As soon as I opened the door, I could hear quite a bit of firing coming from the north and even a few ricochets bouncing off the hard surfaces around us. We were about six blocks from where Justin had called in his report earlier, but I hadn’t heard him say anything since our exchange when I let him know I’d be sending Phil’s team forward to help him out. I ducked behind the truck’s door and tried several times to reach him on the radio, but I didn’t get any response.
I changed the radio channel a few times calling several other team leaders to the east and west of where we were now but no one had heard anything from Justin and they had their radios on their individual frequencies. Most of the teams were involved in minor firefights that pretty much kept them pinned down from the downtown area to the north. My internal radar began to pick up that something wasn’t right again. I tried to contact Justin a few more times on the radio, but got nothing.
I waved to Jesse and Nick to move north and we left the relative safety of the vehicle. Luckily, the wind blowing through the narrow streets had made the snow much shallower in this part of town. We slogged through the snow as quickly as we could for the first couple of blocks, but slowed down as we came to where businesses began to occupy former houses and we could see the high-rises that Justin mentioned in the distance.
Less than a block to the north, a large brick building stretched from one side of the road to the other. A glass walkway used to connect the two halves of the structure, but it was nothing more than a shattered mass of jagged edges now. There were fresh blood smears on the snow leading in various directions from the pile of glass and concrete in the street where the walkway used to cross. I tried to peer down into the alleys on either side of the road where some of the blood trails led, but the late afternoon gloom was too dark.
“Hey!” someone whispered loudly from beside a blue two-story Victorian house that was situated next to the larger building. My small group whirled towards the voice with our weapons out, ready to defend ourselves.
“Fuck, stop it! I’m from Virden, get over here under cover,” the person hissed. We lowered our guns and trotted quickly to the side yard where the person was laying. He wore the red armband that identified him as being from Virden. More importantly, he wore a belt tightly cinched over his thigh to cut off the blood flow from his missing foot.
“What the hell happened?” I asked him with concern.
“They fucking blew the walkway when we walked under it,” he said as he jerked his thumb back in the direction of the building we’d noticed walking in. “All that glass came down right on top of us and fucked up a bunch of people. A big piece came down and chopped my foot off.”
“Jesus, where’s everyone else?” Jesse asked.
“Fuck if I know man. They started shooting at us as soon as they blew the walkway, picking off the survivors. A bunch of us moved to wherever we could go to be out of the line of sight from those buildings back there. Most of the guys that were hiding here with me took off about twenty or thirty minutes ago. I can’t really walk, so the bastards left me.”
“Where’s Justin?” I demanded. We should have known about this. The location was a brilliant area for a booby trap, but the voice in my head shouted at me that the entire city was probably rigged to catch invaders off guard. We needed to pull back and figure out what to do.
“I think he bit it man. The last time I saw him, he was leading us through that tunnel and then the world exploded. He’s probably buried under a ton of glass,” the injured man said.
I motioned Nick over. “See what you can do for him,” I said. Nick had taken first aid in high school and was a volunteer firefighter before all this went down, so he had a pretty good idea of what to do in an amputation situation. Other than wrapping up the stump and hoping the guy died, I didn’t know what we could do for him though.
To Jesse I said, “We’re gonna move up, see what we can see.” He nodded and gave me the thumbs up. I could tell that the son of a bitch had a huge smile on his face underneath his mask.
We crept along slowly in a half-crouch until we came to the space between the buildings. On the left was a stairwell that recessed into the building so we sprinted as best we could across the street to the opening. There were several bodies lying amid the debris of the walkway and I keyed my handset microphone. The answering static told me that Justin’s walkie talkie was somewhere under all this shit.
I leaned out a little from the stairwell and keyed it again. The sound was coming from only a few feet away. I lay down and crawled along the ground towards where I’d heard the static response. Glass mingled with the windblown snow to form a dangerously camouflaged surface and for the first time since the weather had turned cold I was truly thankful about the heavy clothing I had to wear instead of simply tolerant of it.
I pushed the talk button on my radio again and immediately to my right I heard Justin’s handheld. Then I saw the antenna sticking up from the snow. We couldn’t afford to let the defenders of the city get one of our radios or else they’d be able to hear everything we were doing so I reached out and pulled on the little piece of rubber sticking out from the back of the radio. It was wedged in the snow and debris, so I tugged a little harder and was rewarded by the radio coming free. Unfortunately Justin’s arm was attached to it. He must have been holding it when his arm was severed at the elbow.
I slowly pried the semi-stiff fingers from around the radio and tossed the appendage away. The radio went into my pocket and I crept forward a little more. Then I saw Justin. His mask was off and lay in the rubble beside him. His eyes were open, staring upwards towards the sky above and his mouth was slack. I hated the dude, but that was a pretty shitty way to go.
I crawled back to the stairwell and pulled out Justin’s radio. “Here you go,” I said as I handed him the little walkie talkie. “Justin’s dead. I need you to take his radio and start contacting the other teams. Let them know that the city is probably booby trapped.”
“Are we pulling out then?” he asked.
“No. We keep pressing forward.” Fuck you Allan! I screamed in my head. “We haven’t found any useful food supplies or equipment caches. We have to bring something back with us besides bad news.”
“Alright,” was all he said before he started switching channels on the radio and making calls to the teams on their individual radio networks. I leaned heavily against the side of the stairwell. My head hurt and I was so tired, maybe if I just closed my eyes for a moment then it would make things better…
// Want to read more? Keep an eye out for my new book Unclean Wonderland, expected to be out late summer, early fall 2014!!! ///