If you’ve never woken up from a near-death experience to a man in a hazmat suit with a gun at your head, well, you haven’t lived.

I was lying on my side, a few meters from the edge of a small crater where there should have been a modest Japanese home, a home I had recently been inside.

“So it looks like we’ve got a problem,” the hazmat suit said in a muted, rubbery voice. He nodded at the pistol in his right hand, as if I hadn’t noticed.

I had no idea what I had been through, but whatever it was, things seemed to have improved. Last I’d checked, my face was covered in lesions and my entire body was succumbing to a frighteningly efficient viral assault. I barely remember collapsing out in the yard, but I do recall being fairly certain that I was a dead man.

But now… I ran my fingers over my face. Normal. I had no pain, no aches, no soreness… not even a headache. It didn’t make sense.

But, hell, I wasn’t complaining. I’d beat it, for whatever reason. Though, the guy with the gun in my face didn’t seem like he shared my excitement.

“No problem here, man,” I said, flashing him an innocent smile.

Hazmat narrowed his eyes.

Suddenly, there was a low, guttural moan from somewhere nearby. I think hazmat guy heard it even before I had, because he was already up and waving the gun around. I took the opportunity to start scooting backward. Looked like a pretty good chance to avoid the whole death thing again.

Then, across the street, an odd figure appeared from behind a big heap of Japanese rubble. It was in bad shape. And not the “need to catch up on my Pilates classes” kind of shape, either. Its flesh looked like it had been removed—in little scoops… perhaps with a hot spoon or a really sharp melon baller. Spots of bone were visible all over its skull and down its arms and legs, giving its body a grotesque, almost whittled appearance. Its eyes were missing, part of its left arm just kind of hung there unmoving, disconnected, and its head was permanently cocked to the left side.

Because of the sheer damage the individual had taken, it was impossible to tell if it was a man or a woman. But whatever horrible thing had happened it, he or she didn’t have any business being out of bed. Or, above ground for that matter.

Nevertheless, judging from its increasingly intense and angry moaning, it didn’t appear that the fucker was going to listen to reason.

“Jesus Christ,” I whispered.

“Shh!” Hazmat guy insisted, but as soon as the thing heard our voices, it perked up, shrieked, and bolted straight for us.

“Holy shit, kill that thing!” I screamed.

Without a word, hazmat snapped the trigger back on his handgun and cooly fired two shots into the thing’s chest. The monster recoiled from the shots, staggering, but it recovered almost immediately and within seconds it was headed for us again.

“Damn they’re getting stronger,” Hazmat said with a seriously inappropriate lack of tension in his voice. He ejected the clip, snapped in a fresh one, chambered the first round, then unloaded ten rounds into the oncoming horror. The thing flinched with each shot, a spray of blood exploding behind it, but refused to back down, and didn’t, until Hazmat grimaced and put the final five rounds into its knees. Even then, it just laid there, howling, refusing to die.

A spent clip dropped from hazmat’s pistol and clattered on a broken flagstone. He installed a fresh one, then holstered the weapon. There was a nearby duffel bag that he went to and removed a white jug with a red “X” painted on the side. He casually strolled over to the creature on the ground, then poured the milky white contents of the jug onto its head. He watched, unmoving, as the thing shrieked and convulsed, the white shit burning through what little flesh it had left. Hazmat didn’t turn his head until it had stopped flinching. Then he capped the empty jug and returned it to his bag.

I swallowed. “So… it take it that’s our problem?”

“Part of it.” Hazmat turned around holding a translucent zip tie. “Turn around, get on your knees, and put your hands behind your back.”