This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge is another genre mashup. Two lists, two random numbers (in my case, 7 and 5), the resultant “2,000 words or so” must contain a story combining elements of “Zombie” and “Heist/Caper!”
Time. Again, I really should work on these assignments earlier in the week. It would give me time to edit, re-write, make it better. If nothing else, I need to work earlier in the night, so I can get it posted by midnight instead of at 00:13. On the other hand, after almost two years of daily posts on this site, thirteen minutes late can still count as a Thursday post. Government work, and all of that.
But I like the gist of the story I wrote!
“You brought what?”
“It’s an infrared night scope, so that we can see them moving around in the dark, just like they see us.”
For the five thousand and third time I wondered how Ryan had possibly survived this long while being as freakin’ stupid as he was. Ryan was the poster boy for the theory that Darwin was wrong.
“Ryan, do you know what ‘infrared’ means?”
“Huh? No, but it says ‘night scope,’ so it’s got to be useful, right? What’s wrong?”
“This thing works by detecting heat, Ryan. That’s what ‘infrared’ is, heat. The police would use this to see people or cars in the dark, because they’re hotter than the bushes and buildings around them. Have you ever seen a warm Deader?”
I couldn’t see Ryan’s face in the dark, but I was pretty sure his lips were moving while he thought through the problem. It’s a good thing that he was good in the sack. Well, that plus the fact that he was about the size of a small tractor and the only live human that I had seen in months.
“I’m sorry, Becca. I thought that it was a good idea. I thought it would let us see like they do.”
Great, now he was going to pout. “It’s good that you’re trying to help, but next time check with me. I don’t know how the Deaders see us so well in the dark, but I’m sure this won’t let us see them. Okay? Where’d you get that thing, anyway?”
“That police station two towns back. I had already grabbed all of the guns and ammo they had and I found this. I thought that it was a good idea.”
Wonderful, now he was going into some sort of OCD loop and repeating himself. It always seemed to happen when I really, really needed him present in the here and now. Maybe it was his coping mechanism. I usually waited until after we were done trying not to die before I fell apart, but that was just me. To each his own.
“Ryan, it was a good idea. You did fine. I just don’t think it will help us tonight. Maybe if you leave it right here, we’ll pick it up on the way back to the truck when we’re done. Then we can look at it and figure out some way to use it. Can we do that?”
There was a pause as he thought about it, then the soft crunch of him setting the case down in the pine needles. “I’ll put it right here next to this big tree so that we can find it.”
“Good plan.” It was a lousy plan, but it would shut him up and move him on to the fun part of the night. And by “fun” I meant “incredibly dangerous.” “When we come back up the ropes it will be right there. The ropes are ready, right?”
“Yeah, Becca, we just have to toss them down. They should put us right on the roof.”
“Did you double check your guns? You have your knife? And no lights. We go in there in the dark, we come back out the same way.”
“I know the plan, Becca. Get in, grab all the food we can stuff into the baskets, and get out. No lights, stay quiet, try to avoid stirring up the Deaders.”
“Good, Ryan. Let’s do this before we realize what a stupid idea it is.”
In the dim starlight coming through the breaks in the clouds, I could just see the edge of the bluff. Not quite high enough or steep enough to qualify as a cliff, it would still be almost impossible to climb up in daylight without climbing gear or a rope. In the middle of a moonless night pursued by a horde of pissed off Deaders it would be worse.
One by one, Ryan picked up the coiled ropes, swung them, and flung them out into the darkness. All of them had large, crude cloth bags on the end for us to fill with our hard earned booty. After all six lines were set, we groped our way through the dark, grabbed a rope, and started backing slowly down the slope.
As quiet as we were trying to be, there wasn’t any way that the Deaders wouldn’t be aware that something was going on. Their sense of hearing wasn’t nearly as good as their vision, but the sound of the ropes banging down onto the warehouse roof would have tipped them off, and our descent wouldn’t be very stealthy.
We were going to do our best to avoid confronting any Deaders to begin with. Our reconnaissance earlier in the day hadn’t shown any of them on the roof or visible in any of the windows. While there might be thousands of them shuffling around in the parking lot outside, we were betting our lives that they hadn’t gotten inside.
As we finally reached the flat, gravel topped warehouse roof, there was just enough starlight to see where the six dark ropes were against the white roofing material. Not for the first time I wished that we could have just a little bit of light pollution bouncing off the clouds to make things easier. I was not blind to the irony of spending a life wishing for a truly dark sky only to have my fulfilled wish be the thing that might kill me.
We gathered the ropes together and spread out the bags at the edge so they could be filled quickly. Whenever we got close to the edge, we could now hear the Deaders shuffling around below us. When everything was set, it was time to see if we would get lucky and live tonight.
Holding onto Ryan’s hand to keep him near, we went over to the fire escape hatch near the center of the roof. Ryan pulled a crowbar out of his backpack and started to open it.
The explosion was the last thing I had expected.
I heard Ryan grunting as he pried the hatch opening up. Without any warning there was a blinding flash and the loudest noise since the last space shuttle launch. I was flying through the air and hitting the roof hard, face first, a bit like a rag doll. Not my most graceful performance.
As I sat up I decided that I probably wasn’t broken anywhere, but I was scratched and bleeding. My shoulder was protesting with every move, but if I had to climb a two hundred foot cliff with it while a horde of zombies were on my trail, I could probably make do. Good thing, too.
My ears were ringing and I strained to hear anything through the internal noise. Nothing, or rather, I couldn’t hear anything. Not the wind, not my own movements, not the possible screaming of the Deaders or Ryan.
What had happened to Ryan? I looked around as best I could, but the flash of the explosion had destroyed any semblance of dark adaption my eyes might have had. The clouds had started to thicken and cut off what little light I had. Ryan could have been five feet from me and I wouldn’t have seen him.
Heart pounding, high on adrenaline, there was no time to lose. I started crawling around in a circle, slowly moving out, feeling my way and trying to find anything. I never found Ryan, but I did find the hatch.
The good news was that I now had a vague idea of where I was on the roof and which way my escape ropes were. The bad news was that I could feel the fire escape ladder vibrating and shuddering as something slowly climbed it. Probably several somethings. There was no way to see that scenario ending well.
Crawling as quickly as I could toward the ropes, I grabbed the first one I found. I was getting a bit of my vision back and could see where the other ropes were lying. I considered taking them all back up with me so that the Deaders couldn’t use them to climb up behind me, assuming that Deaders could climb a rope, but doing that would strand Ryan. I needed to leave him a chance at saving himself, so I left the other ropes.
The climb up was sheer terror. The last year had forced me to get into the best physical shape of my life, but it was still tough pulling myself up the steep face of the hill, through the brush, in the dark, deaf and almost completely blind. The constant fear of grabbing hands from below just added the icing on the cake.
After an eternity of maybe five minutes I reached the top and pulled myself over the edge. I wanted to lie there to rest for an hour or two, but the life expectancy of doing that worried me. Instead I needed to see if I could find Ryan and help him in some way. If that failed, I needed to make sure that I wasn’t being followed by any Deaders.
The clouds had now completely covered the sky and started to descend. I looked over the edge and couldn’t see a thing in the inky black below me. But lying on the ropes connected to the tree, I could feel three of them jerking and pulling, like I had a marlin hooked on the other end. I guess that answered the question of whether or not Deaders could climb a rope. Even if one of the climbers was Ryan, I was in deep guano.
Looking back from the edge, I tried to see where the truck was parked. The edge of the road was only about a hundred yards through the trees, but in the dark it might as well have been a hundred miles. I could see nothing. Running through the trees might not be a good choice either, even if I could figure out which direction to go through.
The jerking on the ropes was getting more pronounced, and two more of the ropes now had activity. I didn’t know how to help Ryan, but I could buy myself some time. Pulling my knife from my boot I stumbled to my feet to find where the ropes were attached to the tree. Stepping forward to start cutting them, my foot hit a box.
The infrared night vision goggles.
Any port in a storm. I grabbed the goggles and slipped them on my head, then groped around for some kind of controls. A switch on the left side activated them, and suddenly I was a bit less blind. Holding my hand up in front of me I could see it clearly. Turning away from the bluff, off through the trees I could see the truck, its engine still cooling where we had parked it, but still warmer than the trees and hill behind it.
Dropping to my stomach, I leaned over the cliff and looked. There wasn’t much to see since the vegetation, dirt, and building had all reached thermal equilibrium hours ago. But there was enough to see.
Coming up one of the ropes, glowing brightly as he sweated and scrambled for his life, was Ryan. The other five ropes all were jerking, but the climbers were still invisible to me.
Quickly I cut the five ropes holding Deaders and started pulling on the rope that Ryan was on. With my help he was up next to me in a few seconds. While he lay gasping for breath, I looked over the bluff again, but couldn’t get any clues about the progress of the Deader’s pursuit. But I knew it was there, one way or the other. They were like pit bulls crossed with rats. They would find a way.
I pulled Ryan to his feet. I still couldn’t hear much of anything, and I was sure that he was still blind as a bat, but I put his hands on my shoulders and whispered, “Hold on, we’re going.” He must have gotten the idea, giving my shoulder a squeeze. The semi-blind leading the blind, we started through the trees.
Good plan indeed, Ryan.