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The Incursion

The next day, it was my turn to man the crow’s nest so I was high up, at the top of the fully extended boom, leaning against the control box, watching events unfold with all the strange detachment of one floating 90 feet above a gang of psychopaths feeding kids into a wood chipper.

 

Here’s how it went:

 

Off to our right was Lake Washington where, further to the north, thousands of lunkheads used to gather to watch the low-profile speedboats race around at 200 miles-per-hour, where wealthier families from Mercer Island used to launch the odd sailboat for a photogenic jaunt, where liver-spotted old fishermen used to take out deteriorating wooden skiffs whose hulls, like their pilots, had seen better days. I wondered if the floating bridges were still floating. We were at a bend in Rainier Avenue just beside a weathered sign that read Chinook Beach Park, a rather unremarkable stretch along the waterfront where pale driftwood and a few bloated, eagle-mangled corpses lined the bank. Indeed, even then seven or eight bald eagles, including two mating pairs and their juvenile broods, were waiting, watching, as if they foresaw what was about to happen.

 

We were going to use the lake as one side of what one might call “a body funnel.” The idea was that we would swoop in, install a series of barriers and buttressed fences on the other side of the road, using the raised topography and various apartment buildings and houses to extend a fence that would herd incoming hordes down Rainier Avenue; once there, they would run against the reinforced fence panels, pass through turnstiles opening into containment areas on the far side of which crews could attach the cattle chutes and shipping containers ubiquitous among the convoys.

Why here? some wondered. Surely there were other spots in the metropolitan area more naturally suited to this kind of operation, narrow city corridors where even narrower alleys could easily be blocked off, but there was at least a rudimentary logic to it: this was simply as far north into the city as we could hope to get at present. If this had been an oil field, we could have plunked a rig down in the heart of the field, but the heart of a zombie play was more volatile in some ways than huge pockets of combustibles deep underground. The epicenter was deep in the heart of Seattle somewhere, endlessly shifting about, morphing, splitting off, regrouping down the way, swelling, shrinking, bubbling out on one side then subsuming itself, the whole mass of needful bodies turning on a whim, following their unmitigated ids or whatever it was that passed for a mind these days. You couldn’t set an extraction team down in the middle. If anything, the zombies would be too welcoming because, above all, they wanted more, an endless community of drones to perpetuate an endless community of drones. No, bodies had to be extracted from the fringe just this way: slowly, incrementally, one neighborhood at a time, from the outside in.

Even before we arrived, we had met resistance. The hostiles, hearing us advancing with a great clatter up their avenue, started out of yards and buildings on the west side of the road, came tumbling down over the thickly vegetated embankments from the homes overlooking the lake, stumbling down through the thick tangle like drunks forging through private hazes. As we’d pulled in, we’d heard the bullhorns and gunfire to the west, where our sister convoy was drawing the hostiles’ attention. Our forward forces, bolstered by two dozen mercenaries, dispatched the locals quickly, efficiently, moving up and firing, then trotting ahead of the slow-rolling trucks to take out a few more. An emaciated white woman in a once-pink tank top with spaghetti straps, one arm a mass of hardened black chancres and boils. A small child in an adorable Thug Life t-shirt, the back of his neck flayed open, the mottled flesh long-since hardened into a flap of sinuous jerky. A gaunt old Malaysian or Indonesian trailwalker in torn khakis and a red polo, the flesh around her mouth savaged and dried into this tense, judgmental rictus. Three once-beautiful, naked club kids traveling together, boy, girl, boy, unable to escape this macabre, awkward threesome, as some sadist had found inspiration to perforate their pelvises with a pike or pole and looped the ménage a trois together permanently with one of those cable bicycle locks—all dispatched without commentary, without a thought as to how they came to be so entwined. Who had done this to them? Who knew? It could have been any of the men in this horde. Maybe the beady-eyed white guy in the gray polo and khaki shorts.

As we’d moved into position, as the boom truck lowered its stabilizing outriggers, I climbed into the bucket and began the ascent with my two-way radio. Soon I was able to see the whole operation from this vantage, more trucks coming up behind us, the dots that were our men swarming out of the trucks, setting up in their prearranged positions, dispatching other dots advancing over the small hill to our left and around the two-story apartment building up ahead and others shambling down the street. If this is all we had to deal with, it would have been easy enough, but it wasn’t. I looked to the west where the bulk of the shooting was coming from and made out the other convoy, already fully embroiled in the middle of a commercial district. Our boom truck had a much higher lift than theirs and I could see what I presume their man could not over the buildings and trees to the north: an incoming wave of writhing, roiling bodies. 

I keyed the radio.

“Um, Starbucks, there are like a thousand of them coming this way, between us and the other convoy. Over.”

“Did you say a thousand? Over.”

“Well, more keep coming behind them. It’s kind of hard to say. Over.”

“Where? Over.”


I looked again through my binoculars, consulted my map.

“Looks like Seward Park. Past the Marina. Over.”

“Okay. Keep me posted. Over.”

Within about a minute, our crew had gone almost entirely silent in their work, except for periodic low-caliber pops, while the other convoy had increased its own noise levels, blaring Metallica’s Master of Puppets on a loop through a PA system, presumably to draw the horde that way rather than ours.

End of passion play, crumbling away

I'm your source of self-destruction

Veins that pump with fear, sucking darkest clear

Leading on your deaths' construction

 

Taste me you will see

More is all you need

Dedicated to

How I'm killing you

 

Come crawling faster

Obey your master

Your life burns faster

Obey your master

Master

 

I could see their men moving vehicles into new defensive positions and, through my binoculars, spied men rushing to relocate machinegun nests to other adjacent roofs. That’s when two helicopters came up over my left shoulder and veered away to get a better view of the oncoming swarm, then looped back around again to face the front of the horde, and opened up their Gatling guns.

Master of puppets, I’m pulling your strings

Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams

Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing

 

Just call my name, 'cause I'll hear you scream:

Master, Master

Just call my name, 'cause I'll hear you scream:

Master, Master

 

It was surreal, seeing it all from this height: the way that tide of bodies seemed to break against bullets, but just for a moment, like a wave against a reef that had suddenly emerged, then flood back into the same spot as if entirely undiminished just a second later as the firing shifted; or the strange spectacle of a white plume snaking out from behind a car, a quick burst of dust and debris kicking up a divot among the bodies, as one of the men began firing rockets from a shoulder launcher; or the black pickup that sped forward, the driver who bailed out and rolled across the street as the vehicle veered to the right, plowed into the bodies and, packed as it had been with dynamite and probably fertilizer, exploded outward in a pattern not unlike the wings of a moth; or back over here, looking down at our men, moving silently into place, maneuvering tools and fence panels between them as if this were on any old construction site, erecting another gentrifying subdivision to drive up rents, another box store to drive out anything resembling competition.

I radioed to tell Starbucks a few hundred had split off the main body and were heading our way.

“ETA? Over.”

 

“I don’t know. Couple minutes? Over.”

 

“Keep me posted. Over.”

 

I looked down at our men. They had no idea. I looked among them, tried to make out who was who until I finally saw the green sweatshirt Chucho was wearing. I’d found it a few days before, a nice new hoodie, bright green, with a stylized white pot leaf on the front, and had given it to him this morning because the sleeve was falling off his black sweater and because, well, he was my friend. Chucho’s machete was out and he was hacking away at a couple of zombies beside some men who were lugging a fence panel across the road, one on each side, like the TV cliché we used to see before The Collapse, where two workers carried a pane of glass across a road, a pane viewers knew would inevitably be smashed. I wished he had a radio so I could warn him what was about to arrive, even if it only meant an extra second or two of advance warning, but, by the time I had thought this, the lieutenants were already rushing among the men, the whole organization quickly redirecting itself with swarm-like precision, setting impromptu barricades, staggering short lengths of fencing, buttresses in the street. I felt a whisper at the base of my neck, a tingling in my scalp not unlike an allergic reaction or quick, successive waves of lice moving down out of my hair. I was proud of this crew. It felt like the pride we were always expected to feel back before The Collapse when the National Anthem played, or on the Fourth of July when the fireworks were booming, but this had nothing at all to do with the nation. America was already dead. Not just because of the ghouls. They had finished it off, sure, but the seeds of this destruction were sewn many years before, not in the turmoil at the end, but long before that, back to the beginning, always with echoes throughout, as far back as the beginning when murder and hypocrisy were written into the very fabric of this nation, as when colonists betrayed and slaughtered Indians, as when a slave-fucking white man named Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal, but only men, and only some of them, the white, the propertied; yes, this feeling of pride superseded our history: here they were, all those who’d been spoken over by great and powerful men for so many decades, black and white, Native American and Indian American, ex-Filipino cabbie and refugee out of Mogadishu, chicano in backwards cap and gringo townie in flannel, all of it so disorienting when viewed from this height, eyes blurred by the small oceanic wind starting to stir up debris, because I almost couldn’t tell them apart; viewed from this remove, as if through the eyes of a god, caught up in that low-pressure front of poetic clarity that always seems to accompany feelings of imminent death, it seemed almost a philosophical difference, which side prevailed, since in the end they were all just tiny, insignificant bodies on an infinitely austere tableau, clusters of atoms all but weightless in this infinite universe. Viewed from this distance, this might have been just one amorphous gray mass gaining momentum, descending a grade so slight it seemed almost no grade at all, blobbing down to reabsorb any long-lost blobules.

 

Here the guns on the Humvees opened up with their familiar rhythmic clatter.

I looked through my binoculars. Just as with the helicopter’s guns, the wave of zombies broke for a moment in this fusillade of bullets, but still others almost immediately replaced them, tripping over twisted legs and torsos, clawing their way over the mounding heaps of bodies, no, almost out of them, like the death heaps were giving birth to them.

Master of puppets, I’m pulling your strings

Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams

Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing

 

Just call my name, 'cause I'll hear you scream:

Master, Master

Just call my name, 'cause I'll hear you scream:

Master, Master

 

A Humvee suddenly burst into view, slamming into the coming vanguard, quickly reversing, the machine gun strafing back and forth, dropping bodies like so many stalks of corn. What kind of maniac would risk—?

But of course: it was Custer.

I refocused the binoculars and watched as he carelessly swept the M60 first this way and that, all the while gazing out into the field of oncoming bodies, in that arrogant manner of old-world VIPs networking soirees, always glancing over the heads of whatever chump they were talking to in case someone more important happened by. Moby-Dork? No! Die! White zombie? No! Die! And so they fell. A black-tied mustached maitre d’ exploded under Custer’s furious gaze as if caught in a blender. A black busser still wearing his long white smock burst apart at the navel, spilling cruor like a tub of coagulating blackberries. A waitress in a black skirt and white shirt with a bloody Rorschach test covering her whole left side, a Rorschach of a gaping zombie’s mouth, snapped back at the hips, doubled backwards so that her head hit the ground, a congealed, purple-gray lump of intestines that swelled, for just a moment, out of her severed pelvis, like a dead octopus still clinging to a rock and filling with water rushing into a polluted tide pool.

    

As fast as he was doing the shoot-and-scan, Custer couldn’t keep up with the oncoming horde and, for a time, neither could the mercenaries or the others firing madly into the throng: a contingent of Polynesians in bright board shorts and sarongs who might have been barbecuing when they turned, suddenly jerking and jolting every which way, like those possessed by the fireside spirit of dance, bullets spitting up divots of flesh; a pair of white grandmothers, one in shredded turquoise culottes, one in a cheap pink sweatshirt with a lace collar, maybe forgotten in some forsaken nursing home, reaching for one of the mercenaries as if for a team-hug, slumping to the ground with identical perforations in their foreheads; an entire second- or third-grade class, all the precocious kids out front with what looked like their teacher, a dour old Latina in a khaki skirt and powder-blue sweater, all of them suddenly peppered with nails and bolts and the unidentifiable shrapnel of homemade fragment grenades, while the class clowns in back, slowly diffusing into the larger crowd, are gunned down along with all the others in a barrage of rifle fire; two young men who looked in every respect like the white rapper Eminem, cut off at the knees by a barrage of gunfire, dragging themselves and matching lines of rancid gore along the thoroughfare; an entourage from what appeared to have been a bachelorette party, one out front in designer jeans, the self-proclaimed party queen, maybe with a purple penis-shaped straw still matted into her hair behind her ear, disappearing behind a rocket strike in a white burst of debris, then bullying through the dust cloud, her abdomen scooped out like a dugout canoe; a tall black woman in a once-blue postal uniform, that familiar exhausted look in her eye one might recognize from the post office in the days leading up to Christmas, lurching to her left, grabbing hold of one of the mercenaries, biting into his neck and jerking her head back with a flap of flesh and striped with his blood, going in for another as the mercenary fired a shot from his sidearm up under her chin, and immediately a second shot up under his own; some old men still wearing their VFW caps and jackets from their last night of human contact at the bar, now, after all these years, falling one after the other as an organized line of mercenaries laid them to rest; at least seven adults wearing shirts featuring Disney characters disfigured by gore, including Mickey Mouse who appeared to be vomiting blood, each torn by bullets or shrapnel or here, the young white woman in the Pocahontas t-shirt, taking a hatchet between her eyes, cleaving her face in two; any number of white, male faces distinguishing themselves with identical beards and glasses, dropping like so many sacks of coffee or hops; women of every color and creed sporting the ubiquitous high-wasted shorts and long forever-asses in vogue in the season of The Collapse, exploding in clusters, toppling one into the other as bullets tore through their necks and chests and extremities, frustrated, furious, trying to shove one another off with limbs dangling by nothing but tendons and nerves; dejected elder dads risen from the couch, finally forsaking TV for the joy and pain of literal, final death; cops and perps stalking side by side, annihilated together in windrows, brothers as ever; morbidly obese, dangerously lean and every gradation between, reaching out, clutching, tearing, gorging, turning, bursting, dying; swatches of skin and fabric of every hue imaginable yet marked in kind by the gargantuan brushstroke of blood, muted by a fog of buzzing black flies and the faint waver of so much methane being lost into the atmosphere.

 

I looked again toward the other convoy. Most of the horde had split off toward them and were now swarming over its rigs and crew like ants over a twitching mouse.

The PA fell suddenly silent.

I called it in. No reply.

I looked down again to see our own crew outnumbered as well, fighting for its life, no time to respond to calls. I looked for Chucho, spotted the green sweatshirt I had given him. My friend was surrounded. He fired his rifle and his shoulder jerked back. He turned two degrees to one side, fired again. He turned, fired again. A hand darted out around the back of a lamppost and grabbed hold of his right shoulder and it felt like I was suddenly plummeting from the crow’s nest, my stomach falling out of me, but Chucho whirled, a bright green whirl, bashing a gnarled gray homunculus in the temple with the stock of his rifle, aiming downward into its blank face, firing, turning, pulling the trigger again, and again, and now out of ammo, pausing to reload, his hands shaking, trying not to look up as even more closed in around him.

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