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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    COLUMBUS DAY: PART 1 by Patrick Turner
    September 20, 2011  Short stories   Tags: , ,   

    This is the third story of a series that began with 1ST OHIO VOLUNTEERS.

    1.

    A wet, frigid wind tore at the long column of ragged men as they continued their march along a snow covered highway flanked on both sides by large white hills. The tops of those hills however were invisible in the grey haze of the miserably wet and cold weather. Their heads were bowed against the harsh bite of the wind and barely a word was spoken among them. Large flakes of wet snow whipped into them, liquefied, and ran down the seams of their combat fatigues. Icicles clung to the rims of their Kevlar helmets.

    Their shoulders sported the screaming eagle of the 101st Airborne division and this detachment was composed of a platoon of light infantry. In total they numbered around 40 men and they trudged through the snow with the grim determination that only soldiers can muster.

    Lieutenant Paul Volker trudged at the head of the column concentrating on keeping his footing in the six inch deep snow through which they marched. One foot in front of the other, then repeat. Left, then right, then left again, mile after miserable mile.

    They came upon a gravel service road that disappeared into a valley and turned in file onto it. The trees around them were barren of their leaves, nothing but dry, dark husks standing in endless rows for as far as the eye could see. That wasn’t very far given the snow and thick mist that clung to every fold in the land like a sheet.

    They marched down into the valley and hung a sharp left. Finally their destination came in sight. A snow and ice covered palisade wall stood several hundred yards ahead of them. The Lieutenant called for a halt and the column came to a stop with less than parade ground efficiency. He told his platoon sergeant to keep the men in position while he went forward. The Sarge nodded in assent and the Officer trudged forward slowly towards the wall. He managed to make it fairly close, within 20 yards or so before the frozen sentries on top of the wall spotted his form in the blowing white of the January blizzard.

    The sound of bolts being slid home could be heard from the top of the wall and then a gruff voice rang out from the mist.

    “Halt and identify yourself!”

    The Lieutenant came to an abrupt halt and stared up at the sentries on the wall, still barely visible in the blow, despite them being so close.

    “I’m Lieutenant Volker, United States Army. I’m with the One Oh One Airborne and I need to speak with your commander.”

    “Army? Ha! Ain’t that a laugh. There ain’t no such thing as a United States Army these days boy.” came the reply from the top of the wall.

    “Yeah, I hear that a lot.” replied the Lieutenant.

    “Well, wait right there. I’ll go grab the Gunny.” said another voice from the wall and one of the heads disappeared from view. After several minutes a battered old camouflage baseball cap appeared at the top of the wall.

    “I’m Gunnery Sergeant Louis Raines, First Ohio Volunteer Infantry. What can I do for you Lieutenant?” said the hat.

    “Well Gunny, I have a full platoon with me and we’d appreciate a warm and dry place to bunk for awhile and I’d like to speak with you. I’m under orders from higher up, Presidential higher up.” The Lieutenant said.

    The Gunny thought for a moment. “Well Lieutenant, I think your men can stand the cold for another 15 minutes or so while you come inside and let me get a better look at you.”

    Suddenly, at other points on the wall every 10 feet or so, hooded heads began to appear above the parapet of the wall and they were apparently armed, the glint of their rifles and shotguns just visible in the dim daylight peeking out from the joints in the palisade wall.  The gate opened just wide enough for him to pass through and he stepped into the camp.

    “Sorry Lieutenant, these days a man just can’t be too careful. A lot of raider bands move about in these parts sometimes and I’ve had more than one “army” unit roll through here.” The Gunny said as he handed over a hot, steaming cup of coffee a few minutes later in the commo tent. The Lieutenant accepted it greatly and held the mug in his hands, allowing the warmth to thaw his fingers and he looked around the canvas tent he was in.

    “I understand completely Gunny, we had a few run ins with desperados ourselves. We marched up from Fort Campbell.” said the Lieutenant.

    “Fort Campbell?  That’s a long march to make in January with such shitty weather!” replied the Gunny

    “Fuel and vehicles are at a premium so foot marches tend to be how we get around these days.”

    The Gunny nodded, he had his own fuel shortages to deal with.  Luckily the cabins were heated by fireplace and they had no shortage of firewood, but gasoline for the supply truck was dangerously thin. “My XO, Taylor is seeing to your men. They should just now be drying out. So what brings you to the middle of nowhere Ohio?” continued the Gunny.

    “Well Gunny, Your little band of merry men here represents the only authority for at least a hundred miles.  Our listening posts picked up your CB communications throughout the last 6 months and it was decided by higher command that you guys know this area better than anyone and might be able to spare a guide.” The Lieutenant then sipped at the steaming liquid and the color began returning to his face.

    The Gunny cocked an eyebrow. “Guide to where?”

    The Lieutenant looked the Gunny square in the eyes. “Columbus.”

    “Columbus!?” the Gunny said with not a little bit of surprise. “Just what in the hell could possibly be in Columbus!?”

    “The President’s Daughters.” said the Lieutenant which dropped the Gunny’s mouth wide open.

    “You’re bullshitting me!” replied the Gunny incredulously.

    “Nope. When the shit hit the fan, the First Daughters were at Ohio State. The bird they sent in the pick them up crashed en route, and then the girls disappeared. It seems they surfaced again 3 weeks ago. They literally phoned home.”

    The Gunny whistled. “So you propose an overland march through zombie infested plains? You do realize that the only reason we survive is because here in the mountains and hills the deaders have a hard time getting around in the terrain.”

    “Yes, I’m aware of that. The President has reconvened the government in the Rockies. Apparently there was some grandiose plan in place thought up by some racist South Afrikaners to hide out in specially designated safe zones in mountainous regions of the country back during apartheid days in case the natives revolted.  It seems you have your own South Africa plan here as well.” said the Lieutenant as he indicated the camp with the mug.

    “The Appalachians aren’t the Rockies by a long shot, but they’re big enough to keep the deaders from gathering in numbers we can’t handle, unless you go looking for trouble in urban zones, like you apparently plan to do.” replied the Gunny as he looked at an Ohio map tacked onto the wall of the canvas tent. “Not to mention the fact that we’re almost a hundred miles from there.”

    “Well, the problem is we’re not even sure where they are. The last communication we received they were moving around with one of your fellow militia units. Moving from safe house to safe house, living off the urban landscape.” the Lieutenant said as he set the empty mug down on a shipping crate that served as a table. He then reached into his ruck and pulled out what appeared to be a GPS receiver.

    “The girls are wearing a pair of GPS bracelets, but they were never meant to go so long without a change in the batteries. The brains out west think that if we can get within half a click or so of them we can pick them up on this hand held receiver.” The Lieutenant held it forward for the Gunny to see.

    The Gunny frowned and looked the L-T right in the eye. “At least most of the dead across the countryside will be frozen solid. That will keep the numbers manageable. But the city is a different story. The dead can hang out indoors and keep from freezing.”

    The Lieutenant nodded and sipped his drink. “What’s wrong Gunny? You wanna live forever?”

    An hour later the Gunny stood outside in the snow with the First Ohio drawn up into formation. They were a ragged lot. Standing there, their shoulders and the tops of their heads covered in a fine layer of dusty snow, the men listened as the Gunny filled them in on the situation. Most of them couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They whispered among themselves “The First Daughters? No way.” made up the large majority of their replies.

    “Now I’m not going to bull shit with you men. This is one of those things where some, most, or even all of us may never come back. I’m asking for volunteers, but not among the men who have women and children here in camp. I’m not a widow maker. “, the Gunny said to the crowd finally and let the silence stand for a few moments. The men looked to each other.

    Momentarily about 10 hands went into the air. The Gunny smiled. “Well good. Those of you who are going along have tonight to put your things in order. We’ll take the supply truck as far as we can, and then hike from there. Taylor, dismiss the men and then come see me in the supply cabin.”

    Taylor nodded and shouted out the dismissal and the men broke ranks, not that they held ranks all that well anyway and wandered to their various cabins. Once the ground was clear he trudged his way over to the cabin that held the camp supplies.

    A Sentry stood on guard by the door and he nodded to Taylor as he stepped past him and up to the door. Taylor opened it and stepped into the warmth of the cabin. The Gunny, Lieutenant Volker and his platoon sergeant sat in a small space surrounded by cardboard boxes, pallets of rice, sugar and other precious foodstuffs taking inventory on what they would need.

    “Hey John, how much gas do we have in the truck?” the Gunny said as Taylor shook off the snow and took his parka off.

    “We have a half a tank in the truck. That should get us most of the way there I think. Unless we luck out and find some gas somewhere along the way though I doubt we will.” Taylor replied to the Gunny’s question.

    The Gunny nodded and continued to ponder the situation while he stared at the floor. Finally he lifted his head. “John, I want you to stay here and take care of things. You are in charge if I don’t come back.” Taylor clenched his jaw, but said nothing. His eyes searched the Gunny’s. “Don’t worry son, I plan on coming back.” said the Gunny. Taylor nodded.

    The next morning dawned clear and bright, though cold. Off in a secluded corner of the compound a caged rooster crowed his own form of revile and the camp slowly came to life. Smoke began to rise out of the chimneys of the squat cabins that housed the 100 or so civilians and civilian soldiers in the camp. The smell of frying meat was on the air, and the whack of the latrine doors was heard with regularity as the camp residents began their morning rituals.

    The Gunny had already been awake for an hour along with the Lieutenant. They supervised the loading of the necessary rations and checked the men’s equipment and weapons. Twenty men would go along. Ten men from the First Ohio and ten from Lt. Volker’s platoon were either chosen or volunteered for the assignment.

    The regular army guys were at first inclined to look down on their civilian counterparts and would have become a source of worry and tension for both the Gunny and Volker but Sgt. Loomis, the strapping Platoon Sergeant of Volker’s was a regular pit bull and the Gunny was impressed and agreed with the Lieutenant that the Sergeant would take responsibility for the entire platoon and the First Ohio men quickly learned to fear the Platoon Sergeant as much as Volker’s men did.

    Squat as a fireplug with cropped grey hair and scars that ran the length of his arms and face. The man was a frightening sight to behold. His face was in a perpetual sneer that accompanied beady little eyes and a voice that boomed like a loudspeaker. He was a terror, and the Gunny laughed at the thought of this man working his half of the platoon into shape. The men would need it where they were going. He worried if they were psychologically prepared for what awaited them in the urban zone of Columbus.

    Sgt. Loomis began by dividing up the two squads and placing them in a buddy system. One paratrooper would work with one First Ohio man with stern warnings that any breaches in discipline would mean a swift shot to the solar plexus from Loomis and an ass kicking to follow and no man doubted his resolve to deliver on the punishment quickly and summarily.

    Slowly as the morning wore on and things were beginning to come together for the departure the two squads of men had managed to come to a tacit understanding born more out of fear of Loomis than anything else. It served its purposes.

    By noon the truck was prepped, loaded and the men lined up and climbed into the back. It was a very tight squeeze and would be an uncomfortable trip but one that would only last a few hours or so. The men would live. They packed into the back of the truck and rolled the rear door closed and latched it tight from the inside.

    The Gunny and the Lt. climbed into the front passenger seat while Ellsworth, the camp communications wizard, took the wheel.  Ellsworth turned the key and the truck coughed to a start. The Gunny signaled outside the window to the guards at the gate and the gate was opened and Ellsworth put the truck in gear and began to creep his way out onto the service road. When the truck cleared the gate it was closed with rapidity and the guards resumed their posts on the rampart.

    They watched as the truck ground slowly down the service road and disappeared around the bend into the forest and wondered if they had just seen their leader and their friends for the last time.

    2.

    The good thing about South Eastern Ohio, from a zombie apocalypse point of view, is its complete lack of large population centers, major interstate highways, and the abundance of hilly terrain that tended to shelter the residents within in a cocoon of isolation and safety. This region had always been sparsely populated from the earliest days of the Nation, and it was here that civilization had managed to at least take a stand.

    The road they had chosen for the ride to Columbus was a mere 2 lane highway. It was deserted for miles at a time and only on occasion did an abandoned car have to be navigated around.  Ellsworth kept a steady 35 mph through the snow and the Gunny talked Shop with the Lt and caught up with news on the outside world.

    They had just passed a highway sign proclaiming boldly that Columbus was about twenty five miles away when the fuel light in the truck blinked on. Ellsworth informed the Gunny of the circumstance.

    “Okay Ellsworth, pull over up there on the shoulder. Looks like we’re walking from here.” said the Gunny and he rapped on the sheet metal behind him and opened the slot that allowed him to see into the back of the truck. The men were packed in shoulder to shoulder, standing room only. They were glad when Gunny informed them it was time to pull over and stretch their legs.

    The truck squealed to halt on the snow covered highway, the door rolled open and the men quickly jumped down from the back of the truck and took a defensive perimeter surrounding it while the Gunny and the LT thought of their options for a moment.

    “Well, it’s about twenty miles to the edge of the city from here. I figure 5, maybe 6 hours of good marching. Are your men up to it Gunny?” spoke the LT.

    The Gunny replied “Oh yeah. They may be a rag tag bunch, but they’re strong boys.”

    Volker nodded when one of the First Ohio men came up to the Gunny and saluted. Normally this wasn’t done in the First Ohio but Volker was an officer, so Loomis had “politely” reminded the men of the First Ohio of that protocol.

    “What is it, Bill?” said the Gunny to the man. He was tall fellow, with a full beard like most of the First Ohio men, who lacked razors.

    “Gunny, I used to live out here back in the 90’s. Up the road here a few miles there’s a farm that at least used to be owned by some crazy old farmer named Benny. I shit you not the locals around here call him “Crazy Benny”.  The reason they call him that is because he was one of those real survivor types. Ya know, stockpile weapons, ammo, food, fuel, all that stuff. Reeeal paranoid, believed in black helicopters and UN troops occupying America, that sort of thing. Now he had himself an underground tank of gasoline, 500 gallons or so hidden on his farm and I’m thinking we should head that way and see if we can’t get some of it?” the First Ohio man said.

    “What makes you think this Crazy Benny would be willing to share?” replied the Gunny

    The First Ohio man simply smiled and said “Because he’s my father in law.”

    That settled the question for the Gunny and LT agreed it would be best to have transportation so the men saddled up, fell into a rough staggered column and marched down the road. About 45 minutes later the column came upon a gravel road that branched off and disappeared up around a set of hills. The driveway to Crazy Benny’s farm apparently.

    A sign was posted on the access road about 20 feet from the paved road itself. WE PRACTICE SECOND AMENDMENT SOLUTIONS. TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT.

    The Gunny chuckled at the sign and with Bill up at the front with him they led the column up the access road. As they came to the top of the hill another sign awaited them: LAST CHANCE SALOON, TURN BACK.

    They continued past the sign, down the hill and turned into a thick copse of leafless trees. As they continued, the Gunny looked down at the ground and noticed a dismembered foot lying in the snow. A little farther they came across an arm. They continued on and the body parts grew more numerous and varied. Some were just scraps of burned flesh. The Gunny grew uneasy at the sight. He eyed the trees on either side of the road and narrowed his eyes.

    Suddenly one of the paratroopers spotted a motionless, white clad form lying in the snow several yards away and hollered out “AMBUSH!” and the column dropped to the ground in an instant into the snow and began looking for targets.

    But upon being discovered, the amushers didn’t fire. Instead they simply sat up and came out of cover and pointed their weapons at the group of men lying in the road. The two groups stared at each other, weapons pointed and waited to see what would happen. The pucker factor climbed to about ten.

    Out on to the road stepped a man clad in white winter camo and carrying an SKS. He stepped forward to about 20 feet from Raines and his men and stared at them.  He was wearing a full ski mask, also in white and his features were reduced to two eyes and a pair of lips that emanated a cloud with every breath in the frozen air. The Gunny stared back, waiting to see what the man had to say.

    “Who the hell are ya? Tell me before me and my boys fill ya fulla lead!” said the figure.

    “Jesus Christ Dad, don’t shoot! It’s me, Bill!”

    The white clad figure stood taller at the voice. “Billy? Zat you boy?”

    “Yessir.”

    “Well come up here and let me get a look at ye!” said the figure, presumed by everyone now to be Crazy Benny and Bill stood up out of the snow and stepped closer to the man. The hood came back and the mask came off to reveal an old man in his early 70’s. His hair was wild and disheveled and his smile revealed a mass of rotten teeth.

    “Hey dad.” Said Bill and the two embraced.

    “Glad to see ya son.” Then his eyes narrowed. “Sharon?”

    Bill’s face grew long and he merely shook his head.

    Benny’s eyes sank to the ground for a moment, then he closed them and took in a deep breath and nodded. “So what brings you all the way out here?”

    “Well dad, you’ll never believe it if I told you. We’ll get to that in a minute.” Bill looked around at the white clad figures surrounding the column in the trees. There were eight of them all together, a sizable little force. “I see you have yourself a regular army here.”

    Benny broke from his thoughts a moment and looked up. He then shouted something in Spanish to the group and the white clad figures came up on the road and began walking toward the farm.

    “Come on, we’ll get inside where it’s warm and catch up. Then you can tell me ‘bout what yer doin out here.” Said Benny and then he turned around and followed after the white clad men of his group.

    Bill fell back to the Gunny who questioned him about the Spanish. “Benny hosted foreign exchange students for Ohio State from Guatemala. I assume he’s turned them by now into a crack guerrilla force.”

    The Gunny chuckled at the thought and realized they WERE pretty good. They managed to get the drop on a platoon of veteran paratroopers after all. The column followed after Benny and made its way up to a sturdy stone house. Purpose built apparently for strength. The place was squat, thick and made of reinforced concrete. It looked like some World War II bunker. About one hundred yards away rested a barn.

    “Billy, your friends can go into the barn and dry off and warm up, there’s firewood out there and all, just don’t burn the barn down. You and these two”, he indicated to the LT and the Gunny, “can come inside.” And he pushed open the door, kicked most of the snow and mud from his boots then stepped inside. The three men followed while Sgt. Loomis led the other men to the barn.

    A few minutes later they sat at an old battered wooden table and waited patiently as one of the Guatemalans boiled tea. Benny had stripped off his parka and outer pants. He walked hunched over, complained about the “rheumatis” and smoked like a freight train on his own home grown tobacco. He even claimed to have some marijuana, once again for the “rheumatis”.

    He sat patiently smoking on a pipe, the blue smoke curling up to the ceiling with each puff while Bill introduced the Gunny and the Lieutenant and they filled him in on the situation. He nodded once and awhile between puffs and said nothing. Finally he seemed to gather his thoughts.

    “Well I got all the gas you boys’ll be needing. But honestly I can’t imagine anyone surviving inside the city proper. It’s a tomb. The only things there are deaders and hissers.” Benny said.

    The Lieutenant raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me, Hissers?”

    Benny’s eyes raised and he saw the confused looks on the men’s faces and then he cackled out loud, his rotten teeth showing in the dim light of the house. Then he coughed involuntarily a moment and resumed “Oh you boys ain’t never seen a hisser? Heh, well. They’s deader’s just like the rest of em but they ain’t like other deaders. They be meaner than a rabid hound and just as smart! Unlike them slow ones that just kinda pack together and come in a mass, hissers are fast and vicious! They make this god awful hissing noise to, like a pissed tom cat.  When they come, you’ll know it and they’ll split up and out flank you quicker than shit to! I lost a kid about a month back from one that somehow wandered all the way out here and had been stalking the woods around the property. We had found a dog torn to bits out there and knew something was around. We tracked that bastard all day and finally cornered her out on the back twenty by that old deer stand we used to use Bill. You know the one. Anyway, this was just a girl, maybe 15 year old or so though it hard tellin the way she looked. She was just hissin away and crouched down like an alley cat, ready to spring. None of us knew what to make of her till she suddenly sprang forward fast as a snake and snatched one of my boys by the throat and sank’er teeth right into the poor lad. We had to putt’em both down then. You know there ain’t no hope once a deader gets his teeth into ya.”

    Benny coughed raggedly and continued smoking on his pipe, switching to marijuana as opposed to tobacco.

    The three men looked at each other with worry on their faces. They’d seen plenty of the dead in the last year and half or so but never had they run across anything like what Crazy Benny was describing. They hoped they never did.

    “Anyhow, You boys stay the night here and rest up. Tomorrow I’ll send some of the lads with you to port the gasoline to yer truck. After that, you’ll be on yer own I suppose.” Benny said and then thanked the Guatemalan boy who laid out mugs of steaming hot tea for the men and they savored the hot drinks as they continued to discuss the times in which they had found themselves in.

    The sun set and darkness settled over the farm of Crazy Benny. The men turned in and slept well, wondering what the next day would bring.

    3.

    The next morning was considerably warmer, which worried the Gunny immensely. If the dead thawed out, who knows how large a horde they may have to face inside the city? Hopefully the temperature wouldn’t climb to far above freezing.

    As promised Crazy Benny provided 3 of his Guatemalan boys to port the gasoline to the truck just as the sun was rising above the horizon. The fueling went quickly and without trouble and the men packed back into the truck like sardines to continue their trip into Columbus, Capital City of the Dead.

    Just inside the suburbs they came across their first major roadblock. For what appeared to be a couple of miles the cars and trucks were stacked one behind the other. Ellsworth pulled the truck over and turned off the motor. The Gunny looked out the window and scanned for anything unusual.

    The snow still lay thick on the ground, though it had a rather wet sheen to it as the sun warmed the top and began to thaw. Icicles dripped from the nearby buildings, but otherwise the street appeared to be quiet.

    The Gunny rapped on the back of the cab and the rear door of the truck rolled open and the men proceeded to spill out and form up around the truck in the drilled defensive perimeter. The Gunny got out and breathed in the cold air. There it was, the perpetual smell of decay on the wind. Though not as strong in the cold winter air as in high summer, it was very evident none the less. The dead were about by thousands, but hidden among the buildings. Many would be frozen solid, but many wouldn’t. This was a very bad place to be. The Gunny shivered and hoped it was from the cold.

    The Lieutenant didn’t look to happy either. He’d been fighting on the front lines of this thing since it started and even his hardcore men would avoid a city like this. To many nooks, crannies, tight spaces where one can get ambushed, surprised and cornered by a mob of deaders.  One of the first rules since the fall was to avoid heavy urban districts at all costs. Here they were headed right into the maw of one.

    Five men were chosen to stay behind to guard the truck. The platoon swept out with fixed bayonets and systematically hunted the surrounding buildings for dead. They found a few frozen corpses here and there and these were quickly dispatched. The surrounding area being deemed secure for now the five men who guarded the truck were ordered to barricade themselves inside one of the nearby buildings and wait for the return of the other fifteen. Gunny ordered Ellsworth to stay behind as one of the five guards and then the column began creeping its way down the sidewalk between the buildings and the stalled vehicles in the street.

    After a few blocks they came upon a group of deaders. They were frozen solid and laying together in a pile that resembled a photograph from a Nazi death camp. The pile was about 4 feet high and consisted of at least 20 or 30 deaders.  They seem to have been huddling together for warmth and having froze solid had fallen over on top of each other.

    As the men crept closer to the pile, it began to shimmy and shake as the deaders on the bottom, perhaps not frozen as solid as those on top, began to try to move about underneath. What became even more eerie were the muffled moans that emanated from the pile.

    The men shivered as they crept by, and eyed it suspiciously, keeping their distance. They proceeded past and as they moved farther away, the pile once again quieted down and stopped shivering and shimmying about.

    The men worked their way down the street and reached a main corner just inside the city proper. The tall office buildings surrounded them and blocked out the weak winter sun, leaving them in a dusklike shadow. They had no clue where to begin their search so out of ideas the Lieutenant reached into his bag and pulled out the GPS receiver. He turned it on and after a couple minutes he had decided that there was nothing in the area and they had to continue on perhaps towards the Ohio State Campus.

    The platoon moved out slowly, each man fully aware in the buildings around them were probably hundreds, if not thousands of corpses hiding from the cold. Could any of them look outside the windows and see the platoon as it snaked past the brownstone apartment buildings and around stalled vehicles on the sidewalks?  Were there any of those “hissers” around that Crazy Benny had warned them about? No one knew and it left all of them with the acid taste of fear on their palettes. Even Sgt. Loomis, that old scarred veteran nervously peeked back and forth with his beady eyes, peering up into the windows and occasionally seeing a shadow move past. He shivered as the men continued down the road and followed a sign indicating the direction towards the Ohio State Campus.

    They came upon the first intersection before the campus and found the signs of a barricade battle. Countless bodies or bits of bodies lay scattered around a makeshift barricade of Humvees, passenger cars, and a metro bus. A sandbagged position, with a heavy .50 caliber “ma deuce” lay surrounded by dozens and dozens of corpses and pieces of corpses piled high around it. Whoever had manned that position had done deadly work until the barrel overheated and the weapon jammed. The Gunny could see the barrel had been warped from overheating.  He thought about the nightmarish scene that had taken place here as they fanned out around the barricade.

    It was impossible to tell who had been defenders and who had been attackers there were so many bodies. They formed a snow covered carpet of hands, feet, heads and torsos for a hundred feet around the intersection.  Various makeshift hand weapons were evident. Spears, crossbows, axes, picks, pitchforks and whatever else could be wielded were scattered about or impaled through piles of bodies.

    It looked like the scene from a medieval battle. They continued past, very carefully checking each body they came near to ensure that it wasn’t a half frozen deader waiting for some fool to step nearby. They continued on and came to a block of dormitories and the scene grew darker. Individual barricades were seen around the doors to the dorms. The kids inside had apparently tried to hold out. They had fought here as well, there were masses of scorched and charred deaders laying around the doors and lower windows of each apartment block where the kids within had resorted to throwing firebombs and Molotov cocktails down onto the masses of dead below.

    Some of the buildings were merely blackened ruins, gutted by fire and the elements. The Lieutenant periodically checked his GPS and came up empty and shrugged to the Gunny. The Gunny wasn’t happy with this idea of wandering around in a city of the dead, surrounded by thousands of corpses and no idea where he should go. He looked up and noticed the sun was beginning the get close to the horizon. It would be dark soon. He needed a place to hole up for the night.

    They stepped past the dormitory blocks and came to the first class buildings on the campus. Here the scene was almost normal. There was an odd corpse or two scattered about but most of the battle had apparently taken place near the dorms. These buildings were almost untouched and appeared to be locked.

    The Gunny saw a sign that pointed towards a cafeteria and indicated they should stay the night there, hoping perhaps there might be some vending machines or something with which to feed the men. They had rations with them, but he had little idea how long he planned to be here so he preferred to “live off the land” as much as possible.

    They used a fireman’s axe to break a back window to the café open and climbed inside. They then manhandled a large stainless steel fridge over the broken window and pushed it flush against the frame.

    After that they fanned out around the café and looked for anything edible. True to luck a couple vending machines were found in the eating area and after breaking the glass and raiding the machines of their M&M’s, Now & Later and Twinkees, the men settled down for what they hoped would be an uneventful night.

    As it turned out the night wasn’t quite uneventful. The Gunny had placed the platoon on 25% alert. So 1 out of every 4 men was placed on watch at various points around the café. The Gunny was dozing quietly in a corner when a hand gently touched him awake. He opened his eyes to see the Lieutenant. The LT put a finger to his lips to indicate silence from the Gunny and indicated he should follow him.

    The Gunny got up, rubbed his eyes and followed the LT over to the large, half boarded windows that looked out on to the street.  The moon was out but was a mere sliver in the sky at this time of the month so light was almost non-existent and at first he wondered what the Lieutenant was seeing when the LT pointed out towards a dark shadow near the corner of a building across the street.

    The Gunny looked that way and then spotted it. It was a deader alright, but it was moving far differently than any deader he’d ever seen. It moved in a crouch and every now and then it stopped and sniffed the air before moving on another ten feet or so and sniffing the air again.

    The Gunny wondered to himself if maybe it smelled the scent left behind by the men earlier in the day. That was the path they followed almost exactly to get here, and this deader was apparently hot on the trail. He continued to watch as several more of them appeared from the same street, mimicking the behavior of the first one, trotting a few yards and then stopping to sniff the air.

    This was unusual and frightening behavior for deaders and the Gunny now understood he was getting his first look at Crazy Benny’s hissers. A few of the men had noticed the attention paid by the LT and the Gunny out the window and decided to look for themselves and they whispered to each other quietly as they observed the hissers move around the intersection in front of the Café where they hid themselves.

    Finally, the hissers apparently were satisfied no meal was imminent and moved on down the street and disappeared into the darkness. The men breathed a collective sigh of relief. After that Gunny put the men on 50% alert for the remainder of the night but most didn’t sleep a wink.

    As soon as the sun was high enough to light the city streets outside the Café the gunny had the men remove the refrigerator from the window they used the night before and climbed out onto the street. The temperature had certainly climbed into the low to mid 40’s and the Gunny began to grow apprehensive. The dead would most certainly begin to thaw out now. Their numbers would be greater and chances were good they may run across a wandering pack or two.

    The Gunny and LT had decided the best place to look that day would be in the central section of the city near the local Guard armory. If there was a military outpost within the city, that would be it, so the Gunny ordered the men to move out into the center of the city towards the looming sky scrapers full of the undead.

    Things began well enough for the men, after an hour of making their way past stalled vehicles both military and civilian including a tank or two they finally managed to negotiate their way downtown. They stopped in front of a hotel to rest a moment and get their bearings. The men fanned out in a perimeter and began to watch their assigned sectors for anything unusual.

    Suddenly a feral, animal like growl was heard and like a bat out of hell a male hisser burst from the door of the hotel and sprinted right towards Sergeant Loomis. A couple of the men cried out and Loomis looked up in time to see the pale faced, open mouthed creature sprinting towards him at amazing speed.

    He reversed his rifle and quickly used the butt of the weapon and contacted it squarely onto the nose of the hisser. A soft crunch was heard as the bones in the thing’s face shattered and it staggered back a moment. Not one to lose an advantage, Loomis reversed his rifle and impaled the bayonet right into the hisser’s chest and shouting out drove forward with all his strength, driving the hisser backwards as it vainly clawed at the rifle barrel trying to remove the bayonet that was impaled fully through its chest.

    Loomis drove the corpse into a stalled vehicle and held it there as it flailed about wildly, hissing and growling like an animal. He gritted his teeth together as it took most of his strength to hold back the wild thing he stood just out of reach of. Its eyes were black with coagulated blood and black bile dripped from its lips as it continued to reach out for the meal just in front it. It reeked of rotten death and Loomis had to bite back the bile that climbed in his throat.

    One of the men raised his rifle but the LT hollered out not to fire for fear it would unleash a horde. As Loomis struggled to hold the hisser pinned to the car, another man came forward with a machete and drove it deep into the top of the hisser’s head. It instantly went quiet, it’s eyes rolled into the back of its head and then slowly slid down the car to the street.

    Loomis placed his foot on the deader’s   shoulder and pulled his bayonet free from its chest and looked down at it in shock, breathing heavily from the exertion. The thing had moved far quicker than he could imagine a deader to move, and it was strong too. It took most of his strength to hold the struggling creature at bay. His blood froze at the idea of meeting a horde of these things.

    As if on cue two more hissers came around the corner and having noticed the fresh meat standing in the intersection came forward howling. One bounded onto the hood of a car and leapt onto a First Ohio man, he screamed out obscenities as the creature latched on and proceeded to feed on the exposed flesh of his face as it drove him to the ground. His curses turned to outright screams as his blood sprayed out onto the nearby vehicles. Two other men leaped into the fray beating wildly at the hisser with the butts of their rifles, finally beating it down and crushing its skull.

    The other hisser came sprinting towards the Gunny and he had no choice, he raised his .45 and pulled the trigger and the shot echoed among the sky scrapers surrounding them. The heavy bullet took the creature in the throat and its hissing growl was instantly quieted into a wheeze as the energy of the bullet knocked it off its feet and the hisser’s momentum carried it forward.

    The Gunny followed it up with another round to the back of the head as the creature fell at his feet, putting it down for good. No sooner had the echo of the last gunshot died away then the first moans could be heard in the surrounding buildings and they began to grow in intensity.

    The men looked up at the office buildings and streets around them as the moans grew to proportions that echoed around the streets and one of the First Ohio men pissed his pants right then and there and began to mutter a prayer to the Virgin Mary.

    Deaders began to boil out of the buildings and coalesce into a horde right in front of the men and behind them, quickly cutting off any retreat. The men didn’t wait for orders, they just opened fire and deaders began to jerk and fall, their heads exploding in clouds of black mist before dropping to the ground, twitching with reflex action.

    One of the paratroopers, a hulking man more fit for an NFL linebacker than a paratrooper came forward with his M240 Squad Automatic Weapon on the hip, the belt wrapped around his wrist and poured a withering fire into the crowd in front of the men. Dozens of deaders were hit with the heavy MG slugs and the front ranks of the horde were cut down like corn beneath a combine.  Body parts just detached themselves from their former owners.

    The Gunny looked around for any kind of escape route and spotted a narrow alley that was free of dead. He shouted to the LT and the men to head down the alley and they began to file towards it, the squad Machine Gunner backing up slowly, continually holding back the crowd of undead with a sheet of bullets. The constant rat-tat-tat of his weapon beat a steady staccato of bullets into the crowd of dead just a dozen feet away.

    As the Gunny came to the head of the alley he saw dead flowing away from the alley down the street in the direction they had been only a few moments before. The men hurriedly ran across the street and ducked into another side alley. They were almost home free when a crowd of undead suddenly appeared at the other end of the alley, blocking their way. They turned and reversed direction, heading back out onto the street and realized they were cut off as the pursuing horde boiled out all around them.

    A hisser came trotting out to the front of the crowd of deaders and screamed out its guttural hiss then sprinted forward huffing like a wild animal. The men opened fire on it, bullets smacked into the creature’s torso but still it kept coming only jerking slightly as the .223 rounds punched into it.

    The creature sprang forward and landed among a group of paratroopers. They instantly fell upon the creature with their bayonets and rifle butts, flashing their weapons up and down onto the monster while it struggled below, arms flailing about wildly.

    Suddenly the whine of an  engine could be heard and the sound of multiples tires crawling over snow, ice and the dead were evident. Then an ichor spattered and dented Stryker came rolling up the street, running down packs of deaders and crushing over them without slowing down. Bodies were thrown clear into the air and the solid thump of dead flesh on the armored hull of the Stryker beat a rapid drumbeat that echoed towards the men. They’re mouths dropped in amazement.

    The .50 cal on its top spit flame and roared loudly and deaders suddenly disappeared in sprays of black mist as the BMG rounds tore their bodies to shreds. It stopped not 10 feet from the stunned soldiers and the door in the rear dropped, a short woman in fatigues and with a bandanna wrapped around her forehead ran out onto the street and waved them in, shouting to hurry the hell up already while the “ma deuce” on top of the Stryker continued to rotate about on its servo, sweeping the immediate area of the intersection clear of dead with its massive bullets.

    Without another thought the men piled into the Stryker and the door closed and the heavy APC revved forward into the crowd of dead. A couple hissers jumped onto the sides of the vehicle and began pounding and scratching at the hull in a vain attempt to get at the Spam inside the can. A porthole slid open and a 10 gauge shotgun barrel was pushed out and roared, blowing first one, then the other hisser off the hull and onto the pavement.

    The Stryker continued down the street and turned a corner, leaving the crowd of dead behind to wander aimlessly about now that their food had disappeared.

    23 Comments

    1. Wishing to helpfully mention that ‘to’ is often used where empatic ‘too’ is clearly intended. Likewise ‘greatly’ used instead of the implied ‘gratefully’. Having read through this posting I can say this is a promising basis for a full novelized work or tv/film treatment. Would have to read more before commenting on style and tone. Good luck and keep us posted.
      And remember the double tap!Leave a comment

      Comment by damien walder on September 20, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

    2. Hey there’s a typo in MY comment… Emphatic…sheesh!Leave a comment

      Comment by damien walder on September 20, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    3. Being from Columbus, I can picture the team moving through OSU campus and downtown! Good story, keep it coming!

      Comment by Joshua on September 20, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

    4. These are the kind I like!

      Comment by Aaron on September 20, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

    5. i can’t believe it ended there!

      Comment by john on September 20, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

    6. oh no!, what happens next?

      Comment by john on September 20, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    7. Same as above, these are the ones i like, good work fell!

      Comment by john on September 21, 2011 @ 1:53 am

    8. Well done looking forward to more

      Comment by dmrma on September 21, 2011 @ 6:37 am

    9. I enjoyed it as well. Did the US gov offer the Ohio group anything for their help or is the Gunny just a helping out a politician he probably didnt like in the first place?

      Besides that one question i had i thought your story was strong and interesting, keep it up.

      Comment by gunldesnapper on September 21, 2011 @ 7:17 am

    10. I struggled with the first one purely because it very US centric. (That’s not a criticism by the way). I enjoyed this more. Looking forward to the next part.

      Comment by Pete Bevan on September 21, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    11. I love this series, can’t wait to read the next one. Nicely done.

      Comment by Terry Schultz on September 21, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

    12. Talk about a cliffhanger … makes me look forward to the next episode for sure. Not sure yet what to make of the hissers yet. Normally I’m not a big fan of any zombie different from the classic Romero one, but I’m more than willing to recognize that if used properly, they can make a zombie story very interesting.

      Comment by David_VDB on September 22, 2011 @ 5:48 am

    13. Great story. I am awaiting the second part and hope it will be published soon.

      Comment by John the Piper's Son on September 22, 2011 @ 6:14 am

    14. Aside from the title, very good I enjoy The 1st Ohio stories !

      Comment by FRANK on September 22, 2011 @ 6:31 am

    15. Crazy Benny was a real person, as nutty as I described him but he was a good guy. He passed on several years ago but I thought his personality type would make a great little addition to the story. It’s memories of his farm and the surrounding area that I hunted with my dad as a kid that form the basis for many of the descriptions in all the First Ohio stories. He owned the feral hounds in the first story for instance.

      I remember once while hunting next to Benny’s cornfield with dad there was rustle in the cornfield we thought for sure it was a big buck about to bust out of the corn and instead a hand with a .38 snubnose peeked out of the corn, followed a few seconds later by Benny in “Combat mode” we called it. That was how he “hunted deer” with a .38 snubnose.

      Don’t worry David_VDB, you’ll find out in the next installment exactly why the hissers exist.

      Comment by Patrick Turner on September 22, 2011 @ 11:28 am

    16. Good story Patrick, couple of things: an M240G is a medium machine gun, an M249 is a light machine gun, and the weapon most commonly used by Marine and army infantry as a SAW. I was an LAV crewman with the Marine Corps, and the Stryker is based on the LAV platform. There is no way you’d be able to get 19 men into the back of a Stryker, it’s hard enough getting four guys back there. To my knowledge, there are no firing ports on a Stryker either, though I could be wrong.

      Other than minor technical details that guys like me tend to notice, I’m a big fan of the Ohio volunteers story. Keep it up, and I did also notice the WWZ reference to the Reddecker Plan in there.

      -P

      Comment by Phantompooper on September 23, 2011 @ 1:49 am

    17. Fantastic read, can’t wait for more. Keep ’em coming!

      Comment by Doc on September 23, 2011 @ 3:46 am

    18. Phantompooper:

      Thanks man, obviously to the military guys it’s obvious I never served and I’m not Tom Clancy, I throw these stories together in my spare time and I guess some of the details are off.

      I did consider the compliment of the Stryker though and did the math. 5 men stayed behind with the truck and 2 men were killed by the horde. That leaves 13 which I figured might be a squeeze but possible in an emergency. 🙂

      Comment by Patrick Turner on September 23, 2011 @ 4:16 am

    19. i am looking forward to seeing who the owner of the stryker is. overall, this storyline is awesome and the hissers are a nice touch.

      Comment by Tim on September 29, 2011 @ 6:46 am

    20. Cliff Hanger!!!!

      Comment by Oppressed1 on September 29, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

    21. I’ve been following these guys adventures for months! Can’t get enough of it! Nice job Mr. Turner! Keep it coming 🙂

      Comment by Jiggy on September 30, 2011 @ 11:33 am

    22. Patrick,
      Lovin’ it man, all three have been really enjoyable. I live in southeastern Ohio so I’m sure that adds to it for me but even beyond that, really well done.
      The hissers are interesting, I’m not a Romero purist but still, anything new can be risky/brave (so don’t screw it up), no pressure. Half joking there, keep them coming.

      Zedhead

      Comment by Zedhead on October 2, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

    23. THIS IS GREAT
      REALLY AMAZING
      OVERLY AMBITOUS
      LOVELY
      LUCOZADE

      Comment by RICKO THE SICKO on February 15, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

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