Les felt limp. Collapsed in the chair. "After the rat attack the night before, how could I be so careless? "
Jason Mata shook his head. "Everyone says you had them working in pairs, warned them to keep their eyes open, that they were really after people, not rats. Hell, once the doctors had enough rats for their experiments, I should have pulled you from rat duty. The town cops can do that. Our job is the zombies, and we’ve learned the hard way just how dangerous they are.
"Now, the shotguns are being tested, and the cars towed. The other two groups didn’t feel the overlaps, so we still have four working shotguns and enough cars."
"We’ll need buckshot and slugs for the shotguns. And maybe something with better stopping power in case of more dinosaurs . . . except with the merge, anything with higher chamber pressure will be even more dangerous to the user than the pistols or shotguns. Damn it all."
"Yeah. So what the hell? Merge deliberately, like that cop? Good God."
"Yeah. Gotta say the man’s got balls. And kept his head. I hope he doesn’t have any . . . cells or, or thoughts or whatever from that dinosaur." Les shivered at the thought. Did not touch his scalp.
"No kidding. What the hell are we going to do long term? These zombies, we just have to keep on them, and keep them away from people until they die. But what about all the rest of the people? What do you do with a cop who’s got the mindset of a carnivorous dinosaur?"
Les twitched, convulsive shudders ran down his arms. "Guess we’ll deal with that when it comes around."
"If it does. The news reports out of China about a rebellion by ‘Dragon soldiers’ is starting to really bother me now. I hope the timing—right after this Overlap is coincidental."
"Dragon soldiers? I’m not sure I really want to know."
"Yeah, I hear that. But for us, right here and now, I need you back on the street. The hospital’s got seven patients now, including the Chief of Police. You read how his hand was damaged when his gun exploded? Yeah, he merged almost immediately and his hand got pulled back together. Now it’s oozing. So clean up, eat something, and get out there. Car patrols for human zombies. No. Foot. Pursuit."
Les nodded and dragged himself to his room. Checked the mirror, parting his hair carefully around the tender spots. Both sides had hard points erupting from the center. Dark colored, they were easily hidden under his hair. He changed clothes and headed for the restaurant. Ron waved him over. His hair was fluffed up a bit more than usual.
Ron is not a danger to the world. I am not a danger, I am not! I am . . . God Damn it! I’ve fought my way up, worked for everything I’ve got. For the respect, even from the worst of the bigots, the ‘he had unfair advantages’ reverse discrimination crowd. I will not turn into a monster now.
He got his breathing under control. "They" said the other problems would come on more slowly. So I will wait for more information on progression. Yeah, yeah, antibiotics might save a zombie, but how do you treat a demon? I don’t know, but they may. So I’ll just be Mr. Perfect Fed, and observe myself.
For now, I concentrate on zombies.
He ignore his inward cringe as he crossed to Ron’s table. Damn, a new minority to replace racial hatred. But I’d better get over it quick. Because I think I am one. Again. Still.
Chapter LA witch
Thursday 27 August 2020
Del let the truck drift to a halt at the curb and frowned at the purple building. It had probably started life as a convenience store. Now the peeling paint displayed a rainbow of colors, topped with a dusty purple and what might be magic glyphs. They teased at her mind, as if she ought to recognize them.
Madam Julie, Palm Reader in white letters, outlined in black.
Del’s arm hair was standing straight up, and there was no doubt in her mind but that this was the thin spot. She turned off the engine and stepped out. It wasn’t a good neighborhood, but it was moderately clean, and only the purple place was giving her the heebee geebees.
She walked up to the front door. It was ajar a few inches, and she hesitated.
"C’mon in, White Girl. I kin see you out there." The voice was female, deep and warm and . . . worried.
Del pushed through the door, into a poorly lit room decorated with cheap spangely material and plastic bead strings. Bean bag chairs in black vinyl. The black woman was immense, frowning at her.
"I can feel you. I could see you right through the wall, when you drove up. Who are you? What are you?"
"Delphi. During the overlap, I merged several times with several witches . . . and I think I might have had a bit of ability even before that. You?"
"I always told myself it was all pertend. That I was a lucky guesser. But . . . I won the lotto. Not a big one, an there were three other winnahs too. But it was enough to buy the one place I always wanted. The place that fascinated me. Right here."
Del nodded. "My thin spot is just over the fence, in a Federal Park. Right now, I’m worried about these zombies. Do you know anything that might help them? I remember a few words. Not really spells, but . . ."
The fat woman sighed. "Come back here. My boy. I don’t know what to do."
The boy was probably eleven or twelve. Thin, big eyed. Frightened. He smelled like rotting meat and the alcohol he was using to wipe the oozing sores on his arms, and his legs. He was sitting, frozen as Julie let this stranger into his worst nightmare.
"My boy Eldridge."
Del sat on the floor in front of him. "How are you feeling? Inside your head, not your body."
He swallowed, darted a glance at his mother. "I’m fine. I can think just fine. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But it’s getting worse."
"I would like to try something. With your permission."
He shrugged, tears welled briefly in his eyes, then disappeared. "Why not?"
"Ah ay eve." Del reached out mentally toward the boy. Tried to get the pronunciation right. "A aev." She concentrated on the worst of the oozing pustules. "Trrra ahpan. Trraapan."
The boy’s arm jerked toward her, the boy jerked it back, pressed himself away from her. Pus poured from the lesion. Small spots of white burst out of his skin all around it.
Julie hissed. "Yer pulling it all out of him. Do it agin. Say it! That’s a word of power. Say it."
Julie grabbed the roll of paper towels and started wiping.
It took three hours, but in the end she could summon no more pus, and Julie had learned all of Delphi’s words of power. And passed on the few she knew.
"They don’t bother me, those zombies. It’s like they’re afraid to come too close. But they don’t go too far away either. I wondered if they’d die, if they did, or maybe heal. But I was afraid to find out."
Del stretched out the kinks in her back. "Interesting. Be careful how you approach them, though. Some of them won’t be rational enough to control themselves and let you heal them."
"Yeah. I’ll be careful. And you too. Be careful who you show the magic to. Because some people are bad."
"Oh. Yes. Maybe I’ll start with just the healing and pulling words. And no further until I know the person."
"Maybe not even then. That killing word scares me." Julie rubbed her arms.
"If the rats attack, you’ll need it."
Del hugged Kathy, Kathy's parents, then headed for home.
Today it was two squads of aggressive zombie hunters, and two smaller groups of city workers on the rat trap patrol.
Les was in charge of the first squad, by virtue of his experience with the . . . things. A bit of superglue ensured that his hair stayed over the little pointy horns. They couldn’t be half an inch long, nothing to worry about.
"Nobody, ever, goes anywhere alone. Period. Get over being modest and watch each other take a dump. It could save your life. Now, let’s move quickly and constantly. I want to cover a lot of ground. We’re looking for five men, but you’ll also call in at any concentrations of rats you see."
He huffed out an unhappy breath. Ron and Jerry had three men each, and would work both sides of the road. Four drivers, with a man riding, literally, shotgun. Four new cars, so they would hopefully continue running through a single merge.
He started with Gabby Feisal’s house. Again. A fast run through of the street. A turn down the alley Manny had used for his retreat. Search the street one way from the alley, then the other direction. Next street. Rinse and repeat.
"Rats! I got lots of rats!" The voice was nearly panicky and a trio backed out of a house.
"Where’s your fourth man!" Les was already running as he yelled. He pulled his shot gun around, swept it low and blasted a pair of the nasty walking pustules.
"He was right behind me, damn it." One of the Feds dashed into the flood of rats, cursing and knocking them away, off his feet. Lower legs, upper legs.
Les grabbed him and yanked him back. "Get the rats off him." He started shooting systematically. "Team two, get outside. I need two shotgunners."
Ron panted up, and tossed a tarp through the door.
Brilliant. They leaped on it, ran through the room into what had once been a kitchen before the roof half collapsed. They spotted the red soaked lump, and grabbed it. Ran.
Too late. Jerry was bleeding in a hundred places, all the spray coagulants could only plug further loss. It couldn’t replace what was already gone. He’d been partially eaten even while he was still breathing. His breathing stopped before the ambulance arrived. The EMT’s continued the CPR, found veins and forced solutions into the body.
Les wiped blood from his lips. The rats had chewed Jerry’s face and CPR hadn’t been pretty. Ron brought out water and they washed their own rat bites.
Jerry was rushed off, still with CPR . . . still flatlined. He was declared dead within minutes of his arrival at the hospital.
Les felt the prickle of tears. Fought them. Real men don’t cry. Get tough! It sounded like one of the worst of his step fathers. He took a long slow breath. We need to find the human zombies and capture or kill them. He took a long hard look at his beliefs, about always, always, being slow to resort to violence, always respecting the rights of the accused. Maybe it was time to toss his . . . superior attitude. Not that it would have helped Jerry. There hadn’t been any human zombies present. That he knew of. What happened? How could the rats have gotten him so fast?
"Oh, no. This is my home and I’m staying right here." The young woman was a spectacular blonde, with a spectacular figure, as she rose from the chair on the porch and walked out to the steps. A short pink dress showed all of her long, long legs. "Everything needs cleaning. I had to dump everything in the refrigerator, and there were some really disgusting looking rats. Rats! In my house! That’s what happens when you leave a place empty."
Doug blinked and pulled his mind away from those luscious curves. These Californians are too damn casual and trusting. "Miss, the rats are very dangerous, they’re one of the things we’re searching for."
Her rounded forehead wrinkled a bit.
Woman my ass, she can’t be over eighteen.
"Well, I suppose you could come in and look. The place is such a mess, I’m embarrassed for people to see it." She opened the door and stepped in, opening it wide for him.
"Thanks. I’ll just take a quick . . ." his voice trailed off as the odor hit him. "What?"
The door closed behind him, and lock clicked over.
He spun, panic flooding his system with adrenalin. The blonde woman’s dress was damp, soaked through with . . . something . . . dripping down her legs from her crotch. He heard a rattle, and spun again. Men. Zombies, just like they’d said. Shambling, oozing pus, rotting as they walked toward him.
"Miss, run, now." He drew his gun, thumbed the hammer back two clicks . . .
She pounced on his arm. Fingernails dug in like claws and she bit . . .
He screamed. The gun dropped from his spasming grasp. He looked at his maimed hand. The woman was chewing his severed thumb. His scream was cut off by the other zombies as they went for his throat.
"Oh, no. This is my home and I’m staying right here." The young woman was a spectacular blonde, with a spectacular figure, as she rose from the chair on the porch and walked out to the steps. Her bright sunny yellow dress swirled around her shapely upper thighs. "Everything needs cleaning. I had to dump everything in the refrigerator, and there were some really disgusting looking rats. Rats! In my house! That’s what happens when you leave a place empty."
"Rats?" Henry pulled his mind away from those thighs. "Miss, the rats are very dangerous. I’d like to take a look, make sure they haven’t taken up residence here."
"Oh, well, I suppose so. The house is such a mess I hate to let anyone in."
"Trust me, after this earthquake, I’ve seen messes like you wouldn’t believe." He followed her through the door. "Wow, you did have a refrigerator problem didn’t you?"
Shuffling feet and wet, unhealthy sounding laughter. Henry recoiled as two men stepped into the room. Oozing sores. One had a loose cheek flapping and dripping, his teeth showing in a one sided grin. Even in the dim light he could detect the corpse pallor. He fumbled for his gun, and quick fingers from behind snatched it from him.
"This one’s cute. I’m going to play with him, first." She reached around and unbuckled his belt. He jumped away from her, drew a fist and hit the zombie on the left.
His pants fell down. He turned his stagger into a shoulder ram of the right zombie, snatched at his pants to run.
She grabbed him by the shoulder and kicked his knees. He landed on his back with her straddling him. A horrible stench turned his stomach. She had nothing on under the dress, and he could feel a wet sticky exudation . . .
"I was killed by four men. Raping me. I figure if maybe I kill ten times as many men as killed me, maybe it’ll count for something."
He opened his mouth to scream for help.
Her hand darted forward and stuffed a filthy rag into his mouth. The other zombies shuffled forward, with other rags, to restrain him.
"Or maybe I’ll just go to hell faster. I don’t really care, anymore."
He gaged on the foulness in his mouth and knew he was going to die.
The other squad had caught glimpses of possible zombies, and been led around in circles for hours.
They were now searching for two men who’d strayed during the chase.
Les straightened his shoulders. "Even though these zombies are sick, and some of them have no criminal history, and without this . . . illness . . . they would never have harmed a soul . . . Now they are so dangerous that we need to start killing them on sight. Before they start hunting and killing civilians."
Standing around, outside the hospital, heads nodded.
To their credit, slowly and sadly.
Les swallowed. "Right. We’re going to have to go out now, in the dark, and find them. Find our people."
But despite the floodlights, despite closing in on areas from several directions at once, there were neither zombies nor teammates to be found.