Saturday 19 July 2014
The mess hall was not the largest building on base, but it took pride of place in the centre of the compound. Handguns at the ready, Carter and Mason began their slow and careful approach to the hall.
‘Guess they believe in the old saying that an army doesn’t march on an empty stomach,’ Carter whispered to Mason. Peter Mason looked years older than he had a couple of days ago, before the bank job and the dead guard and the zombie apocalypse. He looked weary, exhausted mentally and physically, constantly having to be aware and on guard taking its toll on him. He staggered more than walked, and grunted more than he spoke. Carter stopped, spun around to face Mason, and grasped him gently by the shoulder.
‘If your brother is alive, if he’s here,’ Carter whispered, ‘we’ll find him, and we’ll all get out of here. If he’s . . . one of them, then we’ll do what’s right and put him out of his misery. And if he’s not here, if he’s managed to get out and he’s on the road somewhere, we’ll track him down. I give you my word, Pete.’
Mason nodded. ‘Thanks, Greg. Appreciate it.’
Carter slowly turned around again, and continued his careful approach to the mess hall. There were no sounds that Carter could pick up, and there was no movement at all from any area of the base that he could see. When he reached the entrance, Carter gently placed his left hand on the door. It had been left ajar, and that alone had Carter on edge because it meant that someone or something had made its way inside. Whether or not anyone had come out of the mess hall again, was yet to be discovered.
‘You sure you’re ready, Pete?’
‘Yep. Let’s do this. I’ve got your back, Greg.’
Carter pushed the door open wider, allowing a beam of light to flood the entrance corridor. Seven or eight bodies lay askew against the walls, parts of them missing but all of them dead.
‘Jesus, the fucking stench.’ Carter gagged on the smell. Mason, unable to exercise the level of control that Carter had, vomited on his own shoes.
‘Better out than in, Pete. Take your time.’
Mason threw up twice more before signalling to Carter that he was ready to proceed.
‘There are a couple of trolleys at the end of the corridor. We’ll check out the dining and kitchen areas, and if it’s safe, we’ll grab those trolleys and stack ‘em up with whatever food and drinks we can find. Whatever fits into the SUV.’
Again, Mason nodded his agreement at Carter’s idea.
‘You think Luke’s alright?’
‘I sure hope so, Pete.’
Slowly, Carter stepped inside, pushing the door against the wall as he did so. The top hinge gave way, the door awkwardly dropped and tore the bottom hinge from the wall. Mason jumped backwards to avoid the falling door. The crashed echoed through the corridor.
‘Well,’ said Carter, ‘if there’s anyone in there, they definitely know we’re coming now.’ Both men stood their ground, waiting to see if anyone would come out to greet them.
‘It’s not the greeting I’m worried about, Greg . . . I’m worried about the eating us part,’ Mason joked without a smile.
No one came to see what had happened. It buoyed Carter a little, because unlike the other zombies they’d come in contact with, if there were any still here, they were not terribly responsive to noise.
‘Okay, let’s go.’
Mason followed Carter down to the end of the corridor. A double swinging door would take them through to the mess. Carter peered through the circular glass panel in the top part of the door.
‘Nothing moving,’ he whispered to Mason, and pushed through the door.
They shuffled through the dining, stepping over bodies of soldiers and zombies alike. Mason stopped once or twice to vomit with the smell still getting to him. They’d made their way to kitchen without encountering anything living.
‘Safe to say we’re good to get some food?’ Mason asked.
‘Yeah, and we’re in luck. We don’t have to go back through that to get a trolley. There are a couple in here. Let’s get to work. The quicker we get the stuff, the quicker we can get out to look for your brother.’
Mason grunted in reply. His attention was on the body slumped in the corner. Even with the grotesque expression, the bullet holes in the head, and most of his body eaten, Mason recognised it as his brother, Gus.
‘No need to rush on my behalf, Greg. I’ve found him.’
Carter returned to Mason’s side.
‘Looks like they made a meal of Gussy.’ Mason vomited again. Carter bent down next to the body of Private Gus Mason. With a fierce tug, he pulled the dog tags from around the soldier’s neck, and wiped the blood from them on his leg. When they were cleaner, Carter held them up to Mason’s face.
‘These belong to you now, Pete.’
* * * * *
Within an hour, the three men had restocked their supplies and refuelled the SUV. Carter had just finished securing the jerry cans that Luke had found and filled, to the roof rack, when the first of the new wave of zombies made an appearance.
‘Greg, get in the car. We’ve got company,’ Mason said. The gunshot from behind the SUV resonated in the empty base.
‘What the fuck are you doing, Luke?’ Carter snapped.
‘Shooting the fucker. What do you think I’m doing?’
‘Oh, we’re fucked now . . . look.’ Mason pointed to the gate through which they’d accessed the base.
Staggering, lumbering, walking, running, and scarpering into the compound came hundreds of the creatures, many in military uniform, dog tags clinking as they moved. Locking themselves in the SUV, Carter, Mason and Luke faced the immediate threat as the car was surrounded and engulfed.
‘Boys, we’ve got a few options here . . . ’ Carter ruffled his hair as he spoke. ‘We can try to drive through them. We can start shooting them. Or . . . ’ The words he needed to say stuck in his throat.
‘We can shoot ourselves?’ Mason finished.
‘Yep,’ Carter agreed. ‘But we need to decide now. There’s not much time.’
As if on cue, the driver’s side window shattered, and violent, grappling hands reached through and snatched at Carter. He screamed as fingers dug into his skin, ripping it from his face and neck. Without a second thought, Luke raised his pistol to the back of Carter’s head and squeezed the trigger. Blood, bone, brains and flesh splattered across the interior of the car and its two remaining passengers.
Mason looked from Carter to Luke and back again. Carter’s lifeless body was ripped to pieces and from the car as Luke and Pete looked on.
‘I don’t wanna end up like them. Let’s just do it.’ Mason fumbled with his gun.
‘On three?’ asked Luke. Mason nodded, and lifted the weapon to his temple.
‘On three,’ he repeated.
‘One . . . two . . . ’
. . . The end . . .