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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:18

The moment I opened the door I could hear the woman screaming. I'd have loved to have time to put together a plan, a formation, something, but we were out of time. We spilled out of the SUV and ran toward the screams. SWAT was out of their truck, too. I heard one of them yell something, but if we waited the woman was dead.

I had my handguns and my knives. The AR and shotgun were still in the truck. I was betting that SWAT was taking the time to gear up. They were probably right, but I'd seen the zombie move; it wasn't the shambling dead, it was fast, and when night fell it'd be faster.

We found them on the driveway between two small identical houses. Her legs were kicking uselessly at the ground, the zombie straddling her waist, holding one of her arms in its hands and eating the flesh off her forearm while she shrieked.

I drew the Browning, aimed at the zombie's head, and fired. The force of the bullet rocked its whole body, but it just turned and stared at us, mouth scarlet with fresh blood, the woman's arm still trapped between its rotting hands.

Someone exclaimed behind us, 'Sweet Jesus!'

The zombie kept chewing on the meat in its mouth, as if we weren't walking closer, guns out. It was like the ones in the mountain, in the hospital: no fear, no thought of saving itself. It wouldn't run, not while it had meat to eat. It had ripped the woman's arm to pink tendons and red muscle, blood pouring out of the wounds, drenching the zombie's chin and upper body.

I shot it between the eyes; the head rocked back, the round hole bled dark blood, and some of the back of the head was shaped wrong now, but it bent back toward the woman's arm. It was going to take another bite. I walked up almost point-blank and shot it in the mouth, twice, three times, until the mouth was shattered and most of the head was a red mess. It still tried to bend over the woman's arm and take another bite, except now it had no working mouth to bite with.

The woman was still screaming.

SWAT was with us now, and they had taken the time to get the big guns. 'Blow it to pieces, and start first aid on the woman,' I said.

'I give the orders here, Blake,' Badger said.

'Fine, you decide what we're going to do, Sergeant. We're going back to the car for the rest of our weapons, then we'll come back and help you with the woman and the zombie if it's still intact.'

I turned and went back for the car and the rest of the arsenal. Nicky followed without hesitation. Dev hesitated while we walked a step or two, but it was Lisandro who almost didn't come at all. We were almost to the car when he jogged up behind us.

'I can't believe you left that woman like that,' he said, as he came to the back of the SUV while we started getting out the long guns.

'SWAT knows basic first aid, and if we're lucky maybe we got the paramedic.' I slid the AR over me in the tactical sling and settled the shotgun into its sling and Velcro on the vest. I preferred the AR to the shotgun for the suburbs. I added extra ammo to match the guns, and I was ready.

We went back at a paced jog and heard more gunfire. Machete was firing into the zombie, keeping it off the woman. Badger was wrapping up the woman's arm. Yancey and Willy were watching the perimeter for more undead. They looked very organized and official.

'Nice of you to join the party, Blake,' Badger said.

The woman seemed to be unconscious. I didn't know if she'd fainted from fear or blood loss. 'If we'd waited to gear up, the zombie could have killed her before we got to her,' I said.

'You stay with the group unless ordered otherwise, Blake, is that clear?'

'I hear what you're saying,' I said.

Machete had finally reduced the zombie to something that could barely crawl; without fire it was the best we could do. I had grenades in some of the pockets of the tactical pants, but if I set a zombie on fire here it could run into a house and set it on fire before it burned enough to be immobile. Suburbs were hard, so many soft targets.

'We have to get her a hospital,' Badger said.

'Yeah, so much for hunting vampires,' I said.

Badger looked up and gave me a very unfriendly look. 'We can't leave her like this.'

'I know, and I'll bet almost anything that this isn't the only zombie attacking citizens right now.'

'I thought zombies couldn't come out during daylight,' Machete said, coming back with his rifle loose in one hand.

'They don't like daylight, but they can walk around in it, or most of them can. They'll be slower and a little more confused in daylight, so the flesh eaters will be faster and more deadly when we lose the sun.'

'It looked pretty damn fast,' Machete said.

'The vampire did this, didn't he?' Yancey asked.

'Yeah, he did. We have to take her to the hospital. We'll have to protect the citizens of Boulder from the walking dead, so we won't get to the mountains before nightfall.'

'How can he make them rise when he's miles away?' Willy asked.

'You ran after her first, Blake. You weren't willing to let her die so we could kill the vampire.'

I looked at Badger as he picked up the woman with her freshly bandaged arm and settled her like a child in his big arms. 'No, I couldn't just keep driving and let her die like this, and that is what he was counting on.'

'If you could have kept driving and let her die, then you wouldn't be human,' he said.

'By saving her and all the others who are being attacked right now, we're giving him time to have one of his servants move his body and missing the chance to kill him once and for all. It'll cost lives.'

Badger nodded. 'You're probably right, but I'm still glad we saved this woman.'

I sighed. 'So am I; damn it to hell, but so am I.'