A hundred or more zombies had congregated around the water tower but we couldn’t see Chucho as we pulled up, because he had hunkered down across the street in a ticket booth outside the high school’s football stadium. The booth was overgrown with blackberry bushes and overripe berries mounded all around, all the berries stomped and smeared in two big purple streaks around the steel shed where the others had flowed by in the night, following their quarry.
Custer was in the turret in the Humvee up front and he immediately turned his binoculars on the gathered crowd, looking, as always, for his precious albino. Chucho hustled over to the second truck in the line, where I sat with Starbucks in the cab, and spoke through the window before the ghouls had time to reorient and cross the street for us.
“I don’t see him,” Starbucks said, craning his neck to see up on the tower.
“He’s hiding on top. Trying to wait them out.”
We strained to see up through the window around the cab and, sure enough, there was a face, peering over the side, undoubtedly realizing that this wasn’t going to end as he had hoped, for the zombies posed a difficult logistical problem: besides those already starting toward us, twitching, gnashing teeth, pawing at air—as if all things existed in only one dimensional plane, their own—there were others coming down the hill to the right and yet others ambling up from behind the tower—but all we really had to do was drive slowly back down the road a little way, drawing them toward us, then swing back with the Humvees for a quick assault before their little colony had time to execute a collective U-turn. This is what we did, and, as we pulled back in front of the tower, we spied the man trying to race us, skipping rungs as he shimmied down the ladder, but now that we were almost upon him again he changed his mind and quickly started back up, climbed onto the platform as the first truck came adjacent to the ladder. Our driver, K, sought to scramble up after him, but the sadist leaned out and fired downward with a revolver. The bullet ricocheted off a rung harmlessly; K withdrew, aimed his own pistol upward, and fired so that the sadist retreated onto the platform.
Custer swung the machine gun around and aimed it up toward the tower and strafed the tower so it sang out with a sort of military snare drum cadence, as the tank had long ago been drained.
“Let’s get on with this,” the captain called when the ringing had stopped.
Even as he said this, his eyes drifted back toward the approaching throng, distracted enough that it’s questionable whether he even saw the next events as they unfolded: after some tense moments, the man complied and tossed his revolver over the edge; he stood and raised his hands and gazed out over the campus, his sinister refuge, out over the swarms now pinching in from all sides, the legion brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and great aunts of his lust’s unholy receptacles; he looked up to the distant break in the clouds and he seemed to take some relief in knowing that even the rain would let up eventually; then a darkness came over him again, a deep sadness etched plainly in his face that the sun may yet break and all the zombies of the world and our memories may eventually rot to nothingness but so must every living thing from tree to deer down to mite and spore one day flit as dust across the sterile soil and windblown rock; Fuck it, he seemed to think, and leaned out over the rail, let himself tip over the edge so that he flipped almost in slow motion—one full revolution, head over heel—and landed on the base of his neck, snapping his spine nearly in two.
His body convulsed for a time, as if all his demons were furiously scrambling to find safe synapses, safe passages of escape, as each circuit closed before them, stranding them inside forever. He kicked out, thrusting out his legs—one, two, three times—arched his back violently, then eased into a final quietude.
Plymouth watched on, awaiting—well, we weren’t quite sure what.
It didn’t feel like justice. It felt like we had just watched a sacrifice.
But, for all the blood, nothing seemed to be happening, nothing seemed to be changing, and yet there was no time to pause and ponder any of this because the zombies, as ever, were drawing near, curtailing whatever passed for thought among us, and so we returned to the truck, and started to roll, Starbucks calling out directions, K steering toward a side road where we could see only a few teetering malingerers—but here the brakes screeched and we lurched to a stop.
Were our eyes playing tricks on us? Had Custer’s madness infected us? Or was that doofus tottering beside the weeping larch preternaturally white?
Starbucks was about to key the radio when Custer’s Humvee pulled up alongside us, running up over the curb and bursting through some manner of wicker arbor thoroughly tangled with ivy.
The truck stopped beside us and Custer, not yet having noticed, glowered into our window and shouted, “Get moving! we’ve got a swarm the size of Texas coming up—!”
Here, right in the middle of what appeared to be exceedingly important information, he stopped short.
We all saw him sense some disturbance as if inside himself, as if a great magnet had suddenly appeared, sent his inner compass to spinning endlessly in circles, his gyros to whirring.
A hideously white doofus shuffled between two houses into a side yard. Everyone present saw it at once, the Gordian Knot of the man's psyche coming loose all in an instant, as though it had been so easy all along. Here, Custer slammed his fists down on the roof of the truck, screamed wildly, like some fearless, foolish cavalryman of old, pointing his saber, or rather his machinegun, toward the true north of his and everyone's doom.