I slept for a couple of hours before my brain decided that if I didn’t wake up I would miss my opportunity to get out of here. Before heading to bed I had given myself one luxury that the camp offered, a warm shower and clean fatigues which I slept in. I was more than willing to part with the clothes I had worn since this nightmare began but the one thing I wouldn’t part with, the jacket that I been wearing since my time with Holly. I had kept it on top of my pack at the foot the cot to make it easier to leave without disturbing anyone. I gave myself a couple of minutes to wake then slipped out of the tent with my gear and looked at the sky.
Dawn was approaching but it was still a bit too dark to quietly venture through the unknown camp without running into anything. For an instant I wanted to risk it and just go alone. I didn’t want to be without my best friend but I knew I would worry about Parker as we made our way out into the hostile world. Before I could think about it any further Parker came out of the tent and pushed aside my desire to be without him. Going out there alone with nothing but the monsters and god knows what else, would surely drive me crazy or to the point of suicide. Parker was my saviour now. We sat in silence watching the sky slowly brighten to a point that I felt was good enough as the anticipation I felt started to make me ancy. There was enough light to see shapes and we could make it to the exit without making any noise or running into anything. I nodded to Parker and started to get up but stopped when he didn’t move.
“Parker, are you ok?” I crouched in front of him and whispered.
Even in the dim morning light I could see the trepidation across his face. I didn’t know what to think other than he had changed his mind. I told him I understood, gave him a reassuring hug and started to leave. It seemed like such an impersonal good-bye but I couldn’t prolong it without it tearing me apart. His hand darted out and he grabbed my wrist stopping me. The hesitation was still there but he got up, let go of my arm and pulled his backpack on, nodding that he was ready to go.
Walking through the near stillness of the camp, my eyes caught glimpses of movement here and there inside the tents but no one was outside yet. The buses where the soldiers camped were also quiet. We moved carefully and quietly to the gap, my heart thudding so loud in my ears I was sure it could wake the dead. We reached the opening and found only one guard who appeared to be sleeping on his watch. I approached and his hand shot up. The soldier didn’t say anything or get up and only brought his forefinger to lips to gesture for us to be quiet. He put his head back down like he hadn’t even seen us. I turned to the opening and saw that a board, something like plywood, had been placed across the barrier on the outside. I stopped and tried to think of what to do and how to get by it without making any noise. Parker went forward and moved to the board, reaching to the right and managing to get a hold of the edge and pull it aside. His arms were longer and thinner than mine making this task easy for him. He did his best to be silent and only scraped it on the ground once. We were fortunate that the noise didn’t alert the soldiers in the buses we were standing between. We headed through the gap and worked together to put the board back silently.
I took a moment to wonder why such a simple and seemingly ineffectual tool had been used as a barrier. The noise would surely arouse attention when it was moved. It just seemed sloppy. But at the moment I could only take it as something positive to aid our escape. With the board back in place, I scanned the barricade to see if anyone had spotted us yet. Nothing. Why could we stand in the growing morning light and have no one be alerted to movement so near a place that was housing hundreds of people to protect them from zombies. The thought bounced through my mind, nagging at the core of my paranoia. It just seemed strange that the soldiers were paying no mind to the outside of the barricade. All that made sense was that they were frightened like everyone else and just wanted to hide behind the steel of the buses and the protection of their weapons. I hesitated thinking about that. Leaving Marla and the others with such protection made me pause. But I knew her and the others well enough to know that they had their guns and they were strong enough to save themselves if something went wrong. I had to let them go now and concentrate on protecting Parker and myself.
Turning away from the eyes that weren’t watching, I looked at the nearby landscape and had a better idea of why there may be such relaxed security. The bodies. So many corpses littered the surrounding area to the point where it was 4 or 5 bodies high and they were laid head to foot to form a disgusting wall, one which hadn’t been there when we first arrived. Now it wouldn’t simply be a matter of stepping around the corpses, we would have to push them out-of-the-way, touching the filth to get through this second barricade of decaying and diseased flesh.
We did our best to maneuver through the body wall in a straight line to minimize how much we had to touch the corpses. It wasn’t the difficulty of the task that was unsettling, it was having to traverse through more blood and gore with that ever-present thought that these were once people like me. I hesitated this time feeling sick looking at those corpses in various states of death and human filth. Parker ripped part of his shirt off and made a mask from it then started to move ahead of me through the flesh barricade. I followed suit, tearing at my fresh undershirt to create a makeshift mask and dampen the smell of human waste.
I kept the RV in sight to focus on our goal and keep me motivated and not get sick from the sights and smells. It took longer to get past the bodies than I thought it would and by the time dawn had arrived we were still not at the RV. Looking back at the camp I saw movement in the buses as the soldiers started to stir. We moved quicker and when we finally reached the RV I took care to open the side door as quietly as possible. We were again fortunate, this time because the RV was parked so that the side door was not facing the camp. I still didn’t know what to expect from the soldiers but it was Martens that concerned me more. I really didn’t think he would be alright with me leaving, given that he wanted to discuss the fire and the last time I left a military camp unannounced. We got inside, locked the door and took a few minutes to get up the courage for what we had to do next – drive over those bloated corpses we had just stepped on and pushed through like they were merely debris and hadn’t once been living breathing people; mothers, fathers children. Parker moved about making sure everything was closed up and that we couldn’t be seen through the windows. I merely sat on the floor, leaning against the bench trying to regain the nerve to face a dying world with only the two of us and a recreational vehicle.
“Where do we go from here Louis?” Parker grabbed a towel and wiped away blood and gore from his feet and legs, his face not showing any of the emotion he surely felt except for in his haunted eyes.
“I don’t know Parker.” I closed my eyes trying to think without thinking about what was to come. “We just go as quick and as far as we can from here. Getting off the main road would be good start.”
“And if they follow?” Parker handed me the towel.
“I have a feeling that we aren’t as important as keeping that camp safe and secure.” I hoped I was right and that they wouldn’t jeopardize their safety just to arrest us.
Which was why I wanted to leave when we did. I believed that if we left during the day they would stop us before we even got to the RV but leaving when no on was watching wouldn’t be an issue, and it hadn’t be so far. I may have been a deserter and left my fellow soldiers to die but given the current circumstances of our world, punishing me was a pretty insignificant thing in the grand scheme of things. Reflecting on how I had run away during the fire and the outbreak, I realized that if I had stayed during then I would be just as dead or undead, as all of those soldiers I had called comrades.
Holly might be still be alive but there was no guarantee she would have lived past the encounter with the father and son in her cabin. Then there was Marla and Hunter. Thinking about all we had survived together and our reliance upon each other I didn’t feel quite so insignificant. My life may or may not matter at all to the army but I believed that it did to the 6 people I had just walked through hell with and the one I would stand with now as I chose to embark on another perilous journey.
“Are you ready Louis?” Parker still whispered even though we were in the relative safety of the motorhome.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m ready.”
I handed Parker the keys and he took the helm while I grabbed a bag with extra ammo and my guns. Parker would take on the difficult task of somehow driving us out of here and I would be the defender. Neither of us had an easy job ahead. I gave the barricade a final look and saw more movement, some heads turned in our direction. It was time to go. Parker started the motorhome and didn’t waste any time ramping up the acceleration, putting the gas pedal to floor to help propel the RV over the bodies. As we picked up speed the zombies started appearing from wherever they had waited for something to get their attention and reignite their blood lust.
I looked forward, done with looking behind. One day I believed this horror would be finished and the world would return to its normal state of human disorder rather than zombie apocalypse disorder. And on that day Parker and I would see Marla, Hunter, Marco, Heidi and Cal again. One day I would forget that I had been a good soldier and accept that I had become a good man.
© 2016, Denise Pasutti
Upcoming: The Zone – Tales from A Good Soldier