The soldier came out of the plane and called for three other men to help him offload the crates of MREs and ammo that Ship had on the plane prior to departure.
“So then you’re gonna steal our stuff,” demanded Kat.
“No Miss, we are appropriating what you couldn’t carry. What you have on your persons you will keep if you leave. If you stay with us, you will divvy up your rations among the residents of the complex, as they did when they arrived.” Another shot rang out, then another, and soon the shots got somewhat steady, “I believe we have worn out our welcome. The sound of your aircraft, and the shots fired will have this place crawling with Rotters in minutes. I should tell you that you may have to surrender your weapons when we reach the compound.”
Ship stiffened, and I told the Captain that there would be a blood bath if he tried to take our guns. Best leave us here.
He smiled, “Son, you wouldn’t last an hour. There’s about ten thousand dead in these woods.”
“Gonna be a few more if you try to take our guns. Sir.”
He beamed, as did his soldiers, “We might find a use for you yet.” He spoke into his radio and told his crew to saddle up. The hillbillies must have been in radio contact because they all came running too.
And so did the zombies. Staggering, lurching, stumbling, shuffling, and in some cases sprinting. The sprinters were dealt with first, and we were all in the vehicles with the plane buttoned up before anything reached us. We peeled out and headed down an access road toward this compound place.
The compound place was a walled community with several buildings and a massive wrought iron gate. A school bus with plate steel welded to the side was blocking the gate from the inside, and it moved for us when the Captain radioed our arrival. Maybe fifteen houses comprised the meat of the buildings, but several other structures were present, including some type of clubhouse.
We came to a stop and Simmons was whisked away by a flock of Corporals the moment he stepped out of the Hummer. I stepped out after him and noticed that there were several towers of plywood and four by fours erected near the wall, each manned with an army guy or a redneck. The two biggest houses had sniper teams on the roof, and a tank and two other tank-like vehicles were parked near the clubhouse. I remember thinking this compound might just be a great place to stay.
A guy showed up with a couple of well-armed soldiers as we were pulling our packs out of the Hummer. He gave Ship the obligatory shock glance, but moved on quickly to Kat and then me. He came over, looked at my sling, and in all seriousness he said, “Nice job,” while nodding his head. He shook my hand and then Ship’s, then introduced himself as Dr. Smith (no shit). He asked us to follow him, and we took our stuff and did. We ended up at the clubhouse, which was apparently the command center and hospital. We had to check in, giving our full names, and where we were when the shit hit, and what our former professions were. Ship and Kat both listed Student, and I told them I worked in a garage, which was partly the truth. I had worked on some of the prison vehicles, and knew my way around an engine.
The doctor told us he would have to examine us for bites, and I got a little antsy. The one on my collar bone looked like a scrape, but the one on my leg looked exactly like what it was, even if it had healed. I had an injury, so I went first. One of the guards stepped into a little room with the doc and me, and I was instructed to remove my clothing starting with my boots. Up until then the guard had had his finger on the trigger guard of his rifle. He rested his index finger on the trigger, but I played it off like I didn’t notice.
Let me tell you it was a bitch to undress, so the doc helped me. We opted for the sling first instead of the shoes, and it hurt. Pretty soon I was standing there without my shirt on, and he was checking the stitches that Ship had stuck me with. I hadn’t even known they were there. The Doc looked impressed, “Who treated this?”
“The sasquatch I came in with.”
He smiled and pulled the bandage off of the back of my shoulder, “Hmm. Little chip of the scapula, do you have any pain here?”
“OW! Fuck! Yeah that hurts!”
“Yes, a small chip. I could go in and cut it out, but I don’t think you’d like it as I couldn’t spare any pain meds.”
“Can I live with it?”
“Oh yes, but it might get sore if it floats.”
I harrumphed, “Then screw that noise, leave it.”
“Your friend did an excellent job with the stitches and bandaging, but I’m unclear on how you remained without infection.”
I told him to check the pill bottle in my pack. He pulled it out, and even though it wasn’t labeled, he immediately said, “Ciprofloraxin. Excellent.” There were six pills left, and I didn’t fail to notice that he pocketed the bottle.
He helped me untie my boots, and then it was on to the fun stuff, “Drop your drawers my friend.”
I got scared, and he picked up on it immediately. Worse, his soldier buddy did too, and he frowned and the barrel of his gun came up almost imperceptibly. I didn’t hesitate and dropped my pants as best I could. The semi-circle bite mark screamed “HEY LOOK AT ME!” to all three of us, and the gun was now pointed directly at my face. The doctor hissed, “Wait!” The army kid didn’t know what to do, but he kept the gun on me and I started to sweat.
The doctor pressed the wound hard, it was mostly healed and probably wouldn’t even scar, “When did you get this?” He said that as he breathed out. For some reason that scared me more than the gun, but I didn’t know why at the time.
“About a week ago.”
“A week ago.” Guy was a fucking parrot now. “That…that’s not possible.”
“Does it look healed Doc?”
“Do I look like I want to eat you? Do I look like I’m rotting?”
“No. No you don’t.” He furrowed his brow and folded his arms. He glanced over his shoulder and almost shit, “For Christ’s sake lower your weapon,” he almost screamed at the poor army kid, who complied instantly. The poor kid had no idea what to do, and kept looking back and forth at me and the doc. “Go get Regan. Go! Now!”
The kid split the room like his ass was on fire, and the other soldier burst in the room with wild eyes. He saw me standing there in my skivvies, and pointed the rifle at me. “NO,” screamed the doc and he grabbed the barrel.
“Oh shit,” I said, and a single shot rang out. I felt my head snap back, and suddenly I was falling down a dark hole.