Waiting for the Dead:The Last Town #3(2)

By: Stephen Knight

The woman bucked suddenly on the bed, and her eyes flew open. They were empty and hollow. Before Reese could say anything, she rose up and grabbed the man with hands that were like curved talons. A burst of happiness exploded over the man’s face for an instant as the woman turned her face toward him. She lunged for his neck, but the respirator assembly down her throat prevented her from taking a chunk out of him right then and there.

“Maria!” the man cried, the light fading from his face as he figured out in that moment what was happening. “No, Maria!”

“Get out of the way!” Reese shouted, turning and raising the shotgun.

The man flung himself over the woman again. “No, don’t! Don’t!”

The zombie in the bed realized that something was preventing it from feeding. With one hand, it ripped the tube out of its throat, pulling the entire length out from its mouth in a puff of air and drying phlegm.

“Get up!” Reese shouted. He lunged toward the bed, shouldering the shotgun. The man screamed, tears pouring down his face as he reached out and knocked the weapon’s barrel away just as Reese pulled the trigger. The shotgun went off, and a ceiling tile disintegrated beneath the fury of the blast. Water began to pour through the hole as one of the pipes feeding the sprinkler system gave way. As the cold water rained down on the bed, the zombie there sat up and grabbed the man’s shirt. Ignoring the chill of the water, it thrust its face forward and sank its teeth into his shoulder. The man screamed again, and his face was overcome with a sorrowful pain.

And then his body convulsed as the two Guardsmen behind Reese opened up, pumping a dozen rounds into the twisting bodies on the bed. The man shuddered once as a 5.56-millimeter round passed through his right ear and tumbled through his skull, pulverizing his brain. Two more bullets found the zombie, one passing through the roof of its mouth as it drew back for another bite, the other burrowing in through its right cheek, destroying bone and nasal cartilage before ricocheting through dead gray matter. The couple came to rest on the bed as water poured over them, the man lying across the woman. One of his hands twitched, and then he lay still.

A figure stumbled through the damp curtain separating the Latino couple’s bed from the next one over. Reese spun toward it as an absolutely huge black zombie charged right at him, hissing like a leaking tire, its eyes and teeth startlingly white in contrast with its dead, ochre-colored skin. Reese fired as he pulled the shotgun on target, but the barrel was too low—he amputated the corpse’s left leg mid-thigh, obliterating bone and shredding flesh. A dark, thick ichor poured from the stump, and the zombie toppled to the wet floor, slamming into it face-first without even attempting to break its fall. Instead, it continued reaching for Reese, pushing itself along with its good leg as syrupy goo pumped out of the ragged, smoking stump left by the shotgun blast. Reese stepped back and fired again, the tip of the shotgun’s barrel only inches away from the zombie’s clean-shaven head. The discharge made the ghoul’s skull literally disappear into a spreading cloud of organic garbage as the steel shot continued on, gouging a deep rent in the tile floor.

Bates reached out and grabbed Reese’s right shoulder, his fingers digging into the strap of his thick tactical vest. “Come on!” the patrolman shouted. “You’d better reload right now, Reese! Shit’s going sideways!”

Ten feet ahead of them, one of the M4s ripped off a burst on full automatic. Reese looked to see one of the Guardsmen was down now, and several ghouls were closing in on him. Narvaez and the other soldier were continuing to press the attack, taking down the zombies as quickly as they could, but some of them were fast—damn fast. Two got past Narvaez and launched themselves at the Guardsman on the floor even as the California Army National Guard captain hit them with a burst of full automatic fire. He might as well have been throwing spitballs at them. The zombies didn’t even slow down as the bullets tore right through them, parting bone and ripping flesh. Narvaez stumbled against the soldier to his right, and the man reached out with his left hand to steady him while firing his M4 one-handed at another attacker, dropping it with two rounds to the face.

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