Monday, February 2, 2009

Rendezvous: Chapter 8

Dee felt the red mist creeping in again from the edges of her vision. She had to fight the blood lust - with zombies, that could be worse than fear, since you stood a really good chance of outrunning Zed as long as he didn’t corner you. The fire was eating up the majority of them, but there were still a lot more left to deal with before the Dojo could be entered.
Her strikes were swift, efficient, and lethal. One blow for a takedown, one more to finish the job. Her left hand over one end of the pipe, her right hand in the middle of it, she held her weapon like an oar. Deflecting zombies as they lunged at her, she then drove the pipe straight down through the skull. Nothing extra. Controlled strikes were the way to conserve energy and maintain sanity. She gave ground when there were more than three within ten feet of her, so as to deny them the opportunity to surround her. No charging in like Rambo, that would get her ass killed.
Still, the red mist remained at the fringe of her eyesight, threatening to overtake her at any moment. The narrowed field of vision from her welding goggles wasn't helping, but they were a necessity; as far as she knew, a single spore of that fungus could zombify a person.
Today was Friday. She had taken her last dose of pills on Thursday. But in addition to the stress of the blackout, there was also the riot, the frat house, and the zombies to contend with, not to mention worries over how her parents were faring and whether Sam and she were growing apart. The apocalypse could end a lot of relationships, she thought, and grinned, then immediately suppressed it before she started laughing.
Her movements, though still swift and accurate, were becoming mechanical. She had heard of road hypnosis, in which the driver of a vehicle zones out while traveling down a straight, monotonous length of road at night, finally falling asleep at the wheel. Was there a slaughter hypnosis, as well? Struggling to maintain her focus, she wondered what Seamus was up to. A quick glance revealed that he was still in the truck. The fire at the center of the crowd was really roaring now, flaming zombies flailing about, collapsing, and rolling on the ground.
At some point, she began to hear music. Great, she thought. Auditory hallucinations, while not the worst, were certainly among the most frustrating, for they were distracting but not incapacitating. She had to track zombies outside her field of vision by sound, listening for the heavy, out-of-sync footfalls that preceded a lunge, judging distance from the crowd by the volume of their collective moan. The music was getting more distinct. Her eyes were completely focused on the solitary zombies breaking off from the pack. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Fallen zombies were causing others to stumble out of the way, sometimes into an incinerating lump. Hopefully, the crowd would work to her advantage here, however slight. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. Her arms were beginning to tire. She had to use her legs to manipulate her center of gravity as she swung, making the blows more fluid and deadly. He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. The pipe was beginning to bend out of shape. Any more than a couple degrees, and she couldn't rely on it for impact if it rotated in her hand. The zombies just kept coming. His truth is marching on.
Wait.
She knew this song. Why was The Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in her head? She lost her concentration, and her next swing very nearly didn't knock down her target. After plunging the pipe through his skull, she looked at her weapon: it wasn't quite fifteen degrees out of alignment, but it was getting there. She discarded it and drew her crowbar. Glory, glory, Hallelujah. Holding it like it was a shotgun, she used the long end as a bayonet to plunge up underneath the chins of her assailants, driving it up through the brain. The music began to sway her.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
Dee was starting to lose it. As the fire spread, and the zombies began converging on her, she couldn't keep giving ground. She had progressed to the intersection Southeast of the Dojo, too deep into enemy territory, the zombies closing in around her in an arc so wide she had barely noticed it. She tried to focus, make a plan, but her mind was racing and she kept coming back to one thing: The Battle Hymn of the Republic. But now it wasn't the actual words playing in her head, she was hearing a different song.
Mine eyes have seen the horrors that have risen from the tomb
The zombies crawling from their graves as from an earthen womb
We shoot them, stab them, bash their skulls in, blow them up, ka-boom!
Yet still, Zed marches on
In her mind's eye, Dee was being backed towards a narrow precipice, the gaping maw of insanity waiting to swallow her whole. She began to question whether any of the previous week's events had been real or not. These things couldn't happen. No way. What if - what if she was just projecting some layered delusion over actual events?
I have seen him by the watch-fires of our fortified retreat
We fight bravely, but are failing underneath his trampling feet
Yet we hunger for the taste of final victory, so sweet
While Zed still marches on
Then she heard the scream. Turning to the source of the sound, she saw a charred figure on hands and knees in the crowd, head back, wailing in pain. This was no zombie moan. It was a human cry. The agonized howls erupted all around her. What had she done?
The mist thickened. A gossamer veil descended over her vision. Then she was gone.
Seamus turned the truck around. The zombies had given up pursuit of him half a block back and now seemed to be pursuing Dee almost exclusively. He had to bail her out. No rescue missions: if Dee died, he was a goner. He was far more skilled than her with a saber, but she had much broader combat experience than he did, and would be an indispensable asset to getting back into the Dojo. He parked the truck in the middle of the street, grabbed his crowbar, and got out. Cameron came in on the walkie-talkie.
"Dude, zombies towards the North have started making for the church. Apparently, they decided that now would be a good time to sing about how awesome the end of the world is."
"Yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and disagree with them on that one." Seamus couldn't quite make out the words as he approached the mob, but he recognized the melody as something familiar.
"Which, that now's a good time, or that it's awesome?"
"Umm - yes?"
"Ha ha, fair enough!"
Then the screaming started. The singing kept up, despite the zombies invading the church - wait a second. This sound was coming from much closer than that. Seamus broke into a jog, fearing for Dee. There was more than one voice, and if more people were in that crowd, Dee could have more to worry about than Zed, which was probably all she had been expecting. As Seamus approached, he hooked the zombies around the neck from behind with his crowbar, then yanked them down and stomped on their heads. He was wearing heavy work boots and wasn't worried about bone fragments breaking through - he just wanted to keep upright and finish them off as fast as possible. He didn't know how many crowbar strikes it took to fully destroy a brain, but he knew how many curb stomps it took.
After a few minutes of picking away at the crowd, Seamus heard another sound amid the screams. He noticed that the singing from the church had stopped, but a new voice had taken its place. This song was mournful and low, like a funeral dirge. It was a woman's voice, singing in a haunting legato melody.
I have heard the fright'ning stories of the writhing dead morass
As cities fall and nations crumble, so this too shall pass
But if we are not wary, we shall be dead to the last
For Zed still marches on
On the last line, Seamus recognized that this siren's song was merely The Battle Hymn of the Republic, transposed into a minor key. The smoke was beginning to darken the sky as the fire raged on. How many fucking zombies were there?
We have heard the death-knell tolling, seen the standard of the grave
They surround us like an ocean, but our walls hold back the wave
Of the dread infected masses that no mortal hand can save
And still, Zed marches on
Seamus shoved his way through the crowd until he got to the clearing around Dee, who appeared to be in some manner of trance. He was transfixed by the surreal vision before him: she, inscrutable behind her goggles, was singing as she danced with Zed, the flames roaring behind her, smoke above, corpses below. Her movements were as lithe as they were deadly, felling each zombie with a single smooth blow. She seemed almost to anticipate her attackers - no, not almost. Seamus watched as Dee plunged her crowbar behind her, directly into the forehead of an undead man in mid-lunge. There was no way she could have seen him. And through the whole thing, she kept singing, her voice strong and mournful.
In the quiet of the evening, Zed appeared in every town
With a darkness in his heart that comes from six feet underground
So long as he shall plague us, let us live to strike him down
But Zed still marches on
The crowd was beginning to thin out. It was hard for Seamus to concentrate: here was the boisterous Amazon he had once seen fall up stairs, transformed into the supernaturally graceful killing machine before him. Had he not seen it with his eyes, he could not have believed. This, he thought, is the Angel of Death who killed an entire football team. He almost felt sorry for those poor fools in the frat house; they could not possibly have known. And that voice! It was otherworldly. It took several seconds for Seamus to register the fact that zombies were pushing past him to attack her. He had stood motionless for far too long. Looking around, he realized that Zed wasn't even paying him any attention: the sole focus of the crowd seemed to be the entrancing figure at its center. Seamus kept watching. Dee kept killing.
We are fading like a flick'ring candle in the lonely dark
The future, once so bright, is now foreboding, bleak, and stark
Our salvation lies in battle, may our weapons strike their mark
Until the war is won
Dee stopped singing as the last zombie fell. Seamus was light-headed. This was fucking unreal. He watched as Dee dropped her crowbar, then staggered. He rushed to catch her.
"Dee! Are you OK?"
"I'm fine," she said, dreamily, "Just tired."
"You - you just - fuck! You killed a ton of fucking zombies!"
"Meh. Once you've seen one zombie apocalypse, you've seen 'em all."
"What the fuck are you - Jesus, are you even hurt?"
"I'm fine. I just need to rest now."
"Yeah. Yeah, let's get you to the truck." Seamus pulled one of Dee's arms around his shoulders and helped her walk back to the vehicle. Looking at her, he saw that her gloves and the sleeves of her jacket were splattered with black zombie gunk. Her shoes were almost covered in it, too; other than that, she was clean. Not a scratch on her.
Back at the truck, away from the smoldering mess, Seamus removed Dee's jacket, gloves, and shoes, taking care not to get any black stuff on him. Then he removed her glasses and bandana, and laid her across the seat of the cab. She was already asleep.
"Cameron, did you fucking see that?"
"See what?"
"Dee just - I don't know how, but she - look, could you see us?"
"No, the smoke was too thick. Zed's raping the shit out of that church, though. Morons didn't think to lock their doors."
"Well, shit. Look, is the entrance clear?"
"To the church? Hell fuck no! Why do you want to go in there?"
"Not the church, to the Dojo!"
"Oh. Hold on. Holy shit. Yeah, we're clear for entry! I'll send Kevin down to let you guys in."
"Sounds good. See you on the inside."
"Yeah, see ya."
Seamus gently pushed Dee over to one side, then got in and started the truck, and drove the few blocks to the Dojo. Motionless, mangled corpses were piled before the reinforced door.
The door opened smoothly, and Kevin came out to give Seamus a hand with Dee.

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