Chapter 12: Through the Gates
Marshall, or perhaps more accurately, Devin, had not been terribly far off in their prediction. Before half an hour had passed they were pulling off the highway and onto a side road that circled under a bridge to take them southwest.
“That must be it,” Jay said after a long moment of silence.
Around them, the trees gave way to a long, grassy field. In the distance, they could see a dark structure that was probably a large gate. “Seems like a strange place for a military base,” Eli commented. As they pulled closer the base became clearer, and inside the gate they could see a complex of buildings. “And a strange design for one, too,” he added.
“Yeah,” Jay agreed. “Look at all those windows. It looks more like an office building than a military complex.”
The caravan pulled off onto a side street, and followed a path to an entrance gate. They came to a stop, and Marshall and someone in an army uniform climbed out of the lead car. They stood conversing for some time and looking around as if searching for something. “We’re locked out,” Eli exclaimed in annoyance. “We came all this way, and they didn’t even have a plan for getting in to the place.”
“I’ve been on a few military bases,” Stephen said from the back seat. “There will be another entrance, one easier to access. I’m sure Devin knows that.”
As if on cue, the two outside turned around and headed back to their car. Marshall made a gesture to the remaining vehicles to follow after him, then climbed back up into the driver’s seat. They followed along the gate, rounding a corner and heading further along the base. One of the buildings loomed up before them: a large, three story building with no markings and tall, dark windows on the upper two floors. Just before they reached it the gate opened up into a parking lot, with only a guard booth and two drop arms from vehicle barriers blocking their path.
“Well, this certainly is an easier way in,” Eli said grimly.
“Yeah, if you don’t count the zombies,” Jay agreed.
Spread across the parking lot, a number of the creatures roamed about with no apparent direction. Eli calculated that it was at least two dozen, maybe more. “Great,” he growled, “just great. Excellent plan you guys came up with.”
“Hey, don’t blame me,” Jay responded defensively. “I didn’t come up with it.”
Ignoring him, Eli threw the car into park and climbed out. Up ahead, the drivers of the other vehicles were doing the same thing. The zombies did not seem to notice the new arrivals yet, but it was probably only a matter of time before the entire horde came bearing down on them. Eli stepped up to Marshall and the army man. “You’re Devin, I’m assuming?” he asked the second man.
“Is there another way in?”
The black man shook his head and shrugged his broad shoulders. “I don’t know. I was only here once, and that was only briefly. I didn’t get too familiar with the base. But my guess would be that this here is gonna be our best bet. If we just get the arms up, we can drive the vehicles straight up to the building.”
“And then hope the army of monsters doesn’t decide to attack us while we force the door?” Eli commented bitterly, but Devin was shaking his head before the younger man even finished his sentence.
“That door, there,” Devin said, pointing to a door about halfway along the building. “That’s where we should go. We can get the SUVs all lined up to form a barricade around the door. Two of the SUVs can drive right up to the wall, and the third can close up the gap between them, making a nice little square.”
Eli stood silent for a moment, staring off into the distance. “Good plan,” he found himself forced to admit. “At least, for those of you already in the SUVs.”
Again, Devin was shaking his head. “No, we can deal with that, too. You guys can climb into the SUVs and just stand up. It’ll only be for a couple of minutes anyway. It’s not like you’ll need to be worrying about comfort.”
Again, he was forced to admit that the man was right. He hated leaving behind his car, but it’s not like anyone was likely to be coming up to a remote army base just to find his car, break into it, and then steal it or anything like that. Then a thought occurred to him and he frowned.
“It’s a good plan,” he consented, “but what if… the ‘creatures,’ get in the way?”
“We’ll just try to have to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Devin replied, but it was Eli’s turn to shake his head.
“Not good enough. We need them out of there.”
“There’s no way to do that without endangering anybody’s life.”
Eli turned and took a step away, staring across the small sea of zombies gathered in the parking lot. Turning back, he found Amber in the crowd and met her gaze. She knew instantly what he was thinking. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said.
Despite himself and the situation, Eli smiled.
“Kid, you’ve got some kind of death wish?” Marshall asked, shaking his head in astonishment.
“It’ll work,” Eli insisted. “Listen, we’ll get the gate open, and then you just take the SUVs and back them off. I’ll go in there and gather the zom… the uh, the monsters’s attentions and lead them out of the base. Once they’re gone, you can bring in the SUVs and just block off the whole entrance. That way we’ll actually be able to get in and out of the base if we need to.”
Marshall stepped up to him. “Eli, take a look around. There’s nothing but empty fields as far as the eye can see. Where exactly are you going to lead the things this time? And how exactly are you going to lose them?”
There was silence for a long moment. Eli felt like protesting, but no responses came to him. Then suddenly, Jay stepped forward and spoke up. “I can help with that!” All eyes turned on the young Japanese man, who suddenly felt a little ridiculous. “I- I-” he stammered, then took a deep breath and steadied himself. “I can wait in Eli’s car, just a little ways up on the field. Eli can lead the creatures to the car, and then climb in, and we can drive away. They’ll probably follow us a ways, but we can circle back and lose them. It won’t be hard. They’re not very fast. In the car, we’d lose them real easy.”
“I can’t ask you to put yourself in danger,” Eli replied.
“Ha!” Jay scoffed. “I’ll have the easy job. You’ll be the one putting yourself in danger.”
“It’s too risky,” decided Devin, interrupting. “There’s no need for it.”
“Oh, I say let him do it,” said Amber suddenly. Everyone looked at her. “Well, if he wants to get himself killed, why stop him? Besides, if it doesn’t work, we can always still try it Devin’s way. In fact, if he fails and the creatures all gang up and eat him, it’ll be all the more easy to sneak past them.”
“Gee, thanks Amber,” Eli muttered.
“So basically,” Jay added, “if we try Eli’s plan and it fails, we have a Plan B. If we try Devin’s plan and it fails, we have no Plan B.
“Yeah, we can go with my plan and definitely put only one of us in harm’s way, or we can go with Devin’s plan and risk putting the entire group in harm’s way.” Eli stared defiantly at the group, waiting for someone to challenge him.
“Fine,” Devin consented at last, “but it doesn’t have to be you putting yourself in danger.”
Eli tried his hardest to not glance at Amber, but failed. “Actually, it does,” he said quietly. Then louder, “Besides, it’s my plan. I can’t ask anyone to risk their neck based on my plan.” There was silence for a moment as his latest words were mulled over. Eli glanced over his shoulder back at the parking lot. “Look, there’s no more time to argue about this. As soon as those things notice us, it’s all over. Just help me get this gate open and then get back.”
“Marshall and I will get the gate open,” Devin said, slapping Marshall gently on the shoulder. “You get your gear and help move supplies from your car into one of the SUVs.”
The two men started off. Eli turned and motioned to Jay to head back to his car. Stephen and Kira were standing by it, waiting.
“What’s going on?” Stephen demanded.
“You two are moving to one of the SUVs,” Eli explained. “Jay and I are gonna try and distract the zombies.”
“Are you crazy?” Stephen snapped.
Eli rolled his eyes. “Look, I’ve been through this, and there’s no more time for arguing. Just do what I ask, okay?” Without another word he hurried around to the trunk of his car. He grabbed his bag with the baseball bats and threw it around his shoulders. He grabbed up a couple more bags and handed them to Stephen, who had stepped over to help. He split the remaining bags between himself and Jay, then slammed shut the trunk. He winced at the noise and glanced over to the parking lot. Still, none of the creatures seemed to have noticed.
They hurried over to one of the SUVs and handed off the bags. Eli turned to Jay and took a deep breath. A solemn expression crossed his face as he pulled his car keys out of his pocket and held them up in the air between the two of them. Jay reached for the keys, but Eli pulled them back.
“This is my baby, you understand,” he said, cradling the keys. “I don’t let just anyone drive it.”
“Yeah, got it,” Jay replied, reaching for the keys again, but again Eli pulled them away. “Dude, seriously, I get it. I’m going to be driving it for like two minutes. There won’t be enough time for me to hurt it, okay?”
Eli considered this, and then nodded his head slowly. “Fine,” he said simply, and handed off the keys. He then motioned to a spot just a ways up the field. “Wait for me there, facing back toward the highway. I want to make sure and pull the zoms far enough away from the base before ditching them, just in case they lose interest immediately upon me getting in the car. Oh, and,” Eli added, grabbing the other’s arm as he started off, “leave all the doors unlocked.”
“Got it,” Jay said, nodding. Eli let him go and he hurried off to the car.
Marshall came up and patted him on the shoulder. “Best of luck, young man,” he said, then hurried off to his car. Eli watched as all the vehicles pulled off, the SUVs headed away around the side of the building and his own car pulling off into the field. For some reason, in this moment, he felt a lot more alone then he ever recalled feeling before. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he turned and made his way to the parking lot.
Drawing two bats from his bag – one aluminum, one wood – he began calling to the creatures. “Hey, you zombies! Free meal! Come and get it!” He stepped right up to the closest one and swung his bat right into its face, knocking it flat to the ground. He looked around to get his bearings and stopped. Even still, none of the creatures took note of him. “Hey, come on! What’s the matter with you?” He shouted, banging his bats together for extra noise. He started to say something else, but the zombie at his feet had already begun to rise up again. “Hey, stop that,” he told it, pelting it again in the face, this time right on the jaw. The jaw bone snapped and the creature’s lower jaw flung sideways, then hung at an odd angle from its face, but it did not seem otherwise bothered and continued to rise. Eli’s eyes narrowed, concern growing up from deep inside of him now. He swung the bat again, this time over head, bringing it down hard on the monster’s skull, and with a sickening crunch its head caved, giving way to the immense force. This time the creature stopped moving, falling back to ground, finally lifeless.
Eli looked up. The other creatures in the parking lot were turning toward him, finally noticing his presence. “Yeah, that’s it!” he began, but then his voice caught in his throat. The things had started to run. This wasn’t the rapid stumbling shamble the other creatures he had seen had exhibited, but an all-out, uncaring sprint. Eli took two unsteady steps back, a protest rising in his throat, but dying off from fear before ever reaching the light of day.
He turned and ran for his life.
He didn’t look back once, but he held no doubts that the creatures were hot on his heels. He focused entirely on his car, steadily growing larger and larger in his view until he could make out Jay’s shocked expression from the driver’s seat. With hardly a though he leaped up onto the hood, placing one foot down just long enough to propel himself all the way across to the other side of the vehicle. He hit the ground in a slide, curving his direction back toward the car. As soon as he could, he leaped toward the rear door and yanked it open. He focused only on his goal and what he was doing, but around the corners of his vision he could make the creatures out, already upon his car and rounding it on either side. He threw himself into the backseat, slamming the door behind him and yelling “Go!”
Jay was one second ahead of him, having already pounded the gas pedal to the floor as soon as he could tell Eli was mostly inside the vehicle. The car squealed in protest, rocking a little on the unsteady foothold of the dirt and grass, but then suddenly launched forward through the building mass of creatures, breaking free in one sudden motion and rocketing across the field back toward the road.
Eli turned and watched the creatures. Several stumbled and fell, but most turned after the car and kept running. “Since when can they run?” Jay shouted, his voice quivering.
“You think I know?” Eli asked, incredulous. Behind them, the zombies, if you could call them that, continued running, but while their energy seemed infinite, their physical bodies were not. They could not compete against the power of the car, and they were quickly falling behind. On top of that, their bodies were giving away against the punishment, and some had breaking legs or other difficulties that sent them crashing to the ground. Not that this stopped them, however. Down on their stomachs they began to crawl, pulling themselves along by their hands as they attempted to continue after the rapidly fading vehicle.
They hit the highway and Jay slammed on the brakes, spinning the car back around in the direction of the compound. In the distance they could make out some movement, which they hoped meant the SUVs were pulling into a now empty parking lot. They sat there waiting, letting the creatures draw closer to them, amazed by their tenacity and focus. “This is insane,” Jay said. “Simply, simply insane.”
“You’ll get no arguments from me.”
The zombies that were still running were beginning to draw very close. Jay waited until the first one stepped up onto the pavement of the highway before gunning the engine and sending them racing off back toward the base at top speed. He barely slowed even to take the turns, wanting to put as much distance between them and the creatures as possible. Eli looked back and noticed that, while they were still being followed, they had in fact left most of the creatures a good distance behind them. Some even seemed to have been fooled by the change of direction, and were still headed off past the highway away from the base.
They rounded the last corner and pulled into the parking lot. Behind them two of the SUVs closed the gap in the fence. “We did it,” Jay said, breathing a sigh of relief. Eli said nothing, but hoped the young man was right.