First Chronicle, Part 2

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Insanity Sublime, Zombie Apocalypse, Zombie outbreak
Tags: , , ,

Behold Ground Zero

Taffy’s video played for weeks and he received many posthumous awards for his courageous sacrifice to bring the truth of the Indian epidemic to the Western media.  The general consensus was that he was killed in the nuclear blasts.  I didn’t offer any information to the contrary.

Even with all the emotions and drama entwined, the Zombie Plague had fallen to page two updates in the Western papers and reports in less than a few short months.
Modern American homo-sapiens,  being digitally-stimulated emotion-based organisms, are intrinsically drawn to the Headline, with a seemingly instinctual need to have a frequent tragedy in which to pour their sympathies. Yet just as powerful is the paradoxical penchant for phasmophobia; we want our morbid moment but not the ghosts of our messy memories haunting us. Most anyone will chose amnesia over psychological torment. Westerners live to forget, and with the help of some juicy tabloid headlines, a minor-league adultery scandal in the Senate house, and a mega-hyped Super Bowl showdown they did just that.

Christmas came at an excellent time for the American psyche. The atmospheric fallout of ten airborne nuclear detonations didn’t deter good ol’ St. Nick one bit. The few RADS in the snow that blanketed the east coast with holiday cheer was shrugged off, and every good little Johnny Q got his favorite video game that would steal hundreds of hours of his life away. The Zombie Plague outbreak and nuclear deterrent was followed by the most lucrative Christmas shopping that retailers had seen since 2008 as we purchased our pain away.
New Years was another chance for us all to purge. All across the globe in 1,890 cities the ball-dropping of Times Square was duplicated and we all shared the New Year together as one Global Community. As party horns blew and confetti flew, 2013 was born, a fresh and pristine new year, unsullied by the blood and ashes of last year’s horrors. Between “bottoms up” and Auld Lang Syne no mention at all was made of the terrible cost that was paid only weeks before so we all might party on … not a word, not a whisper, not a single one for nineteen million souls.

I felt a fierce loathing for my culture growing inside me, and deep shame for my generation. I could not forget; simply turn my back and pretend that Hell had not been on Earth for two days. Maybe because I was one of the first Westerners to really know what was going on, or maybe because I felt that in some way I was there with Taffy when he died … I don’t really know. I just couldn’t let it lie. Like I said; something inside me had broken.

So on December 12th, against the emotional protests of my wife, I requested assignment to cover the Indian disaster firsthand and on-site, promising Peggy I would return for Christmas.

My editor, Carl, was not thrilled about the idea.
“It’s a dead story, Joe.”
“Yeah, Carl, but they come back to life there.”
I put my foot down. Carl caved. I packed my bags.

My goal was to play the role of an independent “watchdog” of sorts. I wanted to know if any infected subjects had been quarantined for research or if the virus had been captured in some way or otherwise contained and was being studied. No mention was being made, and there were no answers to the “What/When/Where” and I found that both suspicious and disquieting.

The flight to India was long. Getting approved to enter the country was longer. India Immigration was playing hardball over my network visa. I called my boss—God bless his cantankerous ass!—he loves hardball. Gary stepped up to the mound and pitched a fucking shutout. When pressed to use it, my Network carries some serious weight.  Eighteen hours after landing, I finally could get to work. Ground Zero was first on the agenda.

It’s hard to explain the feeling I had while I stood on the observation tower with high-powered binoculars and surveyed the devastation that had previously been the state of Punjab. The current landscape was simply plain blackened earth as far as you could see. It was a wasteland, a crime scene, a graveyard. I felt a strange sensation of being privileged to be there. I couldn’t help but imagine the buildings, the trees, the people—everything!—as they perhaps had been—ghosts haunting the mind.

My escort, an Army Captain, explained the basic principle behind the deployment of the warheads. Seven of the detonations were directly above the ever-expanding concentric ring that was the advancing wave of zombies. The remaining three warheads were deployed in the center of the ring to achieve “maximum mortality”.

Maximum mortality … Jesus Christ…

Suddenly I had no legs. They had simply collapsed beneath me. I sat there on the platform of the observation tower, my back against the rough wood of the railing, and broke into tears, shamelessly and without regrets, except one; that I did not have nineteen million tears … plus one for Taffy, for it was his graveyard too.

I looked up to the Captain and found that his eyes also were tearful. It was his first time to the site as well. Such was the power of that land of ash and sorrow that it drove through all walls and facades, right down to ones most human emotional core.
The Captain, whose given name was Omar, sat down next to me and we remained there for half an hour in silence, each with his own thoughts, feelings, and gratitude. When finally we stood we embrace as brothers. I do not exaggerate in this. The raw emotion of the place cannot be quantified.

Though my itinerary was tight, and I had a thousand miles to cover and a thousand questions I wanted answered, I had no desire to hurry from the tower that first day. So Omar and I remained there until dusk, sharing things about our lives; our families, and the simple moments that bring the heart true contentedness. In those six hours on the tower I came to understand the impact this catastrophe had had on those Indians that had survived it.

As we left Ground Zero I accepted an invitation to join Omar and his family for dinner. He had a fine family; a beautiful wife, two healthy sons. They were all cheerful and welcoming. The meal was splendid, but I missed Peggy and Jimmy immensely.

The following days were spent circling westward and studying the perimeter of the blast zone. I went about this quickly, as my real interest was in making my way to the Pakistani border.

The perimeter of the infected zone was close to the borders of Kashmir, Pakistan, and China. The detonations were aerial which sent fallout high into the atmosphere and therefore spread it across the planet in limited concentration. Had the nukes been ground bursts, prevailing winds would ensure that the next eighty years would see many Chinese mothers with malformed babies. Thankfully that was not the case.
But it was not the drifting of wayward radioactive particles that concerned me; it was the proximity of the containment perimeter to three borders, and the very plausible scenario that one or more of these sovereign countries had encountered infected “strays” and zombie-napped themselves a specimen or two, or maybe even had a mini-outbreak on their soil.

I asked Omar to translate for me so I could ask any locals we encountered some basic questions.
He was “…expressly not permitted to do this; all foreigners are to have no contact whatsoever with the citizenry.”
“What if an infected got across … just one? What then..?”
“Don’t do this ‘what if?’ to me, my friend.”
“I need to talk to them, Omar.”
“You have no reason to, Joe.”
“Yes I do, Omar. I have nineteen million reasons, and so do you.”
That cracked his resolve. Twenty minutes later it broke entirely, and once decided on the matter, Omar joined in the hunt for the truth with real fervor.

All three bordering countries had emphatically denied any incidents of infected on their soil. But the locals Omar and I interviewed told a different story.
We were definitely getting somewhere, and I felt a story taking shape—a story that needed to be told.

We camped just off the mountain road rather than waste the many hours driving all the way from Kashmir to the nearest barracks. We slept in Omar’s army jeep, but it was damn cold at night in those foothills.

I awoke early one morning and looked at my watch; 0612, 12/25/12. Something “clicked” in my head, like there was something that we were supposed to do that day. I dug out my notebook but found no special notes on the day’s schedule.

With my notebook in one hand and TP in the other, I wandered out into the morning chill to relieve myself a discreet distance from the jeep. The frost-covered weeds crunched under my feet. It sounded like walking on snow. It made me think of home; snow in Maryland, Christmas with Peg and Jimmy, our fireplace, and…

Oh no…

I looked at my watch again; 0621, 12/25/12.

Oh my God…

It was Christmas Day! The day I had promised to be back by. In my zeal I had completely lost track of anything else.

How am ever going explain this?

To make matters worse, cell phones were useless and we couldn’t use the army radio in the truck unless it was an absolute emergency because we were pretending to have radio trouble so we could disregard any order to return if it was given.

Holy shit…

Then it got better; I realized this wasn’t just a matter of, “Oops, sorry I missed the holidays, Honey. I’ll make it up to you.” I hadn’t called her since I’d arrived here. It’s Christmas and my wife and son are most likely at home alone waiting for a call from anyone confirming that I am not dead.

Nope, no fucking way … you’re never, ever going to be able to make this up to her, asshole!

My high and exhilaration for the hunt just drained out of me. I squatted down in a little gully and did my business while unloading a full broadside of self-loathing and guilt at myself.

I finished doing my duty and stood to discover three silhouettes of men on horseback some two hundred yards away staring down the length of the gully at me.

My mind raced back to last evening when Omar and I were going over the map. Had we crossed the border yet or..? Yes we had, I remembered. We were maybe four miles into Pakistani Kashmir … Taliban country.

Do they know I just took a shit in their back yard?

I turned to get an eye on the jeep. I couldn’t see out of the gully. That meant even if Omar was up, and that little Punjab liked his sleep, he would not see that I might need help. My heart was racing.

Even if he did, there are three of these guys.

The trio cantered their horses toward me. Now my heart pounded in hard loud thuds.  I could hear it in my ears, and feel it at my neck. I was terrified.

I dropped the notebook as slyly as I could—I didn’t want them getting that!—and climbed out of the gully, making a point not to hurry.
Omar and his army jeep were nowhere to be seen.

Oh my God, how far did I walk? Where’s the jeep?

I scanned the ground for tracks but found none.

Wait … did I even climb down from this side.

I looked across the gully hoping to see a landmark that I would miraculously recognize. Nothing…

Oh hell…

The image of the time on my watch flashed into my head of its own accord; 0621. Then, just as involuntarily, I checked the current time; 0708.

Holy shit..!

Had I really wandered absentmindedly for maybe half an hour while imagining my fate at the hands of my family when I returned home?
Yes, that’s exactly what I had been doing, and breaking every goddamn survival guideline for this dangerous territory in the process. I couldn’t believe it. I, a twenty-fucking-year-veteran of this shit had just made a dumbass rookie-flatfoot mistake, and may very well end up in the afterlife attributing my death to a spaced-out half-hour walk to find a spot to shit.

With nowhere to go, I did the only thing I could; I stood and waited for the three horsemen, and tried to look like I owned the place. Sometimes all it took was a little confidence and some verbal magic. I prepared to deliver both as necessary.

I could see now from dress and adornment that they were Mujahidin, and they were armed. Two of them spurred their mounts into a gallop. The third leveled his rifle and fired.

The round “HISS-SNAPPED” right past my head nicking my left ear.
Confidence and magic vanished, and even though I had just crapped and peed, I did them both again.
Looking back it’s funny because, even though I nearly got my head blown off a half-second before, I was really bothered that I had shit my pants. I even made a poopy-pants face when I turned and started running and the mess did its thing in my trousers.

More shots rang out. Dust billowed up at intervals in front of me as the rounds impacted the ground. All three had to be shooting now. I looked over my shoulder.

The three Mujhidin were running me down and firing their rifles at full gallop. I would’ve been impressed had I not been fleeing for my life, and in vain no doubt.
Yes, in vain…

Fuck that! I won’t be shot in the fucking back.

I stopped and faced them, suddenly defiant, and feeling truly fearless. I was going to die. I knew that. But I was going to look them in the face when they killed me.

Again, in reflection, it’s really funny…

The reason I found this uncommon courage in a moment of mortal terror was because I had shit myself. I wasn’t going to be running and screaming and shot down like a coward and have my murderers discover I had also shit myself.

Nope … no fucking way.

So I stood there with my chest puffed out, a scowl on my face, and I’ll be goddamned if my new-found poopy-pants power didn’t give me the will to raise both my arms up and flip those three assholes the finger.
The bullets came closer and closer as they approached. One winged my hip.

Won’t be long now…

I held my double birds up high and yelled at the top of my lunges.

“FUUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUU!!!”

I was ready.

The Mujahidin on the right mysteriously fell from his horse and flopped motionless onto the ground.
I was puzzled.
Then I heard a new rifle report from farther away.

Omar! It had to be Omar!

Yeah, fucking Omar!

I couldn’t believe it. I might actually be saved!
The two remaining would-be killers reined-in looking around confused. Then one of them slid lifeless from the saddle.
Again, the report followed a second behind.
These dead-on shots at moving targets were coming from very far away; a quarter mile at the nearest.
This couldn’t be Omar. I loved my new Indian brother, but I did not think him a world-class marksman, and I knew he didn’t have the weapon for it. Then who was it?

The last Mujahidin dismounted, quickly took the reins of his fallen comrade’s horse, and then ran away on foot between the two horses using them as shields. It was a brilliant tactic. He gathered up the third horse in his flight back the way he had come.

It was only then that I realized that my twin birds were still aloft. I lowered my arms. I felt this incredible weight of gravity pull me to the ground. Adrenaline rushed out of me and I crashed hard.

A third report echoed through the hills.
I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw.

The final Mujuhidin had fallen between his horses. The sniper had shot between the moving horse’s legs and hit that son of a bitch right below the knee. I could see, even from a distance how the limb folded when he tried to stand on it. The high-powered sniper rifle had nearly blown the bottom of the leg clean off.
The Mujahidin still struggled to get to his feet and control the animals. He failed at both, and finally lost his grip on the reins. The mounts trotted off leaving the bastard exposed.
He raised his hands and waved them in a frantic warding gesture, then pulled something from inside his tunic and held it out in offering to his unknown, unseen assassin.

The coward was trying to buy his life back.
Goddamn, that felt fucking good right then!

The yellow-bellied murdering fuck’s head became a spray of red mist. A second or so later came the echoing report.

I struggled but manage to stand on wobbly legs. I look to the west; the direction the Mujahidin had been making his offering.

Over the crest of a ridge, about the quarter-mile away I had guessed, a man appeared. He just stood there, his long rifle slung across his shoulders.

I didn’t know what to do.

This man just saved your life, shit-crack, do something!

From instinct or habit, I lifted my right arm to wave to him. I caught myself.

Wave? Are you kidding?

Instead, I put my heels together, my chest out, my chin up, and I snapped my unknown savior the sharpest salute I could manage, and held it.

I waited, holding the salute, for how long I don’t know. The sniper didn’t move a single muscle.

“Joe! Joe!” Omar shouted from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder to see him running to my position with his rifle in his hands.
I smiled. Good old Omar, he’s…

Oh no, he’s running at me with a rifle!

I looked back at the ridge fully expecting to see the sniper mistakenly taking aim on my friend.

He was gone; nothing but blue sky and the sloping ridge, golden now in the early morning sun.

 

Next: The Devil’s Petri Dish…

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Comments
  1. rocco613 says:

    Ha! I thought maybe the three on horseback were shooting at a surviving zombie. Nice scene.

  2. ltdalin says:

    Very nice chapter. I would have liked more info on just what they discovered, but all in all I enjoyed it! Poor wife, though. Probably wondering if he’s dead or alive.

    Found myself wondering if the man shooting was the man who also froze to death (or appeared to be).

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