I got to my feet, all the while glaring at Michael and the stupid grin he was undoubtedly wearing behind his ghastly chemical mask. The headless zombie laid motionless in the street in a pool of brains and black muck, like an oil spill at a hamburger factory. A sudden, sharp pain struck me in the chest, like a giant rivet through my sternum—the expression of an intense contempt for a man whom I used to call a friend.
How I wished that I had shot him when I had the chance. God, I wished I had. But no… even if I’d pulled the trigger, nothing would have happened. Telders had given me an empty weapon. The bastard had managed to rob me of even the option of regret.
I hated him.
And there he was, pointing his smoking sawed-off shotgun at the headless sumo zombie corpse lying in the street. “Not bad, eh?” He said.
“You asshole. You gave me a weapon to defend myself, and you knew it was empty,” I hissed.
Telders tapped his chin. “Oh, did I forget to load that?”
“Goddamn right you son of a bitch.”
“Settle down, Robertson. There’s no way in hell I was about to give a loaded weapon to someone who’d looked like ground pork only a couple hours before.”
“I’m not a zombie.”
“Well I know that now. Your little brawl with Ashida-kun made that perfectly clear.”
“Not what… who. Kenji Ashida is (or was) a goddamn yokozuna ranked sumo. One of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport.” Telders glanced at the filthy, shredded corpse on the ground. “He’s kind of let himself go lately, though. Sad.”
My mouth dropped open a little. “You make me sick, Telders.”
“I have that effect on a lot of people.”
“Whatever.” I took a step toward Michael and stared him in the eye. “I passed the stupid test, jackass. And completely unarmed, too. No thanks to you.”
I continued. “So now I’m gonna get a shower and a change of clothes. And after that I want some real bullets for that shotgun and then we’re going to part ways for the last time.”
“Alright. Well, I’m sorry, Wayne,” he said, drumming his fingers on the barrel of his shotgun. “But you’re just too unpredictable to trust with a deadly weapon. I’m afraid you’ll have to remain my prisoner until such time that I’ve deemed you stable.”
I clenched my fists. “What?!”
“Sorry, man. That’s the way it’s gotta be. And I’m the one with the gun, so…”
But his gun was empty. At that very moment he was vulnerable. And he only had a tiny little barrier between him and the zombie virus. All I had to do was sever his breathing tube, or unmask him even for a second and he’d probably be dead within the hour. Then maybe he’d go full zombie and I’d get the chance to kill him again.
The giant shamoji was lying just a few inches from my feet. Without a further thought, I bent over, snatched it, and swung.
Telders ducked. Of course he did. He ducked it perfectly, like he’d seen it coming since the day we’d met. It was just a little bob of the head, maybe a slight weave, and my shamoji sailed over his head. I’d been so cocksure that I’d completely thrown myself off balance. And before I’d time to recover, Michael had me dead to rights.
He nudged me in the ear with his other gun. The Beretta. “Give it up, Robertson,” he said. “I’m the hero of this story. Not you.”
“The hell you are,” I said.
“Shut up and drop the spoon.”
“It’s a shamoji,” I growled.
Telders smacked me in the ear with the gun. “It’s gonna be a suppository if you don’t follow directions!”
“Christ, fine.” I pitched the shamoji into the little stream on the side of the road. A little orange and white koi fish darted away from the splash.
“Now sit down. We’re gonna have a little chat.” He shoved me on my ass, then grabbed a chair from the cafe. He turned it around and sat down backwards.
My pants, my shoes, everything I had was covered in blood and filth.
Michael leaned forward in the chair, adjusting the long black hose that connected the little cylindrical filter to his chemical mask. He let out a long, heavy sigh, then cleared his throat. “Alright, Robertson,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about this. Quite a bit actually. You know….” Telders glanced around the town for a moment. Finally he said, “You told me one hell of a story before you left the brownstone.”
Surprised, I looked up.
“Something about alien fish people landing their pods in Antarctica, causing all kinds of havoc, and then somehow launching the nukes that started World War Three.”
I felt my nose wrinkle. “Yeah and you didn’t believe a word of it.”
Telders unconsciously rapped the barrel of his 9mm on the back of the chair. “Wayne, I’ve seen the world go from your fairly normal bullshit, to a completely insane fucked nightmare, in just a matter of weeks. Our homes have been wiped off the map. Everyone we know is dead. North America, Europe, western civilization as we know it has been burned to a crisp. But you know what? I was coping with that. Asia was still more or less intact, and I have to admit, I’d caught a bit of the yellow fever if you know what I mean.”
I closed my eyes and shook my head.
Michael ignored my show of disgust and continued. “But I woke up one morning and found my girlfriend outside chewing on the corpse of one of my guards. And then she wanted to chew on me. And not in a good way.” Telders narrowed his eyes. “I killed her, Wayne. I shot Yuki in the head, just like this loser,” he said, pointing his gun at what remained of the famous sumo wrestler Kenji Ashida.
“But I got lucky,” he continued. “I knew something was wrong. I had several boxes of these suits so I put one on and I handed the rest out to my guards. Some of them were already infected. We put them down. The others survived. That’s when I came for you. Everywhere I went I found these crazed, half-dead, undead, whatever you want to call them zombie mother bastards trying to infect every living thing thing they see.”
I threw up my hands. “Blah, blah, blah. What’s your point, Telders?”
“My point, Robertson, is that I’m starting to wonder if that story you told me might have some truth to it. Especially after watching your dead, rotten, tattered corpse spontaneously and magically heal itself in a matter of hours. If what you say that fish person did to you is true—”
“Spegg. Spegg was the name of the fish person. Er, transgenic. That’s what he called himself. Transgenic.”
“Fine. Spegg the transgenic. If what you say Spegg did to you is true, the imprisonment and the drugs he injected you with, then that might explain your immunity to this virus.”
I cocked my head. “Wait, you think Spegg is responsible for the zombie outbreak as well?”
Telders stood up and tossed the chair away. “Robertson, I don’t even know if Spegg is a real or just a madman’s fantasy, but I do know that the world has gone full retard, and if there’s the slightest chance that what you’ve told me is the truth, then I’m going to find this son of a bitch and gut him.”
My heart jumped at the thought. “Is that right?” I said with a stunted breath.
A nod of the head was his only reply.
“I’m counting on you to lead me to him.”
“You heard me.” Telders walked over to a patch of brush on the side of the road and pulled out his duffle bag. He opened it and removed an old-style walkie-talkie. He keyed the button and spoke into it: “We’re ready to go.”
Static followed, then a scratchy voice replied: “Ah deh suh.”
“What was that?” I asked.
Telders turned away from me and stuffed the walkie-talkie back into the bag. “The Koreans.”
A chill shot up my spine. “Where are we going?”
Michael heaved the duffel bag over his shoulder and turned around. “Like I said… we’re going fishing.”