THE BATTLE OF JUMBO ROCKS.
The drive back to the Joshua Tree zombie training compound was somber. Pearl and I didn’t look at one another, each lost in our own thoughts. Filomino was convinced someone in our group had tipped off Oñate about our foiled overnight raid on their compound. After the Oñate slaughter of so many of our fellow zombies in Los Angeles, the fact that someone might be leaking information was serious and deadly. I wondered how Filomino planned to flush out the culprit.
And then what would happen with him or her?
I surveyed in the others riding in the van with me. Gus Dominguez was riding shotgun next to Filomino who was driving the lead van. Gus was focused on a small notebook in which he had outlined the attack plans. I could see he was trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Pearl, sitting next to me in the back seat, stared silently out the window at the passing landscape. Jenny Mendez and Jaime Mendoza were seated behind us, in the third seat of the van. Jenny had fallen asleep on Jaime’s shoulder–the two had developed a romance in the recent weeks of training. It was hard to believe that one of them would betray us.
And yet, how could Onate and his zombies have known about our attack?
By the time we returned to the town of Joshua Tree the sun was rising high in the desert sky. As a safety measure, we entered the Joshua Tree Park grounds via the 29 Palms East gate. Jerry, our Forest Service plant, waved us on at the entrance gate.
We had just cleared the Pinto Mountain ridge on our way back to the secret training camp when the attack began.
Vida was the first to notice something wrong. She began to whine loudly and then within seconds was barking toward the rear of the van.
Pearl was the first to hear the helicopters.
“Hey, that’s more than one helicopter I hear, isn’t it. More than one helicopter out here?”
We all looked out the back window to the sky. “There’s four of them!” Jaime yelled. “It looks like they’re headed this way!”
Now I could see beyond Jaime and Jenny as the helicopters rose over the horizon of boulders and Joshua Trees. They has the same sleek, black military look of the helicopter that had attacked Pearl and I on Olvera Street a few weeks ago No doubt about it.
“Oñate helicopter!” Pearl and I shouted in unison.
Filomino, who was driving, immediately got on the walkie-talkie squawker to the other drivers in the caravan.
“Prepare for aerial assault! Helmets on! We’ll make for the Jumbo Rocks campsite. When we get there abandon the vans and take cover in the rocks.”
We were all reacting to the notion that something was wrong when the first Oñate dart came crashing through the van roof, the edge of the sharp point stopped inches away from Jenny’s head.
We all quickly put on protective helmets that Filomino had designed for our warfare. I pulled out my dart gun, rolled down the window next to me and lined up my first shot at the nearest copter.
The shot was good, I could see that a dart sticking out of the exterior of the copter dashboard. Two foot higher and the pilot would have had a dart through his forehead.
By now all the vans in the group were racing along the road toward Jumbo Rocks. Overhead the helicopters had split up, two on either side of the caravan, showering darts into the roofs and sides of the vehicles. I could see that our comrades in the other vans were also firing back at the helicopters
Thump, thump, thump.
More heavy duty metal darts were riddling the roof of our van. For a moment, Gus steered the van as Filomino donned his own helmet. Then Filomino was back in control of the van. Throughout it all Vida was barking for all she was worth.
Thump, thump, thump.
We skidded into the turn off to Jumbo Rocks just as the lead helicopter launched a missile. Had we continued straight on the road, we’d have been hit. Instead, the missile blasted a giant Joshua Tree to smithereens which started a small fire.
“They got missiles!” Filomino shouted into the walkie-talkie. “Find cover and abandon the vans!”
By now all the vans had careened into the Jumbo Rocks campground. Thankfully, the place was empty.
Filomino brought our van to a halt next to boulder the size of a three story house. We jumped out and scrambled for cover as fast as we could.
Vida led the way, racing toward the shelter of an enormous rock. The campsite got its name for the giant boulders that dominated the landscape–for us it was ideal cover from the helicopters.
Pearl landed next to me and Vida under the shade of a the large boulder. From our vantage point I could see the four copters circling the camp. The lead copter let go another missile which found one of the abandoned vans, blowing it to pieces. But the other helicopters were only raining down darts.
“Only the lead copter has missiles!” I shouted. I hoped the others could hear me above the din of the helicopters.
I shouted louder. “Take out the lead copter! Take out the lead copter!”
I shot at the lead helicopter, aiming for the pilot. From the cover of the large rocks, our entire assault team suddenly open up with concentrated firepower.
Within a few minutes we saw that the fuel line had been hit and the helicopter was streaming fuel. The helicopter started to spin erratically and I thought it was going to go down. But the pilot managed to pull it out of the spin and turned it up from its plummet. As the copter turned away from us, I could see several darts protruding from the pilot’s body. The helicopter’s turning momentum pushed the passenger door open and an Oñate zombie tumbled out, a dart projecting from her head.
Another of the other helicopters was on fire, smoke billowing out of the fuselage.
Suddenly, the copters turned away and headed west. As suddenly as it had begun, the fighting was over, the air was clear of any aircraft.
I was stunned,. This was first time I had been in real battle.
“Lazaro, are you okay?”
It was Pearl. I suddenly realized that I had forgotten about her during the battle. I felt an instant wave of guilt. What if she had been hit? I turned to her. “I’m fine. You okay?”
“Head count. Vans report in now. Casualties?”
It was Filomino on the walkie-talkie.
“Sal here, three of us caught darts but we’ll be okay. Nothing that won’t regenerate.”
“Betty here, Filomino. Jimmy Yazzee’s got one sticking straight through his throat, once we get it out he’ll be hoarse for at least a week. The rest of us are good.”
“Beto and Ronnie?” Filomino asked. He wanted to find out about the drivers of the fourth and fifth van.
“Beto here,” the walkie-talkie squawked. “Scared shitless but all good.”
“Ronnie?” Filomino asked again, with more urgency. “Ronnie?”
There was only the cackling of static on the walkie-talkie.
“That was his van that was hit, “ Pearl said.
“But I thought he had gotten out,” I said.
Pearl shook her head. She pointed to the still burning van and the corpse smoldering on the ground next to it.
Copyright 2013 by Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.