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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 (8 page)

BOOK: Machines of the Dead 3
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Chapter 16

 

 

Jack was shoveling a spoonful of beans into his mouth when a figure burst through the window next to the boarded up one. Glass shards flew like shrapnel, landing across the sofa where Maria and Henry were sitting.

Maria sprang forward, pulling Henry with her, the old man yelping as he crashed to the floor.

Jack was on his feet in half a second, sending his tray of food flying. With his .45 in hand, he raised the weapon to shoot when the figure disappeared behind the couch. A moment later, the intruder popped up and held a baseball bat above his head. Jack fired his gun, sending a bullet into the man’s shoulder. The stranger groaned, but smiled and then leaped over the couch. Jack and Maria unloaded on the thing, its upper body becoming lodged with bullets. It staggered in place from the impacts, but then came forward. Finally, Jack shot it in its head and that’s when the thing that looked human fell.

The window behind Jack exploded, the glass pieces cutting into his flesh like stinging bees. He spun around to see another figure land on the floor. Its clothes were ragged like the other’s. It sprang at him as he fired his sidearm. The bullet hit the thing in the side of its neck. A moment later, it was on him—the creature faster than he’d expected.

It was obvious that the attackers weren’t human. Not completely. They had to be infected, the bots keeping them alive like the undead. Or maybe they were fueled on meth or some other drug—
and
with the bots healing them. Keeping them alive despite the damage to vital organs. He thought of Henry’s wife and what the old man had said. They had to be undead that had become human again. 

As Jack fell to the floor from his attacker’s weight and momentum, he made sure to hold onto his gun. Blood gushed from the human-like creature’s throat where the bullet had torn out a hole. It had no effect on the thing as it clenched his throat and squeezed. He pressed the barrel of his gun against the thing’s side and fired a few times before his attacker batted away the weapon. A normal human would’ve been dead or close to it by now. This thing showed no sign it was hurting and continued to choke him. He tried to pry its hands off him, but it was too strong. Its fingers were like steel.

Breathing was impossible.

Despite the fruitlessness of his efforts, he continued to try and loosen his attacker’s grip. He wondered why Maria wasn’t helping him—Zaun most likely still upstairs in the bathroom—and then he heard gunshots, but none hitting the thing on top of him. He knew then that more had entered from the other side of the room. It looked like he was on his own until Maria finished off her own attackers.

Jack’s vision was fading, the outer edges growing black as if he was being sucked down a tunnel. There wasn’t much time left. He wasn’t sure he would die if he didn’t get a breath soon. The bots might revive him. But then again, maybe they wouldn’t. It couldn’t end like this, not when he’d gotten so far. Found his sister’s house with hope that she was alive.

The neck wound on Jack’s combatant was hardly bleeding anymore and the hole was smaller. Jack saw malice in its eyes, the complete opposite of the undead. The bot-controlled corpses showed no sign of life, their eyes vacant. Blank. Both entities were killers, but these new creatures were worse, as hard as that was to imagine. The undead on steroids. He didn’t understand why he himself wasn’t stronger since the bots were in him too. Why had they worked better in the undead? In a few more moments, it wouldn’t matter. Not to him.

Something metallic flashed above Jack. A line appeared across his attacker’s neck and its eyes widened. Its head then fell onto his chest along with a downpour of blood. The pressure was off his throat and he choked in much needed air as the corpse’s body pressed against him. A second later, the weight was off him. He cleared the blood from his eyes and saw Zaun standing over him holding out an arm.

Jack reached up and was helped to his feet. He thanked Zaun as he picked up his gun. Another body lay on the couch, its head containing two holes.

“I would have been here sooner,” Zaun said, “but the toilet paper kept ripping.”

“Yeah, right,” Jack said.

“What the hell were those things?” Henry asked.

“Some kind of new . . .” Jack didn’t have the words, then said, “Undead made human again.”

“Explains the need for headshots,” Maria said. “Well, not really, but at least we know how to kill them.” Isn’t that how they’ve been killing the undead this whole time? Headshots?

“They won’t go down any other way it seems,” Jack said. “And they heal quickly.”

“Like we didn’t have enough to worry about with slow-ass zombies,” Zaun said.

Glass shattered from somewhere upstairs, causing everyone to flinch. A window had been broken.

“Shit, they’re entering from upstairs,” Zaun said, and went to leave the room when Maria stopped him.

“We should stay here,” she said. “We don’t know how many of them there are. They’re obviously fearless, wild and quick, but not stupid. Why don’t they all just come in through the door? Why from two sides? Then from upstairs? It’s like they’re testing us. Want us to lose our cool. Make us waste our time and energy worrying about all areas of the house. Divide us.”

“We can’t just let them in,” Zaun said.

“It’s our only option. We’ll have a better chance at getting headshots with all of us firing from close range at wildly moving targets. We hold this room.”

“And if an army gets in?”

“We head out one of these windows and hope we can make it to the snowmobiles.”

The trio took up arms and readied themselves. The sofa was moved in front of the doorway, making it that much more difficult to get into the room. The desk was moved under the window on the left side of the den, the chunk of furniture making it so that they could escape on their own if need be. 

As the group stood at the ready, crashing sounds erupted overhead and deep within the house. Glass broke. Objects were smashed. The ceiling above shook with the almost rhythmic stomping of a dance rehearsal group. Branches and rocks sailed through the windows at various times. 

“It’s like they’re trying to frighten us into leaving,” Henry said, keeping his M4 pointed at the doorway.

“It’s a scare tactic,” Maria said. “And a way to unravel their enemy.”

“Why don’t they just burn us out?” Henry asked.

When no one answered, Jack said, “I don’t think they understand fire. They’re like animals. Unfortunately, we don’t know how long they’ll be that way. They could quickly develop more cognitive ways of thinking.”

A screeching wail sounded from down the hall as another zombie-turned-human charged the room. It was female and held a kitchen knife above her head, mouth and eyes wide. At the same time, two more intruders flew in through the windows at both ends of the den.

Maria fired her weapon at the one on her right. Bullets riddled its chest and face as it swung the club-like branch it was holding.

Jack kept his sights on the approaching female. Taking aim with his M4, he fired. The blonde hair on the right side of the thing’s head fluttered with crimson. She kept coming, her wails louder. Jack fired again, not rushing his shot, but the woman ducked into the guest room across from where the laundry room was located. Damn it, he must have only grazed her.

On his right, he turned to see Zaun slice off the hand of another intruder who had been wielding a baseball bat, then plunge his blade into the thing’s mouth, knocking out its front teeth. The sword’s end exploded out of the back of its neck. It kept coming, the weapon disappearing into its mouth. The bot-infested thing swiped at Zaun’s head. Zaun ducked and drove the blade toward the ceiling. His attacker froze, eyes bulging, and then collapsed to the ground as Zaun withdrew his sword.

“Never thought I’d say this, but I miss the undead,” Zaun said.

“There’s still at least one in the house,” Jack said. “A female went into the guest room.”

All eyes fell to the hallway.

More thudding and items getting smashed sounded from upstairs.

“How many fucking more are there?” Zaun asked.

“There’s no way to know,” Maria said. “Not unless we capture one and it can talk.”

“Yeah, right,” Zaun said. 

“Only one way to find—” Maria began when the sound of a window breaking came from down the hall.

“The guest room,” Jack said.

“Guess it’s clear now,” Zaun said,

Jack ground his teeth as he exhaled. This newest situation was frustrating. But at the same time, he was grateful to still be alive.

If the undead were changing, becoming humanly violent and able to think, then not only were he and the others in tremendous trouble, but so was the world.

 

***

 

The bot-infested woman stood outside the room she just escaped from. She had to smash out the window. Her skin was lined with cuts. They were minor and would heal in minutes. She had a decision to make: run or face her tribe. Life or death. Her duty was to enter the house and help frighten the food into leaving. Kill them if possible. Whether she lived or died didn’t matter. The tribe and its leader were what mattered, not the lives of the singular.

But she was afraid of dying. Scared, like when the man with the sword killed the two stupid ones in front of her. And soon, there would be no tribe left. Not if they kept attacking this kind of food. Ker would never run though.

She shouldn’t have reported on it. Half her tribe was gone. Slaughtered in moments. For the future, she would need to identify which food was safe and wouldn’t fight back. Food she could handle.

Right now, she had more pressing matters. If Ker and the others found out she fled in cowardice, she’d be killed. It was time to go back inside or run away.

Not wanting to die, she took off through the tree line, across the neighbor’s untouched snowy yard and kept running. She was scared to be alone and without a family, but the thought of dying was scarier.

Chapter 17

 

A number of hours passed without another attack, yet the grunting, howling, stomping and items getting smashed and splintered continued. The sounds came from inside the house as well as outside.

It was impossible to tell how many of the enemy was left, but the general consensus of the group was that the number was somewhere in the range of five to twelve. If it had been a larger group, they would have stormed the house in force.

“I can’t take it anymore,” Henry said. “I’ve got to see if my wife is all right.” He headed toward the door. Maria jumped up and grabbed him by his shoulder. Henry shrugged her off, and it took her and Zaun to subdue him. For an elderly man, he was strong. Determined.

Maria spun him around so he faced her and said, “Look, your wife is either fine or already gone. If she’s . . . alive, she’ll need you to take care of her. If you get yourself killed, who’s going to do that?”

The fight went out of Henry. His shoulders slumped. “You’re right,” he said.

Maria and Zaun released the old man, who walked slowly back to his position by the stove.

“Are you going to be okay?” Zaun asked.

Henry nodded. “I’ll be fine.”

Everyone went back to watching the windows and the hallway.

The noises of the enemy ceased when darkness fell, causing everyone to wonder if they had left. Like diurnal animals, darkness meant sleep.

The stove was ignited. With smashed out windows, the heaters weren’t enough. The wind was entering in frigid gusts.

As time wore on and there was no sign of the attackers, Jack could see a weariness befalling the group. He was growing tired, too. Worn out from the tense situation and from having to remain standing.

“I think we should sleep,” Maria said. “Take shifts of—” She paused, motioning for everyone to be quiet.

“What?” Henry asked.

The crisp sound of crunching snow and sobbing followed. A screeching cry split the air followed by a male voice calling for help.

Everyone looked at one another.

“Who the hell is that?” Zaun asked quietly.

“Please, help us,” a female voice said.

“Is that for real or are they trying to trick us?” Zaun asked.

“No one moves,” Maria said.

“Who are you?” Jack yelled.

“We were staying a couple miles away and were attacked, then brought here,” the male voice said.

“Our whole group was killed,” the female voice said. “And we were dragged off. We don’t know what’s going on or why we were brought here. But then we heard your voices.”

That settled it. The enemy was able to reason to some kind of degree. The things understood people’s emotions. It was incredible. Unless the enemy had been pretending to be animalistic. Maybe their attackers did know how to talk.

“What are your names?” Jack asked.

“Please, you have to help us,” the male voice said. “These maniacs obviously want something from you.”

“Names,” Jack demanded.

“Eugene.”

“I’m Stephanie.”

“And the names of your captors?”

There was no response from either person. Then: “We don’t know. They don’t seem to talk.”

Grunting.

Cries of pain.

“Please, help us,” Eugene cried.

“We have to do something,” Zaun said, sword in hand.

“We don’t know what’s really going on,” Maria said.

“It could be a trap,” Jack said. “Another way to get us outside.”

More grunting followed by a howl and a sickening thud.

Stephanie screamed, and then said, “No, stop hurting him.”

“How many of them are there?” Maria yelled. “We need to know.”

“Five,” Stephanie said.

“Do they understand you?”

“I don’t think so.”

Another cry of pain. Then a ripping sound and a male’s wail that sent shivers down Jack’s spine.

“They just tore his arm off,” Stephanie cried. “His fucking arm!”

The sounds of fabric and flesh tearing, sinew being snapped apart like brittle twigs, filled the air. A pair of screaming voices accompanied the din of terror, but for only a moment. Then it was just the woman’s voice.

“He’s dead. He’s . . . dead.”

A boot flew through one of the den’s windows. The foot and a small part of the leg were still inside it, the splintered tibia poking out like a crude spear tip.

“We need to help her,” Zaun said, his stare intense. “There are only five of those things.”

“Five that she saw,” Maria said. “And it’s dark. Getting headshots will be that much harder.”

The woman screamed again. “Please, I don’t want to die.”

“We have to do something,” Zaun said. “Go to the back door and take a look.”

“He’s right,” Jack said. “We have to do that much. If shit looks bad, we fall back. Besides, I want to see what we’re up against.”

“Fine,” Maria said. “But I’ll go. Alone. The rest of you are staying here.”

BOOK: Machines of the Dead 3
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