Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tales of the Dead Tropics - chapter 37

My mind went blank for a moment with utter terror.  The sight was overwhelmingly horrifying in its scale and in its implication.  There was no escape from a horde of this size.  I could not see the ends of the mass as it  spread along the length of the fence.  The faces of the virus' victims stared at me as they pressed against the fence.  A dark haired girl of about six, a strongly built young man, an obese man of about sixty, a pregnant teenager...God, so many lives destroyed.  And now they were intent on destroying our lives.

"Lori, come on!"  Mike's urgent voice startled me.  He waved at me impatiently as Anders broke into a run towards some men manning a machine gun.
"Captain, they came out of nowhere!" One of the  men yelled at him.  I wondered how that was even possible.  I supposed if the horde came from the beaches area, it was possible that they had moved across the canefields and thus escaped detection until too late, but it still seemed unlikely.  Most likely, someone had not done their job.

Anders calmly issued some instructions.  I watched as some men ran up with what looked like rocket launchers.  They knelt, aimed at the approaching horde and fired.  The rockets flew through the air straight into the crowd, exploding on impact.  A howitzer fired nearby while another man used a grenade launcher to send multiple grenades into the crowd.  The noise was overwhelming, causing me to cover my ears instinctively.  Nonetheless, it was clear to me that they were not making the slightest dent in the horde, in spite of the body parts flying around.

Anders turned to Boyd.  "Get these two to safety now!" Grabbing Mike's shoulder, he looked at him somberly.  "Good luck, Bridges."
Mike reached up to squeeze his arm.  "You too, Anders." With that, Mike nodded at me and we ran, Boyd following behind. 
"Jensen!" I heard Anders yelling.  "Get the civilians on those choppers!"

"Where are we going?" I gasped, trying to keep up with his long stride.
"Boyd! How do we get out of here?" He yelled over his shoulder in response.
Boyd pointed at the huge transport helicopters sitting on the oval.  I saw the propellers had already started to turn in preparation.  A group of frightened civilians were being herded across the field towards the helicopters.
"No!" I dug my heels in.  "I have to get home!"  Mike nodded and turned to Boyd.
"That's not an option.  Give us a vehicle."
Boyd shook his carrot topped head, eyes nervously darting around.  "We're surrounded.  You'll never make it."
"We'll take our chances." Mike replied impatiently.
"There must be thousands..." Boyd stared beyond the fence, mesmerized by the endless sea of faces beyhond it.
"Boyd!" Mike snapped.
The young soldier shook himself.  "Okay, okay.  This way." 

As we turned to follow him, a grinding, creaking sound behind us drew us to a stop.  Slowly, filled with dread, I turned.  All along the fence line, the pressure of bodies was proving too much.  Parts of it had already given way and dead people were pushing through the barb wire, oblivious to the tearing of their flesh. 
"Oh. My. God." I whispered in horror.  I heard a strangled sound beside me.  Boyd's face was white and frozen with fear.  A hand reached between us and whipped me around.  I stared into Mike's intense eyes.  "Don't freak out on me now, Lori."  I licked my lips and nodded, resisting the urge to look over my shoulder.  He held my eyes for a second longer before he was satisfied and then turned to Boyd.
"Boyd! Snap out of it! The car!"
Boyd blinked.  With shaky steps, he backed up a few steps before spinning around.  "Follow me."

We raced towards the side of the building where the army vehicles were parked.  Screams and gunshots rang out behind us.  Refusing to look behind me, I focused on where I was going.  I saw the brightly lit hall in the distance and sent up a quick prayer for the safety of the people in it.  Please don't let any more innocent people die.  As I watched, people streamed through its doors, children in tow, towards the choppers.  Soldiers urged them on loudly, weapons ready. 

Several tanks stood imposingly in the field.  Now they would be perfect for an escape, I thought yearningly.
"Watch out!" Boyd screamed.  I jerked instinctively to the side, just in time to see streams of dead-eyed bodies pouring toward us from between the tanks.  Beyond them, the fence lay twisted and flattened.  They stumbled over each other, pushing and shoving indifferently, as they tried to reach us.  The sight of all those dead eyes focused singlemindedly on us turned my blood to water. 

"Run!" Mike yelled, pulling out his gun.  Firing at the creatures, he glanced at me.  "Go!"  I bolted after Boyd, who was running like death itself was on his heels.  We flew along the length of the airport building which suddenly seemed to stretch on forever.  All along the fence line, bodies were spilling into the airport grounds.  Soldiers charged forward, shooting their weapons, but they didn't stand a chance against such numbers.  Glancing over as I ran for my life, I witnessed the soldiers being swallowed by a deadly wall of hungry corpses. 

Brave young men hurried forward to try to hold the line as hundreds of dead bodies continued to advance on them.  God, such courage. For every corpse they succeeded in executing, another ten were there to take its place.

We weren't going to make it, I realised.  The end of the building was at least fifty meters away while the wall of bodies was only about ten meters away.  They would cut us off before we reached the corner.  Mike must have seen it, too, as he suddenly stopped dead.  Pulling his bat out, he swung it at the window forcefully, shattering it.  Boyd, hearing the glass break, ran back to us, wide eyed and jittery.  At least he didn't waste time asking foolish questions.  Leading the way, he jumped over the glass and raced down the corridor.  As we sprinted after him, I heard the crushing of glass underfoot and all too familiar moans. 

We followed Boyd unquestioningly through the maze of corridors.  My throat burned as I struggled for breath.  How  much longer could I keep this up, I wondered with some desperation.  Crash! The sound of glass breaking jerked our heads around.  Corpses climbed through the jagged frame on our right.  I suddenly realised that I could see the outline of bodies pressing against every window we passed. 

"There!" Boyd screamed.  At the end of the corridor was a door, unassuming and yet as wondrous a sight as the holy grail.  Ignoring my burning lungs, I desperately pushed my legs to go faster as windows started to shatter all along the length of the corridor.  From the corner of my eye, I saw torn and bloodied corpses raising their arms out as we passed.  A body staggered in front of me.  A man in a business suit, a ragged hole where his nose and mouth had been, moaned and clutched at me.  Screaming, I instinctively ducked under his arm and kept running.  Another body grabbed at me and snagged my sleeve.  Wrenching it away, I hugged the far wall as the bodies came closer. 

Pulling my parang out, I frantically lopped off a hand and then another. Without a word, Mike swung his bat and battered the heads of the nearest creatures into the ground.  As Boyd fired into the face of a female corpse blocking his path, I swung the parang through the neck of another woman.  And there was the door.  Wrenching it open, Mike ushered us through into the dark of the car park.

"What the hell?!" Boyd exclaimed.  Peering around him, I saw the empty car park.  All the vehicles had been driven away.  My heart sank to my toes.  I was so exhausted that I didn't even have the energy to be scared anymore.   At least that is what I thought, until I saw the first of the dead horde pouring into the car park from around the building.  And then I remembered what terror felt like again as my knees turned to jelly.  The bloodstained mouths, dead eyes, torn bodies - the thought of being in their clutches made me want to throw up. 
"Head for the river" Mike said grimly.  "It's our only chance."

Once again we forced our weary bodies into a run.  Across the darkened car park, we ran, straight  onto the runway.  Turning, we headed down the long runway towards the mangroves.  My legs screamed in protest but the sight of the huge horde seemingly keeping pace with ease on the right propelled me forward with renewed fervour.

I didn't know what we were going to do when we got to the mangroves, though.  The river was deep and seriously infested with saltwater crocodiles.  Surely Mike wasn't suggesting we go in the water, was he?  Maybe we would hide out in the mangroves for a while. 

Alarmingly, the eight foot wire fence separating the airport from the mangroves was already down.  I prayed that the zombies responsible for doing that had already headed in to the airport instead of lurking around the mangroves for idiots like us to stray into their territory.  We scrambled over the barbed wire and moved cautiously into the trees.   I felt a moment of intense panic as intense darkness swallowed me.  My feet froze in place as I desperately waited for my eyes to adjust.  Gradually, I realised I could just make out the shapes of trees around us.  There was a shape moving cautiously just ahead of me. I prayed that it was one of the men. 

My feet sunk down into the mud up to my knees.  With difficulty, I pushed forward.  A hand touched my arm.  I swallowed a scream as I recognised Mike's figure.  He touched a finger to his lips and pointed ahead.  Barely able to see in the inky darkness, I focused on my ears instead.  Just ahead of me, I could hear Boyd labouring through the mud but up a little further, there was something else...I strained to identify the faint sound.  A low pitch, ululating blood chilled in recognition.  The sound the corpses made whenever they spotted humans.  And Boyd was heading straight for them.
I hissed "Boyd!"  He didn't seem to hear me.  Mike's hand tightened on my arm.  Glancing at him, I realised he was facing away from to our right.  A slurping, wet sound directed my eyes to a spot only about ten feet away.  It was clear something was moving through the mud towards us.

A sudden scream jerked my head around.  Boyd.  He screamed in terror again.  I heard him thrashing in the mud as he fought for his life.  The moans rose in pitch and excitement.  As Boyd fell abruptly silent, our unseen companions moved towards the disturbance.    

Sliding his hand down my arm to grab mine, Mike silently led me away.  My heart ached for the loss of another young life as I struggled to moved quietly through the mud.  No easy task.  I pulled one leg slowly up and out before gently sliding it through the mud again.  We moved in this staccato way for at least twenty minutes, pausing several times as we heard movement nearby.  We waited until the sound moved away before starting to trudge forward again.  My heart pounded frantically as the constant strain of trying to see and hear in the near complete blackness took its toll on my already frayed nerves.

With a splash, I found myself floundering in waist high water.  We had found the river.  In alarm, I tried to scramble back onto the bank.  Mike grabbed me around the waist.
"Stop it.  We have to swim across the river."
"Are you crazy?" I hissed, my eyes widening with panic.  "There are crocs in here!"  The mangroves here were home to some of the world's biggest and most dangerous crocodiles in the world.  On fishing trips, I had seen some enormous ones sunning themselves on the banks.  The thought of swimming across the river...surely he couldn't be serious. 
"If we stay here, we're done for. " He reminded me grimly.  "And so is Sarah."

Sarah.  The reminder cleared the panic from my thoughts.  I had to get the medicine to my little girl.  Thank God the bottles are waterproof. 
"Okay." My voice trembled. "God.  Okay."
"Keep your movements smooth and minimise any splashing." Mike said with calm practicality.
"Don't you ever get scared?" I asked, incredulous.
"All the frigging time." He replied drily.  "Let's go.  The noise is attracting the corpses."  I realised that he was right as I registered the moaning of many dulled voices nearing us.

Through the cool, dark waters, we breaststroked quietly away from the bank.  I thought that I could never be more frightened than I had been facing zombies on that first day.  I was wrong.  Swimming into pitch black water, knowing there were crocodiles present, required every bit of will power that I had.  At any moment, I expected to feel steel jaws clamping around my waist.  I heard splashing behind me as bodies fell into the water.
"You don't think they can swim, do you?" I whispered.
More splashes.
"But as they don't breathe, I can't see anything stopping them walking across the riverbed."

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