Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Hammer Starts To Fall

“Where's Amanda?”
“Right behind me.”
“Just ahead. Keep going. Keep going. The cave is just up ahead.”
The shotgun fired off again behind them. The din from the biters was deafening; tattered, shrieked words and wordless screams of anger accompanied frantic scrabbling through the woods as the group came.
Ben heard one of the traps snap shut, but if they'd caught any of the creatures, he couldn't tell over the other racket. The shotgun fired again, and he heard Ed shouting but could not tell what Ed was shouting or at whom.
Amanda screamed in pain. Travis, ahead of the other two, immediately turned back to her, in the same instant her pistol fired twice. “Go, go, go!” she shouted. “I've got it!”
“I see it!” Ben shouted. Tucked into tall limestone face of the riverfront cliff before them was a narrow crack, barely wide enough for a single person to fit through. He bolted to the opening, turning with his own handgun out to cover Travis and Amanda as they came, Travis dragging Amanda as blood spread from her left thigh, her snow-pants torn open there. “In, in, in,” he said, and Travis pushed Amanda in ahead of him.
She had to turn sideways to get in, leaning heavily on the cave wall, unable to lift her injured leg well enough to walk properly. Travis ducked down and turned to the side to follow her through the narrow opening. Behind them, Ben eased in, going backwards so he could still face out. A furious, badly damaged, red-eyed face appeared at the edge of the doorway and he shot, missing on the first shot and taking it down on the second. He felt Travis grab the back of his coat and keep him moving further into the cave.
They came into a wider, taller room. In the failing light from outside, Travis could see garbage all over, including the remains of untold campfires in a rock circle in the center of the room. He let go of Amanda to take a spot on the left side of the entrance to the room, pulling Ben back into the room and pushing him to the right. Behind them he heard Amanda bite back a groan of pain, and then heard dragging as she pulled a cushion-less couch toward them, pushing it into the narrow opening.
She stayed low in a three-legged dog crawl, her injured leg slowing her down, and continued to drag or push the larger debris into the tunnel while Travis and Ben fired their weapons at any movement in the cave opening. At this point, she realized, Ed was either going to have to make it clear he was approaching if any of the movement was him, or he'd be shot.
Seemed like just dues to her in this moment.
Finally she'd wedged enough crap into the room opening that it could be adequately covered by a single person, just in time for her to stagger and fall to the floor of the room.
“Amanda!” Travis called out, fear in his voice.
“Got this, help her,” Ben said. He placed a flashlight on a barrel in front of him in the tunnel and turned it on, causing shrieks of pain as the light hit the red-eyed rioters. Behind the light now, he was harder to see, and they were quite easy to pick off. He thought he might have heard Ed's shotgun again. “Don't get eaten, asshole,” Ben muttered, firing and hitting a biter scrambling toward them through the tunnel with a direct head shot, dropping it. They could only easily come through one at a time.
Travis lifted Amanda and carried her to a filthy mattress on the other side of the long-dead campfire. He pulled his own flashlight out and shone it over her, assessing. “Hold this,” he said, handing her the flashlight, positioning her hand so the light shone on her left thigh.
He quickly shrugged his backpack off and unzipped it. She groaned as he pressed a bandage firmly to the torn flesh of her thigh, applying strong pressure. “Did he have a fucking ax?” Travis said, his voice strained.
Amanda managed a grin. “No, but I think he had a shark mouth.” Travis did not laugh.
“This is a bite?”
“Yup.” She exhaled, closing her eyes in pain. “Between that mouth and this mattress, I'm going to need a hundred antibiotics.”
“Easily a couple hundred,” he said. The wound was deep and gaping, and he realized the biter had possibly eaten the missing flesh. He blanched and swallowed sickly. It was also wide enough the creature had probably gotten at least a couple of bites in before Amanda had stopped it.
Ben's 9mm fired three times in quick succession.
“And fuck you too,” they heard him yell.
“Hold this,” Travis said to Amanda.
“Now is not the time,” she said, her eyes still closed.
“Amanda,” he said sharply. “Hold pressure on the wound. I'm going to get a decent wrapping out and bandage you properly so I can help Ben.”
“Oh, fine,” she said, and placed her hand over his on her leg. She felt him move his hand, felt him rummaging around in the backpack. The flashlight swayed in her other hand and he took it from her, setting it on the ground facing her.
“Where's your backpack?” he asked. “My first aid supplies are a bit limited in the face of current need.”
“I let the zombie have it. He really wanted it.”
He padded her bandage up more, moving her hand out of the way for a moment, then had her hold the bandage in place again while he tightly duct taped it down. “Ok. I'm going to move you around a bit.” She could hear the fear in his voice and understood what he was not saying, understood how bad the wound looked, how much blood she'd lost. He carefully lifted her legs and then her upper body, spreading a space blanket beneath her and helping her lay back down.
Travis hurriedly stuffed debris beneath the mattress to elevate her feet. “I'm going to start a fire to get you warm,” he said, his voice carrying only barely over the gunshots.
“Gonna need a reload,” Ben called.
“Stay right here,” Travis said, and ran to bring Ben his own gun, taking Ben's to reload while Ben used Travis' gun to keep the zombies back. He set the reloaded gun on the barrel in front of Ben. “Gun is next to the flashlight, reloaded,” he said. “You got this, or you need back up?”
“So far, so good,” Ben said. “Keep an eye on Princess Toadstool.”
“I'm BOWSER,” Amanda yelled, and Travis felt his stomach drop at how weak she sounded, how thin her voice was. He was at her side again in a second, kneeling beside her, sweeping her with the flashlight.
“Any other injuries?” he asked.
“Tell my wife-”
“Don't,” he said, tightly. “I'm not laughing, Amanda.”
“Oh, Travis,” she sighed. “I'm ok. Just the bite. Just tired.”
He checked the bandage again, his face grim, then covered her up with another space blanket from his backpack.
She sighed with relief as he started a fire up in the stone fire circle in the middle of the room, throwing light and heat into the room. She stared up at the ceiling, noting the smoke stains up there, watching the smoke from this fire rise and join the remnants of the campfire smoke that had come before it. How pretty, she thought.
Travis pulled the blanket back enough to check her bandage, silently applying another layer of bandage and pressing down hard. She groaned softly, her brows pulling together and up in the middle. He lifted her hand with his free hand and kissed it. “I'm sorry I'm hurting you, sweetheart,” he said, but didn't ease up at all on the pressure against her wound.
“Travis, got time for a reload?” Ben called.
“Hold this down as hard as you can,” he said to Amanda, placing her hand over her bandage. “Press hard. Come on, Amanda, show me what you got.”
He was back in moments, taking over applying pressure, squeezing her hand a bit as he moved it out of his way.
“I love you, Travis. Even though you're mean,” she said, grinning at him through the pain.
“That's my charm,” he said. “I love you too, Amanda. Once we clear these assholes, we're going to get you back to Dana and get you properly patched up. Just hang in there.”
“Herd's thinning, but I am still seeing movement out there,” Ben said. “Probably not long now.”
“Cannot believe our lives are in your hands, Ben,” Amanda said.
“Ben the RANGER,” Ben said. “Kicking ass. 'Cause Amanda got hurt like a GIRL.”
“You sound like a sad boy who got his ass kicked by a girl,” Amanda said, her face still drawn in pain, though she was not squirming with it anymore.
“You were that girl, Amanda the Bruiser!”
“I like it,” she said. “The Bruiser. Bowser Bruiser, MD.”
Finally, it was quiet, the guns silent, no growling or shrieking from their attackers. “How are we looking back there?” Ben called.
“She's trying to fall asleep,” Travis said. “We need to get her home now.”
“I'm going to scout out the mouth of the cave,” Ben said. “If it's clear, I'm going to run for one of the snowmobiles and bring it back here. Then one of us will get her home, ok? And the other will go back to the other snowmobile and take that home.”
“I'm thinking he can spend the night in the deer stand,” Ben said flatly. “I'm thinking he could use the time for quiet reflection on what a colossal dick he is and how it should have been him who got bitten.”
“At the very least,” Travis said, his voice lethally quiet.
Ben cautiously began to clear the debris. Travis came to keep him covered while he did, taking back his own gun. The tunnel beyond the debris barricade was blood-soaked and littered with silent, unmoving zombie bodies. The men stood there without speaking for long moments, listening for any movement outside the cave. “Heading out,” Ben said in a low voice. “Stay with her. I'll be back as soon as I can with the snowmobile.”
“Whistle if you come back in, because if I hear movement and no snowmobile, I'm shooting.”
“Good.” Ben picked up his flashlight, holding it in his left hand below and supporting the gun in his right as he moved forward.
As he slid sideways out of the cave, picking his way past the bodies, something moved on the cliff face above him.
The alpha dropped down on top of him with a guttural growl.

In the early daylight, Ed fired up his snowmobile, following the trail left by the fleeing trio and the horde of biters chasing them. Pulling up outside the cave Amanda had told him they were heading to, he found Ben, on his back, his body already beginning to freeze. He killed the engine and stood, coming to inspect the scene.

Laying next to him was the alpha, distinguishable by the relatively minor damage previously sustained; unlike its followers, this biter was not covered in scars or missing fingers or ears. However, it had a pulped chest. Ed assumed Ben had managed to fire upwards into the creature's chest even as the creature tore his throat out.
Ed shook his head. Hell of a way to go, but he had to admit the kid was tougher than he'd figured. He pulled out his flashlight and shone it into the cave, calling out.
“Hey! You guys in there?”
No answer. He slowly eased into the cave, working to keep his footing as he stepped around the freezing bodies of the biters cluttering up the tunnel. Ahead he could see a dismantled barricade of some sort leading into a larger room. Warily, he stepped into the bigger room, shining his flashlight ahead of him.
There was the blonde, white and waxen, lovingly tucked in as if she merely slept. She neither moved nor breathed, and he knew she hadn't made it. He didn't see Travis anywhere.
At least, not until he saw Travis' fist, and then saw nothing else.

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