The Undead Plague: Book One

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An ancient evil is awakened. Due to human greed, a devastating plague is released that first kills, then reanimates corpses into savage creatures that want to feed on human flesh. The civilized world is thrown into chaos. Humanity has reached a breaking point. Will it survive?



The Undead Plague: Book One






Copyright © 2016 ZJC & GTC. All Rights Reserved.

 

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the authors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.












“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Chapter 1

 

Wednesday, July 11th, 8:37pm

Hinton Residence, Caffa, New York

 

Will Hinton III leaned slowly back in his chair, admiring the latest item that was located on his desk in a small glass container.  This particular transaction had gone more smoothly than past ones. No one killed or threatened this time.  No powerful figures had been bribed for an outrageous sum with the vice of their choice.  And finally, no one’s family taken hostage to force the deal to go through. Hinton chuckled, thinking of the State Senator’s daughter he kidnapped three months ago in order for that political figure to fully cooperate with voting for a certain bill.  That whole episode had been kept out of the media spotlight, just as Hinton liked it.

Extreme, but necessary…

Unlike his last business arrangement, this one was probably the easiest contract that the billionaire ever completed on the black market.  The local law enforcement officials were still finding the body parts of the two smugglers up and down the New Jersey coast that had tried to sell Hinton some fake Ancient Egyptian commodities just two weeks before.

No one takes advantage of me…and lives to tell about it…

Hinton smiled to himself, basking in the moment.  He motioned to his guest. "Care for something to drink?  It is certainly a cause for celebration."

His visitor, NASA employee Mal Bore, nervously shook his head.

Hinton shrugged and reached for his cigar box. "I find in times like these, after a major buy, that the best way to relax is with a good cigar.”  Hinton lit the Cuban and slowly inhaled it.

Both men sat in the darkened room, awkward silence hovering above the two criminals.

Bore nervously wiped his sweaty palms on the front of his pants.  He was fearful of speaking before someone who was so powerful and authoritative.  So instead, he just sat there anxiously.  He tried to ignore the black market dealer staring at him by pretending to look at all the items situated in the room.  No doubt, those too had been obtained by brutal and illegal means.

Hinton knew the man was tense. The multi-billionaire was used to people being submissive in his presence.  He enjoyed the power he held over this man, and decided to let the moment transpire for a little longer.  The aroma of the cigar slowly permeated the whole room.  The Cuban cigar, considered the best in the world, had been legal to purchase in the U.S. ever since the country became democratic, overthrowing the communist dictatorship that had turned the once exotic island into a poverty-stricken nation.

Hinton inhaled the cigar again while leaning back in his chair and sizing up the skittish, diminutive man sitting right across from him.

I could kill this man right now and avoid payment…

Hinton smiled, causing Bore to nervously grin back.

And he doesn’t even realize it…

Hinton put the cigar back into his mouth and puffed out a cloud of smoke again.

Or perhaps he does realize it…

William Hinton had, of course, killed before to avoid payment.  Many times, in fact.  However, in this particular case, he found himself not wanting to kill Bore.  Any person that completed a task for him and walked through his doors without any sort of a backup plan, Hinton held respect for them.

Either Mal Bore had some big balls or he was just an idiot when it came to underground dealings and how they worked.

He wagered it was a bit of both with this young man.

Finally, the billionaire decided to speak.

"I believe Mr. Bore, that you have more than fulfilled our contract.  In fact, you went beyond it."

One of many reasons why Hinton would not kill this man outright.

Bore emphatically nodded in agreement.  "I was able to sneak out another ten pounds of the rocks and fossils by changing..."

Hinton held up his hand to quiet Bore.

The scientist instantly shut up.

"Not just any rocks, but fucking rocks and fossils from Mars.   I wouldn't be paying twenty million dollars for any ordinary fucking rocks."  He puffed on some more of the cigar, his steely gaze settling in on the scientist.  The smoke being exhaled gradually rose up over where Hinton was sitting, making the billionaire’s examination of the scientist seem even more frightening to Bore.

"O-of course n-not, sir," Bore stuttered.

Hinton grinned.  “That’s right.”

Ten months ago, Hinton reached out to Bore, the Director of Geology for NASA, during the first manned mission to Mars.  The United States government had finally decided to focus on its space program once more and made it a priority to defeat both China and Russia to Mars.  The mission was successful, as the shuttle had just returned to Earth a few days before, with tons of rocks and fossils for the scientist of NASA to study and get a better understanding of the ‘Red Planet’.

Mal Bore was originally from Holland, but immigrated to the United States when he was a teenager; partly to play soccer at Stanford and partly to study in their acclaimed geology program.  He did not have any dark secrets that Hinton could have used for blackmail, like he had done to various people in the past.  Instead, Hinton used good old human greed to get Bore to steal samples of the fossils and rocks brought home from the surface of Mars.  And Mr. Hinton III had paid handsomely for the now ex-Director of Geology to ruin his once promising career.

This was not the first time that Hinton had used his power and wealth to obtain an item illegally.  One of his first buys was some Tibetan sculptures that required the bribery of two Chinese generals, years ago while he was in the Communist nation.  They had forced him to pay more than he wanted to for the stolen artwork, threatening to jail him on charges of attempting to bribe Chinese officials.  Hinton was young then, caving to their outrageous demands and yet, was still thrown in jail for almost two weeks by the same Chinese generals.

From then on, Hinton vowed to himself to never be pushed around like that again by anyone else.  Using his grandfather’s wealth, Hinton more than doubled the families’ worth through buying and selling items on the black market.  He had various Mayan and Aztec pieces acquired through his contacts in Central and South America.  European paintings were scattered throughout his mansion.  A sword that once belonged to Saddam Hussein and had been used by him personally to execute political enemies now hung above the fireplace where the two men were finishing their business.  It had been looted from one of his palaces by an American soldier during the first few days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Hinton rose from his chair.  "I do not fuck around when it comes to acquiring things that I want.  No one stands in my way, Mr. Bore.  No one."  He walked around the desk, carefully avoiding a box on the ground that was holding the rest of his items in it.

He approached a painting that was in the room.  "Do you recognize this piece of artwork?"

Bore glanced at the painting.  A storm was evidently occurring out at sea.  Men were depicted on a sailing boat, with waves crashing all around them.  "I do not, sir,” he answered.

Hinton exhaled his cigar more deeply, letting the smoke dance around the painting.  He turned back to Bore, grinning at the ex-NASA worker.  "It’s priceless."

He suddenly tilted his head back and laughed loudly.  "Well, not priceless.  Obviously, there was a price for it.  There’s a price for everything.  But this painting..."

Hinton glanced toward it again.  "This is the crown jewel of my family's’ collection. Some thugs in Boston put it up for sale after stealing it from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and my grandfather immediately snatched it up.  Stopped it from going to some rag head sheik in the Middle East."

Stillness lingered in the room once again.

"Well now, I suppose you want to get on your way," Hinton declared.

"Um, yes, sir."  Bore hastily stood up from his chair, wanting to immediately escape the presence of someone as dominant and influential as Mr. Hinton.  Preferably, as soon as possible.  And especially since Mr. Hinton was hinting that he wanted Bore to leave the mansion.

"Your account has been set up in the Caymans, with the beach front house in the Bahamas.  As you can see, I reward the people who come through for me," Hinton explained as he led Bore down the long, dimly lit hallway that was decorated with many more alluring items.  Hinton suddenly stopped.  He gazed toward another painting, obviously admiring it immensely.

“And I take it that you have no idea what this painting is worth?”

Bore shook his head.  He did not have any interest in paintings.  To him, it was just a portrait of a young man that was clearly painted in the renaissance times.

“I didn’t think so.  But that’s not your fault.  With the wealth and comfort that came with my upbringing, I have been able to enjoy the finer things that society and life has had to offer, including the arts.”

Hinton swung his head back toward Bore.

“The last time anyone saw this painting was in the hands of a Nazi by the name of Hans Frank.  I acquired it through…brutal means.  Very, very brutal means indeed.”  He grinned, putting the cigar back into his mouth, no doubt reflecting on the ‘brutal means’ that were used to acquire the piece.

Bore just nodded.  He knew what type of man was sitting directly in front of him.

He heard that one of Hinton’s mistresses was fooling around with his lawyer a few years back.  Police found the high class attorney in an alley with both of his testicles cut off and his privates stuffed down his own mouth.  Another time, a man caught cheating in a high-stakes poker game that Hinton was hosting disappeared for a couple days.  When later found in a public park, reports revealed the medical examiner pulled out dozens of playing cards that were stuffed down his throat.  There were, of course, other examples of Hinton’s brutality sprinkled throughout the black market.

The rock scientist wanted to exit the Hinton mansion as quickly as possible.

The reason was simple.

He had ripped off William Hinton III.

Hinton thought he would have a corner on the black market for the Mars fossils and rocks.  He would be able to demand whatever prices he thought of and stroke his self-image on the black market.  Being able to inflate one’s ego and stroke one’s self was very important in the underground world.

Once the black market became aware of the Mars fossils and rocks being stolen and who was in possession of them, the offers would come pouring in from all across the world.  And Hinton would be able to hold the dealers hostage because he was the only one who held the rocks.

Or so he thought.

Yet, unknown to Hinton, Bore actually stole twenty more pounds then he had reported.  Hinton was the type of person who would kill him just for lying about that.  Yet, when the billionaire was forking over twenty million dollars of his own money for an item he thought was only going to be in his sole possession, Bore was asking for a more gruesome death than usual.

However, he keenly thought his plan through, deciding to hire the very best bodyguards and buying off the usual local government officials once he was down in the Caribbean.  After all, he would have more than enough money to invest in his own protection once he was away from Hinton's corrupt orbit of influence.

Coming to the door, Hinton firmly shook Bore's hand.  "Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Bore.  My private jet will have you in the Bahamas sipping drinks on the beach before those little shitheads in Houston figure out how you and I fucked them over."

Bore exited the doorway, heading for the car that Hinton had waiting for him.

"Oh, and Mr. Bore."

Mal suddenly stopped, afraid that this black market dealer had somehow figured out his plan.  He slowly turned to face his buyer, eyes staring down toward the feet of Mr. Hinton before he found the nerve to glance up.

Bore expected a gun to be pointing at him.

Instead, the dealer merely smiled mischievously.  "Remember, you’re retired now. Enjoy your permanent residence."

Bore understood the subtle threat.

Stay in the Bahamas.

Otherwise, his life was at stake.

"Of course Mr. Hinton.  I understand."  Bore climbed into the car, not bothering to look back.

Hinton watched the car disappear from view as the gates to his residence shut behind it.  Closing the doors to his mansion after him, he jogged back to the parlor in anticipation of examining the fossils and rocks under closer scrutiny.  He reached the room and closed the door behind him.

He wanted no distractions.

Walking over to the desk, he picked up the glass box and opened the lid.  Reaching in, Hinton pulled out one of the rocks.  Reddish and jagged, he stared at its stunning features.  To think that he held the only fossils and rocks from Mars made him feel supreme.  Once again, his power and prestige had gotten him control of an antique, not caring of the consequences that came with his ruthless actions.

"Ah, yes, you guys will fetch a great price on the market," Hinton declared to himself. Admiring his prize, Hinton had no reason to believe that in less than twelve hours, he would be dead and the world he that he knew would erupt in total chaos.  The millions of bacteria floating around, released from their prison of space, would see to that.

Chapter 2

 

Thursday, July 12th, 6:01am

Outside Hinton Residence

Caffa, New York

 

Officer Dalton Ackley of the New York City Police Department pulled up to the giant gates of the Hinton mansion.  Ten minutes earlier, he received a call about loud noises and screams coming from the billionaire’s home.  Ackley, being the closest officer to the scene, wearily responded to the dispatch.

"Jesus Christ," he groaned as he stepped out of his patrol car.  His shift was just about over and he was in no mood to break up a fight, especially when it involved the wealthy.  Besides, he was in another county.  Caffa was a small, isolated ‘getaway’ area for the rich, located just several miles southeast from Queens.  It only employed three full-time police officers of its own, and therefore relied upon the neighboring counties and cities to help out with enforcing the local law.

Lucky him.

"Dispatch Queens74, I’m at the Hinton place.  Going up for a closer look."

"Copy Queens74, 0601," replied the dispatcher.

Ackley approached the massive steel gates.  He shook them, but the gate was locked in place.  He stood there for a second, trying to figure out what to do next.  The gates were too long to climb over.  Additionally, the ends of the poles were spiked and Ackley hoped someday to have kids of his own.

Besides, he thought, rich people were crazy.

They could sue him for trespassing.

"Oh great, a fucking intercom."  Ackley just noticed the device standing off to the right of the gate.  He walked over to it, not sure if he should try and contact whoever was on the property.  Contemplating the pros and cons of getting involved, he suddenly heard a loud cry rise from inside the giant mansion.

It sounded like an animal howling.

Almost like a wolf...

Shaking his head, he pressed the intercom and spoke into it.  "This is Officer Ackley of the New York City Police Department.  Is anyone available to speak to me?"  He nervously waited for a reply.

No one did.

Some loud noises, like glass shattering, were heard in the distance.

"Once again, this is Officer Ackley…"

A voice interrupted him, startling the officer for a moment.

"Y-yes…please help.  Mr. Hinton attacked…turned..."

Ackley struggled to hear the voice.  "Are you hurt?  If you can, open up the gates so I can proceed onto the property."

"Ok-okay…careful, it bit my leg…"

Ackley jogged back to his cruiser.  Picking up his car radio, he spoke into it. "Dispatch Queens74, there is something going on here.  Requesting another unit and a bus to stage nearby."

"Confirmed, sending help.  Should be a few minutes."

Ackley put down the radio.  Another crash was heard from inside the huge mansion.

"What the fuck…"

The huge gates moaned slowly as they opened up.  Ackley pondered the thought of whether he should go in or wait for backup.

Shots unexpectedly rang throughout the house.

Shit, I’m going in…

"Dispatch, Queens74, shots have been fired, I repeat shots have been fired!" Ackley jumped into his vehicle and put it into gear.  Gunning down on the pedal, he raced onto the property.  Weaving his cruiser as to not allow himself to be made a target, he pulled up in the front yard.

The giant, eighteenth-century mansion loomed in front of the two year veteran of the force.  Morning fog cloaked the Hinton place.  An eerie stillness hovered around the house, only punctured by birds chirping in the trees. Those sounds seemed to resonance with the sun trying to peer through the early morning clouds and fog.  Nevertheless, it seemed something ominous was lurking from behind the walls of the mansion.

Ackley hopped out of the vehicle, ripping his department issued Glock 19 from the holster and dashed toward the front door.  Leaning up against the outside of the house, Ackley tried to peer into one of the windows.  It was too dark to see anything.  Sirens could be heard in the distance, racing toward the Hinton residence.  They were only a few minutes away.

Guess it pays to be wealthy...

Sighing to himself, Ackley decided to wait for his backup.  No use bum rushing into an unfamiliar area and having his head blown off in the process.

Someone was unlocking the door.

Ackley raised his gun, unsure if he should push the door open and confront the person.

He hesitated.

Creaking softly, the door was weakly pulled open.

"Hands up!  Hands up!" Ackley screamed frantically.  He hunched over, bent his knees and positioned his legs apart with his gun pointed toward the door.

Slowly, a trembling hand reached outside.

Then a second hand.

Both were caked in blood.

Standing up straight, Ackley stepped toward the doorway.  Gradually peering inside, he noticed a figure on the ground.

"Do not fucking move!"  Ackley moved inside the door, keeping an eye on the man lying face down, both hands stretched out.  A rotten aroma overcame the officer as he stepped inside the house.  The odor reminded Ackley of the time he pulled up to the scene of a homicide that had taken place days before.  The woman had been stuffed under a bed, causing Ackley at the time to throw up from the disgusting reek of the decomposed body.

This stench was much, much worse.

The injured man groaned, snapping the police officer out of his reflection.

Ackley gagged from the whiff he had inhaled.  "Fuck…"  He crept further into the house.  A long winding staircase greeted the officer.  Past the staircase, a lengthy hallway expanded into endless darkness.  Movement could be heard, though Ackley was unsure if it was coming from upstairs or further past the hallway.  He decided to hold back for assistance, not wanting to stumble into an ambush.

A police cruiser came crashing onto the grounds of the Hinton driveway and sped toward the spot where Ackley’s car was parked.

Ackley then turned his attention back to the man on the ground.  A gun lay near the body.  The cop kicked it, and the firearm clattered along the smooth, marble floor as it skidded away.  The wounded individual appeared to be an older, balding man.  He wore black slacks that were ripped apart and his white shirt was covered in blood.  His thigh was bleeding profusely.  

Ackley leaned closer over the man.  Chunks of skin seemed to have been torn out of his body, with what appeared to be bite marks scattered all along his thigh.

The man breathed heavily, his heavy gasps of air echoing off the walls of the mansion.

The second police vehicle screeched to a halt.  The officer jumped out and dashed toward the two men, pulling his gun out of its holster.  Ackley recognized the officer as a rookie with the small Caffa police force.

"He’s injured pretty bad," Ackley explained to him as he reached the scene.

The rookie looked down to the mauled body.  "Somebody did that to him?" the wide eyed cop asked.

"I have no idea.  But, somebody is moving around in the house.  Get more guys out here and let the medics know that the scene is not secure yet but, this guy needs to get to a hospital STAT."

"Right."  The second officer spoke into his radio, explaining the situation to dispatch.

The man’s erratic breathing became shallower.  Ackley felt his heart pounding so loudly against his chest that he feared his younger colleague would hear it.

Another noisy crash reverberated throughout the giant house.  Both officers gazed up toward the staircase.

"Looks like the perp is upstairs," remarked the rookie.

"Yep."  Ackley's palms became extremely sweaty.  A knot was slowly developing in his stomach.  In his two year career, Ackley had faced only a few serious altercations during his time on the force.  One time, a domestic dispute that he was called to took an ugly turn when the man shot his girlfriend and then himself.  Additionally, he had responded to a few break-ins and once caught the perpetrator climbing out of the window.  And while he secured the scene of several homicides, the suspects were long gone by the time Ackley arrived.

Officer Dalton Ackley had never fired his weapon and had never been fired on while on duty for the New York City Police Department.

He considered himself somewhat lucky in that department.

More sounds wavered from upstairs, almost like someone was ransacking the place.

"Locked…I couldn’t keep..." the hurt man unexpectedly spoke up.

Both officers flinched, not expecting the man to be able to speak.  "Mr. Hinton…was dead…turned into...couldn’t lock him upstairs…"  The man could not keep his breath steady because of the blood that was continually spurting out and landing on the shiny, marble floor.  He coughed, his groans making Ackley’s hair on the back of his neck stand up.

What the fuck happened here…?

Ackley leaned down to the man.  "Just hold on there, pal.  Help is coming and we’ll get you to a hospital."

The man responded by coughing up even more blood.

More sirens entered the Hinton residence.  It was another cop car, with an ambulance right behind it.  Both raced to where Ackley and the other officer’s car were stationed.

The ambulance pulled up to the front of the mansion, tearing up neatly trimmed grass as it shook to a halt.  Both paramedics hopped out.  One turned to go to the back of the vehicle, while the other ran up to the three men.

"What’s the situation?" he asked as approached the group.

"One wounded pretty bad.  Could be more, but we have to clear out whoever is in the house."

The medic nodded.  He knelt down and examined the man.  The second medic rushed over with the third cop, dragging a gurney.

Ackley turned to the younger cop.  "We need to clear out the top floor.  We’ll do it together."

The younger cop just nodded.  He was sweating profusely.  Ackley was as well, but knew it was not only because of the July humidity that was seemingly stuck throughout the air.  Ackley was the senior cop, albeit by only a year or so, but still felt like he needed to display some leadership.

He also belonged to the storied NYPD.

No time for cowardice…

Ackley spun to face the third cop.  "Wait here with the medics.  Me and him are gonna clear out the top floor.  As soon as more backup gets here, send them to help us."

The third cop nodded his head in agreement.  He pulled out his sidearm, while radioing for more support to dispatch.

Ackley and the Caffa rookie proceeded with caution to the bottom of the staircase. Deafening noises could still be heard coming from the upper levels.

"This is the New York City Police Department," Ackley loudly announced, "Come out slowly with your hands up."

The noise stopped.

"Once again, this is the New York City…" Ackley stopped.

A dark figure appeared at the top of the staircase.

"Hands up, fucker!  Put your fucking hands on top of your head!"

The figure growled and started to run down the stairs.

Both cops yelled out orders in unison.

"Stop motherfucker!"

"Freeze!"

The figure ignored them, and at a full sprint, charged downward at both officers.

"Stop or we’ll fire!"

The shape was almost upon the two cops.  Ackley’s gun fired, his sweaty and trembling finger pulling the trigger in rapid succession.  Four or five shots missed wildly, while at least one managed to nail the figure right in the chest.  Yet, it only proceeded to slow the body rushing toward them for a second or two.  It then let out a primitive cry and continued down the stairs.

The younger cop responded with his own flurry of gunfire.  A few glanced off the wall behind the form, but at least one hit the figure in the knee.  This caused it to tumble down the stairs, toward where the cops were waiting.

“Don’t move…"  Ackley stopped in mid-sentence as the physique of the person came into the light for the first time as it rolled down to the feet of the cops.

The figure’s body was rotted away, with lumps of skin appearing to slide away from the bones.  Black holes were punctured all over its face, with a white puss substance oozing out of them.  Yet, it was the hazy pupils that stared out to the two police officers that were most frightening.  They had lost all color, making it difficult to know if the person was actually glaring back at them.

The decomposing smell rapidly overtook all other senses.  The younger officer gagged as he stumbled backwards.  Ackley’s eyes watered as he also took a couple steps away from the body.  The odor was unbearable, socking the law enforcement officers unexpectedly.

Hitting the bottom of the stairs, the figure landed on the floor and tumbled over.  Immediately, and with inhuman-like motion, it hopped back onto its feet and continued rushing the two cops.

Ackley fired again.  He hit the man in the shoulder and in the stomach, but it seemed to have no effect.  The figure still charged the two cops, making a primitive shriek as it closed the distance between it and the police officers with frightening speed.

The younger cop tripped as he attempted to move toward the rear of the room.  He cried out as he fell down on his back.  The figure quickly changed directions and leaped on top of the rookie.

Ackley turned to the third cop, who was already rushing toward the fighting.  Police sirens from another cruiser cried out as it sped through the gates.  The paramedics finished loading the wounded man onto the stretcher and were proceeding outside.

The rotting figure opened its mouth, and ripped away a large chunk of skin from the Caffa rookie.  A blood curling scream followed.  The third cop then jumped onto the back of the figure.  Putting the baton under the neck, he attempted to subdue the man by putting massive pressure on its larynx.  Grunting, the third cop was straining himself, yet it was having no effect on the figure.

"Help, help…he....," the rookie cop tried to push the person off him.  He put his hands onto the face of the figure, attempting to shove it away.  Instead, the figure bit a few fingers, drawing out even more blood which sprayed onto the face of the young officer.

Ackley grabbed the legs of the man and tried to pull him off the rookie.

Two more cops rushed through the door.  One made it to the struggle, but the other was unexpectedly taken down by an unseen force.  Ackley glanced over to the downed cop and saw that he had been tackled.  A half-naked woman was ripping her fingernails into the head of the cop, who was shrieking in pain.

Ackley could not grasp the situation before him.

What the fuck is happening!?

He grabbed the ankles of the figure and managed to yank him off the rookie cop.  The cop who was holding the baton around the neck of the figure heard it snap as Ackley pulled the body away and eased his grip of the subject.

It almost proved to be a fatal mistake.  The figure turned his head and grabbed the arm of the baton wielding cop.  He attempted to bite down on it, black liquid spilling out of his mouth and onto the cop’s uniform.

The officer then grabbed the neck of the man, stopping the rotting disfigured creature from biting down.  He then pulled back his baton and smashed the face of the figure, causing it tumble backwards.  Using this opportunity of space between them, the cop then hopped onto his feet and pulled out his gun.  Aiming it at the face of the figure, he fired rapidly.  Parts of the man’s head were blown away as the rest of his body collapsed in a dead heap.

Meanwhile, the second cop who just entered the fiasco swung back to help his partner who had been attacked by the naked woman.  He ran up to the woman, and smacked the side of her head with his baton.

The woman looked up at the cop who was smacking her with his weapon.  She still had chunks of skin seeping out from inside the mouth.  The flesh slowly dripped down the sides of her chin.  The cop she had attacked appeared to be lifeless and was not thrashing around anymore.  The woman growled and advanced toward the officer who had just hit her.  He jumped back as the woman followed him, crawling on all fours like some sort of an animal.

Ackley turned back to his situation.  The younger cop, with his left cheek ripped away, stumbled to try and gain his footing, but was still dazed from the attack.  The other cop rushed over and grabbed him in an attempt to keep him steady.

“Get him the hell out of here,” Ackley yelled toward the pair.  The officer holding the rookie upwards nodded.  He rushed out, helping the Caffa cop stay firmly on his two feet.

The other cop was still backing away from the crawling animal-like figure.  The woman let out another loud snarl as she continued forward, her hazy eyes fixated on the law enforcement officer.

Ackley stumbled over the area, aiming his gun at the crawling figure.  Not wanting to shoot an unarmed person, he hesitated for a moment before yelling out.

“Stop, fucking stop right now!”

The woman ignored him.  She seemed oblivious to his demands and continued making her way to the cop on the floor.

"Fucking stop!  Do it now!"

The woman was just about to leap onto the cop in front of her.  She no longer displayed any human-like traits.

Damn it…

He dashed over to her and aimed his gun directly at her head.  He fired, sending her brains scattering all across the floor.  The rest of the body crumpled to the ground silently.

How am I going to explain this to the internal investigators…?

The other cop then rushed over to his cohort, who was unconscious and lying in a pool of his own blood.  His throat had been ripped apart, and it did not appear like he was breathing.  His partner radioed for help, and immediately started CPR on him.

Ackley just stood in the middle of the room, still in shock at what had transpired inside the Hinton mansion.

Shots suddenly rang out in the yard.

“Stay here with him,” Ackley pointed to the other cop.  “I’ll check it out.”

Ackley backed up against the wall, and then stuck his head outside.

The medics had apparently never left.  The ambulance was still in the yard.  Off to the side of the emergency vehicle, the old man was feeding upon one of the paramedics by tearing into his stomach.  The cop who had helped the younger rookie fired some shots into that direction.  They quickly took cover behind one of the cruisers.  The other paramedic, who was clutching a wound on his arm, ran toward the two cops and joined them.

As Ackley looked at the old man feasting upon one of the paramedics, he could only mutter a few words to himself.

“What the fuck.”

Chapter 3

 

Thursday, July 12th, 6:06am

Valle del Cauca, Colombia

 

Colonel Felix de Almeida slammed the car door shut.  He waved one of the guards over that was coming out of the hacienda, which was located on the outskirts of the Colombian jungle.  The view it held along the coastline of the beautiful country was spectacular, but more importantly, it was the isolation of the area that was extremely vital.  No one would be able to approach the house without being seen or heard many miles from the residence.  This was due in large part because of the sensors laid out for miles in and around the jungle.  Yet, it was also because of bribery.  Felix de Almeida made sure that the native population, which had a small little village nearby, was fed and clothed every year.  In return, the natives would keep an eye out for any strangers using the dirt road, which led into the villa compound and would alert the Colonel and his men.

“Is Manuel in?” de Almeida asked as he wiped some sweat away from his brow.

The guard nodded his head.  “Yes, he was playing with toy soldiers last I saw him.”

Colonel de Almeida sighed.  “I have more business to discuss with him.  Apparently, the new candidate running for President is being backed by foreign interests that are not in our corner.  We need to act to protect ourselves and I need him to start acting like a leader.”

He started for the door.

“Excuse me, Colonel, but a package came a few hours ago.”

Colonel de Almeida stopped and whirled toward the guard.  “What type of package?”

“Rocks.  A couple pounds of rocks and fossils.”  The guard shrugged his shoulders quizzically.

Colonel de Almeida just shook his head and headed inside the house.  Manuel Jimenez-Eduardo Junior was head of the most powerful and ruthless drug cartel in Columbia.  Along with being the head of a drug organization, Manuel had legit businesses up and down Central and South America.  Millions of dollars came flowing into the family with both the legal and illegal interests, making it necessary that the leader of the cartel convey both a strong and smart side to the public face.

However, that was not the case for this family.

Manuel, the supposed leader, had the mental capacity of a teenager.

Manuel Diego Jimenez-Eduardo Senior, his father, rose through the cartel ranks rapidly.  He had shot and killed the boss of the Norte del Valle Cartel, which at the time was the most powerful organization in Columbia.  After taking down the leaders of that cartel, Jimenez-Eduardo Senior started his own drug trafficking cartel that he ironically named, Sur del Valle Cartel.  Within three years, Manuel Diego Jimenez-Eduardo became the biggest cocaine distributor to the United States and landed himself on the FBI’s ten most wanted list, reaching number seven.

The elder Jimenez-Eduardo died from a cocaine overdose three years after his first and only son was born.  He had entrusted his organization to his second-in-command, Colonel Felix de Almeida, until his son was old enough to lead it.  Unfortunately, Jimenez-Eduardo Junior was more interested in playing video games and working on model airplanes than running a lucrative and ruthless cartel.

As de Almeida entered the building, a gunshot rang out.  He instinctively ducked, pulling out his weapon.  Another gunshot echoed through the house.  The Colonel pinpointed the firing as coming from the game room.  He was joined by two other men, each holding a machine gun.

Together, the three men inched their way down the hallway.  A third gunshot was followed by some screaming.  The door to the game room suddenly swung open.  The three men aimed their weapons at the open doorway.  For a few brief seconds, there was complete silence and de Almeida wondered if Manuel was just firing his guns for fun again.  He did have a tendency to do that on occasion.

Then one of the cartel enforcers appeared in the doorway, holding a hand over his stomach, which was gushing out a steady stream of blood.  Pale and sweaty, the man stumbled over himself in the hallway.  He used the wall as a cushion to steady himself, smearing dark crimson trails with his bloody hands.

“He….he…”  The man with the stomach wound fell to the floor.  Colonel de Almeida took a step toward him and then halted.  The dark outline of a form suddenly appeared in the doorway.  One of the guards gagged and vomited all over the floor.  Colonel de Almeida then became aware of the putrid stench emitting from the person.  Focusing on the figure, he recognized them.

It was Manuel.

“Jesus, what the hell happened?”  The guard closest to the Colonel whispered nervously into his ear.  Before de Almeida could answer, Manuel screamed and rushed the three men.  The two guards immediately opened fire on the leader of the cartel, knocking him to the ground.

Colonel de Almeida grimaced at Manuel being shot.  He turned his head away to avoid seeing the rest of it.  His adopted son was being killed in front of him.

The firing stopped almost as soon as it had started up.  He glanced back at the scene again.  Manuel was lying on the ground, a giant puddle of blood forming underneath him.  The two guards approached the scene, quietly murmuring amongst themselves.

Colonel de Almeida took one step forward before Manuel amazingly started moving around.  One of the guards started pointing at him as Manuel moved his head toward the direction of the three men.  As Manuel lifted his head up, his piercing stare stopped all three men in their tracks.  It was the eyes of the cartel leader that chilled the Colonel, causing him to shake with unease.  They were a hazy like color, almost like a mist appeared and covered his brown pupils.

“Manuel?”  De Almeida was hoping to get some sort of response.  Instead, Manuel just opened his mouth and cried out, black liquid spewing down his chin.

One of the guards aimed his weapon at Manuel when he started to yell but did not fire.  The man who had the stomach wound grabbed his leg and was tugging him down. Both Manuel and the man then tore into the guard, promptly ripping him apart.

The second guard took off, leaving the chaotic scene unfolding in front of him.  De Almeida took a step back.  Manuel jumped up quickly and sprinted toward him.  The Colonel pulled up his handgun and fired.  And then he ran.

Chapter 4

 

Thursday, July 12th, 6:15am

Hinton Residence

Caffa, New York

 

Ackley stood in the middle of the doorway, watching the struggle unfolding in front of him.  He saw the old man look up from feeding on the paramedic.  The man displayed the same foggy eyes that the other figures inside the house had possessed.  Blood dripped from the sides of his mouth.  He gazed up to the sky, let out a cry and proceeded to continue feeding on the medic.  The cop who was hunched down by one of the cars near the house turned as Ackley ran to him.

Ackley held up his hands as the cop pointed a gun at him.  “Whoa, whoa, it's just me...”

“What the fuck is going on?” the officer shrieked out.  “My fucking god, it's like some fucking George Romero movie.”

Ackley shrugged, not knowing who George Romero was or why his name was relevant to the situation.  "We need to get this guy to the hospital."  He pointed to the younger cop, the one whose left cheek partly dangled free from his face.  The rookie bobbed his head up and down listlessly.  Fresh blood streamed out of the wound.  He floated in and out of consciousness, his eyes closing every few seconds.

Ackley nodded at his own suggestion.  He looked at the second paramedic, who was tying some cloth over his wound.

"Can you drive still?" he asked the medic.

Grunting, the man bobbed his head in agreement.  "Fucker bit me as I was loading him into the back.  When Teddy came around to help, he jumped all over him.  Fuck, this hurts."

Ackley turned back to the residence.

“Stay here, I'll be right back!”  He dashed into the mansion to see how the other cop was faring in performing CPR.

Entering, he spotted the cop still kneeling down besides his partner, but was no longer trying to revive him.  The dead cop’s throat had been shredded apart, with blood splattered everywhere on the floor and walls.

"He’s gone."  The police officer put his hands over his eyes and sighed loudly.

"Shit."

Ackley stood there in silence, not wanting to disrupt the cop.  Losing a partner was something that Ackley hoped he would never have to deal with.  Unfortunately, the circumstances required that the officer leave aside his feelings for the moment.  They were still in danger and the situation around them appeared to be getting worse.  Ackley gazed to the other two dead bodies lying on the floor as well.

Mr. Hinton and the naked woman.

This was supposed to be a simple disturbance call...

He finally spoke quietly.

"We need some help outside."  Ackley moved to the front door.

Another shot rang out from the yard.

"Shit, let’s go," the cop declared.  He rose and followed Ackley.

Both men jogged through the door, taking cover with the other three men behind one of the police cruisers.

Ackley pointed to the cop with the cheek wound.  "We need to get him to the hospital ASAP."

The others nodded.

"Me and him will provide cover as the medic goes for the driver’s seat."  The paramedic bobbed in agreement.  Ackley then pointed to the third cop, who had been helping the wounded rookie.  "You help him into the ambulance."

"Got it."

Ackley and the other officer got up and with guns drawn, approached the old man who was still tearing apart the medic.  He dug into the stomach of his victim, stuffing bits and pieces of flesh into his mouth.

Shit, it looks like that hot dog eating contest on Coney Island.

"Jesus, what the hell is that guy doing," the cop next to Ackley mumbled out loud.  Ackley did not respond, and kept his eyes straight ahead at the horrific scene in front of him.

The old man finally noticed the figures coming upon him.  Looking up, his murky eyes seemed to cut right through the two men.  He opened up his mouth and let out a long, chilling howl.

Before Ackley and the other cop had a chance to put down the creature, another shriek rose up behind them.  They both turned in unison to the sound.

The dead cop who had his throat torn was attacking the paramedic.  He tackled the medic and tore into his chest with his teeth.  Screams persisted from the medic as he fell to the ground with the man on top of him.  The cop helping younger officer steady himself immediately rushed away from the struggle.

"Everyone into the ambulance," Ackley screamed.  He faced back to the old man, who was rising and starting to rush toward the group.  He fired a few times wildly, not bothering to aim at his target.  Nonetheless, he managed to strike the creature in the chest, causing it to fall back.  The men filed into the ambulance, with Ackley jumping in the driver’s seat.  The others helped the Caffa rookie into the back of the vehicle.

Starting the engine, Ackley pressed down hard on the accelerator with his foot.  The ambulance lurched forward.  As he picked up the pace, Ackley glanced in the rearview mirror.  The old man had risen and was chasing the vehicle.

Streaking through the gate, Ackley jerked the wheel to a hard left.  He sped onto the street, barely missing another car when he floated into the opposite lane. Looking back, Ackley saw the old man quickly change direction and run into a yard where someone was watering their flowers.  Ackley watched the old man tackle the gardener before they tumbled out of view.  The ambulance continued flying down the road, heading for the nearest hospital, which was located in New York City.

Ackley breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I’m safe…

Chapter 5

 

Thursday, July 12th, 9:22am

White House, Washington DC

 

Army Colonel Fitzgerald Mann strolled into the Oval Office.  He stepped inside the office of the President, thanking the bulky Secret Service agent who held the door open for him. The agent nodded and closed the door behind him.

Walking into the President’s office, the fifty seven year old military veteran stood alone in the room, the first one to arrive to this emergency meeting called by the President of the United States.  The Colonel was unaware of what was happening in the small town of Caffa, located in the northwestern part of New York State.  He heard whispers of the possibility some sort of biological agent being used, but at this point, it was only a rumor.  The first reports indicated that some people may have been infected with an unknown virus that appeared to have flu-like symptoms.

Probably just another SARS scare…

Mann remembered a few years ago when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention tried to tackle the ‘Asian Flu’.  All that happened was long lines at the airport and the pharmaceutical lobby making a huge profit in so called ‘flu’ shots.  Yet, the United States government would have to tackle this ‘crisis’, no matter how small the actual problem proved to be.  Congress would see to that, along with the lobbyist and pharmaceutical companies.  There was major money to be made, and the public would demand answers and vaccines.  All three entities would be more than happy to oblige to their wishes.

Hopefully, this small conference would get him some answers.

And see if I should put some money into a certain stock…

The Colonel smiled to himself.

Or it could be extremely serious like a lethal virus mutating into an even deadlier form.  Ebola immediately came to his mind.  It recently popped up yet again in Africa, blazing across that continent with its usual destructive fury.  If a virus such as that had altered itself, then Mann had bigger problems than worrying about which company he should invest in.

Mann heard the door click, snapping him from his thoughts, and in stepped the National Security Advisor.  A stout veteran of the political scene, the short man nodded to the colonel, adjusting his dark rimmed glasses.  Mann respectfully returned the nod, while grinding his teeth together.  He did not trust Samuel Alfred, but knew that he had powerful allies in the Pentagon and was an old family friend of the influential Vice President.  He was someone Mann definitely needed to keep an eye on.  And Alfred, of course, would do the same with him.

Behind the advisor, an adjutant to the Joint Chiefs walked into the room.  The Major saluted the Colonel crisply.  Mann quickly returned the salute back, wincing silently in pain. The old wound from his time in Pakistan still occasionally hurt.  His shoulder would go months without any pain, and then abruptly flare up.  When it did, it reminded Mann of how close to death he really came.  Four years ago, he would hit the bottle after this meeting to cope with the throbbing pain.

Not anymore…

Two more men, who appeared to civilians, piled in after the Major.

An uncomfortable silence lingered over the room.  The National Security Advisor took a seat on one of the two couches in the room and proceeded to read a report that he had brought with him.

Mann shook his head.

Samuel Alfred thought he was too important of a government official to engage in conversation with any of the people present with him.

He’s kinda a dick…

The civilians sat together on the opposite couch, quietly muttering amongst themselves. The Major remained standing, along with Mann.

A cough echoed from the NSA man.  One of the civilians quietly cleared their throat.

Mann glanced outside the windows, where the path led to the Rose Garden.  The leaves on the trees outside were successful in stopping the sunlight from bursting into the room and cooling the Oval Office somewhat, yet the heat was still evident.  It was going to be another hot and humid July afternoon in the Capitol.

Just like it always was…

Colonel Mann never did like the heat.  Wherever he was stationed, whether it was the long tours in Asia or a sudden night raid in South America, he had never adjusted to it.  His uniform was already sticking to his body.  It was just a matter of an hour or so before dried out sweat appeared under his armpits.  Mann wiped his brow where beads of sweat were forming despite the fact air conditioning was continuously flowing into the room.

He then caught a glimpse of his figure reflecting from the window.  His graying, white hair was neatly parted to the right side of his head.  No stubble was present on his hardened face as he had just shaved this morning, per his usual routine.  Smaller than the average height, Mann knew he had put on a few pounds during the last few years.  Studying his mid-section, it was definitely pudgier than he remembered.

He quietly snickered to himself.

Gotta lay off those fudge cookies…

After a few minutes, another door opened and in stepped the President.  The men sitting immediately rose up out of respect.  Mann and the Major straightened their stature, with the Colonel sucking in part of his gut.

President Karen Rice acknowledged the group of men with a little wave.  Tall, lean, and fit, due no doubt to the five o’clock runs in the morning every other day, the President was a striking figure.  She could have been mistaken for a model in her earlier political career and always joked that being the President of the United States was easier than being a runway fashion model.  With long, dark hair and mocha skin, she was definitely ‘easy on the eyes’, but Mann knew that she was more than looks. She would put you at ease with her smile, and then sock you in the stomach – politically speaking, of course.

Rice took a seat behind the Resolute desk.  Putting her elbows on the desk, she folded her hands together and gazed her light brown eyes at the group of men in front of her.

"Please be seated gentlemen."  The two civilians instantly sat down.

The National Security Advisor spoke first.  "Madame President, this is Dr. Garrett Frost," he motioned to one of the men on the couch.  The man, with short black hair and a neatly trimmed goatee, rose in greeting.  "He’s with the Center for Disease Control."  Mann caught a whiff of the cologne that Dr. Frost was wearing. Clearing his throat, he tried to get rid of the fumes that had seemingly settled on the top of his mouth, but knew that his attempts would most likely be futile.

"And this is Dr. Thomas Eaton, who is with the Department of Health and Human Services.”  Eaton got up, brushing his shoulder length, brown hair away with one stroke of his hand.  Mann wanted to grab some scissors and chop off those locks. Better yet, he would gladly yank out the roots one by one.  He smiled to himself.  The man looked like a surfer who should have been riding some Pacific waves in California, not in the Oval Office conversing with the President of the United States.

The President politely nodded to both of the men.  She turned to her NSA appointee. "Samuel, can you explain what is happening.  I’m getting stories about people attacking other people.  Rioting and civil unrest in New York.  What the hell is going on?"

Alfred shrugged his shoulders.  “Right now ma’am, the most recent information we have is that the New York City Police are attempting a block-by-block quarantine.  And by the looks of it, it’s not being very successful.”

“What are they trying to quarantine off?”

Samuel turned to the two doctors.  "Gentlemen?"

Dr. Frost stepped forward.  "Honestly, we are not exactly sure what is going on, Madame President.  Around eight am this morning, our office in Atlanta was notified of some kind of contagious outbreak in New York State."  He glanced down at the vanilla folder.  "It appeared to have happened in a hospital within Caffa, a small suburb of New York City.  A police officer who was badly mauled died from his wounds.  A minute later, according to witnesses, he rose up from the operating table and attacked the doctors and nurses.  He appeared to..."

The President interrupted him.  "Whoa, he was dead and then somehow got back up?  Is it possible they could have made a mistake about him being dead in the first place?"

Dr. Frost let out a long sigh.  "That’s the first thought I had.  But…"  He looked at his colleague.

"Well, what gentlemen?" the president asked.  She glanced confusingly between the two doctors.

Dr. Eaton ran one of his hands through his hair.  "Well, we have other confirming reports of this occurring in the same hospital.  Doctors, nurses, other patients being dead after this police officer and others attacked them.  It seems that…"

"Whoa, you mean to tell me that this officer attacked others, bit them, killed them, and then they came back from being dead to attack other people?" the President asked, the tone of her voice full of disbelief.

Both men nodded slowly; clearly uncertain of the information they were passing onto the President.

The President looked baffled.  Snorting, she shook her head while staring at the group standing before her.  "You mean, like zombies in the movies?"

Dr. Frost cleared his throat nervously.  "You could say that…"

The National Security Advisor held up his hand.  "Right now, we’re talking about some kind of infection it appears.  Could Al-Qaeda or another terrorist group be spreading some kind of biological weapon?  Maybe a rabies-like infection.  Could that be possible?"

The two doctors nodded in firm agreement.  "That’s what it sounds like," Frost explained, "all we have is the first reports.  We’re not sure on them being dead, which is more than likely a mistake, and then coming back alive.  Unfortunately, our sources in New York, at this moment have ceased sending us reports.  But, as of this instant, I would treat it as a terrorist attack."

"That’s my thoughts exactly," the NSA man declared.  "If it is in fact a terror attack, then one of the best things to do is to quarantine and isolate the contagion the best way possible."

Mann did not like the sound of that.  Not after learning what the man had done in Pakistan.  Mann had seen the files authorizing the bombing of that country in areas where suspected terrorists had been hiding.  The problem was that these actions were concealed from the public, and worse yet, Congress.  Of course, Samuel Alfred evaded the downfall from the outrage and the numerous Congressional hearings that were held.  That fell to the Secretary of State at the time, Cornelius Brevard, who resigned and was still serving time in a Federal Prison.

"Major, what path does the Joint Chiefs advise taking?"

The Army officer, taking a small step forward, put his hands slowly together in front of his belt.  "With all due respect, the Joint Chiefs would like to discuss this with Madame President in private."

The security advisor turned back to the President.  "Ma’am?"

The President sighed loudly.  "Of course.  Let them know I will be able to meet with them in half an hour.  I want all heads of agencies to be in on this.  NSA, CIA, Homeland.  Also get the mayor of New York City and Governor of that state in on this meeting.  I don’t want anyone to complain that they were left out."

The NSA man and Major acknowledged the President as they left the room.

Dr. Frost approached the desk.  "I will be making some sort of announcement in the next hour.  The CDC will keep your administration afloat to the best of our ability.  As soon as we know, you’ll know."

Rice managed a smile at him.  "I want the people to see that public health officials are in charge and running the show and for them to remain calm.”

Dr. Frost nodded.  “Agree ma’am.  We will try our best to get that message out.”

“Thank you, gentlemen."

The two doctors exited the office.

Rice looked toward Mann.  "How’s that sound, Fitz.  Zombies?"

Mann laughed.  "A terrorist attack is the most logical explanation right now. Someone could have mutated a strain of rabies.  Let’s hope not though, ma’am."

The President cocked her head sideways.  "Damn it, Fitz, you know I hate being called that.  Makes me sound so old."

Mann laughed.  "Well, you are over forty."

The President’s face presented mock anger.  "Yes, but if I recall, you did serve with my father, and he would have turned sixty last month.  That means you aren’t far behind.  And I am your boss."

Mann let out a small chuckle.  "Of course, Madame President.  I am at your disposal."

A knock at the door interrupted them.

"Come in."

A young aide poked his face in.  "Excuse me, Madame President, but Governor William Louis is on hold.  He says it is very urgent about the situation in his state."

The President turned to Mann.  "Looks to be turning into a hell of a morning."

Mann chuckled again. "Yep, but nothing the leader of the free world cannot handle."

Chapter 6

 

Thursday, July 12th, 10:23am

Caffa, New York

 

Caffa Police Officer Brian Wilkerson wrapped the bandage around his finger that had been bitten off.

“Fuck,” he declared.  The fresh wound seeped out blood at a frantic rate. Officer Wilkerson pounded the steering wheel in frustration.  A little less than an hour ago, he had responded to a dispatch from a New York City cop about a disturbance at the Hinton residence.  By the time Wilkerson arrived, a full scale riot was on hand.

He tried handling the situation as he was taught back in the academy.  Only a few police were at the scene and they were quickly outnumbered by mobs and mobs of people.  Wilkerson’s first and only contact with the rioters had been swift.  He approached a person attacking someone else.  When he tried to pull the huge man off, the person turned their head around and bit his finger off.  He rushed back to his car and radioed for more help.  Now, he sat in his patrol car on the main street of Caffa, watching the 'disturbance' unravel in front of him.

A fire raged at a nearby high end store, with a dozen bodies running around. From the looks of it, Wilkerson guessed that they were high on drugs.  The only problem was that they were assaulting other people and would not go down when shot.  Wilkerson had emptied his magazine trying to take a few down.  Yet, the most horrific part was that they would then start taking huge bites out of the people that they attacked.  The older officer had seen it personally, or he would not have believed it himself.  His dispatcher did not believe him, until she received other calls, notifying her of the same kind of attacks.

Sirens from a fire truck snapped him back to the situation at hand.  Wilkerson hopped out of his patrol car and started waving his hands back and forth, trying to get the attention of the driver.  But the smoke burning from a nearby building made it impossible for the driver to see him.  Like fireflies attracted to a light, a mass of people rushed the truck.  The firefighters never had a chance as their vehicle was quickly swarmed.  Wilkerson dove back into his car, this time with a few of the rioters pounding on the hood and windows of his car.

Grunting, he started the engine and reversed his patrol car away from the disaster that was occurring in the center of Caffa.  Skidding against the pavement, Wilkerson swung the car around and raced out of the small township.  He smashed down on the accelerator, heading for New York City.  Wilkerson figured that was the best place to fall back and retreat to.  They had a much, much larger police force and the proper training to handle a large scale riot.

He grimaced.

Besides, his hand hurt and they also had the best hospitals.

Chapter 7

 

Thursday, July 12th, 11:43am

White House, Washington DC

 

Colonel Fitzgerald Mann entered the Situation Room, where an emergency conference had been called by the highest officials in the government.  He politely nodded to all the men and women in the room and took a seat in the corner.

The National Security Council had been hastily called together because of what was happening in the state of New York.  Since its creation under President Harry Truman in 1947, the NSC had been the President’s principal forum in considering the nation’s national security and foreign policy matters.  Before the National Security Act of 1947, the different military organizations answered to their own separate leaders. Their subordination to the Secretary of Defense would not happen for another two years, with the Air Force finally becoming their own service branch.

Additionally, the act created the National Security Council, which was to ensure cooperation among all branches of the military and the intelligent community. It was thought that if there was a central place of coordination for the national security policies to be discussed, than the President and the acting intelligence communities would be more effective in their actions.

Nothing like someone getting pissed about someone else pissing on their so called territory.

Of course, every agency would be clamoring to be the alpha dog in this scenario, despite the front being put up to the public that each governmental agency was being the perfect ‘Hollywood couple.’  They would be seen working together and maybe find one or two fall guys if something went wrong.  Yet, the reality was that each organization would be trying to rip each other’s throat apart.  Behind the scenes would exhibit continuous bitching and moaning about every little fixation that each organization could come up with to try and slow down their rival.

Everyone had not arrived yet.  Vice President Bruce Casper was running late as usual, and the National Security Advisor, along with the Secretary of Defense, were both missing. Mann suspected that it was no coincidence.  He knew that those three men were close, and made it very well known to certain circles that they objected to many aspects of President Karen Rice’s agenda.  Yet, there was nothing that Mann could do about it right at this moment.  The circumstances that were occurring could potentially be used against Rice, but at this instant, Mann needed to focus on what he could do to assist in helping out the administration.

Colonel Fitzgerald Mann, while the President’s military assistant, was also part of the Joint Special Operations Command.  This organization is charged with studying special techniques and conditions to ensure that the operations are successful. Whether it was making sure that the equipment is up to date, or trying to standardize the training, the JSOC was one component of the United States Special Operations Command.

At least that is how the JSOC was presented to the public.  In actuality, it was one of the most closely guarded secret forces in the United States national security apparatus.  Members of these elite units were known as ‘ninjas’ or ‘snake-eaters.’  These were the kind of men who were called into action to hunt and kill someone, rather than capture them.  And Mann knew that the Special Forces would be called into duty to counter this growing threat.  They were often the first ones on the ground before the larger forces arrived.  His shoulder reminded him again of his time in the mountains of Pakistan, causing him to wince silently.

Since a few of the attendees had not shown up quite yet, the television screens were showing a press conference taking place.  Mann turned to one of the monitors and focused on it.  The White House Press Secretary, Lane Fibbs, was trying to calm down a hysterical and frenzied press corp.

“What exactly is happening in New York State?” a reporter shouted.

Fibbs held up both of his hands in the air.

“Now, we will answer all of your questions later…”

“When is this President going to open up and entertain questions from the media in person?”

Fibbs snorted and shook his head.

“I mean, this is something big and wouldn’t it be unusual for the President herself to not take and answer a couple questions?”

“She’s not taking questions at this moment…”  Fibbs raised his hand and pointed to another questioner.

But the male reporter did not give in so easily.

“Now, I think the rest of my colleagues would back me up in this.  This President, I just want to know why we can’t get any answers out of this President.”

Fibbs shrugged his shoulders and grinned.  “Listen, I recall this press getting on us for overexposure,” he chuckled.

“Not me.”

Fibbs laughed.  “Well, glad we don’t have a flip flopper here…”

The rest of the press, backing up one of their own, started to shout and yell questions in objection.

Fibbs, realizing his mistake, held up his hands.  “Now, now, now hold, hooold on…hold oonnnn”

Mann sighed.  That man was a disaster.

The murmuring in the room picked up.  Turning, Mann saw that the Vice President of the United States had arrived.  Bruce Casper, a young thirty nine year old ‘maverick’ from Wyoming, strode into the room with the utmost confidence.  He exchanged a few pleasantries with some of the suits near him before taking a seat.  He continued smiling and nodding around the room before his gaze settled on Mann. Casper’s grin immediately disappeared.  Instead, something of a smirk came over his face.  He turned to the person sitting next to him and begun a conversation with them.  

Mann chuckled to himself.  That was Casper’s way of brushing him aside.

Vice President Bruce Casper was a very charismatic person.  He was the self-appointed ‘golden child’ of the politically connected Casper family and used his good looks to charm the public.  For the most part, it was very successful.

Standing over six-foot three with gracefully combed blond hair, he had ridiculous piercing blue eyes that could easily hold an audience.  An almost perfectly sculpted jaw line aligned with straight white teeth that made people mesmerized by his smile.  His Calvin Klein looks translated to somehow being trusted by the public, according to numerous polls.  Also, when he knew the cameras were on him, he was always quick on his feet with a joke to the media and gave the appearance of being understanding and laid-back.

It was one of the reasons why he was chosen to be the running mate for the first black female presidential candidate with a real opportunity to win.  In fact, Casper was really chosen to placate the more liberal Republicans and Libertarians throughout the country.  He was not as conservative as Rice in the sense of one reason; religion.  Socially, he leaned a bit to the left and made it known when he was a Senator and voted down a bill that would have recognized marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Of course there was his Senate record and another, extremely important explanation; his family’s monetary funds.  His great-grandfather had founded Duncan Corporations, a company seeking new energy solutions.  Now, it was a multi-billion dollar business that influenced the political and business worlds from behind the scenes.  Mann knew that Casper ultimately wanted to become President one day.  Yet here they were in just year two of the first term of Rice's Presidency.  The veteran did not think that Casper could wait another six years to become President.  After all, he had been in charge all of his life and was not used to taking orders.  The Vice President would not change now, especially when he was so close to being the most powerful man on the planet.

General Robert Gatewoods Junior, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stood up and approached a wide television screen.

The meeting was beginning.

Mann scanned the room, but the President had still not arrived.

Chairman Gatewoods pointed a remote and the screen flashed alive.  Images appeared to flutter by quickly and Mann immediately guessed that the scene was taking place on a helicopter.  He had gotten use to the view of being on a helicopter from his days of performing Special Ops in Asia, South America, and of course Pakistan years ago.  He rubbed his back that impulsively started to ache yet again, reminding him of those missions and the bullet that had been lodged in his right shoulder.

Gatewoods cleared his throat and the room became quiet.

“Ladies and gentleman, the President has informed me to start without her and the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.”

Mann thought that was strange.

Something else was going on…

He made a mental note to probe Rice later about her meeting, although making it look discreet would be difficult.  Especially since Karen Rice knew Fitzgerald Mann so well.

Mann glanced over to Casper, who sneered back at him.  No doubt, the Vice President had a role in keeping the President away from this meeting.

The Colonel shook his head.

Damn him…

Mann guessed that Casper would use her absence from this gathering against her in the future.  Looking at the man, he knew that this was exactly the kind of ploy he would use to gain leverage.  Mann could see Casper in a meeting with higher ups from the government: ‘I was there from the beginning…remember when Karen wasn’t even at the first meeting…’

Colonel Mann cracked his knuckles, a technique he had used to try and settle himself down before combat.  And while Mann was not getting ready for battle just yet, Casper was pushing the Colonel toward that direction.

The camera turned to the side and displayed a group of men crammed in a helicopter.  Some were in full combat gear, while one man was in khaki pants and a tee-shirt.  Mann smiled at the sight.  He remembered a few times that the orders were hurried down from the chain of command and you just climbed aboard in whatever clothes you happened to be wearing.  The fact that the men were getting dressed in the chopper meant one thing.

A Special Forces operation was currently taking place.

Looks like the military branches are starting to act…

Chairman Gatewoods cleared his throat again.  “Right now, we have several operations taking place, such as this one,” he stated as he turned to the screen.  “This right now is the closest one to reaching a known infected area.  Mr. Jensen, would you like to proceed?”

The Associate Deputy Director of the CIA stood up and approached the screen.  Before he could begin, the CIA man was hastily interrupted.

“Where is this taking place?”  The Deputy Director of the FBI had risen and was clearly irritated.

“Now calm down…”

Deputy Director M. William Falls cut off the Chairman.  “Again, where is this taking place?”

“Just over the New York border…”

“Great, just fucking great.  The CIA is running operations on American soil again…”

Jensen confronted Agent Falls.  “You got a fucking problem with us?”

“Yeah, I do Jensen.  You guys always find a way to fuck things up…”

Chairman Gatewoods loudly cleared his throat.  The two men went silent.

The in-fighting between agencies had already begun.

Before the first recon mission even started…

“Gentlemen, this particular operation is using CIA’s Special Activities Division to conduct a reconnaissance of the area.  I will not tolerate, and neither will the President, inter-organizational rivalries.  President Rice has ordered these operations and we will follow her wishes.”

The room remained hushed and Deputy Director Falls sat down, a scowl still plastered on his face.

Jensen continued.  “This team will reach the targeted area in two minutes.”

A hand was raised.

Jensen pointed it out.

The Deputy National Secretary Advisor spoke up.  “Where is this operation taking place?”

Jesus, shouldn’t he know that?

Jensen glanced down on a sheet of paper in front of him.

“Caffa, New York, located a few miles outside the Big Apple.”

Another hand was raised.  It was the Secretary of Treasury, Xavier A. Thomas. “What are the resources being used?”

“Right now, only a small patrol of twelve men on two choppers flown by Marine pilots.  The two helicopters were the nearest ones we could get in this short amount of time.”  He glanced toward the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

General Gatewoods nodded.  “Right now we are sending in recon.  This team has orders to initiate contact with the locals or…”

“The infected,” finished Deputy Director Falls.

Gatewoods leaned forward in his chair, putting his hand over his mouth.  He only nodded his head. Everyone in the room got the feeling that the Chairman did not agree with recon being put down on the ground so rapidly.

“We must know who or what we are dealing with,” countered Jensen.

Mann then knew that Jensen had been an 'office man' his whole life.  Putting a team on the ground was an option that leaders, like Robert Gatewoods, hated doing.  Especially since no one knew the exact effects of the infection or disease that was occurring, or even how it was circulating among the population.  Or worse yet, what the hell exactly was happening in Caffa, New York.

Voices abruptly streamed over the screen as the men from the CIA’s covert SAD team hopped out of the two Bell UH-1Y Venoms.

“….check Team Two on the ground.”

“Patterson copies over.”

The room settled down as the monitor became clearer.

Mann again cracked his knuckles, the sight of a Special Forces operation taking place getting his blood pumping.

It never leaves you…

The screen showed a small team moving down a gulch.  Branches and scrub obscured the vision for a brief movement.  Then, the CIA operatives darted from the safety of the brush and onto a paved road.

It seemed deserted.

“No vision or contact yet.”

“Copy that.  Advise team leaders that efforts to reach local population have proven to be unsuccessful.  Drones overhead have been ineffective as well.  Expect the worse.”

“Roger.”

The Air Force flew a few drones over the small town of Caffa less than an hour ago, but the pictures they sent back had been useless.  The ‘Forward Looking Infrared’ or FLIR for short did not picked up any body heat signals being emitted from the area.  However, that did not mean there were dead humans running around taking bites out of the citizens.  Instead, the Air Force concluded that fires burning down the small town of Caffa were interfering with the thermal imaging cameras mounted on their drones.  Either that, or the million dollar drones had just ‘farted out bad images.’  That was exactly how Air Force technical personnel described another likely scenario to the group.

In the end, the conclusion from the analysts was that most likely a terrorist attack occurred and the military needed to respond quickly and efficiently.  That meant a Special Forces team had to be sent in for a reconnaissance mission of the affected region.

The small team gradually made their way to the border of the tiny town.  The camera focused on the sign posted right on the outskirts of the wealthy area.

 

Welcome to Caffa Township

 

Population: 1347

 

The camera then swung to the first few buildings that dotted the landscape. The team entered the town in a strategic position with men swung out wide on both sides.

“Place looks empty…”

Mann knew that could change in an instant.

The CIA group continued further into the town, still not seeing any sign of activity from either infected or the local population.

“Uh, Team Two, please advise that Sky Hawk has spotted movement up ahead in front of you.”

“Copy that…”

Mann braced himself for the coming firefight.  He prayed it did not reach that point, but years of warfare taught him to think pessimistically.

Prepare for the unexpected…and the worst...

The area seemed so peaceful, yet in an unnatural sense.  Nature had ceased to exist in the surrounding location.  No wildlife were seen or heard, which signaled to Mann that they had fled the area for a reason.  The group approached a trivial crest in the road that blocked their view for a few seconds.

“Watch your back, watch your back.  Kevin you watch your left side, there’s a field with tons of places to hide…”

“Got it…”

The team continued up the ridge and down the long two lane road.  The town center loomed ahead.  Buildings emerged on both sides of the street.  Smoke filtered from several structures, indicating recent activity.  Abandoned cars littered the area, their drivers fleeing an apparent threat.  A fire truck had stopped in the middle of the main street, its lights still flashing wildly.

There were, of course, several other signs that a violent encounter had transpired.  Some dismembered bodies dotted the landscape, with crows picking out pieces of the flesh.  The monitor moved past an overturned police car, with a bloody hand sticking out of the now shattered driver’s window.

“Movement!  I have movement ahead!”

The camera shifted to the right of the screen.  A person unexpectedly darted out from some bushes toward the group.

“Fucker is not stopping…!”

“We have authorization to shoot…”

Gunfire erupted through the speakers.

Numerous voices rang out from the brief encounter.

“He’s down, he’s down…”

“Clear, all clear…”

“He’s a she.”

“Watch the left flank, I thought I saw movement…”

“Sky Hawk, this is Spade, do you copy?”

The person with the camera mounted on his helmet came across the body and kneeled down beside it.  The person, seemingly an older woman, had been torn apart by the bullets pumped into her.

“Uh, copy Spade, this Sky Hawk.”

“Subject is ready for lift…”

The woman suddenly lunged up toward the camera, her arms reaching out.

“Holy shit!”

“Fucking thing is still alive…”

More gunfire rang out, tearing the woman’s head apart.  The body collapsed in a heap.

“Uh, Patterson, we have a fucking problem…”

“Movement up ahead, I’m getting…”

“Fire, I repeat…!”

The camera fixated on the situation unfolding up ahead.  More dots appeared around buildings, moving closer to the small group.  The sudden movement reminded Mann of bees buzzing around.

The CIA operatives started to shoot the many, dozens of figures rushing toward them.

“Sky Hawk, I repeat Sky Hawk, we have a major, colossal fuckin’ problem here…”

The camera focused on the one of the men calling over the radiophone.

“This is Patterson, requesting immediate evacuation.”  Patterson wore a baseball hat, along with a bulletproof vest over a white tee-shirt that was accompanied by tan slacks.  In a way, he was a typical CIA field operative as he was not wearing a standard combat uniform.  That usually helped when you were in the fields of a foreign country, not in the backyard of some little town in New York State.

“Team two, Sky Hawk cannot land right there…”

Gunfire rapidly increased all around Patterson.

“Jesus, these fucking things…”

“Sky Hawk, we need the helicopters now!”  Patterson suddenly dropped the phone and raised his gun.  An infected woman flopped backwards, bullets smashing into her body.  Taking no chances, Patterson made his way to the body and pumped a few more rounds into it, specifically aiming for her head.

The camera concentrated back on the street, where the small team was slowly backing up.  One line would fire and fall back, while the second line would provide cover fire to them.  Mann saw that the group was quickly being outnumbered.  Dozens and dozens of infected beings were appearing, sprinting over to the gunfight.

“Fall back, fall back!”  Patterson was waving his hands over his head.  A grenade flew past the image, landing near a building and destroyed a few infected sprinters when it exploded.  Yet, more sprinters appeared out of the hazy smoke and fire around the burning structure, rapidly making their way to the small CIA cluster.  One man was tackled by a ravenous pack of infected, falling down and disappearing from view.

“Fucking Christ, we need…to get…the fuck out of here…”  Patterson was running now.  The image on the screen bounced up and down, turning around every once in awhile.  A few infected were chasing the men retreating, but most of them were occupied by the CIA operatives that had been trapped behind.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh, my leg….”  A scream cut through the radio, causing everyone in the room to jump slightly.

“It bit me…”

“Spade, we are currently tracking your location…”

Patterson did not answer immediately, due to the fact that he was running out of breath and too busy firing.

Mann thought back to his last battle.  What was the name of that tiny town?

It had taken place in Gujarat, a state of India, along the coastline.

This fight reminded him of that pitched, frenzy clash in the dead of the night that almost cost him his life.  Dozens of faces popping up on the rooftops and raining hell down on him as his convoy sped along a narrow road.  His gunner on the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee was struck down, causing Mann to climb up and take the reins of the machine gun.

I was lucky…

Yelling on the camera snapped him back to the present.

“Rally right here!” Patterson and the group retreated back to the original drop off zone.  Out of the twelve men dropped off, half remained.  The set of CIA men had been dropped off blind and overwhelmed by groups of infected.

“Spade, I cannot order my helicopters down there right now…What the fuck is Crandall doing?”

The camera looked up and a single helicopter was making its way to the remaining team.

“Fucking Christ, Captain Crandall is disobeying a direct order…”

The CIA operatives were about to be overrun as the camera showed the men who were left in the group hastily firing in all directions.  The swarm of people rapidly descending upon them had to number in the high hundreds.  Mann guessed the operatives only had another minute or two before they would be swamped by hordes of infected.  The scene reminded the Colonel of cavalry soldiers being surrounded by Native Americans in the Old West.  The circle of CIA men slowly tightened their positions as the infected pack raced toward them.

Suddenly, the Bell UH-1Y Venom helicopter appeared onto the screen.  The chopper did not land, but hovered a few feet above the ground.  The men jumped and dove inside the helicopter, which kept moving because of the mass infected chasing behind.  Gunfire erupted from chopper, knocking down the first few rows of infected before flying away.

The camera displayed the CIA men catching their breath inside.  One man was sobbing loudly, his face buried in his hands.  Another one was tending to the wounds of an operative who was flailing around in obvious pain.  Patterson seemed to signal the man with the camera, and made a slashing motion across his neck.

The image suddenly went black.

The mood in the Situation Room was sullen and hushed.

“That’s impossible for those people to just suddenly pop up.  The infrared scans showed that nothing was alive in that area.”  An Air Force General glanced around the room.

“Um, yes…nothing was, um, alive,” a government scientist responded.

“What?”  The aging military man was in disbelief.

“Those people are dead,” the government scientist reiterated.

“That’s im…possible…” the Air Force General trailed off.

Chairman Gatewoods stood.  “I believe things are worse off than we could have imagined.”

Mann could not argue with that assessment.

Chapter 8

 

Thursday, July 12th 12:34pm

New York City

 

Officer Dalton Ackley clutched his shoulder as struggled to stand up.  Hours before, they had brought in the rookie cop from Caffa, who sustained ghastly wounds from the confrontation at the Hinton mansion.  His left cheekbone had been torn away by a crazy man and as a result, drifted in and out of consciousness the whole ride to the hospital.  While there, the young cop had apparently succumbed to his wounds.

“He lost too much blood,” the doctor had said to Ackley, who was waiting in the lobby area with a Sergeant and a Lieutenant.

“Jesus, what the hell happened out there?”  The Lieutenant asked, purposely ignoring his phone that was buzzing crazily.

Ackley just shook his head.  “No idea, sir.  We were ambushed…”

“By people acting weird?  Like strung out?”

“Sort of.  They were…I’m not sure how to describe it, sir.  It was an intense situation.”

The Lieutenant nodded.  “Yeah, I’ve been receiving calls for the last hour about people attacking other people near the place where you guys were at.  The mayor, that pathetic little weasel, already called our chief and asked for us to not respond with overwhelming force.  Wait until he has a full riot on his hands, then he’ll call us.  They always do.”

Ackley duly nodded.

The Lieutenant sighed loudly.  “Well, as soon as you’re ready, I want to get a report from you.  Need the details while they are fresh in your mind.”

“Of course, sir.  Absolutely.”

Ackley would never get the chance to give that report.

He was about to sit down when screams erupted from the room where the officer had been treated.  The doctor rushed back in, and seconds later emerged from the room, blood gushing from his neck.

“He’s…he’s…not….dead…”  The doctor then collapsed on the floor.  While nurses and other aides attended to him, Ackley peeked into the room where the younger cop had been.

Near the bed, the officer was hunched over, his shoulders moving up and down quickly.  Peering closer, Ackley saw that a nurse was laying face first on the floor as the rookie was apparently tearing her skin away with his teeth.

“What the fuck…”

The rookie cop spun around quickly, hazy eyes staring back at Ackley.  Clumps of flesh hung from his mouth, some falling onto the hospital floor.

“Jesus, what are you doing…?”  Ackley did not finish his sentence as the rookie growled and jumped to his feet.  From there, he dove at him, causing both men to tumble back into the hallway.

Ackley tried his best to fight off the crazed cop, but the rookie managed to bite into his shoulder, drawing away a huge chunk of skin.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

The rookie was pulled off by other nurses, but he proceeded to turn his attention to them and started biting and clawing at the crowd of people that had gathered there.  Shots were fired from the police officers near the room, there for support of the downed rookie cop.  Mass chaos developed in the hallway as those that had been apparently dead only minutes ago, were now rising and violently attacking the living.

Ackley saw a nurse dash out of a room and make a straight beeline toward a doctor.  They both toppled over a counter where another nurse was on the phone.

“Help, we need help!  I don’t know what’s happening…” She was shrieking hysterically on the line.  Animalistic cries then rose above her human screams in the hallway.

Ackley decided to get out of sight.  He crawled into an empty room and shut the door.  He was afraid his heavy and deep breathing would let them know he was hiding in there before blackness overcame him and he collapsed to the floor.

Now Ackley got to his feet and stumbled toward the door.  The New York City officer had a major headache and his body was moving sluggishly.  He finally managed to open the door slowly and glance out into the hallway.

“Hello…?”  He groggily called out.  His speech sounded slurred to him as his echo floated down the empty lobby, where paperwork fluttered around.  Blood and tissue were splattered across the walls, along with puddles of it smeared on the floor.  Ackley spotted two bodies near the counter.  They were both hospital personnel, their white clothes now soaked in red and black chucks of bodily fluids.

Voices and sirens rang throughout the area where he was stumbling about, but he had not run into anyone — that was alive.  He further staggered down the hallway, before stopping abruptly.  Pain in his stomach caused him to double over and vomit.

“Ughhhhhhhhhh,” he gagged as black, chunky bits came flowing out.

Ackley dropped to his knees, the pain creeping up throughout his body.  A cold, tingling sweat broke out all over him.  A pounding shock rattled to his brain.  His vision was turning blurry, as he struggled to try and stand up.

“Ahhh…ahhhhh….”  The pain was too much as the police officer doubled over and fell down to the ground.  Right before he blacked out, he thought about his parents and how they would be worried for him.

After a few minutes, a figure hopped up.  Its hazy eyes roamed the hallway, searching in vain to satisfy its appetite.  Eyes darting around frantically, it spotted movement far ahead.  As it focused in on the target, it sensed fresh blood…

…fresh flesh…

…a fresh meal.

The man never even saw the person in the police uniform until it was too late. Seconds later, it was digging into the man’s stomach with its teeth; the only thought being was to quench the hunger that was rising up deep inside it.

Chapter 9

 

Thursday, July 12th, 2:56pm

The Situation Room, Washington D.C.

 

“Holy shit, this thing is outta control.”  An Army Major, who Mann assumed was part of the Watch Team for the Situation Room, watched one of the televisions screens showing a young boy being tackled by a crowd in the middle of Times Square.  The person disappeared under the small group of infected, who proceeded to tear into the young boy.  Suddenly, a woman appeared and splashed a liquid substance on several of the people before flicking what appeared to be a match.  Flames shot up, fueled by the gasoline that had been poured on them.  The infected howled and screamed all while being burned.  They flapped about, still trying to get their hands on people near them.  The picture rotated around, revealing a news reporter rushing away from that particular scene.

“As you can see, things here in Times Square have rapidly descended out of control…”

That was quite an understatement.

“We apologize to our viewers for any vicious and violent images that they may see here, but we cannot edit or control the situation…”

That was obvious.

“We can only bring you the images that are occurring and will continue to stand by as the situation here in Times Squares continually develops…”

In the background, several police cruisers pulled up.  Before the officers had time to get out, infected rushed their vehicles.  Shots erupted from inside the cars, causing the female reporter to duck and run away from the scene.  One of the cop cars lurched forward, right into the intersection where the reporter was crossing.  The front bumper hit her, causing her to flutter sideways in the air and crash down a few feet in front of the car.

“…Shit, Mary are you okay?!...”  The camera man was rushing to her aid when he was taken down by infected, causing him to scream uncontrollably on live television.

“…Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh…”

Infected shredded into his chest, skin and tissue being swallowed by half a dozen hungry mouths.  The zombies were not even chewing the flesh before swallowing it, with the pieces being devoured by dead humans on national television.

“….AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH…”

Jesus Christ, someone cut the feed…

“…Hellllllllpppp…”

Mann himself even had to eventually turn away from the monitor.

“…AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH…”

“…Emergency Broadcast System is in effect…” finally floated across the screen.

The Major chuckled.  “Yeah, it’s developing all right, into a major cluster fuck.”

Colonel Mann could only manage a slight nod.

It had only been around five hours since the White House was notified of an outbreak, but the infection had already spread beyond the boundaries of Caffa and into the heart of New York City.  Now, the media outlets were displaying intense footage of infected people taking bites out of screaming people.  Colonel Mann turned to other monitors that were still showing acts of what was happening within the city.

It was total chaos, with streams of people rushing away from the violent, frantic hordes of infected.  The police set up several barriers, but those were quickly overrun by crowds of people trying to escape.  Mann observed cops trying to distinguish between someone who was infected and someone who was not.  Nevertheless, there were too many people rushing the police all at once.  Shots were being fired randomly into the mobs with this causing the scene to develop into utter and hopeless disorder.

From a law enforcement perspective, Mann knew that they had attempted containment from a block-by-block basis.  Police snipers were seen firing on the rooftops, along with New York City Police helicopters buzzing along the skyline.  They had done it by the book.  An Emergency Service Unit officer chewing on the arm of a civilian signaled that effort had failed miserably.  A young, infected man then looked straight at the screen and let out a loud shriek before charging toward it.

The word ‘zombie’ had not been used by the major television stations. Instead, ‘infected’, ‘contaminated’, and ‘crazy’ were tossed around.  Some television personality tweeted ‘rabid rabies’ and that had been picked up by other followers.  Yet, the information that the government was receiving, made it very apparent that these people on television were, in fact, dead.

Dead-dead.

Mann shook his head.  That was medically impossible.

Or, at least, it was supposed to be impossible.

“Whoever did this is going to get fucked up, big time.”  The Major turned to Mann, who just continued to stare at the television.

“Sir.”

Colonel Mann felt small droplets of sweat forming on his forehead.  This time he knew it was not from the humidity of the DC weather.  The Major was correct, of course.  Whoever or whatever was responsible for this outbreak was going to feel the might of the United States military.  While progressive policies had somewhat diminished the capacity of the world’s mightiest armed forces, they were still heads and shoulders above the nearest military of any other country.  If another nation was behind this attack, then they would face the full brunt of the United States.  An invasion or occupation was definitely on the table.  If an independent group was responsible, then that organization would cease to exist in a matter of a few hours after they were discovered for being behind this attack.  Still, what Mann was seeing on television was gradually causing a knot to twist away in his stomach.  He almost felt like going to his office and grabbing that drink.

Four years…

He thought back to that night in India once again.

…Taking control of the machine gun once the Sergeant manning it fell...

…Bullets flying down onto the Humvee as it tore down a narrow alley road, trying to escape the obvious ambush that was taking place…

…Mann yelling at the driver to go faster as heads kept popping up from the rooftops of the buildings and firing down on them.  And then, clutching his shoulder as warm blood spurted out, landing on his cheek…

“Colonel Mann, sir.”

He snapped out of his trance.

Mann turned to see a young Captain saluting him.

Mann returned it.  “Captain?”

The young Army Ranger stuck out his hand.  “Sir, Captain Anthony DeShones, 82nd Airborne.”

Colonel Mann returned the handshake.  “Ah, the military is already setting up base around the White House?”

“Yes, sir.”

The military was starting to make its presence known.  Mann had seen helicopters dropping off scores of military personnel around the capital.  These units were more than likely from the nearby Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and Fort Belvoir.  Several dozen Marines and Homeland Security forces had already pitched tents outside the Rose Garden.

The Army began cordoning the streets off around the White House with checkpoints, while the Secret Service Police barricaded all entrances to the White House grounds.  Meanwhile, Secret Service Agents were now following all governmental officials in numbers now, keeping a close eye on everyone who was coming into contact with them.  That, and along with fighter jets patrolling the skies above the White House signified that this great nation was at war.

Of course, it was an undeclared war, but why struggle with small details. Besides, who the hell was the United States at war with anyways?

Zombies?

“I was told that you would be here.”

Mann nodded.  “What can I do for you?”

Captain DeShones seemed to hesitate for a second while looking around the room.  “It’s about a reconnaissance mission, sir.”

“Yes?”  Mann was not surprised to hear that the Army was sending out small detachments, despite the fact that Congress had not yet given their ‘approval.’  The public would be surprised to learn that it happened more often than not.

Shit needed to get done.

And who would get the shit done?

Not whiney, little progressive politically correct drones.

“Can we talk somewhere, sir?”

Mann could not help but laugh.  “It’s fine, Captain.  Pretty sure no one gives a rat’s ass about your mission.  Don’t you see who’s coming into the room?”

DeShones glanced at the large group that had just arrived.  “Yes sir, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of Homeland Security.”

“Yep, the last thing on anyone’s mind in this room right now is a secret mission.”

“Um, yes sir.”  The Captain seemed embarrassed.

“No matter, Anthony, we’ll meet away from this shit.  I’ll meet you outside.”

“Yes sir.”  The Army Captain saluted and left the room.

The room was being replaced from mid-level stiffs to higher-level stiffs.  The problem was that these higher-level stiffs actually wielded some power, and the ability to implement their suggestions into action.

It was a truly disastrous scenario.

The Federal Chairman smugly pushed past Mann, not bothering to take a second glance at the person he was brushing up against.

The Colonel decided to greet him sarcastically.  “Looks like the stock market is taking a beating.”

The Fed turned around.  He saw who had made the comment and snickered loudly.  “Well, well Fitz, it’s certainly surprising to see you here.”  The egotistical man was scratching his beard.

Grew a beard to make up for the hair lost on top of his head…

Colonel Mann and the Fed Chairman had gone to the same school.  Mann remembered him as cold, arrogant and truly full of himself.

Come to think of it, he was perfect for his position.

“Yes, Mr. Chairman, you are correct.  Usually I don’t like to be in the same room as people like you…”

“Watch yourself Colonel, that rank isn’t high enough up the political ladder to get into a pissing match with me.”

Mann chuckled.  “You really think you’re that important, don’t you?”

“Now move aside, Colonel, we have important business to attend to.  I’m sure the President could use her babysitter at this moment.”  The Fed pushed away from Mann, chuckling at his little joke.

Unlikable and an ass who thought he controlled the world?

He definitely worked in government and held enormous sway over important monetary policies.

Yep, that was the United States government right there in a nutshell.

Chapter 10

 

Thursday July 12th 5:34 pm

Over eastern New York City

 

Colonel Mann spotted the smoke right before they reached the wave of infection.  Fires burned uncontrollably from the buildings, the dark clouds engulfing the group of five Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for a few seconds as they roared past.  The scene was reminiscent of the urban warfare that Mann had experienced before in India and Pakistan.  Sticking his head out further, he closed his eyes and let the wind whip him in the face.

No snipers to worry about.  No RPGs to look for.

Then another notion entered his mind.

At least not yet.

He shook his head.

Why did I agree to go on this mission?

Captain Anthony DeShones held orders from the Pentagon to secure a police station that had been barricaded by local law enforcement.  Normally, someone with the rank of a Captain would not be leading such a small detachment on a mission like this.  However, the situation was rapidly deteriorating around the New York area and the brass decided to start throwing all their chips in at once.  Captain DeShones had been overseeing drills involving the Black Hawks and his small detachment of Rangers outside the DC area when they were diverted to this particular task.  The Army wanted a stepping stone to hopefully cement their grasp in New York City and then quell the tide of bloodshed.  Yet, they also wanted to demonstrate that the CIA’s fiasco in Caffa earlier was due to that organization’s incompetence.

“Fuck those so-called analysts,” an Army Major had huffed to Captain DeShones.  When the younger man told this to Mann, the Colonel just shook his head. It appeared that the bureaucratic infighting between factions would be more dangerous to America than this infection sweeping across it.  Nonetheless, that also seemed to be the case whenever a crisis was occurring.  If a bureaucratic governmental organization could make their rivals look incompetent in their duties, then they surely would not waste a golden opportunity like that.

Apparently, people in the Army had a bone to pick with the CIA for whatever reason.  Mann wagered it was because the CIA had been the first ones to have been called on to meet this new threat.  The Army was just grumbling that an agency professing to work outside the borders of the United States had first dibs on the infected instead of them.

Well, we’re all on the same team now…

Captain DeShones wanted guidance from Mann on how to handle the civilians and the best manner of fortifying his location once he landed.  This was due to the familiarity and experience the Colonel had in these types of situations, especially when it came to city warfare. His urban covert missions in Pakistan and India were still being talked about and studied.  For that, Mann was grateful.

Sort of.

War is hell…

General William Sherman certainly declared it so many years earlier, and Mann knew that it was correct.  He had seen it for himself in Asia and South America over the years, serving in the Army and having the privilege of being in the Special Forces.

I’ve seen it one too many times.

Although the big wigs were not sure what they wanted done after the station was secure, they figured doing something was better than doing nothing.  Mann was not supposed to tag along, but used his rank to do so.  His bosses would not be happy, but then again, the Colonel had experience in urban warfare.

That would be his excuse.

“Sir, we are approaching…uh, um…the line of the infection.”  A voice snapped Mann out of his thoughts.

The pilot pointed toward the ground.

Mann glanced down.

Jesus Christ...

The scene reminded him of the food riots that took place in the major cities of Pakistan. Crowds of people were running in every direction, looking almost like tiny dots floating against a grayish background.  Of course, unlike in Pakistan, radical Islamic thugs were not preventing ordinary civilians from getting access to the food supply that was being airlifted in by the United Nations.  This time, an infectious outbreak was threatening not only the state of New York, but the whole East coast of the United States.

The problem, as Mann rapidly determined, was that they could not see who was infected and who was not from this high up in the air.  Mann almost wished that people were taking potshots at the helicopters.

At least that way we would know who the enemy is.

That would make it somewhat easier.

“Sir, suggest we make our way to the police station…”  The pilot’s voice rang through the headset.

“Uh, yes, yes.”  Mann held on as the helicopter slowly descended onto the chaotic streets of New York City.

The brass in charge of this mission had gotten in touch with a police station that was still operating.  They had assured the military that everything in their sector was under control and that the full scale riot was still in the downtown part of the city.  The group that Mann was leading would go ahead and try to control the 101st Precinct, which was located in east New York City.

The brass had given the go ahead to scout the location since the threat and security levels appeared to be ‘acceptable’ and chances of completing the mission were ‘reasonable.’

From the looks of it, the earlier reports were no longer correct.

Fuck, when have the reports the brass have provided ever been correct?

Not here.

Not ever.

The chopper slowly tumbled downward.  The landscape was becoming clearer, and it looked more frenzied than everyone back in DC and the Pentagon thought.

What the fuck did they know at the Pentagon anyways?

Some pencil pusher in the Pentagon had come up with this insane idea of trying to secure this location with only a platoon in the midst of thousands of infected people running wild in the middle of New York City.

Mann pulled out his pistol, while the door gunner next to him patted the M60 machine gun that he was manning.

“Don’t worry sir, any of those crazy things try to jump us, this baby will beat them back.”  The First Class Sergeant, a Johnny Lake laughed, his eyes gleaming toward the landscape.  It was almost as if he wished the infected were swarming toward the helicopter so he could mow them down.

You need a crazy fucker like Lake on a mission like this.

It certainly did not hurt.

The five other men in the helicopter readied their rifles, a couple checking their magazine rounds before inserting them back into the weapons.  One of the other soldiers was praying silently to whatever god he believed in.

The descent proved to be bumpy and slow as the group of helicopters worked to find space in the street.  Wrecked cars and other debris littered the area.  Black smoke rose up from a few buildings near the police station.  An explosion nearby unexpectedly caused the helicopter to shake violently.  A huge fireball rose over the vicinity of the neighborhood.

Everyone turned to the blast.

“Boys overhead said that the gas station over at the next block just blew sky high,” reported the copilot.

Mann knew that the conditions on the ground were more disorganized and tumultuous than what the head honchos in the Pentagon thought.  He could already see that the situation was rapidly spiraling out of control.

That was a certainty.

What was the bad news?

As the modern day cavalry touched the ground, Rangers hopped out and secured the area around the helicopter.  Colonel Mann jumped out, and waited for Captain DeShones to make his way over from one of the other helicopters.

The force of the blades lifting the choppers up caused Mann to kneel down.  He had forgotten just how powerful the helicopters were.  One by one, they dropped off their human cargo and elevated out of the area.  They would then circle from above, ready to scoop up the troops whenever they called for it.  The helicopters would not normally stay above the troops in a mission like this, yet the brass made an exception since they had no idea what to expect.

Hopefully the evacuation would be more orderly than the CIA fiasco at Caffa earlier in the day.  At least they now knew what they were dealing with.

Or did we?

Mann shook his head, trying to get his mind focused on the circumstances in front of him.

The scene on the ground was eerily similar to the riots and battles in the urban settings of Pakistan.  Hazy, dark smoke ascended from dozens of buildings nearby, along with a multi-fold of car accidents in the middle of intersections.  A larger, raging fracas was occurring some blocks over, with the sounds of a savage and brutal pitched battle taking place.  Screams were ostensibly in harmony with the echoing of gunfire.  If there was gunfire, then crying and shrieking was bound to be heard as well.  The only question was whether the clash had already happened in this location, or was moving back toward the platoon of Army Rangers.

Mann glanced at the settings around him more narrowly.  Water sprayed out from a cracked fire hydrant.  A telephone pole had been knocked over, crashing on top of a news van, which was long abandoned.  On a sidewalk, two wild dogs were tearing apart a corpse that was lying face down.  More bodies lay on the ground and street, not moving.

In less than a day, sections of New York City had succumbed to this outbreak.  In fact, it had only taken a few hours.  Colonel Mann feared what the end result would be if this infectious virus tumbled into next week.

Cautiously making his way through the street, the Colonel stopped when he spotted movement ahead of him.  Peering closer, he saw a man stooped over one of the bodies, appearing to dig through the pockets of the corpse.

Fuckin’ looter.

Colonel Mann frequently observed these acts in third world countries.  Bringing up his pistol, he took a deep breath.

“Stop what you are doing!”  Mann aimed his weapon at the looter.  The man ignored the request and continued to hunching over the body.

“Corporal, detain that man for looting.  By God, we are going to have law and order here!”

This was the United States of America, not some backward third world country.  He was going to put a stop to this lawlessness right here and now.

Or at least try and put an end to them.

“Yes sir.”  The nimble Corporal leaped over to the area and demanded the man put his hands up.  Instead of obeying the order, the figure glanced over to the Colonel and Corporal.

Both men took a small step back when the man’s indistinct pupils seemed to zero in on them.  The man in the business suit had not been looting, but eating away at the body lying in the street.

“Holy mother of Christ…”  The Corporal raised his weapon, but Mann intervened.

“No!  Wait!”

The infected man opened his mouth and let out a primeval cry.

The landscape in front of Mann seemed to slow down to a gradual halt as the figure in the business suit rose up and began charging the two soldiers.  The man’s shoulders pumped up and down hastily while his eyes never left the Colonel.  His mouth opened up to let out another scream, but black liquid came spewing out instead, spilling all over his suit.

Mann did not need to give the order to fire as the Corporal opened up on the figure. The rounds tore into the man, knocking him backwards with his parts of his head flying in the opposite direction.

Sergeant First Class Lake appeared by Mann, as did Captain DeShones.

“Sir, this area is not secure.”

Mann glanced at DeShones, who was squinting his eyes around the block rapidly.

“No, shit, Captain.  Doesn’t surprise me one bit.”

Captain DeShones shook his head.  “The brass thought this area was infection free.  We had a few of those crazies behind us sir.  The area is not secure and I recommend that we pull back…”

Captain DeShones was interrupted by machine gun fire coming from the back of the group.

The men turned to the sound of the fire, which quickly filtered out.

“Captain…we’ve got a few of these fuckers making some noise…”  Voices over the radio spoke up.

DeShones nodded as he listened.  “Keep me posted, Lieutenant.  Colonel Mann and I are proceeding to make contact with the civilian authorities.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Captain gave a nod to Mann.  “Sir, ready when you are…”

Mann sighed.  “Let’s try to figure out this cluster fuck.  Gentlemen!”  The small group made their way to the police substation, with gunshots becoming more frequent, piercing the hot July day.  A ghastly odor was stuck in the air, causing Mann’s eyes to water.  He knew that smell all too well.

It was death.

Even more pressing was the battle taking place a few blocks over appeared to be moving to the spot where Mann and his men were patrolling.

One of the Corporals approached the steps of the station, stepping over some boxes that were scattered all around.  Papers fluttered in the wind, and garbage was dispersed along the roads and sidewalk.  It looked like a hurricane had swept into the area.

A hurricane of infected, raving human cannibals…

Mann kept his head on a swivel, a tactic that had kept him alive more than once.  A sudden pounding sound caught his attention.  Glancing closer, he saw a figure darting through some brush.  The Corporal ahead of the group had spotted it also and was kneeling into a firing position toward the moving shape.  For a split second, Mann flashed back to streets of Karachi and the difficulty that his soldiers had telling the civilians apart from the enemy.

A loud animal like sound from the person quickly put that notion to rest.  The Corporal tore into the shape, knocking it to the ground.

“Make sure that fucker is down!”  Captain DeShones had also seen the video from Caffa and had been briefed on the Intel stating that infected went down more easily when shot in the head.

“Yes, sir!”  Two soldiers dashed to the target and pumped the head with a few more bullets to ensure the infected person did not rise again.

“Secure the front door!  I want a barricade here…eyes on the roof!”

“Yes, sir!”

“On it, sir!”

The Army Rangers quickly locked the down the front of the building, with four soldiers scaling a nearby fence to get to the top of the roof.

“Movement inside sir!”

All eyes and weapons turned to the front doors of the police substation.

“It’s a cop!”

“Hold fire!”

The cop stumbled to the front door and proceeded to unlock it.

“Inside now!”  Captain DeShones practically shoved the wide eyed officer aside as soldiers trudged past, making their way into the small structure.

“There’s none of them in here.”

Mann turned to the police officer.  “What’s that, son?”

The cop just slumped against the glass doors.  “There’s no…zombies… in here.  Just a few of us.”  He nodded toward the outlying rooms.  “Franklin!  Dobbs! The cavalry has arrived.”

Two heads peered out.

“Nice for the Army to show up…finally.”  One of the officers displayed his obvious displeasure before disappearing back into the room.  The other cop made his way to where the small group had gathered.  Checking his shotgun, he turned to the slumped cop.

“Well, looks like my job here is done.”

The cop on the ground flashed an angry expression. “Damn it Dobbs, you cannot leave your post…”

Dobbs interrupted him.  “I’m goin’ to my family man. They’re holed up and I’m goin’ to them and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Damn it Dobbs…”

“Let him go.”  Mann intervened, stepping aside so Dobbs could leave.  “He’s obviously done his job here admirably and just wants to go to his loved ones.”

Dobbs looked at the Colonel.  “Thank you, sir.  I wish I could stay…”

Mann shook his head.  “We understand, son. Good luck.”

The officer gave a quick wave and darted outside.

Captain DeShones leaned in. “Sir, with all due respect, we need all the…”

“I know, Captain, but I can’t have men who are focused elsewhere.”

DeShones shook his head.  “I don’t know, sir.”

Captain DeShones was correct and Mann knew it.  He should not have let the man just walk away.

Fuck it.

When you were on the ground, everything was different.  If that was the case in the dirt streets of a third world country, then why would they be different in America?

It would not be.  The bottom line was that Mann really did not want to deal with little shit at this moment.  He needed to focus his attention of the mission and the men on the ground, and not worry about some police officer who was leaving to go back to his family.  In the end, he needed to be concerned about the men under his command.

Mann kneeled down to the cop on the ground.  “What’s your name?”

The cop sighed.  “Harris.”

“You’ve done a fine job of securing this station.”

Harris just gradually bobbed his head up and down.

“What exactly happened?”

Harris continued staring straight ahead.  It was apparent that the man had just been through a battle of life and death.  Blood was smeared on windows, with spent casings littering the floor.  Mann then noticed a police officer lying behind a desk, face down and motionless.  Glancing over to the main doors, he saw three or four bodies sprawled out in front of the station.  The Colonel presumed they were infected, cut down by cops still left in the police building.  A few of the windows were damaged from bullets smashing into them.  In fact, blood was still trickling down the cracked glass, making it certain the conflict had taken place not that long ago.

Mann coughed quietly.

It seemed to snap the cop out of his trance.

“Um, we got orders to keep this substation locked down.  Our Sergeant said we were going to use this as a launching point to counter this…perceived riot.”

“Wait, your commanders said this was a riot?”

“Yep.  Nothin’ but a civil unrest situation.”  Harris suddenly laughed.  “It was civil unrest alright.”  The officer sniffed.  Everyone in the station was intently listening to his story.

A scream rose up outside, causing several of the men to jump.

Captain DeShones motioned for a couple of the Rangers to check the surroundings.

“Well, we get a group of us here and wait for our orders.  For an hour nothing.  We just fucking sat here.”

Mann let out a short laugh.  “Hurry up and wait…”

“Yep.  Then, we see cars zooming past, along with some people running frantically.  We go outside to check it out.  At first, it was just people trying to get away…but, then…”  The cop trailed off.

“Sir, roof reports some stragglers approaching us.  They want to know what you want us to do.”  Captain DeShones quietly leaned in toward Mann.

The last thing they needed was civilians around.

Civilians made things more difficult and usually just got in the way.  If the circumstances were different, then Mann would try and evacuate them from this area.

“If they make contact with us, then bring them in.”

DeShones nodded as he relayed the order back to the men on the roof.

“Reinforce the roof, Captain.  We want eyes everywhere, along with the firepower that could protect us against any threats.”

“Yes sir.”  DeShones stormed back to the small detachment to carry out Mann’s order.

“And then what happened?”

Harris rubbed his temples.  “There were these things…running so fucking fast…they just wouldn’t go down when we shot them…”

Mann then noticed the wound on his arm.  “How’d you get that?”

The cop looked down at his arm.  “Oh, one of those things bit me…”

Mann pulled back.  The intelligence briefing given to him and Captain DeShones mentioned the possibility of becoming infected by being bitten with someone who had the disease or contagion.

This man could be infected…

“And so you retreated back to the substation?”

Harris nodded.  “We were overwhelmed by them.  They just tore into us.  Guys were shooting every which way…I…I shot someone who I thought was one of those things…”

“It’s fine officer.  You did your job.”  Mann patted him on the shoulder.  Turning his head, he motioned for Captain DeShones to come over.

“This man could possibly be infected.  I want him to be quarantined.”

DeShones nodded.  “Yes sir.”  He called over a few soldiers to place the man inside one of the rooms.

Mann thought back to the situation in front of him.  As usual, it was more confusing than the brass realized.

“Sir?”

Mann focused back to Captain DeShones.  “Yes?”

The Ranger leaned in real close to the Colonel.  “Sir, we are certain that this virus or whatever it is, is not airborne, correct?”

Mann’s chest tightened up.  They had landed without proper gear for a bug that was spread throughout the air.

Too late now…

Colonel Mann managed a smile.  “Of course not Captain.  We all saw the CDC’s reports that this was being spread by direct contact with someone that was already infected.”

“Of course, sir.  Just worrying out loud.”

“No problem.  It’s good that you are…”

Shooting erupted from the roof suddenly.

“Who’s opening fire?!”  Colonel Mann swung his head around.

“Shit, sir, roof reports infected swarming the area!”  Sergeant Lake popped his head in from one of the rooms.

Colonel Mann faced toward the window doors.  He spotted a few infected stragglers, but no immediate threat to his force of thirty or so men.

“There’s only a few…”  Mann was interrupted by more firing coming from the roof

Damn it.

Now all these infected will be rushing toward their building because of the sound of gunfire.  Mann jogged to the staircase and swiftly climbed them to the top of the roof.

“Who’s opening fire?!”  Mann spun to Lake, who was using binoculars.

“Damn it, Lake…”  He was interrupted by the Sergeant grimly turning to him and pointing out to the street.

For the first time, Mann became aware of the inhuman noises emulating from the ground level.  Peering over the shoulder of Lake, he now saw what his men were shooting at.  Below, hundreds of those things rushed the police station.  It appeared that the civilian stragglers had unintentionally led a massive infected horde to Mann’s detachment.

Holy fuck.

His men started opening fire, a hail of bullets smashing into the group.  Yet, while a few would fall, their ranks were quickly taken by others.

Mann quickly assessed the situation in front of him and realized that he did not have the manpower or resources to fight them off.

“Captain DeShones!”  Mann yelled down to the bottom of the stairs.

“Sir?” came the Captain’s response.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here!”

“Yes, sir!”

Mann turned back to the scene in front of him.  The horde had seemingly doubled in number.  What was just an abandoned New York block minutes ago was now swarming with hundreds of zombies.

Bullets ripped into them.  Nonetheless, they kept appearing, continuing to rush the building.  Mann climbed back down the stairs, where Captain DeShones finished his radio call.

“Sir, the helicopters are on their way…”  He was cut off mid sentence by the pounding of dozens of fists on the cracked glass.

“Shit, if they break through that…”  A Corporal nearby did not need to say more, as the breaking of glass finished his sentence for him.  For a moment, Mann and the small group of Army Rangers watched in stunned silence as dozens and dozens of fists punched and pounded at the windows.  One of the infected vomited the black liquid splattering all across the glass.

A huge crack in the nearest windowpane convinced Colonel Mann it was now the time to flee.  The glass slowly splintered down, nearly cutting the window in half.

“Captain DeShones, get everybody upstairs and ready to fly out of here.”

“Yes sir.  Everyone, pack up and move to the roof!”

Men dashed to the staircase, eager to get out of view from the hungry eyes of former humans.

“Sir, the cop won’t come with us.”  A soldier appeared next to Mann.

“Great.”  The Colonel made his to the room where the cop was sitting down. Hunching over, Mann quietly spoke to the man.  “What’s wrong?”

The cop grunted.  “I’m not an idiot.”

“What do you mean?”

He held up his wounded arm.  “Pretty sure I’m infected.”

Mann just nodded.  “That’s our best guess.  We can take you in…maybe find a vaccine…”

The cop waved him off.  “You better get out of here…”  He held up his gun.  “Maybe I’ll take a few of them out before…I don’t want to be one of those things…”  Glancing up, Mann saw tears running down his face.

“I understand…”

Cracking of glass echoed throughout the building.

“You better get out of here…”  The cop inserted a fresh magazine into his weapon.

Mann turned toward the staircase, before quickly turning around.  “What’s your full name?”

The cop weakly lifted his head up.  “Chris Harris.”

Mann gave him a quick nod before rushing to the stairs.  He whirled around once more to the front doors.  The mass of infected were ogling him as they continued hammering the glass windows and shrieking violently.  Eyeing the glass closer, Mann saw that it was about to give way.

He rushed up to the roof where the helicopters were making their way over one by one.

“Colonel, you’re next!”  Captain DeShones shouted.

Mann shook his head.  “Not until everyone is gone.”

He would not leave until all of the men were picked up.  It was a motto that his former boss and mentor had taught him.  Even though Gregory Hal was now retired and in his eighties, Mann had no doubt the Lieutenant Colonel would still kick his ass if he left men under his command on the field.

The evacuation was going smoothly with only two pick-ups left when shots were heard in the building from downstairs.

“Shit, the fuckers probably broke through.” Captain DeShones leaned over.  “Holy fuck, they’re coming!”

The final helicopter settled over to the roof, hovering a few feet above it.  The last of the Army Rangers hopped aboard.

“Sir, time to go!”  DeShones jumped in.  Mann took one last look down the staircase. An infected spotted him and let out a scream.  Mann took careful aim and fired at its head. He missed, striking it in the shoulder.  That seemed to piss it off and it started climbing the stairs, being followed by a group of his fellow human cannibals.  Colonel Mann fired more rounds into the mass of infected before diving into the copter.

The heavy metal beast took off, with the dead and rotting hands of the infected reaching and grabbing out in desperation of their prey.  Mann looked down as the roof was engulfed by packs and packs of the dead humans.  He leaned down and fired a few remaining shots at the group.  As the helicopter flew away, he was reminded of the evacuation of Saigon during the last remnants of the Vietnam War.  The image of the hordes of people trying to get off the roof of the United States Embassy to escape the North Vietnamese Army was iconic.

Colonel Mann did not know it at the time, but a survivor a few blocks over had snapped some pictures.  One of them would find itself splashed on the front pages and go viral over the Internet, with the picture of Colonel Mann leaning out and firing his weapon at the horde of infected trying to grab him as the first and most iconic image of the beginning of the outbreak.

Chapter 11

 

Friday, July 13th, 12:02am

Tacoma, Washington

 

Roland Smith had just gotten off work from his job as a dishwasher.  It had been another long, uneventful day.  Actually, never ending would describe it best.  A large party of around twenty people stayed way past closing time.  Since they knew the owner, no one at the restaurant was eager to kick them out.

Stepping into his silver 1994 Toyota Camry, he let out a long sigh of relief.  He needed to find a better paying job.  Twelve dollars an hour was not cutting it.  Roland groaned as he settled into the seat.  The aroma of Italian food immediately engulfed the inside of his car.  Sweat and grease were mixed together all over his body.  His black shirt, a requirement at Toni’s Italian Restaurant, was drenched in water and sweat, with a blend of remnants that were once full meals.  Now, it seemed like the entire menu was jumbled all over his shirt and jeans.

He turned the ignition, put the car into gear and headed off to his regular stop after work: Jack in the Box.  Although he knew that it was just fast food, it did its job and filled him up.  Besides, after working an eight and a half hour shift, he did not care what he ate as long as it was not noodles with marinara sauce.

Again.  

As he drove, Roland thought about how he became a nineteen year old dishwasher.  Two years ago, he and those around him would have said he that by this time, he would be the starting safety for the University of Washington Huskies football team.  At six-foot two, he was a monster out on the football field and by his junior year, the colleges came calling for his services.  Although he was tempted by Southern Cal, he gave his commitment to the Washington Huskies right before his senior year.  

Things were on the upward for Roland.  His life was seemingly perfect.  Then, on a Saturday morning, hung-over from partying after a victory, he got the dreaded phone call.  His father, a specialist in the military, had been killed the day before by some local insurgents in Afghanistan.  Roland was obviously devastated by the news.  His father and he were especially close, with the elder Smith coaching Roland on his football skills whenever he was back in town.

“You gotta have the heart. You have the physical tools. Now get your head on straight…”

When two military officers and a Chaplain showed up on the door steps of Roland’s place, it forever knocked him into a downward spiral.  As a result, Roland got pissed off at everyone.  The United States military; for meddling in everyone’s business and having his father in some donkey pissed cave in a shitty third world country, when he should have been back at home with his family.  The University of Washington; whose only concern was that Roland keep his commitment to play football for them  The college message boards, blogs, and local media trying to convince Roland that the best way to keep his father’s memory alive was to play football, for them of course.  His friends, who did not understand what he was going through and were more concerned with getting laid and drunk every weekend.           

School did not matter anymore.  

He slowly tumbled away from his studies and football.  He skipped classes and practice.  When his coach tried to intervene, Roland socked him in the face.  Yet, that did not get him kicked off the football team.  Getting caught snorting cocaine, twice, did that.  

No longer able to play football, Roland just dropped out of school.  His father’s side of the family was in Ohio and he thought about trying to move out there and get his life together.  However, he had never really met any of them.  And when they heard about his two arrests; one for dealing drugs to an undercover officer and the other for trying to steal a car from a local university parking lot, they told him to get his life straightened out first.  And besides not being able to get a decent job because of his record, his friends stopped hanging out with him.  His mother finally gave up after he emptied her bank account for the fifth or sixth time in order to get his drug fix.  

Roland hit rock bottom with no one to turn to for help or guidance.  

Reality really hit home when Roland witnessed the shooting of a local crack dealer and was almost killed himself.  He just bought a couple of rocks from the man when a black Escalade slowly pulled up beside them.  Roland never saw the guns open fire.  He only watched as the dealer’s head was violently blown off.  His arm was grazed as he dove into a pile of bushes.  

The police and paramedics called out to the scene never realized that Roland was right behind the crime scene.  He crawled over a fence, and had taken refuge in a small shed.  Spending the night in it, with his arm bleeding made Roland realize that he had to get his life changed around.  

He stopped doing drugs after a painful week of withdrawals and got the dishwashing job mainly because the owner remembered his father and him coming in to eat.  He then enrolled in the local community college and had finished his first two quarters on honor roll.  

Renting a house from a former teacher who had been good friends with his dad, his brother Riley, a recent college graduate, had joined him in being his roommate.  Roland knew his dad would be proud of him and that thought is what kept him going down this path.  

Roland almost did not even see the blue lights flashing in the distance because of being lost in thought.  Approaching the illumination, he saw two Tacoma police department patrol cars that were both pulled off on the side on the road.  One of the patrol cars had actually gone onto the sidewalk and crashed into a fire hydrant.  The lights were flashing instantaneously, making the scene extremely bright and well-lit.  All three of the officers were struggling to place handcuffs on a very large man, who appeared to have blood spattered all over him.  

Roland slowed almost to a stop watching the encounter.  Suddenly, one of officers fell backwards, throwing the scuffle into an even worse scenario for the group of cops.  The giant man grabbed one of the officer’s arms that were around his waist and bit down with great force.  The officer screamed in pain as he struggled to tear his arm away.  A second officer pulled out a yellow taser gun and fired directly into the man’s chest.  Having been tasered appeared to have no effect because the man continued to tear down into the officer, ripping into his arm with his teeth.  

The officer who had fallen backwards regained his footing and pulled out his baton.  He started whacking the giant man in the torso with it.  The whacking to the stomach worked.  The man’s attention turned to his baton-wielding attacker.  He rushed the officer only to swiftly land face first in the ground as the officer spun him around with a text-book police move.  All three officers then jumped onto his back and eventually, were able to put the handcuffs on the man.  As the officers tried lifting him up off the ground, the man suddenly vomited a chunky, black liquid all over them.

Sick…

Still getting over what he had just seen, Roland jumped in his seat as a car horn honked furiously behind him.  He continued to drive forward and saw even more police cars zooming by him as he neared his destination.  Seeing the Jack in the Box logo, he was now not nearly as hungry as he was two minutes earlier.  The images of the black liquid rolling down the sides of the man’s jaw were still fresh in his mind.

Nonetheless, he went through the drive thru, getting his usual meal.  The night was pieced by the sounds of various sirens echoing throughout the city.  Roland turned up the volume of his radio, the clatter masking the noise that was slicing the hot and humid night.

“…authorities have not confirmed that this rioting…”

Roland changed the station, trying to find some music.

“…we are awaiting a statement from the Governor to address what exactly is happening…”

Roland flipped the channel yet again, finally finding some music to help drown out the problems that were taking place.

Whatever is going on isn’t my problem.

He heard about the riots taking place in New York City, but dismissed it as big city problems.  He had also seen Federal officials taking questions from reporters, but did not pay attention to what the press conferences were about.  Talk among his co-workers at the restaurant mentioned a possible viral epidemic, but again Roland did not join their discussions.  Besides, when washing dishes, one did not exactly get the opportunity to sit down and watch television.

Arriving home fifteen minutes later, he pulled into his driveway and turned off his car.   Wiping the sweat dripping off from his forehead, thanks to the seventy degree July weather, he stepped out of the car and shut the door.  He looked at his place and started walking toward the dark, quiet house that he and his brother had rented around six months back.  It was a decent one story structure located in the town of Ruston, surrounded on three sides by the busy city of Tacoma.  

Walking up the steps, Roland heard a car round the corner and saw a Ruston police officer whip past him in their distinctive blue patrol cars.  The officer was obviously responding to a call as he sped past the house with his lights flashing.  

Unlocking his house, he stepped in.  Inside was quiet, except for the occasional snore coming from his brother’s room.  Flipping on his lights, he turned on the television to the local stations to see if there was any news on what was happening.  Roland thought that perhaps a terrorist attack had occurred or maybe a police shooting somewhere.

Not like anything else better is on right now, he thought to himself.  

He flipped to one of the local news channel.

"…Reports are still not confirmed as to the nature of the attacks.  Our sources tell us that the Pentagon is still not ruling out a terrorist attack, but nothing is confirmed quite yet.  Let’s go to our man at the scene of some rioting happening in downtown Bellevue.  Can you hear us, Geoff?"

Geoff was a young, balding man, whose black hair was slicked sideways to cover up that fact.  He had a worried look plastered on his face as he kept glancing from side to side all around him.  Roland could not help but laugh at the pink tie that he was wearing.

"Yes, I can hear you, Laurie and Jeff.  The situation is rapidly deteriorating here in Bellevue."  He pointed farther down the street where he and his cameraman had positioned themselves.  The camera panned out wider, revealing the chaos taking place on the streets in Bellevue.  A truck in the middle of the intersection was on fire.  Some bodies lay in the street, not moving.  The camera focused on a collection of people in front of a Starbucks.  One man then threw a brick into a store window.  The brick shattered the glass, sending the cheering man and a group of looters into the building.  Geoff moved to cut off one of the looters.

"Sir, hey sir.  Why are you…?”

The looter, a fat white man, shoved the camera away.  "Get that shit out of my face motherfucker."

Roland laughed to himself.

"We apologize to our listeners if they heard that…"

Roland laughed again.  

What a dumbass.  

Going up to a large group of looters and confronting them.

He reached into the fast food bag and grabbed some fries.  He stuffed them into his mouth, enjoying their greasy taste.  Geoff tried to interview a few more looters without success.  Roland opened the wrapping on his bacon cheeseburger and bit into it.  He sat chewing the meal, lost in his own thoughts.  His brother’s dog, a German shepherd named Dubya, had come and sat by him quietly, hoping for some scraps.

Sudden yelling and screaming on the television caught his attention.  Streams of people were running past the camera.  Geoff attempted to stop some of them for an interview.  After a few pushed past the reporter, a young woman stopped.

"What’s going on?" Geoff asked, shoving the microphone in her face.

The attractive woman was crying.  Wiping away some of her mascara, she spoke in a stuttering matter.  "These things jumped my boyfriend…they tore him…they tore him apart…"

Roland’s attention perked up.

Gunshots were then heard in the background.  The woman and Geoff visibly flinched at that blasts.  The camera focused further down the street, behind the two people.  

Some police officers were seen slowly backing up.  A couple of the cops were dressed in riot gear.  One stopped and fired what looked to be a tear gas canister.  The line of officers picked up the pace, with some of them running as they retreated.

Geoff moved towards the line of dark blue, the cameraman following behind.

"Officers, officers, can you explain to us what is…"

One of cops turned, an angry expression flashing across his face.  He grunted and pushed Geoff away.  Another police officer yelled something, pointing in the direction from which they were retreating, but Roland was unable to hear what he said.  A third cop near the camera raised his shotgun and fired, the deafening blast causing Geoff to cover his ears.  

"What are you firing at…?”  Geoff did not finish his sentence as dark figures ascended onto the line.  A cop was tackled to the ground by one of them.  The camera zoomed in on the scuffle.  A woman tried to bite down on the cop.  He kept her at bay with his forearm.  Reaching to his side with his other arm, he grabbed his can of pepper spray.  Bringing it directly in front of her face, he fired it straight into her eyes.  The young woman was not affected.  She continued to try and bite down on the officer.  He clearly struggled to keep her away, as he sprayed her again.

Shit, Roland thought.  He had seen dozens of people sprayed in the face on such sites as YouTube and Live leak and they always reacted to it.  

She must be really high on drugs.

Meanwhile on television, a cop in riot gear came over to scene and raised his shotgun.  With the butt of it, he smashed the side of the woman’s face.  Roland was unable to see the rest of the fight as the camera widened out.  Scores of people were attacking the police line.  One cop fired his handgun at three people charging him.  The shots seemed to have no effect and the cop was quickly tackled by the three figures.  Screams rose from the group.  Another person jumped on the back of a police officer and seemed to bite into his head.  Geoff seemed to sense that the events unfolding around him were clearly out of control.  He started to run away, the cameraman trailing him.

"The cops…are being…attacked by dozens of…people," he huffed out.  The camera shook as it tried to keep on the reporter.  "We are still…not…aware of…exactly…Joey behind…"

The camera view suddenly crashed to the ground.  Spilling on its side, the view revealed Joey being attacked by two dark figures.  Joey screamed as one of them ripped into his neck.  Geoff came into the picture, swinging his microphone at the people before he was taken down by a third figure.  Both men were screaming as the view was cut off.  Now, a nervous looking newscaster tried to compose herself on screen.

"We will be back after these messages."

A commercial about Subway sandwiches came on next, with groups of people singing about the delicious five dollar foot longs.  Roland put the half-finished bacon cheeseburger back down.  He had suddenly lost his appetite.  All he could do right now was sit in a trance, at least until the broadcast came back on.

Chapter 12

 

Friday, July 13th, 5:23am

Abaco Islands, Northern Bahamas

 

"Aw, yes Mr. Van Percy, I am sure you will find the fossils and rocks to the best of your liking," Mal Bore chuckled as he spoke into the phone.  As he listened to the Dutch billionaire babble on, he sampled the treats brought to him by one of the waiters.

"Yes sir.  You have my account number.  As soon as you inspect those items personally, just deposit the rest of the money into that account.  Yes, sir."

Bore snapped his fingers in the air.

The waiter, who had been waiting patiently on the side, came hustling to the Dutchman.  The black man, wearing a white shirt and dressed in dark pants, came to where Bore was lying down.  He brought up the tray he had been holding and allowed the resting ex-NASA employee to put the treats he had tasted back on the tray.

Bore put the phone on his shoulder.  "Please hurry with the fucking lobsters.  Also, some wine, the finest wine you have."  He waved his hand in the air to motion the waiter to run along with the order.  The waiter bowed his head in silence and took a few steps back, still facing Bore.  Then he turned and dashed into the trees, following a worn path that led back toward the resort.

Bore grinned.  

Damn right he better hurry.  

He was not paying an outrageous amount of money for cold, disgusting food or beverages.  Not with the money and clout he had recently gained.  Bringing the phone back up to his ears, the Van Percy character was still rambling on.

"Mr. Van Percy, I…yes…I have some important business to attend to.  Yes, I will be in contact with you.  Yes, sir.  Ha, don’t forget about the rest of my money."  Hanging up, he tossed the cell phone to his bodyguard.  A big, burly New Zealander, the guard caught the phone and put it onto his pocket.  Wearing a blue silk shirt and tan khaki pants, the guard made sure that the handgun tucked in the front of his pants was visible.  His peering eyes were watching everything around the beach area.  The second guard, a former Canadian special forces soldier, paced back and forth to the side of the resting Dutchman.  He too made sure that everyone saw the silver chrome pistol that was placed in a holster hanging under his left armpit.  The two men had been hired just a few hours ago by Bore.  They were recommended by the resort manager after he had gotten a nice check from the former NASA official.

"Ahhhhh, yes."  Bore stretched his arms over his head.  After tanning all morning, he had fallen asleep with the sun beating down on his body.  He had removed his shirt, stripping down to just some swim trunks.

Arriving yesterday, Bore wasted no time, sending samples of his fossils and rocks to various buyers around the world.  Seattle and Los Angeles in the United States.  Paris and Rome were just a few of the international spots around the world.  The black market quickly buzzed at the potential earnings of having some Mars fossils and rocks within one’s clutch.  While Bore thought paying millions of dollars for some red rocks was outrageous, he would not complain.  After all, if someone could earn some money from selling some old paintings, he saw no reason why he should not get his share from selling a few fossils and rocks.

Bore suddenly laughed.

Just not any ordinary rocks, but fucking Mars rocks.  

That is how the powerful Mr. Hinton phrased it.  Well, he would see just how much the rich were willing to shelve out to satisfy their egos for these particular items.  Now though was the time to relax.  The beach he was occupying was not busy, due to it being early in the morning.  Yet, that did not mean that someone could not get any service.  The elites, who had the money and the means, always had customer service available to them no matter the time of day.   And now, Mal Bore was considered one of those elites.  

"That guy needs to hurry up with the wine," he muttered to himself.  He had experienced a small fever since he waking up, but thought it was just the heat.  Some small cramps on his side had been bothering him, but he brushed it aside as nerves.  After all, he had just ripped off one of the most powerful men on the black market.  

Sweat started to run down his face.  Wiping it away, he sat up.   "Hey, Lockheed," he called to the nearest guard.

The huge New Zealander, previously a rugby player, stepped forward.

Bore dabbed more beads of sweat away.  "Will you go fetch some more water?"

The man nodded and started to walk back toward the path, following the lighted torches that helped people see the pathway.

"And tell that damn waiter to hurry up with my wine and lobster!" he exclaimed.  

Bore clutched his side.  The cramps seemed to be getting worse.

Chapter 13

 

Friday, July 13th, 2:03am

Ruston, Washington

 

Roland woke up to the illumination of the television.  He had dozed off and left the television on.

What time is it?  

His feet were still propped up on the arm of his lazy boy recliner.  Lifting himself up, he groggily scanned around for his phone.  Spotting it, he checked for the time.

Two o’clock in the fucking morning.  

Rubbing his eyes, he stretched his arms up over his head.  He had gotten maybe an hour and a half hour of sleep at the most.  His half eaten burger was on his lap, the grease stained wrapper seeping onto his jeans.  He sleepily tossed it into the fireplace and turned his attention back to the television.

The news channel was still on.  

Grabbing the remote, he turned up the volume.

A reporter and her camera crew were filming on top of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Tacoma.  The reporter was a very good looking woman he had watched numerous times before on the tube.  Today, she appeared flustered and sweat was evident, smeared all over her pretty face.  Her makeup was smudged as well, looking like she had just got done running several miles.

What the hell was going on?

Roland leaned forward in his chair.  This appeared to be worse than he first imagined.

“We are on top of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Tacoma.  Things have taken a turn for the worse during the last few hours.  As you can see, fires are burning and looters are running rampant.”

The camera panned all around the city and got a shot of the grounds directly below the massive forty-three story building.  Beneath the reporters, flashing lights from a police car lit up the area, but no officer was near it.  Instead, four youths were stealing everything they could from the cop car.  After ransacking it, they attempted to tip it over.  The four boys were clearly having trouble, as they strained to attempt and push the vehicle on its side.  

The camera zoomed away from the struggling boys and focused in on the street in front of the University of Washington-Tacoma campus.  A crowd of looters were breaking into the various chain stores that were located near the college campus.  Sporadic gunfire rang out.  Fire truck engines sounded across the downtown area.  The giant vehicles raced past the looters, some of whom began throwing objects at the emergency vehicles.  Police cars zoomed past, swerving to avoid the crowds of people that were massed downtown.  It looked like a battle was taking place down there.

“This is absolutely…insane,” the reporter continued, “For those of you just tuning in, we are reporting live from downtown Tacoma.  According to local authorities, some people are running around attacking other people and although they are unconfirmed reports, we do have reports that they are biting the people that they are attacking.  Meanwhile, looters have been shooting at emergency crews for the past two or three hours.  It is a war zone down here.  We were on ground level, but we were shot at numerous times, so we had to move to a safer area.  We have received reports that this riot has really picked up in the past two hours and is only getting worse.”

Roland stood in his living room with his mouth wide open, not believing this kind of rioting was happening in America.  Oh sure, it had materialized on a smaller scale before in the United States.   He remembered the anti-war rallies a few years back protesting the action in the Middle East.  Yet, things got really heated when American troops were put on the ground in Asia, or more specifically, Pakistan.  There were also the Occupy demonstrations some time ago that got somewhat aggressive, with anarchist smashing and looting banks along with other corporate interests.  And of course, there were the race riots years ago, that saw uprisings in Detroit, Memphis and Los Angeles that resulted in hundreds of deaths and millions of dollars in destroyed property.

“We’ll keep you updated on this ongoing…situation.”

Even the reporter was not sure how to describe the circumstances that were taking place.

“Back to you guys in the studio.”  The scene flipped back to two exhausted looking newscasters.

The male cleared his throat before continuing.  “We’re going live now to an emergency meeting called for by the Governor’s office…”

Roland quickly lost interest in seeing the state government acting like they were actually doing anything.  He reached for the remote and was going to change the channel right before the scene flipped over to a press conference.

A cop slamming down a man’s head on a desk in front of the cameras greeted Roland.

Holy shit.

“I said to stop…”  The cop handcuffed the man as cameras flashed in front of the two men.

“Ahhhh, you’re hurting me…”  The man squirmed rashly about, trying to lift his head.  The cop responded by slamming it back down on the table.

“Stop moving.”

Three more officers joined the scene and together, they lifted the man up and out of view from the cameras.

An embarrassed, plump looking man took the stage amid the shouting and yelling from the reporters.

“Calm down…calm down.”  The man waved his hands in front of him, trying to get the press to settle down.

“What’s going on?”

“Where’s the Governor?”

“Has a state of emergency…”

The man, now identified as Lieutenant Governor Philip Langdon, took to trying to holler across the crowd of reporters.

“May I please have a moment?”

It seemed to work, as the noise calmed down.

Lt. Governor Langdon cleared his throat before speaking.  “Now, I am sure you are all aware of the…situation taking place tonight in Washington State and throughout the country.”

Roland shook his head.

Situation again.  Shit, no one really knows what’s happening.

Langdon continued.  “Therefore, after consulting with local, state, and federal law enforcement, we have chosen to take this, what we believe, is a necessary step…”

“What’s going on?!”

“Where’s Governor Tristine?”

Langdon brought his hands up, as if trying to deflect the questions.

“First off, since we do not know what exactly…is occurring, we have declared a state emergency and there is going to be a curfew enforced, which Washington State Patrol Chief Tompkins will explain in a few minutes…”  The Lt. Governor trailed off and gestured toward a man dressed in a light blue police uniform, who gave a short nod.

Another cry of questions drowned out Lt. Governor Langdon.  The man ran his hands through his thinning hair, clearly at a loss as what to do.

“I can’t…I can’t adequately explain the circumstances if you won’t let me…”

The reporters refused to let up.

“Is it true that these people can best be described as ‘the living dead’?”

“What about the Seattle Mariners games this weekend, does this mean they’re canceled?”

“Have you consulted the surrounding states in making your decisions?”

The questions pelted the speaker Langdon, who continued doing his best in shielding himself.

“Please, please, you will have all the answers in…the future…”

“Where’s the Governor?”

“Yeah, this seems kind of important…”

“The Governor is at a secure location, meeting with state and federal officials in an attempt to combat and defeat this threat.  Next question.”

Roland could sense the bullshit drifting from his television set.  Langdon, who had been baffled by every other question, appeared to be a little too coached for the answer he gave.  It was a typical reply a politician would make when being confronted with a question that they knew they could not answer truthfully.  Apparently, the powers that be had instructed the Lieutenant Governor to deflect any questions surrounding Governor Amy Tristine.  Wherever the governor was, Roland guessed she was not meeting with who Langdon said she was with.

A noise screeched from outside.  Going to the window, he looked out.  The side street running parallel to his house did not have any street lights, making it difficult to spot something or someone.  His eyes sluggishly adjusted to the dark, as Roland glanced up and down the road.  After a moment, nothing emerged from the sound he had heard.

Roland lived in quiet, little neighborhood.  He did not interact with most of his neighbors.  In this way, it was a typical neighborhood in America, a few waves and an occasional ‘Hello’ was the only form of communication that was displayed between the residents.  Darkness still covered the tiny town of Ruston.  With the events taking place seemingly so far away, Roland sighed and hoped they would pass over quickly.

Chapter 14

 

Friday, July 13th, 5:36am

Abaco Islands, Northern Bahamas

 

The waiter balanced the meal on his tray as he strolled down the worn out path, heading back toward the beach.  

Stupid, white man, he thought.  Snapping his fingers at him and ordering him all around, almost like he was a dog or worse.  

This man better give a good tip, the waiter decided or he would try and remember to avoid this particular customer.  Especially with it being in the early morning, and the fact that the waiter would miss the breakfast and lunch session because he would be catching up on his sleep.  That was money out of his own pocket, just so he could stay up and serve only one customer.

Coming out from the trees and onto the beach, he was still grumbling when he noticed the rich man was not lying down on the hammock anymore.  Instead, he was kneeling right beside it.  The white guard with the shiny shoulder pistol was sprawled out on the sand, his back on the ground.  The waiter noted that the white sand was stained dark red.  The candles lit near the hammock were the only light shining by the area, but the waiter observed that the sand was definitely a darker color than usual.  Stepping closer, the man noticed the guard’s face had been ripped apart.  The rich man was stuffing the bloody skin of the hired security man into his mouth.  His fingers raked the side of the guards face as he tore into the flesh.

"Ahhhhhh," the waiter dropped the tray, spilling the meal all over the ground.  As the food hit the white sand, the rich man snapped his head toward the noise.  The wealthy thief’s face was situated in darkness, not allowing the waiter to see the hazy eyes that were intently looking right at him.  Instead, it was a low growl emerging from the Dutch national that caused the waiter to step back.  The rich man rose up slowly, his shoulders pumping up and down from the excitement of his latest conquest.  For a few moments, the waiter and creature stared at each other.  The waves gently washing up onto the beach in the background were the only noise.  Then, a slow, sickening gulping sound surfaced from the mouth of the rich man causing the waiter to take longer strides backwards, toward the trees.

The waiter bumped into another warm body, inducing a scream into the air from him.  It was the first guard, the one the affluent man had sent over twice.  The first time was for water, and second time was for more wine.

"Watch it, lad..."  The New Zealander’s eyes grew wider as he saw the figure of his employer running up behind the servant.  The creature hastily rushed over, not wanting his meal to escape.

The waiter attempted to push past the big, muscular man, but felt something grab him from behind.  It felt like hot coals piercing his legs.  He tried to cry out in pain, but no sound came out.  The guard, a stunned expression, pulled his weapon from the front of his pants.  Everything appeared to be happening in slow motion for the waiter.  Falling to the ground, a foul odor overtook him.  His eyes watered and he vomited onto the ground because of it.  Something tore into his back, pain ripping him up.  Blackness rapidly swept over.

"What the…."  He heard the New Zealander speak.  Then, a few seconds later, a shot was fired.  

Then a second and third shot rang out.  

And then total darkness.

Chapter 15

 

Friday, July 13th, 6:58am

Ruston, Washington

 

"Shit."

Roland reacted to an infected person on television biting some guy who had been walking out of a local Safeway.  The clip, being filmed from a camera phone, revealed the man being tackled by two or three of them.  The man, horror coming over his wrinkled face, had no chance to avoid being attacked.  A couple of bystanders just stood there, including the idiot with the camera, watching the man as the individual bit and tore chunks of flesh away from him.  

The boy with the camera phone laughed as he crept closer for a better look.  A woman moved to help the man by raising her purse to smack an infected hunched over on the ground.  One of the creatures moaned as he seemed to finally notice the crowd surrounding him.  He jumped up, moving with quickness toward the group of people.  The small cluster of citizens scattered, screaming, including the woman with the purse.  The figure followed a couple of people who ran into the store.  The boy turned the camera to himself, giggling even more loudly.  

"Holy –bleep-."  He had to be about sixteen or seventeen and wore a beanie that covered his thick, curly hair that was popping out from underneath it.   The news station bleeped out his curse words.  "This –bleep- is –bleep- awesome.  They must be –bleep- high on some –bleep- -bleep-."  

“I’m posting this –bleep- on Vine…”

For a few seconds, the camera was pointed to the ground as the boy assumingly posted a video link on his Vine account for everyone to watch.

“Wonder how many views I’ll get on this –bleep-!”

Rotating the camera back toward the scene, an infected finally reacted to the boy.  It rose up, dashing in the direction of its prey.  Roland discerned that the figure appeared to be a cop or a firefighter, as a badge was gleaming off their chest from the early morning sunshine that peeked through the clouds.

"-Bleep-.  Oh, -bleep-."  The boy dropped his phone as he started to run.  It clattered on the cement, shattering the image.  Yet, the sound still worked, and from the screaming that was occurring, Roland figured the boy did not get very far.

"That was just filmed not even an hour ago at the Safeway located in the West End of Tacoma."

"Shit," Roland said to himself loudly.  That Safeway was only five minutes from his house.  He got up, looking for his cell phone to call his family and some friends to see how they were doing.

This situation was rapidly spiraling out of control.

Dialing his mom’s number, he heard a wail from directly outside.  He ducked, not wanting whoever was out there to see him through the window.  Crawling on his hands and knees, he brought his face to the glass and peered outside.  

A figure was kneeled down on the sidewalk, their back to Roland.  A second body was sprawled onto his yard on its back, their legs kicking wildly in the air.  The kneeled figure’s head frantically bobbed up and down.

Another shriek rose up from just outside his house.  Roland flinched.  He did not have a gun, and truthfully, did not know how to use one.  He had been taking some martial arts classes at his gym recently, but a gold belt seemed useless at a time such as this.

Being athletically gifted was going to help…

"What the hell was that?"  His older brother, Riley, stumbled from his bedroom, wearing some black shorts and a Tacoma Community College blue tee shirt.

Roland shrugged.  "Someone’s right outside on the yard."

Riley took a glance.  "Fuck, it looks like he’s biting that person.  Jesus, we should dial 911 and get the cops out here."

Roland agreed.  Dialing the number, he was surprised to get a recording.

"All emergency services are busy at the moment.  Please remain in your homes.  Do not attempt to approach someone you believe is acting in a hostile or aggressive manner.  Once again, all emergency personnel are out responding to this crisis.  Please stay inside your homes."

Roland looked toward his brother, a confused and worry look coating his face.

“It’s busy."

“Shit, seriously?”

“Yeah man,” Roland responded.  His heart began to beat faster, the adrenaline slowly starting to pump throughout his whole body.

This will not end well…

His brother turned to go back into his room.  "Damn.  It looks like we have to take care of this crisis by ourselves little brother."  Grabbing a baseball bat from a closet, he slowly moved to unlock the door.

Both of them hesitated for a moment.

Although Riley was not as physically imposing as his younger brother, Roland still stood behind him.  The older Smith sibling did not hover an inch over five-nine.  Skinny with a runner’s body type, he also had curly, wavy dark hair spilling over his forehead and covering his ears.  His hazel eyes darted between Roland and the door, nonverbally asking his younger brother if he should even open it.

Don’t ask me...

Another scream pelted the morning air, causing Roland to get a shiver down his spine.

Jesus Christ, now I know what they mean.

"Shit," Riley muttered softly.  “Let’s find out what the fuck is going on.”

He gradually opened the door, which creaked shrilly.

Right in front of his yard, a lady was being eaten by one of those creatures that were displayed all over the television.  It savagely dug its hands into her stomach, clawing away at the skin.  Blood spurted everywhere, darkening the otherwise bright green grass.  A foul stench socked Roland, causing his eyes to water.  The creature seemed oblivious to them, too busy with its meal.  Looking over, Roland viewed that the infected figure appeared to be a rather large white guy, whose butt crack was showing.

Almost like a plumber…

Both brothers stepped out on to the porch, contemplating whether or not to try and help the lady.  

Layers of sweat formed on Roland’s forehead.  His heart now beat furiously like a drum.  Licking his lips, the inside of his mouth became extremely dry.  

He was not prepared for a situation like this.

Who the fuck was?

Roland wanted to crawl back into the house.

Why not?

When it came to fight or flight, Roland was now more in the flight category.  He did not believe it had to do with being afraid or a coward.  Instead, he was just looking out for himself.  After everything that he had been though, a survival mentality had been solidly ingrained into him.

“What the hell is going on, bro?”  Riley asked, his voice cracking slightly.

Roland shook his head.  “Just saw the news myself this morning.  Some sort of terrorist attacks or something.  Sounds like a virus could be infecting people.”

The two brothers stood on the porch steps, still in doubt about helping the stranger.

“Maybe we should head back inside…”  Roland then saw the neon hat that was near the struggle.

"Holy shit," Riley declared.  His brother spotted it as well.

Roland peered closer and recognized the woman on the ground.  She was a frequent walker past their house.  Ever since the brothers had moved in, she constantly gave them problems.  She was the type of person to stroll slowly past houses, peering into their windows, snooping on the local neighbors and making rude remarks.

"Help me….oh my god…"  She noticed them standing on the covered entrance and reached one of her hands out.  The annoying woman screeched as the fat man continued to tear into her.  

She still kicked her legs in the air, but with much less frequency than a few minutes ago.

Roland and Riley were frozen on the porch, unsure of what they should do next.  Not every day one came upon a scene where one person was tearing away and eating another person.

Some months ago, as the walker strolled past their yard, Dubya had gone up to her in his usual friendly manner.  She overacted and kicked the dog in the face, claiming that he tried to bite her.  Roland knew it was bullshit as he observed the whole episode take place.  She got in his face and told him animal control would be called and that suing him was an option.  Roland just brushed past her, going back into the house with his dog.  When animal control showed up a few days later, Roland took it all in stride.  His neighbors backed him up with the animal control officer, telling them the real story.  

Roland ran into her days later, ambling down the street while he put out his recycling.  He decided to confront her, which proved to be a mistake.  She made a huge scene, yelling in his face and pushing him, threatening legal action with a lawyer for her ‘emotional distress.’  Riley then came out and got in her face.  A car passing by on the street called police, fearing a fight was about to take place.  When the officer arrived, Roland tried to explain that it was she, and not he, that were at fault.  He remembered that she stood there, slapping her knees and yelling "Oh, come on!  Come on!" repeatedly.  Roland and Riley got served later that week by a lawyer.

"Help….help…"  She weakly moaned.  The creature bit into her thigh, tearing away some more skin and stuffing it into his mouth.  Her flesh was pulling away from the bone quite easily.

Roland just continued to stand on the porch with his brother, who was slapping the bat in between his hands.

“What do you want to do…?”

Another cry rose up over the front yard, interrupting Roland.  This time it was not from the woman, but emanated from the infected man.

Roland felt like he was going to throw up.  The younger brother glanced around the neighborhood, trying to determine if anyone else was watching the disgusting scene take place.  The area was quiet, either from the people not awake yet or from not wanting to get involved.

Probably the latter…cause I would be one of the people not wanting to get drawn in…

The walker no longer cried out for help.  The only sounds now came from the creature.  Sick, wet sounds that reminded Roland of watching a lion devour its prey on television.

“I don’t feel good…”  Roland found himself puking on the side of the porch.

“Dude, be quiet…”

Roland did not respond, as he was nauseously kneeling over.

“Man, do you hear me?” Riley hissed at him.

Roland again did not reply and vomited, the hot rush of bile burning his throat as it exploded out of his mouth.

But the fat infected man jerked its head toward Riley in response.

"Shit."  

Roland squinted, his sight somewhat obstructed by his eyes watering.  Nonetheless, he was able to make out the infected man whipping its head around to the brothers.

The figure jumped to its feet and made a hasty dash toward the porch.

“Oh fuck...”

Roland found himself taking a step back, vomit dribbling from his chin.

Oh shit…

The man let out a primitive cry as he sprinted across the yard, his hazy eyes solely focused on the two men in front of him.

“Okkkay, get the fuck inside!”  Riley turned and shoved Roland through the doorway.  Apparently his brother had a change of heart about confronting the person.

Roland did not disagree.

The rotting figure reached the first step on the brother’s porch.

“Ahhhh…”  Roland cried as he stumbled inside, falling straight on his back and skidding across the hard surface.  The baseball bat smacked him across the face a second later thanks to his brother tossing it toward him.  Riley rushed through the door and simultaneously attempted to swing it back in an effort to close it.

Instead of slamming shut, an arm from the infected man managed to reach inside the doorway, preventing the door from closing all the way.

“Ooohhhh fuck!”  Riley threw his body against the door, in another attempt to close the entry shut.  Yet, that failed as well because the infected man’s shoulder was now inside the house.  An animalistic scream elicited from the man as his hand wildly thrashed about, trying in vain to grab anything.

“Roland!  Help me!”

Roland was jolted from his worries by a screaming Riley.  He stumbled while rushing over, but managed to join his brother.  Both of them then threw their body weight against the door.

“Ahhh, fucking Christ!”  Riley started banging his fist against the door, trying to seal off the house from the frantic, crazed man on their porch.  The brothers were using all their strength to try and shut the door, but were struggling to do so.

Roland then noticed the bat on the ground.  He slid down, his back against the door, and stretched his feet out near it.

Grunting, he tried to use his feet to move the bat closer to him without shifting his body away from the door.  After several attempts, he managed to kick it near him and grabbed the bat with his hands.

“Here…I got…the bat!” Roland shouted between his large gasps of panicked breath.

His brother gave a quick, desperate nod.  “Okay, give it to me!”

Roland nodded and tossed him the bat.

Unfortunately for both brothers, Riley missed as the handle of the bat slipped through one of his hands.

“FUCK…!”  Riley cried as the bat clattered against the floor.  He reached down to grab it, and as a result, his weight against the door was lifted off for a few seconds.

Seconds was all the infected man needed to push through the door and get his rotting corpse halfway into the house.

“OH SHIT!” Roland yelled out as he felt the burden of the undead man tilting against the door.

“Ahhh,” Riley groaned, clutching the bat in his hand, he twisted his body to face the threat.

Screams that were not human were discharging from the man on their porch.  Loud, high pitched cries rose over the small house.

Undead shrieks.

Those howls were unbearable.

Roland wanted to put his hands up near his ears to block them, but was afraid moving would let the man in.

“Fuck, he’s going to cause more of them to come!”  Roland’s heart seemed on the verge of punching right through his chest.

“Here I go!”

Roland turned to see Riley shove the fat end of the bat into the crack of the door, jabbing the zombie in the face.  He might as well as tickled him because the infected man swiped his rotten hand at him.

He tried a second time.

The zombie pushed the bat away yet again.  

The third time, Riley pulled it back and slammed the end of the bat right into the man’s face.  The infected man stumbled backwards on the porch.

“Close it now!”

“Fuck!”  Roland yelled.  He slammed his back against the door, helping his brother succeed in finally slamming it shut.

Something then fell onto his lap.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Roland did not care how high pitched his voice sounded.  A rotten hand landed in his lap, the black and blue flesh almost causing him to vomit once again.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

Roland stood up and proceeded to kick it across the room.  Apparently, the man’s hand had decayed enough to the point where shutting the door applied enough pressure in chopping it completely off.

“That’s just sick…”

“You sounded like a little bitch there for a second, bro.”

“Ooohhh fuck man, that’s just disgusting…sick!”

Laughing, Riley walked over to the hand, and crouched down to it.  He seemed to be analyzing it, almost like how a doctor would analyze a patient.

“Hey, Ro, why don’t you come over here and give me a hand.”

“Shut up, that’s not fucking funny…”  Roland was interrupted by pounding on the door.  He swung around, facing it.

“What the…?”

More frenzied battering on the door sent further shivers straight up Roland’s spine.  The infected man could somehow sense that the two brothers were still there, despite not being able to see them.  Deciding to get a better look, Roland peeked out the window.  The infected man, now missing a hand, scratched the door with his other hand.  Slowly, almost if sensing Roland watching him, the man rotated his head around until he was staring at the younger brother.

“Oh shit…”

Roland did not get a chance to complete the sentence as the man bull rushed the window, diving head first into it.

Glass shattered everywhere, spraying Roland in the face.  Stunned, he lurched in reverse, again sliding across the hard floor.

“Oh fuck!”  Riley hopped up, the bat held tightly in his hand.

Luckily for both brothers, when the infected man dove into the window, he became stuck on the ledge by some of the glass that was still left in the panel.

The man growled and attempted to wiggle himself off the ledge, but the broken glass being jammed into his rotting stomach prevented him for doing so for the moment.

Roland just continued to back pedal on all his fours, eager to escape the presence of the man.  With the foggy-like eyes and rotten skin, Roland wanted no part of being near the guy.  Black liquid dripped down the sides of his mouth, which continued to flow out as he screamed excitedly at his prey.

Riley, on the other hand, hopped a few steps before swinging the bat in full force at the man.  Aiming for the head, a sick crunch reverberated throughout the house as the head of the infected person went flying backwards.  Yet, while the man’s body shook from the blow, he quickly swung his head back toward Riley.  His nose was now smashed at a hideous angle, with his neck seemingly stretched out.

No way this guy’s still alive…

Riley took another ‘Happy Gilmore’ trek to the window and swung with all his might at the head again.  This time the force of the impact caused the whole body of the infected man to fly backwards off the ledge and tumble on the ground outside.  Riley wasted no time in rushing outside, the bat firmly in his grip.  Roland hopped up, following his older brother.

“What are you doing…?”

Riley did not answer as he brought up the bat, and slammed it down on the man’s head.

Three times.

Roland lost count as the man’s head resembled a smashed up pumpkin.

“Just like the movies, right?  Gotta smash their brains…” Riley remarked as he finished up.

“Oh god.”

Riley looked up.  “What?”  

Roland weakly put his hands on his knees and knelt over, feeling light headed and fearing that he might puke again.

“What is it?” Riley asked again.

“Uhhh, nothing man.  Just trying to catch my breath.”

Riley chuckled.  “Why?  You didn’t do anything.”

"Shit."  Roland jumped down from the porch, pointing to the blood on his brother’s shorts, eager to change the conversation and forget the feeling queasy.  "You got some stuff on your shorts."

Riley quickly looked over himself, spotting the splatter on his shorts.  He gagged.  "Whoa, this shit smells."  

He carefully took his shorts off, tossing them on top of the corpse in the yard.  Both brothers turned to go back inside the house.  

"We need to get mom," Roland stated.

"Fuck yeah.  I dunno what the hell is going on, but…"

A distinct moan was heard from the sidewalk.

It was the ‘walker.’  Her hands desperately reached out for the two men.  Her eyes had gone from black to a hazy, foggy color.  She attempted to stand up, but could not because of the earlier mutilation done to her thigh and legs by the other infected plumber.  Her legs, upon closer inspection, had been chewed in half.  Instead, she slowly and methodically inched her way to the two brothers, dragging herself across the ground.  Riley, in only his blue and red boxers now, cautiously approached the woman.  He grabbed the bat and clenched it in his hands.

The infected walker moaned again, her hands reaching, almost yearning for him.

Riley apparently hesitated for a moment before swinging the bat back down on top of her skull.  

He grunted as the bat landed on the walker for a second time.  After the third time, he was satisfied that she was dead.  He looked at the body and sniffed the air before plugging his nose with a hand.  "Man, this shit smells bad.”

Roland could only nod.  He was afraid that opening his mouth would lead to him vomiting again.  The odor rising up from their yard reminded him of those trips he used to take to the landfill with his father.

Only much, much worse…

Riley climbed up the stairs, joining his brother in the house.

Roland closed the door, letting out a long sigh of relief.

Thank god nothing happened…  

A report from the local news station greeted them.

"…officials say to not engage the crazed people as there is the possibility of becoming infected yourself from a bite or their blood getting on you.  Once again, officials stress to avoid these infected people at all cost…"

Riley shook his head, looking down at his boxers.  "Now you fucking tell me.”

Chapter 16

 

Friday, July 13th, 11:07am

White House, Washington DC

Presidential Emergency Operations Center

 

Colonel Fitzgerald Mann sat off in the corner as the President met with a few of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The rest of the Joint Chiefs were being diverted to the White House from whatever location they were at before to handle this sudden and emerging threat of undead.  The same could be said for every important national security official.  Mann saw Homeland Security Advisor; a Joseph Munhall was sitting in on the meeting via a video call from Mexico City.  A small group of Homeland officials were in Mexico, discussing how to counter the rising power of the cartels with Mexican administrators.

Advisor Munhall was hustled aboard the first military plane made available.  However, his flight was delayed as several infected had charged the plane on the runway.  Mexican Federal Police, along with US Marines effectively neutered the threat before it even started.  The problem now was civilian aircraft, looking to promptly leave the area, started to take off and ignore the control tower.  Additionally, scores of refugees were streaming past the airport now, looking to escape the looming threat.  As a result, the plane’s takeoff had been postponed with the pilot fearing a collision.

Looks like Advisor Munhall has a bigger problem than the drug cartels…

The Colonel took a quick glance around the room, sizing up everyone that was in the audience.  The Secretary of Defense was in attendance, along with the head of Homeland Security and other various governmental agencies.  Mann almost dozed off a few times, but did not want to look incompetent to the administration, especially being an ally of President Rice.  Despite the fact he recently encountered the undead, the Colonel felt like he needed to display a strong front to the rest of the government drones. Mann faintly chuckled to himself, thinking of the reaction from the bureaucrats if he began snoring in the middle of an important national security meeting.

So not funny that it’s actually funny.

Sort of.

The Chairman, General Robert Gatewoods was in a heated verbal disagreement with the Secretary of Defense, a career politician by the name of Henry Strangefeld.

“Mr. Secretary, the problem has gotten out of control.”  The Chairman looked down at a piece paper in front of him.  “First reports indicate cases of this infection in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and nearby Nassau within an hour after the outbreak at the hospital yesterday.  And within the last hour, infection reports from the outskirts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  And now known outbreaks in the Seattle area of Washington State and in Los Angeles, California.  You saw the video feed from Caffa and the reports from New York City.”

Strangefeld adjusted his glasses while rumbling through a pile of papers that sat in front of him. “And all reports indicate that this contagion is not airborne.  Therefore, it will be easier to contain,” he countered.

“With all due respect Mr. Secretary, the viciousness of how fast this has spread and the way it does, makes me believe that a response with Federal troops will make it easier to contain.  I mean, we have infected people running around taking bites out of people.  We need to end this, now.”

“I simply disagree Mr. Chairman.  Putting Federal troops on the ground would be disastrous.”

Chairman Gatewoods shrugged his shoulders, “How so Mr. Secretary?  Please explain yourself.”

Strangefeld folded his hands together.  “You’re talking about putting the United States military on American soil.  Having them raise arms against American civilians.  You sure you want to go down that route?”

Chairman Gatewoods did not reply and instead merely flipped on a television in the room.  The monitor displayed a female reporter standing in front of a Home Depot amidst dozens and dozens of people rushing in and out of the store.

“…since last night, this store has been repeatedly looted.  No police or law enforcement officials are on the scene.  Instead, it is a free for all…”

The camera panned to the front of the store, where a young man tripped and fell over, spilling his supplies all over the ground.  People immediately swooped in and grabbed them.  The man tried to protest but was cold cocked in the face by a balled up fist.  Another figure kicked the unfortunate person in the stomach.  They then hunched over and start patting the pockets of the young man, more than likely looking for his wallet or money.

Screeching tires caused the cameraman to swing around and focus on the parking lot.  Cars were racing out of the parking lot, not paying attention to the people running around.  A crying child wandered about, with vehicles and citizens ignoring her as they zipped past.

The channel flipped to another station.

This one showed an entire block of buildings on fire in the backdrop, with a reporter talking in the middle of a street.  He wildly gestured his hands in the air, pointing to the surrounding area.

“…not just ten minutes ago, the scene was somewhat calm with only one building on fire.  Yet now, we’ve seen groups of people purposely setting fire to these buildings and the fires have spread quickly and violently.  Then, we had this horrible accident take place…”

The camera pulled back, to reveal a fire truck had collided with two other cars in the middle of the road.  EMT personnel were attending to those that were wounded.

“…and…and we are taking fire…”

The reporter ducked behind a car.

“We are actively taking fire…this is worse than when I was in India.  From what I’ve been told by an EMT person, this accident was not a coincidence, and was done on purpose to pin down first responders.  My source tells me that this has been happening all over the city and cops are too busy…”

Mann noticed that the city in question was St. Louis, Missouri.

A car window shattered, with shards of glass flying into the reporter's face.

“AAHHHHHHHAAAHH!!”

The reporter started rolling around on the ground, his hands over his bloody face.  The cameraman then swung around, pointing it at the structures where they were taking fire from.  The gunfire seemed to be originating from houses scattered all over the block.

“We need help, right now!”  An EMT grabbed the camera and stuck his face in front of it.

A sweating, round face with blood smears across his cheeks appeared on the screen.  “God damn it, we need…”

The monitor abruptly switched back to an empty news studio.

A man with a headset walked into the frame, shrugging his shoulders.

“They just took off, just now. Yeah, both of them…”  He was speaking to someone on his headset.  The man pressed it closer to his ear with one hand.

“I’m just the producer, not an anchor…”

Chairman Gatewoods muted the screen and glanced to the Defense Secretary.  “I believe the situation is already past the stages of being disastrous.  It is a disaster now.”

Strangefeld did not answer and instead looked at the Homeland Security Director, Janet Boxer for help.  The female political appointee gave a smug smile.

“Mr. Chairman, putting federal troops on the ground to face off against US citizens would be a political nightmare.  Can you imagine the nightly newscasts showing an American soldier shooting an American teenager or a mother?  It would be the end of this administration.”

Chairman Gatewoods narrowed his gaze at Boxer.  “You seem to care more about the political aspect of this then the reality of the situation.”

Boxer’s face blushed, dark scarlet flushing across it.  “I am thinking about this from a political standpoint.  When this is over, then it will be about which government administration department can cover their ass the quickest.  No one wants to be that person that orders the shooting of civilians in the street.  It will be a complete PR nightmare and political suicide for me to authorize that.”

Another member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke up.  General Scott Kirby, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, interjected.  “Ma’am, we can appreciate the feelings that one might have about the backlash, but as of right now, I would suggest that we follow General Gatewoods suggestion.  The New York City police force has proven to be incapable of handling this situation.  Calling up the National Guard will take up time that we do not have and they do not have the adequate resources needed to face this crisis.  This is most likely a terrorist attack and we need to respond in kind.”

Boxer sighed softly.  “First off, Gen-er-roll.”  She sounded out the rank mockingly.  “Could you do me a favor and call me Ms. Boxer or Director?”

“Of course, Ms. Secretary,” General Kirby nodded.

“It’s just that, I worked so hard to get this title, so I would appreciate a little respect, okay?”

General Kirby nodded again.  “Of course, Ms. Secretary.”

Mann figured Kirby was doing a tremendous job of not being a jerk back to the former Senator from California.  They would have a good laugh at this over later while smoking their cigars.

Another reason to not have political people make crucial military decisions, Mann thought.

And this was especially true for someone like a Janet Boxer, who had made being a public servant in the sphere of government politics their full-time profession.  This caused them to be concerned with covering their backsides than solving the actual problem.  It was a scenario that played itself out again and again.

As a result, instead of worrying about the potential threat from the infected, Boxer was afraid about how the newscasters would portray her.  It certainly would not look good at the Beltway cocktail parties for those elites to mingle with her if she had been in charge of Homeland Security personnel who had shot some young innocent teenagers on live television.

Boxer continued. “Secondly, I would like to point out that there is no evidence to a terrorist attack or as I like to refer to them as, a ‘man-caused disaster.’  We need to move away from the politics of fear that previous administrations enjoyed dishing out.  Instead, we need to be prepared for an adult response to this situation, not fear or war mongering.  The American people need to know the truth.  In fact, they need to see the truth.  In a democracy, letting the people know the truth is the essence of what it means to be free.  And I would like to remind my military friends that the civilian aspect of this administration is still in charge.”

Mann spotted Chairman Gatewoods roll his eyes ever so slightly at the ‘man-caused disaster’ poke, while General Kirby sighed loudly.  Both of these men were very experienced in military matters, and the government drones seemed to be brushing them off.  Of course as already stated, Director Boxer was concerned about how the other Beltway elites would view her response to this crisis.  She, and others like her in similar positions, would do everything in their power to make certain that their names would not be called out by the press for any negative consequences of their actions.

“Okay, okay people let’s try to get down to business here.”  Samuel Alfred stood up and passed out several binders to the men and women seated around the tables before sitting back down.

“What’s this?” Chairman Gatewoods flipped through several pages.

“Mr. Chairman, it’s a report conducted by the Federal Reserve on the potential fallout of the economy if a major crisis stuck the United States.  Some scenarios include war with China or an unseen economic crash or even an EMP attack on our soil.”

“What’s this have to do with anything?”  General Kirby did not even bother picking up the report.

Alfred swung around to face him.  “General, I believe you underestimate the problems that this country will face.  Despite the fact that people are dying right now, we also must worry about the economy collapsing, along with the loss of profits and investments if the stock markets across the world nose dive, like it appears they will.  If the economy continues trending downward, then we could have even bigger crisis on our hands.  This government would not be able to continue to function if the world market totally collapses.”

“Totally collapses?” General Kirby snickered.  “You mean like people taking bites out of other people?”

Alfred nodded forcefully.  “We must show other countries that we can still function as an economy and handle our debts.  This means that gas, coal, and oil may be replacing the gold and silver for currency.  That is why those in the financial sector must act now.  These are problems that will stay with us long after this epidemic ceases.  If our economy totally collapses, then the world’s economy will not be far behind.”

Nods rose up around the room.

“Sam is right.”

It was Dwayne Stone, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance.  “The markets are already down today, with the worst yet to come.  I suggest, as does my office, that the President and the government do something as soon as possible to right this ship.  If we are slow to act, the end results of the huge dip in the marketplace could be too much to overcome with the losses in our financial sector absolutely devastating to the point of no return.  We must start acting now.”

Mann just shook his head.  He half expected the Fed to come strutting through the door and take charge.  The arrogance from those in the financial sector of the American government was seriously unbearable sometimes.

“However, additionally, I must warn you Madame President, the sight of American military personnel marching down the streets of the capitol will also affect the stock market negatively.  So, it’s a really lose-lose when it comes to whatever decision you end up making.”

Mann exhaled softly.  Although the National Security Advisor and Under Secretary Stone were correct, the Colonel was glad he was not in a position to worry about putting a profit above a person.

Stone carried on.  “But, if you are going to declare a national martial law, then the people on Wall Street and in my department would very much appreciate a heads up right before then.  That way, we can try and organize some emergency funds for the potential collapse that might take place and organize our resources in the proper manner.  We will put financial managers in place for the planned recovery…”

“Where are these emergency funds coming from and who are these managers you speak of?” President Rice directed the question at the financial bureaucrat.

Stone shifted uncomfortably.  “Well, that’s still being debated within the Treasury…”

Alfred cut him off.  “Ma’am, if you’d let me, I’d like to continue…”

Rice nodded, not taking her gaze off Stone.  “Of course.”

“We do know that when talking about the economy, in this sense, it may mean not a gold or silver currency, but more of an oil or fuel one.  Therefore, we do see us adjusting to that and adjusting quite easily in fact…”

“Well, glad to hear that you have this all figured out,” Rice stated somewhat sarcastically.  Her brown eyes darted to Alfred, who smiled back at her.

Colonel Mann wondered why Alfred was so eager to move the discussion forward.  Probably because the arrangement to get the emergency funds was an unpopular idea that would further spread the panic taking place at the moment.  Also, it would lend rumor to the fact that the government was protecting other elites that were politically connected.  And finally, it would increase the conspiracy theories that the government was somehow involved and behind this pandemic.

Samuel Alfred hopped back into the conversation, ignoring both the President’s remark and her lingering gaze.

“Therefore, Madame President, I have coordinated with Treasury Secretary Thomas to produce a report on the worst case possibilities of the difficulties that our economy will face if this threat continues for another few months.  It will include the stock market, property values, gas and food prices, and the effect of trade both within our country and the export of it.  Hopefully, it will be finished within a week or so.  While I do believe we will overcome this crisis, in such because we are the largest economy in the world, it will not be without great trial and error.”

“And we must not forget the loss of votes for the election in two years if we do not handle this correctly.  Whatever we do, it must be seen genuine and thought out so the public knows that we are tackling this danger the right way,” Boxer declared, reminding the people in the room just how far away from reality she really was.

The National Security Advisor, Samuel Alfred rose up from his chair again.  "I side with Ms. Boxer and Secretary Stone on this occasion, at least at the moment.  Federal troops on US soil are a political nightmare, not only for this administration, but for the average American citizen on the street.  The last thing they need to see right now is our leaders panicking and having tanks roll down Main Street, USA.  But whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.”

Chairman Gatewoods and General Kirby both shook their heads in disagreement.  Even Mann was surprised at Alfred’s position, yet knew there was another angle to why he agreed with Homeland Security Director Boxer.

Surprised, but not shocked.

He had something else up his sleeve.  Alfred approached this emergency meeting with the disciplined emotion of a seasoned government bureaucrat, not tipping too much of his hand to anyone in particular.  As a result, he could later deny or refute claims about what he said or wanted done to combat this epidemic.  His years of experience taught him to be very shrewd about what you said during open meetings.

Alfred ignored them.  "Therefore, I believe that the National Guard and the Coast Guard will be sufficient enough to contain this outbreak for the time being."

Chairman Gatewoods sighed loudly.  “Of course, since both of them are not under our control.  But the Coast Guard is under Homeland Security authority.  I assume then, the White House is taking some sort of responsibility?”

Alfred nodded.  “You assume correctly.”

“Nevertheless, leave enough space in between to distance yourself in case it blows up in your face, right?”

Alfred shrugged his shoulders.  “That’s politics, Mr. Chairman.”

Yes, it was.

The Vice Chairman, an Admiral Michael Steele, raised his hand to interrupt the conservation.  “Ladies and gentlemen," Steele said as he glanced between the two sides, “perhaps it would be wise to hear about what the President wants to do.  She will, after all, make the final decision."

The room became quiet as everyone turned their attention to the leader of the free world.  President Rice just shook her head.  “This situation is unprecedented. From the reports given to us, this infection…”

“Or man-caused attack,” injected Boxer.

“Or terrorist attack,” Rice continued.

Mann smiled.  Her father had taught her well.

“From the earlier reports, the virus is not airborne, but spread by certain infected beings…biting the population, correct?”

The whole room nodded.

It was unbelievable, yet that was the reality.  The primary transfer of this particular contagion was physical wounds from contact with an infected person.  The most likely wound being some sort of a bite.

“Then drastic action needs to be taken to stop this.  I support a full scale military operation.”

“But, Madame President...” Strangefeld tried to interrupt.

Rice held up a hand and he quieted down.  “But, I cannot put Federal troops on the ground without the support of Congress.  I will follow procedure, despite the circumstances of the situation now…”

“Ma’am, you can invoke the Insurrection Act right now…”

“I know I can, Mr. Chairman,” Rice cut in, “but I do not want to go that route quite yet.  If I can get Congress on my side, it will be a better sale to the public.  We need a unified front on something like this.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Therefore, the National Guard will be called up in all states where this infection is taking place and the areas around it.  And I will put forward a resolution to Congress authorizing the use of Federal troops on the ground in the United States.  You gentlemen do believe that the use of Martial Law will be required in this extreme situation?”

Mann knew that President Rice was doing her best at covering her backside.  She was trying to gage the room to see who supported the use of Federal troops.  Politically, when this was over, Rice did not want to be the only one standing that supported using the United States military to combat this threat.  Yet, if this epidemic continued to worsen, then Rice did not also want to get criticized for acting too leisurely in unleashing the United States military.

Chairman Gatewoods nodded his head emphatically.  “Yes ma’am.  We need to take control of this right now.  The best thing to do now is to put troops on the ground right this minute.  I would tell the governors to call up the National Guard and have them for the moment, be under the control of the governors themselves.  If they are under the control of the state governors, then they aren’t federal troops, and aren’t covered by Posse Comitatus for legal reasons at the moment.”

Indications of agreement rose up from all around the room.

“If things get out of control, then you can invoke the Insurrection Act and all legalities will not matter.”

“Of course, let’s not go down that path quite yet.”

“Yes, ma’am.  But, the more time we waste, the more this situation will get out of control.  In fact, I would close all routes coming to DC.  Build up a barrier around the capital, if you in fact intend to stay here for the moment.”

The President nodded her head up and down quickly.

Gatewoods continued.  “This is streaming to us quickly, ma’am.  A lot of chaos is already forming outside.  The public needs to see a quick and calm response from the government.  I would advise local law enforcement to start having checkpoints around the capital.  As you have seen, units from the Army and Marines have already made their way here, but the local law enforcement authority is still in charge at this particular moment.”

“What do you need from your end, Chairman Gatewoods?”

The Chairman exhaled loudly before speaking.  “Well ma’am, DC is one of the most protected cities in the world.  Problem is, we aren’t quite ready for an attack like this.”

“I don’t believe anyone is General,” Rice stated.

“Um, you are correct ma’am.  All nearby bases are on total lockdown.  We control the skies, as I’m sure you have heard and observed.”

“Yes I have…”

“Myself and the Department of Defense have been in constant communication with the Unified Combatant Command leaders from their respective sectors.  Right now, we’re also concerned with the African and Europe headquarters because of the reported rash of dead rising up in the Netherlands.  This is in addition to what is happening here.”

“What would you suggest we do?”

“From a federal standpoint, mobilize all forces.  We need a rapid and forceful response to this transmissible epidemic.  All units report to their respective assigned areas and hunker down until we figure out what we’re going to do here.”

President Rice nodded her head slowly.  “And what would you do here to protect the capital?”

“That is still up for debate, ma’am.  Let us give you a game plan in a few hours…”

“I’m getting reports that buildings such as the Pentagon, Homeland, FBI, and such are being locked down?” Rice glanced over to the senior military advisor.

“Um, yes ma’am, that is probably for the best.  In fact, I would advise you to leave the city here and take refuge in, say like the Cheyenne Mountain Complex or another more secure facility.  We can airlift you to an aircraft carrier…”

“No, Mr. Chairman.  I’ve decided to stay here.”

Mann glanced over to her.  Rice had told him she would not abandon the capital in wake of these infected hordes.

“…this is the people’s house and to leave it now, what kind of message would that send to the Americans fighting this?  What about the family fighting for their house?” she had asked him last night.

President Karen Rice certainly had more balls than some of the political and military leaders here in DC.

“Ma’am, are you sure you want to…?”

President Rice flapped a hand in the air.  “Yes Mr. Chairman, I am sure.  I intend to stay here and fight for this hollow ground.  I’m not running away from over two hundred years of history here to leave it and watch it get destroyed in a few days.  I’m going to go down fighting…”

Some clapping and shouts of encouragement greeted the President’s declaration.

“Go Madame President!”

“We’re behind ya!”

Rice waved those away as well.  “Nothing has happened yet.  Let’s save the celebrating for afterwards people.”

Chairman Gatewoods was shaking his head.  “Well ma’am, if you insist on staying here…”

“I do.”

“Well then, we will tightly barricade this city up with the military that are here now, and the reinforcements that will arrive soon will aid in that process immediately.  Those military branches that are already here, at this moment, are working in conjunction with the FBI and DC police.”  He glanced at the small group of FBI and Capitol police on hand.

An older man from the bunch raised his hand in the air.

Rice jerked her head at him.  “Go ahead.”

He cleared his throat.  “Agent Kemp Johnson, ma’am.  We can set up checkpoints around the area, but they would only be temporary.  That is, until the military took over.”

Boxer again interrupted.  “If the military takes over…”

Rice looked over at the Homeland Security director.  “When the military takes over…”

Agent Johnson waited for the tension to pass over.  And it did, albeit ever slowly as Boxer sunk away to a corner.  The woman from California clutched her necklace that she was wearing as she sulked in the chair.

Johnson continued.  “Ma’am, we can start to build a barricade around the capital, but we will be sufficiently under manned.  People aren’t going to like being harassed with long lines and guns in their faces.  Our forces in the city are already being stretched out with the violence that is happening.  We need the military’s help, badly in fact.”

“You’ll have it Agent Johnson,” Chairman Gatewoods stated.

“Thank you, sir.  Additionally, there is the threat of civil liberties being violated…”

“Not after martial law is declared,” snorted General Kirby.

Gatewoods glanced at him and Kirby immediately hushed down.  “Ma’am, we believe that in order to get this situation under control, we need the full weight of the military.  I know I speak for the rest of the Chiefs when I say that this is the last option we would have wanted to occur.”

Murmurs of agreement rose up from the military personnel.

“Of course ma’am, the last thing we want is United States Army units flooding the streets of America, but I believe, from just the Intel that we have received, this is the best option.  So, calling up the National Guard in all states to get a response force out there would be our first recommendation, like you have mentioned.  Then we would get into contact with the mayors of major cities all over the US and get them to put forth the necessary steps to protect their cities infrastructure.”

Gatewoods looked around the table before continuing.  “Also ma’am, I must tell you that we will recommend that all military bases here and abroad be closed and sealed off from the outside.  Of course, the local base commanders will do what they see fit, but I must prepare you for the fact that civilians will be turned away, by force if necessary from military bases.  We Joint Chiefs just feel that in order to start fighting this outbreak, our military assets must not be compromised by anyone on the outside, and hope that you, as the commander in chief, are prepared for a public backlash in that regard.”

Rice nodded.  “I am, Mr. Chairman.”

“Good.  After that, then we can focus on the fact that military units will be used for domestic purposes inside the US and the legal ramifications from that.  The greatest enemy, besides those things, is fear and panic.  If those are left uncontrolled, they will destroy our ability to make intelligent decisions and successfully beat this.  Thank you again, ma’am.”

Rice sighed purposefully.  “Thank you, General Gatewoods….”

“Ma’am, I just want it on record that I fully disagree with the engagement of US soldiers on American soil.”  Alfred leaned back in his chair.  “The thought of the military in combat mode against our own civilians is horrifying to me and others.”

“Thank you, Mr. Alfred.  I know that this will not be the end of the debates on this subject matter…”

“But, you have my full support on whatever route that you chose to take.  As we all know, now is not the time for political pettiness.  We all need to come and work together for the better of our people and our great country.”

“Yes, Mr. Alfred, I do agree, but please drop your act about caring what is in the best interest of the country.  I know you’re angling for whatever is in your best interest.”

Whoa…

Mann did his best to withhold a snicker.

“Hey, Madame President, I must protest.  I do care about what happens…”

Rice put up a hand to silence him.

“Another time, okay?”

Samuel Alfred, the powerful National Security Advisor was fuming.  It was nice to see President Rice exerting her position of power to not only Alfred, but Boxer as well.  Those two had actively worked behind the scenes to try and weaken the President in her capacity since day one of her being in office.

President Rice continued.  “I will be going before the country in a little bit to try and explain to the American people what is happening.  The Attorney General will be meeting with me after this to hash over the legalities of declaring martial law…but I want everyone to be on the same page as us.  It has been suggested that I declare a state of emergency…”

“Are you going to do that, ma’am?”  It was Alfred, still apparently upset that the President cut him off moments earlier.

Rice annoyingly glanced to him.  “I am undecided on what I am going to do.”

Alfred groaned harshly and tenaciously.  “Well ma’am, I only ask because it would be beneficial for us in your administration to be on the same page as you.”

“Yes, Mr. Alfred, I do know that.  I think we can all agree that military action will be taken.”

Everyone gradually gazed over to Chairman Gatewoods.  He tapped the table with a pen, an obvious sign that he was nervous.  He stared right at the President.  “Agreed ma’am.  The sooner we start acting the better.”

Karen Rice nodded.  “I know.  I have already called an emergency session of Congress.  I will submit your gentlemen’s request to them and urge to act in the quickest manner possible.”  She then looked to the Chairman.  “You do what you feel is necessary Mr. Chairman. Contact and mobilize the needed manpower to fight this right now.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Hopefully, for the sake of America, we will be able to start fighting back efficiently sooner rather than later.”

Chapter 17

 

Friday, July 13th, 9:23am

Ruston, Washington

 

Roland anxiously sat in his lazy boy chair, tapping his feet and trying to let out some of the nerves flowing throughout his body.  Lying on the ground nearby was the bloody bat, reminding him of the confrontation that just happened earlier this morning.  Looking at the situation taking place around him, it was better to stay inside and away from the crazies that were popping up all over the area.

I’m guessing that my work is cancelled today…

Roland snorted to himself.

Not like I’d go to work today anyways after watching the television…

The local news stated that this infection breaking out in the Pacific Northwest originated on the East Coast.  Apparently, this virus begun in New York City, with reports that it was already spilling over into neighboring states.  Unconfirmed rumors also stated that people in Los Angeles were displaying the same types of symptoms as the inhabitants of the Big Apple, leading authorities to fear the worst: A fully fledged pandemic in the United States with multiple outbreak points.

Earlier, the two brothers had gone to their mom’s house and forced her to leave with them.  She refused to go at first, but sudden gunshots in succession from her neighbor’s house quickly convinced her otherwise.  Turning to them, they observed as her neighbor, a friendly family man, rapidly exited his house and paced back and forth on his porch.

Covered in blood, he then staggered down and fell to his knees.

“Oh my god,” their mom cried out, rushing toward the back door.

“Damn it, mom!” Riley shouted, trying to grab her before she sprinted outside.

Roland hesitated, peering out the windows, expecting to spot an infected person lurking there.

Knowing he needed to follow his mom and brother outside, he mustered up the nerves and dashed out of the house.

“...Peter...Peter, what happened, are you okay?”

Roland’s mother shouted her questions, not attempting to be quiet.  She obviously did not understand the danger occurring at the moment.  Instead, she darted over to her neighbor who now wandered listlessly upon his porch.

“Damn it!”  Riley yanked his mom backwards, grabbing her shirt.  The mom’s neighbor did not seem aware of the people near him.  He was muttering to himself, tightly clutching a handgun in his bloody fingers.

“...Peter, my god, what happened…”

Her neighbor titled his head at the small group approaching him, finally realizing that there were people observing him.  “I...I killed my family…”

“What?  What did you do?”  Riley again grabbed his mom’s shirt to prevent her from climbing up the stairs.

Peter sniffed, tears running down his cheek.  “My wife, something happened with her…”

“What?  What?”  Roland’s mother cried out.

Peter’s eyes finally met hers.  “She attacked our daughter, I...I killed them defending myself…”

“I don’t understand…”

“Me neither.”  Peter then raised the handgun and placed it against his head.  Without another word he fired, sending bits of his brain splattering against the rails.

“NOOOO…”

The body collapsed, tumbled down the stairs and landed near the feet of everyone.

Jesus Fucking Christ…

Roland could not tear his eyes away from the dead body.  Brain and tissue leaked out from the hole in his head, spilling across the yard.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here!  There is one over there!”

Riley’s cry caused him to glance over.  An infected sprinted across the street, chasing someone on a bike and letting out an ear shattering cry as it continued down the block.

Even their mom realized it was time to flee her house.  Madison Smith only had enough time to grab a few supplies before her two sons shoved her into their car.

They only spotted one of those creatures on their trip back home.  Yet, the signs everywhere around them pointed to a city where law and order was rapidly disintegrating.  Looters were brazenly breaking into cars and homes.  One man opened up a car door of a moving Honda Civic and attempted to pull out the driver.  He was unsuccessful as he stumbled and disappeared below the vehicle.  Roland did not see him being run over, but the little Civic jolted upwards as if it just ran over a curb.

At an intersection halfway home, the brothers came upon an accident scene involving half a dozen cars.  No emergency personnel were present to help the wounded, including one horribly injured man who was dragging himself away from his car.

Riley slowed down as the man crawled across the street.  He cried out for help, but no one moved to aid him.  Instead, one person savagely beat another person with a tire iron in the middle of the street.  Groups of teenagers were seen grabbing items from the mangled vehicles, laughing and pointing at the terrified, wounded people around the intersection.  One of the teenagers dashed toward their car, eyeing the three occupants inside it.  He got beside the vehicle and started pounding on the hood of it.

“Stop the fucking…!”

Riley refused to stop the car or help anyone.

It was each and every person for themselves.

Life was always like that, but when people were running around trying to take a bite out of you, then it was really put into perspective.

Chaos was gradually developing in the small town of Ruston.  The worst part was that no law enforcement officers or firefighters were seen to stop the looting and disorder that was taking place.  Sirens were heard, but mostly in the far distance and they seemed to be coming from the downtown part of Tacoma.  A huge fire could be seen across the Puget Sound bay, toward the Port of Tacoma.  The scene reminded Roland of some sort of battle taking place in another country, thousands of miles away from America

This isn’t supposed to happen in the United States.

And yet, it was happening.  Last night, Roland was worried about signing up for classes this fall at Tacoma Community College.  Now, he was dodging utter turmoil in the streets, trying to avoid people that wanted to kill him.

Infected and those that were not infected.

Besides their mother, joining them in the house was the brothers’ next door neighbor, Franklin and his wife, Penelope.  They banded with the Smith brothers after seeing them race up in the morning and almost crash into Franklin’s truck as Riley skidded across the yard.  Penelope wanted to take off, but Riley convinced Franklin that staying together was the best plan for the moment.  His wife vehemently disagreed and they had gotten into a huge verbal argument for a few minutes.

“We need to leave now!  It’s stupid to stay here!” Penelope continued her barrage even after saying she would stay at the brother’s house.

Her short, brownish hair bobbed wildly each time she cried out.  She had to push her glasses back up her huge nose with every outburst.  They seemed to be too large for her tiny face.

“Why aren’t we going to a military base?  Or police station?  Surely they have the resources to help us.”  Her scrawny arms were flapping around madly.  She again pushed her glasses up over her larger than normal nose, which reminded Roland of a bird’s beak.

Franklin calmed her down eventually.  “Let’s just stay here and see what happens, okay?”

After seeing how quickly the outside world had become disorganized and violent, Roland was grateful in staying put.

Franklin was now helping Riley board up some parts of the house, while Madeline was with Penelope at her house, bringing over food and supplies to store up on.  Roland had been helping them until he cut his hand on a nail, ripping off enough skin that it required bandages and hydrogen peroxide.

Now, in severe pain, Roland sat on the sofa trying to soak up all information that could help this small group survive together.  This ungodly act of the dead attacking the living would require humans working with one another, something that always proved difficult.

He called one of his good friends, but they quickly hung up because of an accident that had occurred on the freeway.  Since his friend worked in Bremerton, Roland hoped it had nothing to do with the outbreak that was transpiring outside.  There were no reports about it occurring that far away, but the news could not be trusted for accuracy.  Especially during a crisis of this magnitude.

Although Bellevue had riots going on last night…

The breaking bulletin flashed across the screen.  Hans Gener, the pretty boy All-American anchor, looked exhausted.  Smeared makeup and sweat was evident all over his face, the little droplets of perspiration gathering in numbers on his forehead.  He shuffled papers nervously in front of him while adjusting his tie.

“What? Oh okay.”  He responded to someone off screen.

The anchorman cleared his throat and gazed directly into the camera.

“Okay, I’m ready to…uh…go…”

Roland tried focusing on the television, doing his best to ignore the pain in his hand.

“Good morning, folks, I’m Hans Gener and this is, uh, an update on the situation happening in the state today…”

Situation used again, Roland thought grimly.

“We have more breaking news folks.  According to the Tacoma Police Department and Pierce County Sheriff Department sources, nine Tacoma Officers and three Sheriff’s Deputies have been killed overnight.  Sources claim looters have shot at police, especially in the downtown area of Tacoma.  Sources also have reported that these…um, quote infected persons have attacked law enforcement and are taking bites out of people, although we still cannot get confirmation as to these acts.”

Roland shook his head.

I can confirm those acts…

Gener shuffled the papers in front of him again.

“It’s a tragic day in our state and, apparently, nationwide as well.  We can only pray that things get under control quickly.  I’m hearing now all law enforcement officials for the Seattle and Bellevue Police Departments have been called in to mandatory duty.  No official word on any causalities with the Seattle Police Department yet.  The Washington State National Guard is on standby, and as we at KING 5 News understand it, the Governor has not called them up quite yet.  A spokesman with the Governor’s office refused to say whether or not they would be called up, citing that he has not talked to the Governor and did not want to speak for her.”

Anchor Gener sighed deeply before continuing.

“Let’s go live to our King 5 Chopper hovering live over downtown Tacoma.  Rich, you there?”

“Yes Hans, I am here.”

The camera focused on a young man in a helicopter.  Rich’s hair fluttered all over the place, with his tie flapping in his face.  The camera then panned below to face the ground as he spoke.

“We have seen, from the safety of the chopper, police cars being attacked and fire trucks having to use their hoses on crowds of people in order to drive them back.  Looters are also causing a lot of problems.  They have driven back all of the emergency medical services and police are simply, overwhelmed.  I have seen these…infected people… attacking people, and things are only getting worse.”

The camera displayed Rich for a split second and then switched back to the ground level.  It ended up fixated on a cheering crowd of people congregated near a vehicle that was currently ablaze.  The burning car appeared to be a police cruiser, and besides being on fire, two youths were emptying their weapons into the car.  One of them held a handgun, while the other fired what looked to be an AK-47.  The youth with the handgun, a black male wearing a red bandana over his face, pointed at the chopper and started waving his weapon in the air.  The teenager with the AK-47, a white male with a red shirt, lifted his weapon toward the helicopter as well and started firing.

The helicopter hovered several hundred feet above ground when it started taking gunfire.

“Holy fucking shit!” screamed the pilot.  He grabbed the controls and jerked them, the helicopter making a hard right.

Bullets began to rip into the cockpit.  Despite all of the commotion, the cameraman maintained his composure and continued filming the horrifying scene.  The chopper began to rise a little more until a bullet ripped into the pilot’s back, went through his skull, and exited out of the front of the helicopter, shattering the glass shield.  Blood sprayed all over the place.  Panning the camera more, Rich could be heard screaming as the chopper began to waver in the air.  Rich and his cameraman vainly tried to grab on to anything as the helicopter, without a pilot, began its rapid descent.

Roland watched in disbelief as the camera showed the chopper crash into the side of a large office building.  The chopper then started falling to the ground, pieces splintering all over the place as it slid down against the side of the huge office structure.  On the way down, the propeller smashed into a nearby window, causing the blades to separate themselves from the rest of the helicopter and fly into another building.  The last thing Roland saw was the camera focusing toward the ground as it came closer to the street.  Before it crashed, the words “STAND BY” appeared on the screen.

Did I just see that?

Roland grimaced as he reached for the remote and turned it to CNN.  The conditions appeared to be swiftly deteriorating in other parts of the country as well.  The news lines that were blazing across the bottom of the screen confirmed this.

“…LAX has multiple fires and has been overrun by looters…”

“…sources say that the EBT system has crashed, rendering thousands of people without means to get food and water…”

Roland watched intently as a White House press conference was underway.  Lane Fibbs, the Press Secretary, appeared exhausted as he answered questions.  A man in a crisp suit and tie stood next to him, rubbing both his temples deliberately.

“It’s important that we just not deal with this…uh…in the coming weeks, instead…” Fibbs stammered.

“Where’s the President…?”

“Is the military being utilized?”

The journalists were also growing very anxious in light of the gloomy circumstances in the form of videos and reports being splashed all over the television and internet.

“…Now, we all know…” Fibbs tried talking over the large cluster of reporters, who pushed and shoved one another in an attempt to get closer to the podium.

“My sources are saying that this is a virus, is this true…?”

“Does the government have any answer for this…?”

Fibbs nervously glanced to the man in the suit, who exhaled heavily and stepped in front of the microphone.  He pointed to a reporter near him.

“Is this a virus?”

“We honestly don’t know.”

“How does it spread?  Could it be airborne?”

“We don’t know.”

The man in the suit was now recognized as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Malcolm Floyd.  The man’s bleak expression across his face did not change as he answered the media.  Reporters now hurled questions at the two men in rapid succession, one after the other.

“Does the CDC anticipate people listening to your guidelines when it comes to your recommendations for preparing and confronting this particular illness?”

“We don’t know.  We at the CDC have not made an announcement of guidelines yet.”

“Is this a terrorist attack?”

“Again, we don’t know…”

More questions were flung toward the podium, but Dr. Floyd signaled out one reporter and asked her to repeat it.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch it…”

“Are these people alive or dead?”

The room went silent as Dr. Floyd just shook his head.

“We don’t know,” he grimly answered.

We don’t know…

Roland could not believe it.  The United States government was saying it had no answers to the waves and waves of undead popping up.  He leaned back in his chair and shook his head.

Was this really happening…?

“Right now, we at the CDC are just prepared to state that there appears to be an infectious outbreak of unknown origins at the moment.  We are not prepared to state for certain…that, um, there are reanimated corpses coming back to life.”

Roland sneered at that statement.

This man was most definitely a government official.

“Are these people dead, like in zombie movies?”

“Uh, we don’t know…”

A low buzz suddenly rose up in the James Brady Press Room.  The President of the United States strolled in front of the podium.  Everyone seemed stunned for a moment as cameras flashed and Secret Service Agents flooded the area.  Gradually, getting over their shock, the reporters rose out of respect for her.

Karen Rice waited for the low murmur in the room to die down and for people to take their seats.  Uniformed police officers were seen on both sides of the podium, armed with rifles.  Other Secret Service agents took up defensive positions around the President, many of them displaying submachine guns.  A few high ranking military personnel spread out behind President Rice.  Roland scoffed at the sight of them.

Nothing but politicians in a uniform…

The more stars they had, the bigger brown-nose politically they most likely were.

Roland remembered his dad saying something to the effect that once you got your three stars, politics became your number one job.

“My fellow citizens, a crisis is upon us.  For unknown reasons, a mysterious infection has appeared in our country.  No one knows how it started or the origins of it, but it is occurring at this very moment.”

Flashes from cameras going off lit up the complexion of Rice.  Heavy bags under her eyes illustrated a woman that had not slept in a few days.  And now, she had to go before America and try and explain what exactly was happening.

Hell, I would be exhausted too if I had to deal with all this shit, Roland thought.

The President continued.  “I have asked the Governors to call up the National Guard in all their states.  My administration has also submitted a request to Congress to Federalize the US military and give the proper authorities all the resources they need to combat this growing threat.”  Rice glanced up toward the camera closest to her and stared straight into it.  “This includes declaring Martial Law within the surrounding areas, and possibly, all of the interior United States.”

Some gasps were heard in the room, but the majority of the reporters and cameramen were locked in on the President.  An agent dashed past the President suddenly, causing Rice to stop for a moment.

A female reporter took advantage of the President being distracted and cried out a question.  “Is it necessary for all of these assault rifles to be here?”

Are you fucking kidding me…?

Exhaling loudly and ignoring the ludicrous question, Rice carried on.  “I encourage my fellow citizens to do what you need to do to survive this disaster.  Protect yourselves, your family, and your property by whatever means necessary.  Rescue and first responders may not be able to reach you for weeks.  Therefore, it is on you to ensure your survival and your family’s survival…”

“What is this disease called?”

“Are the dead actually walking…?”

“How is your administration responding to this threat?”

Several questions were hurled at President Rice at once.  She held up her hand in an effort to halt them.

“Please.  Please, I encourage all questions to be held off at this time…”

Mumbling was heard from the press, but they settled down.

“In order to try and ensure the survival of this country and this government, I am declaring a state of national emergency, effective immediately.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Robert Gatewoods, will explain what this means.  While Martial Law has not been declared yet, it does mean that states can act out in their best interests in bracing for this epidemic and the rash of violence that will occur because of it.  Furthermore, I have ordered FEMA and other agencies to start preparations for the thousands upon thousands of people who will be rendered homeless during this time.  However, I must warn you, we are woefully underprepared for an event of this size and magnitude…”

“What do you believe is the cause?”

Another reporter interrupted the President, causing her stop her speech.

“Please…let me…”

The rest of the reporters started to drown out Rice.

“What about military personnel overseas?  Are they being called back?”

“Sources are telling me that this is an escaped virus from a lab?  Any response to that?”

“Are you invoking the Insurrection Act?”

President Karen Rice choose to answer that inquiry.  “No…no I am not…”

“Is the government actively working on a cure?”

President Rice tried waving away the other questions, but was unsuccessful.  She leaned in the microphone once more.

“My administration will continue to work in the Capital until we triumph over this emergency…”

Reporters continued interrupting Rice.

“Why are you staying in the White House?  What point are you trying to make Madame President?”

The President tilted her head toward the man who had asked it.  She gripped the podium tightly with both of her hands before answering.

“Because other Presidents have sacrificed much in order for me to be here.  Too much blood has been spilled by the citizens of this country throughout our history for me to just retreat and leave this historic building to lay in wake of those marauding hordes.  I will at least put up a good fight.  We will have regular updates on what the situation is and what is happening.  Join me in praying for this great country.”

With that, Rice walked off the stage and exited behind the curtains.  The room quickly became lively, with the reporters making calls on their phones and talking amongst themselves.  The news feed switched to two broadcasters sitting behind a desk, with half the screen displaying a highly decorated man in an Army uniform trying to speak above the fray.  Both news anchors started to talk about the appearance of the President and the negative effects that martial law would have if unleashed on the American people.

Roland sat there, a knot in his stomach growing tighter.  And then it suddenly dawned on him.  This crisis was not going away anytime soon.

Chapter 18

 

Friday, July 13th, 12:58pm

White House, Washington DC

 

As the meeting quickly dispersed, Colonel Mann noticed how the National Security Advisor motioned the Secretary of Defense over to him.  Watching from the corner of his eye, he saw the two men huddle together and talk quietly amongst themselves.  Mann would have been suspicious of the two men together even if this outbreak was not taking place.  They objected numerous times to Rice’s agenda, whether it was foreign or domestic policy, and made it known that they would pursue their own interests.  President Rice’s speech to the nation just finished, and these two men were probably already planning a plot against her.

Mann’s suspicions about the two men were confirmed seconds later.  A look of astonishment overcame the Secretary of Defense’s face.  He regained his senses, realizing where he was, and glanced around the room slowly to see if anyone had caught the look.

By the time his gaze came upon Mann, the Colonel pretended to shuffle through some papers on the table.  The two men gathered their paperwork and hurriedly exited the Situation room.  Mann decided to pursue them.  He made a quick excuse to those still left in the room and leisurely walked out, tracking the men.

The two Cabinet men were having a quiet conservation, stopping whenever they passed someone. Mann followed at some distance behind, but knew that the NSA man had spotted him after only a few steps.

It did not matter.

He wanted them to know that he was watching them.  The predicament was that the two men were influential enough to pull off whatever they were planning.  Besides, Samuel Alfred was one powerful man.  He wielded enough authority to manipulate the political system to his desire.  Additionally, the overseas perception of the man was held in very high esteem.  Years ago, he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to quell the conflict that had taken place in Pakistan.

Mann scoffed at the notion that Alfred did it for the ‘good of mankind.’  Instead, it was whispered that groups in Islamabad had been bought off with payments from the CIA in terms of guns and money.  The main reason that the National Security Advisor had gone over to promote peace, it was rumored, was to make the administration in charge at that instance, come across as incompetent.  Plus, the CIA now had rebel groups in Pakistan that it could count on to keep an eye out for not only for Islamic threats in the area, but gaze across both the Russian and Chinese borders and let them know that America was still a player in the world affairs.  And of course, the military industrial complex and Department of Defense had contractors that would keep busy with all the demands of the arms smuggling that was occurring in the region.  Moreover, with Alfred and the rest of the neo cons pocketing a nice tidy sum from the Defense Contractors Lobbyists in the Capitol, it was a win-win situation for the National Security Advisor and his buddies.

Mann guessed that they were going to the National Security Advisor’s office in the West Wing.  Sure enough, they entered the room and shut the door behind them.  Mann stopped a few paces short of the office.  He stood there for a few moments, wondering what the two men were planning.  Knowing them, it would not be in the best interest of Karen Rice.

 

The National Security Advisor closed the door behind him.  "Did you see the President’s lapdog following behind us?" he snorted.

The Secretary of Defense ran his heads through his graying, slicked back hair.  "He’s just protecting her, Samuel.  Paying more attention to us, especially after he found out how you tried to undercut her with that treaty with Russia…"

Alfred, who had gone around his desk and opened up a small liquor cabinet, snorted again.  "Mann’s a nobody.  A recovering drunk that’s all, he’s not a threat."  He poured himself a small glass of scotch.  He offered the bottle to the Secretary, who refused.  Alfred shrugged and downed the glass before pouring himself another.

"So, what did you want to speak to me about?"

Alfred took a sip and then set the glass down on the table.  "First off, the President’s fucked.  You saw how she lashed out at me, talking to me like I was some little cabinet aide or intern.  How dare she talk to me like that…”

“She’s stressed out, Sam.”

“I don’t care, she should show more respect.  Anyways, she’s seen the same reports.  You’ve seen the reports of…these….these…zombie attacks, right?"

"Of course."

Alfred shook his head.  "There is no way that any state police will be able to contain the mass of…of…those things.  They aren’t trained to handle this sort of shit.  I mean, can you imagine a horde of thousands descending upon your town with, like a hundred officers?  You think those law enforcement officials are going to stick around or are they going to flee with their families?  Same thought goes with looters or heavily armed fighters coming their way.  Will those same police officers stay and fight, or will they act like how they did during Hurricane Katrina and the race riots in Los Angeles?”

“You do have a point, Sam.”

“And the National Guard isn’t ready for this either and will be overwhelmed as well.  I mean, how many of them will actually report for duty?  We aren’t even considering the ones that are already dead or cannot get to a base.  This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, but it is an opportunity.  Nonetheless, for us to take advantage of it, we must defeat it first."

"Are you talking about putting US troops on American soil?"

Alfred grinned.  "Of course Henry.  Why, if it was up to me, than I would have ordered US troops on the ground right away."

Strangefeld shot Alfred a look of confusion.  "Wait, I thought you were against using federal troops…"

"Only for appearances sake," Alfred interjected.

Strangefeld took off his classes and started wiping the lenses off.  "With the way you were clamoring on today, you had me fooled."

Alfred let out a hoarse laugh.  "Federal troops are going to have to be used.  They are better armed and equipped than the National Guard is, and better trained.  I know that’s a horrifying thought.  But she should have invoked the Insurrection Act once New York City was overrun with those…dead people.”

“Maybe you are right…”

“While we should never give up our principles, we must also realize that we cannot maintain our principles unless we survive.  Yet, for the political backlash, I must distance myself from that possibility.  Boxer’s a disaster, but she’s right about the nightmare taking place if US soldiers are seen on television shooting people, especially minorities and children.  And they will fire on American civilians if ordered to do so."

“How can you be so sure?”

The National Security Advisor grinned.  “We’ve been testing the waters for quite some time now, on whether or not the military would have the, um, fortitude to open fire on unruly citizens who are not obeying the laws or are rioting.  I would wager that just under fifty percent would in fact listen to their superiors and have no problem shooting civilians.”

“Again, Sam, how you can be so sure…”

“Because military men are dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for whatever policy we set forth.  They will listen because it will be in their best interest to listen.  You think an Army General in a heavy urban area wants every gang banger armed to the teeth?  Or a commander out in the rural bum fuck of Middle America?  You think he wants those rednecks pulling out their doomsday end of the world stockpiles and using it on his troops?  No, that’s why those good little soldiers will listen to their politically appointed commanders.  Because when the first redneck or ghetto gangster shoots and kills a member of his unit, it will be just like the battlefield in Pakistan.  No one will give a shit if it’s in Chicago or San Diego.”

Strangefeld put his glasses back on.  "What about Homeland?  They’re in charge right now according to Congress and the President."

Alfred chuckled.  "Homeland?  Are you fucking kidding me Henry?  They can’t even keep people from entering the country when the shit isn’t hitting the fan.  How the fuck are they going to solve this when the shit has already hit the fan?  Although, they do have the equipment, training and resources to help with the coming riots, it will still come down to the US military in the end…for god sake’s Homeland couldn’t even keep Abdul al-Hawsaq out of the country despite him being number one on their most wanted list."

"Ah, yes, al-Hawsaq."

"Came across the Mexican border and performed a quote, ‘man-caused’ disaster in Philly." Alfred laughed, mocking Janet Boxer.

Abdul al-Hawsaq had been a radical Islamic cleric who helped coordinated attacks all across Europe for a number of years, including blowing up the US embassy in Norway.  After being hunted down by Interpol and other European agencies, he had been smuggled across the border by the drug cartels in Mexico.  He then proceeded to walk into a full church one Sunday morning and blow himself up, along with over three hundred other people.  Besides killing himself and meeting seventy two female virgins, al-Hawsaq also sent letters filled with a new strain of smallpox all across the United States.  He single handedly shut down the entire Federal postal service for two weeks.

"So, what are you proposing?  You caught me off guard with the news that the Vice President wants to talk with me about the future of this country."

Alfred took another sip of his drink.  "We wait.  We wait until the situation is so bad that the military must take over.  Everything.  And then we strike."

A confused look overtook the Secretary of Defense.  "Strike?"

"Yes.  With the President out of the way, so is her pathetic ‘speak loudly, but carry a small stick’ foreign policy.  With the Vice President in control, we will be free to run our course and be the great nation like we once were.  Take the oil, instead of trading for it.  Snatch the raw goods, instead of asking for them.  We will be able to save face with the nations and groups that believe we are still weak.

"Sounds like it could come back to haunt us.”

Alfred chuckled.  "Please, with the shit hitting the fan now, the American people will be clamoring for a new, stronger America."

Strangefeld sighed. "I hope your right."

Alfred eye’s pierced the Secretary of Defense.  "I know I am."

Chapter 19

 

Friday, July 13th, 1:02pm

Ruston, Washington

 

The small group of survivors gathered in the television room.  Riley referred to this part of the house as their ‘man cave’.  It had a fifty two inch television, a leather couch and the recliner chair.  A table with a desktop computer was shoved into the corner.  Posters of various professional Seattle sports teams dotted the room, along with a huge Irish flag draped over the leather couch.  Although the Smith brothers were part French, it was the Irish side that they celebrated most.  Heavy curtains covered the two giant windows looking into their man cave.  After witnessing the infected person rush the window and break through it, they thought it best to try and obscure the line of sight of anyone gawking inside the house.  Subsequently, bed sheets were hung up over all the other windows to mask that view from outside eyes.

Madison rested in the lazy boy cushion chair, rubbing her temples. Franklin and his wife occupied the couch, with Riley and Roland both choosing to stand.  While Roland silently paced around, Riley presented a calm demeanor in the face of what was occurring.  Roland shook his head.  He had no idea how Riley seemed composed in light of the circumstances.

The television was on, displaying images of Congress in a heated debate on whether or not to grant the President’s wish to overturn the Insurrection and Posse Comitatus Act's.  Since her speech earlier in the day, Congress had been pressed into duty.  Rice decided not to invoke the Insurrection Act and to try and pass a bill with the support of both chambers of Congress.  It was a smart political move on her part.

Roland could make out armed guards walking in and out of view, most carrying a rifle of some sort.  He knew nothing about weapons, except what he saw in the movies.  Although he did not own any guns, Roland always supported the people's right to bear arms.  In fact, he was now wishing he had invoked his 2nd Amendment right and stocked up on his own arsenal of guns and ammunition.

Shouting from politicians pulled Roland's attention back to the television.  If Congress did vote in Rice’s favor, the President would have the authority to declare martial law anywhere she chose to.  In addition, she could federalize the National Guard, Coast Guard, and local law enforcement officials.  Finally, the Federal forces would have the authorization to enforce civilian laws.  For example, Federal troops would have the power to stop and detain you just like your local police and law enforcement officials.  But, unlike your local law enforcement officials, they would not have to give you cause.  Screaming ‘Habeas Corpuses’ would only generate a laugh from military troops.

Riley spoke up first.  "Okay, we need to implement a plan here.  This is serious now."

Nods of agreement were seen around the room.  Everyone started talking at once.

“Yes, I think the plan is to leave here right now,” Penelope spoke up, her high-pitched voice rising above everyone else.

“Penelope…” Franklin took a deep breath.

“No, I won’t be quiet, I don’t see why we are staying here?  What’s the reason?”

“Because it’s safer in here than out there right now,” Riley pointed out.

A sarcastic snort rose up from Penelope.

Riley turned to Franklin, ignoring her.  "Do you have a gun?"

Franklin shook his head.  “Nope. Just some tools and equipment from my job.”

Riley nodded.  “Bring over whatever you can that can be used as a weapon.  Hammers, crowbars, hell even some power drills.”

Franklin groaned as he lifted himself up from the sofa.  “I’ll bring over whatever we need.  Also, I’ll get some more two-by-fours that I have in my backyard to board up some more of the house.”

Thank god Franklin was a carpenter…

Both he and his wife left the room, using the back door to exit the house.  They would then crawl over the fence that separated the two residences.  A little less than an hour ago, an infected person stumbled down the alley that ran through the back of the houses on the block.  Someone then shot it from a balcony overseeing the alleyway.  The small group had then decided to avoid that vicinity of the neighborhood, in case the person was trigger happy.  Besides, the body of the individual still lay in the alley, letting off an unpleasant odor that caused Madison to gag when they had gone out to investigate.

Riley rubbed his hands together.  “Roland, your hand still hurt?”

Roland rolled his eyes at his brother.

“Bro, make some calls to our friends.  See if you can reach anyone and if you do, see if they want to stay here.”

Roland was already reaching for his cell phone.

“Come on, mom let’s go see what we have stocked up.”

Madison stood and followed her older son out of the room.  Roland watched his mom stroll out. He noticed how much more grayer her hair had gotten over the past year.  Wrinkles that were not there a year ago dotted her aging face.

Dialing one of their friend’s numbers, Roland turned his attention back to the television.  A Congressman was in the middle of his speech.  “…the only way this bill can pass is if the administration creates and sustains a panic like atmosphere.”  The man, identified as Representative Lawyer J. Sherman from California, gestured to an armed police officer holding an automatic rifle behind him.

“This is not the kind of atmosphere that we need right now.”

Roland was still not getting an answer from most of his friends.

Rep. Sherman carried on with his rant.  “We have been told that the sky will collapse, the markets will tumble, and our very lives will be at stake if we do not pass this bill.  In fact, in many private conversations that we have had, we have been told that there will be martial law declared in America, even if we vote no and this bill doesn’t pass.  That is the very definition of fear mongering that we have tried to steer away from.”

Roland ended the call.  So far, he had only heard from one of his friends, and he was stuck on the Gig Harbor side of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  According to him, the police and law enforcement officials shut down the two bridges right before he could cross it.  Sheriff Deputies were posted out all over the place, not allowing people to cross either side.  He said there were huge bulldozers in the middle of the lanes, blocking the paths of oncoming traffic.  Police forced people back to the Tacoma side of the bridge, their guns drawn and threatening to shoot.  Right before his friend hung up, gunfire started to erupt in the background. Apparently, people did not want to be told that they could not cross in order to escape.  Or worse yet, infected had begun to stream across the bridge.

“…This type of behavior is unjustified and just plain wrong…”

The politician speaking broke his train of thought, causing him to focus on the television.

“…We need more time to write a good bill, which we can do.  The only way to pass this horrible bill is to keep the panic pressure on, which is what the higher ups are hoping will happen.”

A gavel was heard pounding in the background.  “The gentleman from California’s time is up.”

Yet, Rep. Sherman was not quite done.  “Therefore, I whole heartedly will vote no for this, stunningly, massive overreach of government authority and I urge my fellow colleagues to do the same…”

More pounding from the Speaker of the House, who was doing her best to maintain control.

“…vote no to the military industrial complex…”

Shouts and cries rose up from off-screen.

“The Sergeant-at-Arms will remove the gentleman if he continues to speak out of turn…”

Instead, Rep. Sherman stepped away from the podium, still seething about the bill.  He was arguing with someone was in the audience.  The California man finally stormed away, still shouting.

“The Speaker now recognizes the gentleman from Texas…”

A short Hispanic man with slicked back hair strolled to the microphone with the utmost confidence.  “Thank you, Madame Speaker…I urge my fellow colleagues to not hesitate when voting for this particular bill.  We are in a crisis.  A very serious crisis that requires our immediate attention and our immediate action…”

Roland squinted at the name that was now placed on the bottom of the screen.

Representative Felipe del Estrada D-Texas.

Roland had never heard of the man before, but that was not surprising.  He never paid any attention to politics before.

“…and now we are being asked to act and vote for a bill that will, in all likelihood, cause Martial Law to be enacted.  But, in serious and graves times, we are asked to take unusual steps and be proactive in order to save this great Republic of ours…”

Representative del Estrada adjusted his tie and crossed his fingers together on the podium before continuing with his speech.  He knew millions of people were watching him on television and enjoyed the limelight like a typical politician.

“...In order to protect our communities, our families, and this nation of ours, we sometimes must be called upon to make decisions that are hard and may seem to be somewhat extreme.  I do not believe that this is the case...”

Hammering of the gravel in the background signaled that Representative del Estrada’s time had ended.

“…therefore, I will be voting yes only because I believe it is necessary to combat this threat and I urge all my fellow colleagues to do the same.  Now it is our time to act.  The world is a battlefield, and now that battlefield is on our soil.  Let’s not second guess ourselves or our fellow Americans when lives are at stake.  This bill must pass…”

“The gentleman’s time is up…”  More pounding from the gavel echoed behind the short, well-groomed man.

“…and we must not delay it any further.  Thank you Madame Speaker.”

Representative Felipe de Estrada gathered his notes and left the area with clapping following him, although a few boos were mixed in as well.

A narrator's deep voice broke over the screen.  “If this bill passes the House, it will move onto the Senate.  The bill needs at least two hundred and eighteen votes to pass.  Once again, this bill would grant the President the authority to federalize the National Guard and allow the United States military to patrol and carry out missions in the same capacity as any domestic law enforcement group…let’s continue watching this debate live, thank you again for watching CSPAN…”

Across the bottom of the screen flashed ‘You are watching the House of Representatives debate Bill HR 1985M…’

“The Speaker recognizes the gentleman from Texas.”

An older, heavyset white man lumbered up to the podium.  “I ask for unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.”

“Without objection,” bellowed the Speaker.

Roland flipped through the numbers on his phone without really looking at them, momentarily distracted by the debate happening.

“I rise in opposition to this resolution.  This bill does something more than authorize US troops to engage in combat on US soil, it transfers the responsibility, and the authority, and the power of this Congress to the President so she can declare an emergency when she wants to.”

Some booing echoed throughout the chamber.  The Speaker once again pounded the gavel in an effort to regain order.

The man speaking, recognized as Ernest Getty from Texas, continued his speech on the floor of the house.  “This bill will make it so that the President and her cabinet will make all the decisions, not the people of the United States through their congressperson.”

More booing and shouting arose.

Representative Getty shook his finger in the air.  “Instead…instead, the will of this nation will be left to a select few.  The American people must prepare for the rise of taxes that will occur or the stark reality that a military draft could be instituted!”

Further hollering and barking were threatening to drown out the rest of Congressmen Getty’s speech.  “...I urge my fellow Americans to find out the truth for themselves and to not trust what this administration says!  Do not trust what our government says...”

Roland noticed one of the armed police officers grab a person and then fling them to the ground, just behind where the representative was speaking.  It appeared that the Speaker had just about lost control.  “The gentlemen’s….the gentleman's time from Texas is up…”

“I urge all Americans to follow the money with this scam…follow the…” Rep Getty was suddenly interrupted by a man who stormed the platform.  He grasped the tie of the Texas representative and attempted to yank him away from the podium.

“Order…order…Sergeant, regain order…” The Speaker continued to bang the gavel.  The two men were now hitting each other each.  The man who had attacked Getty appeared to be smacking him over the head with a cell phone.

“You fucking, crazy asshole…”  The other representative was clearly getting the best of the fight.

“I demand order!  Order in the House!”  Still, the Speaker had already lost command of the process.  Disorder reigned supreme in the House of Representatives.  On screen, men and women were in each other’s faces, screaming and shouting.  Some even threw wild punches.

Holy shit.

If Congress could not contain themselves in the face of this threat, what hope was there for the Average Joe?

Not much.

One representative connected with his fist, knocking another man to the floor before they both rolled out of view.  A woman hovered a chair over her head and managed to launch it into the mass of politicians.  Finally, a few of the Capital Police rushed the scene, pulled the group apart, and regained control of the situation.

Congressman Getty still was able to shout more words into the microphone as he was being tugged away by an officer.  “The stage is being set up for a military dictatorship!  The people need to stand…”

Getty was then dragged away.

“Order!  Order!”

Roland snapped out of his trance on the television with the return of Riley and Franklin to the room.

“Right now, I think the best thing to do is to stick together,” Riley declared as he set aside various weapons that Franklin had brought back, which included a hammer and chainsaw.

Franklin nodded in agreement.  "Whatever is happening out there, we don’t know when it is going to end.  We need to stick it out…”

An unexpected thunderous boom abruptly rattled the house.

Madison screamed, causing Roland to jump out of his seat.

“What the fuck…!”

The window near the group shattered, sending glass flying into the room.

For a moment, everyone stood frozen where they were at.

Boom!

Another, loud deafening noise caused the walls of the house to shake uncontrollably.  A picture of Safeco Field, where the Seattle Mariners played their games, fell off the wall and smashed onto the ground.

“What the fuck is that!?” Riley peeked his head out the cracked window.

“Military jets…” Franklin joined him.  “Breaking the sound barrier.”

A third roar echoed in the sky, followed quickly by a fourth one.

“Jesus sounds like a war zone.” Riley still tried spotting the jets up in the sky, his head on a constant swivel.  

Franklin let out a soft chuckle.  “No need looking for them.  Hell, those fighter jets could have come from Oregon.”

“Seriously?  Well, guess it’s good the military is involved.”  Riley looked back to the group.

“Is it?”  Madison’s voice floated across the room.  “That means that…”

“The shit has hit the fan,” finished Roland.

 

For the next hour, the group stocked up on supplies from Franklin and Penelope’s house.  Everything from canned foods, soap, and toilet paper were brought over.   Yet, even after combining the provisions from the two houses, it still did not appear enough for five people and a dog.  Riley was the first one to point that out and mentioned the little convenience store a few blocks over.

“A quick store run to try and gather as much as possible before the shit really hits the fan,” Riley declared, framing his argument to the group.  “All these goods will only last us a few days.  By then, who knows what the outside will look like?”  Everyone nodded, except for Madison.  She knew exactly who would be making the store runs.

“We need a few more supplies, then.”  Riley turned to his brother.  "Bro, we need to stop by the little convenient store and pick up some materials.  You know, water, frozen food, boxed food, just whatever we can find."

“Yeah, I was once watching this show and it said that people only have, like three days’ worth of food in their house,” Penelope piped up again.

Roland glanced to her.

“Guess you guys are a little unprepared?  All the more reason to go to a police station or military base…”

“Okay, we get it.  You don’t want to stay here.  Well, you can leave, lady…”  It seemed Riley had enough of her whining.

“I’m just trying to do the smart thing…”

“I think we all are trying to do that,” Madison calmly stated.  “Right now, let’s just try and stay composed.  No use fighting with each other.”

“Fine,” Penelope huffed, “you want to go all Rambo out there and be a tough guy, go for it!”  She stomped to the bathroom and slammed the door.

“We don’t know how long we’re going to be in this situation,” Franklin spoke up in defense of his wife.  “She’s just worried about her family and friends.”

Riley nodded.  “I get it.  We get it, man.  No worries”

“Yeah,” Roland agreed.

It was true…

If Penelope was the one in the group freaking out, then that meant Roland had to stay levelheaded.

I’m trying…

Franklin sighed.  “I guess I’ll put boards up over the broken windows to make it more secure and safer for us.”

Roland inhaled a deep breath.  "We better take off right now."

What am I doing…?

"You two can’t go out there. With what’s going on out there..."  Madison swiftly joined the conversation again

"Mom, I’ll be fine…"

Exactly, except there’s zombie like fucks out there…

Roland realized he was trying to convince himself.  He had no idea what he was doing, but realized that Riley was taking charge of their group.  And so, he felt like he must fall in line and follow his older brother’s lead.

Is Riley scared…?

Riley put his hand on her shoulder.  "Hey, mom, he’s coming with me.  Okay?  We’ll be fine.  We’ll be right back."  He helped his mom sit down on the sofa.  She tried to convince her two sons to stay, but the combination of supplies between the brothers and Franklin would only last a few days.  Besides, they did not know when normalcy would return to the area.  The thunder generated from the military jets signaled the panic setting in around them.  In order to survive, the small group would need to rely on themselves for the time being.

Good ole’ fashioned American ingenuity.

In this type of atmosphere, Darwinism would be in full display, rooting out the less fortunate, or as Riley put, ‘the really fucking stupid.’

Both brothers started for the door.

"Hey guys, you forgetting something?"  Franklin pulled out his wallet.

Riley laughed.  "Yep, it did slip my mind.  With what is going on now..."

Franklin gave them two fifty dollar bills.  "Use it all."

“You think we’ll really need it?”  Roland did not think monetary transactions were very important at the present moment.  In fact, he thought it was a stupid question to even ask or bring up.

Which was more important?  Someone taking a huge chunk of flesh out of you, or making sure that someone paid for that Butterfinger?

Roland pondered his own inquiry.

“Ya never know.”  Riley shrugged.  “Besides, if things get really serious, we can just have Roland perform some sexual favors in exchange for supplies…”

“HA.  HA.”

Maybe that wasn’t such a stupid question after all.

After all, someone might take a huge chunk of flesh out of you just for a Butterfinger.

Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger…

Roland turned and opened the door.

"I’m getting the bat, bro."  Riley turned to pick it up, while Roland made his way outside to start the car up.

 

Roland had just gotten into his silver Camry, when he noticed a figure running up on the sidewalk. Fearing it was an infected person, he quickly locked the doors and prepared to call his brother on the cell phone to warn him of the immediate danger.

Instead, the form ended being a twenty-something year old, who spun hurriedly to Roland and started speaking to him.  Being inside the car, he could not understand the man’s shouting.

He rolled down the window a crack to hear him better.  The man, panting furiously, was still trying to catch his breath.  He wore a black suit and green tie, with a yellow undershirt.  Roland thought it looked hideous.  It reminded him of one of the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy hosts.

Roland inspected him more closely.  A meticulously, shaved crop head was accompanied by red tipped glasses.  The young man looked ridiculous, dressed in his fancy outfit at a time such as this.

"Excuse me, I’m…I’m…trying to find my…mother," the man panted, his hands on his knees, slouched forward.

"Umm, why the hell…"  Roland was interrupted by Riley on the stairs.

"Who the fuck are you?" his older brother shouted from the porch.

The man held up his hand, still catching his breath.  "Guys…I tracked her cell phone GPS signal to around this area…through the phone company…my mother…please."

Riley shrugged his shoulders.  "Sorry man…"

The man in the suit then noticed the bodies lying in the yard.  He reached for the neon hat near the sidewalk.  "This is my mother’s hat..." he muttered.

Getting down on his knees, he flipped over one of the bodies.  "My God!" he screamed, "What the hell happened!"

Riley gazed Roland.  They both rolled their eyes at each other.

What were the fucking odds?

"Mom, mom!"  The young man shook the corpse.  "Why is her face all smashed up?!! What happened?!!"

Roland cleared his throat, not sure on how he would explain the slaying of his mother.  "She was infected, buddy.  We had to, uh, put her down."

The man started to sob uncontrollably.  His fists pounded the ground over and over again, causing his knuckles to become bloody.  He glanced toward the sky and screamed hysterically.

"Okay, man, you need to shut your fucking trap right now." Riley had taken a step down from the porch.

The young man breathed heavily, in an almost unnatural way.

"Who hit her?" he hissed.

Both brothers made eye contact again.  This time, Roland shook his head silently at Riley.

“...who hit her?” he growled again.

Don’t tell him…

His older brother ignored him.

Of course…

"I did," Riley stated defiantly.  The bat swung slowly by the side of him, almost inviting the man to charge him.  Franklin walked outside at that moment, joining Riley and perhaps making the man decide against rushing the person responsible for bashing his mother’s head.

Riley had taken care of the infected in front of the house earlier and was now deflecting the attention away from Roland.

What would I do without Riley…?

The young man gradually rose.  His hands shook with rage, but he did not dare attack Riley with Roland and Franklin around.  Instead, he took off and ran down the street, crying as he disappeared behind the block.

Riley jumped off the porch.  "Dude, take off and stop by the store yourself.  I get the feeling that he might be back."

Roland nodded, the rush of adrenaline inside his body directly fueling him.

"Ten minutes."  He slammed down on the accelerator and sped away.

 

Coming up to the end of the block, he took a hasty right.  Straightening out, the vehicle halted abruptly at a stop sign moments later.  Roland glanced both ways to see if the street was clear.

No other vehicles were spotted coming his way.

Speeding across the intersection, he witnessed a house on fire to his left.  A couple of emergency vehicles were sprawled out in the middle of the street.  Roland saw an infected person sprint to a group of firefighters.  The line of firefighters veered the hose toward the figure, knocking it on its back.  Roland, distracted from the landscape, then slammed on his brakes to avoid a group of people running across the street.

Fuckers, he thought as he continued to the mini mart.

He just now noticed that the radio blaring, a person in a monotone voice repeating the same phrase over and over again.

“….this is not a test.  A state of national emergency has been declared throughout the country…please listen for further updates…this is not a test…”

The silver car came to a sudden halt beside the second story market.  Dust briskly rose above the area, causing Roland to rub his eyes momentarily.  He then inspected his surroundings, checking for any infected.

Squinting at the landscape, he did not see any undead darting to him.

A few houses down, a family hurriedly loaded their luggage into the back of a blue tinted SUV. Directly across the street from the local food mart, a white car had crashed into a fence.  Roland could not be certain, but a figure appeared to be slumped over in the front seat.

Shrugging off that thought, he hopped out of his car and made his way to the front door.  The neon sign still flashed OPEN, causing Roland to chuckle faintly to himself as he cautiously advanced forward. The doors were perched open, as usual, because of the summer heat.  He spotted the blood stains on the ground a split second before he was greeted with a hail of bullets being fired from the top floor window. Diving back behind his car, the spray of bullets hit the hood and shattered the glass of the front and side windows.

"Hold it right there muthafucker!  Don’t move your cracker ass!"  A black man leaned out from the open window on the second floor.  He aimed his rifle toward the car and Roland.

“Scott, get this bitch and his car."

Roland peeked up from behind the car and noted that Scott was a fat, heavy white guy.  Two huge, shiny diamond earrings dangled from both ears.  A shaved head complemented a thin, black beard. Blood splatter dotted up and down his white tee-shirt.  The huge man lingered right inside the doorway.

"Get up, man, get up."  Scott slowly ambled out, pausing in front of the open doors.  He pointed his own gun in the direction of Roland.

Roland realized that if he tried to get in the car and flee, Scott and the man leaning from outside the window could riddle it with bullets.  He frantically searched for a way out, his palms getting sweaty and his breathing becoming more brisk.

"Come on man, don’t make me come over there.  Get up like the bitch that you are," Scott huffed in a surprising whiny voice for someone of his stature.  The stomach of the chubby gunman heaved up and down rapidly.  In fact, just walking over a few feet left his lungs gasping for air.

Roland breathed in brisk spurts as well.  Yet, that was because of predicament he found himself in now.  He hastily scanned the area, desperately searching for any other option than surrendering to the two thugs.

Perhaps someone, anyone would come to his aid.

A faint glimmer of hope swelled inside him.  Sweeping his eyes back down the block, that dim flicker of faith sunk right back down.  The family a few houses down had disappeared at the moment of gunfire.  While the SUV was still parked in the driveway, the people had fled to the safe confines of their house.

They would not be coming to the rescue.

Roland then noticed glass in the middle of the street, glinting off from the bright sunlight.  Following the trail, he examined the car across the street that had crashed into the fence more closely.  Small holes were spread all across the side of it, and he now became aware that the back window had been shattered as well.  Blood was pelted in areas of the front window, where bullet holes had hit the car after presumably striking the person inside it.

"Shiiiitttt."  Roland cussed softly to himself.  How had he been so stupid to not check his surroundings more carefully?  Now being careless might get him killed by some thugs that were robbing the store.

"I’m only going to ask your bitch ass one mo’ time.  Get up or get shot the fuck up,” Scott impatiently whined.

“I…I got some money…I can give you a few bucks here…”

Mocking laughter cut off Roland.

“You serious, bitch?  Like that paper money gonna mean anything now.”  Scott laughed again.  “Nah, bitch, this store here be like the bank now.  Food and water be the money, not some damn paper.”

“Shit,” Roland muttered.

For a moment, he thought about making a run for it.  Glancing around the area, his eyes found the bullet ridden car with the body in it again.

I’m not going anywhere…

Roland decided that he had no other choice.  He got up slowly with his hands raised in the air and came around the car.  He came face to face with the huge man.

Scott grinned.  "Who’s the bitch now?" he puffed in his high, pitched voice.

Roland stepped back, witnessing the movement behind the plump, overweight man.  He grimaced, knowing what was about to happen next.

Scott moved forward. "I said, who’s the bitch now?"

"I think you’re about to be."

An angry look flashed across his chubby face.  "What did you say…?”

A huge gunshot rang out and the front of Scott’s chest exploded outwards.  Scott’s eyes rolled to back of his head as he collapsed, the weapon dropping to the ground.

Roland stumbled back as an Asian man cocked the shotgun he held.  Stepping over the quivering body, the small man raised the gun to the back of the downed man’s head as he straddled the body.  He fired again, blood and tissue splattering all over him.  The Asian man then grimaced as he weakly raised the gun in the direction of Roland.  In addition to his shoulder being injured, a huge cut ran from his left eye all the way down to the side of his cheek.  Grunting, he jerked his head to the door.

Roland nodded understandingly.  The owner of the store was telling him to leave.  He put both of his hands up in the air and tried to take a step back, but found that he was frozen in place.

I just saw someone get shot in front of me…

More shots unexpectedly erupted and the Asian man quickly spun around, bullets hitting him in the stomach and chest.  Some rounds hit the glass door, sending pieces flying everywhere.  As the Asian man fell, Roland saw that it was the black man, who had been leaning out from the second story window.  He must have hustled downstairs when hearing the shooting just seconds ago.

Roland turned, dashing to his car with the desperate thought of survival pushing him away from the store.  He ripped open the front door and dove inside his vehicle.  Starting the engine, he watched as the gunman had difficulty stepping over the two bodies in his attempt to rush outside.  Roland stomped on the accelerator, the car kicking up dirt and dust.

The gunman hopped over Scott’s body just as the silver Toyota Camry sped onto the road.

He fired.

Roland instinctively ducked as bullets flew all around him.  One nicked the passenger’s seat and another smashed into his radio.  He jerked the wheel, taking a hard left to a side street.  Bullets sprayed all around his car.  The steering wheel suddenly took a hard right, with the back of the car fish tailing.  Roland pumped the brakes, causing the car to spin even more.  Spinning a complete 360, the car finally came to a screeching halt.

Roland’s head flung forward, slamming into the steering wheel.

For a few seconds, everything was black.

Groaning, Roland reached for his nose.  He touched it, and then reacted in pain.  Blood freely flowed out of it.  He blinked, trying to regain his senses.  His head rang with discomfort, a buzzing sound in his ears.

His front door was suddenly pulled open.

Roland spun to the figure next to him, fearing the worse.

Instead, it was an older black man.  "I saw what happened, partner.  You sure took a tussle."

Roland nodded, still trying to clear away the dizziness swirling around in his head.  He lifted his arm, trying to speak and warn the man of the danger coming up behind him.

"I know, partner, I know.  I saw that thug."  The older man showed him a small handgun that he held.  "I can give you cover fire."

Roland did not say anything, the constant ringing between his ears causing him to furiously shake his head in an attempt to end it.

What am I doing out here…?

The old man then quickly swung around behind the open door, pointing his gun back in the direction of the store.

Roland peeked down the street, watching as the black gunman jogged to him.  He must have seen the car spin out and came to finish the job.

The old man fired, gently squeezing the trigger.

The gunman had nowhere to take cover.  Instead, he stood in the middle of the intersection and returned fire.  Bullets raked the car.  Windows were cracked and shattered as glass flew all over the place.  Roland reacted in pain, a huge piece of glass tearing a chunk of his skin away from barely above his eyebrow.

The old man took his time, carefully aiming his shots toward the other gunman. "Just like Iraq.  They couldn’t hit diddly-shit either," he snorted.

Lead rounds continually punished the car.  Another piece of glass flew into the arm of Roland.  The old man abruptly collapsed, grunting in obvious pain.  Roland noticed that he was clutching his arm, blood spilling out from it.

"Ahh, damn it."

A bullet had found its target, knocking the old man down.

Roland turned to where the other gunman stood, expecting him to be advancing closer.  Instead, he witnessed the gunman fleeing the scene, chased by a crowd of infected.  He whirled once and fired into the crowd, knocking one down to the ground.  The rest continued after the man, the cluster of people disappearing down the block.

Roland sighed in relief.

Safe...

The old man still groaned in pain from the wound on his arm.  Roland dragged himself out from the car.  Dropping onto the pavement, he watched the infected figure nimbly hop back on its feet.

"Shit."  He stopped moving, praying it would continue down the road and follow the horde chasing the thug shooter.

The infected person began running away from Roland’s position when it suddenly turned its head toward him.  The old man’s groans had attracted it.  Its head rotated in every direction, trying to pinpoint exactly where the sound was coming from.

And then it seemed to spot Roland.  The infected person let out a primeval scream and started sprinting toward the two men.

"Oh, shit." Roland’s chest tightened up.

Roland used his hands pushing against the hard cement to lift himself up.  He turned to the wounded man.

"Where’s your gun?" he cried out, panic in his voice rising up.

The old man grinded his teeth as he pointed to the weapon off to the side of him.  Roland jumped over him, grabbing the gun and swinging toward the running figure.  The infected person, which looked to be a woman, was only twenty yards away and closing quickly.

Roland brought the gun up and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

"Oh, shit, shit." Roland yanked the trigger a second time.

And nothing happened once more.

"Here…here…is another magazine…"  The old man removed another magazine from his pocket.  The magazine transferred from his hands to Roland’s trembling fingers.

"Oh, shit, fuck, shit."  Roland had no idea how to put it in.  Wheeling toward the infected woman, Roland did the only thing he could think of at that particular moment.

He chucked the gun at her.

It hit the woman in the face and clattered harmlessly to the pavement.  She was not even fazed by something smacking her across the face.

Roland then did only the second thing he could think of at that time.  As the infected woman reached its hands out to grab him, he lifted his right leg up and drew it back.  Aiming for the woman’s stomach, he kicked outwards.  The infected creature felt the full weight of the kick as it hit her in the abdomen.  The woman tumbled over from the blow, falling backwards.

Roland fell over as well.  Losing his balance, he stumbled in reverse, hitting the front door that was still open.  He cried out in pain as the tip of the door grinded into his back.

The infected woman regained her senses, started to go for Roland and then noticed the old man.  It swiftly crawled to him on all fours, jumping on top of the helpless man.

Screams shook Roland out of his blow.  Seeing the woman tear into the old man’s neck, he looked around desperately for anything to help the man with.

Instead, he heard the old man speak.  "Get out…get out of here…"

Roland froze up.  He could not just leave this man to die out here.

Hearing feet pound on the pavement, he twirled to see two more infected figures running toward the scene.

Fuck!

Without hesitating, Roland hopped back into his car and hastily started it.  Speeding out of there, Roland now realized that the gunman took out a tire, which explained the car losing control earlier.  The flat tire caused the Toyota to bounce up and down, sparks flying from the rims hitting the road.  Ignoring the issue, Roland jerked the wheel as he made a hard right, almost losing control of the car as he tumbled onto a busier street.  He decided to race back home.

Sparks flew up from the rims as the car skidded on the road.  Glass scattered each time the car bounced up and down.  Roland’s nose was a mess, as the blood still flowed freely from it, dripping down to his mouth.

Tastes salty.

The wound above his eyebrow still had a piece of glass lodged in it.  He reached up in an attempt to pick at it, but did not get the opportunity.  Roland found himself slamming on the brakes of his car.

Frowning, he saw that two police cruisers had formed a road blockade in the middle of the lane. Another cop vehicle was parked on the sidewalk, with still another one on the opposite side, all four cop cars forming one side of a half square.  Tacoma Police was printed on the sides of all four police cruisers, with ‘Proud to Serve You’ written horizontally on the vehicles.

Roland could not help but cuss.

“Fuck.”

He had more than his share of run-ins with the law enforcement of Tacoma and did not respect them as a source of authority.  He had been slapped in the face and slugged in the stomach by more than one of their officers. Of course, that could be because he was breaking the law every time he made contact with them.

A cop wearing sunglasses signaled him forward, angling a shotgun at their side.  Roland hesitated slightly, as he viewed one person being frisked on the hood of one of the police cruisers.  It was a female, and the officer searching her seemed to be getting a little too friendly.  The cop rubbed his hand up and down her leg very slowly, all while grinning like a schoolboy.  Two other law enforcement officials were posted right outside their half square, apparently keeping an eye out for infected.  Those two appeared to be armed with the military style rifles that the Tacoma City Council tried banning a year earlier.

Protection for thee, but not for me…

“Come on, that’s right, come on.”  The officer approached Roland’s side.  “Keep your hands on the steering wheel, if you please.  Do not make any sudden movements, do you understand, sir?  Any weapons on you?”  He aimed the shotgun directly in Roland’s face.

“No, sir, I…was just attacked back there.  A man is down back there….”

“You were attacked?  That’s horrible, sir.  Please, step out of the vehicle so we can properly perform our duties in assisting you.”

Roland knew the cop was not being serious.

“Officer, I’m not trying to cause any problems…”

The cop nodded.  “I appreciate that.  Now, step out of the vehicle, sir.  Please.  So we may assist you.”

“I don’t understand…”

"Looks like you’re driving illegally there, sir,” the cop cut off Roland quickly.  “This car should not be on the road.  And you stated there was an assault that took place?  Maybe you’re the one who did the assaulting.  We need to properly search you to perform our duties as law enforcement officers.”

He chuckled, as he took off his black sunglasses and put them in his chest pocket.  The officer also had a trademark cop mustache, which he rubbed as he stared down Roland.

Roland just sat in his seat not moving, stunned that police officers would worry about something like that during an outbreak where the dead were rising up.

"Are you kidding…?”

"And you’re driving without a seatbelt.  That’s a dangerous and major offense."   The cop glanced to another officer that had come up to them.  "All total, I say you probably owe around five hundred dollars in fines."

Both of them started laughing loudly.

“That’s right, good citizen.  Now you need to step out of the car so we can be sure you do not have anything illegal on you…” The mustached cop again waved for Roland to step out of the car.

“Whaaaa…I don’t understand…there’s fucking zombies...”

Roland was still not moving and in total shock when the other cop came up, flung open his door and tossed him out of the car.

“NOW!  RIGHT NOW!  STOP STRUGGLING!”

“I’m not struggling…”

“SIR, SHUT YOUR MOUTH.  YOU HEAR ME?  SHUT YOUR MOUTH!”

Roland chose to follow the advice given and did not say anything as the cop who had pulled him out put a knee against the back of his head.  He then proceeded to frisk him.

“Anything on you?”

“No, sir.”

The cop just grunted as he finished.

“He’s got nothing, but a wallet.”

“Yeah, nothing in the car either.  Damn.”  While Roland had been getting searched, the mustached cop searched the inside of his car.

Roland was pulled up, and thrown against the side of the vehicle.

The cop who had frisked Roland tossed the mustached one his wallet.

“Don’t worry, sir.  We will save you the trouble of all that damn paperwork.  How much did you say he owed there, Officer Smith?”

Roland doubted that was his real name and it was confirmed when he looked at the uniform and saw that the two officers did not have any identification on their uniforms.  Their nameplates were covered over with black tape.

The second cop grinned.  "Oh Officer Johnson, I think around five hundred..."

"I don’t have five hundred fucking dollars on me..."

The cop raised both of his hands in the air.  "Whoa, whoa.  Are you also making a public disturbance?  Well, well, looks like we might chalk up another seventy five dollars to that fine."

Both cops chuckled, with the one holding Roland slapping him on the back.

Officer ‘Johnson’ yanked out Roland’s driver’s license.  Peering at it, he began laughing.  “This fuck’s name is Roland Smith.  You guys could be brothers!”

Officer ‘Smith’ slapped him on the back again.  “Are we brothers?!  Nah…”

A piercing cry drifted up close by the roadblock.  An infected person unexpectedly appeared, stumbling in a nearby yard.  It spotted the cops and made a mad dash to them.  The figure, a young lean child with its left arm missing, was riddled with dozens of bullets right as it stepped onto the road.  An officer who was keeping watch nervously reloaded his weapon.

“Jesus Christ Mitch, don’t let them get so close…and make sure that thing is down for good.”

“Fuck, come on guys!  Let’s get going.”  Mitch was obviously uncomfortable with the situation as he checked out the body of the young boy.

“Ah, but I’m not done searching this little lady yet.”  The female being frisked shifted uneasily as the cop moved his hands up and down her legs.  Spinning his face over to the fellow officers, a large and sloppy grin was plastered on it.

On the other hand, Mitch seemed weary.  “Come on, you said nothing like that would occur.  Just take some things of the people we stop and then let them go.  Besides, more of those things are appearing…”

“Okay, okay,” Officer ‘Johnson’ remarked.  “Hey, Ryan let her go…we need to get moving…”

Officer Ryan made a pouty face to the woman before rubbing his hands down between her legs one last time.  “Too bad…”

Chuckling hoarsely, Officer ‘Johnson’ poured through Roland’s wallet contents.  Ripping out his debit card, he smirked.  "What’s the pin number?"

"1234."

"You’re shittin me."

"Nope, it’s really easy to remember."

The cop stared at Roland for a few seconds before erupting in laughter.  "A number for a retard, huh?"

"You’re the one with the gun."

The cop laughed out loud again.  "That’s right, punk.  Doesn’t matter.  We got someone inside the banks anyways taking out money right now.  Protect and Serve, that’s our motto."  He pulled out the two fifty dollar bills and stuffed them in his pocket.  He threw other things onto the ground, such as a library card and Roland’s student ID for school.

“Okay boys, let’s pack it up!”

He glanced back to Roland.  “And you sir, have a great rest of the day.  Remember to buckle up, it’s the fucking law.”  He then chucked Roland’s wallet to the street.

All four officers headed to their cars.  The female was let go, with the cop slapping her on the ass.  She rushed to her car and sped off quickly, with Officer Ryan mockingly waving goodbye to her.  One by one, the Tacoma Police cruisers zipped out of the area, their lights flashing.

Roland stood frozen for a moment, numbed by what just occurred.

Fucking bullshit.

He angrily flung open his car door, sat down and started the car up.  Roland then slammed down on the accelerator and the car skidded away.  His knuckles were pure white as he gripped the steering wheel.  After a number of blocks later, he loosened his hold and leisurely headed toward home.  He was beginning to calm down inside, the anger and bitterness leaving his body.

Fuck, what a trip…

Coming upon the house, Roland noticed two figures struggling in the middle of the street.  As the car clattered closer, he saw that it was his brother and the young man in the suit and tie whose mother was dead.  A gun appeared to be in the middle of the two men, both of them struggling for control of it. Rather abruptly, Riley seemed to trip and fall backwards.  He fell flat onto his back, his head slamming onto the pavement of the road.  The young man smiled, raised his gun toward his brother and prepared to fire.

Roland gunned the engine and heard the tires wail against the surface of the road.  He aimed straight for the young man, engulfed with rage.  A split second before he hit him, he noted the man glance up and a look of fear blaze across his face.

Roland heard the violent crunch of metal and human body colliding.  A shot rang out, as the gun fired straight into the air as it was ripped from his hands.  The man’s body turned upside down, his legs twisting around into the air in a grisly manner.  His body flopped up and over the top of the Camry, rolled across it, before landing on the back of the trunk, and then spilling off.

Roland stopped the car and peeked back.  The man’s body shook uncontrollably on the road. Turning toward his brother, he saw Riley with a look of disbelief on his face as he rubbed the back of his head.  Anger boiled inside him from the day’s events and he found himself putting the car in reverse.  With tires squealing and sparks flying, he ran over the body again.

 

 

Book Two will be available next week! Follow me on twitter to see exactly when!

 

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