Major Culpepper’s men stood on the Missouri side of the Sturtevant Bridge, rifles drawn and pointed at a large crowd of people who were undeterred.
The Major himself withdrew his saber and rattled it wildly in the air.
“Back, you rabble! Back, I say!”
An angry farmer wearing a straw hat let the Major have it. “You can’t send us back there! There’s nothing to go back to!”
An elderly woman with three teeth chimed in. “We’ll all be eaten alive by dead folk if you turn us away!”
“Can’t any of you filth read?” Culpepper asked as he pointed his saber at the lone piece of paper that Corporal Bartlett had tacked to a tree. “The president has declared that you are all to be presumed zombies and shot if you attempt to cross. My hands are tied. Disperse immediately.”
A weeping woman wearing a shawl held up a crying infant wrapped in a blanket.
“Please sir,” she begged. “At least take my baby so that he might have a chance.”
The major’s glare at the fussy baby was interrupted when the corporal tapped him on the shoulder.
“What is it, Corporal?” an annoyed Major asked.
“A word sir?”
The Major nodded and walked a few feet back onto the bridge with the Corporal, leaving his men to keep the crowd at bay.
“Sir,” the Corporal said. “Can’t we take the baby?”
“That is the ugliest baby I have ever seen, Bartlett,” the Major said. “For all I know it could be a tiny zombie.”
“Clearly none of these people are zombies,” Bartlett said.
“Oh, and I suppose you’re an expert on the subject now?” the Major asked. “There’s nothing clear about it, Bartlett. We know very little about zombies. Any one of these people could be carriers of the dreaded zombie contagion. What am I supposed to say to the Eastern seaboard when it gets wiped out? ‘Oh sorry, Eastern seaboard, but Bartlett tripped over his vagina when it was time to secure the Sturtevant Bridge?’”
“No buts about it, Corporal,” the Major said. “Our orders are to deny passage to anyone who attempts to cross this bridge and that’s all there is to it.”
“But sir surely you could exercise some discretion,” the Corporal said.
“What are you on about?” the Major asked.
“This is a confusing situation, isn’t it?” Bartlett asked. “No one’s keeping track of the time. We let the people cross. We blow up the bridge. Who’s to say they didn’t all cross before we even got here? I’ll swear on a stack of bibles I never saw any of them if we ever get court martialed.”
The Major looked at the woman holding the baby. He surveyed the crowd. So many young frightened faces. Children clutching their parents.
“Bah,” the Major said. “Blast you, Bartlett. I suppose no one could judge me too harshly if I save the women and children but I swear I’ll lop off your balls and stick them in a mason jar on my mantle if this ever comes back to bite me in the ass.”
“That’s only fair, sir,” Bartlett replied.
“Robards!” the Major shouted.
The Major’s demolition expert was crouched over a bundle of dynamite, carefully tying it to a support beam.
A flick of ash fell on the bundle. Robards looked up to see a smoking private.
“Are you trying to make us all go kerblooey?” Robards asked as he stood up and smacked the smoke out of the private’s hands. “Get some sense, numb nuts!”
“Robards,” the Major repeated as he drew closer. “How long?”
“Depends,” Robards replied. “You want it done fast or you want it done right?”
“I want the whole damn thing blown to smithereens so I can get back to camp and take a shit,” the Major said.
Robards took off his hat and scratched his head. “Bout an hour.”
“Very well,” the Major said.
Culpepper and Bartlett walked back to the line of soldiers standing between the crowd and the bridge.
“Attention rabble,” the Major shouted. “In one hour’s time, all women and children will be allowed to cross. Men will be expected to return West to fight the zombie menace with honor. Say your goodbyes. There will be no further discussion of the subject.”
Various angry groans and complaints emanated from the crowd as the people talked amongst themselves.
Culpepper and Bartlett headed back onto the bridge.
“God help us if even one of these people is a zombie, Bartlett,” the Major said.
“Sir,” the Corporal replied. “I am absolutely positive that none of these people are zombies.”
The crowd stretched back for a quarter mile. Doc and Annabelle arrived on Hercules, unable to pass through the mob.
“Look at all these people,” Annabelle said.
“Yes,” Doc whispered. He pulled up his collar, turned down the brim of his hat, and pointed his head downward. “I do hope none of them suspect that I am a zombie.”