An hour ago, I didn’t think I’d ever see another normal human being. Normal of course was relative, but I definitely didn’t mean the undead zombies who’d taken over practically everything in the city.
There were a dozen of us barricaded in the news station and thanks to a well-stocked cafeteria, we held out for a week or so. When we ran out of food, the weatherman and I were sent with the chopper to find some more.
This wasn’t quite what I had signed up for, but it certainly looked like all those years of playing the Master of the Skies video games were finally paying off. I really just took the gig working as a traffic pilot for WKRQ to get more flying experience for what I really want to do. Now I doubted that I’d be moving to Hawaii, to give island tours in the morning and surf in the afternoon, any time soon.
So Chuck the meteorologist and I wearily landed in the parking lot of a local grocery store. Once we were confident that the coast was clear, we ran across the tarmac, stepped through the broken door, and began rummaging through piles of knocked-over boxes and jars on the floor. We managed to load five cart-fuls of provisions into the chopper before they started coming.
First it was just a handful of the vile creatures slowly trudging toward us in their various states of decomposition. But as we rushed to fill the sixth cart, more and more of them appeared on the horizon.
“We need to go, Joseph!” Chuck urged me, tossing cans of creamed corn on top of the stuff we’d already collected.
“Nah, we got time,” I’d never been one to panic and even the approaching zombies couldn’t shake this habit.
So I continued to load my arms with boxes of crackers until I couldn’t see over the stack.
“Don’t hakuna matata me, man,” he snapped, knocking the boxes out of my hand, “It’s. Time. To. Go.”
I looked in the direction he was gesturing and at that point, he didn’t have to tell me twice, because while I wasn’t paying attention, the pack of undead had multiplied to at least a hundred. Worse yet, they were only about fifty yards out from the helo, while we were three times as far.
“Come on!” I yelled to Chuck and with each of us grabbing a side, we began frantically pushing the half-full cart toward the bird. But in our haste, we didn’t see a small indentation in the tarmac and when the front wheel disappeared into the pothole, the cart tumbled forward, taking us with it.
I think I did a somersault mid-air, landing flat-out on my back. I quickly tried to move my appendages and was satisfied that nothing seemed to be broken. However, I could hear Chuck groaning nearby and I immediately knew that he wasn’t so lucky.
“You okay, dude?” I bent over him, all the while keeping the approaching pack in my sights.
“It’s my ankle,” he indicated and I could see that his right foot was twisted in an unnatural way.
We didn’t have time to analyze the situation, so I helped him up and tried to prop him against my shoulder. Chuck was obviously very fond of donuts and pizza because his heavy body was impossible for me to properly leverage with my thin, but tall frame.
So instead, I righted the now empty shopping cart and stuck it in front of him. “Can you lean against this and make it to the chopper?”
I could see the fear in his eyes at being left behind, but he nodded.
“Good. I’ll start up the engine and we can leave as soon as you get to it, okay?” I was already running toward the bird before I had even finished the sentence.
The zombies, although slow, were steadily advancing, and they were now only about thirty feet away. I quickly jumped into the pilot’s seat and began pressing buttons and turning knobs, getting the machine ready for ignition. By the time I started the engine, Chuck was only twenty feet out, but the zombies were less than ten.
I impatiently waited for the engine to whirr up to its necessary RPM as the seconds ticked by, all the while urging Chuck to hurry. I knew it was futile. When the helicopter was finally prepped for takeoff, I had no choice, but to pull the yoke towards me.
I could see Chuck scream at me to stop and wait for him, but by then, the zombies were reaching upward, trying to grab the landing skids.
In an evasive maneuver, I hovered about ten feet over the tarmac and turned the helo to the right. Glancing out of the cockpit, I saw as the tail rotor sliced a couple of the undead into pieces. If I could have cleared a big enough path this way, I might have been able to stall them long enough for Chuck to get to me. But there were just too many of them, tightening the circle on the tarmac. Pulling the stunt again, I’d risk either stalling the rotor with zombie bits and pieces, or they could potentially pull the entire thing down if enough of them grabbed the craft.
Pitifully mouthing “sorry” to Chuck, I took a deep breath and pulled the bird into the sky. I didn’t have the guts to look down at him after that because I knew what would come next.
It made me feel better that there were ten other people still relying on me to get them this food, so I turned south toward the news station. A short time later, I didn’t have to see the giant WKRQ sign to know that something was terribly wrong.
A large, black cloud hung in the air in front of me, billowing up from where the station should have been. Getting even closer, I saw that brilliantly colored orange wisps of fire occasionally peeked out through the second story windows. Down below, the barricades that had been set up were haphazardly strewn to the side and the delivery dock door had been pulled off his hinges.
The zombies had gotten into the station! A bead of sweat rolled down my forehead, dripping into my eye. Wiping it off with the back of my hand, I tried to collect my thoughts.
I couldn’t land at the station and the entire city was overrun by the undead. Checking my gauges only added to my problems: the fuel indicator was hovering barely just above “E”. Unfortunately for me, this referred to Empty and not to Excellent. I needed to decide where to go very quickly and it had to be close by.
I flew over the area low enough to be able to see any activity underneath me. This was the commercial part of town, with various warehouses and businesses lining the streets. Since the outbreak, most people had either turned or, if they were lucky, ran for cover to the countryside. I didn’t expect to see anyone else alive around here, much less out in the open, but that’s exactly what happened when I spotted two girls waving to me from the top of one of the buildings.
I could tell right away from their vigorous arm movements that they weren’t infected and I put the bird down in the middle of the flat roof. The wind from the propellers blew their hair into their faces and they waited for the engine to completely shut down before approaching.
As I opened the cockpit door, I couldn’t believe what all had happened to me in the span of just one hour nor where I had unexpectedly ended up. But it could have been much worse than finding myself in the company of two, pretty young ladies so I wasn’t complaining.
“Please tell me that you can get us out of here on that thing,” the redhead demanded point-blank.
“Hey there, yourself sweetheart,” I smiled in return. “The name’s Joseph and it’s nice to meet you, too.”
“Sorry about Ferrah, Joseph. She’s apparently forgotten her manners. I’m Denise and you have no idea how happy we are to see you,” the brunette introduced herself before giving me a big hug.
I was just about to ask them what they were doing on the rooftop when a boy their age and another girl who couldn’t have been more than ten, walked out from behind a ventilation unit.
Continuing the introductions, I found out that the four of them had been on the run for a while, and they got locked on the roof earlier in the previous day after being chased up by a violent, undead mob. They couldn’t agree on how to get off the roof, and I had arrived just in time. I didn’t want to reveal too soon that I barely have any gas left, so I decided to offer them some food to keep their hopes up a little while longer.
We made a campfire from some old scaffolding wood they found and opened up a couple of tins of soup. Everyone was too busy eating to talk, but as soon as the last bits had been scooped out from the cans, the boy spoke up.
“So our plan was to get to Amora Airforce Base. Figured it’s the nearest place that would still be secure, what with all the soldiers and weapons.”
“And don’t forget that my parents may have headed there, Rory,” Denise added from her seat next to him.
“Unless of course you have a better plan,” Ferrah also couldn’t resist chiming in from her place on his other side.
There they sat, the three teens staring at me from across the fire waiting for an answer to their zombie problems. How was I supposed to let them know that even though I was a few years older, I was even more clueless about what to do next than they were?
Luckily, little Tina took my hand in hers and leaned her head against my shoulder. It was just the reassurance I needed to finally tell them the truth.
“Okay, guys. Here’s the deal. I don’t have a lot of fuel left in the chopper, so no matter where we go, it’s going to be a short, one-way trip,” They all looked at me with blank expressions, so I continued, “What I’m saying is that it’s probably a good idea if we take a little time to consider all of our options and then only go when we’re all in agreement. Deal?”
“I don’t know—“ Rory began, but he was cut off by Ferrah.
“Deal,” she said firmly.
Denise and Tina quickly echoed her affirmation.
“All right, all right. I guess we can wait a couple of days,” Rory gave in.
They did end up waiting for several days, eating cold canned food and spending their nights in the helicopter for shelter, meanwhile listening to the moaning and cries of the growing hordes of zombies at the base of the building. They debated endlessly about whether they should go or not. Right now they were still alive, but as soon as they left, their lives were in danger again. I eventually realized that I had made a mistake by trying to make the decision democratically. I should’ve just provided the leadership these kids were looking for right from the start.
So as they slept in the shelter of the helicopter on one particularly cold night, I began my routine pre-flight check and whirred up the engines. By the time my companions realized what was going on, we had left the roof and were on our way toward the air force base.