Read Machines of the Dead 3 Online

Authors: David Bernstein

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Post-Apocalyptic

Machines of the Dead 3 (3 page)

BOOK: Machines of the Dead 3
5.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Chapter 4

 

The store’s interior was pitch black, the flashlights’ beams unable to breach the vastness of the place. Aisles disappeared into the abyss, both in height and length. But having visited numerous Home Depots, Zaun and Maria found the lumber section with relative ease, the air filled with the scent of machine cut wood.

They loaded sheets of plywood, 2x4s and long 2x6s onto orange-colored flatbed carts, and then ushered them over to the entrance. Maria’s shoulder throbbed with pain, causing her to cry out a few times, but she dug deep and worked through the angst, knowing their lives depended on her and Zaun.

Finding saws, hammers and nails, they quickly constructed a frame and support structure, then nailed plywood in place. The makeshift wall stood 8 feet tall—the length of the plywood—and completely blocked the entrance. But it was hardly strong enough to keep out a mass of undead should they come barreling into the place.

Next, they piled bags of cement onto a number of flatbed carts and wheeled them over as extra reinforcement. It was still nowhere near what Maria wanted as far as a blockade, but it would have to do.

Of course there was another entrance, but the glass doors were intact. They managed to get them closed, and Zaun painted them over in black spray paint to keep anyone or any
thing
from seeing inside.  

Unable to see out of the blockaded entrance, Maria had no idea if the undead had arrived. Her shoulder pulsated, sending bolts of agony into her chest and along her arm. Damn it, she needed to rest. 

“It’s something,” Maria said when they were finished. “But I don’t know how long it will hold up against a large mob.”

“I’ll find more items to support it,” Zaun said. "The glass doors too." 

Maria thought about trying to cart over refrigerators—if the store carried them—or something of equal weight and size. But the task would only sap their strength, and they needed to be on their toes and ready to react. The store was only a temporary home anyway. As soon as Jack was able, they would be on their way. 

“I think we’re good for now,” Maria said, sitting on a lawn chair and rotating her shoulder. “We need to take care of Jack and ourselves. We can go to the offices at the back of the store. Nothing should hear us back there. If the undead were still after us, I think they’d have arrived by now.” 

Zaun nodded, and they checked on Jack. His face was the color of paste and he looked gaunt—bags showing under his eyes, cheek bones more defined.

“Damn, he doesn’t look good,” Zaun said.

Maria tried waking him, but to no avail. Jack’s pants were saturated in blood. She checked his leg wound, afraid of what she might find—the damage too great—and was surprised to see it wasn’t nearly as bad as she’d thought. She shook her head, amazed. The bullet had gone through, the exit wound the size of a dime. Entrance wounds to gunshot victims were often small, but the exit wounds were larger, often gaping holes. It didn’t make sense.

“There’s too much blood for such a small hole,” she said. “And if the bullet had hit the femoral artery, he’d be dead by now.”

Jack had a lot of blood around his collar and down the front of his coat too. Maria didn’t think much of it, until she unzipped his jacket and saw the source of the bleeding. 

“Was he shot in the neck too?” Zaun asked, leaning in for a better look.

Maria studied the wound. Again, there was too much blood for what appeared to be a—

A chill ran through her.

“I think that’s a bite mark,” she said, swallowing, and then it all became clear. The pale skin, the gaunt appearance. Jack was infected, turning. She stood fast. “We need to Taser him.”

“Wait, are you sure he was bitten?” Zaun asked.

“That’s a bite mark on his neck, Zaun. No doubt. It explains why he looks so dead.”

“Even if that were true, it takes time. He was only bitten . . . what? A short while ago.”

“Even with massive blood loss, he wouldn’t look like this. Remember what Reynolds said? The bots adapt and evolve. We’ve already seen examples, how they’re harder to kill with electricity. Maybe now they are finally doing what they were designed to do.”

“You mean they’re healing him?” 

“It would explain the wounds being so small. But I also think the little bastards are draining him. Sucking him dry in order to heal the damaged parts. It’s the only thing I can think of that explains his gunshot wound along with why he looks like he’s turning.” 

Maria pulled her Taser from her backpack and aimed it at Jack’s chest.

“Wait,” Zaun said. “What if he hasn’t healed enough? Still needs the bots?” 

“It looks like they’ve done a lot of that already. I’m afraid if we wait, they’ll kill him. His body will have to do the rest on his own.” She pulled the trigger and sent two darts into Jack’s chest. His body trembled as electricity coursed through him. She held the trigger, hoping to fry every last little devil.

She couldn’t believe the things were actually healing him, doing what Reynolds had initially set out to have them do. Now she could only hope she could kill them, otherwise all the healing would be for nothing and Jack would slowly be eaten from the inside out.

When the Taser charge died, she checked his pulse. “Shit,” she said, and hurried to load another charge into the Taser.

“What?” Zaun asked.

“I think the shock was too much for his heart,” she said, her voice cracking. She fired the Taser again. Jack’s body trembled. She didn’t hold the trigger long this time, only wanting to give him a quick jolt in hopes of starting his heart.

She pressed her fingers to Jack’s throat. Dropping the Taser, she began chest compressions, and then checked if he was breathing. When she realized he wasn’t, she gave mouth-to-mouth before returning to chest compressions.

“Come on,” she yelled.

“Shoot him again,” Zaun said, and handed her his Taser.

Maria felt tears streaming down her cheeks. With everything they had gone through, to lose Jack now just wasn’t right—wasn’t fair. They’d fought through so much. He deserved to find his sister, to know if she’d survived.

She shot him again, and then wiped her wet cheeks. Afraid to check his pulse, she did so with a trembling hand. Finding one, she exhaled. “He’s alive.” She closed her eyes for a moment.

“We need to get him warmed up,” Zaun said. “The place is probably large enough so that a small fire won’t smoke us out, at least not for a while. What do you think?”  

Maria was about to agree when an idea hit her.

“Wait here,” she said, and took off with a flashlight. She scoured the aisles, looking for portable heaters. The floor was littered with products, the shelves apparently raided for certain items. She kept searching, not sure where such a thing would be located, until she saw a bunch of mini propane tanks. Next to them were the portable, non-electric heaters that operated on propane. Finding a shopping cart a little ways down the aisle, she loaded in five heaters and a number of propane tanks, and then hurried back to Zaun and Jack. 

They wheeled Jack and their belongings to the back of the store where offices and the employee break room were located. The flashlight beams cut through the intense darkness as they searched for undead. Jack was then lifted off the flatbed cart and laid on a couch in one of the offices. Propane tanks were inserted into the portable heaters and then the heaters were placed around the room. The heating coils cast a soothing orange glow over the place, making the flashlights unnecessary. The cold air was quickly warmed, Maria and Zaun having decided a smaller room would be easier to heat.

Maria dressed Jack’s wounds using supplies from the first aid kit they had taken from Cliff House. When the room reached a comfortable level, she shut off two heaters, wanting to reserve the other propane tanks for later use.  

“So, what do you think?” Zaun finally asked, sitting in the high-backed office chair behind the cherry wood desk.

“He’s alive,” Maria said, flatly. “We just have to keep an eye on him. I’ll check his wounds tomorrow. Keep them clean. Hopefully the bots healed him enough so that he’ll be okay.”  

 

***

 

After a while, Zaun told Maria he was going to check on the entrance and look for supplies they could use. He went to the break room. The snack machine was void of anything edible, the glass smashed out. The soda machine had been pried open and robbed of its product.

He headed to the front of the store next and checked the blockade. Pressing his ear to the wood, he listened, but was unable to hear anything save for the howl of wind. He was careful not to make a sound for fear a group of undead was just outside. For now, he guessed the front of Home Depot appeared to be one solid wall. The undead must have lost interest in them as they trekked across the parking lot tundra, the snowmobile going too far ahead for them to keep up. He knew they’d follow an object for miles if said object remained close, like when they had led the undead up the mountain. But he had no idea what they’d do if they lost sight of it.

He thought about finding a ladder and climbing up so he could see over the wall, but didn’t want to risk making noise, having learned his lesson about being too curious back in the city. 

He checked out the line of cash registers, searching for any candy that might’ve fallen under the racks—the shelves empty—but found nothing. There were only last minute impulse items as the stores called them, things shoppers saw and purchased on their way out—screwdrivers with multiple head attachments, tape, batteries, gift cards and whatnot. He wasn’t worried about food. They had plenty for now. But finding something chocolatey would have been nice. 

Something banged behind him, causing him to spin around, Glock in hand. It was only the wind slamming into the wooden wall, but it made him think of Cable. The psycho was still out there. He’d had the man in his sights, chest centered. But somehow he’d missed the man’s vital areas, as impossible as it seemed. Shooting someone, especially from a distance, wasn’t like a video game. Still, he’d hit the bastard and sent him into the side of the building where he slumped to the ground and lay unmoving. So how could he have crawled away?

Easy, stupid,
a voice in his head answered
. You only wounded him
.

Zaun sighed. He was frustrated, but told himself that Cable had mostly likely crawled away to die. There’d been a lot of blood at the scene. 

He didn’t want to spend his time thinking about the psycho-killer, but not doing so would be foolish. He had no idea if Cable was alive and in what condition. If the man was well enough to travel, and if so, would he know where they went?

Zaun thought not, then realized how easy it would be to follow the snowmobile tracks to the Home Depot. Unless it snowed, it would stay that way too. And the sky had been clear with no indication of bad weather moving in.

Zaun grabbed a flatbed cart and searched the aisles for more items to place behind the wall. The more, the better. The entrance might not keep out a thinking person, a person like Cable who could climb over it or smash through it with a vehicle, but he could at least further ensure against anyone crashing through with ease.  

He came to the paint section and found a plethora of five-gallon cans and loaded them onto the cart until it was full. Loaded down and heavy, he managed to sluggishly push it to the blockade wall and shove it up against the bags of cement. He then loaded another two carts and did the same. There was a lot of weight now against the wall, ensuring its hold should something happen.

Next, he headed to the gardening department, surprised to find so many items in stock, considering the epidemic had started just before the winter. He wheeled seven barbecue grills in front of the black spray-painted glass door. He then returned to where the cement bags were stacked and loaded a few carts up, placing them behind the grills. It wasn’t nearly as secure as the wooden blockade, but anything that might hinder intruders had to be better than nothing.

Tired and hungry, Zaun headed back to Maria. He ate some deer meat and told Maria to take a nap. She eyed him and he knew what she was thinking.

“You can trust me,” he said. “I won’t go anywhere, and if Jack wakes or it looks like he’s in trouble, I’ll get you up.”

Maria got up and walked behind the desk. She pulled the chair out and sat, then put her feet up on the table. “I can’t promise I’ll sleep, but I’ll at least rest a little.” She sat back and closed her eyes.

A few minutes later, she was sleeping.

Chapter 5

 

Cable had made his way back inside the building. His enemies had left, taken off toward the Galleria mall. He kept his injured arm steady, not knowing what kind of damage he’d sustained. Needing warmth, he built a fire on the roof just outside the roof access door, allowing the small stairwell landing to be heated while the smoke escaped into the air. The fire’s fuel source was a combination of natural tree branches he’d collected since arriving at the building and pieces of wooden furniture. 

After removing his jacket and upper body undergarments, he inspected his shoulder. The bullet had torn through the deltoid muscle, leaving a fleshy, bleeding mess. His entire jacket sleeve was soaked through. Pain radiated up his neck and down his arm, but the limb was usable. He raised the appendage and rotated it, checking the joint to make sure it wasn’t affected. White hot pain engulfed the area, but that’s all it was— pain. There was no hindering damage, nothing to affect his ability to operate as usual as long as he fought through the pain and kept the wound from becoming infected. He’d been lucky and would have one hell of a scar.

He assumed Zaun had taken the shot, clearly no sniper. If Maria had taken it, he would be dead or almost so. She was military trained.

Thinking about Zaun, Cable couldn’t believe the man had resorted to using a firearm against him, and a long-range one at that. They were hand-to-hand combatants, meant to duel the oldest way known to man. Their previous encounter had been legendary. Yes, Cable had lost, but it was only a battle, not the war. The true winner would be the one left alive. Zaun had failed. Had made a crucial error in letting him live. A second and final go was necessary, but now . . .

Initially, Cable had foreseen them in another fight, their skills tested for one last time, but then Zaun had gone and changed the rules by using a firearm. Now if Cable had had the opportunity, he’d have to consider taking it—killing Zaun by way of the gun, close or from afar. The end was the end, regardless of how it happened. Of course, he’d prefer to best the fighter one on one, and if the opportunity presented itself, he’d take it.

Cable set the blade of his hunting knife in the fire. Once the steel turned orange, he pulled the weapon out using cloth around the handle and pressed the steel against the exit wound. The flesh sizzled as the wound was cauterized. He cried out as pain overwhelmed him, the smell of his burning skin keeping him lucid and from passing out. He repeated the process on the entrance wound, a much smaller hole, but the pain was no less. Sweating, he gathered snow into a plastic baggie he’d found in one of the offices, and iced the seared flesh, the cool white stuff providing a temporary numbness from the hurt.

He sat, ate a can of beans and added more wood to the fire. He thought about searching for painkillers, but didn’t want to waste his energy. Pain was pain; nothing more, nothing less. In this new world, it was something he was going to have to learn to accept, just like everyone else. Pills and shots were a thing of the past.

He’d taken a lot of damage over the last month, the aches seeming constant. Planning on living a long and healthy life in this new world was another thing one couldn’t count on. But after he’d won, took out Zaun—for Jack was surely dead by now—and made Maria his, unless he decided to kill her, he would settle down somewhere for a while, rest up and fully recover.

Eventually the undead would die off, their bodies rotting away to nothing more than bone. There would always be one or two about, people always died, but the majority would be gone. The world would be left vacant, vast and ripe for the taking. The disease moved quickly and would wipe itself out eventually, like diseases of the past had—smallpox, the Black Death and whatnot.

Thinking about the two undead he’d trapped in that office, he was bothered. They appeared fresher than most he’d run into, as if newly turned. However, their clothes were torn and filthy, indicating they’d been undead for a while. For a moment, he wondered if they had gotten better, somehow healed, but quickly shook off the notion. Things were only going to get better for him. A cleansing of the earth and a way to restart mankind was happening. A sort of rebooting of the planet.

Cable laughed at himself, knowing he’d watched one too many science fiction movies while in prison. He lay back, letting the warmth of the fire wash over him. He needed to think of his next move.

With Maria and Zaun injured, he figured they would likely hole up somewhere nearby. If anything, they’d want to stay with Jack while he passed, maybe even bury him, though the frozen ground would make such a task nearly impossible. It would be at least a couple days before they moved on, to where he didn’t know, but move on they would. So he had to do something before he lost them. In the morning, he’d head out and follow their tracks, and if they were in the Galleria mall, he’d find them and kill them, or get killed trying.  

BOOK: Machines of the Dead 3
5.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Exposed by S Anders
Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan
Beach Trip by Cathy Holton
Acts of Honor by Vicki Hinze
The Changeling Princess by Jackie Shirley
Braided Lives by AR Moler
Corsican Death by Marc Olden