Episode 20: Warning: Graphic Content
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Back at the military research centre just outside Seattle things feel more surreal. Kate and Abhi are peering through microscopes analyzing fresh samples of something pretty darn gross when over the intercom the insufferable Hagstrom summons Abhi the lizard tongue. "Jackass" Abhi mumbles, "He belongs in this world."
A few minutes later Kate puts her hands in her crisp white lab coat pockets and decides to get a breath of fresh air on the roof. There, she meets one of the younger soldiers, Danny, a baby-faced teen really, who’s standing watch with his machine gun.
Until now Kate hasn’t talked much to the shy lad, the type of kid who would look horror in the face but avoid eye contact.
There’s a sweeping view up here but everything seems so quiet, so dead, of course.
“Hi, Doctor Pearson, how are you doing ma'am?”
Kate smiles, telling the young soldier to call her by her first name.
“Where’s your family? Where did they go?” she asks.
“Ma’am, I mean, Kate, well…….ya I think they’re safe. Last I heard from them, National Guard was taking them to the safe zone in Florence County, you know, in South Carolina. Ya, so, I guess they’re all right. Dunno.”
Kate goes on to ask him about his family, how many brothers and sisters he has, and what they do for a living, carefully wording the questions so as to not refer to them in the past tense. What she really wants to know, however, is what happened to her friend, Doctor Charlie Sandlak.
She soon focuses the discussion on that thorny topic Lieutenant Ford and his soldiers have wanted to avoid since they came back from a recent crazy mission.
The young solder gives in, urging Kate not to tell the others what he’s about to say. It's too idiotic of a story.
It all started several days prior when the cocksure Hagstrom got the bright idea they need a certain chemical compound for a new brain stem test he wants to conduct.
Problem is, they didn’t have it. They were supposed to get a shipment from back east but the world kind of went sideways. The closest facility that would have it in their country is down in California. He knows with one hundred percent certainty there’s an even closer supply up in Canada at the University of British Columbia.
They’d have to send a heavily-armed squad up there with a member of the medical team who would know what to look for, and perhaps grab a few other useful supplies.
Yup, it was an extremely risky, stupid mission, and probably a suicide one, but Charlie was volunteered by Hagstrom nonetheless. Charlie was accompanied by Ford and three others, including the young buck Danny, in an armored personnel carrier for the trip up to Canada, having to make a couple of detours when encountering large, hungry herds blocking the way. But, for the most part, the roads were painfully quiet.
They somehow make it to UBC and park in an empty plaza outside a medical building. It’s creepy quiet with the exception of that weird wind which makes them feel as if they’re in a spaghetti western.
“That’s great, just great, we’re f-ed up now sir,” a soldier looking underneath their vehicle tells Ford. “It’s leaking fluid, a lot. Don’t know what happened, sir. No way can we make it back in this one. We’ve gotta get another working vehicle soon, sir.”
“One thing at a time. First thing is to sweep the building and get what we came for. Keep sharp boys,” the direct and prudent leader responds. Damn, he's got a mighty hankering for marmalade on toast right now.
He hands a jittery Charlie a pistol.
“Here you go Sandlak. You might need this. We don’t know what we’re walking into here.”
The edgy Charlie feels his stomach problems acting up, so reaches in his jacket pocket for a bottle of antacid, popping a couple before accepting the weapon.
The door to the centre is locked, so the soldiers decide to blast the glass door. Really? Not a smart move, Charlie argues, if you don’t want unwanted attention.
Fortunately, the dead don’t seem to be around, so the youngest of the marines stands watch by the door as the others slowly make their way inside.
No one, including roving corpses, are in there and they manage to grab the medical compound they were looking for fairly quick.
Charlie is starting to feel confident and begins to grab a few other items, throwing them into a box as if he’s at a dollar store.
He ignores the bossy commander who keeps telling him to “hurry up, put your skates on....move it or lose it!”
The grunts are well aware there could be one of those things around any corner, inside every closet or room. They can also appear in huge numbers out of nowhere.
The longer they stay, the more they’re exposed like fresh meat. Charlie notices it looks like there was a lot of frantic work going on here in the early days of the outbreak but everything stopped suddenly.
Are any of the people who worked here still alive and hiding somewhere? Are they dead and their nightmare finished? If they're alive, where in the hell could they be hiding? What would be the bloody point?
Ford finally has enough of what he sees as Charlie’s procrastinating and grabs him by the skinny arm. The soldiers make their way out of the building well enough, but, naturally, when they are outside, the audacious journey takes a quick turn for the worse.
“The dead, the dead!” screams the young Danny when approximately a hundred putrid creatures appear in the plaza, making those horrid growling and screeching sounds.
Charlie, though, doesn’t drop his heavy box and is determined to make it to the armored personnel carrier. The marines around him blast their machines guns in all directions but more dead keep appearing. It's like one of those highly produced zombie movies, really.
All hell is breaking loose! Charlie manages to get ahead of the group and makes it to vehicle but doesn’t get a chance to climb inside.
He’s forced to drop everything when a bony, almost green plague monster appears from behind the vehicle and staggers toward him.
It grabs the scientist by the collar but Charlie manages to push it back. Another that lurches at him is kicked away.
GOD, THEY STINK!
He pulls his gun and fires a nice headshot into a third and then fires a couple of more rounds at another, blowing a jaw off but not stopping it.
Another tries to grab him from behind as he finds himself surrounded! He fires wildly and in the pandemonium he’s forced to run out of the plaza. Where in the hell is Ford!
The surrounded soldiers are staying level-headed and continue to shoot. The reverb of all that gunfire is attracting more dead.
Meanwhile, Charlie drops his gun when it empties and he bolts down a pathway but is forced to try another route when his path is blocked.
These things are everywhere! The scientist jumps over the side of a stairway and makes it through a stretch of dead grass, almost tripping over a skeleton.
Rats, he’s cut off from the rest of his party, being chased by hundreds of those horrifying, hungry dead things. He looks back one last time before heading into a forested area. The dead also enter in determined pursuit.
The soldiers, meanwhile, made to their ride, having temporarily reduced the numbers against them. Rotting, disfigured bodies are strewn across the plaza.
“The doc, the doc, where’s the doc?” shouts the youngest soldier.
Ford grabs the box and hands it to another marine, telling everyone to get inside. It looks like a hundred more of those things have just arrived for the fiesta.
“Come on boys! Sandlak, he’s gone. Move out now boys, we’re outta here!” The vehicle takes off, driving over several bodies as it leaves the scene without Kate’s friend.
A short time later, they try to carjack a couple of guys who stink of marijuana but are interrupted by more plague monsters. Eventually, they manage to get another ride and the trip through the wasteland was surprisingly smooth. Yes, the scenery is abysmal - countless abandoned cars, empty and burned buildings, skeletons as well as roaming, hungry plague monsters.
There's seems to be lots and lots of crashed planes - little ones and big jets too. There's even a fighter jet crashed into a baseball diamond. Then, let's not forget an overturned evacuation bus packed with the reanimated corpses of familes trying to get out.....but chillax, the soldiers made it back.
Now, the young soldier on the rooftop seems like the only one having any semblance of guilt when describing how they ditched good old Charlie.
Kate puts her hand on the youngster’s shoulder and tells him, “Don’t blame yourself, there’s nothing you could have done. In all that confusion....there’s nothing anybody could have done.”
The soldier looks down, not wanting to look her in the face, asking, “I’m sorry we left him. He ran off and we didn’t know where he went… I mean…you should have seen it. There were so many of them. You think he made it out, maybe still alive?”
Kate shakes her head and walks near the ledge, looking out at the bleak Seattle suburb that stinks like a malfunctioning sewage treatment plant. She hates Hagstrom, especially for sending them on that crazy assignment, and is also no fan of Ford, but understands.
“Maybe he’s still alive up there, but probably not."
Out of the blue, the young soldier asks Kate if she ever went bowling before this whole end of the word thing. Curious question.
"Doctor, I mean Kate, I used to love going bowling, even when I was a kid....was a junior champ. I guess that's something I miss. Wonder if I'll ever get to do that again, see my family and get to play again."
The doctor just smiles, telling the young buck, "Don't know what to tell you. Maybe one day, maybe."
Just a few blocks from the research facility, in a shoe store, another survivor, an older African American man with a big bushy beard, and wearing a baseball cap backwards, peeks through the dirty store window.
It’s Keron, still holding an antique short-barreled shotgun. Several rotting dead are dragging their feet across the littered street. The man goes to the back of the store and sits with his seven year old grandson.
They're the last of what was once a large, close-knit family. The little boy is exhausted and feeling heartsick.
The man puts his arm around him and tells the boy softly, "Don't be scared, we'll be all right. You'll see. I don't want you to be scared, granddad will make sure everything is all right."
Oddly, he actually still believes what he's saying. Someone smart once said a child is god's opinion that the world should go on, he recalls, kissing the little boy’s head.
Story by Sandor Gyarmati
Comic art by Jess Soares (HouseofBlackArt.com)
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