It was an hour before dark. The world as we know it, the small patch of country that makes up our home and the area around it, was a study in contrasts. Dusk was settling in, the faint winter sun struggling to light the scene before us. Brave men and women stood arrayed along the wall, all of them wearing some kind of protective gear. All of them armed. Their eyes were locked on the throng below. Many different individuals joined together as a people, every one sharing that steely determination.
Survivors. Wondering if the gamble in front of them was going to pay off.
Below, stretching from just outside the buffer all the way to the treeline, were living nightmares. The teeming dead were no longer spread across the rambling line of New Haven's perimeter. They had gathered through the warming day along a single side of wall. One section--the weakest part of East--that would certainly fall under the pressing weight of even a fraction of their number. They were silent, those with minds sharp enough to understand the danger before them gazing back at the defenders with desperate hunger barely held in check.
Zombies. Too focused on the painful need for food to consider backing off.
Before the undead could move forward, a bell sang in the deepening gloom. On cue five hundred fists tightened on weapons, and all across the line of human defenders, people broke out in smiles. Not sunshine grins, those faces. The predatory smile that hides fear. Confidence in the face of terror.
The New Breed can read body language to some degree. They must be able to. Because they knew that the time was right to attack. The humans--us--were on the edge of some terrible moment of action. The hunger took over, then. The idea of failure and being unable to feed on living flesh must have been too much. Thousands of walking corpses moved forward as one, immediately crushing those in the front ranks against the ropes and cables of the buffer.
I was standing on that wall with my bow in hand. I heard the supports creak and wires snap. I saw bodies forced through the buffer like some horrible Play-Doh toy. The buffer didn't fail in one place when it went down. The very nature of the reinforcements--power lines and industrial steel cable stretched along the whole thing--meant that the stress of the undead pushing on it would put strain across the entire thing. It took less than two minutes for the enemy to push through.
They covered the yards between quickly. Traps, explosives, and a hidden trench killed hundreds in that crossing. There were simple too many. One-time devices did their work well, but were spent and gone. The trench filled with bodies immediately. Then they were coming right at us. I could smell the heavy scent of wood smoke behind me as I readied myself to fire. I felt the tingle of absolute terror run down my back.
Then I heard the hiss of tanks being opened and the overwhelming odor of ammonia washed forward and over the wall. Just like that, the front ranks stopped and tried to reverse course only to be caught in the crush of the countless bodies behind them. It was confusion and chaos on a grand scale. So much so that only the zombies in the very back noticed the trucks rolling in, each carrying a shipping container on their back. there was no time to practice the maneuver beforehand, but our drivers did their jobs well, creating more than a dozen islands of metal, tall and safe, around the outside of the zombie swarm.
Though I couldn't hear it I knew those trucks were spewing ammonia of their own as they moved in to create a vast circle to repulse the zombies, pushing inward into a huge mass. It wasn't a foolproof plan by any means; the undead will move through a cloud of the stuff to escape it if necessary. But it was enough in that confused panic. It bought enough time to allow two of our firetrucks to extend their ladders well over the wall and above the fray. Atop each stood a pair of defenders, one manning the integrated hose at the end of the ladder and the other using a line run up separately.
Turns out that making alcohol gel is a lot easier than you'd think. Becky just scaled up the process. And you know we've got ethanol to spare. Many thousands of gallons of it. Those fire trucks won't be good for much after what the stuff did to their pumps, but it's a small price to pay. From my vantage point, I'd say a good quarter of the undead were soaked with flammable gel in the first twenty seconds. Fire arrows followed.
The world lit up in beautiful blue flames. Ethanol burns much cooler than many other fuels, but that's okay. It still does hellacious damage to undead tissues given the lack of bodily defenses from heat. Might have helped that specially trained groups of defenders began launching bags of thermite over the wall. Bags that were designed to split and scatter their contents. The gel wasn't hot enough to ignite it. Which is why people like me and our partners ignited the heavy dusting of magnesium on the tips of our arrows and cut loose.
The zombies didn't like that at all. Much worse for them was the dull realization that they were being slaughtered. That was when they tried to run away from New Haven, but the outer ranks resisted them. The non-flaming zombies didn't want to be pushed into the ammonia cloud around them any more than they wanted their fiery brethren to burn their flesh by shoving into them.
The truck drivers had all popped out of the hastily-made hatches in the cabs of their vehicles and hopped onto their trailers. There they pulled kingpins that held one side of each trailer on, allowing it to fall open and reveal the survivors waiting within. That job was given only to volunteers, being the most dangerous. Exposure in the face of thousands of undead...
Didn't stop them from doing it right, though. Twenty people with their equipment were crammed into each container, giving us more than two hundred and fifty soldiers on the field. Outnumbered more than ten to one, it sounds like a suicide mission. If you don't reckon on heavy crossbows with dynamite strapped to them, people hurling tanks of propane with a contraption my brother designed that looks like a wee, adorable catapult, and soldiers with heavy guns firing into the crowd with practiced ease. Oh, and we also had some folks shooting what were basically giant bolos at the undead from a few of the homemade air cannons borrowed from the wall. Big weighted ends with a length of strong cable between them moving at a few hundred feet per second does not a good day make if you're attacking our home.
And just as the remaining zombies began to rally into a force, escaping their burning brothers and braving the cloud of noxious gas before them, the tanks came out to play. Two dozen modified vehicles burst around the corners of the wall, clear from the other side of New Haven, and began mowing down the ranks of the dead just as the isolated groups began to retreat inside the shipping containers as the horde advanced. Two groups weren't able to pull the chains that raised the container's side quickly enough; only six of those forty people survived the swarm, and those only because they ducked into weapon crates and locked themselves in.
There were still more than a thousand zombies left outside when Dodger, not far away from me on the wall, called for the ramps to be brought up and laid over the side. Thin things, all metal, and easily detached should zombies try to mount them. We flooded down the inclines in waves, running through the charred masses of our enemies and crashing into the zombies, tearing into them with controlled fury. Shield carriers in front, melee fighters in between, breaking skulls and removing heads, and archers in the rear firing over the heads of the crouched men and women bracing their shields.
Firing at eye level and from less than fifteen feet away, we couldn't miss. I had thirty arrows in my quivers, and each one struck the head of an enemy. A few skittered of, but one advantage of facing down the undead is that most of them are looking right at you. Hitting a human face from so close is easy.
Fire, ammonia, and a determined group of killers bent on cutting you to pieces. Three things the undead fear deeply, and we used all of them. A few minutes into the ground war and the zombies began to retreat. Rather than cut our losses and let them flee, we chased. Some of our people circled around the mob, picking off stragglers to keep the group cohesive. A few of the truck drivers thought on their feet and helped us out, moving across the escape path to block the way. The tanks did likewise, and in the end less than five hundred were left of the original swarm before we gave in to exhaustion and stopped chasing them.
The storm came, and we survived it. Much was risked, and much was lost, but our people won the day. As night fell, we retreated back up the ramps, wary for undead bent on catching us unaware.
The worst had come, but we won. That was the only thing that mattered when I went to sleep.