In October 2007, I deployed to Iraq for the first time. I spent the fifteen months resolved to the fact I would just live there forever. This mentality kept me from over anticipating the journey home and made the length bearable. I do not recall doing much reading except one book. Sergeant Clise gave me his copy of World War Z by Max Brooks. This opened a door for intense nightmares and long stares into darkness considering the parallel universe of zombies in a war zone. Where would I go? Who could I trust? Over a decade later, I finally found the courage to pen my first zombie story.
Her ears rang, disorienting her after the blast hit right outside. She blinked through the darkness, small rays of light shined through the holes that peppered her roommate’s side of the metal trailer. Miranda rolled softly to the floor, dragged her body armor from its resting place under her twin bed, and pulled it open over her. She low crawled to the growing pool of blood by the other twin bed. Christy appeared to be still sleeping peacefully, her pulse nonexistent. Miranda lay for a moment listening. More impacts followed the loud whistles of bombs as the enemy continued their assault on the forward operating base. Though they shook her to the core, the blasts moved farther and farther away - mortars. The enemy must have been targeting the embassy.
Fumbling to find her roommate’s gear, she secured an extra medic pouch, a full combat load of ammunition, and the spare set of keys to the hospital compound. She considered taking her friend’s weapon, but she knew how rarely Christy cleaned it.
Bold enough to stand, Miranda moved her armor over her head, feeling the wound for the first time. In her grey shirt, she found a hole the size of a pencil eraser. She pushed her finger into her abdomen and felt the sharp piece of shrapnel. A sigh of relief it had not even penetrated the muscle. The metallic thorn would have to stay until she made it safely to the combat support hospital where she would prepare to treat the more severely wounded.
Kevlar helmet and body armor secured, she fought against the pain to pull up her uniform pants and lace her boots. The embedded noncommissioned officer within her cringed at the mismatched uniform, but there was little time. She threw the rest of her uniform in an assault pack, with the extra rounds and medic pouch. One thirty-round magazine slid with ease into the ammo well of her rifle, a short motion slammed it into place, and she chambered a round.
Her hand touched the doorknob, and a gasp came from the bed across the room.
“Jenkins!” Miranda whispered a startled cry. But something was off. For a moment she considered her assessment had been flawed, but no. Her friend was lifeless without breath or pulse for over two minutes. “Jenkins?”
At the sound of her voice, the corpse fell off the bed. Legs unmoving, the body crawled across the floor to her. Miranda moved quickly around it, pinning the base of the neck with her boot. Two fingers reached for the neck. There was no pulse.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.” She pulled a knife from its sheath attached to her armor and with a short pendulum swing of her arm, pushed the blade into Christy’s temple. The body went limp.
The bombs stopped. The enemy had not, in fact, targeted the embassy, but meant to pepper the living areas with their contaminated weapons. Remembering her wound, she sat a moment to collect herself and check her state of being.
Her heart pounded inside of her chest. Adrenaline coursed through her body. Growls came from neighboring rooms. She had enough food and water to last two days if she rationed, but if there was any escape or treatment, her chances would pass her by if she stayed to scavenge for more.
She tightened the chin strap of her helmet and kept the knife in her trigger hand. For the first time in her career, she wished she had a bayonet. With 210 rounds readily accessible and another 210 in her assault pack, one-shot one-kill could still end quickly in close quarters combat. The forward operating base held 25,000 soldiers and countless civilians. Ammo would run out before targets did.
The hospital would hold the largest collection of dead, but it was a secured compound. Miranda knew every turn, corner, and room, and could evade for the half mile it took to get to the back gate.
The door resisted her push to open. Swallowing her adrenaline, her fear, she guided the lock as slow and soft as she could. Any more drama in this situation and she would come undone.
“You can cry when it’s over,” she whispered, and flipped off the switch within her, governing her emotions. She was no longer Miranda, mother of an eighteen-month-old named Naomi in Rutland, Vermont. She was Staff Sergeant St Clair, and had a mission.
Silence. To the left and right of her, nothing moved. Her boots crunched the gravel at the foot of the steps that led to her room. She inhaled deeply and breathed it out of her mouth, a slow and quiet force.
Running, she calculated her pace. Exactly four minutes to reach the gate. If open, the walls surrounding the compound would offer her fast cover if anything pursued. But it would also mean things within the hospital were far worse off.
When she passed the tall, concrete Texas barriers designed to shield the living areas from attacks, she saw others. Some running, the dead dragging.
Thank God Brad Pitt was wrong. They don’t run, she thought, jumping a shallow dry ditch, in sight of the gate. Closed and locked. A familiar face was behind it.
“Conrad, open the damn gate!” There was no recognitio...