Waiting for the Dead:The Last Town #3

By: Stephen Knight

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA



Bates went in first, shotgun thundering as he opened up on the group of zombies that clustered around the fallen security guard. Heads and chests exploded—those corpses which took a shot to their skulls toppled and fell, but those who were hit elsewhere simply continued to try and feed. Reese raised his own shotgun, but one of the National Guard troops jostled him as the man shifted position, raising his M4 assault rifle. For an instant, the sights on Reese’s shotgun drifted across Bates’s back. Reese lowered the barrel immediately, suddenly panicked that he might accidentally shoot the tall patrolman in the back even though his finger wasn’t on the trigger.

Bates continued firing until the shotgun was empty. He stepped to his right, glancing back at Reese and the National Guard troops. His expression was perfectly calm, and for an instant, Reese thought he saw a ghost of a smile cross Bates’s lips.

“I think you guys are up, unless you want me to keep on with my sidearm,” he said.

One of the zombies which had been shot but not killed turned and shambled toward them, deciding fresh meat was better than fighting with the others over the remains of the dead security guard. Its eyes were pale and filmed over, and its gray flesh was stretched tight across its skull. A layer of blood coated its lips; more scarlet fluid had splashed across its chest. Reese made a noise in his throat when the ghoul turned fully toward him. One of Bates’s shotgun blasts had torn open its left side, and pulped lung and shattered ribs were visible beneath shredded flesh.

The corpse lurched toward Reese with a gurgling hiss.

Reese brought up his shotgun and blasted it right in the face, exploding its skull like an overripe melon. The headless zombie wilted to the floor and lay still. Another zombie turned toward the men, pushing itself to its feet, forgetting all about the gutted man on the floor it had been feeding on. Reese blasted it in the face as well, as Bates stood off to one side, sliding three-inch shell after three-inch shell into his shotgun.

“Attaboy, Detective,” he said.

Another corpse came at them. This time, it was smaller, much smaller. The boy had been perhaps ten or eleven in life, and now it stood before them completely nude, hideous bite marks marring its porcelain white skin. Reese fixed the shotgun’s sights on its head, but he didn’t fire. Something in him seemed to click over to another setting.

Can’t shoot a kid, a voice in his head warned.

The air was filled with a flurry of staccato cracks as the Guardsmen opened up while advancing, fighting forward, taking it to the enemy. Captain Narvaez shouldered Reese aside as he fired a single round into the diminutive corpse’s head, dropping it to the floor where the others lay. The effect of Narvaez’s fire wasn’t as dramatic as Bates’s and Reese’s had been. Instead of exploding the target’s skull, it just popped a small hole in the front and blasted a larger one out the rear. But the effect was the same: enemy down.

“If you’re not going to shoot, Reese, get the fuck out of the way!” Narvaez shouted behind his gas mask. He led three other Guardsmen forward, and the troops started hammering at the ghouls with a cold efficiency that Reese found admirable, under the circumstances. Reese followed them, shotgun held at low ready. Bates fell in beside him, his own shotgun tucked under his arm.

“I couldn’t shoot the kid,” Reese said to him, over the crackle of the assault weapons.

“It’s tough,” Bates said. Reese didn’t know if he was commiserating with him, or just telling him to suck it up and get over it.

Ahead, the Guardsmen were cutting through the dead like scythes through wheat. Bodies hit the floor, and the troops didn’t flinch. Something moved to his left, and Reese turned toward a curtained area where a young Latino man lay covering a comatose woman on a respirator. The man was very much alive, his eyes wide with fear as he tried to shield the woman with his body. There were no gang tats or barrio markings on either of them—from the looks of the pair, they were more Westwood than Sawtelle. A zombie was stretched out on the floor at the foot of the woman’s hospital bed, its skull crushed so severely that rheumy gray matter was leaking out of it. A gore-spattered fire extinguisher lay at the man’s feet. Apparently, one of the ghouls had come through the curtained divider, and the man had done what he needed to in order to protect himself and his woman.

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