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Authors: David Bernstein

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

Machines of the Dead 3 (4 page)

BOOK: Machines of the Dead 3
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Chapter 6

 

Cable awoke to sunshine the next morning. His shoulder throbbed and moving his arm hurt like hell. He checked his wound and found no sign that it was infected. In fact, it was already scabbing over. He put a fresh bandage over it, then gathered everything he wanted to take with him into his backpack and left it on the second floor in one of the offices. When he finished with Zaun and Maria, he’d come back for it. Maybe head south to warmer weather.

From the roof, he surveyed the surrounding area, able to see for miles in most directions. He used his rifle’s scope for close-up views. All in all, there was no sign of his prey. A few undead roamed the open tundra here and there. But nearer to the Galleria was a small horde of about thirty zombies. They must have chased his prey when they left, then lost them and went into their semi-sleep mode, or whatever it was that the undead did when there was nothing to eat. Having seen the boarded up mall entrances and the huddled group of undead near the bottom of the hill that led up to the Home Depot, Cable guessed that’s where they had gone. Of course, they could’ve gone past the home improvement store and into the woods beyond in hopes of finding a neighborhood where they could hole up in a house. But he didn’t think so. Not with everyone injured. They’d want immediate shelter.

Next, he studied the ground below, found the snowmobile tracks and followed them as far as his eyes could see, then used his rifle’s scope to follow them farther and saw that they led to the Galleria’s parking lot. From there, as he’d expected, the tracks headed up the hill to the Home Depot.

Heading downstairs—armed with his .45, a Heckler and Koch machine gun strapped to his back, and a hunting knife—he exited the building in a rush to get to his snowmobile and came face to face with a pack of undead.

More annoyed than surprised, he growled expletives and withdrew his handgun. The rotting things must’ve been right up against the building and under the lip of the roof, making it impossible for him to see them from his perch. 

Raising the .45, a Kimber Tactical, he shot the closest zombie in the forehead and splattered its brains across the others behind it. Without hesitation, not a shred of fear for their undead lives, they stepped toward him, arms out, reaching. Cable paused for a moment, thinking two of the zombies were alive, their faces unmarked and colorful. Then he saw the vacant looks in their eyes and the worn and filthy condition of their clothing.

Adjusting his aim, he quickly downed the remaining four. With no other undead in the immediate area, he didn’t care about making noise, and in fact, enjoyed getting to shoot something.

He stood over the corpses, wondering what the hell was going on. The others were pale, gaunt and rotting, with gashes along their arms and face, one with a missing ear. 

Doesn’t matter, he thought. Good shape or not, they were all mindless flesh eaters that needed to be put down or used to his advantage.

Moving on, he headed to the tree line where he had stashed the snowmobile. After dusting the snow off the cover, he rolled it up and stuffed it under the seat. The machine started with a push of the button, and Cable was cruising across the overpass within moments.

Undead from all around took notice and worked their way toward him. Cable raced along, following his prey’s snowmobile’s tracks. He reached the home improvement store in no time. With the deep snow impeding the already slow undead, it would be a while before they reached him—if the stiff-legged things could even climb the hill.

He took notice of the walled entrance, wondering if it was something recently built or had been up for a while. He drove the snowmobile within a few feet of it, keeping a watchful eye on the blockade. The building had no windows, so he wasn’t worried about someone seeing him, and the wooden wall had no apparent slots or cut outs where a gun could be shot from.  

Leaving the engine running, Cable hopped off the sled and walked up to the barrier. The air was ripe with the odor of freshly-used lumber, and then he understood the blockade had recently been erected. He pushed on the plywood in a couple of places and found the wall solid. He nodded to himself, knowing what he had to do.

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the pack of undead was approaching the incline. A few stragglers were working their way over from the highway too.

Removing his jacket, Cable tore the right sleeve off his long john undershirt before zipping the garment back up. He unscrewed the gas cap on the snowmobile and shoved the sleeve inside. After allowing it to soak in the flammable liquid for a minute, he pulled the sleeve out and approached the wall. The smell of gasoline wafted around him like an unseen demon waiting to wreak havoc.

With the dripping piece of fabric, Cable whipped it at the blockade and sent splashes of gasoline across the wood. When he was satisfied with the task, he laid the sleeve out along the bottom of the wall, lit a match from the book of matches he carried, and watched the wood ignite. He stepped back as flames burst to life. The wall quickly became an inferno as well as the target he needed the undead to head toward.

Climbing back on the snowmobile, he turned the throttle, sped off and parked behind a large box truck. From there, he had a good view of the burning entrance and would remain unseen from people exiting or undead arriving.

 

Chapter 7

 

Maria checked on Jack as soon as she woke. She’d managed to nod off for a little yesterday while Zaun kept watch. The day had crept along and the excitement level was equivalent to snails racing, but she’d take it that way. Her worry for Jack was high and kept her from truly being able to rest. 

Jack’s skin was pale again, his face gaunt. She removed the bandage from his neck wound and saw that it was nothing more than a scratch, letting her know the bots were still active in his system. She didn’t need to check his thigh.

“Damn it,” she said.

“What?” Zaun asked, sitting up, yawning.

“Jack’s wounds are almost completely healed,” Maria said. “Which is good, but it also means the bots are still active.”

Zaun was fully awake now and got to his feet. “What do we do?”

“Shock him again.”

“Wow, he looks terrible,” Zaun said, running a hand over his hair. 

“Yeah, the little devils are eating him alive while they heal him. Stupid fucking things.”

Maria grabbed her Taser.

“Are you sure his body can handle it?”

Maria shrugged. “We have no choice. He’s probably in the best shape he’s ever been in, considering the bots healed every piece of him. But at the same time, they’re taking away from his healthy parts. I really have no idea what’s going on inside him. Just get your Taser ready.”

“We’ve got to wake him. He probably needs to eat. Give the bots what they need.” He moved toward Jack.

Maria held him back. “First, we kill the things. He’ll wake when he’s ready. To do so now might kill him, if he’ll even respond.”

Maria pointed the Taser at Jack and fired. His body tensed. She held the trigger until the charge died. She imagined the bots squealing in agony as they fried, but at the same time wondered if she was even hurting them. Jack had been Tasered twice already and the things were still functioning.

She checked Jack and found that he was still breathing. Zaun handed her his Taser. She fired again, holding the trigger until the charge was depleted. When she checked him, he wasn’t breathing. She then felt for a pulse, found none, and began CPR. A few seconds later, he was back.

“Damn it,” she said, kicking a cardboard box in frustration. “This shit’s getting old.”

“What if . . .” Zaun began. “What if we can’t kill them?”

“Then we keep trying.”

“Should we shock him a third time?” Zaun asked. “You know, because two didn’t work before.”

Maria shook her head and exhaled noisily. “I want to, but I’m afraid we’ll kill him. Maybe in a few—” She stopped, her head cocked. “Do you smell that?”

Zaun sniffed the air like a dog smelling its owner’s dinner cooking on the stove. “Smoke. That can’t be good.”

They looked at each other, worry spreading across their faces.

“Something’s definitely on fire,” Maria said.

They grabbed their M4s, sidearms already on their person, and headed out of the office. As they worked their way to the front of the store, the smell of smoke grew stronger, and then they saw the flickering of orange-yellow light along the walls.

Exiting from the aisle at the far right side of the front of the store, they saw the flames from afar and rushed to the cashier area. The barrier they’d built was an inferno, flames licking the white-painted cinderblock wall above where a banner caught fire.

“What the hell?” Zaun said. “How did this happen?”

One of the paint cans exploded, sending arches of liquid flame over the area. Smaller fires ignited in the checkout aisles. A withered and dead fern went up in flames.

“Cable,” Maria said. “It’s got to be him.”

Zaun shook his head. “No way. He’s dead.”

“We didn’t see a body.”

“I’m telling you, I shot him. He crawled off to die. No way he survived, and even if he did, he couldn’t be in any condition to do this.”

Another paint can exploded. Then another. Zaun and Maria backed up, a wave of heat falling over them.

She, too, had assumed Cable was dead. There had been no time to make sure, to hunt him down. She knew Zaun had hit him, but it obviously wasn’t a mortal hit, unless this fire fiasco wasn’t caused by the madman, but by someone else.

“This whole place is going to go up in flames if we don’t put it out,” Zaun said.

The fire was already too big. There was no way that spraying a couple of fire extinguishers was going to douse it. They would need a team of them.

“I’ve got a crazy idea,” Maria said. “C’mon.”

“Where are we going?” Zaun asked as he chased after her.

She grabbed a shopping cart and raced past a few aisles before turning down one. “I think I remember seeing them here . . .”

“What?” Zaun asked, sounding frustrated.

“Fire extinguishers. I could’ve sworn they were in this aisle.”

Reaching the aisle’s halfway point where an intersecting lane cut through the middle of the store, they went left and tried another aisle. Maria took the right while Zaun the left.

“Here,” Zaun said a moment later. 

Maria hurried over to him with the cart, her and Zaun’s flashlight beams reflecting dully off the rows of red-colored metal canisters. They quickly loaded the cart and headed to the front of the store where the inferno blazed.  

“What now, we start spraying?” Zaun asked.

Maria shook her head. “Normally, yeah, but we’re going for a miracle. There’s no way we’d be able to put this out by using these things in the traditional manner.”

More paint cans exploded, sending arcs of flames everywhere, including Zaun’s arm. His jacket sleeve caught fire. He cried out and waved his arm around like a fool. Maria shoved him to the floor and sprayed his arm with one of the fire extinguishers. 

“Weren’t you ever taught to stop, drop, and roll?” she asked.

Zaun got to his feet. His jacket arm was melted and charred, resembling some strange flesh-eating disease.

“Shit, that was scary,” he said. “We need to do something or get the hell out of here.”

“Grab a fire extinguisher,” Maria said, holding the one she had used on Zaun. 

Zaun picked one up. “So what now?”

“We’re going to toss them in and let them explode. The contents of each canister should coat the area and smother the flames.”

“Will that work?”

“No idea, but we have to try something.”

On the count of three, they began tossing the fire extinguishers into the blaze until the cart was empty.

“Now what?” Zaun asked, stepping back.

“We take cover.” 

Chapter 8

 

Cable heard a series of popping sounds from within as the small horde of undead approached the Home Depot’s entrance. The fire was raging now, licking the surrounding cinderblock walls as if starved. The undead moved toward the fire as expected. It didn’t matter what the movement or sound was, the seemingly mindless creatures were easily led. Cable looked on as if watching a live action movie unfold, interested in how things were going to turn out. The wall was weaker now, if not gone. The undead would walk into it. The first ones would catch fire but continue on and break through the blockade. Flaming zombies heading inside would cause such havoc, igniting items and other things, making his prey’s dwelling a hazardous place. They’d have no choice but to fight, waste their ammo and energy dealing with everything. Then he could sneak in and hunt.

But something strange happened as he looked on. A few of the undead did as he thought they would and walked right into the fire. They stood in the blaze, showing no sign they cared that they were melting away. But the others had stopped walking about ten feet from the inferno. Half the group moved closer, but none would walk into the wall. They all stared on, and a few took steps backward.

Cable’s mouth hung open. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear they were showing signs of caution or fear. Something was going on with them. A change. It explained why they looked better. But how was that possible? It was as if they were becoming human again.

Cable heard crashing sounds from within. The undead heard it, too, their heads tilting like a curious dog. The scene spooked him and sent a chill throughout his body. Cable’s euphoric mood at being able to hunt his prey turned to dismay. He couldn’t have the undead become human again. He needed them to stay mindless, rotting and flesh-eating. The new world was perfect the way it was. He ground his teeth, feeling frustrated and worried. The emotion was odd, frightening.

The wall exploded.

The undead were knocked back as flaming debris tore into them, ripping arms and legs from torsos, like undead human bowling pins hit with a bomb. Heads and other pieces littered the ground, the snowy earth now cleared to the pavement. More explosions occurred, and Cable felt the ground shake. More debris shot outward along with a white substance that expanded like foaming soap bubbles out of an overfilled washing machine. 

Only a third of the horde rose back to its feet. Charred and smoking, jaws blown off, fingers scattered along the ground, they muddled around, not seeming to know where to go or what to do.

More popping sounds came from within. The noise caught the zombies’ attention. They moved as one toward the entrance, the fire completely out save for a few smoldering items, and then Cable saw something shiny and red, part of a canister that appeared to have been blown open. A piece from a fire extinguisher. He grinned. His prey was smart. Cunning. Using fire extinguishers as a way to not only put out the fires but as weapons too. Genius.

As the undead entered, gunshots sounded and the zombies fell. Cable knew then that his prey was alive and well; at least well enough to defend themselves. By the sound of the gunfire, there was more than one shooter.

When the shooting stopped, he waited to see if someone would show themselves, and when no one came from the building, he moved out from behind the truck.

Crouching low, he moved toward the other building’s entrance, and then worked his way over to the blown out one. The smell of burnt wood, rot and chemical foam surrounded him, the mixture of odors nauseating.

Breathing through his mouth to avoid the horrendous smell, he moved into the entranceway’s overhang, staying close to the wall. He took a few moments to listen for the sound of the others. Hearing only the crackling of a few small fires as they dwindled out of existence, he peeked around the corner and peered into the gloomy store.

Dead bodies littered the floor. A single bullet hole decorated each of their heads, the shots clearly aimed. Even under such extreme conditions, Maria and Zaun had maintained their poise. Impressive.

Dented paint cans lay about, lids blown off. The immediate area was a collage of colors, as if a rainbow had exploded. Charred and burnt wood was scattered about, everything covered in white foam. 

He didn’t see anyone or hear their voices.

Stepping farther inside, he was careful to avoid stepping on wreckage. One wrong move would alert his prey to his presence. 

A faint glow of light shone from the right. He could see it through the aisles. Flashlights. Cable moved farther in, passing the cash registers and into the store’s main walkway. The sunlight only reached so far before he was shrouded in darkness. He continued onward toward the lights. 

Reaching the aisle, he heard the sound of hollow clanking, like empty propane tanks knocking together. 

“How many do we need?” Zaun asked.

“Just load up. We’ll use some for defense, the rest for keeping the heaters running.”

So they had a heat source, Cable thought. Most likely propane. A great idea and one he’d make his own once he dealt with them.

He thought about shooting blindly down the aisle, hitting one of the tanks and setting off a huge explosion that would surely kill his foes. A man with nothing to do might choose this method of eliminating his enemy, but Cable was playing a game of war, and he didn’t want to lose all that propane—the portable heaters would surely come in handy.

“That will do it,” Maria said, and as she turned around, her flashlight blasting the aisle ahead with light, Cable ducked back into the next aisle where the darkness swallowed him up.

The squeaky sound of wheels rolling filled the air and he waited, Kimber Tactical at the ready. From his crouched position, he watched the two stroll by, each of them pushing the cart.

As soon as the cart was out of view, he came from his hidey hole and crept up behind them. Sunlight engulfed their forms as they made it to the checkout entrance. They were such easy targets. Two pulls of the trigger and they’d be dead. His finger itched at the possibility of eliminating them. Maria was on the left. Zaun the right. 

“Move and you die,” Cable said, pointing the .45 at Zaun. If he was going to spare anyone, it was going to be Maria. He’d break her. Train her. Give her children and make her love them. She’d want to keep them safe. Would need him around and learn to love him. It would take time, but in this new world, time was all they had.

The cart stopped moving.

“Hands in the air,” Cable said.

They did as they were told.

He inched up behind Maria and conked her on the back of the skull. She let out a moan before collapsing to the floor. Zaun flinched, but Cable had the barrel of the .45 pressed against his temple.

“You piece of shit,” Zaun said.

“Just relax,” Cable said. “Wouldn’t want to have to shoot you.” He slid Zaun’s handgun from its holster and tossed it down the aisle. He then slipped the M4 that was strapped to Zaun’s back from his body and threw it into the darkness. Cable patted Zaun down. Finding no other weapons on the man, he took a few steps back.

“Turn around,” Cable said.

“If you’re going to kill me, just do it,” Zaun said.

“Oh, I do plan on killing you, just not yet. Unless, of course, you leave me no choice. Now, turn the fuck around.”

BOOK: Machines of the Dead 3
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