Fighting the Dead:The Last Town #4

By: Stephen Knight


“Okay, late-breaking news—this is getting really fucked up,” Bates said.

Reese only grunted as he leaned against the ring of sandbags. His ears were ringing from all the gunfire, and the smell of expended powder burned his nostrils. The National Guard had closed the hospital two hours earlier, against Reese’s instructions that it be kept open. But he had little say in the matter. The hospital administrator had informed him that they had no beds left, staffing levels were at an all time low, and supplies were running out. As the attending physician in the emergency room had told him, they’d have a tough time putting a band-aid on a kid’s skinned knee. From the reports he’d heard over the radio—as sporadic as they had become—the rest of the hospitals in Los Angeles were headed down the same path. Too much demand, diminishing resources, fewer staff, insufficient security. The City of Angels was going to hell.

And the dead just kept coming.

Reese went through shotgun rounds like they were water, always coming up short when he needed them. He blew through his allocation of pistol ammo as well, but they had ample reserve stocks thanks to the prepositioned stores someone had thought to provide. Just the same, the bodies were soon stacked up three deep around the perimeter, and more of the dead staggered up the street, drawn to the sounds of combat. They came from buildings, from cars, from nearby homes and apartments. They were men and women, boys and girls, families and homeless bums. Sometimes they would approach in pairs or trios, which was easy enough to deal with. Other times, it was as if they were being bused into the area, and dozens of slack-faced ghouls stalked their way up Gracie Allen Drive or down George Burns Road.

If it hadn’t been for the Guard, the LAPD would have been overwhelmed. The Guardsmen poured it on with their rifles, repelling wave after wave of the dead. But even they had a tough go of it until Lieutenant Colonel Morton called some Humvees forward. The armored vehicles were outfitted with triple-barreled .50-caliber machine guns in turrets, weapons Reese hadn’t even known existed. They blasted through the hordes like laser beams, slicing entire corpses in two, exploding heads, severing limbs. One burst could make the entire upper half of a stench literally disappear into ribbons of necrotic flesh that would collapse to the ichor-streaked street like yesterday’s garbage. Nothing could survive that kind of onslaught, not even the walking corpses that craved the flesh of the living. Reese and the rest of the cops killed the damaged zombies that hadn’t been stopped by the machine guns with head shots. That was perhaps the most horrifying aspect of it. The dead ignored their injuries and remained fixated on feeding. They didn’t care if they were killed, they didn’t mind as pieces of their anatomy were blown right off, and they didn’t notice that in many instances they were trailing gray-black guts after them. All they wanted was to feed.

Reese did his best to ensure they died hungry.

Bates appeared on Reese’s left and held out a military-style rifle, just like the ones the Guard used. To the public (and to many LAPD officers) they were referred to as assault rifles, that fictional term dreamed up by the media to frighten domestic audiences across the country. Reese took it and examined it briefly. He was surprised to see that it was a select-fire weapon, capable of firing on full automatic until its thirty-round magazine was expended.

“Where’d you get this?” he asked the tall patrol sergeant.

“Gift from the Guard. Shotguns are useless out here, we need to take them at a distance, not when they’re twenty feet away,” Bates said. “You know how to use it, right?”

Reese set down his shotgun and raised the rifle to his shoulder. He flicked the selector to SEMI and popped a zombie right through the forehead at sixty feet away. It collapsed to the street, a momentary geyser of black liquid fountaining from its ravaged skull for a moment.

“Okay, no need to answer that question,” Bates said.

“Any word on whether or not Metro’s going to roll up and help out?” Reese asked, shooting another zombie. Bates raised his own rifle and did the same to another.

“Not a chance—like Newman said, Metro’s out of the picture. By the way, shit’s getting real at Hollywood Station. Zombies are rolling in hard.”

Reese wasn’t surprised, but he still didn’t like the news. “Where’d you hear this?”

“CP.” Bates took out another zombie as the collection of cops and Guardsman cracked away at the latest assault. It wasn’t much, maybe eight or nine ghouls picking their way toward the hospital. Many had gotten hung up in the razor wire the Guard had stretched across the area, but others managed to stumble through gaps in the fencing where a previous tide of the dead had crushed the wire flat beneath the press of dead bodies. “They wanted to pass the word on to you directly, but you were kind of busy shooting zombies, so I took the message.”

A Black Hawk helicopter roared past overhead, followed a moment later by two Apaches. The sinister-looking gunships broke away from the transport helicopter and orbited to the right. They circled over the hospital for a bit, rotors chewing up the sky. Bates looked up at them, and from the corner of his eye, Reese could see the tall patrolman grimace and shake his head.

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