Chapter 25

“Hey! Look there!”

“What? Where?” Dominique asked. I pointed out the window at a church we were flying past.

In the light of the full moon, we could see a huge piece of posterboard hanging out of one of the upper-story windows. The message “HELP US!!!” had been hastily scrawled on it in bubble letters. Several people, all human, were leaning out of the window waving at us. Some of them had flashlights, which they were using like beacon lights to attract our attention.

“Bud, mark the position and call it in,” Dominique said.

“I don’t think there’s time for that,” Bud replied. “Check out the street in front of us.” We all craned our necks to see out the Huey’s windscreen. I felt my heart sink into my shoes. A literal wall of zombies was slowly making its way northbound, heading straight for the church.

“Call it in,” Dominique insisted.

“Roger that,” Bud said, then flipped on the radio. “Any assets in the vicinity of City Hall, this is Crossbow One-One. I’ve spotted a large number of survivors holed up in a church on the seventeen-hundred block of Delancey Street. There is a large number of zombies, estimate at least one hundred, moving northbound up Seventeenth Street towards the church. ETA on their arrival is four minutes. They need immediate extraction or they will be overrun. Can anyone come in and extract them? Over.”

A painfully long minute passed, then we got a reply.

“Crossbow, this is Command. Be advised, there are no free assets available in your vicinity. Over.” Bud had wired the radio into the intercom so we could all hear the conversation.

“Can you move anyone in by air? Over.”

“Ah, that’s a negative, Crossbow. No airlift capacity in the vicinity either. None that can make it to you in time. Over.”

“Where the hell is everyone, Command?”

“Big firefight going on down in the Historic District, Crossbow. Pretty much everyone’s tied up.”

“Shit.”

“Watch your language, Crossbow!”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry. Crossbow Out.” Bud switched back to the intercom and turned back to us. “What do you guys want to do?” The five of us all exchanged a long glance. We were all tired, all low on ammo. We all know that when, not if, the zombies breached the church, we wouldn’t be able to hold them back for very long. We all knew what the smart, logical thing to do would be.

“Set us down in that parking lot down the block,” Dominique ordered. To hell with logic.

“Roger that,” Bud replied then flipped back to the radio, “Skippy, we’ve got civilians pinned down in a church, I’m letting my Hunters off down the block to extract them.”

“Roger… Bud,” Skippy replied, “Skippy’s Hunters… also want to… help. I land… in cross-road… in front of… holy…place.”

“I’m coming with you,” Dan suddenly insisted.

“The hell you are!” I said

“He’s right,” Dominique added, “Putting you in with us would be suicide. You’ve got no weapons, no ammo, no training.”

“I’ve got a full magazine plus a couple of rounds left for my Glock and forty rounds for a Mosin,” Dan insisted, “and besides this is my city. I signed up to protect it, and I’m not gonna roll over and give up just because of some stupid zombies!” Dominique and I shared a look; we both knew there’s be no arguing with him.

“Fine, you’re with us,” Dominique said, “but everyone else stays in the chopper!”

“He kid,” Bud called, “I’ve got an M14 and a chest rig with extra mags up here. Take ‘em with you.”

“Thanks, sir,” Dan said as he leaned into the copilots seat and retrieved the weapons.

“Bring it back in one piece or I’ll kick your ass from here to Crazador,” Bud warned with a smile.

“Don’t worry,” Dan assured him, “I’ll get it back to you.” He slung one of his Mosin – a shorter-barreled carbine model – across his back and shouldered Bud’s rifle. It was a Springfield Armory SOCOM model, the one with the short 16-inch barrel, and Bud had shortened it even further by replacing the stock with a collapsing aluminum stock and fore-end unit from Sage Industries. Bud had fitted it with an Aimpoint red-dot sight on top of the railed fore-end and a Surefire light under the barrel. There was a magazine already loaded into the rifle and three more in the chest rig, giving him a total of 80 rounds. That was more than most of us had left.

The parking lot was still filled with cars, leaving Bud unable to land the chopper and forcing us to leap onto the roofs of parked automobiles. I landed on the roof of a powder-blue Prius.

“Anyone got a satchel charge?” I asked jokingly as the big Huey took off.

“I got a few claymores,” Scotty replied, immediately catching on, “One of ‘em should be enough to frag that thing.”

“Joke later, guys,” Dominique ordered, “Move out now.” We dashed across the street and down the block to the nearest entrance to the church. The zombie horde was less than three blocks from us and closing fast. We reached the door and tried it. Locked. Dominique turned towards Scotty, but he was already on it. He flipped his Benelli over to pump-action, placed the muzzle over the lock, and discharged a Hatton breaching round into the mechanism, pulverizing it. We were all inside before the sound of the echo faded.

“Find something to brace the door with!” Odette ordered. Chris, Scotty and Dan immediately ran over to the massive desk near the wall and shoved it in front of the double doors. I knew that would only buy us a few minutes: there were at least a half-dozen entrances to the church.

“This is Griz, we’re inside the church,” came the call over the radio. “Looks like we’re in the sanctuary. Where are you guys?”

“In the lobby,” I replied. “Other end of the building.”

“We’ve got stairs in here, but they only lead up to balconies. Sanctuary looks clear, but we’ll sweep it anyways. Any ideas how we get upstairs?”

“Go through the doors at the far end of the sanctuary,” I said, “Doesn’t matter which side; stairs will be opposite the outer walls.”

“Copy that,” Griz called, “we’re heading to it.”

“Roger, meet you up there,” I replied, then noticed the strange looks the rest of the team was giving me. “What? My family and I came here pretty much every Sunday morning for the better part of twenty years.”

“Later,” Dominique said, “we need to move now! Take the stairs here!” She pointed to a narrow staircase at the back of the room.

“Those don’t go to where the people are,” I said, “Just offices up that way. The survivors are in Fellowship Hall. Stairs to that are this way.”

“Fine, show us.”

I took point, FAL up and ready as we snaked out of the lobby. As we passed through the small coat room, I thought I heard something slam into the door. We turned the corner into a side hallway. There was a flight of steps going up on one side of the hall and an exterior door at the far end.

“This way!” I called as I charged up the stairs. Something definitely slammed into the lobby door. They – I knew it was the zombies – started pounding on the door, and I thought I heard the desk start to creak as we climbed.

The door at the top of the stairs was locked. I let the FAL hang from it sling, pulled the Mossberg from its scabbard, and loaded a breaching round into the chamber. I didn’t blast the lock right away, instead reversing my grip on the weapon and pounding against the door. Thump thump thump thump-thump. “Shave and a hair-cut.”

“Stand clear of the door!” I shouted, “We’re here to help you! I’m going to have to blow the lock!”

“No, wait!” a voice called back. A second later, we all heard the loud click of the latch and the door swung open. A loud crash suddenly echoed up the stairs, far too close to have come from the lobby. I felt my blood turn to ice.

“They’re in the hallway!” Odette screamed. She opened up on them with her UMP a second later. Screams erupted from inside Fellowship Hall as we muscled our way inside. Odette and Dan came through last, dumping their magazines into the onrushing horde. Doug ran forward as Odette cleared the door and fired his FAL’s launcher into the leading wave of zombies, pulverizing one with an oversized load of buckshot. Chris and Griz slammed the door shut and threw the deadbolt home. An instant later, the door literally shook as the wall of undead slammed into it. That threw the civilians into an even bigger panic.

“Lock the other doors!” I called. There were two more entrances into Fellowship Hall.

“Already done!” Doug called.

There were more than thirty people in Fellowship Hall not including us Hunters and Dan. They ranged in age from toddlers to the elderly, men and women of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and income levels. Pretty typical of the church’s demographics.

“Who’s in charge up here?” Dominique asked.

“T- that would be us,” a very familiar voice said as two men stepped forward out of the crowd. Both were clad in three-piece suits. One was tall, clean-shaven, his light-brown hair slicked back into a sharp widow’s peak. The second was older, shorter, his hair and beard sprinkled with much more salt than pepper. “Who are you people?” the tall one asked. “Are you with the Army?”

“No, we’re private contractors,” I explained, “We work for a company called Monster Hunter International.” Both of them were incredibly surprised when they saw me.

“Stephen?” the shorter one asked, “Stephen Andrews?”

“Hello, Reverend Kent,” I said with a smile. “Everyone, meet Reverend Doctor Patrick Reid and Reverend Morgan Kent. Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor, respectively. Doctor Reid, Reverend Kent, this is MHI. Dominique Turner and Doug Callahan are the two head honchos of this little group.” I was cut off by a sudden, relentless pounding at the door we just came through. Screams erupted from the crowd.

“Everyone up!” Dominique said, “we have to move!”

“There are doors at the bottoms of the staircases where we came up,” Doug said.

“Then we’ll use those,” Dominique said. This way.” Everyone moved towards the closest door, only to freeze as pounding started on the other side of it. A moment later, we heard undead pounding on the third door. The screams grew more intense, and people began to cry.

“Shit!” Doug cursed, with several other Hunters joining him. I wasn’t one of them. Crisis or faith or not, impending death or not, I was still in a house of God. “Is there any other way out?”

“We can get to the roof from here,” Dctor Reardon said, “but if we go up there, we’ll still be trapped.”

“We’ve got helicopters,” Doug said, “Where’s the door to the roof?”

“The kitchen, but–”

“Show us,” Dominique ordered. “Keep those doors covered,” she commanded us, “Anything breaks through, blast it.” That last bit was pretty unnecessary.

“It’s locked,” Reverent Kent said.

“Who has the key?” Scotty asked.

“The custodial staff.”

“Any custodians here?” Dominique asked the crowd. No one responded: most were too busy panicking to pay her any attention. “I need everyone’s attention!” Again, no response. “People, this is important!” Still nothing.

“YO!” I shouted, “EVERYONE BE QUIET AND LISTEN UP!” The room immediately went silent. All eyes turned towards me. “Thank you! Now, does anyone here have a key to the roof? Is anyone here a custodian or maintenance worker for the church?” About thirty heads shook ‘no’. “Fine,” I said and turned towards the kitchen.

“Wait, what are you doing?” a man asked.

“I’m gonna blow the lock,” I said.

“Don’t!” the man said, “I’ve got a key!” I turned to see an older African American man emerge from the crowd. He was clad in overalls and a smock, and he had a keyring held aloft like it was a trophy.

“Great,” Doug said, “get that door open quick.” We could hear and see the doorframes to the stairways begin to creak and splinter under the relentless pounding of the zombie onslaught. The custodian hauled ass into the kitchen with Shannon on his heels, and a moment later we heard the yell “Got it!”

The crowd immediately rushed into the kitchen. The Hunters hung back, weapons ready. Any minute, one of those doors would give out, unleashing a torrent of undead into Fellowship Hall.

“What’s the hold-up?” Dominique asked.

“There’s another door,” Shannon called. “Myron’s trying to get it open.”

“Myron?” I asked stupidly.

“The custodian,” Shannon replied, “Wait a second… okay it’s open!” The crowd immediately surged forward into the kitchen and through the doors to the rooftop. The circle of Hunters slowly tightened up as we backed up towards the kitchen door. As the last of the crowd started to shrink into the kitchen, the door we’d entered into Fellowship Hall through suddenly exploded off its hinges.

“CONTACT!!!!” We all shouted and began pouring fire into the torrent of zombies that came spilling through. Screams erupted from the crowd as the stragglers desperately pushed and shoved in desperation to get up the stairs. I could hear Shannon struggling to restore order, but it didn’t sound like she was having much luck. I pointed by Mossberg at a zombie’s head and pulled the trigger. The skull exploded in a mist of blood, brain matter, and magnesium powder as the breaching round hit home and immediately disintegrated. I jacked a round of buckshot into the chamber and blew another zombie’s head off.

“Move it, Shannon!” Dominique shouted into the radio. We were doing our best to hold the zombies back, but they were slowly pressing their way into the room. If they breached another door, we’d have a minute, maybe two, before we were completely overrun.

“Working on it!” Shannon replied, “Almost got everyone.”

“Go faster!” Doug called.

“Hang on, gotta get this kid up the ladder… Okay, he’s through. Now you, Mom… okay, she’s up! That’s everyone! Haul ass, guys!”

“Fall back!” Dominique ordered. We were already moving, quickly backing towards the kitchen. As each Hunter reached the doorway, they disengaged from the firefight, turned and bolted through the tiny kitchen to the doors where Shannon and Myron were waiting.

“I will be the last one through!” Chris announced as he quickly loaded his last 200-round belt into his M60. “Everyone else, then me!”

I risked a quick glance backwards to see Odette reach the kitchen door and bolt through. Then Griz, than Doug, than me. I ran through he kitchen as fast as I could carry, charged through the inner door, scampered up a metal staircase so steep it might as well have been a ladder, and burst out onto the roof. Dominique followed a moment later. I could hear Chris’ big machine gun firing away in one long burst, then it suddenly stopped. I felt my heart stop for a second before Myron scrambled up the ladder, with Chris coming up a second later.

“I got the inside door closed and locked!” Myron announced as he started to close the outer door.

“No, wait a second!” Scott said. Before anyone could stop him, he darted back inside. A loud, metallic pounding suddenly began emanating from inside. The zombies had reached the inner door. Scotty emerged from the door a minute later.

“What were you doing?” Dominique demanded.

“Setting up claymores on the stairs,” he explained.

“What’s a claymore?” Doctor Reid asked.

“Anti-personnel mines, “Scotty explained. “Basically three pounds of C4 with a couple hundred BB’s embedded in it. It goes off, anything in front of it gets vaporized. If the zombies breach the inner door, they’ll trip them as they come up the stairs. I figure they’ll buy us a couple of minutes and if we’re lucky, damage the stairs enough so the zombies can’t get up them.”

“Heads up!” Doug called. “Chopper incoming!” We all turned to see Skippy lower the Hind next the south side of the roof. He actually brought the big chopper so close to the building that left-side landing gear was just barely touching the top of the rampart.

Our role immediately changed from Monster Hunters to crowd control as we tried to keep the hysterical crowd from swamping the helicopter. We quickly loaded five civilians plus Odette into the already-crowded chopper. As Odette climbed into the Hind, I tossed her the keys to The Beast.

“Just in case!” I shouted and signaled to Skippy to take off before she could protest. The Hind soared up into the moonlight. Bud swung in a moment later. His landing wasn’t nearly as delecate as Skippy’s; the Huey’s landing skid grated over the rampart before setting down hard on the tar and gravel roof. Jon climbed into the chopper and pulled eight more civilians aboard before Bud waved us away and pulled the big helicopter into the night. That left just about eighteen civilians, including Myron, Reverend Kent, and Doctor Reid, on the roof with seven Hunters and Dan.

“How’s everyone doing for ammo?” Doug asked.

“I’m down to a mag plus change for my rifle,” Dominique said, “and five mags for my pistol.”

“Four mags for my rifle, two for the pistol,” Griz replied, “plus two frag grenades.”

“I’ve got maybe sixty rounds left for the Pig,” Chris said, “Eight pistol mags left.”

“About two dozen shells for the Benelli plus eight reloads for the Schofields,” Scotty said glumly, “Plus one more claymore.”

“I’ve got one magazine and a full flame charge for Boudica, and three pistol mags,” Shannon said.

“I’ve got about one and a half magazines for my FAL, four pistol magazines, and I’m down to six breacher rounds for my shotgun,” I said.

“Not quite three magazines for the M14, a little over one mag for my Glock, and forty rounds for my Mosin,” Dan said.

“And I’m down to two full mags and a few rounds for my rifle, five magazines for my pistol, and two buckshot rounds for the M203,” Doug finished, “Shit.”

“You can say that again,” Chris said.

“Wait, what does that mean?” Reverend Kent asked.

“It means that we’re dangerously low on ammunition,” I answered, “so if the zombies get through those doors, unless we can get another helicopter in here, we’ll only be able to hold out for a little bit.”

“How long is a little bit?” Doctor Reid asked me. I shrugged and look towards Dominique.

“Five minutes tops,” she said, then got on her radio. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Anyone on this channel, this is Turner with MHI. I have a group of eight Hunters and approximately twenty civilians pinned down on a church rooftop at the corner of 17th and Spruce Streets. We are very low on ammunition and have a horde of zombies attempting to breach our position. We need immediate air extraction. I say again, we need immediate air extraction for thirty people ASAP. Anyone on this channel please respond.”

For a heartbreaking moment, all was silent except for the relentless pounding of the zombies at the inner door. Dominique repeated her message, a desperate edge cracking through her calm demeanor.

“Turner, this is Paisley in the Chinook. I am inbound on your position, ETA ten minutes.”

“Thank God, Paisley,” Dominique sighed, “Why the hold-up?”

“The Primary Command Centers are tied up with survivors and casualties from the Historic District,” Paisley explained, “They got hit pretty hard. Bud and Skippy had to divert out here too.”

“Well haul ass, Paisley,” Dominique said, “All we’ve got between us and about a hundred hungry zombies are two doorways, a staircase, and a pair of claymores.”

“Roger that, I’m pedal to the medal,” Paisley assured us. “ETA now nine minutes. See you soon.”

“Yeah, right, see you soon,” Dominique replied, then cut the transmission. “I hope,” she added quietly.

The minutes ticked by so slowly it was physically painful. The civilians huddled together, some of them crying, all stealing occasional frightened glances at the doorway where the relentless pounding continued. We did our best to get ourselves between them and the doorway. I glanced at my watch. About six minutes until the Chinook arrived.

A loud CRASH! suddenly echoed from inside the building. The inner door had just been breached. A moment later, a muffled explosion shook the rooftop. The zombies had just tripped Scotty’s first claymore.

“What do you think?” Griz asked after a moment of heart-stopping silence, “Did that stop ‘em?”

“I dunno,” Scotty replied, not taking his eyes off the doorway. “It might’ve taken out the staircase, but I dunno. If it was wood, sure, but it was steel, and I don’t know the quality. Maybe it blew a step off the latter, maybe it didn’t. We’ll see.”

The survivors began crying. A moment later, the roof shook again as the zombies tripped Scotty’s second claymore. We all instinctively raised our weapons as the shockwave pounded the doorframe.

“Steady!” Dominique called, “Steady on the line!” We’d all instinctively formed a wide crescent in front of the door, guns up and ready, safeties off, fingers just outside the trigger guards. For what felt like hours, there was nothing. No one moved, no one spoke. All eyes were focused on the steel door. I risked a frightened glance at my watch, as if taking my eyes off the door would cause the zombies to come bursting through the door. Five minutes until the Chinook arrived.

WHAM! Something slammed into the door hard enough to shake it. The crowd screamed. The Hunters cursed.

The zombies were on the stairs.

“Okay,” Dominique said, “this is what we’re going to do. The only way they can get to us is through that door, so they’ll be bottlenecked in there. We’re going to form a line, single-file. One Hunter fires at a time. Semi-auto only. Aimed fire at the heads, but quick shots. Don’t let ‘em through that door. Once you empty the magazine, back of the line and reload. If you run dry on your long gun, transition to your pistol and wait. Once everyone’s long guns run dry, we open up with pistols. Clear?”

“I’ve only got breachers for my shotgun,” I reminded her, “want me to run those?”

“Everything we’ve got.”

“I don’t think the flamethrower’s a good idea,” Shannon said.

“Agreed,” Doug said. They were right; the range was too short so we’d set the building on fire, plus zombies don’t react to fire, so we’d have a bunch of flaming zombies trying to kill us instead of regular zombies.

“Last ditch only,” Dominique told her, “and by that I mean we’re out of ammo, grenades, everything else, and backed into a corner with nowhere to go but down. Understand?” Shannon nodded.

The pounding on the door increased in intensity. Dust flew off the door. The frame started to creak and I could see cracks start to form around the deadbolt and hinges. Doctor Reid and Reverent Kent got everyone down on their knees and began to pray The Lord’s Prayer. After a moment, I realized I was softly praying along with them.

“Paisley, where the hell are you?”

“I’m four minutes out, Dominique, just hang on.”

“Haul ass, man,” and for the first time, I heard genuine fear in Dominique’s voice.

“Bull-shit four minutes,” Chris said quietly, so the crowd couldn’t hear him, “they’re gonna be through that door in one minute. He was right; the wooden frame was cracking around the hinges now and I could see big splinters flying off.

“Form up!” Dominique shouted, “Scotty, you’re up first.”

“Got it!” Scotty leapt into position twenty feet from the shaking, creaking door. We all fell in behind him, guns at low-ready. My brow was damp with cold sweat, my breathing was becoming ragged. I knew that it would only be a matter of seconds until

CRASH!!!

The door exploded from the frame out onto the roof. Scotty’s finger stroked the trigger before the door hit the ground. Eight undead skulls exploded in less than three seconds before Scotty called “out!” and smoothly cleared Griz’s line of fire.

Griz’s customized REPR sniper rifle had two optical sights: a Nightforce scope mounted atop the receiver and a small Aimpoint Micro mounted at a 45-degree angle next to it. Griz canted the rifle over to sight through the little red-dot sight and opened up on the zombies. Twenty rounds fired; eighteen scored head shots. He scooted left and raced for the back of the line.

Shannon raised Boudica and pumped her last ten buckshot shells into ten zombie skulls. Doug stepped up, raised his shortened FAL, and discharged the launcher clipped under the barrel. The oversized shotgun shell disintegrated four heads with one pull of the trigger. He unloaded his thirty-round magazine, taking out twenty-seven zombies before running dry. Jon stepped up to the line, raised his Broadsword, and downed twenty more one after the other. Dominique repeated the feat.

Then it was my turn. I snapped my FAL to my shoulder and fired, pumping out round after round like a typewriter would stamp letters. Zombie after zombie went down, each with a round dead-center between its eyes. Never had I shot so well. The bolt locked back. I was out.

“LOADING!” I called to Dan as I cleared his field of fire, stripping the old mag from the gun as I moved. I only had one magazine left, and I knew it was only about half-full.

Dan ran dry a few seconds later and moved to the rear of the line. Chris fired off a thirty-round burst before moving to the back, bringing Doug up to the front again. Shannon stood off to the side, near the civilians. She was out of ammo for her huge shotgun and was down to her pistol now. Out of the rest of us, only Dan and Griz had more than two full magazines. And the zombies were still coming through the door.

We went through the line again, dropping several dozen more zombies. The staircase was clogged with the bodies of the undead now, but the ones behind just shoved some out of the way and climbed over the others, desperate to fulfill their single-minded drive to feed on living flesh.

Now Dominique and Dough were down to their pistols. My FAL had run dry and I’d switched to my shotgun. Chris was down to less than twenty rounds for his M60.

More zombies pushed their way onto the roof.

We went through the line again. Now it was only Dan and Griz left with long guns. The rest of us moved the survivors behind a big HVAC unit near the edge of the roof. Scotty set up his last claymore about forty feet from the door just as Dan and Griz ran dry and fell back towards us.

“Hold your fire!” Scotty shouted as Dan and Griz ducked behind the HVAC unit. “I’ll trip the claymore once they get close enough. That’ll thin them out! Save your ammo until I blow it!”

The zombies clambered out of the door, dozens of them, one after the other. They climbed on and over their fallen comrades as they stepped out onto the rooftop. They milled about at first, searching for prey, until Scotty tapped the side of the HVAC with one of his Schofields. Then they honed in on the noise like sharks sensing blood in the water. Scotty just crouched there with his head craned around the side of the HVAC, Schofield in his right hand and the claymore’s detonator in his left. I stood up to look over the big air conditioning unit, watching the zombies shuffle closer… closer…

“Uh, Scotty,” I said with a nervous edge in my voice, “whenever you feel like hitting it…”

“No,” he said, his voice now hard as steel. “They’re not close enough.”

“No offense, but they look pretty darn close to me.” Scotty didn’t say anything, he just watched with predators eyes as the zombies shuffled ever closer to that little green crescent-shaped box with “FRONT TOWARDS ENEMY” written on one side. When the zombies had closed within a yard of the mine, I turned back to Scotty.

“Scotty…” he didn’t move. The zombies closed to two feet. “Scotty, now would be a really good time.” Scotty didn’t so much as twitch. One foot. “Scot–”

Scotty suddenly rolled back behind the HVAC. I had just enough time to get behind cover before he screamed “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” and jammed the clapper closed once, twice, three times.

Even through my earplugs, the sound was incredible. Even with the big, thick HVAC between me and the mine, the shockwave still punched me hard in the gut. I could barely hear the civilians screaming over the echo and the ringing in my ears.

As one, the Hunters rose from behind the air conditioning unit, pistols up, safeties off, fingers seeking triggers.

The sight that greeted our eyes was beautiful in its horror. A gooey red paste covered the rooftop. Every zombie between where the claymore had been and the door had been atomized. One that had been standing next to the mine had been blown to the far edge of the roof. Its legs were gone, ripped off just below the hip, and the rest of the body had been smashed in by the shockwave. It didn’t take more than a quick glance to tell that the thing was dead.

All of which quickly became of little comfort as I saw a dozen more zombies come flooding through the door with three dozen more directly on their heels.

“Open fire!” Dominique yelled. We complied in an instant. We fired as fast as we could line up our sights on a zombie’s head and pull the trigger. My SIG locked empty, I stripped the mag and reloaded, watching in awe as Dan ran his Glock like a DELTA operator instead of a Philly beat cop and Scotty firing a Schofield in each hand, taking zombies down with headshot after headshot like a modern-day John Wayne.

But the zombies kept on coming. It seemed like every zombie in the city was trying to claw its way onto the rooftop and get to us.

“Paisley!” Dominique called desperately as her HK45 ran dry, “Where the hell are you!?”

“I’m two minutes out,” came the reply, “Just hold on!”

“Haul ass!” Dominique screamed as she locked a fresh magazine into her pistol and resumed firing. Dan’s Glock hand run dry for the last time and he’d discarded it. He was crouched down beside the big HVAC unit with his Mosin carbine, firing it like an old single-shot rifle, loading a fresh round into the chamber after each shot. Scotty was only using one Schofield now, firing it with one hand and prepping a speed-loader with the other. We were all still firing as fast as we could pull our triggers. But the zombies didn’t stop coming through the door.

Griz was out of ammo completely now, as was Shannon. They stood slightly behind the rest us, blades already unsheathed and in hand, waiting for the inevitable moment when the gunfight would end and the hand-to-hand melee would begin.

My SIG locked back on my last magazine. I racked the slide home, holstered it, and drew my baby SIG from the shoulder rig. I double-tapped three zombies in the face and put a round through a fourth’s eyeball before the gun ran dry. I holstered the little pistol and drew my swords, instinctively shouting a Japanese battle cry as the blades cleared their sheaths.

“Can I borrow one of those?” Dan asked. I looked at him stupidly for a second, then remembered he was the only one of us without a blade.

“You know how to use one of these?”

“I took kendo in school, remember?” he reminded me, “and I’ve kept up with it since graduation.”

“Okay, sure. Any preference as to which one?”

“I’m actually better with the wakasashi.”

“Great,” I said as I handed the shorter sword over, “I’m better with the Katana.” Then our radios crackled.

“Dominique, I’m one minute out. I need you to mark your position for me,” Paisley called.

“I got it!” Shannon said. She sheathed her big Kuhkri, snatched up Boudica, and ran to the edge of the roof. She pointed the big shotgun skyward before triggering a three-second burst from the flamethrower. She waited a few more seconds, then triggered another pillar of flame.

“Okay, I see you guys,” Paisley said just as Chris ran out of pistol ammo, “I’m inbound. Hang on.” We ignored him, instead moving out in front of the HVAC and forming a line between the zombies and the civilians.

“Hold this line!” Doug ordered, “Do not let any of them get past you! Understood?” We all nodded. We knew the stakes: either we held the undead off long enough for Paisley and the Chinook to get to us, or the civilians died.

The horde pressed through the door and shuffled towards us, hands outstretched, seeking our flesh, our blood. I flexed my hands on the katana’s hilt, then twirled the weapon in my hand as I brought the weapon into Hasso – raising the weapon so the tsuba was level with my jaw and the tip of the blade was pointed skyward – and lowered myself into fighting stance.

The zombies reached Scotty first. He plunged one of his axes deep into the undead’s skull before taking the head clean off with the other. One entered within reach of me. I took its head off in one clean, powerful blow.

Then the horde was on us in full force.

Steel flashed in the moonlight. Blood sprayed everywhere. Heads, limbs, and other assorted body parts flew across the roof. We fought hard, cutting through them like scythes cutting through grass. Yet for every one we destroyed, ten more moved forward to take its place. The horde pressed against us like a wall, forcing us slowly back, back towards the civilians.

“PAISLEY, THIS IS TURNER!” Dominique screamed into the radio, “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!?!”

There was no answer. My heart sank as I lopped the head off yet another zombie. My dream had been right: I was going to die. Not in the Art Museum, not at the hand of a Master Vampire, but on a rooftop with most of my team and over a dozen civilians, all of us at the hands – and teeth – of a horde of mindless half-decayed zombies. Part of me was wishing for the Vampire instead.

The roof was suddenly awash with noise. Fierce downdrafts drove us to our knees and sent the zombies sprawling. I looked up to see a huge shape thunder slowly overhead. It was a long cylinder with a misshapen dome on one end and a blunt, slanted wall on the other. A pair of giant rotors sprouted from the top of the craft, holding it aloft and sending zombie parts flying.

I almost wept for joy at the sight. It was the Chinook. Long, fat, and ungainly, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

“Fall back!” Doug shouted over the rotor wash, “Keep the crowd under control! Do not let them swarm the chopper!” But the crowd was already surging towards the edge of the roof, desperate to reach the safety and sanctuary that they knew the inside of the big helicopter would give them. Dan broke off from the line and raced ahead of the crowd, his newly-forged crowd-control skills coming into play. Doug peeled off a second later and joined him. The rest of us spread out, still hacking, slashing, chopping, and slicing at the undead wave as it slowly pressed us back towards the edge.

The big helicopter swung over the edge of the building. Its rear cargo ramp slowly lowered down and a crew member appeared in the open hatchway. The chopper backed up until the lip of the ramp crossed above the rampart, then the chopper slowly, slowly lowered down until the ramp touched the rooftop. I couldn’t help but marvel at the sight: the massive helicopter hung perfectly still over the sidewalk as if hung in place by wires.

The crowd surged forward, racing up the ramp and into the chopper, bowling aside the crew chief and several Hunters in their panic to escape the undead.

“Break ranks and fall back to the chopper!” Doug ordered as the last civilian climbed aboard, “Move!” We immediately broke ranks and sprinted for the helicopter. I quickly started to lag behind everyone else – I’m a distance runner, not a sprinter – but was still able to keep ahead of the undead masses.

Then I saw Griz go down.

He was about five feet in front of me when he tripped on something and faceplanted the tar roof. I backpedalled, trying to stop and help the fallen Hunter. Then I saw what he’d tripped over.

It was Myron.

The custodian was curled up in a fetal position, clutching at his ankle. His foot was bent in an unnatural position. He must have rolled his ankle while running and broken it. I immediately grabbed Myron’s arms and hauled him to his feet.

“C’mon, let’s go!” He draped his arm over my shoulder, using me as a crutch as we raced as fast as three good feet would carry us over to the helicopter. Doug and Chris ran down the ramp to meet us. They grabbed Myron and dragged him into the Chinook. Once I saw they had him, I turned back down the ramp towards Griz.

And my heart stopped.

Griz was surrounded by zombies. He swung his blade – an old entrenching tool – in a wide circle, cleaving zombie heads from zombie bodies and forming a wide ring of death and destruction around him.

“GRIZ!” I ran down the ramp onto the roof, my katana up and ready. Griz turned towards the sound of my voice.

My heart stopped again.

Three long, wicked cuts ran down his face, bleeding profusely. I knew instantly what caused that wound. A zombie had gotten past his defenses, had managed to claw him. Had managed to infect him.

“GRIZ!” Emotion overrode logic. I had to get to Griz. Had to get him on the chopper. Had to get him to safety.

“NO!” he shouted at me, “GET OUT OF HERE!!! GO!!!”

“GRIZ, COME ON!!!”

“GO!!!” He screamed. He let the entrenching tool fall from his hands, one of which was bleeding from a bite wound, and reached towards two egg-shapes on his vest, one on each shoulder.

“GRIZ, NO! DON’T!”

“GO! RUN!” He grabbed the safety pins. “GET TO THE CHOPPER!!!”

“GRIZ!” I watched in horror as Griz pulled the pins from his two frag grenades and turned away from me.

“NNNOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Griz’s upper body disappeared in a spray of crimson blood. His body took most of the impact, shielding me and the chopper from shrapnel and directing the force of the blast into the onrushing horde, taking out a fifteen-meter crescent of zombies. He’d turned himself into a human version of one of Scotty’s claymore mines.

Someone opened up with a machine gun, cutting down the zombies like blades of grass under a lawnmower. Strong arms grabbed me and pulled me back, into the Chinook. I fought to escape, desperate to get to Griz, desperate to get what was left of him away from them, to save him from being eaten like a slaughtered cow. It was no good; I might as well have been fighting against steel cables.

The rear hatch raised up, sealing the horde off from us as the big helicopter lifted off into the moonlight.

“I contacted the airport,” Paisley said over the intercom, “They’ve cleared us a slot. We’ll be on the ground in less than ten minutes.”

I was too busy throwing up to pay attention.

Chapter 26

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