The Day the Dead Died

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic story that features zombies.... view prompt

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Thriller Fantasy

There was a vaccine. Developed in a bunker in the middle of Montana, a bunch of surviving scientists and government officials found a way to counter the infection. And the world was saved.

But Gabriella Lotus knew the truth, and she would have to take it to her grave. She was the only survivor of bunker 5624. And this is what really happened the Day the Dead Died.  

August 18th was a warm sunny day with a gentle breeze. In any other circumstance it would have been the perfect the day. But that was ruined by the flesh-eating cannibals that roamed the entire earth. Over 100 feet underground was bunker 5624, one of the last remaining safe places on earth. However, it was not zombie-free.

The bunker consisted of an entire floor of cells that housed the in-house zombie patients. The grunting, the groaning. Did you know that the dead grind their teeth? And then the teeth rot and fall out of their mouths. There were teeth littering the floor, and then the dead would just chomp their jaws over and over. Gabriella hated it down there.

She was a soldier. Fought over seas. Trained in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat. Her and her squad of 7 (there used to be 10 in total but two of them were killed during the early stages of the infection), were tasked with making sure the dead test subjects didn’t escape.

Testing took time. They ran out of materials a lot. People would have to go out and find some. They needed the right equipment. They needed power.

Terri started a bet amongst the squad at what point the scientists would succeed. She bet six months. Winston and Penelope bet 1 year. James, Rose, and Rafael bet a year and 4 months.  Hassan went with two years. Gabriella decided on anything past two years.

It would be four years, seven months, and fourteen days before the vaccine was made. On the bright side, she won the bet.

One day about a year before the Day the Dead Died, James made a mistake while moving a zombie from the testing lab back to the cells. It was going crazy, swinging its arms about, its eyes nearly bulging out of its sockets. It was strange.

The zombies were typically rather muted and dreary. Following sounds and the smell of fresh meat without much thought or ambition. This one looked excited to sinks its remaining teeth into somebody’s arm. And that’s exactly what it did.

Gabriella would never forget the scream of agony as James tries to peel the zombie off of him. He only succeeded when it took a bite of his flesh off with it. There was blood everywhere and the zombie got loose, going after Hasan who was down the hallway. He put two bullets in its head. It dropped to the ground twitching and gurgling.

James was gripping his bloody arm in horror as the blood formed a pool around him. Hasan and Gabriella shared a look.

“Put him down,” she whispered. James looked at them with wide eyes. “We promised.”

Hasan pointed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger. Two bullets to the head as always. Gabriella remembered seeing bits of his brain on the wall. The scientists would be pissed.

One day one of the ground teams (who scoured the surface for useable materials) found a truck full of candy. They brought it back and everyone got some. Penelope, Rafael, Hasan, and Gabriella played poker over the little pieces of wrapped chocolate. Hasan won them all.

Terri hung herself on March 29th. Rose found her. She had turned and was just hanging there, her undead limbs grasping futilely at anyone who stood nearby. Gabriella held Rose’s hair back as she puked in the toilet.

General Manuel had Winston cut her down and then they took her down to the lower level.

Everybody knows about the classic zombie. It’s dead and grey eyes. It’s rotting face and body. After a week Gabriella didn’t recognize her. Her skin was sliding off her face, and her head was always at an unnatural angle.

They wore masks in the lower level because the smell was so bad. But as Gabriella watched her former friend mindlessly tumble around her tiny cell, she was forced to take it off as tears streamed from her eyes.

The smell was wretched.

Any time Gabriella would even think of it, her stomach would churn. It numbed every other sense until it was all her mind could register. She fell to her knees gagging, tears flowing like a faucet both from the overwhelming sadness and disgust.

The zombies would eventually rot until they quite literally fell apart. Winston and Rafael spent a lot of time clearing the floor of body parts. Skin and flesh fell off the bone. Sometimes body parts would still be moving when they removed them. Gabriella remembered watching Rafael accidently step on a loose eyeball. It made a horrible squish sound and a nasty liquid oozed onto the ground.

 Four months before the Day the Dead Died General Manuel requested that Gabriella and Hasan follow him. They stepped into the elevator and he pressed the button for waste removal.

Gabriella and Hasan shared a look. There was nothing down there but septic tanks. When the doors opened, they discovered that that was not true.

Similar to the lower level, the waste removal level was filled with cells. But they didn’t hold zombies. They held people.

General Manuel marched right past the cells without so much as a glance. The people in the cells were huddled in the corners, trapped in tiny enclosed spaces. That level didn’t smell very good either.

“We keep having problems with attempted escapes,” the General said, “So, I’m moving the two of you down here for patrols.”

Hasan was silent.

“What are they for?” Gabriella asked.

“Well, we have a bit of a shortage of animal test subjects.”

He refused any further explanations and simply left them to their new jobs. There were approximately 30 people in the cells. Almost every day the scientist would ask for a new one to test on. Gabriella would open the cell and Hasan would use a cattle prod in case their test subject was combative.

The people were worse to deal with than the zombies.

The zombies were dead. You could see it in their eyes. There was nothing there. It was sad, sure, but it didn’t feel wrong.

But the people. They would beg and plead and run. They would scream and fight and kick. Their eyes were so full of fear. Gabriella wondered how many of the zombies down below had originally been here. How many had pleaded for their lives? Some were in captivity with family and loved ones. They would reach between the bars begging to be taken instead. They would scream each other’s names. Gabriella heard more than once someone threatening to kill her.

She didn’t know what they did in the labs and she didn’t want to know.

One night, Hasan came into the waste removal level with a bottle of tequila. “We’re getting wasted,” he stated. They didn’t have cups do they drank straight from the bottle.

“I had to kill my younger sister,” Hasan said after a few drinks, “she was eating our mom.”

Gabriella stared into the bottle with aggressive intensity. “I didn’t have any family before… Maybe I’m lucky.”

Hasan grabbed the bottle out of her hands and drank for a solid ten seconds. “Who do you see in your nightmares then?”

That question jumpstarted a flood of memories from the beginning of the infection.

“It was like the second or third day after the start of the spread. I was stationed somewhere in Billings. They weren’t quite sure how to check if people were infected yet so we weren’t allowed to let in civilians. There were these brothers that would play outside of the gate. They were like 9 or 10, and they were enthralled by my gun…

At some point zombies got into the civilian camps that had popped up outside of our base. I was inside at the time and I come running out at the sound of gunfire. The civilians were trying to fight them off. Our Sergeant Major wouldn’t let us engage. She said we couldn’t risk losing men and ammunition. In the end, the zombies obliterated them. The number of corpses that were outside the fence was disturbing.

And those brothers… I walked up to the fence and I saw one of them, hunched over the other. He was… eating the other’s intestines...

In the end, the amount of the zombies overtook the gate and overran the base, so, I guess saving that ammunition was for nothing.”

Hasan groaned, “Jesus.” He dragged his face through his hands and then looked around at the many cells surrounding them. “We’re going to hell, Gabby.”

“Is it all worth it? Who are saving, Hasan?”

“The world?”

“30 lives for the world? Do the needs of the many ever outweigh the needs of the few?”

Hasan scoffed as he took a drink, “I’m not here for lessons in ethics, Gabby.”

Less than an hour later, they dragged a poor man from his cell while a woman in the cell next to him screamed until her throat was raw for them to bring her husband back. They listened to her sob all that night.

The numbers dwindled over the course of four months.

On August 17th there was chatter throughout the bunker. The scientists were ready to test what they believed to be a successful vaccine.

Hasan and Gabriella brought a young woman into the lab where she was strapped down and injected with something. She screamed and cried, begging them to let her go. Then a zombie was brought carefully into the room. It was allowed to bite her before being dragged away.

They watched and waited with baited breath.

She did not turn. There appeared to be no negative response besides a brief fever and some nausea.

They had created a vaccine.

That night the bunker celebrated.

The next morning, General Manuel told ground team that they would be delivering the vaccine to another location where it would be replicated so they could distribute it to any survivors. As they prepared for the journey, General Manuel gave Hasan and Gabriella two machine guns.

“No one needs to know what the cost of salvation is.”

Gabriella swallowed. He accompanied them down to the waste removal level with his own machine gun in tow. The doors opened.

The captives knew. They screamed to be released. They begged, promising to never tell.

“Open fire,” the General said, as he started shooting. Gabriella doesn’t remember if she pulled the trigger or not. When it was over, he patted them both on the back. “We saved the world. Couldn’t have done it without you.”

Three floors below them, two zombies had pinned Winston to the floor and were feasting on his stomach. In less than a minute they took down Rose as well.

The alarm sounded.

“Get the vaccine out of here. Go!” General Manuel shouted at the ground team who fled for the surface. “We can take them,” the General said confidently.

Gabriella never realized how many zombies were in the lower level before. They climbed the stairways moving up level by level. With every person they killed, another was added to their ranks.

They came like a flood, and shooting at them was like shooting into a tsunami. Pointless.

They had to abandon the bunker. It was chaos. Zombies seemed to come from every door, dragging people to the ground and feasting.

Hasan grabbed Gabriella’s wrist and pulled her towards the elevator.

Did you know you’re not supposed to use an elevator during an emergency? Considering the zombies were coming from the stairs it was the only option.

They shot at the zombies as she impatiently pressed the close door button. In the distance, pushing her way through the hoard, Gabriella could see Penelope running towards them.

“Wait! Wait for me!”

The door began to close. And there were so many zombies. They were already struggling to keep them away.

The door closed before Penelope could reach it. Gabriella could hear her screaming as it began to move.

It opened at the top level to utter pandemonium. She had no idea how the zombies got to the top so fast (thought there’s a good chance they came in through the bunker surface entrance). Rafael was fighting them off with a baseball bat. But there were so many, and he eventually went down.

Hasan and Gabriella shot at as many as they could as they ran to the entrance. Near the door someone grabbed her foot. She shrieked and was about to shoot when she stopped.

“Please…” it was a member of the ground team. He held up the vaccine vial in a shaky bloody hand. She took it.

“Gabby!” Hasan pulled her towards the surface door. As he opened it, a zombie lunged through it and toppled on top of him. They struggled briefly before it dug its teeth into his neck. He screamed while attempting to dislodge it.

Gabriella shot it quickly and it went limp. She held the gun up to Hasan’s head. “I’m sorry. We promised.”

With one hand over his wound, he slowly nodded, “Save the world, Gabby.”

She put two bullets in his head. Turning, she sprinted from the bunker. No one else made it out.

That was the Day the Dead Died. And the world was saved.

With the single vaccine in her hands, humanity was saved, because there was no more humanity to save. 

September 25, 2020 08:52

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