Ground Zero: A Zombie Apocalypse

“This is exactly the kind of intelligent, action-packed zombie thriller that fans of DJ Molles and Max Brooks will love!”

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ZombieBookBlog

 

 


Ground Z-ero”

 

Nicholas Ryan

 

 

Copyright © 2013
Nicholas Ryan

All Rights Reserved.

 

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Prologue.

The Wrath
.

 

The skyline of Baltimore hunched low on the horizon, appearing from out of the ocean in a silhouette of gleaming towers above a blanket of grey morning haze.

Behrouz
Asgari stood by the freighter’s starboard rail and stared towards the city. He had been watching since dawn, waiting for this moment.

Waiting for his first sight of the
accursed place.

He had sensed the land – felt its vast restless presence in the darkness, tasted the scent of
its corruption and greed on the breeze, like a fetid cloying tang in the back of his throat.

“I see you,
great Satan,” he muttered softly, his voice edged with the intensity of his hatred. “And there will be no escape from the Wrath I bring.”

He glanced at his wristwatch and
headed to his cabin. The freighter was scheduled to dock at noon, but he knew not to trust local authorities to maintain the schedule. No, he must wait until the last possible moment. His trainers had been clear on this matter. He had to be certain the ship was well within the harbor before he could take the final step.

His sleeping quarters was a narrow cramped space the size of a prison cell, with bunk beds fixed to one wall and a small chest of drawers in a corner.
Asgari dropped onto the bottom bunk and stared at the walls. Beyond the open door he could hear the sounds of the ship slowly coming alive; crewmen shuffling along the narrow corridors in heavy boots and hard hats and bright colored safety vests.

He closed his eyes, and drew a deep steadying breath. The sounds around him faded
. The tension seeped from his body as though he were meditating, until his mind and imagination filled with flashing memories of the makeshift camp back in the hot wastelands west of Kashan.

He remembered the Ru
ssian who had come, driven through the desert in a motorcade escorted by six trucks of elite Quds Force operatives. And he remembered the experiments the scientist had conducted on captured Iraqi soldiers – and the terrible madness that had infected them before their extermination.

He remembered
watching the bloody horror on the prisoner’s faces as they died and then re-awakened into something hideous and vicious and inhuman – and how the Quds troopers had used fire, and then acid, and finally a hail of bullets to the head before the ghouls had finally dropped dead in their iron cages and lay still.

Asgari
smiled. Then his thoughts drifted to the defining moment of his life – the moment he had been driven through the cool night to a desert place south and east of Tehran where he had met the Supreme Iranian Leader, and been shown one of the vast underground bunkers that would be the new birthplace from which Islam would rise up victorious after the apocalypse.

Asgari
had wept with pride when the Supreme Leader had told him that it was his calling to be Allah’s final martyr, and that his place in Paradise would be assured, for he would be exalted as the greatest of all warriors.

“God has ordained you as the weapon of his
fury,” the Supreme Leader had declared solemnly. The old man’s voice shook with passion as he took Asgari’s hands within his own. “You will slay the infidel by the thousand, as a panther amongst fat listless sheep – and each drop of blood you draw will be celebrated in heaven.”

Asgari
opened his eyes suddenly and stared at the cabin wall, surprised to find that his vision was misted with fresh tears at the memory. There was a swelling lump of pride in his throat.

The Koran promised a Paradise of green land, flowing streams, fruit, wine and beautiful women, and his place
there would be certain – for surely if those who had martyred themselves in the blast of a suicide bomb were walking in the gardens of paradise, then what greater reward would Allah bestow upon the believer who brought death upon
two hundred million
of the hated Americans?

Asgari
reached down and unfastened the laces of one heavy work boot. There was a pocketknife in one of the dresser drawers and he used it to lever the heel off, holding the boot carefully in his lap. Beneath the cover, protected by thick black rubber padding, was an aluminum vial, as thick as a cigarette but only half as long. The cylinder was sealed in shrink-wrapped plastic. Asgari set the vial carefully on the mattress beside him. Then he refitted the heel and put the boot back on.

He glanced at his wristwatch. It was almost eleven am. He could feel the ship’s motion changing as she nosed her way carefully into Baltimore harbor
surrounded by attending tugboats. The rolling pitch became more gradual and the sound of the ship’s engine throbbed and vibrated harshly up through the steel floor. Asgari leaned back against the cold wall and watched the time slowly tick away.

He wondered where it would begin. The Russian had assured him the dose was small enough to allow his spirit time to
reach heaven before the Wrath would come upon his body – and Asgari believed the scientist. He had seen the effects of infected bites at the training camp, and had noted the re-awakening rage had taken only minutes to make the Iraqi prisoners rise again and turn them insane with the madness.

Asgari
wondered whether his dead body would be taken to a hospital once they discovered him. Or perhaps he would be left lying cold on his bunk. That thought made him pause. He frowned for a moment.

Did it matter?

He didn’t think so, but to be certain there would be no unnecessary delay transporting his corpse into the city, he took the counterfeit Egyptian passport and documents he had been issued in Tehran, and tucked them into his shirt pocket.

He smiled again, f
or by the time his body was found, he – Behrouz Asgari – would be in Paradise, and the terrible thing that remained of him would arise and be unstoppable.

He broke the plastic seal and unscrewed the tiny cap of the vial.
His hands shook with the thrill of his anticipation. He recited random extracts from the Koran, coming back again and again to the one passage that resonated like a drumbeat in his heart.

“Kill the aggressors wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you…”

Finally he felt at peace. He muttered a last silent prayer, then closed his eyes and drank the virus. Then he swallowed the empty aluminum tube.

Asgar
i felt nothing for long moments, and then a sudden heavy weight of drowsiness forced him back down on the bunk. He sighed. He thought of his home in Iran as he patiently waited to die – and then rise again as the deadly Wrath of Allah.

For
God had willed it to be so.

One.

The Infection.

 

Arthur Harrigan died because he was old and cautious.

Since his wife Martha had
passed away, Arthur had lived a lonely, solitary life.

He kept to himself. He stayed around the house. Every
weekend he went out into the garden and did battle with the rose bushes, and once a week his daughter in New York phoned to make sure he was still alive and not laying dead and maggot-infested on the kitchen floor.

On Thursday morning
Arthur shuffled into the living room and switched on the television, then pulled the curtains open and stared out across the lawn.

Beyond his
front fence, the world was going about its business; Mrs. Jamieson was standing by her mailbox chatting to the postman, and Doug Garvey was walking his dog. Arthur hated Garvey’s little mutt, and if it crapped on the sidewalk out front of his house once more he was going to give the man a piece of his mind. He watched silently until the wretched little flee-bag had passed by his driveway, and then let the dusty curtains fall back into place.

Arthur sighed.
He was old-man weary, with the kind of aches and pains that made every movement a slow deliberate effort of will.

He tottered to the big recliner and sat down with a heavy
groan. The coffee table was in front of him. He stared down at the chess board and made a face. Bobby Fischer’s
’My 60 Memorable Games’
was lying open on the table. He picked the book up and snatched his spectacles from his cardigan pocket. Perched the glasses on the end of his nose and tried yet again to understand why Fisher had played his pawn to f4. He re-read the enigmatic Grandmaster’s cryptic annotation for the move, and shook his head in complete bewilderment.

The mid morning news bulletin was
on in the background and something unsettling in the tone of the presenter’s voice instinctively compelled Arthur to look up sharply from the chess book and stare with rheumy eyes.

“ –
stage authorities have no explanation for the outbreak,”
the grey-suited TV announcer was saying, his face dark and deeply concerned.
“All we can confirm at the moment is that Baltimore’s hospital system has been inundated with patients – as many as one hundred and fifty at this stage – all seemingly presenting to medical staff with the same symptoms.”

Arthur set the book down in his lap and frowned. He felt suddenly uneasy. He used the remote to turn up the television volume.

“We’re crossing now to Baltimore General Hospital, and we also have a reporter standing by in Atlanta where the Director of Research at the Centre for Disease Control is preparing to make a statement to the media,”
the TV anchor explained.
“We’ll cross there live as soon as the press conference starts. In the meantime, here’s Carrie Sullivan with a report from Baltimore General…”

The image flickered,
and then switched from the studio to a young blonde reporter who was standing on a strip of green lawn out front of a vast concrete building. In the background, two ambulances suddenly came into camera shot, their lights flashing and sirens wailing as they braked hard out front of the hospital’s emergency entrance. The woman reporter winced at the sound and glanced over her shoulder at the vehicles, then turned quickly back to the camera. Her face was flushed with hectic color, and her voice was wavering as she began her report.

“John, the scene here is one of utter panic,”
the woman reporter spoke quickly.
“A fleet of ambulances have been arriving at the hospital since earlier today, and the entire hospital has been shut down and quarantined, on the orders of local authorities. That means no visitors allowed inside the building – and no one allowed out. It’s… it’s really quite frightening…”

Arthur sat silently and
stared at the television. The book slid from his lap but he didn’t notice. All his attention was on the images flickering across the screen. Overlaid above the woman reporter’s voice, the TV station was playing pre-recorded footage taken earlier in the day, which showed a horde of blood-covered people on the streets of Baltimore, staggering towards two police cars. Three cops were behind the vehicles. They had their weapons raised. The crowd staggered closer, walking trance-like, as though they were dazed and wounded.

Then the
camera zoomed in close on a single man in the crowd. His eyes were wide and crazed. His unshaven face was a mask of blood, his shirt torn and gore-spattered. His mouth was open, lips snarled back so that his teeth were bared into a vicious, maddened growl. Arthur heard one of the cops in the foreground, shouting in panic.
“Stand still! Get on the ground!”

He shouted
again, this time his voice strident and more desperate.
“Get on the fuckin’ ground!”

One of the cops was holding a Remington 870 shotgun
in the low-ready position. He was a big man, maybe in his mid forties. He was solid across the chest and shoulders. He had steady eyes – the steely gaze of a man who had seen enough on the streets not to be easily rattled. He pumped the action of the weapon and the menacing
clack-clack
sounded like an ominous warning.

The crowd came closer.

Suddenly there was a deafening roar, as the officers opened fire simultaneously on the shambling man. The camera shook again. Arthur thought he could hear someone weeping. Then the lens focused onto the dead man’s body – just in time to see him get slowly back to his feet. There was thick brown ooze seeping from huge ragged holes that had ripped his chest apart.

Arthur
Harrigan stopped breathing.

“Jesus wept,” he gasped.

The cops fired again, and the blood-covered crowd around the downed figure suddenly erupted in a moan; a sound that was without form or coherence – but a wail so chilling and so demented that one of the policemen turned away and fled. The camera caught the horror on his face, the cop’s jaw hanging slack, his ashen features twisted and contorted with fear and panic. Arthur heard a voice off-camera shout,
“Run for your fuckin’ life!”
and then the picture began to jerk and bounce. He could hear ragged breathing as the footage tilted at crazy angles, showing crowds of screaming, fleeing people, rushing in a chaotic mass of panic. He could hear car alarms in the background and the heavy thump of a helicopter’s rotors somewhere overhead.

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