Dead Last (Short Story 2850 words)

She wondered why she hadn’t become a nurse instead. There were always people who needed looking after and nurses had very few enemies. In her line of work there were  enemies. And there were so many of them. Long dead soldiers wearing metal suits of armour, knuckles and bare clavicles protruding. She had even seen one with two ribs sticking out of its leather costume. They weren’t all the same, but they had one thing in common. They had once been soldiers, alive and modified but now they were dead in their metal shell, roaming around the cities with their weapons raised. There was no way to stop them and the minds that were meant to control the weaponry and shut the computer down a final time before they died, all logged off without doing so. Now the machines carried their dead corpses with them wherever they went, mindlessly shooting at anything that moved.

Thankfully, many of them had started to shoot blanks.
The bayonets some idiot had designed into their uniform, as a joke probably, were still doing damage though.

They patrolled the cities relentlessly. Sometimes falling over each other in the process. They were intelligent when it came to capturing and killing the people they were meant to protect, she assumed, but when it came to agility they often lacked a certain something.
People had escaped the cities. The tall buildings were black with soot, towers had crumbled and debris and dirt lay everywhere. She had been hired to do a job, and it was a relatively easy one, but she still had to get past the zombies and into the city without getting killed.

She had left the jeep by the pipelines, away from the city and she used the pipeline to get her into a large building in the outskirts of the city. If she was lucky she would be able to go from there and into the warehouse where she hoped she could find what she was looking for.

It was her job to know where to find things. She got paid to procure and it was in her interest to always know where she was going, looking aimlessly for things easily got you killed. She had weapons in her belt, a knife and a pistol and she knew how to disarm and disable the machines, but usually it was useless. Disabling one meant you would have at least ten on your heels in a matter of moments. She had seen her father crushed by one of them. It had been a while, but in her memory she saw the machine lift him up by the neck, shake him and cast him aside with a broken neck as if he meant nothing and she swore she could see satisfaction in the blinking blue eye of the damned thing.

Still they were just zombies, relentless, aimless, thoughtless and without any initiativet of their own. They couldn’t find satisfaction in what they did, but sometimes she wondered.

She was crawling through the shaft when she heard a strange sound coming from the other end of the pipe. She knew to be wary of sounds she didn’t recognise, so she stopped and waited for another indication of what it could be. When she heard a faint bleep in the distance, she continued through the pipe, walking as fast as she could in the awkward crouched position she needed to be in to get through the pipe.

She was ready for whatever model she would meet at the end of the pipe. She couldn’t let a single soldier stop her. She needed the money, and she needed the rep, if she didn’t deliver she would get less work and she was already getting a lot less work than the other suppliers simply because she was a woman and they didn’t think she could deliver.
The fact of the matter was that she was faster and more reliable than most of the suppliers she knew, but who listened to her?

At the end of the tunnel she came into a big concrete cellar room, there water flooded over her boots as she ran through the cellar to get to the stairs on the other side. The iron steel door had been open the last time she was there. As she ran up the stairs she said a little prayer in her mind, hoping that this wasn’t a bad sign.

When she got to the top of the stairs she stopped, put her back towards the wall and listened for a while. In a matter of seconds she heard the faint beeping again, it was coming from somewhere above, and not from the other side of the door. If she was lucky she would be able to pass by unnoticed by the damned zombies.

She opened the door just a bit. There were leaves blowing in the wind, rattling uneasily on the ground. It made her nervous, but she opened the door wider and ran out and down the steps on the other side. When she was in the middle of the road she stopped to see if she saw anything moving.

She saw only the leaves, heard the sound of their dance and the whining the wind made in the cracks of the broken houses around her. She looked around, stood there frozen in her step for a moment before she ran down the street.

The warehouse was around the corner, she was expecting either to be greeted with a few zombie soldiers, or with an empty warehouse. She stopped in front of the square concrete building. The huge sign above the door had been shot at so often that half of it was dangling in the wind, ready to plumage to the ground at any moment. She couldn’t read the words anymore.

She went inside, happy to see that the footsteps visible in the dust on the floor were her own. She ran down the corridor, through isle after isle of boxes and cans that had been leftover and now contained something completely inedible. She turned a corner, rushed through a doorway into a small office. In a corner she found it.
She had seen it the last time she was here, but it had never occurred to her that someone would want it. She had made a mental note of it though and when the man in the strange top hat and the curly beard had approach her, looking for an old fashioned typewriter she knew exactly where to get it.

If someone else hadn’t beaten her to it.
If someone else hadn’t already been wiser than she when she left the damned thing, because it looked heavy. She only knew a couple of people, however, that dared to enter this part of town. It was closest to the rim, but the zombies patrolling the area were particularly vicious and could be found sneaking up on you, ambushing you, while the regular models usually just clamped around in their steel toed boots.

The typewriter was still where she had last seen it. There was no sign of anyone having even touched it. It was strange, but she figured that maybe the zombies had managed to block off the area somehow and that people weren’t generally aware of her shortcut.
It made her uneasy though, she knew better than to assume.

She put the typewriter and a few small boxes that lay next to it into her backpack. She had known to take the big one, but still the typewriter barely fit. She managed to push it in and put it on her back. It was heavy, but she would be able to run with it.

She started back, running through the warehouse. She hesitated at the door and then she rocketed out and into the street the fastest she could. There was no use in trying to hide, not in this area. The zombies had heat seeking sensors and the area didn’t have many places to hide. There was debris, but hiding behind fallen trees and big concrete boulders was usually more risky than just running.

She saw them coming. Clamping their feet, side by side, walking as if they were palls patrolling the streets, keeping the people safe. She ran towards the house with the pipeline, up the stairs, pulling open the door without a seconds hesitation.
She knew better than to rush, and she ran straight into the ambush.

There were two of them standing behind the door. One of them had lost his helmet, the blinking, blue eye was still intact but the rest of the skull was just a rotten mess. He came at her with one gloved iron fist and one bare boned hand. She kicked him in the stomach area, pulling backwards as soon as her leg hit the ground. The thing went flying backwards but his pall was ready, raised arm and ready to shoot.

She stared into the barrel of his gun, trying to recall if the model in this part of town were out of ammunition or if this was one of the rare breed that still had some ammo left in them. She couldn’t remember, though it was her job to remember, it just didn’t come to her as she stood there. She thought about ducking, but before she managed to execute that command to her body the thing had pulled the trigger.

The bullet came flying by, tearing at her ear. At first she was so awestruck that it had missed that she went numb and breathless, but when she realised that it would now resort to shooting again or using other measures, she turned around and started to run. In the corner of her eyes she saw the two zombies coming down the road, the ones she’d seen before. She ran in the other direction, rounded the corner of the building and into the big parking lot in the back. At the end of the lot she saw where the pipeline started, but there was no way to get into the pipe from the outside. You needed to be inside the building to get there.

She jumped up onto the big pipe, noticed the line ran underneath the parking lot but on the outside of the lot the pipe was uncovered, moss grown and rusty, but above ground. She started running, as fast as she could along the pipe, not looking back to see what could be following her. She felt the blood tickle down her neck, but didn’t think it was too bad. A bullet in that particular area either just scraped you, or left you dead she figured.

After ten minutes of running she jumped down from the pipe and ran in the open landscape, beside the pipe. She didn’t hear anyone on her heels, but couldn’t risk looking back, not until she was almost at the end of the pipe.

She saw the ocean, and the spot where she had crawled into the thing. Her car was by a cliff a bit further down the beach and she headed towards it. Just wishing to get away from this place.

She had never known zombies to follow people out of the cities, there had been other models that took care of the countryside, but those had shut down the way they should, leaving an iron clad corpse that never reanimated.

But when she was sitting in her car, taking a breather, thinking that she was out of the risk zone, she saw them. Three metal zombies crawling out of the sewer pipes. One seemed to have completely lost its head in the process, but he was still walking.
A shiver went through her. A cold, harsh realisation came at her and she realised what she needed to do. She didn’t know how well they communicated with each other, if they could do that very well from a distance, but she had to make sure these darned things never got back to the living. She looked at the backpack with the typewriter, hoped that it would find the right owner if the worst thing came to be and then she hit the gas, steering the car towards the zombies.

She didn’t know if they realised the head on collision would be fatal to them. She didn’t think the animated zombies had any realisation of anything. The computer that made sure they kept on doing their job, however, knew very well what it was doing. They stood sternly their ground, aiming and firing at the car as it sped towards them.
Two were shooting blanks, one wasn’t.

She aimed at them and tried to duck to make sure they wouldn’t hit her. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep the car on the right track, however, without looking so she  peeked over the steering wheel, paranoid that she would get a bullet through her brain.

Then she felt the thump, saw two of them come flying up to the front window, hit it with a loud crash and then they went flying over the car.
That meant there was one left, which one was that?
 She looked behind her, put the car in back and backed over the two machines lying on the ground behind her. A soft beeping sound escaped them as she did. Then she looked around for the third one. It was standing to the side of the car, pointing its gun at her.

It shot blankly at her. The empty click made her so happy she thought she would cry. She took the knife, opened the door and rushed at the thing with her knife. She knew how to disarm it, she knew how to make it harmless, to make it powerless. She couldn’t call it killing, because what had been alive in these men was dead a long time ago.
She saw the change in its behaviour coming. It looked at its gun and at her and then the bayonet was in the air. It was a part of it’s left skeletal arm, came protruding out of the suit, a bad surprise and she hesitated a moment. Then she attacked, hoping it wouldn’t understand what she was doing, but realising too late that it was trained for this exact situation.

She pulled at it’s arm, but the bones just came loose and fell to the ground, leaving the weapon alone functioning as its left arm. She pushed her knife in its gut, hoping to severe the wires there, but failed. She pulled the knife back and managed to dodge the blow to her right shoulder. It pulled at her with it’s right arm, but thankfully the iron hand was missing a gripping finger and so it failed in its attempt. She swiftly turned to her left and pushed the knife into its neck, managing to severe the wires this time.
But a moment too late, it’s left arm had already swept across her stomach, leaving a gashing wound in her right side, before it limply fell to the ground.

She fell to the ground too, holding her stomach. She tried to get up to get to the car, but realised she wouldn’t be able to do drive anywhere, she would bleed to death. So she crawled to the machine, hoping to find something there to help her out. She opened it’s leather exterior, found the iron breastplate and pulled that out. She pulled out a few wires, but didn’t see how that would help her close the gash. She went through its pocket and found two things.

A photograph and an old fashioned phone. They hadn’t worked in ages, but she had recovered a lot of them for the community, they had someone in their midst who thought he could get the system to work for them again.

The photograph was of a little boy and a brown haired woman. They were smiling, the boy leaning slightly up towards his mother.

She screamed loudly in frustration, staring at the photo in her hand for a while, she then started to pull the leather jacket off the thing, used her knife to tear it up and tied it around herself. She put the phone into her pocket and then she crawled to the car.
She drove home like she had a legion of the damned things after her. Sick from bloodlessness she drove into one of the barracks when she got there and only managed to open the door and drop to the ground before she lost consciousness.

They found her with the photograph clutched in her hand. They all recognised the boy in the picture as her father, but nobody realised where she’d found it. They buried her with it after she died from her wounds. She never woke up to tell them about the machines that had followed her, or the way she had disabled them. But the community was safe, at least for now.


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