World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Page 12


For me, the most surreal moment was standing in the kitchen with some of the staff and other bodyguards, all of us watching the news that was showing, guess what, us! The cameras were literally in the other room, pointed at some of the “stars” as they sat on the couch watching another news channel. The feed was live from New York’s Upper East Side; the dead were coming right up Third Avenue, people were taking them on hand to hand, hammers and pipes, the manager of a Modell’s Sporting Goods was handing out all his baseball bats and shouting “Get ’em in the head!” There was this one guy on rollerblades. He had a hockey stick in his hand, a big ’ole meat cleaver bolted to the blade. He was doing an easy thirty, at that speed he might have taken a neck or two. The camera saw the whole thing, the rotted arm that shot out of the sewer drain right in front of him, the poor guy back flipping into the air, coming down hard on his face, then being dragged, screaming, by his ponytail into the drain. At that moment the camera in our living room swung back to catch the reactions of the watching celebs. There were a few gasps, some honest, some staged. I remember thinking I had less respect for the ones who tried to fake some tears than I did for the little spoiled whore who called the rollerblading guy a “dumbass.” Hey, at least she was being honest. I remember I was standing next to this guy, Sergei, a miserable, sad-faced, hulking motherfucker. His stories about growing up in Russia convinced me that not all Third World cesspools had to be tropical. It was when the camera was catching the reactions of the beautiful people that he mumbled something to himself in Russian. The only word I could make out was “Romanovs” and I was about to ask him what he meant when we all heard the alarm go off.
Something had triggered the pressure sensors we’d placed several miles around the wall. They were sensitive enough to detect just one zombie, now they were going crazy. Our radios were squawking: “Contact, contact, southwest corner…shit, there’s hundreds of them!” It was a damn big house, it took me a few minutes to get to my firing position. I didn’t understand why the lookout was so nervous. So what if there were a couple hundred. They’d never get over the wall. Then I heard him shout “They’re running! Holy fuckin’ shit, they’re fast!” Fast zombies, that turned my gut. If they could run, they could climb, if they could climb, maybe they could think, and if they could think…now I was scared. I remember our boss’s friends were all raiding the armory, racing around like extras in an ’80s action flick by the time I made the third-floor guestroom window.
I flipped the safety off my weapon and flipped the guards off my sight. It was one of the newest Gen’s, a fusion of light amplification and thermal imaging. I didn’t need the second part because Gs gave off no body heat. So when I saw the searing, bright green signatures of several hundred runners, my throat tightened. Those weren’t living dead.
“There it is!” I heard them shout. “That’s the house on the news!” They were carrying ladders, guns, babies. A couple of them had these heavy satchels strapped to their backs. They were booking it for the front gate, big tough steel that was supposed to stop a thousand ghouls. The explosion tore them right off their hinges, sent them flipping into the house like giant ninja stars. “Fire!” the boss was screaming into the radio. “Knock ’em down! Kill ’em! Shootshootshoot!”
The “attackers,” for lack of a better label, stampeded for the house. The courtyard was full of parked vehicles, sports cars and Hummers, and even a monster truck belonging to some NFL cat. Freakin fireballs, all of them, blowing over on their sides or just burning in place, this thick oily smoke from their tires blinding and choking everyone. All you could hear was gunfire, ours and theirs, and not just our private security team. Any big shot who wasn’t crapping his pants either had it in his head to be a hero, or felt he had to protect his rep in front of his peeps. A lot of them demanded that their entourage protect them. Some did, these poor twenty-year-old personal assistants who’d never fired a gun in their lives. They didn’t last very long. But then there were also the peons who turned and joined the attackers. I saw this one real queeny hairdresser stab an actress in the mouth with a letter opener, and, ironically, I watched Mister “Get It Done” try to wrestle a grenade away from the talent show guy before it went off in their hands.
It was bedlam, exactly what you thought the end of the world was supposed to look like. Part of the house was burning, blood everywhere, bodies or bits of them spewed over all that expensive stuff. I met the whore’s rat dog as we were both heading for the back door. He looked at me, I looked at him. If it’d been a conversation, it probably woulda gone like, “What about your master?” “What about yours?” “Fuck ’em.” That was the attitude among a lot of the hired guns, the reason I hadn’t fired a shot all night. We’d been paid to protect rich people from zombies, not against other not-so-rich people who just wanted a safe place to hide. You could hear them shouting as they charged in through the front door. Not “grab the booze” or “rape the bitches”; it was “put out the fire!” and “get the women and kids upstairs!”
I stepped over Mister Political Comedy Guy on my way out to the beach. He and this chick, this leathery old blonde who I thought was supposed to be his political enemy, were goin’ at it like there was no tomorrow, and, hey, maybe for them, there wasn’t. I made it out to the sand, found a surfboard, probably worth more than the house I grew up in, and started paddling for the lights on the horizon. There were a lot of boats on the water that night, a lot of people gettin’ outta Dodge. I hoped one of them might give me a ride as far as New York Harbor. Hopefully I could bribe them with a pair of diamond earrings.
[He finishes his shot of rum and signals for another.]
Sometimes I ask myself, why didn’t they all just shut the fuck up, you know? Not just my boss, but all of those pampered parasites. They had the means to stay way outta harm’s way, so why didn’t they use it; go to Antarctica or Greenland or just stay where they were but stay the hell outta the public eye? But then again, maybe they couldn’t, like a switch you just can’t turn off. Maybe it’s what made them who they were in the first place. But what the hell do I know?
[The waiter arrives with another shot and T. Sean flicks a silver rand coin to him.]
“If you got it, flaunt it.”
[From the surface, all that is visible are the funnels, the massive, carefully sculpted wind catchers that continue to bring fresh, albeit cold, air to the three-hundred-kilometer maze below. Few of the quarter million people who once inhabited this hand-carved marvel of engineering have remained. Some stay to encourage the small but growing tourist trade. Some are here as custodians, living on the pension that goes with UNESCO’s renewed World Heritage Program. Some, like Ahmed Farahnakian, formerly Major Farahnakian of the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps Air Force, have nowhere else to go.]
India and Pakistan. Like North and South Korea or NATO and the old Warsaw Pact. If two sides were going to use nuclear weapons against each other, it had to be India and Pakistan. Everyone knew it, everyone expected it, and that is exactly why it didn’t happen. Because the danger was so omnipresent, all the machinery had been put in place over the years to avoid it. The hotline between the two capitals was in place, ambassadors were on a first-name basis, and generals, politicians, and everyone involved in the process was trained to make sure the day they all feared never came. No one could have imagined—I certainly didn’t—that events would unfold as they did.
The infection hadn’t hit us as hard as some other countries. Our land was very mountainous. Transportation was difficult. Our population was relatively small; given the size of our country and when you consider that many of our cities could be easily isolated by a proportionately large military, it is not difficult to see how optimistic our leadership was.
The problem was refugees, millions of them from the east, millions! Streaming across Baluchistan, throwing our plans into disarray. So many areas were already infected, great swarms slouching toward our cities. Our border guards were overwhelmed, entire outposts buried under waves of ghouls. There was no way to close the border and at the same time deal with our own outbreaks.
We demanded that the Pakistanis get control of their people. They assured us they were doing all they could. We knew they were lying.
The majority of refugees came from India, just passing through Pakistan in an attempt to reach someplace safe. Those in Islamabad were quite willing to let them go. Better to pass the problem along to another nation than have to deal with it themselves. Perhaps if we could have combined our forces, coordinated a joint operation at some appropriately defensible location. I know the plans were on the table. Pakistan’s south central mountains: the Pab, the Kirthar, the Central Brahui range. We could have stopped any number of refugees, or living dead. Our plan was refused. Some paranoid military attaché at their embassy told us outright that any foreign troops on their soil would be seen as a declaration of war. I don’t know if their president ever saw our proposal; our leaders never spoke to him directly. You see what I mean about India and Pakistan. We didn’t have their relationship. The diplomatic machinery was not in place. For all we know this little shit-eating colonel informed his government that we were attempting to annex their western provinces!
But what could we do? Every day hundreds of thousands of people crossed our border, and of those perhaps tens of thousands were infected! We had to take decisive action. We had to protect ourselves!
There is a road that runs between our two countries. It is small by your standards, not even paved in most places, but it was the main southern artery in Baluchistan. To cut it at just one place, the Ketch River Bridge, would have effectively sealed off 60 percent of all refugee traffic. I flew the mission myself, at night with a heavy escort. You didn’t need image intensifiers. You could see the headlights from miles away, a long, thin white trail in the darkness. I could even see small-arms flashes. The area was heavily infested. I targeted the bridge’s center foundation, which would be the hardest part to repair. The bombs separated cleanly. They were high-explosive, conventional ordnance, just enough to do the job. American aircraft, from when we used to be your allies of convenience, used to destroy a bridge built with American aid for the same purpose. The irony was not lost on the high command. Personally, I could have cared less. As soon as I felt my Phantom lighten, I hit my burners, waited for my observer plane’s report, and prayed with all my might that the Pakistanis wouldn’t retaliate.
Of course my prayers went unanswered. Three hours later their garrison at Qila Safed shot up our border station. I know now that our president and Ayatollah were willing to stand down. We’d gotten what we wanted, they’d gotten their revenge. Tit for tat, let it go. But who was going to tell the other side? Their embassy in Tehran had destroyed its codes and radios. That sonofabitching colonel had shot himself rather than betray any “state secrets.” We had no hotline, no diplomatic channels. We didn’t know how to contact the Pakistani leadership. We didn’t even know if there was any leadership left. It was such a mess, confusion turning to anger, anger turning on our neighbors. Every hour the conflict escalated. Border clashes, air strikes. It happened so fast, just three days of conventional warfare, neither side having any clear objective, just panicked rage.
[He shrugs.]
We created a beast, a nuclear monster that neither side could tame…Tehran, Islamabad, Qom, Lahore, Bandar Abbas, Ormara, Emam Khomeyni, Faisalabad. No one knows how many died in the blasts or would die when the radiation clouds began to spread over our countries, over India, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, over America.
No one thought it could happen, not between us. For God’s sake, they helped us build our nuclear program from the ground up! They supplied the materials, the technology, the third party brokering with North Korea and Russian renegades…we wouldn’t have been a nuclear power if it wasn’t for our fraternal Muslim brothers. No one would have expected it, but then again, no one would have expected the dead to rise, now would they? Only one could have foreseen this, and I don’t believe in him anymore.
[My train is late. The western drawbridge is being tested. Todd Wainio doesn’t seem to mind waiting for me at the platform. We shake hands under the station’s mural of Victory, easily the most recognizable image of the American experience in World War Z. Originally taken from a photograph, it depicts a squad of soldiers standing on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, their backs turned to us as they watch dawn break over Manhattan. My host looks very small and frail next to these towering, two-dimensional icons. Like most men of his generation, Todd Wainio is old before his time. With an expanding paunch, receding, graying hair, and three, deep, parallel scars down the side of his right cheek, it would be difficult to guess that this former U.S. Army infantryman is still, at least chronologically, at the beginning of his life.]
The sky was red that day. All the smoke, the crap that’d been filling the air all summer. It put everything in an amber red light, like looking at the world through hell-colored glasses. That’s how I first saw Yonkers, this little, depressed, rust-collar burb just north of New York City. I don’t think anybody ever heard of it. I sure as hell hadn’t, and now it’s up there with, like, Pearl Harbor…no, not Pearl…that was a surprise attack. This was more like Little Bighorn, where we…well…at least the people in charge, they knew what was up, or they should have. The point is, it wasn’t a surprise, the war…or emergency, or whatever you want to call it…it was already on. It had been, what, three months since everyone jumped on the panic train.