Pushing Up Gravestones – Chapter 24

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The helicopter buzzed across the purple skyline of dusk, looking more and more like a surreal watercolor painting as the night wore on. A flock of geese flew underneath the flying-machine in a V-formation, unconcerned by humanity blatant attempt at imitation. The animals were immune to the virus, it seemed. They were frolicking; at least, in this area they were.

Perhaps once all the humans had either died off or turned zombie, all of life would once again be at peace with the Earth?

Time would tell, and perhaps that is another story.

The group had been flying for about fifteen minutes– the pilot was a young man in his early 20s, who said his name was Joseph. He had arrived in the nick of time, really. The other survivors didn’t have a good handle on who he was, but that didn’t seem important right now. So long as he wasn’t waving a gun in their faces or spitting rotten death-foam and trying to maul them, he was fine.

Both Denise and Ferrah, having given up (for now) on attracting Rory, had a crush on their new savior. Both were trying to conceive of an appropriate ploy to gain Joseph’s interest.

The helicopter floated up over a large hill, and its belly seemed to be inches away from the rocky grasses below. Thankfully, the hill wasn’t quite a mountain, or else the pilot may have crashed the helicopter.

Joseph eased the cyclic control stick forward, gently, with more care than he’d ever used in his entire life. Just as the summit was reached, the nose of the helicopter rose up and over and then aimed down again. Joseph pushed the control stick forward with a sudden jerk of his arm, and the helicopter shot down the other side of the hill.

Denise and Ferrah grabbed each other, and Rory held Tina’s hand. Everybody (even Joseph) braced for an immediate impact and the (somewhat desired) end to all this madness. But it never came. They had survived.

Joseph eased once more on the control stick, leveling the flight-machine with about six feet to the ground, and everybody blew out a sigh of relief.

“Nice flying, sunshine!” Rory cried from one corner, before returning his gaze to the window. The scenery was beautiful. Large forests. Probably a whole hell of a lot of game to bag. Rory missed his pops. And where the hell was ma, anyway?

“Thanks, man!” Joseph called out. “So… Amora Airforce Base! What’s so special about that place?”

Denise and Ferrah broke from their private conversation (the two had been bonding surprisingly well, now that a zombie apocalypse had forced them to be allies).

“That’s gotta be where mom and dad went!” Denise assured everyone. “The military has guns and sophisticated hardware, right? Then they’re the only ones who can protect us survivors and kill all the zombies… Everybody knows that! So I’m positive mom and dad went there.”

Silence for a moment as everyone digested what was said. Then Joseph spoke, “You sure?”

“Well, no…”

Ferrah saved Denise from any further embarrassment. “It’s that or land somewhere else, and fight ’til we die. Nobody knows where anybody is. But, damnit, we gotta try and look. And finding the military is our best shot right now.”

Joseph nodded and took the helicopter over a small pond, sending ripples surging out through the once-calm waters. “You know, once upon a time,” he said, “I used to think the media and news and entertainment industry was the biggest, most powerful thing… That the news anchors would still be reporting day and night, during some sort of nuclear apocalypse or zombie invasion, or dark wizard army attack, or whatever… Heh. Our place didn’t last very long at all. I wonder how the rest have fared. What if we’re the last ones left?”

None of the others knew what to say to that. Such grim reminders didn’t sit right with them.

Denise leaned back and stretched her arms until she was satisfied. She looked out her window and saw that they were now flying over a desert. They couldn’t be far from the airforce base now.

Rory and Tina were giggling away, playing a seemingly neverending game of paddycake.

Ferrah got up and sat over beside Joseph, in the copilot seat. She knew how to get him interested. “My dad taught me to fly one of these.” She saw Joseph’s head turn to look at her, in her peripherals.

He said, “Oh yeah? Great! Then get geared in and help me… if I need it.”

‘Well, that didn’t work…’ Ferrah thought, as she quickly glossed over all the instruments. She knew where everything was. “Yeah, dad loved to fly. It was his all-time favorite hobby. He wanted to help me get my pilots license…”

“So, you know about the cyclic control stick, obviously,” Joseph said, as he tapped the large stick– jutting up, between the pilot and copilot seats– with the palm of his hand.

“Mhm,” mumbled Ferrah, losing interest fast.

  “The pedals– anti-torque pedals, I should say.” He pointed down toward his feet, where, sure enough, there were two pedals. Finally, he squeezed himself back against his seat and indicated to a single bar to his left. “The throttle.”

“Yup.” Ferrah started fiddling with her hair.

“Mmmuuuhhh!!!”

Tina’s hands dropped and her ears perked up. The neverending game of paddycake had ended. “Woah. You guys heard that too, right?”

A mumbled mixture of grunts and uh-huhs was heard throughout the helicopter’s cabin.

Tina laughed and slapped her forehead. “So… think it was a zombie?”

“Mmmmuuhh Mmmmmm!”

Louder this time, the moan seemed to be closer.

Rory stood up and took aim with his Mosin-Nagant M91 bolt-action rifle. He didn’t quite know what to aim at just yet, so he took to aiming all over the cabin, erratically cycling targets every two seconds or so.

“Put that thing away, before you kill someone,” Ferrah said sagely.

“That’s precisely the point, darling. I know what I’m doing.” Rory signaled with an up-and-down jerk of his gun. “Joseph, keep this bird steady. Denise, open that door there, beside you, then back off behind me.”

Denise nodded and did as she had been told.

All waited for something to happen; for whatever it was that was making those strange noises to show itself.

“Quiet,” Rory whispered, with a hand raised. He slowly pulled the bolt back, causing the rifle to give a *click-click*. It was now ready to be fired.

“Mmmmm….”

“I think it’s clinging onto our helicopter! It’ll try to come inside. I think…” Rory kept his gun pointed at the open doorway, seeing the night sky pass by from twenty-five feet in the air. He waited for even a fraction of a foe to appear.

Just as he was about to lower his weapon, a zombie reared its ugly mug from around the doorframe. “MMMUUUHH!!”

The thing was hanging upside down, barely missing having its legs chopped off by the spinning blades up top. Who knew how long it’d been hanging there, clutching on for dear life, waiting for the machine to land so it could hunt more humans.

Without wasting another precious second, Rory squeezed the trigger. A 7.62mm bullet shot out and hit the zombie square between the eyes. The creature’s head exploded, like a potato in the microwave, sending out a wave of black blood and flinging dead brain cells. It lost its grip as it died, falling twenty-five feet and hitting the ground with a sickening *crunch*.

“WOOOOH!” Tina cheered, as Denise hurried over to close the door.

“Great shooting, Tex.” Joseph grinned as he flicked some switches on the console. “Alright, looks like this is it.”

The helicopter hovered in place, and everybody gathered behind the windshield to get a view of the Amora Airforce Base.

“Why are all the lights off?” Ferrah asked.

“I dunno, but I don’t like it…” Denise said, thinking that the lights being out meant no one was home. Unless– perhaps the zombies were attracted to bright lights, and the military knew that? She didn’t know. “I just want to find my parents.”

Joseph pushed a couple buttons and threw another switch. “Me too, Nisey-poo– but we gotta land here, anyway. This bird of ours is running out of fuel.”

Tina sighed. “So we gotta get gas, too! Awwww…”

“Looks like this is turning into an adventure and a half,” Rory noted.

Denise blew her brown hair out of her eyes, and then, flustered with it, tied it back into a ponytail. “Okay. Let’s do this. Land it, and we’ll see if anyone’s home. If we can’t find my parents, or anyone else, I guess we’ll find some gas and skidaddle.”

“You’re the boss,” Joseph said, glad that the job hadn’t been tossed into his lap. It seemed that all four of the others, even the little girl, shared the leadership role. That was fine. Let him fly the helicopter, and maybe crack a few jokes every now and then.

Tina and Rory sat back in their original spots, and continued where they had left off in their game of paddycake.

Denise settled in her own place, but had the misfortune of accidentally sticking her hand into a puddle of black zombie blood. She wiped it in disgust, hoping no one had seen the gaffe.

Joseph, with the help of Ferrah, landed the helicopter onto the designated helipad (H) of the Amora Airforce Base. The winds had been picking up, so the job was harder than it needed to be, all things considered. With the gentle care required to nurture a small lifeform, Joseph smoothly performed the feat. Only as the landing-skids touched the asphalt did the party know it had been a fairly safe flight.

The doors of the helicopter opened, and the feet stepped out. It felt good to be back on solid ground.

“It’s so… weird out here!” Tina exclaimed.

And it was, Denise agreed. The darkness cloaked the base in mystery. An aura of uncertainty was pulsating from the base, and each of the survivors couldn’t deny that they felt it, too.

Were all the soldiers hiding in some underground bunker? Or had everyone already fled, perhaps by plane or by helicopter? Where were mom and dad?

“Stick together!” Rory ordered with his gun drawn, but not steadied or aimed.

The group of five wandered through the dark and eery base, not certain if they were alone, or if all in the vicinity had taken to hiding amidst the many shadowed quarters. They passed by a large warehouse-like structure, continuing past and stopping outside of an important-looking building, with steps going up to the front door.

“Okay, let’s vote,” Denise said. “Those who want to go in that warehouse over there, raise your hand.” She pointed out the very warehouse they had passed.

Joseph and Rory raised their hands.

“Okay, now those who want to go in this… officer’s quarters, or whatever it is, raise your hand.”

Her and Ferrah raised their hands, leaving a 2-2 tie and Tina as the only one who didn’t vote.

“Tina, honey,” Denise started, “you didn’t vote, sweetpea. How come?”

“Because. I want to go to that cool secret-looking place.”

“I don’t want to play games,” Joseph said shortly.

Rory understood kids. “Eh, come on, man. Ease off.” He bent down until he was eye-level with Tina, then asked, “Where’s the ‘cool secret-looking place’?”

Tina turned, pointing a finger down the pitch-dark road. “It’s down there. I saw it when we first came in.”

“You’re sure?” asked Rory. He knew kids like to confirm their knowledge. Built character, it did.

“Yup. I saw it.”

“I believe her,” he said, and that was it.

“So where do we go first?” Ferrah asked.

“Here,” Tina said, looking up to the roof of the important-looking building.

So, in they went.

The door was unlocked, and the lights were off. Thankfully, the lights weren’t out, though. Denise flicked the switch, and light shone down.

Using his knowledge of the news corporations, Joseph wisely revealed that the important stuff would be on the highest floor and in the biggest personal office.

The group went up to the seventh floor; winded, once they’d gotten to the top.

“Probably somewhere back there,” Joseph guessed, indicating further along footpath. Sure enough, past the computers and cubbies, there was a massive office, with a green lampshaded-light turned on.

“A light?” Denise whispered to everyone, shocked. “Who’s in there! Hello?” She turned the doorknob, and went into the office. Behind the expensive desk, there was a man in uniform, dying and spitting up blood. The group rushed to his side, attempting to do the impossible for him.

“Hello!” Denise said, touching the man’s brown skin and holding his hand.

His eyes fluttered open, just a little. “W… well I.. *ahchugh* well I’ll be! Survivors…”

“Yeah, we’re trying!” Ferrah said.

“What happened?” Denise asked. She wanted to find her parents, damnit.

The uniformed man struggled to speak the words, “O– over… run… Zombie– b– bastards!” He showed a wound he had sustained to his abdomen. Blood oozed from a hole that should never be that large. “AAAAAAAAAH—” He started to twitch, and it seemed that every muscle in his body was possessed by a demon and scorched by hellfire.

“HE’S CHANGING!” Joseph yelled, clasping Rory by the shoulder.

Rory knew what had to be done. He pulled back the bolt of his Mosin, and shot the soldier in the head.

Brains– that still looked human– ran down the filing cabinets and the back wall.

“Way to go,” Joseph said with a smile.

The group went down the seven flights of stairs, and then headed outside. Denise had remembered to turn off all the lights.

Much to Tina’s chagrin, next on the list was the warehouse. So the group went there next.

Rory busted the lock off the door with the butt-end of his rifle.

Joseph slid the door slightly ajar and peered inside. “Looks fine,” he said, bringing his head back out.

Everyone went inside for a poke around. And the warehouse seemed fruitless, at first. That is, until Rory stumbled upon a cargo container full of sleeping zombies, stacked up on top of one another like some weird Jenga game from hell. “Uh, you guys?” he called out to the others.

“Mmmmmhuh?” mumbled one of the zombies, waking from his relaxing slumber, nodoubt hungry. The other zombies began to rise with the first, one by one, as one stirred the ranks below it.

“YOU GUYS! RUN!” Rory screamed now. He knew he had done it. He didn’t have enough ammo to take on all the zombies, not with the reloading he’d have to do– and besides, the Mosin wasn’t ideal for close-quarters combat. He raced to the warehouse entrance.

Denise heard Rory’s warnings and alerted the others. “Rory said something’s bad!”

The other four waited for Rory, who came out shortly after, sweaty. “Come on!” he said. “Zombies!”

“That cool secret place!” Tina screamed excitedly.

Denise wanted to think, but there wasn’t any time for thinking. It was decided ones the groans were heard.

“MmmmmuhuhuhuhMMMMM!!”

It sounded like at least fifty.

The survivors took off running, down the road, toward the abandoned bunker that Tina had seen. Most kept their eyes ahead, but Ferrah looked behind periodically and saw an ever-increasing number of zombies joining the fray. There were the slow ones and the fast ones, but both looked menacing enough.

“There it is!” Rory called out, pointing at the rusted door with a latch on it, about fifty feet ahead. He burnt the last of his energy in a full-on sprint to the finish. He unlatched the door, screeched it open, and waved the others inside.

Joseph was the last one to make it inside the abandoned bunker, which looked like it was about to crumble to dust and their remains.

Rory pat him on the back when he was safe inside, and then swung the door shut with a mighty tug. He locked the door in a scramble, slamming the latch into place.

“There,” Denise said.

Nobody really knew what she meant, including Denise.

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