Jerm used to be scared of crossing bridges when he was a little kid. Their mother told them stories about the three billy goats Gruff and Jerm was always afraid there was a troll hiding in the creek, waiting to eat them. Micah practically had to drag him across the bridge.
“I’m the biggest billy goat gruff!” Micha would cry at the foot of the bridge, imitating the fairy tale. “If you come out, troll, I’ll poke out your eyes and crush your bones!” With that, Micah would say to Jerm. “There! Now the troll won’t bother us. Come on!” And they would cross the bridge together to go pick peaches.
Micah felt like the troll now, skulking about in the dark, searching for the reverend. The guards were all leaving to the entrances to block off the incoming zombies and refugees. In spite of it being an emergency, he took the elevator to avoid notice. This was a zombie attack, not a fire, after all. Not yet.
“I have two spears,” the biggest billy goat Gruff said. He was dressed in a guard’s uniform, courtesy of the man on the first floor. Nobody would recognize him, and there was blood on the shirt, but a second’s hesitation was all he needed. The guards were all at the door with their rifles. Like fish in a barrel. Micah walked toward the group, ranting about the infestation below.
“Hold there. You need medical attention, brother.” Micah shot him in the chest, as well as the two other guards. Then, each in the head. He breathed heavily. If the zombies had not attacked, he would be dead. There should be more guards than this. Perhaps this really was God’s intervention that he was able to get this far. Micah took one of the dead men’s rifles. He kicked at the door, backed up and shot at it. He kicked again. Again. The door began to bust apart. He shot again at the door handle, picked up another gun.
“I have these stones to crush your bones,” said the eldest billy goat Gruff. The door gave way and Micah’s bullets sprayed the room. He blinked once, knowing that he should be dead now. He looked around. These men were all unarmed, shot in the back. had been praying, most likely. Micah tried to swallow down the horrible bile of guilt that threatened to tear apart his guts from the inside out. He closed his eyes and all he saw were corpses. Be strong. This is for Jerm. Cut the beast off at the head.
“Oh, God…” a man breathed, frightened. Did Jerm beg for his life? Did Micah’s brother know the reason why he had to die? This man had been standing at the pulpit, higher up than the others. Micah had only shot out his legs. Perhaps he was consoling them, fortifying their faith in God and his “angels,” the zombies.
“Father, you have sinned.”
“God!” he shrieked. Micah butted the man in the face with the rifle. He surveyed the room, looking for surivors. There was an adjacent room, a kitchen, most likely added by the Rapturists when they moved in. The staff was still there. Micah unloaded his rifle into the room. They were going to die anyway and Micah already had blood on his hands. Better now than in the fire. This is what he told himself as he re-entered the main room and dragged the wounded reverend into the kitchen.
“Father, you have sinned.”
He prayed for forgiveness, deliverance, forbearance. There would be no escape. He would not know why he had to die. He would merely suffer and die. Micah decided the only mercy he would give the man is that he would kill him before his corpse came back life.
Micah began by cutting out the reverend’s eyes. “I have two spears,” he said. “To stab out your eyes.” Micah started up the food processor, sticking the reverend’s hand into it. Then the other. “I have two stones,” he said, “to crush your bones.” The troll hiding under the bridge. Micah would have to kill him to protect Jerm. To protect Jerm, so they could cross the bridge together. The bridge, across the creek with the troll. The troll kept screaming. Micah dragged the troll to the meat slicer and slammed his face into it, setting the machine to auto slice. Micah fought with all his might to keep the troll there as the machine sliced him away, a little bit at a time. Finally, the troll stopped struggling. Micah turned on the gas stove and threw him on. He dragged all of the bodies inside the room, corpses to fuel the fire.
Micah walked back into the main room, up to the podium. He looked out the window at the sky.
“The sun is so close, Jerm,” Micah said, tears streaming down his face. “Why’s the sun so close when it’s so damn cold up here? I don’t understand…” He closed his eyes and put pistol to his temple. Jerm would have to cross the bridge alone.
* * *
Josh and Theo rode in through the stampede of people and zombies. A horde of people stood on the car, trying to break their way inside. Vera jumped off the table and ran for the car. She was lost in the sea of people. Tobias unholstered his dad’s old revolver and inhaled deep to keep from trembling. These were people. Tobias could try to shoot to maim, but then they’d be dead anyway. Zombie chow. Either way, they were going to trample Vera.
“Damn it!” he growled, squeezing the trigger. The outburst caused him to shoot too high, clipping a man on the shoulder instead of piercing his chest. “Thank God.” Tobias spoke too soon. His firing into the crowd had done nothing to scare the crowd away from Vera. They were already too panicked, like animals. In his peripheral, Tobias saw Theo jump out of the car.
“Theo! Damn it!”
Tobias’s heart seemed to slow. Vera’s body was lost in the stampede. Theo, who had flung his door open to save her, was quickly taken by the crowd, which seeped into Josh’s car. Josh was thrown out and crush under the wheel as the car crushed everyone in its way, driven by a hysterical creature bent on safety. Vera was dead. Josh was dead. Tobias fired off a few rounds into the crowd around Theo, but he was too late. The wave of zombies crashed in like the ocean tide. He aimed at Theo’s head to save him the pain of being eaten alive, but a large body crashed into Tobias, his gun flying from his hands. The wind had been knocked out of him, but he managed to keep his footing and keep from being trampled. Somehow, he was able to pick out Theo’s death cries.
Tobias ran with the crowd to keep himself from being crushed under frantic heels. They were trying to break into the Rapturist compound. He crouched low and covered his head. Gunfire was spraying the spearhead of this phalanx. The guards were making a futile stand to keep the populace from entering the cathedral. The gunfire quickly died out as the unstoppable wave of people and zombies crashed through the windows and doors. It was like being caught in a flashflood. Tobias’s clothes were torn, bruises smashed all over his arms and middle. He gained a reprieve when the large lobby fanned out and he was crushed a little less. The crowd was headed upstairs, for the most part.
Tobias remembered Raj saying that zombies could fall down stairs, but they had trouble climbing up. Still, Tobias had to go with his gut and get away from the stampede before he was killed. There were a few people that trickled downstairs. Tobias followed this tributary of lost souls down into the basement. The hallway ended in a locked door: “employees only.” The people at the door were ramming into it with their shoulders, trying to push it down.
“Out of the way! You!” Tobias grabbed the arm of the largest man at the door, a man he vaguely recognized from his time in the militia. The man was thick, weighted down with almost as much fat as muscle. He’d do fine. “On the count of three, we kick at the same time! Okay?” The man nodded.
“One. Two~! Three!” They took their rear legs and shoved them into the door. For a second, Tobias thought it was going to give. “Again!” They kicked again and hinges began to give way. A final time and the door was ready to be tossed down by the mob.
“Let’s go! Let’s go!”
The place they entered was pitch black and reeked of piss and blood. “Light switch! Find it!” The fluorescent lighting flickered on. Tobias almost wished someone would turn it off. People were pinned or chained to the walls, dying or dead. It was some kind of dungeon. The crowd walked through the room, dazed and fearful. Tobias spied a young woman in fair condition, if a little shaken up. It was Sarah Scarborough.
She writhed, as if the name gave her pain. “You’re Sarah Scarborough, ain’t you?”
“She won’t talk. She’s been raped too many times to respond to anyone anymore.” Tobias jumped at the sound of the man’s voice; he couldn’t have been sure that the man hanging there on the wall was actually alive or not.
“I was hired by Sarah’s husband…” Tobias started to say. It sounded strange now, as if it had happened to him in another life and he was just remembering. “To find…” His friends were all dead. He paused, staring into space, remembering that sound that could have been Theo. No. It had unmistakably been Theo screaming for death.
“What’s your name?” the man asked.
“I’m Hermann. Dr. Hermann Schulz.”
This brought Tobias from his more painful memories. “You’re Dr. Z.”
“Some call me that.”
“Let me try to get you two out of those chains.”
“It won’t matter,” Hermann said. “The zombies will come down here any minute. It would take a miracle to keep them at bay.”
“Don’t worry about that now.”
The crowd, suddenly aware of themselves and their safety, began acting like humans again. They tried their best to break or pry the chains from the walls. Following this, they all waited for the zombies to arrive. There were many loud and strange noises, but no zombies. After what could have been 5 or 10 hours (nobody was certain), Tobias left to check. The building was scorched and collapsed in places. There had been a fire.
“Well, Dr. Z. I guess this is our miracle.”
“I don’t suppose the kitchen burned down?” Dr. Z croaked. “I’m starving.”