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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:00

I swung the AR around on its tactical strap and kept running. My boots jarred against the ground, branches slapping at me, my chest struggling to breathe past my heartbeat and the thin air; all I could hear was the thundering of my blood in my head. I knew there were other police in the woods running in the same direction, trying to get there to back up the ones who'd gone ahead, but the other officers were just bleeps on my peripheral radar. I spared a second to know that if something wanted to jump me now I'd never hear it coming. I caught flashes of muzzle flare through the thinning trees. I found speed I didn't know I had, willed myself faster, until my breath strangled in my throat and the world ran with spots of white, and I knew if I didn't slow down soon I might pass out in the thin air. I forced myself to slow enough that I could breathe. The starbursts were almost gone from my vision when I saw figures through the tall trunks of the trees. I saw the Boulder PD uniform and a zombie behind him. He was firing at one in front of him. He didn't see the one behind him.

I was farther than I actually wanted to shoot, but he could be dead before I got within easy shooting range. I steadied my shoulder against the bare trunk of a tree, tucked the AR to my shoulder, set my cheek against the stock, tried to force my body to be still enough to make the shot, but the best I could do was hold my breath. My body was one big pulse from the running, but we were out of time. I sighted on the zombie's head and squeezed the trigger. Most of the head vanished in a gout of blood and heavier things. If it had been human it would have been a kill shot, but it wasn't human. The officer startled and turned so he could face both zombies. I pushed away from the tree and was running again, as the headless zombie stopped staggering and started walking toward him again. Headless didn't mean shit to zombies. A finger would keep inching along until you burned it.

I cleared the trees with the AR snugged to my shoulder, a cheek wield between me and the stock, searching the clearing for targets. I'd already fallen into that bent-legged crouching walk that SWAT had taught me back home. It looked awkward, but it moved you along smoother and steadier for shooting than normal walking.

The clearing was bathed in starlight with the spiraling arcs of flashlights everywhere, as officers tried to keep light on their targets. Zombies were everywhere. There was one mound of them crouched on the ground near the only building visible near the middle of the clearing. The zombies were eating someone, I just couldn't see who. I trusted Ares and Nicky, and Nathaniel's leopard, not to end up as food this quickly. I had to believe that and fight my way around to the side of the clearing I couldn't see past the building, because they had to be there. I had incendiary devices on me that would burn up zombies; trouble was, they'd do the same to people. There was no clear way to use anything but the guns.

The zombie I'd beheaded jumped onto the back of the officer. The zombie was twice his size and drove him to his knees. The officer yelled out. He kept firing point-blank at the other zombie looming in front of him. Unfortunately, he was firing into the middle body mass. If it had been a vampire he might have damaged the heart enough to 'kill' it, but the bullets weren't doing more than make the zombie stumble. The zombie on his back was ramming its bloody stump into the back of the officer's head as if it didn't realize it didn't have a mouth anymore, and was still trying to eat him. The officer was screaming as the zombie that still had a mouth leaned down, as his gun clicked empty.

I yelled, 'Guard your eyes!' but I didn't have time to wait and make sure he heard me. I fired the AR almost point-blank into its head. It exploded in a shower of blood, brains, and bone fragments.

The officer was on all fours, blood covering his hair, and he was yelling, 'Get it off of me! Get it off!'

I wasn't sure if he was talking about the brains and blood or the zombie, but I went for the zombie. I put the AR against the zombie's shoulder where the arm attaches to the torso and fired. It blew the arm off and rocked the zombie backward. The officer was able to scramble free of it and almost fell into the second zombie as it crawled around on the ground. It seemed more disoriented about the whole decapitation thing than the first one.

The officer was shoving at the air as if the zombies were spiders and he didn't want them to touch him. I grabbed his arm and helped him get to his feet and move out from between the two zombies. Half his face was covered in zombie blood, but I still recognized him as Officer Bush, who had thrown up first at the crime scene. His eyes were huge, his breathing so rapid he was going to hyperventilate if he didn't stop. I had to find my men, but damn it.

'Bush, Bush, can you hear me?' I shook him until I was sure he was actually focused on me. 'Slow your breathing down, Officer Bush.'

He nodded a little too rapidly.'

'Are you out of ammo?' I asked.

'It didn't do any good. It didn't stop them.'

'Shoot the head,' I said.

'You shot their heads off and they didn't die. They're supposed to die if you take their heads.'

'Only in the movies,' I said.

He clutched at my arm. 'How do we kill them?'

'What do we do then?'

'Do you have ammo left?'

He nodded, his breathing even, and I watched his eyes fill back up with him and push back the fear. He popped out his empty magazine, reached for his equipment belt and a new magazine. He did the transfer automatically and smoothly. He was going to be okay.

'Shoot their heads, take the mouth out, and then they can't bite.' In my head I added, so they can't give anyone else the rotting infection.

'But it still jumped me,' he said.

'Sometimes they do that,' I said. 'Stay with me. Shoot any zombies in the face until they don't have a mouth.'

He nodded, though his face was a bloody mask. He had the gun held upright in both hands; his hands were almost steady, his eyes were good.

'Come on, Bush, let's do this.'

'Right behind you, Marshal Blake.'

'I know you are, Bush. I know you are.' We moved forward and started shooting zombies. He didn't waste any ammo on anything but the faces. Fast learner; good, maybe he'd live to see dawn.