Codex Nekromantia: Section 24

The scraps of General Radcliffe's army rolled down the street of a suburb of Constantinople. They rode in jeeps with shotguns in their hands, sitting in or around the enormous conveyance known as the "Whale Gun", or lounging atop the squat bodies of the Firehogs, making sure to keep well-clear of the tips of their nozzles. The Bosefelt Arms Flame Projection Vehicle Mk III, colloquially known as the Firehog because of its shape and equipment, represented the best solution that the United States army could come up to solve the problem of having a lot of shit that needed to be on fire.

"Dagnabbit," General Radcliffe said as the convoy moved down Oswego Avenue. He rolled his cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other.

He'd been through many official and unofficial conflicts. He'd seen bombed-out neighborhoods whose houses had been reduced to a broken foundation and a few scorched beams that stuck up into the air like rotten teeth, and neighborhoods whose houses bore the unmistakable fatigue of constant small-arms fire. But what he hadn't been prepared for was a neighborhood devoid of any outward signs of conflict.

No bullet holes in the street signs.

The windows all intact.

No bloody carcasses that would never see a proper burial.

Scratch that last one.

General Radcliffe picked up his walkie-talkie as a string of corpses emerged from the houses.

"Hold your fire until you see the whites of their eyes and you've verified the target! Make each shot count!" he said.

Behind him, he heard the faint jangle of weapons being readied, followed closely by the rattle of automatic rifle fire. Each burst sent a cluster of bullets bouncing around inside the skulls of the zombies.

General Radcliffe put the walkie-talkie up to his lips.

"Stoooooop," he said.

The vehicles lurched to a stop in the middle of an idyllic suburban paradise, infested with zombies.

Lieutenant Greyson, at the wheel of General Radcliffe's jeep, flicked her eyes back and forth. None of the zombies came close to them, but the sound of gunfire and the smell of warm blood summoned more of them from where ever they had been waiting.

"Sir, this is a suboptimal tactical location," she said.

"That it is, Lieutenant," General Radcliffe replied. "But I hear somebody who is in an even worse tactical position."

And without another word, he leapt out of the jeep and ran towards a house. Lieutenant Greyson grabbed a sub-machine gun from the pile of guns in the back of the jeep and ran after him.

The house was clad in robin's egg blue, with a bright red door sitting in the center of the structure. General Radcliffe twisted the brass handle on the door and a zombie immediately lurched towards him.

"General, duck!" Lieutenant Greyson yelled. She swung her submachine gun into position to fire.

"No need," General Radcliffe said, socking it in the jaw. He followed up with a kick to the stomach, which sent it stumbling backwards into the house. "Just an honest homeowner protecting his home."

Lieutenant Greyson rolled her eyes, but followed the general into the house. She brought her gun up to put a bullet in the zombie's forehead, but General Radcliffe put a hand on her gun and pushed its nose towards the ground. He shook his head.

"Why not?" Lieutenant Greyson asked, but General Radcliffe had already bound up the stairs, taking them three at a time. His medals bounced on his chest as he disappeared into the second story.

She began to follow him, stomping up the steps, until she heard the noise. Somebody crying. Then she took the stairs three at a time as well. She found General Radcliffe knocking on the door of a linen closet.

"Stay away!" the voice yelled.

"We're with the United States military," General Radcliffe said.

The voice didn't reply right away.

"We're here to help," General Radcliffe said.

"Did you kill my husband downstairs?" the voice asked, sniffling.

"No, ma'am. I had to give him a rather solid punch, however," General Radcliffe.

"There's something wrong with him," the voice said. "That's why I'm in the closet. They can't use doorknobs. I mean, my husband can't use doorknobs."

"Doorknobs challenge many people. May we take you with us?"

"I can't leave my husband," the voice said.

"Ma'am, your devotion to your husband is a credit to both of you, I'm sure. However, he is a danger to himself and others at the moment, as I'm sure you're aware."

The doorknob turned and a woman emerged, twisting a golf club in her hand.

"Can we come back? After there's a cure, I mean?"

"I swear on my commission," General Radcliffe said.

He led her down the stairs while Lieutenant Greyson followed, keeping her eye on the door to the dining room. They paused for a moment at the foot of the stairs.

"I'll be back soon, honey, please feel better," the woman said to the zombie. It groaned.

General Radcliffe led her towards an armored personnel carrier at the back of the convoy.

"Am I the only survivor?" the woman asked, taking a seat on one of the empty benches.

"You're the first survivor that we've found," General Radcliffe, "but I will be dagnabbed if you're the last."

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