Vol. 2, Issue #21 November 9th - November 22nd, 2007

The Gunship: Zombie Killers, Rock 'n' Rollers (Part 2)
By: Nathan Winfrey

In Part 1: Local rock n’ roll band The Gunship survived the apocalypse. Of all things, it was a zombie virus—not atomic warfare, asteroids, pollution or climate changes—that brought about the end so many had speculated upon for millennia. Now, with the help of drummer Dr. Bob’s girlfriend Helene and a strange college professor named James who wears an authentic suit of armor for protection, Dave, Patrick and Dr. Bob must reach Survivorfest—an extremely loud rock concert at The Deli, in the middle of zombie-infested Norman, with the hope that the noise will draw all of the undead in the region to the venue, where men with guns will be waiting….

A slack-jawed auto mechanic watched the five travelers from the demolished door of a corner convenience store, his glassy eyes at half-mast and his unnaturally gray skin faintly shimmering where his face had torn at the corners of his mouth, seeping dark, oily blood onto his chin and down his blue coveralls. His nametag read “Carl” in dainty cursive letters.

The Gunship, Helene and James were on foot, having abandoned their broken-down jeep about a mile back. They walked in a tight group, carefully dissecting the scene around them with sharp eyes trained by experience to detecting the slightest hint of movement. James huffed along in his heavy metal suit. It was a cool day, but he could feel sweat pooling under his armpits and on the small of his back.

Driven by hunger, Carl stumbled out into the street in the jolting, uncoordinated way people move when they’re losing a game of tug-of-war, as if he were dragged from his lazy post by an unseen rope tied to his tongue. He lurched forward, the fingers on his reaching hands twisted into palsied claws, taking unsure steps and gagging on his own bloated throat; then through his strangled gurgles came an eerie moan so hollow that it chilled the five humans he expected for dinner and anyone else within earshot.

With a metallic scrape, a sword was unsheathed and James stepped forward; the ancient, shining weapon collected the sun and deflected it at odd angles. The rest stepped back and let him take the kill. It was always best to dispatch a zombie without wasting ammo, when possible.

With a great swipe of the mighty blade, the rotting creature’s head was parted from his body, leaving just a stump of neck peeking from his grimy coveralls. The macabre orb struck the pavement with a wet thud, bounced once, then rolled to the curb and stopped, face down.

They reached The Deli to find it in ruins, destroyed by a runaway cement truck. Its blackened interior and dusty streaks of soot-stained brick were signs of a fire, and its front lay in shambles. The rear half of the large, capsized truck protruded into the street. Its mixer had burst, covering the inside with wet cement, which then set and turned the inside of The Deli into a kind of concrete funnel. The stuff also poured from broken windows and onto the street, where it formed a gradual slope up to the giant hole where the truck crashed through.

The Gunship, James and Helene looked at each other.

“Surely, this isn’t the place,” Helene said.

“Maybe that guy had it wrong?” Dr. Bob said. “Maybe Survivorfest is at The Opolis or Lloyd Noble.”

“Lloyd Noble wouldn’t really make sense, though,” Helene corrected. “It’s too big; there are too many entrances and exits to secure. There’s really no way to monitor what goes on everywhere at all times.”

“Or maybe Survivorfest isn’t real at all,” Patrick offered soberly, though it was clear he didn’t want to believe that was the case.

“I feel almost like Dorothy reaching Oz to discover there’s no wizard,” James said, disappointed yet slightly amused by the irony. And he was doubly amused when he realized he must look a bit like the Tin Man in his suit of armor.

The disheartening idea that they may have come so far, risked their lives and raised their hopes for nothing was a complete shock for Dave, who had never once considered this possibility. The question of what to do now was both so unexpected and so unfair that he picked up a chunk of broken sidewalk and hurled it at the front of the building. It struck the ruins with an unimpressive crack and broke in half when it struck the street again.

Then a pair of eyes appeared in a broken-out window—clear, bright green eyes with fully-functioning eyebrows capable of displaying the entire spectrum of human emotion, set in the healthy pink flesh of a man fighting his baldness with the oldest weapon in the book: the obvious comb-over.

“Hello,” he feebly offered with a half-wave, obviously half-expecting the strangers to cut his head off anyway, just to make sure.

They all turned their attention to him at once, simultaneously relieved, yet hesitant to completely believe in Survivorfest again. He was, after all, just one man.

After they traded names—his was Pete Schroeder—he settled their fears of Survivorfest’s nonexistence by promising that there were more than three dozen others like him and explaining that they’d simply avoided visibility from the street to prevent their undead audience from showing up too early.

He led them up the makeshift rope ladder they’d installed to reach the roof, the clunky.45 he’d brought to greet them with, in case they turned out to be unfriendly, rattling in its holster.

Up top, they were introduced to Glen, Larry and Randall of the sniper squad, and Frank and Jeff, who were busy setting up elaborate stage lights and teetering stacks of amps, which pointed in all directions, and prepping the generators. Pete explained that he, Frank and Jeff had some experience with musical instruments, and as they played, the trio of sharpshooters would snipe barrels of gasoline strategically placed throughout the surrounding streets, far enough away that any flaming zombie would burn to a cinder before stumbling into The Deli and setting the already destroyed building ablaze. Another forty armed men and women sat around on the rooftop, playing cards and cleaning their weapons.

It seemed to be a carefully planned operation after all, except The Gunship didn’t know when they would get to play. It seemed Survivorfest already had its band, which they’d half-expected. They shrugged off the setback and contented themselves as rooftop gunmen. That actually sounded just as fun, yet it had been so long since the three of them had been able to play music together in public that they still longed for the opportunity.

But that’s when Pete noticed the electric guitar slung across Dave’s back by its strap, like a weapon. Pete looked around at the rest of the group, and noticed how Dr. Bob was eyeing the drumkit.

“You guys aren’t a band, are you?” Pete asked.

Dave looked up from his perch on the small wall between them and the long drop to the street below, the sun glinting off his black-rimmed glasses. He was taken off guard by Pete’s question, but realized it wasn’t too hard to put two and two together if a man still carries around a musical instrument after the world appeared to have ended.

“Me and those two are,” Dave said, pointing at Patrick and Dr. Bob. “We’re called The Gunship.”

Dave had an idea where this was going, and he could tell by the eager looks on Patrick and Dr. Bob’s faces that his bandmates did as well.

Minutes later, Dr. Bob sat on the stool behind the black and silver bass drum, flanked by snares and symbols, twirling a drumstick in each hand. Dave stood at the microphone, his electric guitar hanging from his neck by its strap. Patrick clutched his bass, fingers picking at the frets, aching to begin their set.

The absolute silence was like nothing they’d ever heard on stage before—no chatter among concert-goers, no whir of struggling air conditioners—just 40 people waiting with baited breath and a lifeless city filled with walking death, waiting to be lured to its destruction.

The generators roared to life and the bright lights flashed on, even though it wasn’t quite dark enough to need them, illuminating the zombie dinner menu. A loud hum emanated from the towers of amplifiers stacked around the rooftop, pregnant with pre-show energy not found anywhere else. Dave gripped a white, triangular pick in his right hand, turning it over and over in his excitement. It was finally time.

With a strong downward strum, Dave filled the empty dusk with a long, drawn out chord. The sound carried for miles on the wind. Dave imagined thousands of putrefying heads scattered throughout the city turning toward The Deli at that instant, dead eyes searching for the source of the noise, insatiable zombie appetites flaring.

All at once, Dave, Patrick and Dr. Bob launched into a song, treating Norman to The Gunship’s brand of true rock n’ roll. Almost instantly, the undead began to trickle into the street below, their ugly faces tilted curiously upward. With a volley of cracks and muzzle flashes, the first zombies were blown apart and lay twitching on their backs. It was working. They played for more than an hour, running through their entire self-titled album and their EP, “Aim for the Head,” but the seasoned zombie killers situated along the rooftop didn’t need their lyrics to tell them to do just that.

Heads exploded and faces burst as ammunition pummeled the growing audience, tearing off limbs and perforating torsos. Near-black zombie blood erupted in spurts and splashes, and decorated the street like haphazard Rorschach blots, and still The Gunship furiously played on.

Helene set her compound bow aside and fired a light carbine rifle she’d found in a weapon’s stash Pete showed them soon after their arrival. She popped off a few rounds, then realized that James, who had left his sword sheathed in favor of a similar rifle, had stopped firing and was now slumped against the low wall, his cumbersome armor twisting him at an odd angle.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

James nodded, sweating more heavily than ever, picked up his rifle and found three wandering zombies to pick off in quick succession.

After another hour, it was full dark and the pile of dead bodies was getting unbelievably high, though the highest part was far enough away from The Deli that those on the roof didn’t have to worry about zombies using it to climb up to where they were.

When enough zombies would crowd around a gasoline barrel, the snipers would set it off, the bright orange heat baking the storefronts on either side of the street and turning night into day for a few seconds. The trick proved to be very successful, as had everything else about Survivorfest so far.

Rifles snapped, semiautomatics rattled and pistols popped, barely audible over The Gunship’s music. The three-piece were all sweating profusely and their arms were getting tired, but they knew they may never get a chance to play like that again, so stopping was the last thing on their minds. They didn’t notice the roof begin to buckle under everyone’s weight, and no one noticed James collapse, his big, armored form striking the tar-covered roof with a mighty metallic crunch.

That’s when the roof folded in on itself—not because of James’ fall, but because a structure already compromised by a fire and an out-of-control cement truck shouldn’t be expected to support a rock concert. Falling bodies struck debris from the cement truck crash, impaling themselves on loosed planks of wood and smacking the dried concrete hard, some scraping their palms and elbows on its gritty surface as they slid down its steep incline to the bottom of the strange funnel-like formation created when the careening truck tore up the floor.

Dave looked around. He was lying beside the crashed truck, looking up through the hole in the ceiling they’d all just fallen through. He could move his body just fine, but his guitar was no where in sight and he was unarmed. Dave saw Patrick and Helene struggling against the steep incline of the concrete slope, sliding slowly down despite their best efforts. Dr. Bob was missing, but could see James in a heap at the lowest point in the concrete bowl. He noticed Pete laying on his side on a concrete-covered table, his nearly bald head split open and oozing.

Then he noticed the zombies pouring in through the destroyed front wall, and could hear the erratic popping of small arms fire coming from the roof; not everyone must have fallen through, but they weren’t shooting the undead fast enough to keep them out. The zombies fell upon the prone gunmen, biting their wounded bodies with blackened teeth, holding them down with ragged fingers. Their screams echoed off the spilled concrete, and for the first time Dave realized how much the room he was in looked like a mausoleum.

He heard loud explosions in the street, and could see the fiery orange light illuminate the inside of The Deli. He rolled over and struggled to his knees, but he slipped—he hadn’t realized how close he was to the concrete pit. The rough surface tore at his clothes on his way down, but he was careful to keep his hands and elbows from scraping.

Dave landed next to James, who was covered in bodies in much the same way he had been when he found him earlier that day on the side of the road under a zombie dogpile. Some of his attackers greedily turned their attention to Dave and began to slouch toward him instead. Grabbing a chunk of the collapsed ceiling, Dave bludgeoned zombie after zombie with unprecedented brutality. Their faces broke and caved in, much like the roof had, except the things that came sprinkling from the gashes in their heads were teeth and skull fragments instead of wood and tar paper. He covered his mouth as best he could to protect himself from infected blood, and kept destroying their brains as they kept coming near him.

Dave turned back to James, and was startled to find the gleaming metal man standing upright, his suit doused with coagulated blood, his visor down, obscuring his face.

“James, let’s get out of here!” Dave called over his shoulder, as he began to try to crawl out. Instead, James fell upon him, nearly tackling him to the ground under the weight of his heavy suit. His chain mail-gloved fingers clawed at Dave’s body and through the helmet’s visor, Dave could see James’ contorted face. His eyes were narrow and dark, his mouth wide open yet unbreathing. Somehow, James had become infected; probably earlier that day while buried under oozing undead who could have bled infected fluids into his mouth and eyes, or perhaps sometime before—they would never know.

James’ teeth gnashed viciously, but harmlessly, behind the visor. Above them, Dave heard frantic gunfire, shouts and screams. Everything was going to hell. With a solid kick, Dave sent James sprawling, but when he struck the sloping concrete, his helmet flew off, revealing his terrible, soulless face and rows of exposed teeth. Infected saliva and blood bubbled from his mouth. Undead James was a curious sight, the surreal juxtaposition of Old World and Post-World, the Medieval and the Apocalypse.

James lunged hungrily again, his scholar’s brain now programmed for only one thing. Dave dropped to the floor and rolled past him, ripping James’ bloodied sword from its sheath in the process. James turned awkwardly in his suit, moaning solemnly. He took a step to make a third attempt at Dave’s throat, but jerked to a halt, his own sword plunged precisely between his unblinking eyes, the blade bursting from the back of his skull with flapping skin and large globs of brain matter clinging to the polished metal.

Mopping up the mess took most of the rest of the night, but The Gunship, Helene and the other survivors were confident that Norman was now fairly clear. Repopulation was certainly a hope for the future, though they tried not to think of that yet. They had concerts in other cities to plan first.

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