For your reading pleasure, here is the third installment of Mel Odom’s Hellbound Express. If you haven’t yet read the first 5. chapters, here (1, 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) are the links for them. Enjoy.
By Mel Odom
A zombie in the ragged remains of a gray mechanic’s uniform rushed Gant with its mouth open and black ichor gleaming on its teeth. It moaned without emotion. In life, the dead man had been big, taller than Gant and heavier, but death had stripped away the excess weight.
Raising his left arm, Gant blocked the zombie’s right arm with his forearm and brought the ASP down in a hard arc with his right. The matte black baton slammed into the zombie’s forehead with a liquid crunch, breaking through bone. Its rheumy eyes exploded. Bloody black goo leaked down its withered cheeks as its head came apart.
Setting himself, Gant caught the zombie’s collapsing weight against his left arm and shoved forward, driving the corpse back into the one dressed in shorts and a t-shirt behind it. The two things toppled back and down, then hit the ground hard. The one with the crushed forehead lay still, but the one underneath fought to get free. For the moment, the dead weight on top of it kept it pinned.
A few feet away, Jenni knocked her closest attacker’s feet from under it with a leg sweep and side-stepped the falling body as she slid toward the second zombie facing her.
In life, the fallen zombie had probably been a thirty-something year old mom. Now the PTA t-shirt and stretch pants hung in tatters. Before the virus spread, the woman had been someone’s mom and wife. Gant remembered his own lost family and the cinnamon smell that had pervaded his childhood home on holidays.
He forced that memory out of his mind.
As the dead thing tried to get up and reach for Jenni, Gant crossed over, leaned down, and swung the tomahawk into its temple. Desiccated flesh ripped and bone shattered as the blade drove into its brain and stilled it.
Jenni drove her broad-bladed hunting knife up under the zombie’s jaw, putting enough force into the effort to shove the tip up into its brain. It went still and slack and dropped to the ground.
Gant turned, intending to get to the zombie he’d left behind, when something smashed into him and drove him backward. Unable to keep his feet under him, he stumbled and went down, putting out his left hand to keep him from falling facefirst to the ground.
“Aaaaahhhhhhhh.” The zombie clung to Gant’s shoulder and moaned into his ear. The cry deafened Gant even through the helmet.
In life, the zombie had been big and strong. Faded tattoos ran the length of the dead thing’s forearms. One of them showed a nude woman in a cowboy hat and boots riding a dolphin leaping up from the ocean. Frayed, braided cord bracelets had sunk into the undead flesh at its wrists. Long, scraggly hair and an unkempt beard scratched at the thin line of Gant’s neck that lay exposed between his helmet and body armor.
The thing’s rancid stink so close to Gant almost made him violently ill. Its breath was strong enough to blister paint. Gant tried to roll to dislodge the corpse, but it gripped him solidly. Its large head came forward, jaws wide, and yellowed teeth snapped and gnawed at his Kevlar-covered shoulder.
Fear rose inside Gant even though he’d faced zombies dozens of times. They were bad enough at a distance, and even killing them in hand-to-hand combat still jarred him, but having one at his throat again brought up all those old memories of being trapped with no place to run.
For a moment, he panicked and tried pushing it off him even though he didn’t have the leverage he needed. The thing was godawful strong and—even a husk of its former self—was heavier and taller than Gant. Before he could shift and try to counter the thing’s hold, a gloved hand closed in the hair at its forehead and yanked back. Then a knife plunged into the zombie’s right eye to the hilt.
Instantly, the dead thing went slack and the sudden surge of its weight almost knocked Gant over. He twisted aside and let the body fall as Jenni yanked it to the side using the fistful of hair she still clung to. She had one knee in the thing’s back as she guided it away from Gant.
“Don’t leave one of these things operational behind you in close quarters.” Jenni ripped her blade free as she spoke in a harsh, angry tone. “Isn’t that one of the rules you taught me?”
Gant didn’t answer because he’d taught her exactly that.
“Take out what’s in front of you.” Jenni breathed raggedly. “Keep moving in the direction you’re headed. Break free, then assess your situation. Trust your partner to cover your back. I remember that one too.”
“I thought you needed help.” Even as he said that, Gant knew it was weak. He hadn’t trusted Jenni to handle the things she’d faced. She was still new to scavenging, which was why he’d paired her with him. He’d felt the need to watch over her.
She drove her knife through the temple of the zombie still working its way from beneath the mechanic.
“Wrong! You know that’s wrong.” Jenni knelt to wipe the ichor from her knife. “You thought I couldn’t deal with those two. So you decided to go all macho and save me.” She stood and sheathed her knife. “Never save someone who can’t save himself or herself. You look for allies. You don’t throw your life away for someone who’s gonna die. Didn’t you tell me that?”
“I did.” Gant knelt and wiped off his weapons as well.
“I screwed up.”
“Almost got yourself killed, you mean.” Jenni’s helmet shook from side to side. She nodded to where three more zombies loped toward them. “Might have got me killed too.” She moved into a fighting stance, loose and ready, just like Gant had taught her.
“I thought about leaving you.”
“Maybe you should have.”
“After the example you set? Not likely.”
Gant stood and moved a couple feet away from here. “We’ll talk about this later.”
“Bet your ass we will,” Jenni promised.
Settled now, Gant stepped to the side and dropped to a crouch, long enough to brace himself to put a shoulder into a dead woman’s chest. The thing stumbled to the side and he swung the tomahawk to catch it at the base of the skull. He yanked the tomahawk free as Jenni drove her knife through the temple of a dead man in the remnants of a cheap business suit. He stayed back, out of the way, while she dealt with the remaining zombie by offering it her armored forearm and then smashing the knife down into its skull when it took the bait.
“See what you can find.” Jenni took up a position a few feet away and faced away from Gant. “I’ll keep watch.”
Gant knelt and placed his weapons nearby on the ground. He went through the dead things’ pockets quickly, taking out keyrings from the three that had them. He took all of the wallets he could find.
Working quickly, Gant sorted through the wallets, looking at the driver’s licenses and other cards he found. Excitement filled him when he found cards that interested him.
“What did you find?” Jenni asked.
“Federal Firearms License.” Gant paired it with the keyring that had come from the mechanic’s pocket.
“Cool. Thinking he might have some guns?”
“Hope so. Unless somebody knew about them. Or he carried them out of the house while trying to get out of town.”
“Maybe he wandered back home after he died.”
Sometimes the zombies returned back to where they’d lived and stayed in the vicinity. There was no way of knowing how much of the person remained in the walking corpse.
“I saw you take another card,” Jenni prompted.
“This one was a doctor.” Gant held up hospital identification and pointed to a woman in a sports halter and shorts. She’d carried a small wallet with her keys, cards, and a little cash. The money was no good to anyone.
Her driver’s license had indicated she’d also lived in one of the nearby houses.
“If she kept meds at the house,” Jenni said, “this will be a good run.”
Pharmaceuticals remained hard to come by so long after the initial outbreak. That was why they didn’t search drug stores or pharmacies as a general rule. Those areas often held groups of the dead and the space got too easily blocked to get back out again.
Plus, any kind of encounter within a store usually ended up with broken glass and maybe alarms going off. Those noises drew the dead immediately.
“Let’s go.” Gant gathered his weapons and headed for the nearest house. “We’ll hit the doc’s place first.”