Eight years ago, Winston Carmichael fought the zombies. Now he's a platoon sergeant in the Indianapolis Colony. Then word came from his ex-wife in San Antonio. Zombies had destroyed the colony. One could talk and control the others. She was being held prisoner and needed his help. Now Winston was off to San Antonio. Only five years left til retirement...
Credits and Copyrights
By Derwin Lester II
Original Copyright©2015 DGL II Publications
First edition. Copyright©2015 DGL II Publications
Second Edition. Copyright©2017 Divided By Zero Books
Third Edition. Copyright©2021 Divided By Zero Books
Forth Edition. Copyright©2022 Divided By Zero Books
All Rights Reserved.
Written by Derwin Lester II
Edited by Cassie Poormokhtar
Cover art by Kristen Vandermolen
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
How much do drinks cost here?” I asked Lieutenant John Hook.
He shrugged and said, “Four for officers, three for senior NCOs like you. But I feel like you should buy my drinks tonight, since I'm clearly the more attractive of the two of us.”
I said, “Yeah, and you can go eat a dick, sir.”
“Shit bag.” He smiled as we walked into the bar. It was crowded, full of mostly lower enlisted. I scanned the establishment that went by its prewar name, The Thirsty Scholar, looking for members of my platoon.
“I don’t see anyone, sir.”
He relaxed, a goofy smile covering his face. He was our brand-new Second Lieutenant, straight out of officer candidate school.
“As long as they aren't starting fires or marrying strippers, I don’t care where they are,” he said.
“I read about a platoon of infantry guys getting into a group marriage with three strippers in the Army Times yesterday.” I chuckled.
“But none of ours, right?” The lieutenant looked horrified at the thought. We walked up to the bar, and I raised my left hand, holding two fingers up. Danielle knew my order by now, two of the cheapest beers they had.
“Nah, sir. It was a bunch of 82nd guys down south in the desert. Not a lot of women left in Texas these days from what I hear.”
Danielle walked up with our two beers. I reached into my wallet and grabbed my charge card, which had just been refilled by Uncle Sam in post-war dollars, handing it to her. She shook her head. “Two ladies down the bar paid for it, Winston.” She nodded in their direction.
I looked down the bar to a table with two angelic looking blond girls in Army uniforms, both wearing sergeants stripes. The one on the right looked familiar, and about my age. The one on the left looked not a day over twenty-one. The more adventurous of the blonds waved us over.
He leaned over to me and said, “I mean, the least we can do is be polite.”
I thought about it for a moment. “My divorce papers did go through...”
So, we picked up our drinks and walked over there, each of us taking a seat next to one of them. The woman Hook was sitting next to giggled. “Good evening, sir. I'm Sergeant Macalister. This is Sergeant Good.” She pointed to the woman next to me.
“Macalister? You're from Kentucky, aren't you?” he said.
She played with her hair and said, “Big Sarn’t, I do believe you mean Appalachi. But yes, that would be where I am from.”
“Any relation to David Macalister?” the lieutenant said.
“He's a cousin of mine, but I've only met him once or twice. Sergeant Good has met him, haven't you, Jane?”
I turned to the woman next to me, raising my left eyebrow. “I thought you looked familiar. You were on the moon?”
She shook her head, embarrassed. “Yes, I was. I was on patrol in Michigan when the Aliens picked me up. When Macalister stormed the moon base, it was the coolest damned thing I’d ever seen in my entire life. Not that any of us thought we were going to make it out, anyway. But yeah, I shook his hand once after the aliens surrendered and we killed all the zombies. All in all, it was a weird day,” she said.
I laughed. “Holy shit, I fucking bet. What do they have you guys doing here?”
“Paperwork, mostly,” Sergeant Good said, smiling. It was nice to meet someone who understood the beauty of being a support person. God, I missed being a POG.
“We're QRF for Indianapolis; so, mostly, we just train and try to keep our Joes out of trouble,” I said. “We run a medic platoon.”
“Well, sir, I do have this back problem, could you feel it for me?” Megan Macalister said, smiling as she put Lieutenant Hook's left hand at the small of her back, almost to the place where her lower back ended. She smiled while he turned beat red.
“Yeah, it looks like you might have some problems; I feel that we should go to my office for a closer look,” Hook said.
She giggled and said, “Ok, sir. If that's what you think is best.”
As they got up and left, I turned to Jane Good and whispered in her ear. “Does she know that he's not actually a doctor?”
Jane Good snorted. “I don't think it matters. That girl was trying to get off the farm her whole life, and now that she has, well...”
“She kidnaps random lieutenants and seduces them?” I laughed.
“Hey, would you say no to her?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Bullshit.” She leaned in closer.
“Nope, must be this tall to ride this ride,” I said, rubbing the three stripes and two rockers on the center of my uniform. “I mean, I'd think about it. But, no.”
“She's not in your unit, though. They changed the fraternization rules to try to encourage population growth last year. The army would probably give you a bonus for knocking her up,” Jane said.
“I think I’m just old fashioned.” I shrugged.
“Me too.” She smiled. “Pre-war?”
“About seven years pre-war, eight post.” I rubbed my finger through the condensation on my glass. “I did a quiet tour in a magical, far way land known as Iraq about a million years ago.”
She smiled and said, “So did I.”
“If you came in fifteen years ago, why are you an E5?” I asked.
“Several breaks in service. I got out for a few years after I got back to Earth, which still sounds weird to say. I re-upped and headed out for parts unknown again.”
“Which brought you to Indianapolis.” I smirked.
“Well, it’s better than Michigan. What brought you here?” She took a sip from her drink; her eyes never left me.
I took a drink of the beer she’d bought me and said, “Well, I picked up my E7 here. It's a good slot, working with the QRF. Compared to the Bandits outside of Cincinnati last year, I don't mind the quiet.”
“I'll drink to that.” Sergeant Jane Good clinked her glass to mine. I smiled and took another drink.
“You want to get out of here?” she said.
I shook my head, rubbing my rank again. “Sorry, you're not tall enough for the ride.”
“Are you married?” She eyed my hands.
I shook my head.
“Hmmm...well, that's good news at least.” She chuckled and looked me up and down.
“Sorry, Charlie.” I smiled.
She put out her right hand. I shook it. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Sergeant First Class Carmichael.”
I smiled and said, “The pleasure was all mine, Sergeant Good. Do me a favor, if your friend leaves my lieutenant alive, be sure to send him my way? He gets lost so easily.” She nodded with a smirk. Then she got up and left.
I finished my free beer and counted in my head the dollars I had in my bank account till payday. They didn’t quite justify buying a beer, since my nightly one was free. I had enough for a beer tomorrow, and after that, it was coffee at the chow hall till the fifteenth. It didn't matter. There were bars, and people. The zombies were contained to the southwest. We were bouncing back, an inch at a time. The DOD estimated it would take one hundred years to repopulate the continent, never mind the rest of the planet.
I got up and pushed my chair in, waving at the bartender before I left the Thirsty Scholar. I made a left and walked down the street, passing several people in uniform and smiling at the dense population.
I crossed 16th Street to the old rundown apartment building that I shared with the company leadership. It looked like a good, strong breeze might knock it over, but the power worked three hours a day, and Hook and I had an apartment to ourselves. There was so much free space in Old Northside that most soldiers either had their own place or shared an apartment with three people.
I opened the front door to the building and walked up the stairs to the first-floor apartment I shared with the lieutenant. I walked in, glad not to hear the sounds of my poor lieutenant being devoured by a pretty Macalister girl. The thought of it made me wish I’d taken Sergeant Good up on her offer. No one would have cared. It was weird how much the army had changed.
I looked at the pin board in the living room. There was a new paper attached to it. It was a schedule from the commander for tomorrow’s various meetings and briefings. The first one was in six hours. Time to get to bed.
There was a loud thunk, and three bangs on the window. I got up out of my bed in the spare bedroom with my rifle in my hand. Pointed at the ready, I turned right and stalked my way into the living room, clearing all of the corners. The blinds were drawn shut, and the banging on the windows continued. I pulled the cord and the blinds went up. I looked out the window and saw Lieutenant Hook, standing in his boxers with his 9mm berretta and combat boots. His tiny head barely stood over the window ledge, which was six feet off the ground and ten feet from the street. There were uniformed soldiers smirking as they walked down the sidewalk.
“Hey there, big guy!” one of the prettier girls with staff sergeant stripes said.
Awesome, so everyone sees him looking like a twenty two year old idiot. Granted, he is an twenty-two year old idiot, but at the very least he could hide it better.
I opened the window and said, “Rough night, sir?”
He climbed in and tumbled to the floor. “I..uh, don’t want to talk about it.”
I took a deep sigh. Only five more years till retirement. “All right, sir, why don’t you get a shower and dressed. The company meeting is in forty-five minutes; I'll start the coffee.”
Twenty minutes later, we were in the back courtyard behind the apartment. He was sitting next to me on a bench, with the platoon sergeant and platoon leader from the two other platoons on benches in a semi circle. The commander stood in the center, giving us our notes. It was another briefing, much like many of the others. Occasionally, I looked to the lieutenant and noticed him nodding off. Then proceed to kick him in his heal to wake him up. The commander smirked as the lieutenant’s eyes opened, and then he would continue with the briefing of the day’s events.
“Any questions?” he asked once he was finished. We all shook our heads. “All right, Hook and Carmichael, I need to speak to you afterwards. Everyone else is dismissed.”
The other platoon leadership left, and the commander looked at the lieutenant. “You have fun last night?” he said.
Hook meekly nodded and said, “I...yes, sir.”
“I saw you climb into a window at about five a.m. this morning. Was she worth it?”
The lieutenant stared straight ahead, his mind, thoughts, and hopes obviously somewhere else, and said, “Yes, sir. I...I think I might be in love.”
The commander rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, jeez. Carmichael, after we're done here, do me a favor and get some coffee in him. Also, make sure he doesn’t go ring shopping.”
I chuckled. “Yes, sir.”
The commander sat down, looking at both of us with concern and care. The CO was a tough man and wasn't one for feelings. But he got so quiet, his mouth looking for the words to say. Almost like he didn't want to tell us what was up. Crap. “Colonel Linton needed people for a mission, and you both are going. Hook, you're going to be leading the mission. Carmichael, you're going to be his number two.”
“What about my platoon, sir?” Hook asked. He could be an idiot at times, but he cared about his men. I could work with that.
“Staff Sergeant Martin will be filling in for the both of you for the duration. We're not at a high op tempo at the moment, and that man knows more about the medic platoon than the three of us put together,” the commander said. “I picked the both of you, because Lieutenant, you could use the field experience. You sure as hell aren’t getting any here. Carmichael, you fought in Cincinnati last year. That was almost as bad as the war. Your experience will be needed.”
I nodded my head in silence. When the bandits hit the city, it was under siege for six days. I didn’t think I was getting out of that one.
The commander pulled his smart phone out, pressing three buttons. “This is the mission,” he said, turning his phone towards us. A video started to play. I couldn’t make out a whole lot of what was going on, but the gunfire in the background was easy to spot. It looked like a run down pre-war shopping mall. I had been there before; I just couldn’t place it. The cameraman pointed the phone over the courtyard to the level below them. It was packed with zombies, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling back and forth. But they weren't searching for food. There was no moaning, just silence from below.
The camera panned to the floor they were on and to a familiar face. I hadn’t seen her in five years.
It was Nichole, my ex-wife.
“How is he talking? How the fuck is he talking? He's controlling them, are you getting this? Look!” She yelled, as the cameraman panned to raggedy-looking man leaning over a guardrail, blood smeared in his hair. The video zoomed in, and the face became clear. I recognized him, which made my eyes go wide. He was shorter than average, just like I remembered, down to the crooked nose and the messy hair. It couldn’t be him, though. He died during the war.
But it was Zach, dripping with blood from the mouth. Brains caked into his dirty ACU top, where the American Flag should have been. He snarled as he turned to the camera and spoke.
“No, we can’t eat them yet,” Zach said to the crowd of zombies underneath him. There was a collective moan from the group. “Because they’re bait, guys! We’ve been over this. After they’re done being bait, then we can eat them. Well, I’m going to turn the girl into my queen. Would you like that?” He turned to my ex-wife.
“You can go fuck yourself, Zach,” she said. The camera turned back to her, a pistol pointed towards the drooling man. She pulled the trigger three times, but all that came out was a click.
The cameraman pointed the phone at my ex-wife. “My name is Nichole Renee Carmichael, and we're in the Rivercenter Mall in San Antonio, Texas. Z’s attacked the Colony. This is nothing like the war. It isn’t a mindless horde. They boxed us in and picked us apart. We've been trying to escape, but they seem to be holding us prisoner. They're not attacking us, just not letting us go...There aren't too many of us left. Please...help us.” Then the video stopped.
Lieutenant Hook turned to me, a confused look on his face. His left eyebrow asked the question of if he saw what he saw. I nodded. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
“Sir, was that a talking zombie?” he asked.
The CO took a deep breath. “That’s what it looks like. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but it’s been a weird decade.”
Then he turned to me, rubbing his eyes. “Carmichael, that's your ex-wife?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir. I recognize the talking zombie, too.”
The commander perked up. “You do?”
“I think so…I mean, he died during the war. He never turned. I put a knife in his brain, just to be sure…I don’t…I think it’s Sergeant Zachary. He was my platoon sergeant in Cincinnati last year…he didn’t make it.”
The Commander nodded. “All right. This is going to be a weird one. You're both going to Texas to find out what the hell is going on.” The commander took a breath. “You are on a scouting mission and will have two others with you. Sergeant Jane Good and Sergeant Megan Macalister from Alpha Company. They're the new Long Range Patrol Scouts we just got in from Norfolk.”
The LT coughed. I suppressed a smile.
“You are to muster out by 0400 tomorrow morning. The particulars are in your orders...this is a scouting mission, gentlemen. Go in there, figure out what the hell is going on, and get out. That is all I am authorizing you to do. But if you were to rescue the people held prisoner, well, I don't think I’d be too upset about it. Dismissed.”
I sat at the Thirsty Scholar, sipping on my hot coffee. It wasn’t quite at the perfect temperature yet. The lieutenant was supposed to meet me here in a few minutes, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just replaying the video on my phone over and over again. I knew Nichole had signed up for colony duty, but I didn’t even know they were sending people to San Antonio. She didn't tell me anything about it, but we never really talked anymore. Not since she lost the baby, anyway.
I didn't blame her. She didn't blame me for it either. No one was the bad guy; at least, that's what the doctors kept telling us. That's what we told ourselves. But after the miscarriage, I tried to be there for her. She tried to stay. But we were just going through the motions.
Lieutenant Hook walked in, whistling a jaunty tune. Goddamn kid bounces back from a hangover pretty fast.
“Hey, Sarn't. I printed out our orders.” He sat down next to me, a big smile on his face. Perky motherfucker. “It looks like it's going to be over thirteen hundred miles getting there. It'll be I-65 South all the down till we hit Nashville, then it turns into I-40 West all the way to Memphis, then I-30 West to Dallas, then I-35 South all the way to San Antonio. We’ll be stopping at a Beans and Bullets post outside of Dallas to rest and refuel. The game plan is to get to San Antonio no more than forty-eight hours from now. We leave tomorrow at six a.m.”
“That's not exactly a straight line, is it?” I asked, annoyed.
“No, but it’s the route that the army has open. The rest of the major highways haven’t been cleared yet, and that’s the main artery to the southwest. There's a sizeable militia presence along the highway, so it should be free of bandits.” He sipped on his coffee and popped a piece of chocolate in his mouth.
“See, sir, you say, ‘should be free of bandits,’ like you aren't jinxing us.” I took a long drink from my coffee.
“Sergeant, we'll be fine. I know what I'm doing.”
My heart sank after hearing that. This was all going to end horribly.
I stood next to the four-seater Humvee, a big wad of chewing tobacco in my mouth. Not sure how Copenhagen survived the war, but they were practically a subsidiary of the Department of Defense at this point. There wasn’t a whole lot of argument about that. Yes, we had a newly elected congress and president, even a group of Supreme Court justices that met somewhere and discussed the finer points of being useless. But it was the DOD that held together during the war, and it was them who began the rebuild of the country. They were focused more on survival of the human race and the destruction of the enemy than anything else. So yes, while on paper, the civilians have control of the military, the Department of Defense was pretty much the dominant branch of government and tended to get its way most of the time.
I sipped my coffee, watching the sun peek up in the far distance. I looked at the bed of the Humvee one more time, just to make sure the gas cans hadn’t grown legs and walked away. We should have enough fuel to get us to Dallas. Lieutenant Hook was in the passenger’s seat, going over the map. Sergeants Macalister and Good walked up, a full rucksack on their backs. They had tents strapped to the top and E-tools on the sides, with an assortment of other attachable gear clipped on the back. I liked it when the army changed all of their gear to the Mollie clip on style. Made it all look like a big Lego set. I missed Legos.
“Morning, Sarn't,” Sergeant Good said with a smile. She walked passed me and threw her rucksack in the bed of the four-seater. Sergeant Macalister followed.
“Your people briefed you?” I asked.
“I-65 South to Nashville where we take 40 West, then make a right at Memphis, then I-30 West to Dallas, then I-35 South till the party. Should get there in a day or two, traffic depending,” Sergeant Good said.
“Yup. So, you guys are Lurps?” I asked.
They both nodded. “We were with Fifth Special Forces group outside of Cincinnati last year,” Sergeant Good said. “We read about what you did. That took balls.”
“I was lucky.” I took the dip out of my mouth and flung it to the ground.
“Weren't we all?” There was a sad look of understanding in her eyes.
“Well, we can either sit here and swap dead friend stories, or we can get on the road. I vote we get on the road,” Sergeant Macalister said, getting in the back right seat, right behind Hook.
“Morning, sir.” Her tone was sultry and sweet.
He turned around and said, “Good morning. You guys were debriefed?”
“Yes, sir. How did you sleep?” A sweet smile played on her face.
“I don't. Officers don't need sleep. We are, in fact, robots made from spare parts from Fort Mackinaw,” he said, dryly. The lieutenant was trying to be professional, but friendly. Good.
“Well, now that we have the kids in the car, care to get on our way?” I asked Sergeant Good. She chuckled and said, “Lead the way, Sarn't.”
I got into the driver’s seat and donned my Kevlar. My coffee was getting cold. There was plenty of coffee in the MREs that I had stashed in the four-seater, but it didn't beat the Thirsty Scholar.
I started the engine, and we were on our way. Turning onto I-65 South, we headed along the east side of Indianapolis. The view from this side made it look like a fortress. Large concrete barriers marked each checkpoint, an endless ring of defenses encircling the Circle City. This was my city. I had hoped to retire here.
“I'll be back,” I said, quietly.
“You'll do what?” The lieutenant asked.
“Nothing, sir. Just talking to myself,” I said, not realizing I had said it that loudly.
“Having an introspective moment, were we?” Sergeant Macalister chuckled.
“Get into the chaaaapaaaa!” Sergeant Good said in a horrible Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. “ I am the Kindergarden Cop! You will obey!”
“I hate you both, more than words can describe.” I shook my head in annoyance.
I was sleeping. It was nice while it lasted. There was some sort of noise disturbing my sleep. A pinging. Fuck, it was loud. I hated loud things. I just wanted to plug away the days till I got a retirement check.
“Is he still asleep? Sergeant Carmichael, wake up!” Sergeant Good screamed.
I popped up with my rifle in my hand, scanning around. We were in the middle of a four-lane highway. There was a motorcycle speeding next to us to our left about a car length ahead. It had an Appalachi flag. Six bandit motorcycles were taking shots at us and the motorcycle. The riders were wearing brown leather pants and jackets, along with black helmets. A large black semi truck thundered a quarter mile back.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The bandits were chasing that motorcycle. The motorcycle up to us. Now the bandits are chasing us,” Sergeant Good said from in the driver’s seat.
The bandit motorcycle to our left sped next to the lieutenant’s window. The window was down. The bandit held a long sword in his hand and tried to shove it through the window. Hook ducked, and I fired three shots through the window, hitting the bandit in the face. He fell off his motorcycle and tumbled to the ground. The loud whine in my ears was worth it.
The motorcycle ahead of us swerved to the far left of the highway. The rider drew a weapon and pistol fire followed shortly at the bandits. Three of the shots missed, but the last one hit the bandit riding behind them in the face.
I looked behind us. There were four bandit motorcycles left. One was riding close to my door, pointing a pistol at my face. I opened the door and knocked him off his bike, chuckling. Always wanted to do that. After he crashed the motorcycle, he stayed on the ground. I saw him try to get up, but the semi crushed his face.
“Three to go,” I said.
The lieutenant, inspired by the motorcycle man in the fedora, opened his door and leaned out with his pistol in his right hand. He reached for the roof with his left, but Sergeant Good hit a bump along the torn up highway, and Hook started to fall out of the vehicle.
I grabbed the brand new army issued belt around his waist. “I got him!” I yelled to Sergeant Macalister, as she looked at me, worried.
“Sir, if you’re going to do something, now would be the time!”
He took aim with his pistol and shot the man on the motorcycle that was right behind the motorcycle man in the fedora. It was a perfect headshot. The wind kept blowing through the windows as we sped down the highway. The loud whine in my ears got louder.
The lieutenant fired two more shots at the remaining bandits. They both went down, and the motorcycles skidded along the side of the road. One of the bandits was down, but the second tried to limp his way to the side of the road. Both of them were in the way of the semi truck as it tried to stop. It stopped all right, but with the help of the wrecked bikes along the highway. The semi truck flipped to the side and the metal screamed as it scraped alongside the highway.
I pulled Hook back in and shouted over the noise. “Sir, close the door!”
He slammed the heavy, up-armored door closed.
“You guys all right?” he said.
I smiled and patted him on the back. “We’re all fine, sir. That was nice shooting.”
“Well, I was top shot at OCS. But I really got good during the war. There was a herd of ten thousand zombies chasing our group out of St. Louis, and we were in the rear vehicle.”
“Just like old times, huh, sir?” Sergeant Megan Macalister flashed a sexy smile.
He nodded. “Something like that.”
“Sir, the motorcycle in front of us is slowing down. He wants us to pull over. I think he wants to talk,” Sergeant Jane Good said.
Hook looked at me. I nodded. “Let’s see what they have to say,” he said.
We got out of the vehicle. I let the lieutenant take the lead, walking two paces behind him. Sergeant Good stayed in the Humvee, while Macalister stood on the roof with her rifle as lookout. I wanted to put a chew in, but I left my can in the Humvee. The motorcycle man walked up to us. The lieutenant held out his hand.
“Lieutenant John Hook. That was some damn fine shooting, , ha-ha!” The motorcycle man put down his kickstand and walked towards up. He lifted his fedora. I saw his face.
“I’m Agent Z, but you probably call me Zach.”
I grabbed him by the shirt collar and slammed him against the wall of the four-seater.
“You’re not Zach. Zach's dead. I found his dead body in Cincinnati last year.” I growled into his ear. This wasn’t Zach. I was pretty sure the guy one the video wasn’t Zach either. He wasn’t coming back, no matter how much I missed him.