We left the secret La Familia zombie training camp at Joshua Tree at two in the morning. Filomino Brancos, our combat trainer, estimated that the drive to the Oñate zombie compound at Big Bear would take about two hours. I sat next to Pearl Gonzalez in the lead van. With us was Filomino, Gus Dominguez, Jaime Mendoza, Jenny Mendez, Sally Irola and, of course, Vida, my zombie dog.
All of us (well, except for Vida) were dressed in combat gear, including kevlar reinforced fatigues and the cranial helmet that Filomino had designed. The metal alloy was covered with black mesh since we knew a bright three-quarter moon would be shining tonight. We were armed with the silent piston-driven dart guns that Filomino had also designed. The plan was just as Pearl Gonzalez and Gus Dominguez had outlined. We planned to initiate the attack at 4:55AM, hoping to catch the Oñate zombies while they were still sleeping.
The route we took out of the Joshua Tree Park took us West on Twenty-Nine Palms Highway. At the town of Yucca Valley, at the corner with the Chevron station and the Papa John’s Pizza, we turned North on Highway 247 to the Lucerne Valley. There we would turn South along route Highway 18, approaching Big Bear from the back route. There were five vans in the caravan. Three carried the raiders, the fourth and fifth van were empty–they were for the young child zombies we hoped to rescue from Oñate and his thugs.
The drive along 247 was through desert terrain, the road ahead was pitch black except for the beam of the van’s headlights on the two-lane asphalt highway. Occasionally, a tumbleweed or spirited jack rabbit skittered across the road. We slowed at one intersection and I saw Pearl’s face was suddenly illuminated by the lights of the intersection streetlights. As I looked at her I realized how much I really loved her and how dangerous this raid was going to be. At that instant she turned and caught me looking at her. She smiled that Pearl smile, leaned over and kissed me.
As if reading my minds, she said, “Don’t worry Lazo, we’ll both get though this safe and sound.”
We arrived at the road that led to the secret Oñate zombie compound at 4AM. The wooden sign, with a cartoonish finger pointing in the direction of the turnoff read,“Church of Zion Summer Camp.” A perfect cover for the Oñate ghouls. As we turned onto the dirt road we turned off our van lights and activated the night vision on our cranial-protective helmets.
We stopped a quarter of a mile from the guard gate at a juncture where the East and West roads from the camp joined up with the main entrance road.
“Betty and Sal,” Filomino said over our specially designed walkie-talkies, “you take the East and West roads. Signal when you are in position and remember we move into action at exactly 4:55AM. You know our contingency plans if things get hairy before that.”
“Copy that.” Betty and Sal echoed in unison. The two vans with their raiders drove off.
Filomino turned to those of us in the lead van. “Alright, we’re on foot from here on.”
We bailed out of the van and checked our gear. Filomeno raised his right index finger to his lips. “From here on, its all about the hand signals I taught you,” he said. “No talking.” As if to underscore his point he stopped talking, raised his right hand and pointed up the road. We all set out as quietly as we could.
It only took us fifteen minutes to get within eyesight of the gate. It was a simple structure as we had seen from the arial photos. It was illuminated by a lone china lamp and appeared to be quite empty. Behind it we could make out low intensity night lights illuminating the barracks. Filomino motioned us to take cover. He made a hand gesture to Pearl and Jenny. They nodded in reply and pulled some scarfs and half empty bottles of vodka from their bags. They took a moment to mess up their hair and smear mascara and lipstick over their faces.
It was now four fifty. Only five minutes left, but we were in position and ready to go.
The five minutes seemed like an eternity. Finally Filomeno read the time on his wristwatch: 5:55AM. He raised his arm and pointed for Perl and Jenny to advance toward the guard gate.
With a smile and a hand motion to all of us, they set out, bellowing at the top of their lungs.
“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer, if one should slip and happen to fall, ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall.”
It only took them a few minutes to reach the guard gate. Their version of two drunken sorority girls lost in the woods was quite impressive. We waited for the cue that would mean they had compromised the guards–perhaps thinking this was their lucky night–and that we could now approach and surprise them
But nothing happened.
We could see Pearl and Jenny acting up a storm, but there appeared to be no one in the guard gate and no lights when on the nearest building which for sure would have heard the girls bellowing.
We all looked to Filomeno.
“Could be a trap,” he said. “Let’s approach with caution.”
We quickly traversed the three hundred yards to the guard gate and found that Pearl and Jenny had stopped their singing.
“What’s going on, Filomino” Pearl asked, “Are we really look that bad? I thought our singing was good!””
“Sure about your singing, not sure what happened here,” Filomino replied. “Our latest recon drones taken yesterday afternoon showed guards at this gate. Let proceed according to the plan but with double caution. We’ll move to the barracks where we know the kids are housed. Let’s head out.”
Within moments we were on our way to the moonlit shadows of the long barrack building that, our recon had shown, housed the young zombie kids. These were the poor zombi kids that had been bred for a war the knew nothing about through the rape of human females by Oñate and his ghouls.
Filomino motioned for Gus Dominguez and I to approach the barracks. Without a word we left the group and slowly worked our way to one of the low hanging barracks windows. I pulled out my flashlight and slowly lifted my head over the window sill and peered into the darkness of the barracks. I could not see much, everything was in darkness. The far window allowed a little moonlight to enter, but not enough to make sense of anything inside. I left my flashlight to the window and adjusted the dial to low intensity. Then I turned it on and splayed it over the scene before me.
I wasn’t sure what’d I d see but what my eyes beheld was certainly something I had not expected. What I saw was a room full of beds, army cots, neatly arranged symmetrically, twelve to each side of the building, with a corridor pathway through the middle. And each bed was empty.
The room, and the adjacent rooms I could see through the connecting doors, were all empty!
I turned to Filomino and shook my head. I mouthed the word, “Empty! I turned and saw that Gus was also shaking his head, mouthing “Nada!”
Suddenly music started blaring from speakers located throughout the compound. It took only a moment for me to recognize the familiar music; it was Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stipes Forever, the orchestral arrangement reverberated throughout the empty grounds of the Oñate camp.
Then, out of nowhere, fireworks starting streaming into the sky. Palms, Round Shells, Willows, Chrysanthemums and Serpentines–all the fireworks patterns I associated with the fireworks my ‘ama and I had watched exploding over Dodger Stadium years ago–were suddenly going off in the night sky above. The grounds and all of the buildings of the compound were suddenly illuminated with the multicolored flare of the fireworks exploding overhead..
Amid the cacophony of the fireworks and the Sousa soundtrack, I heard Sal break radio silence. “Filomeno, Sal here . There’s no one at the Palatial Suite–the building is completely empty. Please advise.”
Then Betty Hernandez was squawking on the walkie talkie, “Betty here, the central zombie barracks, where the adult zombies are supposed to be sleeping, are all empty. Completely empty! There’s no one here! What do we do?”
I could see Filomeno’s sweaty face illuminated by the fireworks as he took in all the new information. He was trying to figure it all out. Finally he yelled, as much to Betty and Sal on the walkie talkies as to those of us standing around him.
“Regroup at the Palatial Suite. Everyone meet up at the Palatial Suite on the double!”
It only took a few minutes for all of us to rush to the Palatial Suite and join up with the other members of our raiding party. Within moments we were all standing in a semicircle as the last of the fireworks abruptly ended.
I could read the faces of my fellow zombies and knew the questions we were all asking ourselves. What had gone wrong? How could Oñate and his minions know of our attack plans? How long had they known? When had they spirited away all the zombie kids? What were we going to do now?
We looked at one another in the pale moonlight. But mostly we were looking at Filomeno. He looked really pissed. As the Sousa recording crackled to a stop on the loudspeakers, a silence enveloped all of us. We remained looking at FIlomeno.
“They found out about the raid,” he finally said, looking at each of us in turn.
“They knew we were going to hit them tonight and they cleared out and set up this welcoming fiesta for us.”
Then he walked to the nearest raider, Sal Duron. He looked at him square in the eye. Then he shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Do you know what this means?”
Sal fidgeted nervously, He shook his head.
Then he walked to the next raider, Jenny Mendez, and shouted into her face. “Do you know what this means?
She, too, was wordless. Looking at once alarmed, dismayed and bewildered.
Within a few minutes Filomino had walked up to each of us and shouted into each of our faces his emphatic and accusatory phrase.”Do you know what this means?”
I was the last one that he addressed. He stood in front of me and for the first time I realized that there as suspicion in his eyes. Gone was the supportive smile I associated with him during our training. Now he looked downright hostile.
“What this means,” he shouted in my face. “is that one of you is a spy, and informant, a traitor to our cause.” He let that sink in, no longer looking at the others, his eyes drilling mine. “And before this week is out, we’re going to find out who that traitor is!”
Copyright 2013 by Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions, Inc.