The sun was setting by the time we reached the riverbank. She sparkled off the water giving it a tranquil gold tint. Prettiest damn thing I’d seen since… I can’t remember since. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen anything prettier. Maybe Max, but as hard as she was, you couldn’t consider her pretty.
The sun fell and the white glow rose over the horizon. We stood fascinated—maybe awed—facing the strange light that looked far too similar to a city’s afterglow to be anything but. Yes, I think we were awed, certainly afraid, but none of my Roughriders allowed hope to show. We didn’t believe in it. We lived in the real world.
“Max?” I said. She stood beside me with her mouth agape and those baby blues wide.
“Your take on this?”
“It looks like the city’s electric has been restored, Colonel.” She shrugged.
“Isn’t that impossible, sir?” Majowski asked. He didn’t appear awed with the light as Max did. Sergeant Majowski had always leaned more to the timid side.
I looked over my men. Two years ago I left Fort Bragg with a hundred and fifty men; only these twelve remained. Most of them were grunts—anything below lieutenant, I considered a grunt. Only Max and Wilfork wore brass on their lapels. I needed to find out about the lights, I knew my objective well. But the hard part was picking who I wanted to sacrifice to find out.
I’d learned over the years not to rush in, guns blazing the way they did it in the movies. Sure, sometimes the shock & awe tactic worked, but I didn’t have the manpower to experiment.
One of the officers had to go. My grunts were a sturdy bunch, but I didn’t trust their reconnaissance judgment. I only had to recall Burgess’s actions when I sent him to investigate movement in a building back in Pittsburgh.
Burgess had found survivors hiding from the dead. Two teenage girls and a small boy huddled together in a filthy room living off the creatures that escaped the zombie’s scavenging. The girls weren’t lookers—dirty, malnourished, and stir-crazy—but they were warm. Burgess couldn’t resist. He raped one of the girls and butchered the other when she tried to intervene.
Burgess was a first rate soldier, but a second rate man. I blamed myself for his actions. He should have never been on the mission to begin with. He’d have been better off if he’d died at Fort Bragg with the rest of the 101st.
We took the remaining girl and the boy along with us for as far as we could. The girl dropped not fifty miles from Pittsburgh. She was done; I saw it in her eyes. She thanked me when I gave Max the order to put her down. The girl made me promise to look after the boy. I agreed to the impossible request. Once dead, she wouldn’t have to know Max’s next shot was meant for the boy’s head. It was the best I could offer the kid.
But that was Pittsburgh.
I’m not sure where we are now, but I’m guessing somewhere in the Ohio Valley. I quit giving orders to investigate every strange sound or movement from abandoned buildings after Burgess. I couldn’t afford the men, and feeding the undead didn’t sit well with me.
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