Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chapter 17: Hold the line

It wasn't as bad as I thought. Jess somehow managed to let in a handful of zombies, then shut the door again. I know this because she zoomed through the kitchen and explained it to us as she danced around the small swarm that followed her in from the front of the house. She took some of the attention off me, and my muscles were thankful for the distraction, but it was not the fucking plan.

I was supposed to be the bait while Adam worked his way through the crowd and thinned it out. Jess was meant to attack from the rear, taking out stragglers one by one. I keep the attention, they bring the attrition. Simple. Not easy, but simple. And something at least Jess and I had enough practice at to make it a functional tactic.

Nor was I opposed to changing things on the fly as needed. That wasn't the issue. I'm adaptable and pretty chill about those kinds of things. We live in a chaotic, dangerous world. It doesn't pay to hew strongly to preset ideas and expectations.

But practicality mattered here. My body was still in recovery. I wasn't the tank of a man I'd been before the Fall. Then, I weighed in at 240, 250 pounds on a six foot frame, most of it muscle. I worked in a nursing home every night, hauling entire adult human beings up in their beds, holding them on their sides with one hand as I changed sheets or diapers. I walked god knows how many miles on a given shift. Point is, I was a Mack truck of a dude. Strong as hell and with a lot of endurance.

Now, I was below two hundred pounds and had been for years. When my knee wasn't injured, I could run like the wind but the majority of my bulk was long gone. The end of the world tests you, starves you, and reduces you to the most basic core of what you are. Practically speaking, I just wasn't as strong as I had been. Not by a long shot.

"Stop bringing new ones in until I can get a fucking break!" I shouted. "I don't know how much longer I can keep this up!"

Jess yelled muffled words of acknowledgment from across the house as she made another circuit of the place, a trail of zombies behind her. Adam had dispatched the New Breed giving me trouble, but my shield was already being tested by another, if shorter and less intelligent, zombie. Its shoulders weren't quite high enough to reach over the shield even with a corpse to stand on, which left its arms sort of waving with ineffective anger up in the air. I used this moment to risk a look into the kitchen.

My head popped over the rim of the shield just in time to see Jess zoom by, a joyful but almost manic expression on her face. As the trailing zombies followed, Adam took a moment to bring down a claw hammer onto a zombie's head, then yanked another out of the train, sending it tumbling to the floor. He bent over and brought the hammer down with a practiced overhead swing, blood from his nose whipping around in an arc from the rapid motion.

I tried estimating the number of dead people chasing my wife, but there were still others in the kitchen focused on me. The crowd made any kind of judgement on numbers a fool's errand.

Adam, to his credit, did step over and kill the tiny zombie in front of me. It was either a small woman or a child, and neither option made me want to check any harder. My arms cried out with relief as the weight dropped away. The sudden lack of strain was like a drug.

"Getting pretty tired here," I said, loud enough to be heard from anywhere in the house. "How many more are outside?"

"Dozens," Jess said as she came to rest at last, staying in the kitchen to help Adam thin the herd.

I suppressed a groan. "I don't think I can keep this up that long. I'm...not in good shape."

Jess shot me a grin. "You won't have to. That last trip brought in the last of the New Breed. Without smart zombies to lead them, the rest will be easy to deal with."

"In some way that doesn't require me to lift my arms?" I asked. "Because that's gonna be an issue really soon."

"Yep," Jess said, and then she told me how. I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it first. She always has a plan.

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