Ahead of me I could see Rachel and Dog moving through the forest. It wasn’t like seeing them in the daytime, I couldn’t recognize them, but in the green and black world of the NVGs I could see a human and K9 figure. Not imagining there was anyone else out walking their dog I adjusted my direction to follow them, slowing to reduce the noise I was making. Behind me the machine gun had stopped firing. Glancing behind I was dismayed to see several figures following, and checked front to see several more angling in towards Rachel and Dog. Fuckers had to have night vision too.
The suppressor was still attached to my rifle and I pulled up to a stop to make use of it. Raising the NVGs I activated the night vision feature of the mil-spec scope, raised the rifle to my shoulder and took aim on the figures pursuing Rachel and Dog. Taking my time I sighted and fired and the first one dropped, the others freezing in place. That told me these weren’t combat veterans. When you see someone in your group fall the last thing you want to do is stand there and let the shooter pick you off, but that’s exactly what they did. There were three more of them, all motionless and I had dropped two of them before the last guy figured it out and dropped to the forest floor.
Ignoring him for the moment I checked behind me and counted five men approaching, all nicely bunched together and about 40 yards away. Slipping behind the thick trunk of a tree I pulled a grenade from the canvas bag, pulled the pin which sent the spoon flying and started counting. Grenades are supposed to have a five second fuse and I was doing what is known as “cooking off” the grenade, or using up some of that fuse time before throwing it. Done right this results in a grenade exploding almost simultaneously with its arrival on target. Done wrong… well, I think you get the idea. As I reached the count of three in my head I leaned around the tree and tossed the grenade into the middle of the group, ducking back behind the trunk as the explosion shattered the night. Peeking back around I was satisfied to see all five figures laying on the ground, two of them thrashing in pain from their wounds while the other three didn’t move. Next lesson – don’t bunch up.
Turning back to the front I spotted Rachel and Dog, but they were almost at the limit of the NVGs ability to see. The figure that had gone to ground was apparently still eating dirt because I couldn’t see him, so I stepped off as quietly as I could, moving towards his last position. A few steps later and a better angle and I could see him crawling on the ground back the way he’d come from. Raising the rifle I put three rounds into him and he lay still. It’s never a good idea to leave a healthy enemy behind if you have the choice.
Resuming my path behind Rachel and Dog I had only gone a few yards when my NVGs suddenly blinked out. Damn it! Reaching up I flipped the power switch off then back on with no luck. Slapping them didn’t produce favorable results either. It wasn’t the battery. I would have gotten a low battery alert in my field of vision well before they died if that was the problem. I tried the switch once more with the same negative results, gave up and pushed them up and off my face. I still had the night vision scope on the rifle, but didn’t want to try and navigate through the forest with a rifle scope held to one eye. Moving over to the bodies of the group I had shot I found that only one of them had night vision, but it was a cheap civilian set that had probably been purchased at Walmart. It relied on infrared bulbs to provide up to maybe 30 feet of light that could be seen by the goggles. I’ve done a lot of night work and decided they would be more of a hindrance than a help so left them on the body. Raising the rifle I looked through the scope and could no longer see Rachel or Dog, but I knew their direction of travel and didn’t expect to have any problems tracking them.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the lack of the NVGs – I’ve always had very good natural night vision – and the moonlight that was making it through the trees provided all the light I needed to pick my way through the forest. Occasionally I could make out a scuff mark in the carpet of dead leaves and moss on the forest floor where Rachel had drug a foot. Less frequently I came across branches that were bent or snapped off by her passing. I took the time to mask these signs and set up some false trails in case our attackers had someone who knew how to track. I was hearing sounds of pursuit from behind, but they weren’t close enough yet to cause me concern.
The ground was rising and ahead I could see a crest in the terrain and dropped to my stomach to crawl the last few yards. Reaching the crest I popped my head up for a look. Below was a large valley that fell away below me. On the valley floor and at least a mile to my left were numerous camp fires burning like beacons in the night. Taking a look through the rifle scope I spotted Rachel and Dog again. They were a hundred yards in front of me on the slope down into the valley and were stationary, Rachel appearing to be kneeling with Dog at her side. I scanned with the rifle and saw her hesitation. Below her position were a couple of dozen shambling figures, all moving in the direction of the the camp fires.
After another scan of the area I slithered over the crest – try slithering sometime with 100 plus pounds on your back – and climbed back to my feet when I was far enough below the edge to not show myself to any pursuers. A gentle breeze was blowing in my face so I knew Dog wouldn’t scent me as I approached. Moving cautiously and quietly I stopped ten yards from them and stepped behind a tree in case I startled Rachel enough to make her trigger happy. Peering around the tree I whistled low and soft, hoping I sounded as much like a night bird as I was trying to. Dog shifted and looked straight at me. Rachel didn’t hear me but snapped her head around and raised her rifle when Dog shifted his attention.
“Dog, come here,” I called, just loud enough for him to hear. He got up and trotted to me, tail wagging, and I could see Rachel relax and lower the rifle. Scratching Dog’s head I walked to Rachel and kneeled down next to her.
“How the hell did you get so close without either of us knowing?” She asked in a quiet whisper.
“I used the Force,” was my flippant answer. Rachel just looked at me. “Really? That does it. Next town we come to I’m finding a copy of Star Wars and making you watch it.”
Rachel looked at me for a few moments, let out a quiet sigh and shook her head.
“There’s infected moving through the forest toward that camp,” Rachel said, pointing down the valley.
“I saw them. There’s also some of the guys from the ambush coming up behind us. I think we need to avoid everyone; camp, infected and ambushers.”
Rachel shook her head and looked me in the eye, “What if that camp is just some innocent survivors? It’s too out of the way to belong to the guys that blocked the road, and they may not be ready for the infected. I think we should try to help them.”
“Not our fight,” I said, shaking my head. “We’re running for our lives. We don’t have the luxury of riding in to save the day.”
“Listen,” Rachel said, reaching out and grasping my arm. “I’ve followed your lead without question, but you’re wrong here. There could be children in that camp.”
“And there could be a bunch of assholes like the ones that captured you,” I answered.
“True,” she answered after thinking about it for a minute. “But we need to find out.”
We sat that way for a few heartbeats, staring at each other. The thing was she was probably right, and if my wife Katie was here she’d be telling me the same thing. Shit!
“OK,” I answered with more enthusiasm than I felt.
Raising the rifle I looked through the scope and tracked the slow, shambling path of the infected. All males. At least that was a little bit of good news. Turning I checked the ridgeline behind us and saw a couple of figures silhouetted against the sky. As I watched two more joined them and the four of them lined up nice and straight for me. If we were going to try and help the people in the camp, first things first.
Sighting in on the figure farthest to the right I fired and immediately adjusted to the next in line and fired before the first body had even hit the ground. Two more shots and all four were down, one of them falling forward over the crest and tumbling down into the valley. The body made a lot of noise crashing through the brush and I spun to see if the infected had heard, but they were apparently far enough away that neither the sound of my suppressed rifle nor the body falling down the slope caught their attention. I held the rifle pointed at the crest for five minutes to see if any heads were going to pop up but none did and I finally stood up, slung the rifle and helped Rachel to her feet.
“Stay behind me and stay quiet,” I told her.
Stepping forward I moved farther down into the valley. A few minutes later we passed a rocky outcropping with a shallow cave and I stopped. Shedding my pack I stuffed it into the cave, feeling every ounce of the weight that had just come off my back. Helping Rachel out of hers I stashed it with mine, took a look around to imprint the location in my mind and started moving again. Without the packs we moved much faster and within a few minutes had caught up with the rear stragglers of the small herd of infected.
Two males shambled through the forest, side by side, just a dozen yards ahead of us. Both appeared to have leg injuries that were slowing them down, but they kept pushing on, continually stumbling on the uneven terrain but managing to stay on their feet. Wanting to save my ammo I drew the Kukri and moved up behind them with short, quick and silent steps. I dropped the first one by severing the spinal column in the back of his neck. Wrenching the blade free I turned to meet the other who had stopped when his travelling buddy went down. An upward thrust buried the steel all the way into his brain and he too dropped to the forest floor and lay still. Wiping the blade clean I waited for Rachel and Dog to move forward then we continued our pursuit of the infected.
The next group we caught up to was five males, and they pretty much seemed to represent a good cross section of America. A teenager was the furthest back, his progress hindered by the baggy jeans he wore that had fallen to his ankles and limited him to a slow shuffle. It would have been funny if he wasn’t one of the infected. I came up behind him and took him out with a quick thrust of the blade into his back, piercing his heart. The next infected was dressed like a used car salesman, polyester pants included, and was grossly obese. Not wanting to tangle with that much mass I raised the rifle and took a moment to scan the area. There were the four remaining infected right in front of me, oblivious to my presence, then another small group about 75 yards farther ahead. Swinging back to the fat man I shot him in the head, adjusted aim and brought down what looked like a farmer wearing overalls. The remaining two, one wearing surgical scrubs and one in a three piece suit heard the rifle and turned, snarling, but I quickly zeroed on their heads and put them down as well.
I re-scanned 360 degrees but there were no immediate threats. Waving to Rachel we moved out again, continuing our pursuit. After a few minutes I paused and scanned 180 degrees to our front, spying 11 more infected with the scope. They were bunched tightly and moving at a decent clip, and I could make out another seven farther in front of them. That was all I could see, but the two groups were a little too large and bunched together too tightly for me to want to go charging in with the Kukri. I wasn’t happy with my firing lanes so changed direction and started angling to the left of the two groups, moving fast enough to pass them. My intent was to get to their front and set up so I could fire down the slope of the side of the valley. Fifteen quiet minutes later we were in place amongst an outcropping of rocks. I settled in behind a large boulder on my knees, rifle resting on my left arm along the top of the boulder, and sighted on the lead group through the scope.
I had 18 targets to take out. Suicide, most likely, if these had been soldiers who could respond, move and shoot back in a coordinated effort. But being infected I knew they would just keep shambling along, ignoring the deaths of the ones around them. The biggest risk was the noise I was going to make with the rifle. Yes, it was equipped with a sound suppressor, but that doesn’t mean it’s silent, regardless of portrayals on TV and in movies. A sound suppressor will significantly reduce the sound that comes out of the muzzle of a firearm, but it doesn’t eliminate it. It doesn’t make the weapon sound like a blow gun. It helps, a lot, but the weapon is still loud enough to be identified and located within about 50 yards. I also worried about infected or ambushers stumbling up on our backs and I set Rachel up to watch behind us so I could focus on my targets.
Calming my breathing I sighted on the target farthest to the front and squeezed the trigger, a blink later watching the body fall in the scope. Methodically I started working my way back into the group, a body falling every time I pulled the trigger. Nine infected were lying dead on the ground when my rifle misfired. I could tell by the sound of the bolt cycling that it didn’t fully load a new round after I shot the ninth target. Reaching down in the dark I could feel the bolt being held open by a round that was sticking out of the ejection port. Going through the progression for clearing a miss-feed I first slapped the bottom of the magazine to make sure it was seated properly, then pulled on the charging handle to hopefully cause the round to eject so a new one could feed in. The handle pulled back, but the round was stuck. Taking a second I scanned with the scope and saw that the infected had heard the rifle and were shambling up the slope towards us. The closest one was about 40 yards away, but his lack of coordination and the slope he was climbing meant I had lots of time before he arrived.
I fought with the stuck round for what seemed forever, finally prying it free and tossing it away. Pulling the charging handle I was happy to hear the bolt cycle completely, brought the rifle back up, sighted on the approaching infected and pulled the trigger. Nothing. Damn it! Grabbing the charging handle I pulled it, heard the ejected round hit the ground, let it go and it slammed home. Sighted again on the infected that was getting a little too close, pulled the trigger and… nothing. The infected was now less than 20 yards away and the rest of the small herd was right on his heels. I thought about going to my pistol, but I was hesitant to fire a weapon that wasn’t suppressed. I didn’t know how many more infected might be in the area that would zero in on the noise, let alone whether or not there were females roaming the woods. I also had to think about the ambushers as well as the people in the camp we were trying to protect. I didn’t have time to reflect on the irony of trying to protect people that might want to try and capture or kill me.
Placing the malfunctioning rifle on the ground I stood, drew the Kukri and stepped around the rock to meet the approaching infected. Dog moved up beside me, head down and hackles raised as he growled and showed his teeth. Advancing I swung the Kukri and nearly decapitated the infected closest to me, stepping to the side as the body hit the forest floor. Dog bounded past me and slammed into the chest of a large male, carrying him to the ground where he started ripping into its throat. I was in a frenzy, slashing and stabbing infected as I moved further down the slope. Dog took another male to the ground, rolling in its embrace before locking his jaws on its throat. Hands brushed me and once a hand got a grip on my left sleeve and started pulling but I slashed with the blade and severed the arm of the attacking infected at the elbow, reversed the Kukri and buried the point in the his head. Then there were no more infected.
Looking around I counted nine bodies on the ground. Dog had killed three and I had hacked and slashed my way through the other six. During the battle I had wound up moving almost 50 yards down the slope and slowly climbed back up to where Rachel was waiting. Dog bounded past me, his four long legs eating up the ground. I had just made it back to the rocks where I had initiated the battle when a blinding spotlight lit up the area.