17. Cocktail Hour

Previous Story: 16. The Awakening

Sergiy Vovk had been stuck in the building for a day and a night. After a fruitless search for an old friend, he’d been forced to seek refuge when he encountered the largest group of Crazies seen yet. Most of the apartments in the building had been locked but one had already been broken into and it was here he spent the night (after blocking the door with a couch and a freezer). From his vantage point at the kitchen window, he had a good view of Jackson Avenue and he hadn’t seen a Crazy for half an hour. Time to go.

Before leaving, he finished off the pack of noodles he’d located at the back of a cupboard; he didn’t know when he would eat again. Once the doorway was clear, he made his way carefully down three flights of stairs. The entrance had been smashed open and he stepped over jagged glass onto the sidewalk.

Sergiy set off along Jackson, head and eyes constantly on the move, checking for danger. Before the crisis, he’d always listened to music while walking – usually a piano concerto – but now he had to be utterly alert. It was about two miles back to the auto shop where his group had based themselves; friends who had banded together to survive the crisis. Sergiy found some of them a little … American for his taste but after twenty years in the States he was used to such things. After resisting the Russian invasion of his homeland, he was accustomed to tough situations - but who could ever have seen this nightmare coming.

Sergiy didn’t like returning without having located his friend. Yevgeny was well into his eighties but his house – his whole street, in fact – seemed to have been evacuated. Sergiy just hoped the old man who he played chess with was safe.

He heard the vehicle before he saw it. Retreating to a nearby wall, he watched as a green army six-wheeler screeched around a corner and onto Jackson Avenue. Something was very wrong. The two soldiers in the cab were wrestling with a Crazy who had somehow got inside.

The truck took the corner way too fast. As it tipped over, Sergiy saw there were more Crazies on the rear. Many were thrown onto the street, landing with tremendous force. The side of the truck slammed into the asphalt and the vehicle slid to a halt beside the pavement.

The engine was still running and smoke was pouring from the crumpled hood. The three unfortunates in the cab had been thrown clear and lay dead on the street. Many of those in the back had also been killed by the impact but about a dozen had survived the crash and were now clambering out of the truck or picking themselves up.

While some ignored Sergiy completely, four were now walking towards him: a limping businessman in a sharp suit stained with blood; a slight old woman whose wig was only half on her head; and two big, muscular men in blue tracksuits bearing the logo CENTRAL GYM.

Sergiy shook his head in despair then reached into his jacket and retrieved three objects. The first was a bottle of vodka. He unscrewed the top and downed a quarter of it. The other objects were brass knuckles which he now fitted onto both hands. The feeling of the cool metal was as familiar as the warm glow provided by the alcohol. A peaceful man by nature, Sergiy had his own way of transforming himself into something else. He downed another quarter of the vodka and returned the bottle in his jacket. The four Crazies were still coming at him.

Why? Why were they like this? What had done this to them?

The businessman was fractionally ahead of the others. Sergiy took him down with a straight right followed by a left cross. Next came the old woman and he closed his eyes as he thumped her in the face, trying to ignore the crunch of breaking bones. There was no time for guilt – the big men were attacking, arms outstretched.

Sergiy blocked one of those arms, ducked low, then delivered a fierce uppercut. This enraged the big man who tried to grab him but two more punches sent him staggering away.

But their clash had given the second man an opportunity. He attacked Sergiy from behind, throwing an arm around his neck and locking it. With the other hand he clawed at Sergiy’s eyes, panting like an animal. Sergiy twisted and tried to pull clear but his foe was strong. However, the Crazy was wearing sneakers, which were no match for Sergiy’s well-made shoes. He stamped down on the right foot, close to the toes. As the Crazy cried out, Sergey got free, turned and caught him on the jaw with a powerful right cross. The other man was just getting to his feet and the pair collided, falling in a heap on the sidewalk.

Sergiy’s fingers ached under the brass knuckles. He cursed when he realized that the fight had drawn more of the Crazies towards him. Some were still bleeding from their injuries but that didn’t stop them. Sergiy knew from experience that if he turned and ran they would pursue him. There seven of them; too many to fight.

It was a shame – a waste of good vodka.

He took a handkerchief from a pocket and stuffed it into the neck of the bottle. Then he retrieved a lighter and set the handkerchief alight. As the Crazies came closer, he backed away to give himself more time. He watched as the flames neared the alcohol. Sergiy’s preferred brand was 80% alcohol - more than enough to make a decent Molotov cocktail.

He had considerable experience with this simple but effective weapon. It was always a question of timing. As the flames licked at the neck of the bottle, Sergiy took careful aim and threw it at the closest Crazy, a young-looking man.

When the bottle shattered, the alcohol was already alight, dousing the Crazy in flames. He turned straight into another of them – a middle-aged woman - and soon she was alight too. Some of the Crazies fled; others simply watched the flames. One even put his hand out to touch the burning woman.

Sergiy looked away. He had seen enough violence and death for one day. Without another glance at these strange enemies, he ran.