A long black tube snaked from the chin of hazmat’s Soviet style “death head” mask into the folds of his camouflage NBC suit. The equipment made his voice sound harsh and brassy.
“I said, turn around, get on your knees,” he repeated.
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you,” I said, turning away. “Any chance you’d like to tell me why you’re doing this?”
Hazmat cleared his throat. “You’re a threat,” he said.
“If you say so. You’re the one with the gun.” I clasped my hands together and let him do his thing. He cinched the zip tie up very tightly, which was good. I still had a few tricks up my sleeve.
“Okay,” he said, testing the bind. “Remember, this is for your own protection. Do everything I tell you and you’ll live through this.”
“Uh huh. And what happens if another one of those zombies comes shambling around, wanting to get its brains on, huh? What then, hazmat?”
“If that happens then you do exactly what I tell you.”
“And I get to live.”
“Precisely,” he said, then reached down to collect his duffle bag.
You know, before the shit hit the fan in Antarctica, I had a high-speed satellite modem, and a ton of down time. Needless to say, I watched a lot of videos on the internet. And not the kind you’re thinking, either. One video I remember discussed a little known trick for escaping zip-tie cuffs. Apparently, if you apply just the right amount of force at exactly the right spot, they’ll snap like a twig. Being out there all alone, I never really had a chance to practice it, but I was pretty sure I could do it.
So, when hazmat was distracted with his bag, I bent my knees, leaned forward, and lifted my arms. I said something cool like, “Well, I’ve kind of got this problem with being told what to do,” then slammed my wrists against my tailbone. The clasp instantly broke in half with a snap!
That got hazmat’s attention. He wheeled around, but it was too late—I was already swinging. As if things were suddenly in slow-motion, I could see his eyes widen behind his mask. The duffle bag fell out of his hands, dreamily falling to the ground, as my sweet, surprise haymaker sailed through the air, poised for an epic K.O. It felt awesome.
But then hazmat did something that made me feel not so awesome. He plunged forward into this fucking crazy Jujitsu or Capoeira defensive pose, raising his crooked, left arm up to the side of his head. At the same time he went to his chest holster with the other hand and fingered his pistol. My strike landed against his raised arm with a loud, but ineffective thud. A split second later, the butt of his black 92FS was careening off my left temple. There was a flash of white light and I was abruptly sucking mud at the bastard’s feet.
“Okay, that hurt,” I spat.
Hazmat guffawed. I kid you not. He let out the biggest, brassiest, most dramatic guffaw you ever heard. “Pretty good trick, Wayne,” he said. “You know, you’re a smart guy. But you never could fight.”
“What? How do you know my name? Who the hell are you?” I growled.
The man in the hazmat suit crossed his arms. I swear I could see a pompous grin behind his mask. He didn’t say a word.
And then it dawned on me. Of course. Who else would it be out here in the middle of Japan fragging the undead with a state of the art NBC suit and a jug full of liquid zombie remover?
“Jesus Christ, Telders.”
I heard a amused “hmph” from inside the mask.
I sat up in the mud. “What’s the deal, man? What’s with the cuffs and the scary suit? We’re friends, right? Right?”
Michael Telders fished a smartphone out of his pocket and fumbled with it, struggling to operate the device with his chemical gloves on.
“Hell of a time to update your Facebook status,” I said.
He handed me the phone. “That was you 24 hours ago.”
What I saw did not look human. It was a photo of something that actually looked a lot like the thing he’d just riddled with bullets and doused with acidy milk. It had the same scooped out flesh, the same pattern of exposed bone. And just like the other one, it was impossible to tell if it was male or female, much less human.
“What is this shit, Mike? This isn’t me,” I said, tossing the phone back to him.
“Look at your clothes,” Telders said, holding up the phone. “You were like this when I found you. I was just about to milk your ass so you didn’t have to go through that zombie phase, or whatever the hell it is, but unlike anyone else, you started showing signs of recovery. The lesions started disappearing. You grew new flesh. Your body started rebuilding itself. It was the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. And now look at you. Right as rain.”
“Okay, that’s good, right? So why the handcuffs and all the you do exactly as I say bullshit?”
“Because it’s not right. You should be dead. You didn’t turn like the others, Wayne. And it’s not just this town, it’s the whole goddamn country. Maybe the entire world is infected. Everyone. Everyone except you.”
I raised my hands. “So?”
“So you’re a threat. I don’t even know if it’s really you in there Wayne. Like I said: You. Died. I saw it. And then the whole thing just ran in reverse. It’s not natural. For all I know you’re the fucking zombie king.”
“That’d be an odd turn of events.”
“Well I’m not risking it.”
“Well I’m not going anywhere at gunpoint. So you’re going to either have to leave me here to fend for myself… or kill me.”
Telders growled frustratedly.
I continued: “And if I truly am the king of all zombies, which sounds awesome, by the way, killing me would probably ruffle the locals’ feathers a bit, don’t you think?”
“I think their feathers are already sufficiently ruffled.”
“Probably a good point.”
“Yeah, I should probably just kill you.”
“Well, I mean, I don’t see any other options.” Telders drew the slide back on his 9mm. “Can’t leave you here.”
“Wait, wait! Okay, h-how about this?”
Telders folded his arms.
“Zombies typically kill anything that’s alive, right? I mean, that’s their M.O., right? Kill all living things, eat brains?”
“No, Wayne. Whatever has infected the human race has made them hyper-aggressive and hellbent on spreading the virus through physical contact. That is all. I’ve never seen one of them eating anything, much less somebody’s brains. I mean, they can barely function, how do you expect them to crack open a skull? That’s a hard thing to do, even with tools.”
“Huh. I never thought of that.”
“That it?” Telder said, flicking off the Beretta’s safety.
“Wait! Never mind the brains.” I licked my lips. “Okay. Have you ever seen two of these zombie things attacking each other?”
“No. From what I’ve seen they leave each other alone. I think they almost try to avoid each other.”
“Great. So if we were to—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—use me as bait to draw one of them out…”
“…and the zombie attacked me. That’d mean I wasn’t one of them, right? That I recovered just because I have really good genes or something?”
Telders stroked the black tube attached to his gas mask, pensively, as if it were a beard. “Interesting. You know, I would like to see that.”
I scowled at him. “You’ve got a dark side, Telders.”
“No, no, no. Sounds like a fantastic experiment, Wayne. And if the undead do get to you, we already know you’re immune, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Sold.” Michael holstered his Beretta. “Alright Robertson, let’s go find you a zombie.”