This is a work of
fiction. All of the characters,
organizations and events in this novel are products of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously; any resemblance to actual persons, living or undead
is entirely coincidental.
No Part of this book may
be reproduced, scanned, copied or distributed in any printed or electronic form
World Health Organization (WHO), South
soldiers leaned against the walls of the flat roof and scanned the city with
their binoculars.An occasional walker
was noted below as it randomly shuffled about, but so far, there were no signs
of a real threat.Hopefully it would be
a quiet day.They certainly needed the
lobby of the building, five floors below, a group of a dozen men with spears
and machetes waited for an update from the watchmen high above.They’d abandoned the use of firearms in all
but the most dire of circumstances. The
rifles’ loud reports only served to attract even more of the undead, and their
supply of ammunition was running precariously low.
center of the roof was a sprawling array of solar panels. A confusion of wires led from the modules to a
battery bank on the fifth floor, just below.The rain over the past several days had been both a blessing and a
curse.Though it had refilled their
cistern, it had nearly drained their power reserves.Hopefully the next few days would be
sunny.For a day without power was a day
without research, and thus, another day without hope.
commanding officer on the roof, sighed deeply as he surveyed the city.The view inspired a sense of complete despair.The nearby streets of Suva Old Town were once
filled with tourists as they explored the endless line of shops and dined in the
sidewalk cafes.The colonial
architecture was a mocking reminder of times that were no more.Now, they were hauntingly barren, save for
the occasional, shuffling corpse, and an endless parade of wind-blown trash.
and scanned the jagged, northwest horizon wrought by the island’s mountainous
interior.There’d been no word from the
survivors on the opposite side in Nadi or Lautoka for nearly two weeks.He
sighed and wondered if he and his companions were the last of the living on
listened as the cries echoed through the surrounding area.Apparently
as two distraught men appeared in the distance.Desperately, they fled along Renwick Road, ever closer to the watchmen.
should we take ‘em out?”
“No!” Liam snarled, “Last time shots
were fired, we were nearly overrun.Radio
the lobby; have the men go out and shut ‘em
up, before they get us all killed.”
and radioed the men below.
of your men out to get those twobefore
they wake the entire city.”
* * *
the others dashed out of the building’s main entrance towards the pair of terrified
refugees.Their machetes and spears
bobbed rhythmically with their strides as they cleared the gap.The uncharacteristically large Ghurka was
filled with dread at the thought of what might be shuffling after the two
men.If they’d managed to survive this
long, the pair was obviously capable of defending themselves.
As Ratu and
the others reached the men, the unease that was within him gave way to
rage.His machete clattered on the
pavement as he put his full weight into the swing.The man’s knees buckled as the Ghurka’s
massive fist violently connected with his jaw.The second man lost the last remaining vestiges of his composure as he
watched his companion collapse onto the filthy street.
in so that he was inches from the face of the fearful figure that was still
standing.His hot, rancid breath swirled
about the man’s nostrils as he growled, “Are
you insane?You’ll wake the dead!”
refugee closed his hollow eyes and dropped to his knees.A long, low moan filled the air as he shook
and wept uncontrollably.The wounded man
cradled his jaw as he sat up and draped an arm over his friend’s shoulder.
the Ghurka.Instead, they curled around his
feet like scolded dogs.They were broken
men, exhausted from the terror of a nightmare that never ended.
“How many’re after you?”
man looked up with bloodshot eyes and tears streaming down his face.Still rubbing his jaw, he said, “We’re all dead… all dead...”
radio crackled to life with the sound of a panicked voice. “All of you get back here, now!Barricade the doors; get the guns!”
voice on the radio faded, a low gurgle filled the void.The men looked up to see an endless wave of
undead spilling out from around the distant street corner.As terrifying as the sight of the horde was,
the sound was worse.As the infected’s
eyes settled on the living, the dull drone was replaced by a shrill babble and
clacking of jaws.The eerie silence of the midsummer’s day was
to be no more.
crouched low to retrieve his machete before jerking the refugees to their
feet.Standing again, he glanced quickly
about.The faces of his fellow soldiers
were pale with horror.He aimed to will
forth words that would bolster his comrades, but a single, broken word blundered
out.“Go.”It sounded cracked.Uncertain.Like their fate.Turning, they made for the refuge.
* * *
Rawlings’ assistant, Emma, finished transcribing the notes from the previous
day’s observation and uploaded them to RISA.The information on RISA could be accessed by hundreds of collaborating
doctors and researchers from around the globe as they frantically searched for
a cure to the virus that had spread like wildfire.In another life, his assistant would’ve never
performed such a lowly task, but times had changed.Everyone had to pull together.
between the researchers had begun to devolve as they’d become increasingly
isolated.The last conference call had
been several days ago, and some of the more reclusive members of the team had
begun communicating solely through RISA.Emma could understand the eccentricities that were surfacing because of the
despair. Without a cure in sight, the
research was becoming increasingly maddening.And all the while the world continued to descend into a darkness that
had been unfathomable just weeks ago.
unleashing a final assault on the keyboard, she replied, “Yes sir.”
ready for today’s observations?”
and followed him up the stairs to the fifth floor lab.As they walked the long hall towards the
solitary door at the end, the shrieks and wails of the test subjects became
apparent.The pitiful sounds of the creatures
filled Emma with despair, but she knew of no other way.
room were cages of all sizes.A
menagerie of indigenous animals was held therein.Some were miserable, terrified creatures,
while others were milky-eyed aberrations.
crossed the room with a dispassionate sense of duty.Emma followed closely behind, careful not to
stray too close to any of the enclosures.
retrieved her notepad and nodded in affirmation.
see…” His words were long and slow, as if he were debating every syllable.They teetered on his tongue for a time before
making themselves known, as if they’d minds of their own.“Suva Eighty-Five… Brachylophus fasciata – Banded
Iguana…” Rawlings paused momentarily as he glanced down at is watch.“…Thirty-six hours after inoculation.”
The doctor prodded the limp body with his
pencil, before finally announcing, “Status… deceased.”
He waited patiently while Emma dutifully
recorded his dictations.Once she had finished,
she looked up and forced a weak smile.He nodded and began anew.
macdonaldi – Long-tailed fruit
bat…Forty-eight hours after
inoculation.”As he leaned in to examine
the creature, it suddenly flung itself against the bars of the cage.Hissing and snarling, it struggled
desperately to reach the doctor.With a
sigh, he continued, “Status… infected.”
As Emma finished scratching her shorthand
notes, an alarm screeched to life.The
animals were thrust into a frenzy by the frantic sound.Unable to grip the pen, she watched as it
tumbled from her quivering hand to the floor.Exhaling deeply, she closed her eyes and pulled the notebook towards
her, until it was pressed tightly against her chest.The sounds of the room seemed to fade away
until only the deep, foreboding tones could be heard.
Dr. Rawlings placed a gentle hand on her
shoulder and whispered reassuringly, “Emma, we’re just going into an alert.It’s happened before, and we were alright
then too, right?”
“Ratu and the others’ll keep us safe.They always do, right?”
She exhaled deeply as she struggled to regain
her composure, before finally forcing a meager smile.
brushed her hair out of her eyes and smiled back confidently.Turning, he continued with the observations.
“Suva Eighty-Seven.Sus scrofa;
Common wild boar…” His voice was
stronger, as if to assure her there was nothing to fear in this new world
except for failing to complete the day’s observations.“Sixty hours after inoculation.Status… infected.”
As Emma finished the notes and they moved to
the next subject, Dr. Rawlings began again, but then paused.
“Is this Eighty-Eight?”
Emma checked her notes carefully before
replying, “Uhm… it is.”
“You’re positivethis is Eighty-Eight?”
“I mean, I could recheck my notes,” she
paused as she shuffled several pages.“Yes;
The doctor prodded the animal with the
instrument, but it only whimpered and shrunk into the corner of the cage.Jubilantly, he continued his dictation, “Suva
Subject Eighty-Eight shows no signs
of aggression seventy-two hours after inoculation.No other subject has exceeded the forty eight
hour window!Emma!This could be the one!”
As the two cheered and embraced, a second,
more urgent alarm began to sound.The
color drained from the doctor’s face as the siren continued.
The shrill ring of a telephone called out
from a small table in the far corner.Emma
watched as Rawlings raced across the lab and snatched the hand piece from the
going on?” he demanded.
“What floor?No!Do something!”
He let the phone drop from his hand as he
turned to Emma.
to get to RISA.We must let the others
know about Eighty-Eight!”
“We’ve been breached; they’ve made it to the
second floor.There’s no time, I have to
The doctor opened the top drawer of the table
and retrieved a pistol.Tilting it up,
he pulled back the slide and verified a round was chambered.Without a word, Emma followed him out into
the hall and watched helplessly as he dashed towards the stairwell.Before disappearing below, he called out,
“Lock the door behind me!Don’t let anyone in until the alarm is over!”
“No!Please… don’t go!”
Rawlings ignored her pleas as he rushed down
the stairs. Alone, she walked the long
hall in a trance.As the deadbolt
clicked into place, she covered her face with her hands, slid down the wall,
* * *
seemed like an eternity, the alarm finally ceased its assault on her ears.Emma cradled a heavy pump shotgun and waited
anxiously for the doctor to call out to be let back in.After the pandemonium of the past hour, the
silence that’d settled over the hall was unnerving to her senses.A single, loud rap against the cold steel of
the door startled her with its suddenness.The sound reverberated forebodingly down the passage.Gripping the Mossberg tightly, she slowly
approached the door.
As she neared
the door, a second knock rang out, and then another, and another – until an
endless clamor erupted.Beyond the
drumbeat of fists, a symphony of snarls and moans swelled to a feverish
pitch.Stumbling backwards, she shouldered
the heavy gun against her slender frame, struggling to hold it in place.The door soon began to groan and buckle under
the stress of the relentless assault.
slowly began to crack and splinter, until the deadbolt suddenly smashed through
the wood.The door swung wide and slammed
violently against the wall, revealing the decaying horrors just beyond.The front line of creatures collapsed in a
heap on the floor, their bodies having been effectively pulverized by the
others.The parade of undead behind them
ignored their groans as they trampled over the fallen and poured into the
research wing of the fifth floor.
stumbled backwards from the harsh recoil as she squeezed the trigger.The wad of lead tore through tattered flesh
and bone, but still they ambled forward.
Fifteen strides away.
planted her left foot, leaned forward and aimed higher as she fired again,
sending several of the walkers on the front line tumbling to the ground.Racking the slide, she pressed her
assault.An undead rampart began to form
from the fallen, but the others simply clambered over the still-writhing heap.
Thirteen strides away.
She fired a
quick volley of three shots and watched as a half dozen of the walkers’ heads
exploded in a disgusting display of black gore.The sickening stench of rot and decay caused her to turn and retch on
Eleven strides away.
trigger clicked against an empty chamber, Emma panicked.She fumbled with the shotgun’s side saddle
and dropped the first two shells on the floor.Finally, her shaking hand clutched a shell and pushed it into the empty tube.She racked the slide and sent several more of
the walkers tumbling to the ground, before clutching another shell and
repeating the cycle.After three salvos,
she hurled the spent weapon at the horde and retrieved the Walther that had
been resting in the small of her back.
Eight strides away.
thrusting the pistol forward, Emma took a moment to survey the scene that was
unfolding in front of her.She forced
herself out of the adrenaline-induced tunnel vision and noticed that the no
more walkers were emerging from the stairwell.She reasoned there were at least forty corpses lumbering down the hall,
just yards away.She exhaled deeply
before squeezing the trigger.Only seventeen more rounds, she mused as
the slide was slammed backwards and the pistol leapt up, better make ‘em count.
round from the Walther slammed against the rotting foreheads.The disgusting, milky eyes of the undead
froze in position as their heads lurched backwards from the sudden impact of
the hollow-point bullets.Their skulls
sprayed on the faces of their companions behind them as the bullets exploded out
the back and continued tumbling into the crowd.
Five strides away.
executed her futile assault with deft precision, downing one line of undead in
a single, fluid motion, before beginning anew.Upon emptying the magazine into the swarm, she shrieked as she stumbled
backwards and collided painfully against the floor.She shielded her face and tearfully accepted
walker’s guise was gruesomely distorted.Its nose was smashed flat and its ears had been torn from the side of
its head.Its teeth clacked loudly as it
outstretched its arms and leaned in.Emma retched again from the evil-dead stench.
beyond the putrid crowd, a door burst open.An explosion of gunfire filled the narrow hall, cutting the horde down
where they stood.Emma stared in shock
as the ventilated corpses fell all around her.
the others cautiously advanced towards her, occasionally stopping to drive a
boot into the head of a writhing walker.As he reached her, he offered his hand and helped her to her feet.
to the other men and said, “Noah, you and the others check the next floor for
and motioned to the others.Slowly, they
made their way down the hall, avoiding the heaps of corpses when they could.Emma and Liam watched as they disappeared
into the uncertainty that waited below.Finally, he turned to her and said, “There anyone else here?”
to speak, but the words refused her.He
placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Noah’ll do what he
can.If the doctor’s down there, they’ll
bring him back.”
to say more, but, “Thank you,” was
all she could manage.
and added softly, “If we can’t retake the building, we’ll have to
evacuate.You should probably go and
gather your things.”
you plan to take us?”
know; we’ve lost contact with the others on the island.All of Oceania’s been hit fierce - Australia,
New Zealand, Melanesia… we’ve had scarce contact with anyone close to us.If it was up to me we’d go east, find an
island that hasn’t been hit yet and let the rest of the world fend for itself.”
do that, Liam, even if such a place existed.”
“Why not?Why’s this burden ours?”
subject that hasn’t turned after three days of being infected with the
virus.We may hold the key, Liam.We need to get him somewhere that can continue with the research.Whether we want it or not, this burden is
in shocked silence as he processed her words.Finally he replied, “But where do we go?”
several colleagues in the States.If we
could make it there, maybe they could help.”
As the two
talked, a flurry of gunfire erupted somewhere below.
“Emma, go!Get your things; we have to leave now!”
down the hall and disappeared for several moments before returning with a
backpack and a small cage.As she reached
Liam, Noah and the others emerged from the stairwell.The last soldier turned and tossed a grenade
down the darkened hole from where they’d just fled.It bounced down several steps and landed at
the feet of a lumbering corpse.Contorting
its head unnaturally, it curiously observed the device.
explosion rocked the wing.Thick plumes
of dust and smoke billowed up from the stairway.Emma and Liam raced to the roof while Noah
and the others sent a final volley of lead down below.
Up top, Liam
and the others could hear the groans of the undead intensifying as they pressed
onward.Arms could be heard flailing
against the door as the living made for the far side of the roof.
gripped Emma as she stared down at the street and then at the makeshift, wooden
bridge that connected the rooftops.Noah
and the other soldiers quickly crossed the short gap as Liam whispered
reassuringly, “Emma, you can do this; I’ll be right behind you.Look straight ahead and just walk.”
deeply and shakily climbed over the parapet wall and onto the scavenged
catwalk.As she stood at the precipice,
trying to urge herself forward, the door burst open. A dozen walkers stumbled onto the roof.They searched their surroundings momentarily,
before eyeing their prey.
“Get down and crawl if you have to!”
Emma did as
he ordered.With teary eyes, she began to nudge the cage
forward and crawl behind it.Noah
praised her progress, while Liam turned and began to execute head shots with a
half-empty mag.Despite his efforts, the
mob only grew larger as the undead continued to flood the roof.As the winds shifted, the putrid essence of
the corpses overwhelmed them.
reached the other side, Noah took the cage while the others pulled her to
the butt of his rifle against the nearest creature.It snarled menacingly as it reeled backwards,
but remained on its feet.Turning, he leapt up onto the walkway.A mangled hand grabbed his heel as he started
to cross the bridge.Liam jerked his leg
with such a force that it ripped the walker’s arm from its socket.He was grateful that the corpse had not been
fresh as he dragged the still-clenched arm with him to the other side.
As he reached
the far side, the soldiers pushed the bridge to the side and sent it tumbling to
the alley floor below.
now?” Noah asked.
port; we’re leaving the island.”
desperately tore through the thick bayou as the light of the moon cast eerie
shadows all around him.Branches grasped
at his clothing as if they were devilish snares.Thorny vines tore his flesh like the claws of
his pursuers.It seemed that the swamp
itself meant to consume him, or at least seize him for the others.
of the others echoed from every direction.No matter how fast he ran, they only seemed to get closer with every
labored breath.Though the putrid,
rotting corpses were much more terrifying to behold, the freshly dead were far
more dangerous.The unspoiled wights
moved much quicker, perhaps what one might consider a corpse trot.Though they could still be outpaced over
short distances by the living, their endurance was immeasurable.Even the most stalwart of survivors could not
outrun them forever.
As he burst
through the tree line and into the open field, he could see a farmhouse in the
distance.The thought of reaching the
sanctuary reinvigorated Blaine.He
pressed forward with an even greater intensity.Less than a hundred yards ahead was the last remaining obstacle, three
strands of rusted barbed-wire draped between a line of crooked posts.
looked back as he neared the fence row.The fastest of the undead host was just emerging from the thicket.Their pace seemed to hasten as they caught
their first, unobstructed gaze at him by the light of the full moon.The sound of their jaws popping out of socket
as they opened their mouths wide sent a chill through him.
carefully timed his last few strides before planting his gloved hands on a post
and vaulting over the fence.As his body
contorted like a seasoned gymnast, something went terribly awry.An errant bootlace snagged the top strand of
wire and refused to let loose.Blaine’s
efficient, forward motion suddenly became an awkward, uncontrollable descent.
face-first against the ground.Mud and grass filled his mouth and
nostrils.One of his ankles twisted with
a sickening crunch and sent a shockwave of pain up his leg.His face contorted in terror as half of his
body writhed on the floor of the pasture, while the other half was tangled hopelessly
in the fence.
cried out in agony as he used every bit of his remaining fortitude to pull
himself free.The screams only made him
all the more desirable to the flesh-starved ravenours.Their pace only seemed to quicken with his
himself up gingerly and managed several hobbled strides before collapsing
again. The pain was too much.He rolled over onto his back as the first of
the undead reached the fence.The corpse
hit the strands of wire at full stride, sending it toppling over.As it faltered on the ground, Blaine aligned
the front sight of his Glock with its head.The report of the 9mm was near-deafening as it exploded from the
chamber.The fully-jacketed round slammed
into the corpse’s forehead and exited the back of its skull with little
indication of impact.The creature
groaned for a moment, before tumbling headlong into the mud.Hollow-points were conserved for threats that
his attention to the other two wights that’d become tangled in the fence.The barbs tore long gashes in their arms as
they labored to reach Blaine.If they
felt any pain, they didn’t betray it.Behind them, a much larger horde slowly lumbered across the field.
He fired a
single shot into the second runner’s skull and turned to execute the
third.Bracing his elbows against his
side and exhaling slowly, he gently squeezed the trigger.
aloud as he tilted the pistol up and stared down at the stove-piped bullet casing.As he fumbled in the dark to clear the slide,
the top strand of barbed-wire popped off the posts, sending the snarling
creature lurching forward.
final jerk, the casing fell free.The
next round slammed into the chamber.Blaine fired two quick shots at the corpse as it stumbled forward.The first round missed by a hand and a half,
but the second connected squarely with the bridge of its nose.
cringed at the sharp pain as he tried to stand again.His swollen ankle throbbed with each labored
step.As he hobbled towards the cabin,
he could hear the sounds of the fence being destroyed by the horde that pressed
was slow and excruciating, and the lumbering walkers matched him step for
step.If he could just keep going, he
would reach the cabin.The cabin would
buy him some time – it had to.Just
keep pushing, you’ll be safe there, he whispered to himself under labored
breaths.The groans behind him seemed to
grow louder with each stride, but he was too afraid to look back to see if they
out as he suddenly plunged forward.The
stinking, black mire engulfed him up to his chest.It
took all his strength to merely stay upright.His legs were hopelessly held in place by the thick muck that served as
the bottom of the marsh.How had he not seen the trap as it lay out
twisted his torso to see the throngs of undead slowly advancing on him.Their arms were outstretched and their jaws
hung slack as they gurgled their guttural canticle.He fought back the panic that was rising in
his chest and slowly and methodically began to puncture their skulls with the
remaining rounds.As the last round
exited his barrel and connected with the walker’s skull, he holstered the
pistol and retrieved the long-bladed bowie knife that hung from his belt.The five remaining creatures began to fan out
as they reached the swamp’s edge.Their
hungry, soulless eyes met his.He
readied himself.Here, he would make his
the matted hair of the first corpse that lunged at him and jerked its head with
as much force as he could muster.As he
prepared to drive the blade in to the hilt, the head snapped loose from the
body.He flung it, the jaw
still-snapping, as far away as he could.
momentum, he spun as best he could and slashed the neck of the second walker.The blade cut deep into the rotting
flesh.Its head rolled back until it
hung upside down by a thin ribbon of muscle.
could turn and engage the others, a bony hand grabbed his blade and tried to
wrest it from his hand.The sharp steel
cut deep into the corpse’s palm, but it refused to release its grip.More hands grabbed him and pulled him deeper
in the mire as he continued to struggle desperately for his life.He swung wildly at the second assailant, but
it was in vain.The final walker
stumbled as it entered the marsh and collided with Blaine, sending him flailing
backwards.As the black water filled his
nostrils, the undead straddled him and began to rend his flesh.He screamed for help, but it was too
late.They ripped muscle and gore from
his body like vultures scavenging carrion.
As the dark
depths welcomed him, one of the corpses leaned in closely and gurgled, “It’s okay, dear.”
looked closer, he recognized the face to be that of his wife.Her beauty was gone; the stench of death was
all that remained.
“It’s okay, I’m here.”
struggled to push her away, but the others held his arms tightly as they
stripped his bones of flesh and muscle.
Wake up, Blaine.
* * *
He awoke to
Taylor’s gentle voice urging him back to consciousness.The dim glow of a nearby candle revealed the worry
on her face.
the sweat from his brow as he replied, “Seemed so real.”
shouldn’t go out tonight.”
fine.We need the supplies.”
“You know, sooner
or later I’m going to have to go out there.”
aloud and simply said, “I know.”
divulged the worst of what he had seen outside of their refuge while he’d been
out on his nightly outings.Taylor had
only left the house once since the outbreak – the day they tried to flee from
the vacation rental back to their home.They’d traveled less than five miles north to Highway 90 before
realizing that they would never make the two-hour trip back to
Hattiesburg.Even if they did, what
would be waiting for them when they got there?The situation would likely be far worse than in sleepy Lakeshore.
retreat had been completely destroyed several seasons ago by back to back
hurricanes. Only a few houses had been
rebuilt since then.Though there was no
beach to speak of in Lakeshore, the houses would’ve appeared right at home in
any resort community. They towered high
over the surrounding rivers and marshes on timber pilings.The roofs were metal and the facades were
colorful.Their new home was nestled at the
southernmost tip of a narrow, man-made peninsula and was flanked on either side
by canals.After they’d decided that
they would remain at their current retreat, Blaine had found a chainsaw and
removed the wide staircase leading up to the second floor.A knotted rope that was the only means of
access that remained.
Lakeshore had been destroyed so completely by the storms, and the fact that it
was the off-season, there’d been only a few locals in the area during the
initial outbreak.Subsequently, there
were relatively few undead about.They
did exist, but not nearly as bad as just a few miles north.Eventually, they would wander into the tiny
community, but for now, Blaine and Taylor were fortunate.
As they lay
in the bed, dusk’s creeping shadows began to invade the room.Somewhere outside, a low groan interrupted
the natural order of the night.
outside for a while. I didn’t want to
“They’re its. I don’t like the thought of killing he’s and
sorry. I think there’s only one.”
pulled at Blaine’s arm as he sat up in the bed and touched his bare feet to the
cold, hardwood floor.
“If I don’t
kill it, it’ll just attract more.”
nodded and replied, “I’ll have something ready to eat when you get back.”
pulled a shirt over his head and grabbed the .22 rifle that was propped in the
corner of the room.He checked the
cotton-filled, two-liter bottle that was duct taped to the end of the barrel,
to ensure it was still secure.Not long
ago, he would’ve been apprehensive to even think of constructing the improvised
suppressor.But now, it was all that was
keeping them alive.
slipped through the shadows and out onto the balcony that encircled the home,
he was struck by the beauty of the last moments of twilight.The most distant reaches of the western
horizon were a raging inferno of reds and oranges.A line of clouds just above the point where
earth and heavens embraced was a stark contrast to the warm colors just behind
them.As the sky fled the horizon, the
blaze faded into a dull yellow. A fickle
hue separated the fire and ice.Just
above the zone of capriciousness, rich blues faded to black.
seemed a little blacker, as if the world was slowly dying.Blaine had never seen skies on the Coast as
dark as these.No oil rigs twinkled in
the distance like low-hanging stars.Not
even a dull flicker of civilization rose up to challenge it.Two evenings ago he thought he saw the lights
of New Orleans, before reasoning that if indeed it was from the Crescent City, it wasn’t the kind wrought from
electricity.He dared not tell Taylor.
on the balcony, he listened for the groans of the offending corpse as he
searched the darkness.Finally, it
murmured its fetid song again.Blaine
centered the scope’s crosshairs on the side of the walker’s head and squeezed
the trigger.The bullet silently burst
forth from the barrel, through the cotton and into the twilight air.It connected perfectly with the creature’s
skull, piercing its ear canal and dropping it immediately.Little more was heard than the gentle smack
of the firing pin against the rim of the casing.
continued to lie on the deck for several minutes, straining to hear the sounds
of any other interlopers.As he did so,
the full magnitude of the new darkness settled upon him.The new world had no distant glow of sodium-vapor
lights, no headlights or roaring of engines and no blinking stars overhead as
red-eye flights surreptitiously cross the sky.Satisfied that they were once again alone, he melted back into the
greeted him with a cup of coffee.The
lantern did little to illuminate the room. Nonetheless, they kept the curtains pulled
tight.Even the faintest of light would
draw the walkers closer.
He took a
seat and placed the rifle on the table in front of him.After several sips of coffee, he removed the
rotary mag from the .22 and reloaded it.
the same, Hun.”
and muttered aloud, “Canned ham, canned fruit – all the things people leave
emerged from the kitchen with two plates and sat across from him.He smiled at her as she handed him the meager
and replied, “Reckon I am.”
They ate in
silence for several minutes before Taylor spoke again.
didn’t have to go out at night.It seems
to be less active at night. I don’t know
if they sleep, or if they just prowl around less.Either way, their sight seems to be worse
than ours, so it works to my advantage.”
they go by sound mostly?”
nodded, “Mostly, yeah.If they hear
something, they usually go investigate it.And if one of them starts groaning more than usual, it tends to attract
others.Maybe they’re communicating, but
most likely it’s just the sound that draws ‘em in.”
“But they could be communicating?”
they could, I mean, maybe they retain
like the thought of that.”
smiled and tried to ease her mind, “They probably don’t, but either way it
doesn’t change anything much.They’re
noisy and they root around, like wild hogs.When it’s dark, I can hear them long before they ever know I’m
there.”Blaine tapped the rifle and
added, “I just slip around and give them the silent treatment.”
reciprocated a weak smile, but the look of concern was still on her face.
“I know you
don’t mind bearing this on your own, but you can talk to me about it.I’m tougher than what you give me credit
for.I watch you every night while you
sleep. I’ve seen you toss and turn and
wrestle with the nightmares.”
and replied, “I know you can more than handle yourself, but I operate better
knowing you’re safe.I promise when I
need you, I’ll ask you to come.”
across the table and kissed his forehead, before grabbing the empty coffee cup.
“I’ll remember that promise.”
returned with two fresh cups and sat again.The conversation lulled for a while as they simply enjoyed each other’s
presence.Finally, she spoke.
it been since we lost the phones?”
for a moment before replying, “Maybe a week’s time.I don’t really remember; days seem to run
should’ve been here at least three days ago.I’m scared, Blaine.What if
As her eyes
began to fill with tears, Blaine leaned forward and took her hand.
take the boat; go to her.Tonight I’ll
start getting supplies for the trip.It
may take me a night or so to get everything we need, but I promise we’ll leave
as soon as we can.”
that?Leave this place?”
deeply and replied, “Of course.Just
know that it’s going to be bad there – very dangerous.We’ll just have to be careful.Besides, we can’t stay here forever.”
“I know it’ll
be bad there, that’s why I haven’t asked sooner.It’s just, she’s my sister; she’s probably
all I’ve got left.”
okay; I understand.After she didn’t
show, I knew that eventually we’d have to go for her.We’ll leave soon, I promise.”
“I love you.”
“I love you
to.I better go; I’ll see you later on
down the pitch-back stairwell of the building adjacent to their stronghold. The
light on Noah’s rifle guided their way.The darkness was dangerous, but being a beacon of light in the darkness was deadly.Emma could hear the
scratching and clawing of the undead on each door they passed.
ordered all the doors leading into their escape route barricaded after the
heavy losses they’d incurred during the first major assault.Their numbers had been more then, much more,
but they were brash.With a host
population of nearly two-hundred thousand surrounding them, how could they’ve
ever thought that they were safe?
door burst open just below them.A dozen
corpses lumbered into the stairwell.They
were putrid from weeks of baking inside the building.The narrow passage became one long echo of gunfire
as Noah emptied his rifle into the crowd.The bodies fell into a heap on the floor until a single corpse
remained.With its broken teeth clacking
loudly, it made its move and lunged at Noah.He tried to sidestep the creature, but there was nowhere to go.
At the last
moment, a long-bladed kukri chopped down on the corpse’s skull. Its cloudy eyes crossed and its knees buckled.The towering Gurkha, known to the others simply
as Ratu, flung the body like a rag doll as he wrested his blade from its
skull.Sheathing the blade, he said, “Go.”
a sheepish grin and slapped the uncommonly tall Gurkha on the shoulder, before turning
and resuming the descent.
from the building and out onto a street filled with hordes of the undead.Their presence captured the attention of
every nearby corpse.The hungry groans
of the captivated horrors spread outward like a wave as more and more of the
creatures were made aware of their welcome appearance.
his kukri deep in the skull of a nearby walker, before turning and beheading a
group of corpses as they closed in with arms outstretched.
“Blades!” Liam ordered.
slung their rifles over their backs and retrieved their machetes.
“This way!” He shouted as he raced
towards a narrow alley across from the building. Meanwhile, the swarm of undead
continued to surround them.
the makeshift barricade that’d blocked the hordes from entering the narrow
passage, and continued into its depths.As long as there was nothing of interest on the other side, the corpses
had no desire to test the crude palisade.Now, the tangled wall of lumber and barbed wire rattled violently as the
legion of death pressed in against it.
was dark and restrictive, like a cavern hewn out of the surrounding
buildings.Overhead, balconies and fire
exits crowded out the sun, while the buildings continued up for what seemed
like forever.Overflowing dumpsters and
rotting refuse was scattered throughout the path.The stench was nearly as crippling as that of
the creatures behind the wall.In the
distance, two SUVs waited for them.
a set of keys to one of the soldiers and then retrieved a second set for
himself.Behind them, the wooden dam burst,
releasing a deluge of horrors into the alley.Several sprinting wights led the pack of undead in their pursuit of Emma
and the others.
turned and shouldered his rifle, but Liam growled, “No!Run!”
swiftly advanced down the alley, while Emma and the exhausted soldiers seemed
to slow with every footfall.Nevertheless, Liam was right, there were far too many of the undead to
turn and fight.They had to make it to the SUVs. The snarls grew louder in anticipation as the
ravenours cleared the gap between themselves and their feast.
reached the SUVs first and shouted, “Stand
clear!” as he climbed in.The group
parted alongside either wall as he jerked the vehicle into reverse and stomped
the accelerator.The engine roared to
life as the SUV lurched towards their pursuers.The bright lights on the rear of the vehicle drew the corpses in like rancid
moths to a flame.The runners
outstretched their arms and hissed eerily in the last moments before the
collision. Finally, he was theirs’.
was sudden and violent.Liam never
braked, but rather carried his momentum through them.Several of the runners bounced backwards,
while others skidded across the pavement in mangled heaps.Behind them, a massive throng of walkers
slowly continued their shuffling pursuit.Emma and the others cheered at the minor victory as the SUV raced back
Noah, Ratu and
Emma climbed into the vehicle with Liam as the other soldiers sped away in the
lead SUV.A plywood wall that had been
constructed to conceal the far end of the alley exploded in a hail of splinters
as they hit it.Nearing full speed, they
burst forth from the alley.
slid sideways as they maneuvered the sharp turn and transitioned from the alley
to the street. Several unsuspecting
walkers were sent rolling towards the abandoned storefronts as the lead
vehicle’s quarter panel swatted them effortlessly.As the hordes continued to swarm in from the
surrounding areas, the SUVs disappeared into the city.
out the window at the decaying city that was all around her.She found it amazing how quickly society’s
constructs had atrophied without the constant nurturing of its former
occupants.She opened the cage that
rested on the seat beside her and eased her hand inside.
withdrew to the back of the cage at first, but slowly relented to Emma’s
coaxes.He ducked low and edged towards
the opening, never once taking his eyes off Emma’s fingers as they danced about
and gently rapped the cage.With his
back arched, Eighty-Eight suddenly dashed from the cage and playfully attacked
her shiny charm bracelet.Emma let out a
surprised giggle.She unclasped the
bracelet and dangled it in front of the lively creature.Occasionally he would nip at her fingers as
she snatched the trinket from him, before curling into a ball and feigning
“Is that safe?” Noah asked.
no signs of infection.The Blight isn’t
known to be transmissible until after the host has turned.”
seems like a risk…”
is, but he’s scared.”
it away from me.”
interrupted Noah’s derision to ask, “Does he have a name, Emma?”
Eighty-Eight; I haven’t had time to name him.”
suddenly sprang from Emma’s lap to the front of the cabin.It swirled about Noah’s head and chattered scornfully
at the man, while he panicked at the thought of being bitten.Ratu leaned forward and grabbed the fury
troublemaker by nape of his neck as Noah shrieked and squalled in terror.The others burst into laughter as Noah’s face
flushed red with embarrassment.
you should watch your tongue, old friend,” Liam said with a chuckle, “I don’t believe
he liked your thought of keeping him in the cage.”
As Ratu rubbed behind the mongoose’s ears, he
simply said, “Rikki.”
“It’s perfect,” Emma replied, “Rikki.”
* * *
The pair of
SUVs slowed to a crawl as they approached the harbor.Noah retrieved his binoculars and scanned
their surroundings.After several
moments, Liam’s radio crackled to life.
“There’s no way we just drive in there...”
right,” Noah said, “those things are
the radio close to his mouth and replied, “There’s a warehouse just past the
intersection.The key to the gate is on
your key ring.If there’re no walkers
around, go for it.Otherwise, we’ll lure
them out and circle around.”
SUV crept through the intersection, before seizing the opportunity and dashing
towards the gate.The execution was
seamless.Hardly a corpse noticed
them.Within moments, the gate was open,
and then then the warehouse door, and then they disappeared.
the bay door behind Liam’s SUV as he darted into the warehouse.With the door closed behind them, the interior
of the SUV was suddenly blanketed with a heavy darkness.A line of grimy windows set high in the
surrounding walls let in only the faintest slivers of light.Outside, the first drops of rain could be
heard as they began to patter the metal roof.
“What do we
do now?” Emma asked.
nightfall; try to sleep.”Liam said,
before turning and adding, “But if you two are up to it, we’ll scout the
surrounding area to see what our safest route to the boat’ll be.”
nodded in agreement.
the rope.Upon his feet hitting the
ground, he crouched low and spun, checking his surroundings.Taylor pulled the rope back up to the deck
and whispered, “Please be careful!”
am.Should be back in an hour or two.”
lowered a .22 pistol.It was suppressed
much like the rifle that Taylor retained on the nights that Blaine left their
retreat.The bottle was smaller, but the
accessory still made the weapon far too bulky to be holstered.
he whispered, “love you.”
silently stalked north along the narrow peninsula for nearly its entire length
in search of a residence that he’d not already scavenged.Somewhere in the night, a pair of alligators
grunted to each other, ambivalent to the mass die-offs that were occurring with
numerous species. He wondered if a gator
would consider one of the putrid corpses a worthy meal.Furthermore, he wondered if a gator could become
one of them.The thought of an undead alligator was not
observed the last house on the peninsula from behind the safety of a nearby
live oak.The night had been unusually
quiet, which he found to be surprisingly unnerving.After several minutes of surveillance, he
crouched low and approached the residence with his pistol at the ready.
cautiously followed the trail of black gore that led up the staircase.Reaching the upper floor, he noticed deep
scratches in the door and the surrounding walls.Jagged shards of glass hung from smashed
windows, while curtains twisted in the Gulf’s salty breeze.Crouching beside the door and listening for
the sounds of any remaining corpses, he shuddered at the thought of the
the lens of his flashlight with the palm of his hand before turning it on, so
that he could dictate exactly how much, or little, light escaped into the
surrounding blackness.As the faintest
glimmer pierced his fist, he noticed that the deadbolt had been forced through
the surrounding frame. The door shrugged
low from its own weight as it hung perilously from battered hinges.He flicked the Ruger’s safety off and gripped
the pistol tightly.Carefully, he pushed
the door ajar and squeezed through the narrow gap.
were riddled with bullet holes and smeared with blood and gore.Death and decay hung heavy in the home.Blaine’s chest tightened as he flashed back
to several weeks ago, in the early days of the outbreak.He recalled the nights of endless gunfire and
the wails of terror.He mourned at the
thought of the lives that perhaps he could’ve saved.Those first hours were so full of uncertainty,
though.And he dared not leave Taylor
alone, much less risk taking her with him while he ventured out.
silhouette was slumped across a sofa on the far side of the room.Blaine pocketed the flashlight and retrieved a
long-bladed knife from his belt.Cautiously, he approached from the rear.With one hand holding the pistol at the ready, he flipped the blade around
with his other hand.Nudging the
silhouette’s skull with the knife’s pommel, he breathed a sigh of relief as it
slid down the cushion and remained motionless.
sound of shuffling feet caused Blaine to look over his shoulder just in time to
see a swift-moving corpse aiming for him.As he raised his pistol, the creature crossed the kitchen threshold at
full-stride, a little more than an arm’s length away.
to the side and stumbled over an end table, sending a lamp crashing loudly
against the floor.Though it still
retained most of the speed from its past life, the corpse lacked the ability to
react quickly.Instead, it merely craned
its neck and watched Blaine’s evasion while it slammed into the living room
wall with a disgusting crunch.As it
dawdled in a momentarily from the impact, Blaine buried the knife in its skull.
placed his pistol on a nearby table.Planting a boot on the corpse’s back, he struggled to remove the blade.Suddenly, something grabbed him from behind
and jerked him with an unexpected force.Blaine teetered backwards as the familiar, guttural groan – the sound of
insatiable hunger – grew in intensity, until it seemed as if it was inside of
his head.He tried to wrest himself free,
but the grip was unflinching.He
recoiled as he felt the stench of what once was a breath, but was now simply a
hollow muscle spasm.
In a final
act of defiance, he blindly kicked behind him with all of the strength he could
muster.His boot connected squarely with
the corpse’s knee, shattering bones and sending it swaying unnaturally in the
opposite direction.He sprung forward
like a swimmer kicking off of a wall, while the walker tumbled to the ground
and writhed about.He lunged for his
pistol and turned, firing three successive rounds into the thing’s skull.Blaine retrieved the flashlight and scanned
the room nervously, ready to continue the fight, while the corpses lay
motionless around him.After several
minutes of silence, he arose and continued his search of the house.
to the kitchen and searched what was always his first stop.Opening the pantry door, Blaine was both elated
and then bereaved at the realization that he’d probably just encountered the
remains of the people that’d stocked it.The cache had the typical offerings of a second home during the off
season – various canned goods and cases of water. It also was filled with newly purchased
comfort and convenience foods in anticipation of a relaxing vacation.Taylor and he had not had anything sweeter than
canned fruit in over a week.The
contents of the pantry would be a much-needed boost to their morale.
down the hall and into the bathroom for several minutes, before emerging with
an armful of medical supplies and other items.After piling the provisions on the kitchen counter, he rummaged through
cabinets and drawers, appropriating various sundries, before moving on to other
rooms in the house.Common caliber ammo,
boots, tools and anything of use was taken.If they were forced to flee the safety of their redoubt, they could
always decide what to leave behind later.For now he reasoned redundancy was prudent.He grabbed all three key rings as he exited
the home and began his search of the area below.
* * *
loaded the last of the provisions into the back of the truck and prepared to
make the short trip back to safety. In
addition to the supplies he’d found in the home, he had liberated the batteries
out of the other vehicles and siphoned off the abandoned vehicles’ fuel tanks
for the trip to find Kaylee.
opened the truck’s glove box and rummaged through it, before finally locating the
owner’s manual.He studied several
diagrams by the dim light of his cupped flashlight to determine which fuses
should be removed to disable the its lighting.As he circled the offending components on the diagram, a headlight
flashed momentarily in the distance.
over a pile of debris as he blindly dashed to a nearby thicket of palmettos and
mayhaws.The pair of lights appeared and
disappeared several more times before the vehicle emerged from a dense stand of
storm-ravaged pines that flanked Lakeshore Avenue.The vehicle’s brake lights glowed red as it
approached Blaine’s narrow sliver of land.He held his breath as the truck idled in the distance and cursed aloud
as it turned in his direction.
four-wheel drive pulled into the driveway opposite of him and came to an abrupt
stop.He ducked low as a man scanned the
surrounding darkness with a spotlight from the bed, while a second man followed
the beam of illumination with his rifle.After several moments, the man with the spotlight slapped the roof of
the cab.Two driver and passenger
emerged from the cab.
The pair climbed
the stairs of the house while the other two remained at their sentry posts.Without warning, the spotlight landed on
Blaine’s thicket and paused for several moments of deep scrutiny.He closed his eyes and sat motionless as his
mind screamed out in panic.After what
seemed like an eternity, the light darted away as quickly as it had settled on
the thicket.He let out an uneasy sigh
of relief; the encounter was far from over.
as the men at the top of the stairs activated the lights on their pistols and
kicked the door open, before rushing in.Blaine was amazed at their complete disregard for any semblance of light
discipline.Undead from miles away would
be drawn in by their foolish indiscretions.He wondered how such a careless group had survived for so long.Even the best of luck ran out sooner or later.Blaine shuddered at the only remaining
attributes:superior firepower and sheer
force of numbers.
The two men
emerged from the house and shouted down to the others, “It’s already been
with the flashlight cursed aloud and replied, “But we haven’t seen anyone on
the road for days.”
someone nearby.”The apparent leader motioned
across the street and said, “Let’s see if they’ve hit it too.”
“What if we
to get some information about their group first; be friendly, but if they
resist, kill ‘em.”
leader’s casual tone caused a wave of fury to wash over Blaine as he listened
to them nonchalantly discuss his fate.He gripped the pistol tightly as he continued to watch their
movements.At least, he reasoned, I know
what I’m up against.
The men in
the back of the truck dismounted and waited for the others before proceeding
across the street.Blaine shrunk deeper
into the thicket as the men walked within yards of his position.He readied his pistol and trained it on the
leader of the group as they passed him and began to approach his newly acquired
truck.He exhaled deeply and began to
slowly squeeze the trigger.
stopped abruptly, just short of the truck, as the leader’s radio crackled to
Lucas, we need y’all back here!
‘Bout twenty confirmed; maybe more behind ‘em.They’re fresh and moving fast!
men had already begun running back to their truck as Lucas replied, “Fifteen
minutes; we’re on our way!”
sighed in relief as tires squealed and the truck disappeared into the
night.The confrontation had been delayed,
but they would return soon enough.Hopefully,
he reasoned, he and Taylor would be gone by then.
* * *
watched from above as the pickup quietly navigated by the light of the
moon.She checked her watch; the time
was right, but she always worried that it might not be him.Once the vehicle was several hundred feet
from her, it stopped momentarily.A dim
flashlight blinked three times, and the truck began its advance again.
emerged from the truck and approached with an armful of supplies.Taylor lowered the rope with a basket tied to
the end.He stopped several feet from it
and looked up.
how was your night?”
about you the whole time; other than that, not bad.I shot a walker down by the water a little
“Who do you think I am?”
chuckled; Taylor was arguably a better shot than he was, but he’d never admit
a shattered world, Blaine mused in jest, one of the few things a man had left was his self-worth.
to need the basket tonight; going to load most of what I found tonight in the
“Why?Did something happen?”
Blaine paused before continuing, “yes and no.”
“What does that mean?”
“I met some
of our neighbors.”
leader, I think Lucas was his name,
said to, ‘Kill us if we resist,’ if I recall correctly.”
“Oh my God.”
find us; it’s just a matter of time before they do.We can’t stay here.”
go for Kaylee; after that, I don’t know.Somewhere less populated; maybe out west.”
to get some rest tonight.We should
probably take both boats so we can carry more supplies.First thing tomorrow I’ll go back out and try
to find some more fuel, and then we can leave.”
sharp raps on the door garnered the attention of everyone in the warehouse,
even Rikki.Parris approached
apprehensively.He sighed in relief as a
familiar voice called out from the other side.
unlocked the door. Liam and Ratu burst
in from the storm that was raging outside. They were completely drenched.A
trail of water followed behind them as they crossed the open room.The two men disappeared behind the SUVs, draped
their wet clothes over the vehicles and changed into drier attire.
Parris called out.
“You left him!”
fine,” Liam said reassuringly, “he’s soaked to the bone, but he’s fine.”
“Where is he?”
the port.The place is overrun with
infected, and containers are scattered everywhere; it’s a maze of dead ends.Noah’ll be our watchman on the wall.”
unfurled a map, laid it on the hood of the lead vehicle and motioned the others
“This is a
map of the port before the outbreak.”Liam outlined the central area on the map with a gloved finger and
continued, “See these walls of shipping containers in neat stacks?Well, that’s not the case anymore.The whole place’s been looted.It’s a mess of overturned boxes and piles of
we skirt along the perimeter to the boat?”Parris asked.
that, but that’s where most of the infected are as well.There’s too many of them in the open for us
to fight; we’d be overwhelmed.In the
interior of the port there are fewer, but the quarters will be tighter.We’ll need to be careful.”
storm, it’s going to be dark out there,” Parris warned, “So dark that we won’t
be able to see much farther than an arm’s length.And we only have three pair of night-vision
goggles.Tight quarters aren’t in our
be able to see far either, and the sound of the storm should muffle our
movement.” Liam tapped an area on the map just south of the containers, before
continuing, “Here’s where Noah comes into play:right now he’s waiting for us on this crane.He’s got a bird’s-eye view of the entire
port.He’ll use his infrared light and
laser to guide us through the maze and identify any threats for us.Ratu and I’ll use our night vision to see
Noah’s signals, and we’ll dispatch the threats by hand.Everyone else just has to keep up.If we get in a bad situation, we’ll switch to
rifles and flashlights and push our way through, but that’s a last resort.”
smiled, satisfied with Liam’s plan.“Sound’s doable.”
slapped Liam’s shoulder with approval and added reassuringly, more for the
group than for Liam, “It definitely is; it’s the best idea we have, and it’s a
good idea at that.Lead the way.”
grab all the gear you can carry, but don’t weigh yourselves down.We’ll need to be able to move if we get
caught by surprise.We leave in five
* * *
were torrential and unforgiving, and showed no signs of waning. Lightning popped all around them while a low
rumble of thunder filled the air.Liam
worried about Noah as he waited for them on the giant lightning rod.
navigated the bleak, industrial landscape with caution.They crouched behind abandoned vehicles and in
between derelict warehouses, while slowly advancing on the port.Liam tried to time their short dashes between
the dark alleyways and overflowing dumpsters with the rhythm of the lightning
to avoid being discovered.
how the infected in the areas around them seemed to shuffle back and forth,
unsure of where to go.It was as if the
panoramic rumble of the thunder and the random flashes of lighting had pushed
them into a sensory overload, of sorts.Without visual confirmation, the stimulation from all directions had
them confused and unable to react decisively.
reached the fence that separated them from the port, three quick flashes, known
only to Liam and Ratu, signaled that Noah was aware of their approach.An infrared laser, invisible to both the
living and undead, cut through Liam’s greenish-hued landscape and settled on an
area of the fence several hundred feet to the south.
motioning with his hand, Liam whispered to the others, “This way.”
watch over the others as Ratu created an opening in the fence with a small pair
of bolt cutters.Not far away, a group
of dripping walkers furiously shook the fence in a blind attempt to gain access
themselves.So far, the living had gone
completed his task, Ratu silently stepped aside and peeled the fence back. The
others ducked low and passed through.A
thoroughly-drenched Rikki poked his head out of Emma’s coat as she crossed into
the port.On the other side, the green
beam of the IR laser waited to guide them through the industrialized catacombs
that waited in the thick blanket of darkness.
followed the laser’s path and led the group across the open space between the
fence and the containers.Ratu trailed closely
behind them, occasionally checking their rear, while gripping his kukri tightly.
paused with the laser while it dawdled momentarily.Noah activated the IR spotlight and shined it
less than twenty feet ahead at a group of three walkers in a narrow intermodal
cavern.The undead snarled and groaned
amongst themselves.The largest of the
three occasionally bared his teeth and snapped at the others, like an impatient
hound growling at his pups.
the other soldiers shouldered their rifles and huddled in a tight, outward-facing
circle around Emma, while Liam and Ratu faded into the dark shadows along the weathered,
steel walls.As the tempest continued to
assault them from above, the two men slowly crept closer to their unsuspecting quarry.
A bolt of
lightning flashed from heaven to earth somewhere nearby with a deafening fury.With it, the two men sprang onto the
infected.Ratu swung his curved blade in
a high, sweeping arc and chopped through the top of a creature’s head, nearly
splitting its face in half.Planting a boot
against the corpse’s torso, Ratu sent it hurtling into a second walker as he
jerked his kukri free.
target swayed at the last moment, causing his machete to connect with the soft
tissue in its neck.The corpse’s head
clacked its teeth and made mute groans as it sailed backwards through the
air.The still-animated crown landed
face down in the mud and rolled unevenly for several feet, before coming to an
creature shrugged off Ratu’s attack and lunged at Liam with surprising speed,
sending the pair crashing into the port’s slush.Its mouth stretched unnaturally wide. A fowl stench rolled out and curled around
Liam’s nostrils.He struggled to push it
away, but it clenched his arms as it leaned in for the kill.Suddenly, the corpse went limp as Ratu’s wide
blade skewered the back of its head and pushed through its mouth.Liam lay motionless in astonishment as the
kukri’s point came to a halt mere inches from his own face.The steel glistened as lightning flashed
smiled and nodded as he rolled the heap off of Liam and pulled him to his feet.
old friend,” Liam offered.
nothing of it,” the giant replied, before motioning and adding, “We should go.”
Noah’s infrared laser cut through the night air and terminated directly in
front of them, urging them onward.
followed the laser’s path as it wound them through the maze of shipping boxes,
occasionally drifting up the surrounding walls or disappearing for several
moments as a conex cantilevered precariously over their heads.
stopped abruptly, and again the infrared spotlight flashed ahead of them.Liam and Ratu watched as nearly a dozen
walkers lumbered towards them.
“There’s too many,” Liam whispered.
his kukri towards the darkened confines of a half-open shipping container.
before turning to the others and whispering, “In there, quick!”
slunk deep into the container and waited anxiously.The stench of the infected preceded them, and
their groans grew louder with each awkward step.Liam and Ratu crouched low with their blades
ready, while the remaining soldiers stood behind them with their rifles
shouldered.Emma rubbed Rikki’s head as
she cowered in the corner.
slowly began to drift by the container while the group held their breath in
trepidation.A single, gnarled corpse
drifted out of the throng and paused for a moment, before stumbling towards the
conex.It placed a putrid hand on the
door, leaned inside and held its head high, as if to catch an errant whiff of
life.The others passed by without
notice, but something had piqued the
walker’s interest.It put its weight on the
leg that was still intact and leaned forward into the dark container, while its
maimed appendage provided only a modicum of balance and stability.
As the last
of the horde disappeared past the opening, the curious corpse climbed into the
container and hobbled across the wooden floor, the planks creaking with each
labored step.When it was an arm’s
length away, it spotted Liam through the thick blanket of blackness and lunged.Almost immediately, Ratu’s curved blade
sliced across its skull at a sharp angle, rendering it inert.Liam caught the creature under its arms and
silently laid it on the floor.The two
men waited in the darkness for several minutes before peering outside.
with relief, before turning back and whispering, “They’re gone, let’s go.”
group emerged from the container labyrinth, a flash of lightning revealed the
47’ trawler bobbing in the waves along the wharf, not far from where they
stood.Noah flashed the IR spotlight in
quick succession to signal he was descending from his perch.
whispered triumphantly, “We made it!”
others cheered with guarded voices, Parris stared out into the stormy waves.
the darkness, Liam replied, “What’s what?”
The dim sidelights
and single white light of a small skiff rose and fell as it was violently tossed
about by the storm.They would appear
momentarily, before vanishing behind the crest of a vast wave, only to appear
again.The faint silhouette of the bow
and several occupants could be seen during the fleeting moments that the glow was
visible.Slowly, the skiff battled the
squall and made its way towards the trawler.
“They must be crazy to be in a boat
“Crazy… or desperate.And if we don’t hurry, we’ll be the ones left behind.”
assumed a wedge formation and dashed across the open space between themselves
and the trawler.The skiff’s lights
appeared once again and betrayed the men as they climbed onto the larger
boat.Liam and Ratu sheathed their
blades and shouldered their rifles in anticipation of the encounter.
approached the gangway, the lightning began to flash vibrantly across the sky,
causing the ground below to illuminate for what seemed like an eternity.Though the raiders on the trawler had not seemed
to notice their presence, Liam glanced over his shoulder and quickly realized the
undead had not been as oblivious.A
horde of walkers began to fill the area behind them, dashing any hopes of a possible
retreat.There was but one path
forward.Stepping onto the trawler, Liam
prayed Noah could navigate the corpses and reach them in time.
group rounded the cabin, several men emerged from below deck with their arms
full of supplies.Their eyes met at the
“Not one move!” Liam growled.
“Easy now; we didn’t mean no harm.”
“No harm?” Liam parroted, before
ordering, “Drop everything and move to the stern, now!”
man flashed a devilish smile, while the others stood motionless behind him.
he-” A booming voice from behind caused Liam to stop midsentence.
enough, soldier.Now, drop your weapons – everyone.”
the others did as they were ordered.Slowly,
they turned around to face several, grisly-looking men with rifles at the
ready. From the looks of them, they’d
not fared well over the past few weeks.Their eyes were cold and their bodies were emaciated.
“Look,” Liam offered, “this doesn’t need
to escalate.We can all walk away from
“Oh, really?Because you seemed so accommodating moments ago with my men, right?”
stepped forward defiantly and pointed into the night, “I’ve got a half-dozen
men out there that’re waiting for my signal.”
behind you, there’s a wall of undead
that’ll soon be upon us.Our options are
few and there is no time!Take your men and the supplies you’ve claimed
and leave us.We can all live yet.”
have an unarmed man bargain with me.On your knees, all of you.”
heartbeat echoed with a deafening rumble as Liam sank to the deck.Every breath was an eternity unto itself as
it entered and exited his body.They’d
failed.He had failed.Somewhere in
the distance, a legion of guttural growls filled the night air.Liam closed his eyes and awaited his fate.
A shot rang
out in the night, but the pain he’d expected never came.As the warm gore sprayed his face, he opened
his eyes in time to see the man, now faceless, collapse onto the deck.A second shot rang out from somewhere in the
night, and then another.Noah!He was alive!
already cleared the distance between himself and the raiders.His judgment was harsh and swift.One man’s mouth hung agape as he struggled to
prevent his bowels from spilling out of a long, mortal gash.A second man howled in terror as the towering
Gurkha hurled him at a throng of corpses on the gangway.
to grab his rifle, but an explosion of pain erupted against the back of his skull.
Numbness swept over him.He staggered
for a moment on his hands and knees, trying to regain his composure, but a
second blow assailed him, this time from his rib cage.His last vision before darkness consumed him
was Emma gripping her side as she lay motionless on the deck, awash in crimson.
the canoe across the canal back to their retreat.It was perilously overloaded with the
remaining supplies that he’d gathered.The dark, brackish water threatened to surge over the gunwale with every
movement he made.Fortunately, the trip
across the narrow channel would be a short one.
back to watch the group of undead that‘d begun to congregate on the shore.Some waded out into the muddy water up to
their waists, but then curiously dawdled about.Eventually they retreated to the bank and stood alongside their
continued to paddle across the canal, careful not to make any sudden movements,
he considered what he’d just witnessed.The
corpses in the water were sentient enough to reason that several more steps
would’ve been counterproductive to their continued survival.Even more impressive were the ones that had
remained on dry ground.Their judgment
extended beyond their next action to a more complex cause and effect
analysis.Blaine remembered watching in
the early days of the outbreak as several of the infected blindly thrashed
about in the surrounding waters, before eventually disappearing below.Had the undead began to evolve, or at least adapt?
disturbing revelations, the cloudless sky managed to boost his spirits.He stopped momentarily to roll up his sleeves
and enjoy the warmth of the sun’s rays.It’d
been nearly a week since he’d begun sleeping during the day so he could
scavenge at night.The groans and
gurgles of the walkers was a stark reminder of the dangers of moving about
during the day.
reached the opposite shore and began to unload the contents of the canoe, the
sounds of a vehicle filled the air.Blaine raced to a nearby boatshed, as the same truck from the night
before came into view.He quietly searched
the dark shed to ensure he was alone, while the vehicle continued to advance on
at the end of the pavement, directly in front of the house that served as
Blaine and Taylor’s sanctuary.The men
in the back of the truck once again scanned the surroundings for several
moments before the driver and passenger emerged and approached the house.Blaine scanned the home for any sign of Taylor,
but the only movement was a curtain twisting in the wind.
were limited.Soon the men would find a
way into the house, and then they would find Taylor.He removed the bottle from the end of the
pistol and tucked it in the small of his back.Exhaling deeply, he stepped out of the boathouse with his arms raised.
The men in
the back of the truck trained their rifles on Blaine and shouted, “Don’t move!”
“Alright - alright!”
apparent leader, approached Blaine, while careful not to step in the line of
fire of the men in the back of the truck.The second man followed closely behind, his pistol drawn and at the
easy,” Lucas said, “this man
obviously means us no harm, right?”
nodded, his arms still stretched skyward.
Lucas.It’s a pleasure to meet you; I’d
shake your hand but…” he paused and grinned before continuing, “in our current situation,
I think sudden movements should be avoided.”
appreciate your discretion,” Blaine replied cooly.
several moments to examine him before continuing the conversation.
you from, Blaine?We didn’t know any of
the living were still in these
careful not to move his hands, nodded across the canal and replied, “Pleasure
Street; ‘bout midway up.”
“Is it just
“Nah.Twelve of us – eight men, four women.”
fortunate of you to be in such a large group.Have you been there long?”
just passing through.We’ve been moving
along the coast since the outbreak.”
see.What’re you doing away from the
group by yourself?”
scoutin’ around.Wanted to make sure
there was no trouble about.”
you can see, the trouble here is less than in most places.” Lucas smiled as he
continued, “We’ve been fighting the Blight ever since the outbreak.”
nodded, “Us too.It’s bad out there.”
friend.Say, why don’t you let us take
you back to your group?I’d like to meet
‘em.Maybe we could even work together.”
you give me a location we can meet at later and I’ll go back and round up my
removed his pistol from its holster and let it hang at his side.
a suggestion, Blaine. Get in
had failed. Lucas knew there was no
group of twelve, but he probably reasoned there were others.Blaine knew if he complied, he would never
see Taylor again, but what choice did he have?
As he began
to walk towards Lucas, he noticed a commotion on the back of the truck.One of the men stared in shock as his
companion suddenly collapsed.Adrenaline
surged through Blaine’s body as fractions of moments seemed to each drag on for
eternities.He glanced back at Lucas and
the other man, but they were still unaware of what had transpired behind
them.He cut his eyes from side to side,
searching for somewhere in which to take cover.
man in the truck groaned slightly as the silenced .22 pierced his skull.The sound of the first man collapsing was
immediately followed by the second man tumbling over the side of the truck.As Lucas and his partner turned to see the
source of the commotion, Blaine exploded with a burst of speed and dashed to
the safety of a nearby vehicle.As he
raced through the tall grass, he retrieved his pistol and fired several rounds
at the two remaining men.
low and returned fire, but he’d already reached his cover.Lucas’ partner suddenly began to wail in
agony and stumble about.A second,
silent bullet dropped him immediately.Lucas dropped prone and cried out, “Don’t
tossed his pistol to the side as Blaine approached.
“What am I
supposed to do now, Lucas?”
me go. I won’t tell anyone.”
“You won’t?What’ll you say when you show back up to your group with three dead
men?Besides, you weren’t about to let me go anywhere.”
emerged from the house with the suppressed rifle aimed squarely at Lucas.
her?She’ll kill you; she killed your
friends.Don’t move.Don’t even think.”
walked over to the canoe and rummaged through the items for a moment, before
retrieving a roll of duct tape.He
plunged the pistol into the small of his back as he returned to the prone man.
behind your back.”
silently complied. Blaine wrapped his
wrists nearly a dozen times with the tape.Taylor continued to watch the man as Blaine transferred the day’s
new-found provisions from the canoe into the boats behind the house.
emptying the canoe, Blaine stood Lucas up, patted him down and escorted him to
it.Lucas stumbled and fell painfully
headlong into the narrow, aluminum craft as it rocked unsteadily beneath
him.He groaned and writhed in pain, but
offered up no words.With a forceful shove,
Blaine sent him drifting aimlessly into the river.The corpses on the opposite side of the canal
craned their necks and followed the meal hungrily as he floated by.After several hundred feet, the river’s
current wedged the boat in a stand of tall reeds along the water’s edge.
will that hold him?”
a while, I reckon.That duct tape is unforgiving.We should get going.We don’t know how long before someone’ll come
looking.And we don’t want to be here
when that happens.”
New Orleans, Louisiana
of the flint impacting the steel seemed much louder than it actually was in the
unblemished silence of the apartment lobby.Eli, or the Shepherd as he had come to be known by the men, made eye
contact with each member of the squad as he held the lighter in the center of
the circle.After seizing their
attention, he executed a series of hand signals directed at individual members
of the party.Everyone had a role.Every man was a unique and vital component of
the team.They nodded their
confirmations and divided into small units. Quietly, they proceeded deeper into the
building was a sea of black with an occasional island of light, afforded only by
a series of small, shattered windows.The units slowly cleared the large, open space before coalescing at the
stairway in the back corner of the room.The Shepherd whispered several commands as the final group approached.
were armed with weapons that were as diverse as their roles. Some carried large riot shields and pistols,
while others grip menacing sawed-off shotguns with flashlights duct taped to
the shortened barrels.Still others
looked as if they were former military, with OCP uniforms and select-fire M4
carbines.All of the men had machetes or
hatchets strapped to their belts or across their backs.
shield-bearers created a testudo formation in the narrow confines and began to
climb the stairs.Several teammates
behind them readied themselves with rigid, rapier-like creations that
terminated at their ends with deathly sharp points.A pair of shield-bearers at the rear of the
group ascended the stairs backwards, while the men behind them also readied
their brutal, stabbing instruments.
reached the first quarter-space landing where the stairwell paused before
turning up again, Eli whispered, “Hold.”
and held their position without so much as a word.
several moments, he whispered again, “Ready?”
A series of
low grunts of affirmation arose around him.
“Light it up.”
The men in
the center of the formation switched on their weapon lights.Immediately, the stairwell was awash with the
bright glow.Somewhere high above, a
series of gurgles and groans could be heard.
“Alright, here they come.Gird
your loins, boys.”
Shepherd’s words were peppered with sarcasm and rolled off his tongue without
concern, everyone knew how dangerous the encounter would be.If the modern-day legionnaires did not hold
their formation and execute their tactics flawlessly, they would be surely
overrun, and would join the ranks of their foes.Though the assaults were always perilous, Eli
had found no better way to storm an infested building.
fleeting footfalls high above resonated throughout the stairwell as the starved
corpses bounded towards the glow of the lights.Several of the men shouted and urged them on, as if the creatures could comprehend
“We’ve got runners!” One of the men
Eli warned, “Brace the line; they hit hard!”
A trio of snarling
wights finally appeared on the landing above them.Gazing upon their prey, the undead sprang
from their perch.The terrified men roared
like savages to bolster their resolve.
from the men, the lead corpse leapt through the air, while the others continued
downward in a blind charge.The shield
bearers groaned in pain from the force of the collision and nearly toppled over
backwards, but the second line leaned in and braced the pair.Moments later, the two remaining runners reached
the line, further pressing in.The shields
threatened to break apart under the weight of the assault.The stench that rolled out of the creatures’
throats filled the air as their gnarled fingers scraped against the thick,
Shepherd’s orders, the shield-bearers parted their wall just enough so that the
men behind them could thrust their crude rapiers through.They leaned forward and gouged through eyes,
or crouched low and fiercely thrust upward through the soft tissue where neck
and jaw met.After piercing the skull and
finding a route into the soft tissue of the brain, they wrenched and pried the
steel rods wildly about to decimate whatever remained of the corpses’ thalamus
and hypothalamus.One by one, the
creatures’ milky eyes rolled back in their heads.With each new thrust, another of the infected
collapsed at the feet of the shield bearers.
cries of victory were short lived. A voice
in the rear cried out, “Two back here!We got runners!”
attention of the group swung to the rear.The men leaned forward and braced for the second wave of the onslaught.The slower moving walkers were dispatched
with relative ease compared to their livelier, unliving counterparts.The blow to the second corpse was so forceful
that the blade passed through the back of its skull.The creature dawdled for a moment on the
blade before its knees buckled and its skull began to slide off the steel,
leaving a thick film of black-crimson blood and gore.
one,” Eli ordered, “keep it tight!”
cautiously ascended to the next landing, careful not to break the formation,
even if a threat was not apparent.The
Shepherd required perfect discipline during their assaults, and his rebuke was
at each landing and repelled the wights before ascending further.Craning their necks and straining their eyes,
they scanned the dark chasm.Only when
they were certain they’d dispatched all threats would they continue
upward.Facing a group of undead on the
uneven footing of the stairs had proved deadly in the past.As they reached a landing that led to a floor
of the building, a member of the group called out the floor number so that all were
aware.The Shepherd divided up every
task among them.Every man had a role,
no charge was without warrant.
time, two voices rang out.
Shepherd turned to one of the men and asked, “So this is it?”
floor; this’s where we saw the light in the window.”
over his shoulder and said, “Dalton.”
and complied with the Shepherd’s orders.With his machete in hand, he moved forward through the ranks.The shield-bearers parted to allow him to
by his teammates’ flashlights, Dalton tugged forcefully on the steel door
several times.Defeated, he abandoned his
attempt and glanced back at Eli.The
Shepherd simply nodded. Dalton sheathed
his machete and removed a pry bar from his ruck.
hard against the door and forced the bar into the narrow gap between the door
and the frame.After several attempts
the door broke free from the lock, but stopped abruptly. Something behind it blocked the way.Dalton slammed a shoulder against it to push
through whatever was beyond, but it was in vain.
barricaded.Y’all better step back.”
retreated to a lower landing as Dalton dropped to one knee and rummaged through
his pack.He retrieved a roll of duct
tape, removed several long strips and shrugged the ruck back over his
shoulders.He removed three, home-made,
stick grenades from several pouches on his belt and affixed them along the
opening of the door.Grinning, he pulled
the pins, and dashed madly down the stairwell in search of cover.
pushed past the shield-bearers, the entire team crouched low and waited.
explosion rocked the stairwell and sent a rippling shockwave through the building.The men remained crouched as dust and debris
rained down on them.The ringing of
their ears was soon replaced by a chorus of groans.Somewhere above, a throng of undead had been
awakened by the blast.
nodded and grunted their affirmations.
“Good.Get ready; we’ve got more company.”
grew anxious as the countless footfalls echoed louder and the groans escalated
into a constant, droning murmur.
“Hold the line!”
that appeared was over a dozen strong, and particularly menacing and
aggressive.Teeth clacked and disgusting
fluids dribbled from their chins as they charged the men.
row stepped forward and braced the shield-bearers.The
pair was nearly crushed between the weights of the opposing forces.Slowly, the line began to falter and stumble
backwards.The strength of the frenzied
walkers was too much.The swordsmen
stabbed and skewered the skulls of the corpses, but another creature would
immediately step forth and continue the blitz.A man in the rear guard stumbled and fell backwards down the stairs.He
crashed into a wall nearly a dozen feet below and writhed in agony on the
filthy floor.It seemed as if the
formation would surely cede the landing.
shield-bearers cried out as they feared their ribs would collapse between the
epic struggle of the living and the dead.The swordsmen feverishly stabbed blindly at the corpses in an effort to
turn the tide in their favor.The narrow
space grew dim as flashlights were shoved up against bodies.Men were squeezed like grapes in a
the group lurched forward, awkwardly at first, but then with more control and
discipline.The line of undead was
breaking as their bodies piled up in heaps on the stairs.As the last corpse ceased its snarls and
collapsed in front of the shields, the men exploded with the roars of victory.
‘til we’re done.Let’s clear the fourth
* * *
was eerily quiet and devoid of all life.The halls were stacked high with refuse and filth.Coupled with the stout barricade, the waste
was a strong indication that someone
was trying to survive in the new world behind one, or several, of the doors in
front of them.After the team cleared
the hall, they took up defensive positions throughout.The Shepherd stepped forward with a booming
voice and delivered his proclamation to anyone in earshot.
of New Orleans, this is Agent Foster of GOHSEP, the Governor’s Office of
Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.As y’all are quite aware, this area is no longer safe, and is being
evacuated.Governor Rouquette has
ordered the immediate relocation of all remaining citizens to a facility just south
of Natchitoches. My agents and I will be your guides.Food and water will be provided, bring only
what you can carry.”
the hall for several moments and then repeated his address.
second round without response, he turned to the others and said, “Break ‘em
As a group
of men lined up beside the nearest door, Dalton said, “Shepherd, over here.”
Shepherd and several others joined him in cautiously approaching the door that had
just creaked ajar.A wrinkled old lady
peered frightfully out at them.One of
her hands clutched the door, while the other shakily gripped a gnarled, wooden
Shepherd smiled lovingly and stooped low to greet her, “Ma’am, I’m Agent
Foster.Are you well?”
were filled with sorrow and her face was haggard from long days and sleepless
nights.After several moments, she
nodded her head.
glad to hear that.Is there anyone else
husband.He’s bad sick; hasn’t had any
medicine in I don’t know when.We’ve
lost count of days as of late.”
medicine downstairs in our vehicles, what is he on?”
and replied, “Honey, there ain’t
nothin’ he don’t take.”
Shepherd chuckled and said, “Is there anyone else on the floor that we can
at a pair of doors down the hall and answered, “There’s the Landry’s place, and
over there’re the Rivettes.We’re all
that’s left.Thank you so much, I don’t know how much longer we could’ve made
job, Ma’am.Helping folks is what we
do.”He turned and said, “Dalton, you
and the others go rouse the Landrys and Rivettes.”
Dalton had coaxed the other families to their front doors, Eli addressed
me have your attention.In just a
moment, we’ll ask everyone to gather up only what is of utmost importance to
you:heirlooms, valuables, photos –
things like that.As I’ve said, we’ve
plenty of food and water, there’s no need to bring your own.If we hurry, hopefully we can all sit down to
a warm meal tonight.When you return,”
Eli motioned his hand and continued, “please line up along this wall so we can
document your names and some vital health information.Now,
families cheered and disappeared for several minutes, before reemerging with
bulging packs and suitcases.The faces
of the mothers and fathers expressed relief to be leaving the horrors behind,
while the children were excited to embark on the adventure.The city had fallen into unspeakable
darkness.To the parents, Agent Foster
offered a feeling of hope that they thought they might never experience again.
After they had
all lined up, the Shepherd raised one arm skyward.The scene around them was unfolding so quick,
that the people didn’t have time to process it. They simply stood by idly, in shock.The members of the squad shouldered their
weapons and waited for Eli’s command.As
his arm fell to his side, the room exploded with gunfire.A thick fragrance of smoke filled the
air.The Shepherd turned and walked away
as the last of the bodies slid down the wall.
their bags and search the flats.Check
the vacant apartments as well.”
stood by and watched the men hurry about, a voice crackled on his radio.
“Almost.Clean sweep; just gathering up the goods
“We think we’ve found some more
survivors.Do you want to hit them
Shepherd kneeled to retrieve a cigarette from a soft pack in the chest pocket
of one of the dead men.He mulled the
thought for several moments before replying.
“Negative.We’ve been productive enough.Let’s enjoy the spoils.There’s always tomorrow.”