AaW Chapter 27
In the wasteland northwest of Doraville
Jeff Harvey was in his element. He was hunting slow zombies out in the wreckage of the waste land with three of the older children. The kids all had guns and knew how to act around the living dead. They kept their pistols in hand and the safeties off. Jeff had a shotgun slung over his shoulder, not one of the newer ones they had taken from a raid on the sporting department, but an old double barreled model he had inherited from his grandfather before Z-day.
The barrel was short, it might have been legal before the fall of civilization, or perhaps it hadn’t been. His grandfather and dad always referred to it as a 'coach gun', it used standard twelve gauge shells and kicked like a mule when fired. Jeff loved using it for close fighting; there was nothing better to drop zombies in his opinion.
The pistols they all carried had make shift silencers on them, twenty ounce plastic pop bottles duct taped over the barrels. Everyone carried more duct tape and an extra empty bottle or two in case the ones they had now were damaged. The idea was to suppress the noise of firing enough so that other zombies would not come running and mob the group. So far the strategy had worked well.
Jeff and the kids had left a middle aged housewife named Sally and the doctor's son, Peter, back at the trench at the edge between Doraville and the wasteland. Those two would be on watch and act as a backup should Jeff and the kids run into trouble.
Jeff’s team had an afternoon of hunting and if they could make it out of the bombed out section of town they would try their hand at a little looting too. The kids Jeff was going out with were Jack, Willy and Nadine. The youngest was Nadine at twelve. Jack and Willy were both fourteen and practically inseparable. People had tried to split them up and have them work in different areas, but sooner or later, usually within an hour, both boys would be doing whatever one had been assigned to. Now no one even tried to keep them apart, it was just easier to work them together. Today they were partnered up to the right side of Jeff and Nadine and they were getting a little ahead of the others. On this trip Willy had been the only one to take a Zed down; he killed a morbidly obese zombie that was stuck in the watery mud at the bottom of one of the many craters littering the area.
Jeff had a theory about the zombies; it was like when one of them died the others around the dead one knew about it and swarmed to the area. Kind of like bees would emit a chemical to let their colony know there was danger present when they were killed. Of course Jeff was not too well educated, that was just something he recalled reading in a magazine at the dentist's office one day when he was a kid.
The light zombie activity was unusual, typically the zombies wandered in aimlessly to fill any voids or open space. The slow ones, tended to group if something interesting happened, like say, someone started screaming. Today Jeff wanted to see what lay beyond the wasteland, he knew that it ended in a series of houses, but he thought there were some stores in that direction too. The group had not scouted this direction before and there might be some good loot they could use. The main reason no one had made it too far in this direction is that every time someone tried they ended up in a pitched battle and had to retreat to the trench at the edge of Doraville.
‘Today will be different, I can feel it.’Jeff said to himself, ‘The zombies are just not around.’
If he could he would test his theory at the same time. He had gone so far as to tell the kids not to kill any zombies they could avoid, to pull the trigger only as a last resort if someone's life were in danger. The kids had wanted to know why and he explained it to them. Will and Nadine thought Jeff might be right, Jack was more skeptical, but was willing to test the theory.
For the trip the group had brought along a set of Motorola walkie-talkies and small digital video camera, the thing only took low resolution videos, but had the benefit of operating on double 'A' batteries, which were still plentiful. Jeff really doubted he would use any of the electrical gear, noise tended to draw unwanted attention.
The other radio was back in the trench with Sally and his radio was turned off, the kids didn’t carry any electric gear at all. This was against the official rules of the town, but radios, no matter how small, added bulk and the temptation to use one could be too great. All four members of the group were very quiet; they knew how to move in the rubble and urban environment.
Jeff thought the kids had undergone a form of transformation, a sort of metamorphosis from child to something he could not quite put his finger on. The way they moved in the wild was feral and shifted between that of a predator and prey at any given moment depending on the circumstances.
Normally a scouting mission was a dangerous undertaking and this early evening journey would be no different, but Jeff was glad to get out of town. After the council meeting today Dora, old man Leon and Steve had went to talk to Tim Grub over in the backyard where the new building was supposed to be going up. On the way out they had passed Jeff coming in to talk to Steve and Leon had gestured for him to follow them next door to talk to Tim.
Things got ugly real fast. Tim had smiled that dumb grin of his and asked something like 'Have you come to offer me a place on the council?'
Steve shook his head and explained in very clear terms what Tim's options were. Steve gestured at the lack of building progress, even Jeff knew there was no way the place would be built in time for winter, not at the rate it was going, they didn't even have a floor yet! Then Tim started shaking and his face turned red. He was wearing a pistol, almost everyone did, but Jeff had his shotgun couched in his arms and he had already been letting the barrel drift towards the man as the tempers flared.
Jeff may not have been the brightest bulb in the pack but after the fur started flying he knew why Leon had wanted him, or rather him and his gun, at the confrontation. He knew he had not won any points with Tim this afternoon, but what the hell, no one liked that weaselly bastard Tim anyway. Still, being out of town for the night on patrol was a good way to let the man cool down before they ran into each other again.
Dora stayed silent through most of the arguing, Jeff thought she had looked a little under the weather, finally she chimed in and what she said stopped all the fighting and practically had Tim in tears. Jeff could not remember exactly what her words were, but he knew things like 'cowardly', 'lazy' and 'fired' came up with something about shipping him off to Iowa the next time the guardsmen came by.
For some reason, when Dora said that last bit, it took all the fight and anger right out of the man. Jeff didn't know why Tim didn't want to go to Iowa, they had electricity, water and were still fighting at least. Everyone who opted to stay in Doraville had their own reasons for remaining. For Jeff it was simple; he had been to Iowa before, the state voted 'best rest stops in America for twenty years running' held no appeal for him. At least if he was going to die, Jeff would do it in the state he was born in, fighting to defend it to the bitter end. For now, at least, the bitter end was Doraville.
Taking up his position Jeff gestured with his lowered left hand and the boys leap frogged him and Nadine. Jeff raised a small telescope to his eye to track their progress and watch for Jack's signal to move forward. When Jack gave it he indicated that he needed Jeff to stop next to him to talk. Jeff and Nadine moved up abreast to the boys and stopped. Jack leaned over close to Jeff's ear and said, “Two zombies ahead, one is a slinker.”
'Slinker' was their name for a zombie that was between the really smart ones and the really dumb ones, these zombies were clever in their own way, but not as smart as a human. The slinkers tended to stay low to the crowd, to dodge behind cover and they were known to set up ambushes, like herding a group of slow zombies in from one direction while they attacked from another. They were not as bad as the super zombies, but they made a lot of problems for the night watch, so Jeff liked to kill them when he could.
Jeff shook his head and signed that they would go around. He tried to use a few bits of actual sign language to indicate that they would get the slinker when they returned. Willy seemed to understand, he nodded at least, Nadine and Jack took a moment to think about it and then nodded too. Jeff was not sure either knew what he said in sign, but they did understand the signal to 'go around'.
The sign language was an idea Jeff had come up with, to help them communicate better in the field. On one of the trips to a book store Jeff had grabbed a couple copies of 'American Sign Language' and they had been studying it for the last few days. The kids loved the idea, but were not so fast to catch on yet except for Willy, who seemed to pick it up easily, surpassing even Jeff's abilities.
Just because Jack had called them over did not mean that Nadine and Jeff were off the hook for the rest of the leap frog effort, they still had the point for another hundred yards or so. The two of them set out to flank the zombie keeping mounds of debris between the slinker and where they were moving. Jeff also kept an eye out for other threats ahead, and he was glad he did. They had moved forward about a hundred yards and Jeff spotted another pair of zombies, they were staring over the open debris towards Doraville. Jeff hunkered down and gestured for Willy and Jack to come up to him again. A minute later Jack was by his side, like a shadow come to life.
Jeff thought about signing, then shook his head and leaned in close, “Another slinker and another slow zombie. What the fuck is this? They are just standing there, like the other ones we saw.”
“Let’s kill them and be done with it. We can do it quick and quiet.”
“I know we can. But I don't want to. No killing, something is up. Why are they just standing there? And the slow zombie is not even in cover at all, we could pick him off from here.”
Jack looked at them again, “Slinker is down in partial cover, slo-zom is up and an easy target.” he paused, thinking then whispered, “It is a trap. Slo-zom is bait.”
Jack nodded, then shook his head, “Two sets of watchers this close together?”
“Go back?” Jack shook his head 'no'.
Pulling out the video camera Jack rose up quietly just enough to film the zombies, saying to himself as he did, 'Do not see me, do not see me...' and sweating with fear. He was certain there was something going on and it was bigger than two sets of what he could only think of as watchers keeping an eye on Doraville.
“We can pass through them.” he whispered to Jack as he ducked back down from filming. Jack tucked the camera back into the padded black case on his belt. He then drew a crude diagram in the dirt. “Right ahead of us is a basement, where the house burned, we can scramble through that, there is a trailer in the road that will shield us from this group, so we only have to watch out for the other guys out front that we already passed. They shouldn’t be looking behind them and we’ll be safe if we are quiet.”
Jack nodded and went off to explain the plan to Willy while Nadine came up to Jeff for a quick briefing. They never gathered in more than pairs when out of town on a scouting mission, that way they increased the chance that only one group would be seen and the others could get back to town to report what happened.
This time Jeff did lead the way, Nadine stuck with him staying about ten feet away and slightly to his left. She stayed much too close for normal, but they had only a narrow path to go down between the two groups. They leap frogged successfully and the scout mission went on another quarter of a mile before Jack again signaled for him to stop next to him.
Jack was in one of the last bomb craters on the edge of the wasteland. Approaching the boy Jeff immediately saw the problem. There were supers ahead. Jeff knew they were supers because they looked alive but there were other undead around them who showed no interest in eating them. The super zombies were rare, maybe one in a thousand. Jeff was not sure why some of the dead came back smart and fast, and other came back slow, but he was glad that the proportion that did was relatively small.
Supers could be differentiated from slinkers and 'slow-zoms' by the way they acted. They looked around, their motions were far more fluid than other zombies and they very much did not spend time 'doing nothing'. It was like they were alive. These supers were gesturing towards an old car, which had all of its windows blown out by the bomb blasts, but otherwise looked okay. At least one of the other undead was a slinker and Jeff counted five more slow zoms too.
He signed 'shit' to Jack who nodded agreement behind the wall of earth between them and the zombies.
'What now?' Jack signed.
Leaning in Jeff whispered very quietly into the boy's ear, “Go back? What do you think?”
Jack edged up to the top of the crater, Jeff could see his lips moving in the all too familiar mantra most of the scouts used, 'Do not see me. Do not see me.' and smiled. Sliding back down he leaned over and whispered, “I think this is weird. The watchers. The supers. Something is not right. What do we do?”
“Can you distract them? You and Will make some noise and run, shoot them only if you have to?”
Jack nodded, “Then you and Nadine go through the hole, right?”
“Piece of cake for us, what will you do when they come back?”
Jeff grinned again, “Kill them.”
Jack's face fell into a frown, they all knew how unlikely it was for a human to win against a super zombie. The things were fast and strong and did not feel pain. Only a blow to the head could kill them and they just kept coming until that blow was landed. The boy shook his head 'no'.
“Okay then you keep them distracted for long enough for me to get a few blocks over and we will circle around and come back another way.”
Jack nodded agreement with this plan, then whispered, “We will go back to the first line and make a distraction, not too close to here.”
“Good plan, do it.”
Jack went to explain the plan to Willy while Nadine came up to Jeff. He gave her the brief synopsis of what they were going to do and made sure she was ready. Jeff was certain this was a risky maneuver, but he was equally sure that this strange behavior was no good for the inhabitants of Doraville, they needed to find out what was going on.