Death's Empire in the Steel City: Have Mercy


Garrett stood at the precipice of the largest building in what the world used to know as The Steel City. The wind blustered and whipped wildly high above the broken concrete sidewalks and thoroughfares below. The stench of rotting flesh riding the ebbs and flows of the evening air and filling his nostrils with the putrid odor of the dead. It brought back memories. Bad memories for the most part, but for him there was some good that came out of the end of the world. At first, he grappled with the idea that God had left him behind because of his sins but looking at the dead that moaned and shuffled around him he soon believed he was there for a greater purpose. He recalled the screams of terror and the nightmarish changes that took his family.

            His wife…

            Their son…

            His parents…

            The metallic sound of the rooftop door slamming shut released him from the hold of his memories and brought him back to the windy evening. The here. The now.

            A gray-haired man wearing a beige cardigan with two medals pinned to the breast stood with cap in the one remaining hand he had. It was his lieutenant Darnel Goodwin. Garret liked Darnel and felt bad that he lost his hand to a hastily done field amputation by a no dead surgeon. He felt bad because only a few weeks later they figured out a way to stop the infection from spreading without hacking off limbs.

            “Sir? I just wanted to check in and see how you were holding up.  The chiefs of staff said this is the anniversary. Not sure what they meant by that, but I can promise you that…”

            Garrett held up his hand to silence.

            “I appreciate the concern lieutenant, but that anniversary is best left forgotten. Send my apologies to the staff chiefs. I’ll be down momentarily.”

            Darnel didn’t budge.

            “Is there something else lieutenant?”

            Darnel took a few steps forward and put his hat back on taking a moment to stare down at the streets below. The dead shuffled aimlessly in and out of the abandoned buildings, tripping over strewn around trash and actual dead bodies from the scuffle from the night prior. The scuffle that cost the lives of six men and created a breach in the outer wall.

            “Can I speak freely?”

            Garrett nodded but said nothing.

            “Garrett, we’ve been friends for how man years? 15? 20? Linda and the boys spent a lot of time at my house too. I feel your pain. I lost family and I lost any semblance of hope when Cheryl became a shuffling monstrosity but persisted.”

            Anger boiled inside Garrett. He wanted to lash out at Darnel and remind him that he had a son still alive. Still thriving. Yet, he was the man people like Darnel put into charge of the Authority of Pittsburgh. There was a bound duty he needed to adhere to. To uphold and defend the last remnants of society under the supreme rule of the Authority of Pittsburgh. Sure, it had been weeks, no months since the head office could be reached by any manner of communication, but he held out hope that it was still standing.

            “Darnel, I appreciate your concern for my well-being.” Garrett finally turned and looked at his friend. The anguish and pain on his face did little to beguile away the sense that there was something terribly, terribly wrong.

            “You looked beleaguered, exhausted Darnel. What happened?” Garrett asked almost afraid of the response.

            Darnel inhaled and closed his eyes. “JR is in a coma. He took a nasty fall from the gun turret during the fight last night. Cracked his head on the pavement. From the looks of it he managed to avoid getting bit, but life as a vegetable. Is that any worse than going on as the living dead?”

            Garrett hadn’t examined the causality report and felt worse for delaying any opportunity to do so.

            “What’s the prognosis?”

            Darnel pursed his lips fighting back tears. “Unless we can get ventilator supplies he’ll more than likely die from pneumonia or infection. As you know antibiotics are reserved for the physically capable.”

            The rule came about during the early days that the Authority was getting established. Street to street battles with the undead, government leftovers and anyone not interested in law and order. The wounded were coming back in droves and receiving antibiotics indiscriminately even if the effect would be negligible. When Garrett was placed into power he changed that.

            “I know the rule Darnel and I can’t break code just because we’re friends.”             Dejected and with a silent nod, Darnel headed towards the rooftop door.

            A helicopter caught Garrett’s eye. It was to be reserved for extractions, long flights or covert missions, but he had the ultimate say and an idea cropped up.

            “Let’s take the chopper to Mercy. We’ll go in, grab what we need and get the hell out. We can’t violate the medicine code, but we can use the resources we have to get the help JR needs.”

            Darnel stopped and turned. “You want to use the helicopter to help my son? What about getting the necessary approvals? We’ll need a squad too. Mercy isn’t clear. Not in the least.”

            “I’m the only approval we need and aside from the pilot, we’ll only need the two of us. I can’t ask men and women to follow us to their deaths. I’ve accepted my inevitability, but many in this tower believe, honestly believe, that we are bound to restore the sovereignty of what humanity used to represent. Those days are dead Darnel and I don’t relish the idea of having my back covered by a group of idealists. Idealists are a drain on what is left of society. Realists and those who find practicality are the future of our race.”

            He stopped realizing that his words carried beyond the topic at hand and were best saved for another time and place.

            “Gather your things and a pilot. We leave immediately. No reason to give the staff anything else to gripe about.”

            A grin appeared and dissipated in an instant on Darnel’s face before he raced down the rooftop steps.

            Within the hour Darnel had rounded a pilot and two capable soldiers to join Garrett on the rooftop. He recognized them both as Myra Lantz and Terrence Gibbs. These were not a couple of idealists, but two more folks who lost it all at the onset of the pandemic. Darnel had done his homework and listened to his speech closely. Not that Garret had meant for it to be such a doctrine.

            “You said a pilot, but not any help. Myra and Terrence volunteered I swear it.”

            Garrett nodded and gestured with a wave of his hand for the crew to jump aboard the helicopter and without another word the crew took off. Before the days of the dead’s empire, one could simply walk to the hospital from the tower. A walk that would take no more than a dozen minutes, but now? Now was a different story. The streets were not secure towards that area of the city. There were scavengers, bandits, raiders and of course, the dead.

            The flight took no more than a handful of minutes. As the sun dipped below the mount, the copter settled over the helipad at Mercy Hospital.

            “I can give you one hour sir. After that you’ll be stuck until morning.”

            Garrett frowned. “Who the fuck made that rule?”

            “You did.” The pilot said before lifting off.

            The night brought out the worst in the dead. It’s like the multiplied when the sun went down, but it gave them added strength. Scientists hadn’t managed to figure out why, but there was no doubting the change they experienced.

Made a terrifying difference.

            The squad crept towards the roof access and peered into the twin glass doors that had been barred from the outside. A sign that during the final days of operation, the remaining personnel that survived the pandemic isolated themselves from the dead inside.

            Garrett wasn’t the only one to notice.

            “Looks like they boarded up the outside attempting to save themselves.” Myra said as she scanned the rooftop in the moonlight. “No sign of their remains.”

            “Probably jumped to their deaths rather than get turned.” Darnel reasoned. “That’s what I would’ve done if put into the situation.”

            Myra tilted her head in reluctant agreement before casually checking her safety and switching it off.

            Terrance started to pull the boards of the door and move the debris from the door. The glass door was smashed and the putrid stench of rotating flesh floating from within the hallway that lead up to the roof. There was emergency room check in station, a few upturned gurneys and what appeared to be on the face of it a pile of corpses.

            The pushed inside and flipped on their flashlights surveying the abandoned hospital. Without incident they moved to the nurses’ station and pulled out a map from behind the shelf and studied it closely. The main supply area was a few floors down and on the other side of the hospital. Garrett hoped there would be a few supply closets near the pad, but he doubted it. His men had raided this hospital time and time again over the years. Not much of value remained.

            “Let’s head to the stairway and get down to the right floor then we can make our way across. Keep your head on a swivel and don’t fire unless you have to. The dead can corner us in here before we realize it.” Garrett ordered as he checked his M4.

            The layout of the hospital was as he remembered it during his only life flight. He had been in a drunk driving accident at the age of 18. He had been sober and on his way to a homecoming dance near an area of the city called Grandview Avenue. His car was blasted on the side by 33-year-old Carson Gonzalez. Gonzalez was killed instantly and Garrett’s date, Lyla Marks, died a few minutes later on the cold cement outside the restaurant where they had dined only moments earlier. Her head smashed in like a watermelon dropped from an overpass. Garrett was life-flighted because the traffic mayhem caused by the accident forced the first responders to use the only method they could to get him help.  There was a vigil held for the dead and he remembered watching it on television from one of the rooms on this floor. Strangely, he couldn’t remember the room number, but then again that was twenty years ago.

            “Take a left here and the stairwell should be on the right.” Darnel said never lifting his eyes from the map.

Right around the corner. Garrett thought. That’s where he saw the bodies of Lyla and Carson. Dead as dead could be.

            The stairwell had been barred by a long since rusted IV pole. With little effort, Myra broke the pole and opened the door into the darkened stairs shining her flashlight down into the depths before proceeding forward.

            The sounds of their boots hitting the tile echoed in the silence as the made their way down to the supply floor. Garrett held up his hand when the sounds of metal falling to the floor reached them. The door was barred but cracked open just far enough he could make out movement just ahead.

A lot of movement.

            “We’ve got company and quite a bit of it. Can’t tell if it’s the dead or humans, but either way I don’t think they’ve seen us yet.”

            Darnel put the map on the floor and flashed his light at it. “We can go down one more floor, cut across the operation floor and come up right at the supply room at the ICU. Going around the obstacle makes the most sense here.”

            Garrett and Terrance walked down to the next level’s door and pushed on the door. It didn’t budge. Not a single inch could be moved.

            “Nothing. Looks like we’re going through the occupied room.” Terrance said.

            Garret walked down and saw that the path to the lower floors was blocked. The stairwell was in accessible from this point on.

            “Take it slow and stick to knives if possible. Let’s move people we’re running out of time.” Garrett said checking his watch for the first time since they entered Mercy.

            There were far more of them than he realized and there was only a measure of relief to know they were the dead and not humans who could potentially outsmart them. They pushed through quickly darted in and out of rooms doing their best to remain unseen, but of course that only lasted so long.

            “Fuckers got me.” Myra cried out in a forced silent scream. Garrett watched as she wrenched herself away from it. “It” being a middle-aged woman whose clothes were still intact, but her face was half rotted away. Like a melted stick of butter on a burnt piece of toast.

            With biting and gnawing teeth.

            Myra struggled to pull her combat knife from her hip sheath as the dead woman rushed her. Garret stepped in and plunged his blade deep into her skull stopping the undead woman in her tracks and sending her slumping to the floor. A pool of blackened blood began to pool at his feet.

            While he helped Myra regain her composure Darnel and Terrance began to deal with a problem of their own. The attack drew the attention of the other dead some fresher than others. Garrett imagined they were the unfortunate souls looking for supplies and got trapped. He raced to their aid swinging his blade at the nearest undead sending it to the ground. Darnel and Terrance finished off two more and Myra gritted her teeth as she wiped away another.

            The problem now of course was the floor was crawling with the undead giving a sloven yet horrifying pursuit. Once the sun went down completely though, they would gain unnatural speed and strength.

            “The supply room is up ahead!” Darnel called out and raced towards the open door. The last vestiges of sun peeking through the boarded up windows.

            “Damn it! Darnel stop!” Garrett called out, but it was too late. The dead were upon him.

            Darnel panicked as the biting teeth of the undead snapped at him. He lowered his rifle and opened fire. The crack of gunfire riffed down the hall and the flash of Darnel’s muzzle showed he was in terrible trouble. Garrett lowered his M4 and took at aim striking down a few of the undead and turning the attention of the converging dead to him. One by one he picked off the rushing dead, but they just kept coming.

            “Get into the supply room!” Garrett ordered and they rushed into the room turning to bring a few more dead and slamming the door shut. He took a LED torch and placed it on a nearby shelf illuminating the room. There were boxes of gauze, antiseptic and of course, ventilator supplies.

            “Sir, we’ve got a problem.” Myra said as she tended to a wound on Darnel’s shoulder.

            Garret studied the wound. “Bitten. Son of a bitch.”

            “What are we going to do?” Terrance asked.

            Garrett said nothing. Darnel’s only chance was to get back to the tower, but he didn’t know. They were trapped.