Face the Face
by Peter Welmerink
**These events occur after TRANSPORT (Book 3) UNCIVIL WAR**
“Keep your eyes peeled. I don’t want other undead civilians thinking we’re laying down lunch for them,” Lieutenant Gil “Gillie” McPherson said as he watched four men wrestle the gurney from the back of the big armored MRAP parked at the street corner of Bridge and Indiana. “City spent enough cash on old Bob here, and I’m sure we’d take the blame if the old man got chewed up right after we re-planted him.”
The four soldiers huffed and puffed with the stretcher in tow. They glanced all about as they got the litter to ground level. A few locals teetered by but seemed more attracted to the gentle growl of the big Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle than the grunts and groans of the men.
“Not sure why they didn’t ‘plant’ the old dead fart,” young Private Leon Jansen said, skinny, all-muscle arms straining. Sweat ran down his brow in rivulets. “It would beat spending the cash on the rotter and lugging his carcass back out here.”
The other three grunts assisting Jansen rolled their eyes. One boasting DIETRICH on the name tape of his tactical vest, just loud enough to be heard, uttered: “Newb.”
On the olive drab canvas stretcher lay Bob the 1950s Gas Station Attendant zomb who was usually found rummaging about the defunct Marathon Service Station on the southwest corner of Indiana Avenue and Bridge Street. Bob, for short, had become a well-known local fixture within the confines of the Grand Rapids UCRA (Urban Civilian Retention Area) on the west side of town. Appreciated for his special ability as a SZ, “satellite zomb,” Bob, somehow able to mentally acquire and verbally communicate Intel on activities of the undead both within and outside the city limits, was looked upon fondly as a friend-of-sorts to the GRCC military personnel. They got a kick out of trying to decipher his grunting and snarling dialect, finding a majority of it revolving around his “memories” of the 1950’s.
A grievous blow to the head had almost sent him to the realm of the truly dead-dead.
McPherson didn’t answer the Private, instead he pointed towards the old brick and mortar gas station with the paint-peel white walls. “Set him indoors for now. We’ll hang out a bit, see if he comes around, and make sure none of the neighbors bother him.”
“Only another Zee could love a face like that,” Dietrich said peering down at the natural, red pock-marked side of Bob’s face. “Though they did a helluva job repairing the other side of his head.”
The undead gas station attendant’s injury left the upper right side of the man’s face and skull obliterated. The surgeons on Spectrum Hill used a series of skin grafts over a hard plastic polymer that replaced sections of damaged skull bone.
The four-man team carried Bob into the buildings front entrance. They cleared a spot to lay him, putting him behind the wood counter where a pyramid of rusty oil cans perched.
“So peaceful,” Jansen said peering very closely at the dead man’s reconstructed face. “How long do we have to stay here until the extra dope keeping him in sleepy time wears off?”
“As long as it takes,” Dietrich said as the other two men carried the empty stretcher out of the building.
“That can’t be soon enough. I hate this place,” Jansen said looking over his shoulder at the other soldier.
BOB by artist Tim Holtrop
(with some additions by me)
“Don’t let anyone in town hear you say that. They’ll throw you in the hoosegow for being a Loyalist or something.”
Bob emitted a groan.
Jansen looked back at Bob, finding rheumy eyes open and peering at him.
“Ah!” the young grunt screamed and ran from the building.
With hand on sidearm, Dietrich sniffed, smiled at the undead service station attendant, and said: “Thanks, old man. You won’t have to worry about that kid.” He stood, sniffed again, and backed out of the door, calling over his shoulder, “Jansen’s gonna need a change of underwear.”
They waited the rest of the day for Bob to get up and start shuffling about. The mission was not only to return the old one to his “residence,” but also see if he still “functioned” with his surgical modifications.
“I see blips of brain activity but none of the usual spikes when SZ’s are transmitting,” McPherson said as the team sat in the MRAP watching the service station and the neighborhood surrounding them.
“Probably nothing around to hone in on. The others seem to avoid this area since the plane crash and chemical spill.” Dietrich scratched at a spot under his helmet.
“HAZMAT crew cleaned that up good.” McPherson continued to watch the handheld device monitoring Bob. “Just goes to show, these folks retain memories to some extent,” he said referring to Grand Rapids local undead.
The handheld pings.
“Here we go. Bob’s up, starting to transmit.”
Jansen leaned forward to see what the Lieutenant was seeing. “Retina-Optic Nerve Image Defragging and Reintegration. How much did that cost the taxpayers?”
Dietrich thought perhaps the kid was pretty smart after all, until he saw the words scrolled below the small screen on McPherson’s handheld.
McPherson ignored the young soldier. “Bob’s coming outside.”
They watched as the old zomb teetered out of the service station door in his new duds: blue mechanic coveralls and a sky blue long sleeve shirt. He walked by the rusted gas pumps and halfway to the street corner. Stopping, he stood stock still and appeared to stare straight at the big MRAP parked a few feet in front of him.
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s just staring at us.”
McPherson’s screen showed a menagerie of fuzzy images: outlines of Cadillac cars, a group of women in poodle skirts, a group of hunch-back humanoid creatures skip-hopping through a field of tall grass.
“Is he picking up something? Is that what he is seeing or what his, what? Zombie ESP is satelliting to him?” One of the other grunts said looking at the Lieutenant’s handheld, then out the small rectangular visor next to him.
Jansen peered out the port slot next to him. “We’re just seeing the little reminiscences of what’s flitting around inside his rotted gray matter. What a waste of time and money.”
The grunt pulls a combat shotgun from the stanchion next to him, pushes the barrel out the window, and yells: “Hey, stupid, quit standing there and show us something good.”
Trigger is pulled.
The shotgun booms.
Jansen is gang-piled to the floor of the MRAP. Dietrich kneels on his chest while another soldier pulls the shotgun out of the Private’s hands.
“Dumb shit!” Dietrich snarls, fist cocked back ready to feed his fellow a knuckle bone, or four.
“What the--?” McPherson says, eyes on the monitor then out the window, then back to monitor. He grabs a pair of field glasses and looks through them, lowers them, looks at the screen, then back through the binoculars.
Bob bolted around the back of the gas station upon Jansen’s shotgun blast. Next, the old station attendant appeared on the flat roof of the garage. The zomb, now turned towards the west, again stood stock still except for his mouth which seemed to be moving as if he was speaking to someone.
On the monitor, a fuzzy image of a dark-haired soldier; a captain by the look of the twin bars on the patch of his tactical vest. Amazing as it was, the man’s name tape could be read: BILLET.
“What the hell? Bob seeing one of our own,” McPherson said as he looked at the monitor and then back to the old zomb on the station roof.
Bob turned to face them.
Dietrich took the field glasses from the Lieutenant and looked out and up at the Bob.
“Well, shit, that’s a new one on me,” Dietrich said, eyes glued to the binoculars.
“The image of one of our own guys?” McPherson replied.
“No,” Dietrich said lowering the field glasses and turning to the Lieutenant. “I think the old zomb is crying.”
“Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things from you, or hides things from you – and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!”--John Irving
“The world shrieks and sinks talons into our hearts. This we call memory.”-- Tim O’Brien
TRANSPORT (Book One) is available and can be found here: