Waiting for the Dead:The Last Town #3(4)By: Stephen Knight
“Hey, Reese!” Narvaez called, his voice muffled by his gas mask.
“What do you need?” Reese called back. His ears were ringing, and he wondered if all the firing in such close quarters would leave him with an award-winning case of tinnitus.
“Come on up here,” Narvaez said.
Reese looked over at Bates as the taller man slid more shells into his shotgun. The patrolman nodded to him, his blue eyes as cool as always.
“Go ahead, I’m good,” Bates said. “If anything else comes through those doors, I’ve got them.”
Reese nodded and picked his way across the carnage to where Narvaez stood with the rest of his troops. There were maybe fourteen bodies lying around the isolation ward. The floor was slick with a bloody gruel of blood, viscera, ichor, and water from the shattered sprinkler pipe. Another ceiling tile popped out of its frame, admitting a sudden gout of water that poured over a tangled mass of gray, lifeless bodies. Reese had to watch his step as he navigated his way around the motionless dead.
“What do you have?” he asked when he made it to Narvaez.
“We got a problem.” Narvaez nodded toward one of the curtained cubicles where a heavy hospital bed lay on its side. A male zombie clad in the remains of a hospital smock lay draped across it. Several exit wounds were visible in its back, with another in its skull. The corpse had been returned to death’s embrace, and its eyes were open and staring, seeing nothing. Reese turned back to Narvaez and spread his hands.
“Yeah, so? Good work,” he said, wondering why the hell the National Guard officer had called him forward.
Narvaez stared at Reese for a moment from behind his gas mask’s lenses, then pointed at the scene before. “Look around the bed, Detective.”
Reese stepped to his right, bringing the shotgun’s stock back into his shoulder, keeping the weapon low but ready. Leaning against the wall was a woman in her very early thirties. Her eyes were wide and panicked, and her blonde hair was plastered against her skull by a mixture of sweat and water. Her light-colored blouse was bloodied. She was gasping for air, frightened out of her mind as she looked back at Reese. A small form clung to her. A boy, maybe about three years old, his face buried against his mother’s neck as he whimpered.
A ragged, bloody hole had been torn out of the woman’s left forearm. She had been bitten.
“Please,” she gasped, looking up at Reese with those wide, terrified eyes. “Please.”
“You’re okay, ma’am,” Reese said, and he wondered just why the hell he was saying that. “Are you a patient?”
She looked at Reese stupidly for a moment, then shook her head. She turned her head fractionally toward the bullet-riddled zombie that lay across the overturned bed. Reese saw its arm was still outstretched, fingers curled into claws. Even in death, the corpse was reaching for its cornered prey.
“My husband was,” she said. “You’re a policeman?”
“Yes, I’m with the LAPD,” Reese told her.
“Take my son,” the woman said. “Please.”
“Okay,” Reese said, lowering the shotgun entirely. He saw the woman look at the LAPD patch on his tactical vest, and something akin to relief fluttered across her face for an instant. It was crowded out by the fear almost immediately. The lady knew what was in store for her. Reese reached out with his left hand, and the woman leaned forward, trying to push the boy into his arm. The boy cried out, and the woman cooed to him as she gently unwrapped his arms from around her body.
“It’s okay, baby,” she said. “It’s going to be okay. You go with the policeman. Mommy will be with you in just a few minutes, okay?”
The boy resisted. Reese stepped in closer and put his arm around the boy’s chest. Working with the mother, he managed to pry him away from her, but he screamed and cried. As he fought against Reese, he saw a flash of red on his shoulder. Blood was welling up underneath his shirt. Reese put him down and pulled back his top. The smooth skin beneath was marred by a bite mark. Even though the zombie that had bit him hadn’t had the time to tear the flesh away, its teeth had broken his skin.
Reese let the boy run back to his mother, and she looked up at him in shock.