“I’m reloading,” I told Zach as I ejected my nearly depleted magazine and slapped in a fresh one. As soon as Zach saw I was ready, he did the same.
“Okay,” Zach said when he was ready, “We should move to that wall and start checking doors.”
“All right. Lead the way,” I replied.
He headed towards the scattered corpses, stepping carefully and quietly over them, pausing to check for any movement. He approached the end of the shelving and held up a hand, signaling me to stop. He peered around the corner and I turned to watch our back, dropping to one knee. Zach fired down along the wall seven or eight times, and I heard several infected drop. After a few seconds of silence, I felt pat on my back. I rose and we moved on.
I could hear them all around us now. They were having a hard time keeping up with us, but the sound behind us was steadily increasing in volume as we moved along the wall, passing the ends of the aisles. Every few rows was a small group of infected. Some were just wandering aimlessly, others gorging themselves on the corpses that hadn’t turned yet. As we found these groups, we would pause briefly, bring them down in a few seconds and then keep moving. We had to keep moving in order to avoid getting cornered. I had no doubt that we were drawing them in from all around us now, and could only imagine how many were still active in front of us. Ellie had said there were about fifty undead in the store, however I wasn’t going to stake my life on the accuracy of her estimate. We had taken down somewhere around forty already, and we had only covered about half of the retail section of the store. There was still the rear warehouse section to clear after this, but we would have Mark and Ellie’s help for that once we cleared and sealed the store.
“I think we found our leak,” Zach whispered, pointing to an open fire escape door a dozen yards ahead. A wide band of sunlight spread across the floor in front of it, silhouetting several huddled undead. Their attention was focused intently on whatever was buried in their midst, and I had a good idea of what it was and was not excited to see it up close.
“We need to do this fast,” I said, “Take them down then clear whatever is blocking the door and get it shut and locked before more show up from outside and inside.”
Zach nodded. I scanned our surroundings quickly, making sure we wouldn’t be ambushed while we were busy clearing the door.
“Let’s do it,” I told Zach. He was already on target, and he fired twice dropping two of them. I knocked the last one down. We hurried to the door and Zach slung his rifle and slid his gloves on. I quickly stepped over the pile of bodies and moved outside to check along the wall. In front of me, parallel to the wall was a tall wooden fence which created an alley that was about ten feet wide. I checked both ways, spotting small groups of infected in both directions moving toward our door.
“Frick,” I muttered, “Let’s move Zach! The welcome party is coming!”
He was already dragging one of the corpses outside. I slung my rifle, hurried to get my gloves on and grabbed the next one, which had fallen on the group’s victim. I could hardly tell it was a human body anymore. It lacked arms and its chest cavity was nearly empty. The legs had been nearly picked clean. Zach helped me toss the infected’s corpse out the door. I grabbed the remains of the victim at the bottom of the rib cage and unceremoniously hauled it outside. It weighed almost nothing. Zach had the last one through the door and I looked up to check the progress of our friends outside. They were ten yards away on either side and closing. Zach ducked back inside and I yanked the door shut. It slammed closed and latched with a sharp click. I pushed back on it to be sure it was secure. It didn’t budge. I tossed my soiled gloves on the ground and let out a sigh of relief. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness again, I realized I was in no position to relax.
Our inside friends had finally caught up with us. We were surrounded by a semi-circle of infected with the wall at our backs. Luckily, they were at least fifty or so feet away on all sides.
“Oh boy,” Zach said, a hint of worry in his voice.
“Stay calm, man. We’ll be fine. Reload your gun,” I told him and took aim at the nearest set of gaping jaws, “Take the closest ones first.”
I fired and the bullet tore through the target, spraying the area behind it with blood and brain matter. I adjusted my aim a few feet to the right, on the center of the next head and fired again. It was impossible to miss at this range, and I was no longer scared. My breathing had slowed to below normal. I could feel each slow beat of my heart in my chest. I moved to the next target and dropped it. Zach was firing behind me, and I took the opportunity to reload. In my mind, everything had slowed, though I had no doubt that I was moving faster than I ever had before. My movements were fluid, mechanical. I dropped the empty magazine from the mag well and inserted the fresh one without taking my eyes off the closing horde, selecting my next target. Then I was firing again, swiveling back and forth to cover my half of the semi-circle, creating a low wall of bodies around us which slowed down the advancing undead even more.
“Loading!” Zach shouted to me from a few feet away. I glanced over my shoulder, checking his zone to see if I would need to cover for him while his gun was down. He had everything under control, though you wouldn’t be able to tell from the look on his face. He fumbled with the magazine, trying to get it into the gun. He finally accomplished this and racked the bolt. I turned back to my zone, and was slightly disappointed to see only three infected still standing. I leaned my rifle against the wall and nonchalantly pulled the Glock from its holster. I settled the dimly glowing neon yellow sights on the face of the next infected in line and squeezed. The Glock barked and bucked, and just as the muzzle had leveled from the recoil, it was aimed at the next infected. I squeezed again, let the muzzle settle on my last target and fired one last time.
Zach fired a few more shots.
“How we doing?” I asked.
“Fine. All clear over here. Are you out of two-two-three?” he inquired.
“No, I’ve still got two mags left,” I replied, holstering the Glock and turning to face him.
“Why are you shooting the Glock?”
“It was getting too easy,” I said with a cocky grin. Zach just shook his head in disbelief.
“You are unbelievable,” he said, a smile growing slowly on his face, “I’m over here practically crapping my pants, life flashing before my young and innocent eyes and you’re over there having a fun little range day.”
“You did fine,” I said.
“Oh gee, thanks dad,” Zach replied sarcastically. A vicious pounding began on the locked fire door at our backs. My brother jumped at the sudden noise.
“We’re not done yet,” I reminded him, hefting my rifle.
“Right,” he said. He ejected his magazine and peered inside, checking to see how full it was. Satisfied, he stuffed it back in and it secured with a sharp click. “All right,” he sighed, “Let’s go. Wouldn’t want you to get bored.”
We began moving again, and our surroundings were fairly quiet save for the incessant pounding on the door we left behind. We continued along the same wall, and as we moved closer to the rear or the store, the lighting became darker and darker. There were no skylights in the back of the retail area.
“Flashlights,” I whispered to Zach. We both got out our lights. Carrying a light and aiming a rifle was too clumsy, so we drew our sidearms. Holding the light in my left hand, I crossed my arms at the wrists, bracing my shooting arm on my light arm and keeping both the light and the Glock pointed at the same area. The laser danced in the center of the beam of light. Zach adopted a similar stance and we moved on again, sweeping the darkness with wide beams of white light.
We reached the rear wall of the store without encountering any more undead. I turned right and swept my light down the long stretch of open space along the wall. Several slouched figures were shuffling towards us halfway down the wall about fifty yards away, arms outstretched, hands grasping at the air between us. I began walking towards them, too impatient to wait for them to come to me, but sensible enough not to waste ammo at this range. Zach trailed behind me, hustling a little to keep up with my deliberate strides. Halfway there, an aisle opened to my right, and I, being too focused on the ghouls in front of me, didn’t give the opening so much as a sidelong glance.
“Look out Vic!” I heard Zach shout from behind me, just as two writhing arms reached out of the dark passage, grabbing for my head. I dove forward and away from the threat, sliding a few feet on the tiled floor. The infected tumbled after me and let out a terrible hissing moan. I saw a flash as Zach fired, and the zombie’s head jerked away from Zach and the corpse flopped to the ground, unmoving. Zach quickly adjusted his aim and dropped the three infected I had been going after, one after the other.
When it was over, Zach came over to me and helped me up.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he said. I couldn’t see his face in the dark, but I could tell he was angry. He had good reason to be. I had completely disregarded my surroundings in order to score a few more kills.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” I replied truthfully. He bopped me lightly on the head with his flashlight and I winced.
“Well start thinking, you knot-head. You aren’t invincible, you dolt. You’re going to get yourself killed doing dumb stuff like that.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I replied, rubbing my head. A shotgun blast echoed throughout the store.
“Let’s go. Looks like Mark got sick of sitting on his hands,” Zach said. He took the lead. We came across a large set of double doors that lead to the warehouse area of the building. Several long-handled shovels were shoved into the door handles, effectively keeping the doors closed. Several more shotgun blasts resounded through the building. We worked our way back toward our entry point, not meeting any more infected along the way.
“Mark, where the heck are you!” I called out.
“Here, by the door to the stairway!” was the reply. Another few shotgun blasts, followed by a short pause and then several blast that I recognized as coming from my 1911.
We rushed to the source of the racket, arriving just in time to see Mark knock the last zombie on its back with a hard kick to the chest. He immediately stepped down on the creature’s neck with his boot-clad foot, pinning the infected to the floor. It reached up at him, hissing and spitting wildly. Mark aimed my pistol at its head and said calmly, “Say good night, Gracie.”
He pulled the trigger, splattering the floor with fluids and grey mush. He turned to face us.
“Couldn’t let you boys have all the fun now could I?” he said, smiling widely.
“No, I guess not,” I replied with a shrug, “The store is mostly clear, let’s get Ellie in here and we’ll give it a quick sweep.”
“Sounds good,” he said to me. Then he shouted at the door, “Ellie, it’s all clear!”
There was the sound of metal scraping on concrete and some banging. Then the door opened and Ellie emerged. She surveyed the carnage and shrugged.
“So what now?” she inquired.
“We’re going to sweep the store in pairs and make sure there aren’t any of them still moving,” I said, “Zach and I will head back to the rear of the store, since we have lights, and work back that way. You two can head to the front and work the same direction until you hit the wall, then wait till you see us down the aisle and we’ll move down a row and head back and forth till we’ve checked all the aisles. It should be pretty clear though. It was just starting to quiet down up until you showed up, Mark.”
“I’m pretty good at makin’ noise,” he said, grinning, as he stuffed shells into the shotgun.
Zach and I followed his example, reloading everything we had as well. When we were finished, we broke off into pairs and Zach and I headed back into the darkness. We headed back the way we came, skirting the edge of the store and back to the far corner. We spotted Mark and Ellie waiting for us to emerge, and simultaneously both pairs moved one row closer and headed back. We followed this pattern until we met in the middle of the store, both groups finding only a few moving infected. Our initial escapade had wiped out ninety percent of the undead, and there were no surprise attacks.
When the final sweep was over, we all breathed a sigh of relief. The store was safe now. All entrances had been checked and reinforced if needed. We now had a gruesome task ahead: cleaning up the place. We went to the hardware section and all four of us selected a pair of gloves. We split into our pairs and began hauling the bodies of the infected up the stairs and outside, where we promptly tossed them over the edge of the roof. The process took several hours, and by the time we were finished, the sun was setting.
“How many did you guys move?” I asked Ellie.
“Thirty-seven by my count,” she replied grimly, “You?”
“Forty-five,” Zach answered. After a short pause, Mark spoke up, “Well, it’s gonna be too dark to see soon, so let’s scrounge up some grub and settle in for the night. I think we should sleep up here. Barricade the door again just to be safe.”
“Good thinking,” I replied, “Zach and I will find some food if you two want to get some bedding up here to sleep on.”
I tossed my blood-covered gloves over the edge. The others did the same and we headed downstairs to attend to our tasks. The store had a wide variety of goods: food, house wares, clothing, hardware and even a small pharmacy. Everything we’d need except bullets. The sporting goods section had only sports and camping equipment, no real shooting or hunting stuff. I was slightly disappointed, but took comfort in the fact that Zach and I both had plenty of ammo for our guns. We wouldn’t even need to fire them after we cleared the warehouse section tomorrow, unless one of our barricades was breached. If or when we needed to move, we’d have enough ammunition to make it out. Or so I hoped.