Dead Cell

Hunting the dead is a pain in the ass when you’ve skipped leg day. 

We got the call at 0400 hours. Another outbreak, this time in Pennsylvania. This time it was runners. The entire company groaned.

Everyone hated runners.

The company dispersed for operational preparations. For my part, I slammed open the locker room door with a frustrated slap. It was bad enough my leave had been canceled due to this shit. I stripped down to my undies and put on my fatigues, followed by flak jacket and additional kevlar guards over my knees and calves. The dead were hungry, and I had to make sure every part of my body was covered. I completed the look with leather gloves. I grabbed my helmet and headed out to the staging area.

Five minutes later, I was loaded into a bird with the rest of my team, donning our helmets and NVGs. The Osprey lifted into the early morning, as the light of dawn slowly diluting the black night sky. A half hour later, we reached our destination. Out the window, I could see the familiar sight of smoke plumes in the distance. 

The operational debrief said the small mining town had broken into the wrong chamber. Apparently the original infected were exposed to a rare gas found deep within the earths. All that was left were decayed husks, but apparently, they still had some bite in them, and that’s all it took to spark an outbreak.

We fit portable rebreathers beneath our night vision goggles as the Osprey landed in the middle of Main Street. Since there were no nearby airfields, command decided the best place to land was one of the only four-way intersections in town. The whomp-whomp-whomp sound of the Osprey’s twin blades sent the dead into a frenzy, as a marathon of decay surged down the small streets towards our position. 

The Ospey’s tail gunner took aim with his .50 caliber machine gun, bringing most of the dead down before they ever reached it. The few stragglers left were quickly dispatched as our team departed, single-file, with our M4s raised for precision kills. With the initial onslaught dealt with, we sit about with our primary objective: clearing the town.

I’ve give the runners this - no other dead class gets your adrenaline pumping like these things. We turn a corner, only to hear the shrieks from lungs too rotten to carry air. The dead run to us. Our training takes over. I yelled “CONTACT” as I squeezed the trigger. The dead man’s head immediately jerks back with the impact of my round. He’s wearing sports jerseys and jeans. Looks like someone’s dad. I put those thoughts out of my head. You can’t think of them as the people they used to be.

You have to see them as the enemy.

As soon as that dead falls, what used to be a brunette in jogging pants sprints out of an alleyway and bites onto my head. She’s too close for my M4 or sidearm, so I jab my combat knife into her forehead. I’m surprised how cleanly it goes through. Once the knife penetrates the pale, rotted flesh, she drops. I quickly check for my bites, but to my relief, her teeth didn’t make it through my flak jacket.

“You good, Clean?” my NCO asks.

I nod. “No bites, Bill.”

“Good, cuz one bit means one bullet for you too.”

That’s what Command drills into you since Day One. It’s not entirely true, but I don’t feel much like arguing at that point.

We get back to our original objective. We move through the small town. What used to be a Norman Rockwell painting now resembles a George Romero flick. Most of the inhabitants are sheltering in place. Occasionally we hear of the screams of those not so lucky. We try to reach them without going off-objective.

Some we are able to extract.

Many we are not.

We catch one man about to shoot his wife with a shotgun. The only probably is, she’s still alive.

“She’s bitten,” he tells us. “I have to put her down.”

As he tells us this, my buddy has him pinned to a wall with his forearm at his juggler. He nods at me to administer.

I lean forward and tell the wife - a plump blonde in her late thirties - it will be okay. It’s the first lie I’ve told today, but it’s not entirely untrue. It’s just not up to me.

I remove a syringe from my vest and inject it into her arm. After that, we wait.

We have a treatment for dead bites. It’s not an outright cure though, so the public is skeptical, to say nothing of all the social media misinformation. It sparks an immune system response to the infection. Thirty percent of the time it’s sixty percent effective. 

I keep checking her vitals. The woman is lucky. She’ll survive, though I’m not sure about her marriage given how disappointed his husband looks when we tell him the good news.

Not long after, the boredom sets in. Most of the dead have been eradicated, so we have to clear every house and every knock and cranny in this small town before the okay is given. There’s sporadic gunfire, but mostly it’s just opening doors and checking cellars.

Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually the okay is given. Local law enforcement filter onto the street. We still have to wait around an hour before the National Guard arrives with a stay-behind team to make sure all the infected have truly been dealt with.

Add in another forty-five minutes before our ride arrives. We filter back into the Osprey. All in a day’s work.

Until the next outbreak.

Want to add to this story? Contribute and keep it going!