An entire section of the bridge was falling, Bill had enough time to realize that as the concrete gave away underneath his feet. Ruben's face showed a look of surprised concern as he reached lower for Bill's hand, then he was jerked backwards our of reach by a soldier behind him.
John? Bill thought with shock. The kid in the new uniform looked like his son, but he couldn't be. Scrambling around on the loose gravel Bill felt like he was trying to run up the down escalator at a shopping mall. Gravel started pelting the river so far below him, ringing off of the lawn tractor and creating a steady series of geysers in the slow moving water next to the bank. Lurching sideways Bill tried to clasp onto the only thing that didn't seem to be falling down, the thick metal guardrail along the side of the bridge. The problem was he couldn't get his footing under him to make a decent jump for it, bit by bit he was being sucked into the hole. The gravel was streaming past a bar of exposed metal that had been used in the concrete for support, the concrete was wearing away from it like a soil eroding away in a rainstorm. The metal bar was not yet gone...if only he could get reach it with his foot and use it to lever himself up. Bill fell into the stream of gravel and was lucky to get his hand on the bar instead.
The support acted like a metal vine; bending sideways under his weight and swinging him downwards in an arc that pushed him more towards the river's center than the shore. It also put him twenty or so feet closer to the river's surface. I won't get a better chance than this. Bill thought as he let go and flung himself towards deeper water.
Ruben was pulled back along the train bridge as the span nearest the far shore collapsed into the river, taking Bill with it.
“Goddamn it! I almost had him!” Ruben bawled out at the young man in a clean uniform who had pulled him back. “Oh, shit. Sorry.” The kid who had pulled him back was John, the boy had stumbled into their camp fifteen minutes after Bill left, he was tired, wet and muddy. If Ruben didn't know the boy was alive he would have sworn he was one of the walking dead, right now the young man's face was a pale, ashen color and he seemed to be having trouble moving. Slowly John sank to his knees on the still swaying bridge. The boy hadn't made it to the other squad. Instead, he'd been chased by undead most of the morning until finally he tossed away his rifle and swam across the river to safety. The zombies seemed to lose interest in him, or so he said, when he dived into the river to swim across. Now he had just seen his father fall into the hole in the bridge and tons of rock and concrete fall down after him.
“C'mon, get up. We gotta move back off the bridge. I almost had him...” Ruben said, wiping a filthy sleeve across his eyes.
John didn't say anything he just continued to stare at the missing span of the bridge, tears streaming down his face. Ruben did his best to manhandle him to his feet and get him turned around towards the other men. “Did he die?”
“He's gone John. He's gone. We gotta get off this bridge now. I don't know how steady it is going to be with part of it missing.” the older man continued pushing, the younger one by the shoulders to the far shore.
“He could be okay. He might be in the river.” Said John breaking free and looking downstream from the wreckage.
Ruben joined him there and scanned the water, the two stood for a few seconds, seeing only muddy water that the collapse had churned up from the riverbed.
John seemed drained, even more lifeless than he had been when he came in this morning. Ruben was not doing much better, a third of his squad was missing and probably dead. And for what? Two survivors from fourth squad, both of whom needed rest and probably medical treatment. Thinking about that Ruben came up with a plan of action.
“Let's go John,” the boy didn't resist and Ruben towed him to the edge of the bridge where the rest of his men were waiting. “Kirk, when we are done here get the lieutenant on the radio and tell him the bridge collapsed, see what he wants us to do. Tell him we recovered two soldiers from fourth squad, but lost three of our men doing it. Also tell him one is injured and needs medevaced and all of us need some rest. We are buddy-ing up again the new pairs are me and John, Joe and Dan, Kirk and Javier and finally Larry and Matt. Barry is wounded, we'll put a gun in his hands if we have to, but he is out of the rotation. John, Joe, Javier and Larry, you guys bed down next to your new buddy, well put Barry down next to the supplies. The rest of us will be on zombie watch for two hours then we switch off, we will keep doing this all day if we are given the chance. This clear?”
John spoke up softly, “Just like that? You replace my dad just like that?”
“This is why we have a chain of command John. Organization wins wars, not weapons, not men, not bravery. All of those things just make winning easier. Speaking of which Javier, you are in second spot now, until we get replacements or hear otherwise. The rest of you need to treat me as Sergeant and Javier as corporal. All of you break into the power bars, eat two each even if you have to force them down. And drink at least a liter of water too. Got that? Okay, now take up spots around the supplies, I want one pair east of them, one pair more northwest, one southwest and John and I will take up position here by the bridge, watch for zombies swimming or wading across the river and if you see any yell out to everyone else. Everybody clear?" Ruben saw only wearily nodding heads, "Good, now go do what I said. Two bars, a liter of water!”
The men got themselves situated as Ruben had told them to and soon everything grew quiet.
“John.” Ruben said.
“Yes, uh, Corporal?”
“I didn't replace him as 'just like that.' Your father was a good man. He would want me to do my best to make sure his kid lived through this.”
John, from where he was laying on the ground nodded once, curtly.
“He was pretty smart, your dad. You should know he was going to go after you, even if the Lieutenant told him not to?”
“I would have done the same to find him.”
“I know. He wasn't easy to kill, your old man, the zombies couldn't do it; it took a bridge collapsing on him.”
Kirk came over and got Ruben's attention, “Yeah Kirk?”
“The lieutenant says to stay put for now, get some rest and keep an eye on things.”
“Did he say how things were at the other bridges?”
Kirk nodded, “Yes, they are holding, the zombies all stopped attacking after this last surge. He said to watch out, because of how they stopped.”
“How they stopped attacking?”
“Yes, it was, well he said it seemed, well...coordinated. As if it were planned.”
Ruben stared out across the river, looking at the few zombies he could still see that were milling about on the far shore. Planned? he thought, We could be in worse trouble than I imagined.