A large black shadow hovers over the desolate mountainous region of Oregon. The pouring rain rapidly knocks on the metallic roof of the helicopter. The long propeller blades cut through the dense fog throwing debris up from the wet ground. A white beam of light shines from the front of the helicopter to provide safe passage. The engine is muffled by the sounds of the rain and wind creating an ideal time to get boots on the ground.
Another day at the office and another day for this dramatic weather. The world has gone to shit, but the northwest weather remained the same. Private McCormick can barely see out of the small bullet proof window as the rain diminishes any visibility. This is about his tenth mission or so and each one gives him more temptation to run.
“Nero, who the hell gave you authority to rule the world?” Private McCormick thought to himself.
“Each and every day I guard this so-called scientist, to give us the same damn answers. Why does he matter more to them than me? He’s in white and I’m in yellow? There are people down here lost and barely surviving while we make our little field trips down to this shit to protect one guy,” McCormick continues to be lost in thought.
“Private, do you read me?” says Corporal Franklin.
“Private McCormick, copy?” Franklin repeats.
“Private!” yells Franklin.
“Yes sir! Sorry sir! My mind…was on the mission sir,” McCormick stutters.
“That’s good kid, but next time you answer me on the first damn call,” says Franklin.
“Of course, sir,” says McCormick.
“My job is to make sure each one of you are prepared for each mission. Do you know your route Private?” asks Franklin.
“Copy sir,” answers McCormick.
The black helicopter with NERO written across the side in white lettering descends to the ground with multiple soldiers quickly jumping out of the bay door. Each soldier armed and protected by military grade armor begins to encircle the area where the helicopter has landed to scan for any nearby threats. Private McCormick is the last soldier to hop off with the barrel of the gun firm against his shoulder, head tilted slightly as he aims down his sights, finger on the trigger, and knees slightly bent ready to engage in any oncoming enemies.
“All clear over here!” shouts one of the Nero soldiers.
“Clear, sir!” another one calls out.
“O’Brian time to move, sir,” Corporal Franklin commands.
A tall skinny man steps down from the helicopter in a white hazmat suit that covers every inch of his body from head to toe. He’s protected with a full-face self-contained breathing apparatus, chemical resistant gloves and a two-way radio attached to him. The white sleeves fit loosely on his scrawny arms. McCormick stands about an incher shorter than O’Brian with broad shoulders and an athletic build. He brushes past O’Brian to ensure the path is safe to the dark mucky cave handing him off to the lead soldier in charge of protecting the cave entrance. O’Brian walks past both soldiers in preparation to analyze the area, while Private McCormick begins to take his routine path to protect the perimeter. Each soldier is placed in a specific spot pertaining to the circumference of the helicopter. Their flashlights are on and attached to their bullet proof vest to help visibility through the rainy night sky.
“Lieutenant O’Brian field note 2…” O’Brian begins to talk as his voice fades away the farther out McCormick scans.
McCormick continues to walk his route making sure no one gets through, the same thing he has done every single mission and yet the Corporal asks the same question every time. He pauses for a second and looks out toward the tall trees through the rain. Drops of water trickle off the brim of his helmet onto his goggles. He hears the haunting shrills and groans from Freakers off in the distance as they constantly pursue something to feed on. The smell of rotten flesh with scents of mold, burning and rancid waft through the wind sending him back to the day of Pillette Bridge.
“The day where I was doing this same exact thing I am doing right now, checking the fucking perimeter. The only difference… I had friends there on Highway 97 and I abandoned them in that box, while I ran like a coward,” McCormick mumbles under his breath.
NERO Checkpoint, Pillette Bridge. One Year Ago.
“Do you hear that sir?” asks McCormick.
“What the hell is that?” says Sergeant Bullock.
“Sarge, look,” says McCormick pointing ahead.
Both men stand on the opposite side of the bridge looking on at the largest horde they have ever seen. The noise coming from the Freakers becomes almost deafening making it hard to even think. They are a few hundred yards away and the smell is atrocious, even through the mask. The Freakers were on a slow shamble milling down the highway, until something caught their eye. Now, they have picked up speed and the whole horde is moving rapidly toward the checkpoint. In this moment, between hearing and seeing the horde, it felt like an eternity for the two men. There is now a sudden burst of gun fire coming from two automatic weapons echoing off the mountainside. McCormick sees multiple Freakers drop. The men look at each other realizing what is happening. They spring forward to the other side of the bridge holding their guns across their chest. Two more Nero soldiers are seen running away from the horde toward the checkpoint shooting behind them as they go.
“No, no, no, no! What are they doing?” shouts McCormick.
“Diane! Vince! Do you hear me? Get inside the trailer!” yells McCormick through the two-way radio.
The radio stays silent. McCormick and Bullock continue their pursuit toward the trailers. The horde is on the tail of Diane and Vince as they get closer to reaching the door. McCormick pulls up his submachine gun that resembles a MP-5 and tucks it tightly against his shoulder and under his chin. He stands with his legs squared to his shoulders and with one quick breath, unleashes his extended magazine clip at the front row of the horde creating just enough space for his friends to reach inside. Bullock quickly follows his lead, but abruptly ceases fire. The trailer is overrun with Freakers. They jump frantically on top of the trailer pounding their hands on the roof. Others gnaw and claw at the steel door creating a pile of Freakers as they continue to pile on top of each other trying to get in. They look like mindless creatures trying to escape their own bodies. Part of the horde deviates due to the previous gun fire from the two men and one by one the Freakers follow each other heading in the direction of McCormick and Bullock.
“We can’t just leave them there Sarge!” McCormick yells.
“We have no choice!” Sergeant Bullock says frantically.
With a pause of hesitation from McCormick and a glance back toward the trailer, it takes every fiber in him to not charge through that horde to at least try and save them. Both men make a 180 degree turn with Bullock already ten feet ahead of him, sprinting as fast as they can back across the bridge.
“HQ come in. HQ do you read? We need an immediate evac at Pillette Bridge! We have a large horde trailing us,” Sergeant Bullock says into his radio.
McCormick runs with one hand stretched behind him with his gun upright firing away on the oncoming Freakers. He manages to take several of them down, but they are relentless in their pursuit of the men.
“Hear you loud and clear Sergeant. Our bird will be at the emergency LZ in ten minutes. Good luck sir,” replies the woman on the radio.
With one smooth motion, Bullock unclips a frag grenade from his belt and launches it over McCormick’s head reaching about thirty yards into the horde. Luckily, the grenade lands right next to a flammable red barrel taking out a good chunk of the Freakers. McCormick slams in another clip and sprays bullets to the front of the horde that wasn’t affected by the blast. This creates a little wiggle room to gain some space between them and the Freakers. Bullock looks up and spots a trail of black smoke rising into the sky up the hill in the trees.
“Look! We need to make it there and fast!” shouts Bullock as he looks back at McCormick.
McCormick knows exactly what his sergeant is planning, but this world comes for you and if you can’t adapt you won’t make it. They continue to fire their weapons behind them as they run. The grenade may have helped to gain separation but compared to the size of the horde it looks like it made no difference. They struggle to run up the steep hill as they are already exhausted from trying to get away, but adrenaline kicks in knowing they might just have a chance at surviving this. The sound of their gunfire echoes around them and through the trees alarming anything and anyone within a half mile. They are almost to the top of the hill when marauders start running down the hill toward them away from their fire to take out the trespassers. All five of them stop dead in their tracks seeing the horde trailing behind the Nero soldiers. They immediately turn around to head back to their camp with shotguns and hatchets in hand. The marauders don’t get far as bullets penetrate the back of their heads dropping to the ground in a rapid succession. Smoke rises from the barrels of McCormick and Bullock as they continue the trudge toward the camp. Nero soldiers have been around long enough to know camp fires bring people and people bring motorcycles. Both men ran past the dead marauders fallen face first onto the ground as they reached the top of the hill. The Freakers stop their pursuit of the men for a moment to feed on the freshly dead campers that were gunned down. This buys just enough time for McCormick and Bullock to steal the motorcycles and get out of dodge to meet at the LZ.
Reminiscing about the past only brings trouble for McCormick as he continues his internal struggle of living under the government’s boot. Since the beginning, his day to day tasks remain the same. Answers remain the same. Friends lost and part of himself will never return.
“What is all of this for? There are too many questions around Nero and we get told nothing in return. It’s them or no one,” McCormick mumbles under his breath.
“Time to head back everyone,” calls Corporal Franklin over the radio.
Each soldier begins to head back to the helicopter continually scanning their surroundings. McCormick still stands in his same position lost in thought. He runs the pros and cons quickly through his head knowing which side he already is leaning on. The rain becomes a nuisance with its persistent tapping on top of his helmet. He can hear his name constantly being called through the radio while he slowly moves his hand upward to turn off his flashlight.
“Private McCormick, do you read me? We are leaving!” says Corporal Franklin.
He reaches down to his hip to turn off the radio, closes his eyes and lets out a sigh of relief. For the first time in a long time, he felt free. He knows what this world has become and still he rather be let loose in the shit than feel trapped. He can feel the presence of the soldier’s guns being pointed at him from the helicopter, giving him one last second to turn around and jump on. He opens his eyes and suddenly dashes forward through the trees. The helicopter ascends with two soldiers firing in his direction. The bullets ricochet off the trees splintering the wood as McCormick weaves his way through the forest. More bullets impact the ground directly behind his feet causing dirt to spray in the air. The helicopter gains more altitude now as it hovers right above the trees shining its light through the dense forest where he ran. The tops of the pine trees sway from the force of the wind coming from the propeller. After a few minutes of the helicopter encircling the area trying to find him, it ascends farther into the sky leaving McCormick behind.
McCormick sits on the wet ground with his back leaning against a tree. The sound of the helicopter becomes fainter. He peeks around the trunk of the tree and looks up to see the helicopter flying away. His head flings back and lets out a small laugh realizing he somehow survived that. His laughter doesn’t last long as he tries to catch his breath and coughs instead. He fumbles around to take his flashlight off his vest and turns it on to shine it around him. He quickly points the light to the left of him where he hears twigs snapping. A faint humming noise follows coming from the right. He rushes to turn off the flashlight and drops it on the ground directing the beam down his leg and past his foot. The light catches a large splotch of blood against the yellow backdrop of his pant leg. He leans forward to touch the area right above the knee cap on the left leg and realizes that one of the bullets got him. McCormick tries to stand up bracing himself against the tree and quickly falls back down to the same position. He picks up the flashlight one more time thinking he saw movement up ahead. On the edge of a small cliff overlooking the edge of the forest where McCormick lies, three Runners stand with blood dripping from their teeth. Patches of fur can be seen missing from their body, as if they were burned alive. Scars run across their face as they stare back at him. The humming noise becomes louder now as it gets closer to him. A shadowy figure appears with long hair and a skinny physique. It stands about twenty-five feet away between the trees. The white glare of the moon hits the body just perfectly for McCormick to recognize the rotten and torn female Freaker known as the Screamer. As soon she sees McCormick, her jaws open wide, wider than any normal human could open their mouth. It lets out a loud and piercing scream causing McCormick to cover his ears as tight as he could. Muffling the sound made no difference though, as his head started to ring causing a temporary vertigo effect. Once the scream was finished, he heard feet running all around him. Ravenous cannibalistic monsters were coming for him and there was nothing he could do to stop him. This world comes for you, rings in his head one more time as it did the day the horde at Pillette Bridge came through.
“Well… damn it,” says McCormick.