Chapter 23

MHI had helicopters of its own, but those were still a few hours away, so we all loaded into the back of a National Guard Black Hawk for the short flight into the city. There were eleven of us in the chopper; the entire Scranton team and four additional Hunters from a team out in Utah. To my surprise, the leader of the Utah team was none other than Jon’s father, Doug Callahan.

I’d only met Doug once, when Jon and I graduated from high school, but I’d known him by reputation for a few years before that. Shortly after we’d first met, Jon had told me that his father was a former Delta Force Operator who had been recruited by the CIA’s Special Activities Division, and that he had taken part in paramilitary operations in Africa and the Middle East when Jon was a kid. I’d thought he was messing with me and laughed it off. That all changed one night when my father was picking me up from a movie that I’d seen with Jon and a few of our buddies. Jon’s mother was there, and my father had noticed a CIA pin on her jacket. Turns out she’d been CIA too and had worked support for several of Doug’s missions. Jon had gotten the last laugh that night.

Doug and Jon looked a lot alike, though Doug was about a head shorter and wore his hair and beard close-cropped, not long and scraggly like his son. His weapon of choice was an FAL carbine like mine, although his had a short 13-inch barrel and could fire full-auto as well as semi-. It was also fitted with an EOTech Holosight and had an M203 grenade launcher attached to the bottom of the handguard.

“Shit,” Doug said as we started flying over Philadelphia. I couldn’t help but agree with his assessment: the city looked like a war zone. Cars and buildings were on fire, people were running everywhere, and I could see more than a few zombies on the ground. Police had set up roadblocks, but a few of those looked like they’d turned into improvised bunkers as they’d been overwhelmed by swarms of undead.

“It’s fucking Mogadishu all over again,” another Utah Hunter said.

“You were at Mogadishu?” I asked instinctively. “Battle of the Black Sea?”

“Yeah,” he said, “You saw the movie?” I nodded. “I still can’t watch it. Too damn close to the real thing.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he said, “We’d have all gone back in a heartbeat if Clinton and those chickenshits in Congress hadn’t pulled the plug on us.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For serving.”

“Oh. You’re welcome.” I reached across the inside of the chopper and shook his hand.

“Two minutes!” one of the Black Hawk’s crew chiefs shouted over the whine of the engines.

“You gonna be okay, Griz?” Doug asked.

“Hell yeah!” Griz replied, “You know I’ve made my peace with the Mog, and it doesn’t matter either way because the zombies won’t be shooting back at us!” He and Doug laughed. Those of us who overheard them couldn’t help but join in.

“One minute!”

Conversation ceased. Charging handled were yanked back, rounds were chambered. Doug opened up his M203 and loaded it.

“Buckshot,” he explained, “for close encounters.”

I glanced out of the Black Hawk’s open door. We were over the Sports Complex’s massive parking lot, and I could see a huge mob already running towards the approaching helicopters. One Black Hawk full of National Guardsmen tried to set down but took off again almost immediately as the mob started to swarm it. One desperate man clung to the landing strut as the chopper rose a good thirty feet into the air before his grip finally failed. I winced as he fell back to the pavement. Even over the deafening sound of the Black Hawk’s engines, I thought I could hear his scream.

“This is no good!” the pilot called back to us. “We can’t set down or else we’ll get mobbed!”

“Can you guys fast-rope?” The second crew chief asked.

“Hell yeah!” Doug replied. The rest of us nodded affirmatively. The chopper dropped slightly until it was about thirty feet above ground. The two crew chiefs produced a pair of long, thick ropes from somewhere and affixed them to mounting brackets above the open doors.

“Okay, you guys are gonna have to move out as soon as those ropes hit the ground, otherwise we’re gonna have civilians trying to climb ‘em. Understood?” We all nodded. The crew chiefs booted the ropes out the doors.

“GO! GO! GO! GO!” I was set to bail out the right side of the aircraft. Doug went first, followed by Dominique, then Scotty, then me.

“Good luck!” Jon called as I hit the rope. He wouldn’t be joining us on the ground; he and Griz would stay in the choppers and use their sniper rifles to give us precision covering fire from the air.

The slide down the rope felt like it only lasted a fraction of a second. Supposedly, it takes about five seconds to fast-rope from that height, but to me it seemed a heck of a lot shorter. I braked right before hitting the asphalt, then dropped off the rope. No sooner had I hit the ground and cleared the rope than the four of us were set upon by the mob. They were all human, thank God, but that relief was short lived as they began pulling at us, screaming for help.

“Hey, back off!” I shouted. They ignored me.

“Why won’t you take us with you?”

“Bring that helicopter back!”

“Get us out of here!”

“HELP US!!!”

“You bastards!!!” A big guy suddenly emerged from the crowd and tried to take a swing at me. I dodged him then butt-stroked him in the gut with my FAL, sending him to the pavement. Screams erupted as the crowd retreated, then I saw the faces of the people on the leading edge change from terror to rage. Another second and they’d rush us, and we couldn’t shoot them even in self-defense. Fortunately, someone in the National Guard had possessed enough brains to plan for such a situation. I let the FAL drop onto its sling, reached behind my back, and unclipped a pair of stun grenades. I pulled the pins and tossed them into the air just as the crowd started to charge.

The grenades detonated two feet over the heads of the edge of the mob. Even with my electronic earplugs in and my eyes clenched shut, it was still unpleasant: I felt like Owen Pitt had just punched me in the gut. I don’t want to imagine what it felt like for the unprepared mob members. The leading edge went down to the pavement. Some of them had their hands clenched over their ears, all were screaming and moaning in pain and surprise. The standing members shrunk back as the rest of the team tossed flashbangs at their feet.

“Go to the National Guardsmen!” Dominique shouted into a compact bullhorn she’s procured from somewhere back at the Academy, “They will assist you! Now, I need everyone to remain calm and clear us a path to the stadiums! Right now!” The crowd shrank away from us but otherwise did not move. “Do it now!” Dominique ordered, “or we will use more stun grenades!” The prospect of more ear-shattering explosions apparently didn’t appeal to most of the crowd because they slowly began to shift over to where the National Guardsmen were setting up. I didn’t feel bad about bumming the mob off on the Guard: they didn’t have a clue when it came to Monster Hunting, so we were the lead elements into the stadiums.

The nine of us quickly formed up and began quickly winding our way through the parking lot towards Citizens Bank Park. Doug was on point, and Shannon and Scotty were right behind him with their shotguns.

“Guys, be advised, I’ve got some Zeds coming out of the Third Base Gate, heading for your position,” Jon called over the radio.

“They’re out of range, Jon,” Doug replied, “Take ‘em.”

“Copy that.”

“Negative,” I said, “I can get them.”

“Do it quick,” Jon replied, “They’re closing on a group of survivors.” I dashed around to the front of our line, dropped to one knee, and cranked up the magnification on my scope. Sure enough, there were five zombies shuffling out of the stadium towards a group of maybe two dozen humans. I centered the amber reticule on the lead zombie’s head and squeezed the trigger. The top of its head exploded and it dropped. I dew a bead on the next one in line and fired again. It dropped too. The third zombie went down from one of Jon’s shots, so I lined up on the fourth and dropped it. I pulled the trigger on the fifth just as Jon got lined up on it. from his chopper. Our two bullets were both headshots, and the zombie’s skull exploded in a fountain of black gore.

“Okay your clear,” Jon said, “but haul ass. I can see more Zeds inside.”

“Roger that,” Dominique replied, then turned to us. “Move it!”

The inside of the stadium was chaos. Actually, the chaos extended to outside the stadium’s entrances: a huge crowd was trying to force its way out of the gate, creating a bottleneck that prevented anyone from getting in or out of the stadium. It took another dozen flashbangs to break up the logjam enough for us to make our way inside.

Complete pandemonium greeted us when we finally pushed our way into the arena. People were running, screaming, crying. And of course there were zombies. Not as many as I’d expected, but still a decent amount. A handful of civilians were fighting back, going after the undead with whatever weapons they could find, but most were panicking, trying to run, hide, do anything to get away.

The second we breached the gate, I snapped up my FAL and blew the brains out of a zombie. The crowd’s hysteria increased tenfold before the echo of the shot faded.

“Watch your backgrounds!” Doug called over the screams. “No rifle fire unless you have a clean background!” Doug had transitioned to his sidearm – a full-custom M1911 – the moment we’d entered the stadium. I dropped my FAL to its sling, drew my Mossberg, and jacked a round into the chamber. He was right; full-power battle rifles in a close-quarters environment like this would create a lethal crossfire that would shred civlians.

“Steve, Odette, Scotty, head up the stands!” Dominique called, “There’s a whole mess of them above us!” I looked up and saw a cluster of about fifteen zombies about twenty rows up slowly making their way towards a group of panicked, cowering civilians.

“On it!” Scotty called as he blasted a zombie’s head to mist with his Benelli. “You two ready?” We nodded. “Let’s go!”

We charged up the steps, firing as we went. Odette ran her UMP like a veteran Navy SEAL, dropping zombies with precise two- and three-round bursts to the head. Scotty and I didn’t bother with precision just pumped load after load of buckshot into the big mass of undead. We got a few, but all of us ran dry halfway up the steps. I speed-reloaded just like Owen had taught me back in Newbie training, a round directly into the chamber and four more snick-snick-snick-snick into the chamber and then four more just as fast. Odette already had her little subgun rolling again. We were almost on top of the zombies, so I yanked the shotgun’s bayonet from its sheath on my left thigh and affixed it to the clamp under the magazine tube.

“EAT LEAD AND DIE!” I screamed as the three of us charged the horde. I thrust my shotgun like a spear into the neck of the nearest zombie, burying the bayonet up to its hilt in the undead’s flesh. I didn’t stop there: I braced the stock against my shoulder and pulled the trigger, showering us, the civilians, and the rest of the horde with zombie brains. Odette was right: this whole blowing-heads-off-monsters-with-shotguns thing was getting to be a theme with me.

“YEAHHHHHH!” Odette screamed like a banshee as she emptied her UMP into the horde, dropping another three Zeds as Scotty and I dropped the rest of the horde with quick headshots.

“You enjoyed that,” I commented as Odette and I reloaded.

“Yeah,” she said with a huge grin, “so did you.”

“Hell yeah!”

“St… St… Steven?”

“Huh?” the voice came from the crowd of civilians, and to my surprise, I recognized it. I turned towards the crowd and almost dropped my shotgun in surprise. “Doctor Young?”

He looked completely different from how I remembered him. His suit jacket and tie had been replaced by an oversized Phillies jersey, his khaki pants had been exchanged for worn, faded blue jeans, and he was wearing a Phillies ball cap and a giant foam finger that someone – or something – had taken a huge bite out of, but I’d never forget that face. Lo and behold, it was indeed Dr. Patrick Young, my old college professor, the one who’d helped me work through losing my uncle.

“What… what are you doing?” he asked, his face completely ashern.

“Well… you remember that Second Amendment to the Constitution? The one you said only applied to the military, National Guard, and policemen?”

“Y… yes…”

“I’m exercising it as an individual,” I said, unable to hold back a self-righteous smirk. We’d had that debate so many times during and after class that I’d lost count, and I think right then I’d finally won it. “Oh,” I added, “and I’m saving your butt doing it, too. Speaking of which, duck!” He turned around to find himself face to half-face with a charging zombie. Part of its jaw was gone, and the wound was leaking black blood. Doctor Young didn’t duck, instead he stood there like the proverbial deer in the headlights, so I ran over, shoved him to the floor, and dumped two loads of buckshot into the undead thing’s head.

“You okay?” I asked. He nodded dumbly, his mouth flopping open like a fish’s, but no words came out. It looked like he was starting to go into shock. “Okay, just stay calm,” I said, “You see those guys in camo down there?” I pointed at a squad of National Guardsmen who were cautiously making their way up the stands. He nodded. “Good. Go to them, they’ll get you out of here, okay?” Another nod. “Okay, get moving,” I said, giving him a gentle shrug in their direction. He, and most of the rest of the crowd, needed no further bidding; they ran towards the National Guardsmen like alcoholics to happy hour.

“Hey, check that out!” Scotty said.

“Check what out?” Odette asked. He just pointed down into the field, where to my absolute amazement, I saw a huge circle of dead zombies around the pitcher’s mound. Inside the circle stood a ring of baseball players, each with a well-bloodied baseball bat. Phillies and Yankees stood shoulder-to-shoulder, cracking the skulls of any zombie that wandered into range of their Louisville Sluggers. Unfortunately for them, the number of zombies heading for them numbered close to a hundred, and several of them had broken their bats while breaking zombie heads. They needed support, and fast.

“Call in the sniper cover for those guys,” I said as I replaced the Mossberg in its scabbard. “And give me some cover too.” Scotty got on the radio as I dropped into a crouch and braced my FAL’s handguard on the back of the seat below me. I settled into the stock, dialed the scope up to maximum magnification, and drew a bead on one of the zombies down in the field. BOOM! He went down hard as the top of his skull dissolved into a black mist. I lined up on another zombie and repeated the process. He went down hard too. I dropped a third and a fourth the same way before two Black Hawks began circling above the stadium. The four airborne snipers made quick work of the horde down on the field. The baseball players raised their bats towards the choppers, and even over the roar of the Black Hawks and the gunfire echoing throughout the stadium, we all could hear their victory cry.

“Contact right!” Odette called. I jumped to my feet and double-tapped a zombie charging towards us. He went down hard, but I saw he was wearing a Yankees jersey, so I shot him again on principle. Odette and Scotty both gave me weird looks.

“What?  I’m from Philly. What’d you expect?”

“All teams be advised,” Dominique called over the radio, “we’ve got a group of civilians pinned down in the Visitor’s Dugout. Anyone in the area, drop what you’re doing and get down there!”

“This is Meyers, we’ve got it!” Odette replied. “You two ready?” Scotty nodded eagerly, and I swapped mags in my FAL, racking the charging handle for emphasis.

“Let’s go!” I shouted, and the three of us charged down the steps towards the field, an ancient battle cry on our lips.

Chapter 24

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