Authors: Norman Christof
Chaz made the last turn onto Abby's street. The street, however, was barricaded with a bunch of burned-out cars. There were three cars parked lengthways, and an old transport truck behind them. Someone obviously didn't want visitors. Chaz figured he wasn't just a visitor, he was family. It would take more than some rebel roadblock to keep him from his family. He backed up a bit, cranked the wheel hard right, and proceeded to drive up the sidewalk past the roadblock. Just as he hit the curb, a sniper's shot rang out from one of the houses. The bullet pierced the front windshield on the passenger side, spider-cracked the windshield, and lodged itself into the passenger-seat headrest. What the hell, thought Chaz. These were bulletproof windows. Someone was serious enough to use armor-piercing bullets.
Chaz decided plowing straight ahead was not the smart move here. He backed up to the middle of the street. At least here, the old transport was blocking the sniper's aim. This time, Chaz wheeled hard to the left. With the transport blocking the sniper's angle, he could gun the Humvee over the curb, pick up speed, and be halfway down the street before the sniper had a bead on him. Chaz started to make his move to the left when another shot rang out. This time it hit the windshield just to the right of his face. The bullet buried itself into the right side of his headrest. It narrowly missed Chaz's face, but created enough spider cracks to severely impair his view. Chaz hit the brakes once more, and backed up behind the protection of the transport.
, thought Chaz,
that limits my options. There's more than one shooter here. I'm outnumbered, and these aren't amateurs. They certainly don't want me here, but they don't seem to want me dead either. They could have done that with either shot. Maybe I can talk my way out of this.
Chaz pulled out his sidearm, and placed it on the passenger seat beside him. He climbed out of the Humvee and placed his hands behind his head. He walked slowly around the barricade. A shot rang out and pierced the headlight of the car behind him. Chaz stopped and yelled in the general direction of the shooter, "Look, I just want to talk, I'm not here to hurt anyone or take anything." Nothing. No response came from either side of the road. Chaz thought
, I really hope I'm right about this. Whoever these guys are, they may be excellent marksman, but they're not killers.
He continued forward around the cars and transport until he was completely out in the open. Once more Chaz called out, "I'm looking for Abby Sheperd. I'm her husband. I don't want to hurt anyone, and I don't want to steal anything. I just want to talk to my wife."
Another voice called out from the right from an amplified speaker. "Stay where you are. I'm coming down to you. If you take another step, the next bullet won't miss."
yea right. You guys don't have the guts to kill me. You just want me gone.
Still, he held his ground. It took a few minutes, but a few houses down, the front door opened. Chaz could see a man slowly coming down his front-porch steps, one hand firmly on the handrail. What Chaz thought was his rifle was actually a cane. The man made it down the middle of the street assisted by the cane. He was partially bald, with gray hair, spectacles sliding down his nose, and a bit of a pot belly.
, thought Chaz.
This guy had me pinned down in a fully armored and weaponized military fighting machine? What the hell?
The man limped to a halt about ten feet from Chaz and eyed him up and down. "My name's Eddie, Eddie Kozak. Everyone calls me Ed."
"Nice to meet you, Ed. You're quite the marksman."
"My wife's an even better shot. She's got you in her sights now. Try something crazy, and you'll see for yourself."
"Your wife took that second shot? She nearly put a bullet through my head."
"Her rifle pulls to the left a little. I've been meaning to fix that." Eddie smiled.
Chaz stifled a grin. "Look, Ed, I'm just trying to find my wife and kids. They used to live on this street, 476. Her name's Abby Sheperd."
"I know who she is. We know everyone on the street. There aren't many left though. Most moved to Atlanta after that last go-round with the military."
"I noticed you had some problems. Your downtown looks like a warzone."
"Those freaks were out of control. It started with just one or two of them on the outskirts of town. The local police had a handle on them, but then they got infected. Some just went all crazy, but a few seemed smarter ... almost normal. Like they were still part human. Those were the dangerous ones. They went after everyone important in town. They took out the doctors, the politicians, even the firemen and paramedics. They were targeting everyone that could help others. Pretty soon, there was no one left to protect us. It got worse. Soon, there were as many zombies as humans. That's when the military showed up."
"And they just bombed the hell out of what was left?"
"Pretty much. They started with air strikes. City hall was the first building they took out. All the freaks were there. Then they sent in a few tanks, followed by Humvees, and foot soldiers to clean out the stragglers. It didn't take long. They were gone within a week. Took all the bodies with them too. Except for the human casualties. They left those for us to bury."
"I can see why you weren't too happy to see me."
"We're never too happy to see strangers these days. Military or otherwise."
"Look, I'm really sorry for what's happened here. I'm sure it was a great place to live, but I really just want to see my wife and my kids. They live just down the street. I'll leave my weapons and keys here."
"Yeah, even if I did let you down the street, you wouldn't like what you'd find. They're gone."
"Gone, what do you mean they're gone?"
"I mean, they've disappeared. About a month ago, we noticed no one had come or gone from their place for a few days, so I went and checked. The house was empty."
"Where did they go?"
"No idea. There were some half-packed suitcases, and their closets still had clothes. It looked like they were in a hurry wherever they went. People disappear from here all the time. They weren't here all that long, maybe a few months, so we never really got to know them."
"Look, I need to check their place. I need to see for myself. Is anyone else living there now?"
"No, there's no one else there, but we really don't like having strangers poking around."
"I haven't seen my wife in over a year. We had a falling-out during the start of the last war. I just need to find her and my kids. I need to make my peace."
"Make your peace? You dying?"
"No, no. Not yet. Look, I'll do whatever. You can come with me. Tie my hands if you want, strip me down to my skivvies if that makes you feel safer. I just need to look through the house."
"You're a persistent bastard." Ed smiled. "Not sure you're telling the whole truth, but I really don't care." Ed looked Chaz up and down, and glanced back at his Humvee. "You've obviously taken a beating to get to this point. I'll take you down to the house. I won't cuff ya, but throw your truck keys over. Your wife's house is the third one past mine. It's white with blue trim. I'm trusting you now, so don't disappoint me." Eddie reached into his pocket and pulled out a hand-held VHF radio. "Edith, the guy says he just wants to look in Abby Sheperd's place. I'm thinking we let him. He says she's his wife."
An elderly female voice crackled over the radio. "You trust him?"
"No, not much, but he seems desperate enough to be telling the truth. Keep him in your sights."
"Affirmative, Eddie. Edith out."
Eddie didn't see the humor in it all. "What the hell you grinning about, buddy?"
"Eddie and Edith? Those your real names?"
"Yes! You think that's funny?"
"No ... well maybe, yeah. I just can't believe I've surrendered to a little old retired couple that should be running some bed and breakfast up in Vermont. I'm Colonel Chaz Sheperd. I can't believe I let you two get the drop on me."
Eddie took a step closer and focused his eyes onto Chaz. "Wait, you're Chaz Sheperd,
Colonel Sheperd? I served in the military, and did time in the first two wars. I know who Colonel Sheperd is." He stepped right up to Chaz, and offered his hand. "Damn, it is you. Holy shit! Why didn't you say so in the first place? We could have saved ourselves some drama and a few bullets. Those armor-piercing rounds aren't easy to come by. Abby never said she was married to that Sheperd."
Chaz shook his head. "Yeah, she probably wouldn't have said anything. We weren't exactly on the best of terms."
Eddie's radio came to life. "Eddie, you fool! What the hell is going on down there? You're in my line of sight, back the hell up!"
Eddie smiled, and lifted the radio up. "Edith, it's alright. It's Colonel Chaz Sheperd.
Colonel Chaz Sheperd."
"Ahh, well, why didn't he say so in the first place?"
Chaz just shook his head. "So, it's OK if I go to the house now?"
"Yes, yes, of course. Sorry for the mix-up, Colonel. You go right ahead. Feel free to stop by on your way out for a cup of tea if you like. We don't get many visitors these days. Certainly not celebrity visitors."
Before Eddie finished, Chaz handed his keys over and started running towards Abby's house.
The house looked well kept up, as did most on the street. It was a white and blue Cape Cod with a wraparound porch. Nice place to raise kids, Chaz thought. The front door was open, and Chaz walked in. Eddie was right: the closets were partially empty, like they had been ransacked. They had left in a hurry. There were still personal belongings throughout the house. He found pictures of the kids next to Abby's bed in the master bedroom. They looked so much bigger than he remembered. He took both pictures out of the frames, and put them in his pocket. He wandered into the kitchen. Most of the food had been cleaned out, but a laptop was still sitting on the kitchen table. Looking through the laptop history, he found what he needed.
Abby had really moved on. Some guy named Turner was a part of her life. Or at least he used to be. Things hadn't ended well between them, and it seemed Turner wasn't ready to let go. A few of the emails were pretty threatening towards both Abby and the kids.
Son of a bitch
, Chaz thought
. If this asshole hurt them or has something to do with their disappearance, he better hope the freaks get their hands on him before I do.
Chaz found three airline ticket receipts as well, from Atlanta to Lima, Peru. They were booked shortly after the threatening emails.
Why the hell would Abby go to Lima, Peru? Why would anyone go to Lima, Peru? I guess anywhere is better than here when your boyfriend's a creep, the zombies are attacking, and the military blows the shit out of your home town. Lima, Peru is huge; how the hell will I find her there?
Chaz took the laptop, and headed for the front door. There was one more picture in the living room, Chaz noticed. It was a picture of the entire family, Chaz, Abby, and the kids, Caius and Shax, on a beach in Florida. Chaz picked up the picture, and stared at it for just a moment. Surprisingly, he could distinctly remember the trip. It was the last trip they took as a family before he headed out for service. The kids were so much work that trip, but they had loved every minute of it. Chaz barely recognized himself in the picture
. It's like somebody else's life,
he thought. Then he tossed the picture back on the table. The glass cracked, but Chaz never noticed. He was too busy heading out the door.
Into The Future
Chaz hurried down the steps of the house, and made a beeline for the Humvee. Eddie saw him coming from the front porch. He yelled inside for Edith to come out. As she did, they both walked towards Chaz, inviting him for dinner. Chaz slowed long enough to grab his keys from Eddie, but barely acknowledged them. Eddie looked to Edith. She said, "Couldn't have been good news." Eddie nodded in agreement.
Chaz jumped into the Humvee, and started it up
. I need to just get the hell out of here,
This was a bad idea from the beginning. I don't know what made me think I could make things better. You can't unmake the past. All you can do is live with the consequences. Coming here just brought back too many bad memories. Too many thoughts of what could have been, instead of what actually is.
Before Chaz left, there was one more thing he needed to do. He backed up the Humvee a few feet, then threw it into drive and hit the gas. He went up the curb this time and around the barricade with no fear of snipers' bullets.
I'm Chaz Sheperd, war hero; nobody wants to shoot war heroes. Well, at least the little old couple down the street won't. And for now, that's good enough.
He raced down the street, then slammed the brakes on just before driving through Abby's front door. He jumped out of the driver's seat, and propped himself up behind the turret. At point-blank range, he wasn't going to miss a thing. He opened fire on the house. Bullets tore open the front door first, before proceeding to shatter the two big bay windows on either side. Next went the two porch lights, then the mailbox, and finally the gardens in front of the porch. Next, the three dormer windows on the second level were transformed into gaping holes. Shell casings were lying all around him by the time Chaz stopped.
Several armed people came running towards Chaz from the far end of the street. Chaz paid them no heed. Eddie and Edith were moving as quickly as possible to intercept them. Edith was calling to Chaz and waving her arms, but once again Chaz paid no heed. He again turned his attention to the house, and opened fire, this time on the six support beams that held the roof over the porch. He made short work of the beams, and the railings circling the porch. Chaz stopped firing. The porch roof creaked and sagged. Chaz could hear Eddie on his radio, calling off the people charging down the street. Edith was holding her head with both hands, looking disapprovingly back and forth between Chaz and the ruined house. No one said anything; the silence was palpable. Then, with a loud crash, the porch roof came down, followed by sections of the main roof. Abby's house looked like it belonged with the war-torn buildings downtown. Chaz looked over to the elderly couple, and said, "Sorry for the mess." From the looks on their faces, he couldn't tell if they were angry or sorry for him. He didn't care.
Chaz dropped back down into the driver's seat, backed off the lawn, and tore back down the street. He never stopped till he was well clear of Calhoun. On I-75 heading north, he stopped at the first rest area he found. Deciding it was best he kept away from people, he parked the Humvee in the most remote corner of the parking lot. The lot was pretty deserted, but he figured the more space between himself and others the better. He got out of the Humvee, and paced up and down the far perimeter of the parking lot.
I really need to clear my head
, he thought.
Where do I go from here? The army is the wrong place for me now. They're more likely to shoot me for desertion than take me back. Abby's really left me for good. All the way to Peru? South America? I'm sure she would have gone further if she could have. With the quarantine on the Americas, it's unlikely she could have put more distance between them. So where to now? The army doesn't want me, and my family ran as far in the other direction as possible. Hang on. Maybe it wasn't me they were running from. For Christ's sake, stop being so egocentric and assuming the world revolves around you. They were probably running from that asshole of a boyfriend. Given the state of the house, and how many things they left behind, that had to be why they left. But they didn't exactly come running to me for help. They could have found me if they wanted to. Abby would have known who to contact in the military. I wonder if she even considered it? Who knows? So, where to now? South America? Some island in the middle of nowhere? Assuming I could even get past quarantine and find a place to land. There were some rumors of people making it to small, deserted Hawaiian islands. They'd hold up there for a year or so, make sure they were clean of any freak disease, then make a run for the Philippines. How hard could that be? Maybe a chance for a whole new life. I wouldn't be the first, and God knows I wouldn't miss these freaks.