Supernatural Fiction posted December 28, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level
fear breaks down tolerance

Zone Z

by mfowler

Zombie Contest Winner 

'There's something brewing in the Zombie sector, General. The fleepers are coming back with some strange footage. Rallies every day in the main square. Seems like every last one of those sons-o-bitches is coming out to play. Hard to get too much detail from that high up.'
Rogers leans his KK94 on the desk as if his latest bit of news will stir me to some sort of action. 'Captain, the zombies get a bit excited now and then. We've seen this kind of thing before. Ever since we sectioned them off into Zone Z, built the hyper-wall, and promised a steady supply of fresh meat, they've gone about their business without causing too much trouble.'
Rogers stands erect. 'With respect, General. You can't trust this generation. There's too many hotheads in the population. I say we neutralise a few dozen of them from the towers and they'll soon calm down.'
He's a bit of a hothead himself, but Rogers is a fine soldier. 'Let me give you a bit of perspective, Captain, from someone who's been there since the apocalypse was thwarted in 2095.'
Rogers relaxes, sits down in my leather interview seat. 'Martini, Captain? I hope you like them dry.'
'Thank you, Sir.'
I prepare the martini's ingredients with particular care. 'The peculiar element distinguishing the 2095 zombie apocalypse was the emergence of a new zombie super-strain that showed the capacity to adapt the characteristics of their victims to personalities of their own. The three previous invasions of the undead in 2020, 2064, and 2075 had been easily turned back by conventional weaponry, but 2095's emptying of the overflow from hell was successful to the point where humans now live alongside these crossbreeds of the apocalypse.'
'That's common knowledge, if you don't mind me saying, General.' He accepts my hospitality and takes a sip.
'I remember the day, it was yesterday. The earth exploded with the undead in one sudden movement of time. Out of every graveyard in every town across the world, the zombies stormed into the lives of our citizens. I was deployed as a young soldier to fight them in semi-urban Melbourne. We were pretty confident our artillery and hand weapons would hold them off easily.'
'This is a great tale, General, but it's ancient history. It's Zone Z we have to worry about.'
'Patience, Rogers...The smoke from our initial pounding of Ballarat's Main Cemetery left a pall of mustard coloured fog about the graves and surrounding district. Our commanders were congratulating themselves, when out of the gloom we saw the shapes of the undead moving resolutely in our direction.  They came in such numbers our platoon was overwhelmed and decimated as they crunched their way through our armoured uniforms.'
The Captain leans forward;  sips slowly on his martini. ' did you survive?'

'One big female cornered me near a grove of trees. I thought I was a gonner but managed to slice her big ugly noggin off the body with my machete, standard issue on those zombie patrols. I crept out belly-down along the ground under the cover of the artillery cloud.'
'I see,' says Rogers swallowing the remainder of his drink in one gulp. 'How did we prevail then?'
'We didn't exactly. Sure, the forces got the better of most of the outbreaks around the world, but something happened which we'd never seen before in our encounters with the creatures. Zombies suddenly developed limited speech patterns, looked more alive, and worst of all, they seemed to have developed the ability to think.'
'Who really knows? But, we do know many began to sound like people other humans recognised, always those who'd been taken during the attacks.'
'You mean, they became people like us after eating the brains of living souls?'
'It would seem so, though no-one's ever done the science to prove it.'
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!  I answer the phone. 'General Pattern.'
'Sir, there's a riot in Zone Z. The whole population's running amok. Many are smashing vehicles and heavy objects into the hyper-wall. Awaiting orders, General.'
Rogers raises his heavy eyebrows with a sort of 'I-told-you-so' look young officers often adopt around higher ranks.
'Listen carefully, Hargraves. Inform the wall commanders to monitor the situation closely, but under no circumstance attack. Let's see if the creatures don't run out of steam themselves before we act.  Keep me informed.'
'Maybe it's time?' says Rogers.
'Patience, Captain. These creatures have been under our protection since the Armistice. You know, the agreement world leaders came to with the zombies after '95. We recognised their right to exist and we protect them from human interference. It was a breakthrough after so much death. The Z-Zones meant segregation, but at least we've co-existed for thirty years without too much palaver.'
'I tell you, General. These bastards are smarter than their parents. They want more than a caged existence under human protection. This new trouble has been seen in the Z-Zones in Afghanistan and Canada. Twenty Canadian troops were lost before they could exterminate the zombies who'd escaped.'
Roger's facts are all too familiar and I feel a nervous tickle in my throat. 'Don't worry. South-East Australia's Z-Zone is tighter than a bee's arse. Not one of them have ever left the compound in the time I've been in charge.'
'They've tunnelled out, General. A group of them came out under the heating pipes running by Tower 1. Ten men down already.'
I can feel my face becoming flushed. 'Rogers, you're right. They've become smarter. Get down there and do what you have to.'
The captain salutes with enthusiasm, his smirk showing he's getting just what he wanted.  'On my way, General Pattern, Sir.'
I close the door behind him and pour another drink. A commotion in the adjoining office catches my attention. I draw my gun, then open the door carefully.  Two large freaks are tearing Rogers apart, their attack on his body so ferocious he can't even scream.
I fire my weapon from the partially open door into the closest creature. His head explodes in a flurry of dust-like material and brain matter.  The other turns and looks in my direction. I shut the door and proceed to lock in the security code. A great fist splinters the oak centimetres from my face and suddenly a zombie is clawing away the remaining panel work.
I fire again and the zombie falls away only to be replaced by two more. They keep coming, ripping at the door. I fell two more but run out of ammunition. I run to the desk and scrabble around in the top drawer for a fresh clip.
Two enormous males burst into the room. They have the same staggered movements of the old breed and their bodies are pocked with indentations and scarring. But, it's the eyes that are different. No longer hollow and inert, there's life in those faces.
'Stand back,' I order as the clip slips neatly into the gun. 'I'll shoot to kill.'
'Kill. Kill,' says the shorter of the two, as if he was mimicking my warning.
But, it was the larger one who unnerves me most. In a voice vaguely familiar, he groans, 'On my way, General Pattern, Sir. On my way, General Pattern, Sir.'
He lurches towards me and I fire, point blank into his lop-sided forehead. The dust and brain matter I now presume to be partly that of Captain Rogers, splatters across my desk and over my face. The smaller beast attacks and I bring him down with three shots to the face.
Suddenly, in bursts Hargraves with a half a dozen troops. 'You alright, General?' he calls.
'Shaken, a little stirred,' I reply. 'What's happening out there?'
'We've taken out seven of the enemy, sir. With these, that's just about all of them accounted for. A-company is sealing the leak as we speak.'
'Good work, Hargraves,' I reply as I scrape the undead matter from my face.
'One more thing, General. This document was found near the escape hole.' He hands me a tatty scrap of paper inscribed with words written in red. The writing was child-like in style, but organised.
'What's it say, General?' Hargraves is leaning over my desk with piqued interest.
I read the words as best as I can decipher. 'Our demands: We need more animals.  We need books. We need more land.'
'They were here to negotiate, General, and we attacked them.'
Fear divides this world, now, as has always been the case. The Armistice of 2095 seemed a great leap forward in the human race's ability to cope with difference. While the zombies were still dumb beasts locked away from our world there was still a chance for peace. This latest outbreak was an attempt to communicate a simple list of needs, but it also reflects the evolution of the undead. Humans won't ever be able to trust an intelligent zombie race.
I can see no chance of future tolerance, or peace between the species. Fear always seems to win out in the end.


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