Part 3/3 – the end
By: J. C. Eickelberg
3rd part of an exciting 3-part story inspired by and in remembrance of the great George Romero.
The survivors ran toward their cars. Emily and Barb sprinted forward, leading the pack as they went. Brando stayed at the back motivating the slower runners. Harry ran to the building, grabbed a forgotten shovel and ran back toward Brando. The shovel went up as he ran, then arched down. Brando went around Harry, pushing one of Emily’s friends along. A meaty thwack and a grunt got Brando to turn. Harry swung again at the prone figure. Another smashed melon sound echoed off the building.
“Stay down,” Harry spat. A hand twitched. “Stop already.” He swung again and the shovel broke. The figure stopped moving
“You killed him,” Brando said.
“Nope,” Harry said. “Was already dead.” He was breathing hard. He pointed the broken handle at the gaping chest wound the corpse had.
“We need to go. Now!” Brando said.
Harry drove the broken handle into the ground through the corpse’s chest wound as if it were a vampire.
“No, we’re not,” Emily said. “The gate’s locked.”
A look of horror washed over Harry’s face. “That can’t be. The lock’s broke. It wasn’t locked when we got here.”
“Nope. It’s locked now,” Barb verified. She pulled and rattled the locked gate.
“Any other gates we can use?” Brando asked.
“This is always the last one locked,” Harry answered. “Whoever fixed the lock didn’t tell me. It’s been broke since last winter.”
“Do you have any keys for the gate?” Brando asked. Harry shook his head. “What about the building? We need to get inside.”
Harry answered with movement to the building. His hand went to a pocket to get a key. Emily and Brando watched for any dead walkers moving their way. The rest waited for the door to open. Rusty hinges motivated them into motion. Harry was swept through the opening. Brando pulled the door shut and locked it.
Barb found the breakroom. She fell on a worn couch and shook. Her friends paced, worrying about what happened. Lights came on, giving more illumination than the emergency lights. Harry sank into an overstuffed chair, rattled by what happened to his friends. Brando and Emily fell to their combat training to secure the building. They moved efficiently through each room. A nearby maintenance bay had a door with a window. This last door to be checked was found locked. They looked out to see an empty parking lot. Light from the flashlight moved with them. All locks had been verified locked. Turning back to join their friends, they didn’t expect the door to rattle. A shadow appeared outside. A light above the door showed a vacant set of eyes. Emily and Brando watched the figure briefly. It didn’t see them. They faded into the shadows and made their way back to the others.
“They’re knocking on the door,” Brando said.
“Shit. We’re stuck here,” Harry said. “We’re in serious trouble now.”
“Do you have a phone here?” Barb asked. “Maybe we can call the police?”
“Already tried. They’re swamped with calls,” Harry said, rejected. “Let’s stay here and keep calling. This building is locked and secure as a mausoleum.”
“Hopefully not our mausoleum,” Barb said. She was more depressed than Harry.
“Cheer up. They need to get in to do anything to us.” Harry offered Barb a smile. She smiled back. “I know this building. I work here, remember?”
“And you’d know about getting out of here. Right?” Brando gave him a piercing look.
“Don’t give me that look. I’m not brain dead,” Harry quipped.
“Then prove it. You’re not shambling like them,” Emily said, pointing down the hall. “Yet.” Her look wasn’t far from vicious.
They settled in the breakroom and listened to the radio.
“This is the top of the hour news. Reports have come in about groups moving around the city dressed as zombies. Accidents are clogging streets from people walking into traffic. Police have their hands full dealing them. We ask people to stay on sidewalks and look both ways before crossing the street…”
Static garbled words as the station changed.
“Reporters on the scene have reported groups roaming through parks. They have seen people dressed for a zombie party…”
Another station was tuned in.
“People have reported an unruly party at The Fire Alarm. Party goers have relocated to St. George’s Necropolis Cemetery…” The sound faded as another station was searched for.
“Keep it on that station,” Harry said.
“Why?” Emily asked.
“That’s where we are. The Fire Alarm is across the street.”
Emily turned back to the station.
“Reports are coming in about people being attacked in the cemetery. Police have been alerted to graves being vandalized and mausoleums being broken into…”
“Broken into, my ass. People have been breaking out. There’s more dead walking than living out there.” Harry paced with his hands on the side of his head.
“This just in. The National Guard has been called in to help control unruly crowds.” Emily and Brando looked at each other. “Use of force has been authorized. Police Chief Reynolds has declared all groups to disband and go home. A curfew is now in effect. Anyone found outside will be arrested and fined.
“Once again, a curfew has been implemented and the National Guard has been brought in to help disperse crowds. Police and guardsmen are authorized to respond with force if they are attacked.”
Emily turned the radio down. She stood surveying the room.
“Well that says we stay here,” Brando said.
“We can’t go anywhere, anyhow,” Harry said. “The gates are locked and we can’t get to our cars to go anyplace else.”
“Good. If we’re not going anywhere, I need to use the bathroom,” one of Emily’s friend said.
“I saw it before. I’ll show you,” Emily said. They walked out. “I want to check the windows and doors again.”
“Do you think we’ll get out of here, Emily?”
“Yes, we will, Brenda,” she answered, showing more confidence than she felt. “This building is strong enough to stand against storms. What’re a few zombies leaning on doors?”
“Then why check on them?” Brenda asked.
“I’m too wound up to sit still. I need to do something.” Emily waited as Brenda used the bathroom.
“Would you mind some company checking the doors?” Brenda asked.
“Not at all. Why?” Emily led her away from the breakroom.
“Harry is driving me crazy. He’s too high strung to be around.”
“Brenda, you’ve said the same thing about Barb,” Emily said. “You still hang out with her.”
“At least she knows and does something positive about it. Like running with you,” Brenda said, smiling. “Harry’s really wound up about what’s going on out there.”
“This is where he works,” Emily said, giving Brenda a hard look. “This whole place is trashed.” Brenda relented.
Emily went to the side door they used to get inside. It was still locked. Brenda peeked out through the window in the door before following Emily to the maintenance bays. Emily looked out windows in the garage doors. She stopped and stared out. Shambling forms moved around the parking lot. Nothing moved toward the building. She sighed in relief.
Brenda screamed and threw a wrench across the service bay. Emily locked a savage glare at her friend.
“God, I hate rats,” Brenda said. She saw Emily and covered her mouth. “I’m sorry.” Wide eyes shimmered, ready to spill tears.
“What’s going on?” Harry came running in. Brando close behind.
“It would’ve been nice knowing you have rats in the building,” Emily declared, looking at Harry. Her remark included Harry. She moved purposefully away from the door. Seeing the scuff in the floor, she tracked the course of the wrench. Next to a garbage can sat a bloody wrench and a twitching rat. A quick hit and the rat was dispatched. “All that pitching softballs paid off. Good shot, Brenda.” She went to ease her friend’s stress from making noise when silence would have been better.
Harry came over with a shovel and took care of moved the rat into the can.
“We just heard on the radio buzzards and vultures are affected, too. Who’s to say rats aren’t?” Harry pointed out.
“I smacked it good,” Emily said. The can rattled. Harry picked up a brick off a pallet of loose masonry remnants. He lifted the lid and looked in. He launched the brick, looked in again and smiled.
“So, did I. Now it’s not moving,” Harry said, satisfied.
“That won’t work for what’s out there,” Brando said. He stood by the door. “There’s about fifty zombies out here. And they’re coming this way.”
Both doors for the service bays rattled with impacts from the horde outside. The door shook again as another wave of bodies moved through the glow of the yard light. By the sound of the door, it wasn’t going to stay intact.
“We’re so screwed,” Harry said.
The small door creaked, but held firm against the crowd. The two big doors on either side flexed as more bodies pushed against them. Brando moved along the wall of tools looking for options. Emily saw this and joined him. Shovels, lengths of pipe and a couple of wrenches were confiscated.
“What’s this used for?” Brenda asked.
“That’s a mattock. Used to dig trenches with the hoe side and cut roots with the axe side,” Brando said. He took it, implement end up and tapped it on the floor. The metal end slide to the floor with a clang. “Now it’s a bat. Go to town, Slugger.” She swung a practice swing and smiled. “Good. Keep it going down range.”
“Don’t stand behind her. Her back swing is killer,” Emily stated.
“Noted,” Brando said. “Harry, are there any trucks in the bays on the other side of the building that work?”
“An old pickup. Runs rough, but will move.”
“It better. We’re getting out of here,” Brando said.
“We won’t make it through all of them,” Brenda said.
“We only need to out distance them,” Emily said. A long pipe wrench in one hand. She wielded it effortlessly. “All we need to do is keep them off the truck as we pick up speed.”
“Harry, get the keys. Emily, let’s get everyone to the truck,” Brando said.
They went to the breakroom and gathered everyone together. The group came out as Harry left the supervisor’s office with a set of keys. He led the group to the other end of the building. The lights flickered on as Harry flipped the switches. In the nearest bay was a pick up with a dump box insert loaded with dirt.
“This won’t work,” Brando declared.
“The pickup is on the other side,” Harry said. He walked behind the dump truck and looked out a window. He tossed his shovel in the bed of the truck.
“Damn, man. I’d rather take the dump truck. This rust bucket is ready to fall apart,” Brando spat. Emily and the other ladies looked at the dented, rusty relic that was old when they were playing with dolls.
“That dump truck has two flat tires and is slow as a snail. We might as well walk out of here,” Harry said from the front seat. Keys jingled and a whiny buzzer sounded. “Get in.”
“I’m not climbing up there with a skirt on,” Barb said.
“Get in front,” Brando said opening the other front door. “I’ll get the garage door open.”
“Don’t open it yet. I want to make sure it starts,” Harry said as Barb pulled the door closed.
“I’m expecting to get out of here alive,” Barb declared. Her large eyed expression locked on Harry.
“If you don’t, you won’t have far to go to find a place to rest,” Harry said as the truck turned over. It gave a few anemic pops and shuttered to life. “Now be quiet and hang on.”
Brando hit a button and hopped onto the truck. No one shambled around anywhere in sight. The truck moved out into the night, slowly gaining speed.
“Can’t this go faster?”
“There’s a reason this heap rarely leaves the cemetery. We’re still going faster than they are,” Harry responded. A group came from the side of the narrow road.
Brenda swung and connected. The crack of a skull sounded over the noise of the truck. Emily caved in another skull. Gore clung in the jaws of the wrench.
“Just barely,” Brenda stated.
“Get out and walk then,” Harry shot back. “Otherwise shut up and let me get you through a gate.” The truck lurched over two obstacles in the road. “Two less for you to swing at.”
“Just don’t hit a tree or tombstone. I want to get home,” Barb complained.
“Front door service for the pretty lady.” Harry smiled at her.
“Shut up and drive, Harry,” Barb said. “Maybe I’ll give you a kiss when I’m home.”
“Don’t expect to get a prince from that frog, Princess,” Brenda muttered. Another swing and a hit.
“I get first dibs if he grabs for her,” Emily said, as the truck made a turn.
“I’ll make sure he stays down,” Brenda said.
They made a gentle turn around a large plot. A gradual arc brought the shed into view. Everyone voiced their opinions about going into the group of zombies. Thumps and crunching announced less batting practice. Speed gave Harry reason to be happy. The old truck hit the gate with a satisfying crash.
“So long, George,” Brando yelled. “Don’t forget to stay dead.”
Everyone hooted and hollered as they left the cemetery behind. Lights blazed in the shed as shadows moved around the now quiet parking lot. Scratching came from the roof as vultures settled next to other roosting birds. One gave out a garbled croak.
“Shut your trap. You missed out on your meal,” George scolded the vulture. “I’ve got mine.” He held Harvey’s head by the hair. Harvey’s eyes locked into an upward gaze, as if looking at his savior.
Harry drove down streets normally busy, even at this hour of the night. Few cars moved to slow their progress. Occasional police cars could be heard down side streets. One screamed past them, lights painting everything red and blue. Barb pointed directions to the address she shared with Emily. Outside a modest brownstone was a rare parking spot. Parked, and drawing no attention from unwanted undead pedestrians, they started disembarking. The truck sputtered and chugged after the key was turned to the off position. It gasped and backfired. Harry pointed at Barb’s door as Emily got out of the bed of the truck. Emily opened the door and pulled her sister out. Brando offered a gentlemanly hand to help Brenda off the truck. She smiled and left a hand on his arm a little longer than necessary.
“Let’s go, love birds,” Harry said following Emily up the stairs. She had the door open, waiting for them. Brenda smiled at Brando and went up. Emily had a quick thought of sadness. She’d hoped for a bit of romance with him. Everyone else was already inside waiting.
“You touch me and I’ll leave you out here,” Brenda told Harry.
“What’s up with you?” he asked her back.
“She doesn’t like you,” Brando said. “Maybe it’s your choice in beds.” He gave his friend a smartass smirk.
“Bite me,” he said. Brando glared at him from two steps up, his gaze cold as ice.
“Any other night that’d be funny,” Brando said. His hand tightened on the discolored mattock handle.
“Sorry,” Harry said, shoulders slumped.
Harry shuffled inside after the ladies. Brando scanned the street and under vehicles. All remained quiet. The truck ticked as it cooled. He turned to go in as a flapping of wings caught his attention. A vulture landed on the square masonry post at the bottom of the steps. The mattock handle made a soft whistle as he swung at the bird. It exploded on impact with the hickory handle.
“Creepy ass bird,” Brando said, dancing up the stairs.
“Nice swing,” Brenda said.
“I was on a NCAA championship baseball team in college. I coach a community team now,” he said.
They settled into talking once the door locked behind them. The truck wasn’t going anywhere. Brando told about a rapidly growing puddle under it. He was soon talking with Brenda on the couch. Harry and Barb were chatting amicably on stools at a kitchen counter. Emily tuned in a news channel for updates about the zombie hordes.
“So, what about this kiss you mentioned earlier for getting you home?” Harry asked.
“I said maybe,” Barb reminded him. “There was no guarantee offered.”
“I’ll second that,” Emily said. Her cold gaze settled on him. She placed the pipe wrench between them. It rested on the counter in front of them with gore still embedded in the jaws. “I’m no stranger to working on pipes.” Warmth drained out of Harry as he became aware of Emily’s meaning.
A knock on the front door ended their conversation. Harry swallowed hard as he watched Emily move to answer the door. A sigh of relief escaped him as he turned back to Barb. Relaxed, he offered a warm smile for Barb. She was cleaning what she could out of the jaws of the wrench with a dish towel.
“She doesn’t clean off tools as well as I do,” Barb said, a half smile on her face. He watched with the realization Barb was familiar with using the wrench.
Emily peered out the peep hole. Uniformed soldiers stood outside. Recognition registered and she opened the door. Soldiers oozed through the narrow opening. Four soldiers went through the lower level, then upper level in practiced cadence. The most weathered soldier remained at her side as locks were engaged again.
“What’s up, Top?” she asked.
“Been trying to get a hold of you, Ma’am. We’ve been activated,” he said. “We came by to make sure you’re okay.” His southern accent said he was a pleasant man, but his cold blue gaze scanning the room demanded a no bullshit response from anyone.
“I’ve been out. Kind of an exciting night,” she said walking back to join her sister.
“So, you know what’s going on?”
“We just came from St. George’s Necropolis Cemetery,” Brando said, following them into the kitchen.
“Barb and Harry, can you keep Brenda company?” Emily said. She had a commanding demeanor about her now, matching the blue-eyed senior enlisted man following her
“Sure,” she said. The wrench was clean and went with her.
“Ma’am?” Brando asked.
“First Sergeant Grumman, this is Brando,” Emily said.
“Marlon Brando?” First Sergeant asked, a bit of humor to ease the tension.
“Staff Sergeant Miller, Marine Corps,” Brando responded. His relaxed, night out posture evaporated. His military bearing shown through his civilian attire. “Six years active duty, now in the reserves, Top.”
“Thought so,” Top said, giving him a once over. “Hope you don’t mind hanging with some army pukes.” A statement.
“We all wear green and bleed red. Have a common target.” Brando heard a grunt come from the weathered, sharp eyed enlisted leader as he turned to check on his men. “I don’t mind one bit.”
“He likes you, Marine,” Emily said, looking up from a message on her phone. “Be right back. I have to change.”
A few greetings came from the soldiers as she passed. Brando went out to check on Harry. He sat talking with Barb, giving her a respectful distance, and a friendly look at the wrench. Brenda was shoulder to shoulder with a soldier at the window. She turned to look at Brando when the minutes lengthened in the silence. Movement down the hall got Brando’s attention.
“Brando. You can put your eyes back in your head,” Brenda said. “If she catches you drooling, she’ll clean the floor with you.” The soldier next to her watched him, in a friendly manner. Their resemblance was unmistakable. Brother and sister, he thought.
“I’d believe it,” he said. He gave Brenda a friendly smile.
“She’s cleaned a few clocks with a pugil stick,” Top said matter-of-factly. He watched Brando. The no bullshit, blue eyed stare was back.
“Captain on deck,” one soldier chimed.
“This is war, gentlemen, no saluting, and no messes in my house if you can help it.” She looked at all present. The uniform enhanced her military attitude. Her hair was tightly pulled back and off her collar. “Captain Morgan to you now.” She looked from Brando to Harry. A finger went up. “Either one of you makes a crack and you’ll look like vulture outside.” Her manner was professional soldier now. Her look was equal to First Sergeant Grumman’s. Cold and businesslike.
Harry shrunk away from her, fear stained his face. The wrench let him know how far to go. Brando accepted the statement.
“We finished the vulture off for you.”
“We, First Sergeant?”
“Sergeant Stutzgard finished it,” Top said.
“That thing disintegrated when I hit it,” Brando stated.
“The head tried to bite me,” Stutzgard said. “Sorry about the floor mat, ma’am.”
“That’s what it’s there for, Stutz,” she reassured him. “First Sergeant, catch me up.” He gave her the condensed version, filling her in on the official side. Military was playing clean up with the zombies while the police tried to keep order with the citizens. Everyone wearing a uniform wasn’t confident about the odds offered by higher ups.
Hours passed as reports came in about more hordes claiming the streets. Cars were wrecked trying to run through zombie mobs. Emily kept her guests comfortable as she managed her unit’s progress through the city. Mobs of zombies followed groups down her street. Weapons were kept inside and on safe. Her military guests maintained a vigil watching front and back doors. Radios they carried squawked, reports from others in their company filtering in kept information fresh. First Sergeant Grumman’s second radio chirped. Captain Morgan watched him respond. They made eye contact. A head nod confirmed the need to find a quiet corner.
He responded to the command frequency. The report he received verified news reports. Despite law enforcement and military efforts, zombies were overwhelming road blocks. Increased numbers of zombies proved the curfew was enacted too late, or not heard by enough people. The final statement chilled them.
“All units go to a secure location and get into an underground room. Mission Neutron is on standby. Go time in five minutes. Report locations and sign off. Power down all electronics. Repeat. Mission Neutron in T minus five minutes. Get to secure locations. Report coordinates and power down. One hour from mission completion report in. Command out.”
Captain Morgan looked scared. First Sergeant Grumman looked grimmer than usual. He closed his eyes and sighed heavily.
“Do you have a basement?” he asked. He noted the time on his watch. A trusty windup model.
“A wine cellar with no windows. Middle of the basement,” she said.
“Excellent. Get everyone there. Close all doors on the way,” he stated. “Go.”
T minus four minutes.
Captain Morgan gathered everyone and Barb lead them to the basement. Questions were asked as they went. No answers were given as everyone shuffled to the wine cellar.
T minus three minutes.
First Sergeant Grumman and Captain Morgan made a final pass through the house. At the highest point he reported his location and signed off. Hope was held out for seeing the end of the hour.
T minus two minutes.
Top felt like the last survivor of the Normandy invasion. Looking out a window, he saw the faintest light glowing on the eastern horizon. In the street a ragged group moved down the middle of the street with a familiar leader.
“You had your fun, George. We’ll continue to love your movies,” he whispered. “Time to go back to bed.” A leer chased the statement.
His stride sounded loud in the empty hall. Even paces let the others know his approach was purposeful. Nothing followed him but dust caught in his wake. Two heavy doors closed behind him as he joined is fellow survivors in the basement.
T minus one minute.
“Pushing your luck, First Sergeant?” Captain Morgan asked from the top of the basement stairs.
“Just making sure we had no visitors.”
“Anything?” She led him down the steps.
“Just a parade of cadavers,” he said. Gallows humor got him a few uncertain looks. “You had orders to get down stairs.”
“I’m the captain of this ship. Last one down.” First Sergeant Grumman grinned at her levity. He couldn’t argue with his commanding officer in her own home.
“What’s going on?” Barb asked. Her eyes pleaded with her sister. The quiver in her voice spoke to everyone’s concern.
“A solution to our problem. This is our safest place to be,” Emily said, giving her sister a caring look. Everyone accepted the tone as comforting as refugees could. No other details were offered. Nothing else was asked for.
Outside, masses of undead moved around looking for more victims. Crows cawed at movements surrounding deserted meals. Glowing cat’s eyes simmered as they waited for an early morning meal to run out of a hiding place. An occasional chirp sounded, welcoming the sun to rise over the horizon. Thirty thousand feet overhead, a much larger bird flew through the clouds.
A light in the belly of the plane turned green. Over the sound of the engines hydraulic pumps came alive. The floor opened to let in cold air. Klaxons sounded alerting the crew to be attentive. Five seconds later the 10,000-pound cargo dropped out of the open doors. The doors closed and the pilot advanced the throttles to full. Free of its load, the plane raced to meet the sunrise at maximum speed.
Thirty seconds after the plane accelerated away, noonday brilliance ignited over the city. Clouds were pushed ahead of the pressure wave and heat melted the rest. Every surface was bathed in light as the flash expanded.
Chirps and caws stopped as birds fell to the ground. Cats, blinded by the flash, never moved to catch another meal. A vulture sitting on a concrete post in front of a modest townhouse fell to the sidewalk next to a splattering of feathers. A beat up pickup truck from St. George’s Necropolis Cemetery sat at the curb, still oozing fluids onto the street. The street was littered with a carpet of corpses. All as inanimate as the truck.
An hour later the door of the townhouse opened silently. Sergeant Stutzgard led the enlisted men out. Rifle barrels swept across the steps, then the street as they came out. One soldier nudged the vulture at the bottom of the steps. First Sergeant Grumman and Captain Morgan stepped out. He was grim, weary of what occurred the night before. She stood regal and imposing, ready to start a new day.
“All clear,” came the soldier on the sidewalk.
“All clear in the street,” Sergeant Stutzgard said from the truck.
“What the hell?” Brando exclaimed, looking around the quiet neighborhood.
“It’s a new day in a brave new world, Marine,” First Sergeant Grumman said. “We just have a little clean up to do.” He hoped Oppenheimer wasn’t rolling over in his grave after the endgame maneuver.
J.C. works and lives in Wisconsin. He has a beautiful wife and two active boys. He enjoys spending time with family, reading, and, time permitting, writing. Haunted and spooky places have always intrigued him.