I glance outside the window absently, my overdue piece of gum now a tasteless slick in my mouth. The radio up front pulses with native music and I count the trees as we pass them. I'm on 234. I'd arrived just hours ago with strict orders to find the President's missing daughter and bring her back. Ashley Graham. A 20-year-old college kid who's never seen any sort of danger in her life. She'd been taken a few weeks ago, snatched during a homecoming trip. The moment we'd even caught a hint of her possible whereabouts, I'd been sent in. Unfortunately, the source for this tip is still a mystery. Who would have thought that my first assignment would be a rescue mission? Better not disappoint, Kennedy.
The two cops up front are glancing outside restlessly. They have been ever since I'd gotten in the back seat. What was the driver's name? Álvaro? Yeah. That's it. Álvaro...
"Coño." The other cop—David—pipes up. "Why am I always the one who gets the short end of the stick." His dusky eyes dart pointedly at me and then away.
"Yo. Who are you, really?" Álvaro asks, his rough voice passively assertive. "Come on and tell us."
I simply stare out the front window, retaining my neutral expression. We'd done everything we can to keep Ashley's kidnapping a secret. Reporters had a way of giving up too much information on main stream television. I roll my eyes. We didn't need her captors knowing what we are up to.
"You are a long way from home, cowboy. You have my sympathies." David grins back at me.
I bite back a sour rebuttal and decide on a more impartial comeback. "Guess that's the local's way of breaking the ice. Anyway, you know what this is all about. My assignment is to search for the president's missing daughter."
"What?" David barks and gazes back at me in disbelief. "All by yourself?"
Yeah... Someone of your caliber wouldn't dream of handling a situation like this alone. "I'm sure you boys didn't just tag along so we could sing Kumbaya together at some boyscout bonfire. Then again, maybe you did."
"Ha. Ah, you crazy American. It's a direct order from the chief himself. I tell you it's no picnic." David sighs.
"I'm counting on you guys." I say, a wavering reluctance lacing my voice.
These guys seem shifty enough. At the first sign of trouble, they'd probably cut and run. So much for being my backup in this mission. What a crock of shit. Still, they know this place far better than I do. Besides, I've had worse.
A few minutes later, David has to take a leak. Álvaro pulls the vehicle to a stop and the engine gurgles an uneven purr while we wait for him. My mind wanders along the dingy yellow landscape, attempting to pick up where I'd left off on my tree count. Instead, my thoughts linger on something else—the anonymous phone call with information on Ashley's whereabouts. The voice of the caller had been distorted, making it impossible to distinguish whether it'd been male or female. Also, we hadn't been able to trace it. Despite my superiors' and my ill feeling about the information, I'd been assigned the task. Hopefully, this isn't some wild goose-chase... for Ashley's sake.
The car door opens and David slumps into his seat. "Sorry it took so long." He apologizes as he shuts his door.
I frown. His voice is a little edgy. Maybe something spooked him. I look back out at the trees, my expression as dull as the early morning clouds hanging overhead. I hadn't slept well last night; a little nervous, I guess. There's really no way to know yet if Ashley is okay. The thought itself weighs heavy on my mind. I really don't want to be the one to deliver news of her death to the president. No father should have to experience that.
Within fifteen minutes, we were pulling over a rickety wooden bridge. This place almost feels as if I've slipped into some serene painting. Untouched is the word I'm looking for. We come to a stuttering halt on the other side. I make a quick scan of the environment. The clouds haven't gotten darker, but the world is hazier. My stomach teeters a little. Despite the peacefulness of the place, it's a little too quiet here.
"Just up ahead is the village." Álvaro states brusquely.
I take a deep breath. "I'll go and have a look around."
"We'll stay and watch the car." David says sheepishly. "Don't want to get any parking tickets."
I hold back the urge to snort. "Right... parking tickets..."
"Good luck." Álvaro offers sarcastically.
I get out. "Jeez... Who are these guys?" I murmur as I shut the door.
The driver's-side window rolls down. "Did you say something?" Álvaro snaps.
I ignore him and turn to the path ahead. The radio on my hip zings to life and I bring it to my ear.
"Leon, I hope you can hear me." a smooth female voice calls over the speaker. "I'm Ingrid Hunnigan. I'll be your support on this mission."
"Loud and clear." I smirk. "Somehow, I thought you'd be a little older."
She doesn't respond. A bit uptight, are we?
"So the subject's name is Ashley Graham, right?"
"That's right." She replies. "She's the daughter of the president, so try to behave yourself, okay?" Her tone becomes patronizing.
Knew she had some bite...
I scoff. "Whoever this group is, they sure picked the wrong girl to kidnap."
"I'll try to find more information on them on my end as well."
"Good. Talk to you later. Leon out."
I place the radio back in its holder and start down the path. The dirt squishes muddily beneath my shoes. I suppose it's too late to worry with the fact that they aren't waterproof. I chuckle to myself. It's not like I'd get bent-out-of-shape about a pair of wet socks anyway. My jacket is just enough to repel some of the cold but only just. It'd be hell if I lost it. This is my lucky jacket.
Dead leaves blanket the moist earth and a murder of crows root around the tree trunks, cawing leisurely as if lost in idle conversation. I pause for a moment, watching them. No exposed sinew. No bloated black feathers with the dull sheen of fresh blood. Just crows.
I move closer and they take to the sky. I half expect them to come at me with their talons, ready to scratch away my face in a bloodied frenzy... piece by tattered piece. But, they simply fly away into the woods behind me. Just crows...
Even now, the memories of Raccoon City still have my heart on edge. That night, I'd learned the true meaning of survival. Either you make the cut, or you don't. If you can't react fast enough, you're a dead man walking. But, thankfully, Umbrella has been out of commission for a few years now.
I walk up to a weathered guidepost near where the crows had been. The faded lettering reads 'Pueblo'.
There is a house a short way up the path; the door is hanging open. Someone could have broken in. Though, it doesn't look like a forced entry. It just looks like the door is standing open. Something is definitely not right. A scanty fence lines the poor excuse of a yard and the stairs to the porch are rotting apart. Thick lumber lies stacked to the left of the abode and a fossil of a truck blocks the path to the right.
I frown. It doesn't make sense to just block a path unless you don't want someone to enter it... I run my fingers over the gun holstered at my hip. The feel of the cool steel is a welcoming sensation. Taking one last look around the area, I draw the gun and proceed into the house. My footsteps are a hollow thump on the wooden floor. I hear fire crackling. The smell of charred wood and some other faintly detestable odor envelops me as I step passed the entrance and the scanty bookshelf. Beyond a plain wooden table, a man is hunched over a homely little fireplace.
I put away my gun. "Excuse me, sir?"
He doesn't acknowledge me. Perhaps, he doesn't understand English? His clothes appear dirty... working outside?
I walk over to him and pull out the picture of Ashley from my pocket. "I was wondering if you might recognize the girl in this photograph..."
His glare centers on me, black pools of hateful aggression. Wonder who pissed in his—
"¿Qué carajo estás haciendo aquí? ¡Lárgate, cabrón!" He growls.
What a nice welcome. "Sorry to have bothered you." I look away to tuck the picture back into my pocket.
As my eyes travel back to the impolite resident, I catch the glint of metal and the distinct shape of a—Holy shit! I combat roll away from the ax as he swings it wildly at me. I'm centered on my feet again in mere seconds.
“Freeze!” I order harshly.
He does not adhere to my command and continues walking toward me, the ax held above his head ready to attack.
“I said freeze!” I snarl.
A crazed grin slithers across his lips and he lurches in, his breathing loud and guttural. Crazy... I aim at his leg and fire one shot. The impact only phases his body, but his eyes never leave me. He's limping toward me now, the ax trembling in his hand. I aim at his head this time and, before he can side-step, I've fired. The bullet rips through his skull, painting the wall behind him in blood and brain-matter grey.
His body slumps to the ground and I stand there for a moment, my heart dropping back down into my chest. There's no way a typical human could ignore a shot like that. I doubt he was doped up on PCP. My fingers tighten around my gun. Things just went from bad to worse. I chuckle to myself. I've had bad before. This is a walk-in-the-park compared to that night...
And, this resident wasn't a zombie, anyway... But, that raises another question.
Just then, there's a burst of sound outside, a motor coming to life, disordered commotion... angry cries. I run over to the window at the front of the house. I'm just in-time to catch the truck that had been blocking the path barreling in the direction of David and Álvaro. A deafening crash resonates in the air, and then all falls quiet.
"Shit!" I hiss.
They must have hit the police vehicle. Dammit! Vicious shouts pierce the short silence and I check my clip. Eight bullets left in the clip with only four clips on my person. They are coming to get me now, huh? Peachy...
I contact Hunnigan. "Is everything okay?" She asks.
"There was a hostile local." I inform her. "I had no other choice but to neutralize him. There's still others surrounding the area."
"Get out of there and head toward the village! Take whatever measures necessary to save the subject."
"Understood." I replace the radio back in its holder and run to the front door.
It's barred shut and won't budge. I turn around and jog passed the body of the dead villager. A wooden staircase leads to the second floor behind the wall of the fireplace. To my right, at the end of the short hallway is an open area underneath the staircase.
A buzzing invades my ears. Bees? Flies? As I walk closer to it, that smell from earlier intensifies. I know it well. I swallow the dry lump in my throat and peak around the doorway, gun at the ready. A horde of flies swarm excited around a collection of putrid skulls. Looks like they've killed a lot of people. I hope Ashley's okay. Maggots wiggle their way around the yellowing bone and I scrunch my nose before turning away.
As I hurry up the stairs, I hear the hostiles yelling sharply in their native tongue. It sounds as if whatever they are saying is directed at me... and it isn't too pleasant. I dart past the upstairs window and find a small box of 9 mm handgun rounds. What luck.... I snatch them and stuff them into my butt-pack.
Outside, I can see a crows beginning to circle the area. Creepy... I ease toward the window and find three hostiles waiting for me a few yards from the house. They are all carrying basic weapons: pitchforks, axes, knives. No guns that I can see. I unsheathe my combat blade and knock out the window. The hostiles shout eagerly.
I cautiously peek out the window-frame and am greeted by a flying ax. It sails through the frame and embeds itself into the wall behind me. Damn! I take quick aim and hit the closest target in the gut. He groans and pulls out another ax. Great... Before he can throw it, I take his head clean off. His body crumples to the ground in a gory mess. If they aren't zombies...
The other two enemies make a break for the porch, taking them out of my line-of-sight. Terrific. There's only one way out of here... Alright. They will be behind me when I land. I'll have to move fast.
Six bullets. If worst comes to worst, I would fall back on CQC. After taking a deep breath, I back slowly away from the window. I check my gun and I grip the hilt of my knife in my right hand. Gotta be fast, Kennedy.
Then, I'm bolting out the window, my body turning in midair as I clear the frame. I spot the two of them standing near the door as I land. They rush me and I take out the immediate attacker, a swift head-shot. The other thrusts his pitchfork at me. I sidestep and spread open his throat with my blade. Blood gushes from the open wound, but he's still attacking.
I jump back and direct my firearm at his head. He barks something in Spanish and I put a bullet between his eyes. The pitchfork falls away from his limp hands and he collapses next to the other dead villager.
The world is silent for a the next few moments, agonizingly moving along... This situation is much worse than any of us had anticipated. The villagers seem... unaware of themselves. They're killing any intruders. That much is obvious. I frown. Considering the way they had reacted to those hollow points, they weren't entirely human. No human could take a shot to the gut and have little to no reaction to the pain. But... not zombies... alive... They don't appear to be BOWs. Umbrella is dead. There isn't any denying that a new company would one day take Umbrella's place, though. The thought itself isn't exactly a comforting one.
The policemen! I scold myself for not acting sooner and take off toward the bridge. I find deep skid marks marring the soggy dirt. My heart sinks in my chest as I follow the ruts right to the very edge of the cliff-face. In the river below, the vehicle is a twisted mess of hot metal, smoke, and flames. They couldn't have survived that fall.