Authors: Joseph Talluto
White Flag of the Dead Book 8
The Zombie Wars
The Enemy Within
Copyright 2015 by Joseph Talluto
“We don’t have to talk about this now.”
“I hate repeating myself.”
“Mother of God.”
“Not your fault, sir.”
“Yes, it is. I sent them in, and they died.”
“Had to be done, sir.”
“I know. And I’d do it again, God help me.”
I stayed out of the conversation since this was Charlie’s command. We had been on the road for just a few weeks now making our way across the state of Illinois and into Iowa. At Sarah’s insistence, we had waited until the first hard frost had arrived, and then we had set out. We had been on the road for seven months prior and had managed to clear out a huge swath of the United States of the majority of zombies. We couldn’t get them all, but we had managed to get enough of them that they weren’t a constant danger. The cities we had left alone. Hundreds of thousands of zombies, possibly millions, was just something we weren’t able to deal with. So we used the highways that ringed most major metropolitan areas and turned them into barricades. Chicago was the exception. That one we used cargo containers to keep it locked up, and if I had to do it all over again, I’d have opted for the highway method. We took the biggest earthmovers we could find and basically tore up the asphalt, piling it on the city side. Bulldozers followed, creating trenches that would contain an outbreak if the zombies found a way over. It was crude but effective.
I snapped out of my musings when Charlie repeated my name.
“I’m sorry, drifted away there for a moment. What was the question?” I asked, looking from Charlie to the soldier who was waiting by the door.
“Will you say something at the burial?” Charlie asked.
“Of course. Be glad to. Sorry,” I said.
Charlie dismissed the soldier with a quick salute. Then he turned to me.
“Where’s your head?” he asked. “Don’t tell me it’s with Sarah and your boys.”
I pointed to the map on the wall of the trailer we were using as a command center. “That’s a lot of country to cover, brother,” I said. “Starting to have some doubts about this.”
Charlie nodded. “I hear you. But we’re in this to finish it. I don’t want my daughter or your sons having to worry about getting attacked when they take a stroll down the road. Nor anyone else’s kids for that matter.”
“There is that. I was thinking about splitting the army again,” I said, pointing to the northern states. “These states weren’t heavily populated even when there weren’t any zombies around. If we send maybe three thousand to sweep north,” I said, moving my hand across Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana, “we can clear three states and see if our neighbors to the north had managed to weather the storm as well.”
Charlie nodded. “Makes sense. With the numbers we have now, we can split again like we did before and cover more ground.”
“No going off on our own again, though,” I said.
“Hell, no. That was enough for me.” Charlie shook his head. “Rebecca was a wreck and was not happy about all the things I told her.”
“Why do you tell everything, anyway?” I asked. “She just gets more worried every time you step out the door.”
“Don’t ever want to go to my maker knowing I lied to my wife before I had a chance to apologize,” Charlie said simply.
“Fair enough. Now let’s go over this mess we got ourselves into right now. Forty-three dead? That was a hell of a fight,” I said.
Charlie pointed to the map of the town in front of him. “We did everything we did before. Run through with a vehicle, walk through opening doors, draw them out, and kill them. Pretty straight forward. Worked a dozen times before.”
“But this time they stayed hidden until we came in strength, and they hit us from the rear. Ten people were down in the first wave of the attack. Four people died from friendly fire, and the rest just got isolated and overwhelmed,” Charlie said, shaking his head. “I should have seen it. They’ve been getting smarter, and I didn’t see it.”
It was my turn to shake my head. “How could you possibly have known? If anything, I should have set up a research lab at the capitol to study the Z’s and see how they were progressing in their evolution. No one could have known,” I said. “But if there is any benefit to this, we know now. And what we will do is set up a second line that walks through behind the first, and if the zombies come out to play, they’ll find themselves between two really pissed off groups of survivors.”
Charlie nodded. “Good. Good. We’ll tell the fighters that. They’ll like the trap.”
“Settles that problem then. When is the burial?” I asked, looking out the window.
“I dunno. Figured we’d get it down tomorrow, and be done with it. No point in waiting, and the ground is getting harder to dig through.” Charlie said.
“All right. Come get me before hand, and I’ll do the service,” I said.
“You okay? You seem someplace else,” Charlie asked with a slight tilt of his head.
I nodded. “Just thinking about the whole situation. I’m all right,” I said, clapping Charlie on the shoulder.
I left the small command office and walked through the camp. We were in Iowa, and contrary to what most people thought, Iowa wasn’t just flatlands and farmland. On the eastern end, anyway, there were rolling hills, deep streams, and about a thousand places for zombies to hide.
We kept the camp mobile, using vans and RV’s and trucks to transport everyone. When we travelled, we tended to split into four or five groups, pick a destination, and clear all of the zombies out of the area we could find before the rendezvous. We took what was useful from unoccupied homes and left alone anyone who was still alive. Most of the time we gave them supplies as they needed them. We cleared out every small town and home of any zombies leaving them ready for anyone to come and reclaim. Sarah and Rebecca had put a lot of thought into this, and we agreed that it would be best not to try and get everyone to come back to the capital, but to leave them where they were comfortable, and ninety-nine percent zombie free.
As the Chief Executive, I was given a huge RV for the war, but I downsized it to something a little easier to maneuver through the back roads of America. I gave the RV to a platoon of women to use as their home while I hooked up a travel trailer to a Ford F150 king cab. I preferred the idea of being able to bug out with the truck and not have to try and manage a bus. As far as the platoon was concerned, any group of zombies dumb enough to tackle them was going to have a very short time to regret it before their undead life became their very dead life.
The chill air was welcome for a very short time, and then I was hunching my shoulders against it. I pulled my hood up and watched as the November winds played out across the prairie. Old crops swayed with the breezes, and here and there was a rustle of movement as a rodent of some sort made a sortie out for food.
I walked to the top of a small hill, and it gave me a slight vantage point for looking over the camp. We were several miles out of Cedar Rapids, and I had sent scouts ahead to see if there was any easy way to deal with the threat. The cold weather worked to our advantage, slowing down the zombies, but they were evolving ever so slightly, and they knew enough to try and stay out of the cold if they could help it. Bad news for them, they could never stay inside when food was nearby. Bad news for us, they could never stay inside when we were nearby. But they were sluggish enough that our best defense was a quick walk out of danger. I planned to use the cold to our advantage and clean up as many as we could without taking too many casualties. Charlie’s raid blew that apart, but I wasn’t going to fault him for it. Who knew an entire middle school had turned, and the pre-teens were going to attack from the rear? As it was, had it been summer and they were as fast as they could have been, they’d have wiped out that entire command.
The RV’s, trucks, and trailers lined the road, and we stayed in contact through CB radios and hand held radios. Everyone was required to turn on their radio at eight o’clock at night for the next day’s instructions. I could see the flickering lights of lamps and candles as I walked past, and I returned the salute of several fighters as they returned from patrol.
When I started this fight, I figured to lead the grand army to victory. But I learned I was better at small unit tactics and wound up off on my own. I then realized I didn’t like letting other people go off and fight for me when I wasn’t with them. I decided to put the army back together, but lead it like it was a small unit. So far, it worked like a charm. Then we got ambushed. Have to settle that tomorrow.
I turned at the voice and found myself looking at a young man, likely no older than eighteen. He was dressed warmly, with his weapons strapped on the outside his coat. His forearms were covered in sheet metal ductwork, a trick the deep scouts used to gain a second if they found themselves in a bad situation. His dark eyes were serious, and he had seen more in his young life than many people before him had seen in several lifetimes.
I recognized him after a minute. “Hassad, right?” I asked, shifting out of the wind.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I went to Commander James, and he said to find you. The scout of Cedar Rapids is finished,” Hassad said.
“And?” I asked.
“Original population was around a hundred thousand, sir. We counted at least half that, probably more.”
I thought about it. “Good enough. We’ll go over the rest of the report in the morning. And Hassad?”
“Shoot that zombie up there, would you?” I asked, pointing to the slow moving figure that had appeared about five hundred yards away. It moved with the unmistakable shamble of a ghoul, and it was headed right for camp.
Hassad slipped his rifle off his shoulder and aimed for a second. I could see him adjusting his aim for the wind, and then he let the shot go. I watched for a second, and then the zombie shifted to the side, falling down.
Hassad shouldered his rifle and smiled at me.
“Anything else, sir?” he asked.
I smiled back. Several heads poked out of doors, watching us, and looking out their windows to see if they could see what he was shooting at.
“He’s getting up, Hassad.”
“Shit! Not for long.” The young man took off across the land, making a straight line for the zombie. When he reached a closer hill, he stopped, aimed for a longer moment, and then made a killing shot. Truth be known, I would have been stunned had he made a killing shot at five hundred yards. Just hitting a zombie at that distance was hard, and he had done it in a good wind. I smiled when I figured he’d be harder on himself than I could ever be with him. It was times like this that I thought about my friend Nate and how much we could use his experience and knowledge in this fight.
I reached my trailer and stopped for a moment. Around us, the long grasses swayed in the evening breeze. It was cold but not bad, especially for the Midwest. I had lived here for years, so I knew what the storms could be like, but I also knew that we had long stretches of cold without snow that would serve us very well right now. Keep the zombies slow but make sure we could see them. Snow covered Z’s were not fun when spring came and thawed them out.
A young hawk soared overhead, likely looking for a place to spend the night. We had a lot of them following us. Our passage usually spooked the game in the area making hunting easier. If we were a flotilla, I guess they’d be sharks.
“Daddy!” Jake’s voice was the first thing I heard when I entered the trailer. He was playing at the table while Sarah was feeding Aaron. Aaron was a big boy, likely to become a big man. Sarah looked up briefly then went back to feeding. Jake came off the seat with a bounce and jumped into my arms.
“When we leave, Daddy?” Jake asked, pulling at my coat. “Will we leave soon? Soon?”
I tussled his hair and looked into his deep brown eyes. “When we finish here, buddy. We’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.”
“Can I see a cow? Are there cows around here? When can I see a cow?” Jake barely stopped for a breath, his eyes already looking out the windows for a cow we couldn’t see if it was in front of us.
“Soon, pal, soon. Can Daddy take off his gear and settle in before you ask too many questions?” I said, putting him back onto the floor.
“Can I have a snack?” Jake asked, turning his big brown eyes on me.
“Ahem!” Sarah looked up again and gave Jake one of her looks. Jake hunched his shoulders and looked up at me with sad eyes.
I squatted down to be eye level with my son. “Did you ask Mommy already?” I asked.
“Yes,” Jake said quietly.
“Did she say no?”
“There’s your answer, little man.” I looked at Jake sternly. “Don’t do that again,” I said, knowing he would the next chance he got.
Jake looked down. “Okay.”
“Take my coat to the closet, Jake. And when you’re done, look in the pocket. You might find something for you,” I said.
Jake grabbed my coat and ran to the closet, dragging it across the floor. He fairly threw it in the small space, and then rummaged the pockets. When he found the small car I had in there, he squeaked and ran back to his room, where he pulled out a small box full of little cars. My coat never made it further than the floor. Oh, well.