River Of Night – Snippet 18


Tom’s close call in the garage had become a minor matter of contention. It was time for a formal debrief, Bank of the Americas-style.

“Go on,” Tom said, turning to place his back to the counter of the farm kitchen they’d used overnight. He jumped up and twisted around to use the countertop as a seat. “Gimmee the rest, because so far this isn’t news.”

“The first thing that’s going to help is realizing that we’re not fighting people,” Kaplan said, writing on the white painted wall with a piece of charcoal that he’d scavenged from their breakfast fire. “They’re human alright, with the same physiology, the same autonomic nervous system, but they don’t think like they used to, not like us. The tactics that we’ve drilled during our entire lives are bass-ackwards now.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Durante replied, leaning against the far wall. “Stealth is the first lesson. We get it, that’s how we survived in the old SAFE.”

“We’re used to being tactical,” Kaplan went on. He drew a long straight line at shoulder height, horizontal to the floor and put an X at one end, labeling it “Kap.” “We’re taught to be silent, to see without being seen, that the first person to be spotted gets dead.”

Most of the survivors were either in the surprisingly clean house, or taking care of last minute post-breakfast chores before they loaded up and hit the road again. A few poked their heads in but moved on, leaving the little group to their meeting.

“Thing is, when we get sneaky, we sneak right into the zombies’ turf, and let them choose the distance of the engagement,” Kaplan said, drawing another X midway down the wall. He labeled it “twenty-one feet”. “When we let them get within twenty or thirty feet, we’re relearning the Tueller rule all over again.”

“Okay, I’ll geek,” Worf said. “What does a physicist have to do with zombies? We’re going to nuke them now? If this is up for a vote, I vote no.”

“That’s Teller,” Tom said, without turning his head. “He said Tueller. American cop who made the case that once a man with a blade closes within twenty-one feet of a gunman, the gunman has a second to a second and a half to draw and shoot to stop the attacker before the shooter is eating steel.”

“That rule is so much bullshit,” Durante scoffed, still holding up the wall, crossing one leg over the other. “The distance is an approximation. The time is an approximation. The level of competency Tueller specified is an approxi-“

“The point, Gravy,” Kaplan said, cutting his team mate off, “is that once zombies get close enough, you’re gonna get dogpiled and shooting contact distance with a rifle is hard. We need something else. And before you say pistols are the answer, Tom’s little rodeo where we got the Durango doesn’t help that argument. If they’d run into a few more infected, they would’ve gotten bit, and vaccine or no vaccine, your nose ain’t gonna grow back, or any other soft bits neither.”

“We’re wearing armor, no?” Risky pointed out. Behind her, Vinnie winced and nervously stroked his proud Roman nose.

“Yeah, armor that’s good against guns, but that has limited protection against half a dozen infected trying to eat your face.” Kaplan continued, adding a long pointy knife in the hand of his stick figure avatar. He added a few drops of what was presumably blood dripping into a puddle. “We need more complete coverage in order to be bite resistant. That way, getting dogpiled isn’t the end. Not if you’re covered up, have pistols and a machete, and you can keep your head.”

“Rain gear is too light,” Tom said, pulling at his chin. “Leather is heavy. Neoprene is hot. MOPP gear is heavy and hot.”

Tom was referring to the military Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear worn when biological or chemical weapons were expected or suspected.

“But okay, I see your point, we need a different armor concept,” he added.

“We can sort out the armor by scavenging,” Kaplan said, riffing off his boss’ interest. “What we need to think about it making noise on purpose before we go into anymore dark rooms. The groups of live infected we’ve seen have all had two things in common so far. They tend to like dark spaces, usually inside, and they are near water. So, if we’re thinking about going into a house or near water, we should make noise and let them come to us, so we can use distance to take maximum advantage of our ranged weapons.”

“Look, I like getting stuck in as much as the next guy,” Durante said in a reasonable tone. “But if you put enough armor on to cover every extremity, you’re gonna be slow, noisy and a pushover for the first non-zombie gunman you come across. And if everywhere you go you start ringing the dinner bell, you’re calling the infected. That means dozens, maybe hundreds of infected. And this is the really dangerous bit: sooner or later that’s going to get noticed by someone who isn’t infected.”

“We’re going to have to mix it up,” Tom said, breaking in. I see your point about going into potential close quarter combat blind. We’ll adapt our procedures.”

“How about spears?” Ralph asked. “The old boss, he was always talking about pig hunting with great big stickers, boar spears. Nice long spear would keep a zombie off you better than a knife.”

That stopped everyone from speaking for a moment, surprised at the actually useful contribution from an unexpected quarter.

“That’s… actually interesting, Ralph, thanks,” Tom said, eyeing his clearance partner from the day before. “It almost makes up for nearly shooting me yesterday.”

Ralph began to smile widely.

“I said almost,” Tom added, before continuing. “Seriously, we need to observe all the safety rules all of the time. The Big Four are always in effect, got it?”

He was referring to the pre-Fall rules of fundamental firearms safety.

The ex-gangster looked sheepishly around the room and then at his shoes. Everyone had heard the story of how he’d panicked in the darkness. It was… embarrassing. Dutifully, he began to mumble.

“Every gun is loaded, all da’ time, don’t aim at nothin’ you aint gonna kill…” he began.

“Booger hooks off the bang switch unless you’re about to shoot and know what’s behind your target!” the three teenagers caroled loudly from the sidelines.

“I’m not going to beat your ass, Ralph,” Tom said, favoring Astroga with a tight little grin. “I’m going to do something worse. At our next camp, you’re going to be teaching a formal firearms safety class, for everyone, including the kids, who have clearly been learning from Astroga already. Your students will also including Ms. Bua. If anyone fails to pass the quiz that I will administer afterwards, you’re eating the vegetarian omelet meals out of every case of MRE’s we have till they do pass. Do not mistake my resolve.”

“Boss!” Ralph protested, suddenly over his embarrassment. “They smell like puke and taste like ass!”

Astroga made a capella retching sounds.

“Yep, the good ‘ole Vomlet,” Copley said raising a hand to his temple as if trying to think. “You better teach me right. I hate those things. Oh, oh, I feel a memory lapse coming on!”

“And that’s the point,” Tom said. “Gravy, Kap, load ’em up.”

He watched as his trusted lieutenants briskly moved out, herding the civilians toward the vehicles. He rocked back and forth on his feet, satisfied with the progress of his little group. They’d made a couple mistakes, but things were looking up.


“There is no way to tell how much gleaning you can get of these podunk towns, boss!” Biggs said, complaining again. “Some places you might find ten survivors. Out of that you might have two or three worth feeding. Other places you can’t find anything worth the time to collar ’em up or the gas to bring ’em back.”

Biggs was keeping his voice down, keeping the exchange private despite the open setting. The town of Laurel wasn’t much more than a slightly built up cross roads.

“Did you sweep the entire town, Mr. Biggs?” Harlan asked.