Ashley Parker was a ordinary woman who was also a “wild card,” immune to the emerging zombie plague, drawn unwillingly into a shadowy paramilitary organization. Having stopped the wave of the undead that swarmed their facility, the worst is yet to come, as the plague begins to manifest in key locations worldwide.
Plague Nation, Dana Fredsti
Morning seemed to come extra early the next day. I had to wonder if Colonel Paxton had set the alarms back.
Even after two cups of coffee, liberally laced with cream and honey, I was tired, heavy-lidded, and irritable when we pulled up to one of the last places in Redwood Grove where we had to search for zombies—and possible survivors. Back when the swarm had hit, you couldn’t swing a bat without hitting one of the undead. Now we had to go digging. But letting any of them slip through, well, it simply wasn’t an option.
The Redwood Trailer Heaven trailer park, located past a cul-de-sac at the end of Palm Street, should have been an idyllic location, all nestled in the redwoods. But zombie apocalypse notwithstanding, if there was a contest for the most cliché white trash neighborhood in America, I’d nominate Trailer Heaven in a heartbeat.
Rows of doublewides sagged on concrete block foundations, shabby and derelict. At least twenty or thirty trailers stretched back into the woods, on either side of a roughly paved road running vertically through the middle, and another bisecting it horizontally. Smaller dirt roads ran parallel in between the rows. Cars—mostly older models—hugged the sides of the trailers, a few under canvas lean-tos, some also on concrete blocks. The ground was littered with trash, including a truly frightening number of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans.
There was a stiff breeze, and the sound it made in the trees was loud enough to be annoying. Every now and then it would die down, then pick up again, rattling the empty beer cans.
“Let’s start at the far end,” I said after a moment’s thought. “When Team B shows up, they can start at the entrance, and we’ll meet in the middle. Kai, let ’em know, okay?” He pulled out his radio and proceeded to do so.
It would have been safer to work in teams, one person opening the door and staying safely behind it, while the other stood back dispatched the zombie with a bullet to the head, but we had a lot of ground to cover, and I trusted Tony and Kai’s ability to handle whatever they came across. Unless they ran into some more Silly String.
“Let’s go.” I nodded to Tony. “Kai, we’ll see you back there.”
Kai nodded as Tony and I unslung our M4s and threaded our way between trailers to the far end of the park.
I took the one at the furthest point, nestled against redwoods on two sides. Some care had been taken with landscaping around it, planters with herbs and flowers bordering the edge of the trailer. The plants still thrived, even in the face of forced neglect, the damp weather making it easy to be a lazy gardener in Redwood Grove.
Ascending the steps to the front door, I listened carefully, trying to discern sound above the banshee howl of the wind. It was difficult, even with my enhanced senses, which picked up everything equally. So I cautiously opened the door, the creak of fog-rusted hinges loud enough to wake the dead. I took a step back and waited.
Stepping inside, I took a big old sniff. I smelled rotting food mixed with a musty smell of an enclosed space that hadn’t been aired out in over two weeks. Nothing pleasant, but after the crap I’d smelled around the undead, stenches were relative.
A quick scan of the interior from front to back revealed nothing more than the fact that its inhabitants had enjoyed the fine taste of cheap beer in large quantities, Domino’s pizza, and preferred Big Bob’s banana-flavored condoms as their birth control of choice. The box was sitting out on the bedside table. I hoped they survived to have many more banana splits.
Okay, just grossed myself out.
I used my extra-broad black Sharpie on the door, and moved on.
The next trailer was an eBay seller’s wet dream, with scads of Hummel figurines and Smithsonian collector’s plates displayed on doilies, all against a background of flocked pink wallpaper. It was like being trapped inside a tchotchke-stuffed Pepto Bismol bottle. But at least there were no signs of body parts.
I made another black check with satisfaction, and started to relax as I moved to trailer number three. Maybe Trailer Heaven’s residents had made it to a safe house, like the church or the fire station. Maybe the person who’d collected all those precious figurines, and the complete Star Trek: The Next Generation collector’s plate series, was secure at Big Red with the rest of the survivors. I hoped this was the case, even if I thought Hummel figurines were as tacky as velvet paintings of Elvis.
Smiling at the thought, I opened the door to the third trailer without bothering to listen or knock.
Rotting hands seized my arm and the front of my vest, yanking me inside before I could do more than yelp with surprise. My eyes watered as a wave of putrid stench rolled over me, and I found myself up close and personal with two zombies—a tall, skinny male wearing nothing but a pair of BVDs that had probably been gross before their occupant had died, and a female with a bouffant of lacquered red hair, skinny jeans on a frame that couldn’t be called skinny even with chunks of flesh missing, and a shredded skin-tight tank top that exposed a major muffin top stomach and one sagging breast. One arm was gone, leaving a mess of blood, gristle, and chewed flesh in its place. There was a hole where the other breast had been.
Both zombies gripped my arms and torso, pulling me toward them with relentless hunger and threatening to dislocate my shoulders as they played a mindless tug-of-war. The woman’s mouth gaped open, a foul smell of wafting out of it as she leaned in toward my neck.
No you don’t, bitch.
Yanking my arm free from her grip, I shoved my forearm under her chin as she tried to take a chunk out of me, in the process losing my grip on the M4, which clattered to the floor. Mr. Underwear hooked his fingers into the front of my vest and yanked me toward him, knocking my arm loose and giving the female zombie ample surface to bite. Luckily its teeth couldn’t penetrate the armored pads on my forearm. Even if I was immune to infection, I didn’t particularly want to have another chunk of my flesh ripped out.
I slammed my right forearm into the female zombie’s head, sending it flailing backward into the kitchen. Its feet skidded on a floor coated with an indefinable mix of blood, rotted food, and goo that I didn’t want to think about. Then it slammed head first into one of the kitchen cupboards.
But the impact wasn’t hard enough to take Ms. Zombie of Wal-Mart out of commission. It slowly and relentlessly managed to find its way back to its feet as I kicked the male zombie in the kneecap, feeling the patella shatter beneath the impact. It didn’t register pain, but the right leg buckled as it still grappled with me, trying to use my vest as leverage to pull me to its gaping, reeking mouth.
There wasn’t enough Listerine in the world to cure this zombie’s halitosis.
I kicked its other kneecap, stomping as hard as I could with the heel of my boot. That leg crumpled, as well, but it still clung to my vest with both rotting hands, and the sudden weight sent me toppling forward on top of the suddenly prone zombie. My hands plunged into the thing’s torso with a truly gross popping sound, as if I’d punctured the world’s nastiest balloon. The thing just moaned and gnashed its teeth as it tried to pull my face close enough to bite.
I’d had enough of this shit.
Giving a scream of disgust and fury, I pulled my hands out of its viscera, entwined my fingers together and went “Hulk, smash!” on its ass. I slammed both fists into its head with all my not inconsiderable strength. The skull, already weakened by decay, shattered beneath the blow. I followed up with another double fisted strike, then burrowed one hand into the brain, fingers stiff, until I’d scrambled the sucker in its shell.
The thing stopped moving and its hands finally gave up their death grip on my vest, flopping to the ground with a meaty thump.
Meanwhile, Ms. Zombie had regained some traction and pulled herself back toward me across the gore-streaked floor as I struggled to a sitting position, scooting back until I was propped up against a wall. I stared at the thing, hating and pitying it at the same time.
There was something almost hypnotic in its dead eyes and slow, relentless crawl. It wouldn’t stop. I knew that. I could get up, leave the trailer, and it would try its best to come after me. And that was what freaked me out the most, realizing that “you can run, but you can’t hide” could be the world’s new rule if we didn’t stop this plague in its tracks.
I stood up, grabbed a cast iron pan from the counter, pausing to get a solid grip through all of the goo, and slammed it down on Lady Wal-Mart’s head. It only took one blow to drop the zombie in its tracks, but I gave it a second whack for good measure. And then a third because I wanted to punish someone… something… for fucking up my world so completely. The zombie was the closest thing at hand.
And they wouldn’t let me beat the shit out of Dr. Albert.
I tossed the pan to the floor, the sound clattering almost unbearably loudly in the small confines of the trailer. Brains and other viscous innards smeared my hands. I staggered over to the sink, hoping to wash up a bit, but stopped short at the sight of scum crusted water. Bits of ancient food rose up to the surface to tell the tale of a nasty-ass clog that lay beneath. The thought of dipping my fingers in there, or getting hit by backsplash if I turned on the faucet, didn’t sit well with my already unhappy stomach.
So I wiped my hands best as I could on a relatively clean dishtowel, dropping it over the female zombie’s face as I limped to the back of the trailer. My heart dropped when I saw a bag of Pampers on the hallway floor. Immediately regretting all the dead baby jokes I’d ever told, I reluctantly opened the bedroom door.
A small crib stood under one of the windows, shut tightly against the chill air of a northern California autumn. Standing inside it on unsteady legs, clutching the bars of the crib with pudgy grayish-blue fingers, was a baby in a blood-splotched blue onesie. It couldn’t have been more than a year old when it died. It still had thick curls of white blond hair framing its face. Adorable fat baby cheeks had been lost to the beginnings of decay. I recognized the signs of Walker’s Flu—black fluids, now dried, trickling from the mouth, eyes, and nose, and noticed that the only blood on the baby’s skin was around its mouth. I winced as I realized what had happened to its mom’s missing breast.
The baby made a low rattling noise in its throat, a sick parody of a normal infant’s gurgle.
At least he hadn’t known the horror of being torn to pieces by his parents, no matter how sick he’d been. Poor little guy.
I found a clean spot on my sleeve, and wiped some moisture away from under my eyes. I’d seen a lot of horrible things since this whole mess began, but somehow the sight of this baby, long past his feeding time, hit hard.
“I don’t even like kids,” I told it, angrily dashing more tears away. It mewled at me, little mouth opening and closing as if suckling on a phantom bottle. I hardened my heart, drew my tanto, and did my job.
But it really sucked.Plague Nation