Cape May Police Headquarters, City Hall, Washington Street; 5:05am
The dark figure in the military jumpsuit peered over the wall through the infrared goggles at the goings-on 50-feet below. The small band of survivors had burst from the rear door and was now cutting its way through a cluster of night walkers. The leader, probably the policeman, calmly blasted through the initial wave, pumping round after round from one shotgun before grabbing the next of several draped over his shoulders.
They made slow, steady progress for the first 90 seconds or so. Then something happened that the dark figure could not discern through the blinding snow and the small group broke ranks.
It was only for a moment but a moment was enough for one of them to be pulled from their ranks and devoured by the zombie collective surrounding them in growing numbers. A smile spread over his thin lips. It was going to be a massacre.
The noise came from behind him but he figured it a product of the wind and kept his focus on the ragtag group below who, to his surprise, had managed to re-close their ranks and make real headway.
The survivors, 4 of them now, had speared through the initial glut of undead and were now in a small clearing. They would still die; it would now just take a bit longer than expected.
They proceeded out of the CMPD parking lot and up the short drive between the Jefferson Street School and the Cape May Fire Department house. Here they stopped, confronted by another thick wall of walkers. But something was off; their bullets took twice as long to strike home, allowing them to be encircled again; a simply indefensible position. Their final gambit. He felt a rather deep disappointment that it would all be over so soon when it was just starting to get entertaining.
Clink. Clink. Ca-chuck.
He froze, realizing, too late, his stupidity. With a twinge of regret he lowered the night vision goggles and turned, unstrapping the Colt .45 revolver from his thigh. With all of his focus on the ground below he had left his flank, and the fire escape now overflowing with zombies, exposed. They clamored over each other and onto the roof, a dozen moved toward him, with a dozen more spilling in behind them in chilling silence.
He reached for his pack and the extra ammo within, then realized he had left it on the other side of the roof. Near the fire escape.
He knew, of course, that he should have disabled the rusty metal stairs as soon as he had gained access to the roof, but he was certain he needn’t, so he didn’t, and this arrogance would prove his undoing.
No use crying about it now.
With only the eight rounds in the gun, fighting his way to freedom was not an option, so he quickly assessed his limited options. Option one, fighting through them, meant certain death. Option two, jumping off the roof and heading for open ground, meant only semi-certain death.
With a deep breath he heaved himself over the wall and into open air.
Cape May Police Headquarters, City Hall, Washington Street; 5:05am
Icy wind blasted Kermy as he stepped through the door. Pellets of snow raked his eyes. Dauntless, he fired the shotgun into the face of the first zombie, it’s head evaporating into a red cloud that disappeared in the ferocious wind.
“Follow me!” he called behind him and they did, in tight formation, as instructed.
Calmly, he pumped the barrel and took out the next creature, and the next. For a moment he filled with despair as two zombies seemed to replace each one he destroyed. But soon all four weapon-bearing adults emerged from the door, opened fire, and more of the beasts dropped. The wall of undead was thick, but their ranks thinned as more bullets rained into them.
“Stay tight! We’re almost through!” he coaxed them.
Moving in concert, they inched into the snowy parking lot, felling dozens of the creatures in precise fashion. Soon they were clear of the door and out in open space, but now the creatures closed in on all sides, cutting off their path to the door.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
Wind and snow beating down, the air afire with smoke and cordite, they moved through the undead mob and closer to freedom.
“Keep moving!” Kermy exhorted, and now a thrill of hope ran through him as there remained only a dozen creatures between them and open space.
They were going to make it.
“Mommy!” Jimmy cried.
Kermy turned just in time to see the little boy fighting with Lola
“Let me go! That’s my mommy!” he shouted and squirmed.
Kermy looked into the mob and there, indeed, was the thing that used to be Lisa Pratt, shuffling toward her son. But she shuffled not quite as mindlessly as the others, there was a spark of… something behind her grey eyes. Hunger? Love? Both?
“Hold him!” Kermy shouted.
“No!” Lola shrieked.
Kermy glanced down and saw that Jimmy had wriggled out of the big jacket and now ran into the arms of his mother.
Into her arms he climbed, between Kermy and his shot.
The intensity of the mob increased.
Blood in the air.
Jimmy disappeared into the crowd.
Lola started for the boy, Kermy grabbed her. “He’s gone… get back in formation.”
Weeping, she did so. With the mob momentarily distracted they were able to easily dispatch the last few zombies between them and less congested space, where they could more easily maneuver around the horrid beasts. The continuous roar of gunfire slowed as they began picking off the zombies one by one out in the open. Moving faster now they left the police HQ parking area and walked the short drive between the firehouse and the Franklin Street School that emptied onto Jefferson. Here they encountered a wall of night walkers as thick as they group they just left behind.
“12 o’clock!” Kermy cried and they all turned and opened fire on the mass before them.
But losing Jimmy had taken something out of them as their aim was shit; mostly shoulder and gut shots, few killing headshots.
“Focus!” Kermy shouted. “For Jimmy! Let’s live for Jimmy!”
The beasts began dropping with greater frequency. Once again only a few creatures stood between them and open ground. Kermy allowed himself a smile and glanced behind; the smile disappeared; the mass behind them had regrouped and was now closing.
“Chris, with me. Lola, Carol, cover our 6!”
They wordlessly carried out his orders, sending a steady stream of withering gunfire into the masses fore and aft, but it quickly became evident they would soon be swallowed up by the herd, literally and figuratively.
A thought struck Kermy. “Fall back!”
Huddling up together in a tight diamond they fell back as Kermy released the taser in his cop’s belt and powered it up.
“Let them get close so their bodies are touching, shoulder to shoulder!”
The others backed up tighter, crouching now as the undead wave neared, maws gaping, moans mingling with the wind. A nightmare symphony.
“Hold ranks! When I give the signal you fall to the ground! Steady…”
The walkers shuffled forward, slowed now by their own density.
The circle of grey flesh grew tighter still. Their anguished cries filled the air, as did the aroma of death. There was no space between them at all as they shuffled ever forward. Nowhere to run. Exactly what Kermy wanted.
Carol, Chris and Lola dropped to the ground. Kermy lunged forward, pressed the hot end of the taser into the nearest creature, and pressed the button.
A 50-joule charge entered the first creature and coursed through the dozens surrounding it. They all stiffened. Kermy held fast on the red “Charge” button. The air crackled. The beasts skin sizzled and charred. The taser grew hot in Kermy’s hand but still he kept the button down. The machine was only meant to operate for a few seconds at a time. It had now been almost 30 and it would not hold out much longer, but he could not let go.
Kermy looked up; the eyes of the first zombie went from mostly grey to completely white and smoke came out of its ears.
The zombie next to him, connected at the shoulder, sharing the same punishing electric charge, did the same.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Three more now.
“You’re cooking their brains, Kermy! You’re cooking their goddamn brains like frickin’ popcorn!” Chris yelled from the ground and began beating joyously on Kermy’s foot.
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.
Kermy allowed a smile. It was working!
The taser, now molten plastic slag in Kermy’s hand, was finally giving out. He disengaged it and, like cutting a hundred unseen puppet strings, almost the entire herd collapsed. Dead-dead.
“Genius.” Carol said as they resumed moving north from City Hall.
The night walkers were still numerous but easier to avoid as long as they didn’t wander into the middle of another herd, a real danger with this visibility in the driving snow storm. They drove their phalanx further north.
At Franklin they used Osborne Street, little more than an alley, to cut to Jefferson. It was here that Chris wisely suggested they raid the legendary Washington Inn for food and drink.
“No telling how long we might be out here,” he’d said. “Few hours, few days… no telling.”
Packs now full of as much food, beverage and very expensive wine as they could carry, they continued their journey to the Garden State Parkway.
“We’ll take Lafayette,” Kermy said. “Fewer houses, fewer of those… things.”
No one argued.
They swung down Jefferson to Lafayette, made a right, and trudged north; from here the work was fairly quick and the resistance light, but the journey more arduous in the deepening snow. And the storm showed no signs of slowing.
With the overnight calamity there had been no time for salting or plowing, let alone clearing of sidewalks, so every step was work. Kermy, who was in excellent cop shape, was feeling it in his calves and thighs. He could only imagine how the 50-something city prosecutor and 20-something night dispatcher were doing, or the guy who’d just had his arm cut off.
Walking the distance to the Parkway in these conditions would have been monumentally difficult without stopping every few minutes to dispatch a group of zombies. So he made a decision.
Over the howling wind he yelled, “Let’s find a safe house! Rest up, regroup!”
A minute later they were crashing through the front porch of a house on the corner of Lafayette and Queen. Kermy and Chris did a quick walkthrough; the place was deserted, but still warm. The dying embers of a fire glowed orange and black in the fireplace. Lola grabbed a few logs from the stack and tossed them in, Carol gave them a stir with the poker and soon it blazed anew, soaking all in a radiant warmth that seemed somehow warmer after the last 30 minutes of frozen drudgery.
“Everyone take five.” Kermy ordered.
In silence they opened their packs, partook of some bread and wine, passed around a thick chocolate bar. Kermy receded into the front porch that looked out on Lafayette Street, the Cape May Elementary School and the adjacent playground.
It had all the fixings of your modern day playground; dual 20-foot high sliding boards, fake rock wall for climbing, a wiggly bridge for silly crossings, and all the rest.
He stared at it, tried to enjoy the winter snowscape despite the hordes of wandering zombies.
Carol approached, nudged him with a bottle of wine. “Helps keep you warm.”
He smiled thinly, took the bottle, took a swig. “Thanks.”
She took a swallow herself, chased it with a bite of chocolate. She noticed him staring at the playground. “Fancy a swing?”
Kermy shook his head. “It’s where I first met Jimmy.”
Carol was silent.
“Seems like weeks ago but it was just a few hours.”
Carol told him. “It’s been a hell of a few hours.”
“We lost him, Carol. I lost him. I loved that damn kid and I lost him.”
Carol squeezed his arm. “I know you’re hurting Kermy, we all are, but we are not going to do this. We’re not going down this rabbit hole. Feeling guilty isn’t going to do anything to help us get to the Parkway and will only make you second guess. We aren’t even this far without you. So take a minute to wallow in this if you need to, then come back to us. When you’re ready, we’re ready.”
With that she left. Kermy let the words ring for a moment. Of course, she was right. He had given them a fighting chance to live when staying put would have been certain doom. There was no use looking back, only forward.
“Okay,” he announced, stepping into the living room, “let’s saddle up. It’s almost sun-up so visibility should start improving. I figure in an hour we’ll be near the bridge. We can take another rest break there; maybe the C-View has some leftover wings we can stash.”
“Oh man,” Chris moaned. “Best wings on the island. Let’s make it there.”
With a laugh they filed out of the house, back onto Lafayette and into the teeth of the howling storm.
The black sky had grown purply around the edges as night receded and morning advanced, which was good since, Kermy had noticed, none of the street lights or houses in this part of town were lit up, the power down either because of the storm or… more sinister forces. The same sinister forces, he suspected, that had disabled all their communication devices at police HQ.
Regardless, up Lafayette they pushed, step-by-step, a tiny army advancing into occupied territory.
Soon they passed Madison and started the last long stretch of Lafayette before the bridge and, they hoped, freedom. But here there were houses on both sides of the street and the little clusters of zombies were no longer quite so little. They fought through one, then another as they worked past the semi-circular cluster of grey townhouses known as “The Commons.” Kermy knew this cul-de-sac well; it was a higher-end cluster of homes that many of Cape May’s young, moneyed people chose as their first forays into home ownership. As such, it received regular police drive-bys on the overnight shifts even though everyone back there – like the guy from Antonelli Earth Movers, the biggest landscaping business in town — had state-of-the-art alarm systems and very large, expensive dogs. This man’s signs dotted the lawns of every upscale home in Cape May. The small pack of Rottweiler’s he kept seemed excessive to Kermy, but then, he never had a quarter-million dollar front-end loader or dump truck sitting in his driveway. Biggest truck he ever had was…
Antonelli lived on the south side of the development, so they double-backed 50 yards to the entrance of the development. In here the zombie clusters were thicker. They expended a lot of energy and ammo fighting through them, but eventually arrived at #1340 Saint James Place and there it was, a beautiful blue dump truck, its cab a good 6-feet off the ground.
With his gun Kermy smashed the passenger side window. “Inside!”
They piled in, walkers drifting their way.
“Might want to hurry.” Chris said as the zombies neared.
“Working on it.” Kermy replied and ripped the casing from the steering column.
“You sure you can hot wire this thing?” Carol asked.
“Of course I can,” Kermy replied. “I’m a cop.”
“And he’s Mexican.” Lola added.
The cab fell silent.
Kermy shrugged. “It’s true. Picked it up from my uncle.”
Everybody relaxed. A moment later the engine roared to life.
“Goddamn right!” Chris shouted and punched the roof.
“Nice work!” Carol agreed.
“Thank you, Kermy,” Lola said and squeezed his face.
Kermy winked, “No problem.”
He was now in love with both women. As far as he knew, the last two women on Earth. He was never one to make it easy on himself.
“Hold on.” He said and backed the giant truck out of the driveway. Several walkers crunched beneath the wheels, others pawed at the doors. Something heavy clanged in the back.
“Take us home, Kermy.” Chris said and they pulled onto Saint James. It slewed a bit on the thick snow but the height of the tires and weight of the chassis kept them moving forward. They swung out onto Lafayette and pointed north.
They would be at the bridge in minutes.
So would death.