Saturday, December 24, 2011

Head Case

We'd barely been on the road an hour this morning when we came across a horrible sight. It was a small building, surrounded by the corpses of fallen zombies (and a few live ones). The small town we were passing through when we arrived on the scene wasn't on our map of known settlements, so we decided to investigate.

It was awful. People had obviously tried to defend the place, their bodies pulled through windows and half-eaten. The few remaining undead were wary, as most of their brethren were either dead from head injuries or writhing on the ground as they tried to extinguish their burning flesh. That fire was tenacious--homemade napalm is my guess.

We mopped up the last few zombies, firing arrows from the bed of the truck as we slowly circled the place. When we were convinced there weren't any hidden enemies outside the building, we grouped up and made entry. We called loudly in case there were survivors inside too afraid to come out. There were no responses.

It only took about ten minutes to search the inside. One survivor out of a dozen people. He was so traumatized he wouldn't do anything but sit with his knees against his chest, arms wrapped around him. We tried everything to reach him, but the poor guy was destroyed.

I pulled Will to the side and asked him quietly to make sure the slain bodies of the man's friends didn't come back. He gave me the nod I always associate with Will--a short, concise bob of the head. Not sharp or angry, but not lazy either. The response of a man who knows his duty and deals with having to perform it by doing it well.

Will grabbed the nearest body and picked it up with a careful reverence. He got about two feet away before the traumatized survivor snarled as he jumped to his feet, screaming that he wouldn't let us hurt them. He lunged toward Will, who even in his surprise didn't drop the body, and yanked Will's gun right out of his holster.

I didn't see the others pull their weapons, and I heard Steve, Becky, and Rachel's shots as one single noise, they were so close together. We've practiced as a team a lot. Putting ourselves at angles to reduce the chance of accidentally shooting one another in situations like this comes naturally to us now. Recognizing and reacting to danger with necessary force is ingrained into us. Dealing with the psychological consequences of those actions, though...that's something you can't teach. People are still people. The good ones feel pain and guilt when they kill.

Will's gun didn't get high enough to shoot above his knee before three large-caliber rounds smashed into the man's body. Steve and Becky put two rounds in his chest, Rachel's went right through his right eye socket and out his left. It was gruesome.

The man dropped. Last survivor of his crew, dead at our hand. It's a hard lesson to learn that on the road you have to be a harder person than you are at home. Zombies can come from anywhere. Threats can be found in the most unlikely places. And people are all strangers when you get down to brass tacks. The ultimate choice for us is to react slowly and assess the situation with caution...or to shoot on first instinct and ask questions later. It's a sad way to live, but there's little choice. I wouldn't have put Will's life at risk on the chance the crazy guy was just going to point a weapon at my friend and that we might be able to talk him down.

It's a goddamn shame. Especially because upon further examination of the remains, it became clear that the fellow wasn't part of a group of people brought together by chance. Everyone here looks a lot alike. Family. They share the same straight nose, the same dark hair. They were all olive-skinned, though that's paling now as they all lie here sharing the same quiet fate.

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