certain, see for yourself,” Parris said, handing the binoculars to Liam.
against his face, he stared out across the blue water towards the east.If he strained hard and squinted his eyes
just so, he could make out the rocky spine rising up out of the water.
you see that?” Liam asked.
said with a grin, “I’ve got sailor’s eyes.”
mouth to match…”
say that I blame ‘em – talkin’ like they do…” Parris replied, “Stuck out on the
water like this, it’s enough to drive a man mad.Even if the islands are full of blights, I
won’t miss this boat.”
laughed, “It’s hardly been two weeks.Imagine
how it was in the past – being out on the seas for months, without any of the
luxuries we have, at the mercy of the winds…”
“Past?” Parris retorted, “Give it a
year, that’s how it’ll be again.”
were sharp, cutting through the façade of pleasantry that they’d managed for
most of the voyage.The past couple of
weeks had allowed them to push back the fear that’d dogged them while they’d
held out in Fiji.The blood that had
been spilt on the deck was long since gone.The bodies of the fallen were but memories, having been offered up to
stepped off the trawler, though, the false reality they’d fashioned for
themselves would be gone.The truths
that governed the new world would return.Death waited ‘round every corner, or staggered forth without growing
weary.Suspicion reigned like a
tyrant.No stranger, no place – nothing could be trusted.
If only we could stay out here forever,
Liam thought to himself.
said, “I’ll go tell the others.We
should probably double the watch; there could be trouble about.You mind readying the inflatable?”
nodded before departing.
the binoculars back up to his face and gazed at the summit again.It was larger now, it’s presence undeniable.Well here
we are, at our journey’s end, and never have I felt so reluctant.I’m already a prison to this place, and I
haven’t even set foot on shore.What
good can come of this?But if I say such
a thing, then our hope is lost.So we’ll
just push forward, and lose more good men, until there’s no one left.If despair is a place, then it’s on my
as always, to Rikki curled up on her chest.His low purr was calming, or maybe it was the weight.Like a heavy blanket on a winter’s night, it
made her feel safe.She’d almost forgot
what it felt like – not to be afraid of what the new day held, or even the next
watched him sleep, she mused, Are you
really the key?You’d better be,
otherwise you’ve caused a whole lot of trouble.But you’d like that, wouldn’t you?
…But what does that even mean, ‘the
key?’Maybe, in a few generations, at
the Mongoose Institute for the Study of Infectious Diseases, people realize
just how you were.Not in my lifetime,
though.Even if you really hold the cure
somewhere inside you, nothing changes for us.Humanity is still a bloody stump.There’re still billions of dead people wandering about aimlessly.And you and me?We’ll still live in fear for the rest of our
lives…I’m just sayin’, I hope all this is
the darkened room, she saw Liam’s face first.He pressed it gingerly against the threshold and peered inside.Fighting back a smile, but only barely, she
closed her eyes and lay perfectly still.She could feel her chest grow hot as she imagined him leaning over
her.Instead, he took a seat beside the
bed and waited in silence.
always found herself drawn to him, but the last couple of weeks had only made
her more certain of it.And why
shouldn’t she feel this way?He was the
closest thing they had to a leader and was probably the only reason they’d made
it thus far.He was strong, able to draw
out the best in those around him.And
yet, he was gentle with her.She thought
it cliché to consider him one of a kind, but in this new world, maybe he was.
smirk was stubborn.Finally, it forced
itself across her face.She’d been had,
and that only made her smile wider.
you’re playin’ me, or that’s some
an eye and looked his way before blinking.“You wouldn’t believe,” she
wouldn’t,” he agreed, “I haven’t woke up smiling in a long while...”
trailed off as reality rushed back in like a chill breeze, harsh and
biting.Never was it far away.
come bearing good news,” he added, “at least, I think.”
spotted land, finally.”
I was getting used to this?” she replied, only in half jest.
feel the same way.It hasn’t been that
bad, all things considered.”
at him, a weak smile flashed through again for a moment, but she didn’t
reply.They both knew it; it wasn’t good
news at all.Soon enough, another long
nightmare would start.
offered, “I just thought I’d let you know,” before standing.“I should probably be going.”
before starting towards the door.Pausing, he turned and said, “It’ll be alright, Emma.We’ll be alright…”
was confident – certain.It felt good in
her ears, but she knew better.
promised you can’t keep,” she replied.
deck, a small crowd had gathered.Ratu
and several others took turns with the field glasses, marveling at the island
as if it was a thing foreign to them.The ridge had grown in size since Liam had left.Now, they were quite formidable.
stern, Parris had deputized Speck.Together the pair readied the inflatable skiff.
ready,” Parris announced.
grunted in affirmation while looking on.After several moments, he added, “How do you two feel about going ashore
Parris replied, “Got to do it sooner or later.”
Ratu, but no more than him.Don’t want
to leave the boat vulnerable.We could
be gone a while.”
have to convince me,” Parris said, “The smaller our group, the less apt we are
to be noticed.I’m not hurtin’ for a
right,” Liam replied, “Food, fuel, water – ammo if we’re lucky.In and out.”
near the bow interrupted their conversation.Liam made for the front, while Parris and Speck continued with their
on?” he asked as he reached Ratu.
Gurkha, taller than any other he’d ever met, continued to gaze through the
binoculars, ignoring him.Victor, a
short, stout soldier, answered, “There’s someone out there.”
more than one,” Ratu added, handing off the glasses, “but they’re not men – not
on deck knew better than to expect otherwise, but they’d been taken for
fools.They’d never said it aloud, but
everyone aboard had held out that perhaps it would be different – or over –
when they finally got to Hawaii.But
hope was a harsh mistress, and she was sneering at them all.
the binoculars and studied the wights as they meandered about.Staring past them, he said, “There’re
buildings in the distance – tall ones; condos… or hotels.This looks to be one of the bigger
islands.Probably a lot of dead
the best place for us to start,” Liam replied, “Let’s follow along the coast
until we spot more land – try to determine where we are.Anybody familiar with the islands’ layout?”
said Victor, “We’ll want to find Lana’i or Moloka’i.They are
inhabited, but not heavily, so there should be supplies.Maybe even enough for us to restock and then
leave without risking it on one of the big islands.”
then,” Liam said, “get us to those islands.”
nodded and turned to address the others.Liam placed a hand on Ratu’s shoulder and said, “I’d like to have some
muscle once we’re on land, just in case.You game?”
of Lana’i were shear and rose up like titans, unlike the rocky shores of the
other island.And there were no
buildings or sightings of the undead, either.In fact, they’d seen nothing so far as to indicate that man had ever
braved the place.
water beat itself against the grey-brown bluffs without mercy, yet it changed
nothing.It foamed white and swirled
about in a rage, but the crags were unmoved.Are we like those waves, Liam
mused, surging forward blindly, without
ever a chance of making a difference?Would we meet our end with the same, futile violence?
No.He fought back the thoughts.Without hope, they would surely die.They had a purpose yet.They were
still alive, and there was work yet to be done.If not them, then who?Someone had to fight.
Speck and another
soldier scanned the cliffs with the aid of their rifle scopes, searching for
something that would betray the island’s serenity.
yet?” Liam asked.
“Soon as we
find a beach where we can get ashore, we’ll take a look around.Until then, keep it up.”
and walked to the stern.
Victor replied, “No one out here but us.”
guard up.I doubt we’re the only boat on
the encounter at the port in Suva, pirates had plagued Liam’s thoughts.Though, over the course of the entire voyage,
they’d chanced sightings of only a few other vessels.All of them had been sailboats and within a
hundred miles of Fiji.Never was contact
initiated or received.Apparently,
neither side was willing to take the risk.
anyone be blamed?Every brush with an
outsider had brought misery.Strangers
only took from them – their resources, their friends, their hope.And those were all scarce commodities.
was hard on everyone, especially Liam.They were friends, willing to lay down their lives for each other, and
Noah had proven that.He shouldn’t’ve
had to die the way he did.He’d deserved
Speck’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Liam!We’ve got something up here!”
making for the bow, he said, “Keep an eye to the horizon, Victor,”
you covered; go.”
the front of the boat, he took the binoculars that had been thrust at him.A smile inched across his face.
due some good luck, weren’t we?” Speck said, grinning.
“I can’t believe it,” Blaine said at
little more than a whisper, “Baton Rouge may’ve got it worse than New Orleans.”
everywhere is like this?” Taylor asked.
“There’s somewhere out there – somewhere
safe.And we’ll find it.”
…I hope, he added, but saved that
portion of the thought for himself.
was hellish, and growing bleaker by the minute.The roar of the boat’s engine was drawing the dead to the banks of the Mississippi.What had started as only a few walkers had
quickly grown to… so many he’d rather not count.They stumbled after the boat along the levee
and shuffled down to the water’s edge.They knew better than to risk wading out into the river, though – a
decision that was not lost on Blaine.The wights weren’t mindless, not completely.
back to the camp in Lakeshore and how some of the undead would blindly chase
after his canoe.Thrashing about, they
eventually sank out of sight.Here, not
a single corpse braved the water.If they get much smarter, nowhere’ll be safe,
A shiver started
at the base of his neck and snaked down his spine.Perhaps it was the chilling thoughts, but
most likely it was the combination of the harsh temperatures and the open
water.It was cold, too cold for this far south.As if they didn’t have problems
enough.Blaine pulled at the
drawstrings on his hood until it was tight around his head.
distance, the city’s landmarks were coming into view.The steel trusses of the Wilkinson Bridge
loomed high as they approached.Past it on
the east bank, the Capitol Building, City Hall and the River Center were
visible.For a moment, he thought he
caught a glimpse of the university’s bell tower in what remained of his
periphery, but he couldn’t be sure.
weren’t like he remembered them, though.Everything seemed so menacing now.Windows were shattered, assumedly where people had jumped to their
deaths to avoid being taken by the dead.And nothing had been saved form the black scars of the fires, it
seemed.At least the smoke and ash
wasn’t thick in the air, like in New Orleans.Looking back, he was thankful for the rain that’d plagued them over the
past few days.
“Over there – look!” Colt, the younger
of the two brothers that they’d rescued, exclaimed.
rolled across the boat.Blaine stared at
the void left by the missing section of the Wilkinson, and then down at the
barge that was still pinned under the collapsed portion of the bridge
deck.How had he not seen it?He
silently scolded himself for not being more aware of his surroundings.He couldn’t allow his mind to wander
again.In the new world, even the
smallest mistake could kill.
think it was intentional?” Taylor asked.
out over the west bank.Aside from the
top of a water tower and a handful of industrial leviathans, the levee masked
most of what was beyond.He knew what it
hid from him though.Port Allen was a
small town of only a few thousand.It
was ringed by factories, rail spurs and tank fields that hugged the
Mississippi.Just west of the borough,
the remnants of greater Baton Rouge quickly gave way to farmland.And beyond the narrow belt of fields that had
likely fallen fallow, the land grew thick with moss-draped swamps and
bridge, the worst of the plague would’ve been reserved for the east side.”Blaine motioned to the west and added, “If I
lived over in Port Allen, there’s no doubt I would’ve found a way to take it
their heads up and gazed warily at the gaping concrete maw wrought by the collision.Mangled steel and rebar blundered out into
the sky from either side, like claws blindly reaching for each other.A murder of crows matched their stares as
they passed underneath, before returning their attention to the scattering of
corpses that policed the bridge deck.
time, Taylor said, “Maybe we should check out Port Allen.We’ve only a few gallons of fuel left.”
his head and replied, “No, it’s too close to the city.As soon as we’re past-”
interrupted by a harsh sputter from the motor.He eased off the throttle, but the sound only worsened.Smoke began to roll out from under the hood until
finally, the roar of the engine stopped completely.Blaine turned the wheel so that their
momentum guided them towards the west bank.Drifting towards the shore, he hung his head.
crunch, the hull cut into the muddy banks.Colt leapt from the boat to a section of driftwood, before bounding on
to drier ground.Taylor and Kaylee
trained their rifles over the hill while he lashed the bow line to a fallen
back aboard, he whispered, “What do you thinks wrong?”
boy, Blaine continued to prod the motor’s viscera.
looked on in silence, waiting for a report, while keeping a cautious eye on the
levee’s crest.Finally, defeated, he let
out a deep breath and replied, “I haven’t a clue.”
“You mean –
you can’t fix it?” Colt stammered.
at the overcast sky, Blaine replied with a sigh, “No, kid.Not even if I had
the parts, if it even needs
parts.I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“We can’t go back out there!”
think we have a choice,” Blaine replied, “…and
keep your voice down, we don’t know what’s over that hill.”
to diffuse the situation, Kaylee leaned in and spoke softly to the boy.“We’ll be alright.Blaine has brought us this far – he saved us
from those men and got us out of New Orleans.This isn’t his fault.”
over the levee, a garbled moan was followed by the sounds of snapping
twigs.A hush rolled over the boat.With slow but determined movements, the group
readied their weapons.
removing the rifle from his shoulder, he craned his head back to acknowledge
to cut that line and set us adrift.”
and withdrew his knife from its sheath.He eased forward until he was an arm’s length from the rope.Meanwhile, the sounds of the corpse grew
crested the hill, its milky eyes settled on them.The low groan was replaced by a snarl.Quickening its pace, it outstretched its arms
and aimed for the boat.
Taylor said, claiming the kill.The
trigger’s pull was light and crisp, no doubt perfected by its previous
owner.A moment after she’d expelled the
air from her lungs, the rifle’s hammer slammed into the rim of the round.The homemade suppressor fastened to the muzzle
all but muted the diminutive .22.A
faint clap and the cycling of the action was all that could be heard.
well-placed shot connected squarely with the infected’s forehead.With crossed eyes and buckling knees, it
toppled forward and slid several feet down the slope.Breathless, the group listened for others.
dry well, Blaine spoke with as calm a voice as he could muster.“Grab your packs, we’ve got to move.The next one over the hill might have a dozen
of its friends in tow.”
overload yourselves,” he added, “We don’t know how long we’ll be on foot, and
we’ll need to be able to move quickly.Make
sure you have a coat, knife and a couple mags of ammo.Bring only enough food and water for a day or
so.We’ll scavenge as we go.”
rifled through the boats provisions, the sound of the city’s former residents
drifted across the river.Their endless
droning was like a swarm of bees, searching for their next target.Blaine tried to ignore them, but it was
unnerving – to be looked upon as prey.
the last in the group to pull his ruck onto his back.Blaine felt sorry for the boy.He was only fourteen, and had only begun to
experience life.It would be hard for
him to grow up surrounded by death and retain his humanity.
way to the bow, Blaine asked, “Ready?” though it was hardly a question.
and followed him.
off the boat, he turned and gave her a final glance.She wasn’t much, and had offered little in
the way of protection from the elements over the past several nights, but she’d
kept them alive.Now, what would they
kissing Taylor’s forehead, he said, “Let’s go.”It was scarcely more than a whisper.
the hill, they were greeted by a troop of battered walkers a couple dozen yards
away.Deep gashes were apparent on their
skin.No doubt, they’d died resisting,
but they’d died nonetheless.Taylor
shouldered her rifle, but Blaine batted it back down.
“No,” he said, “Not unless we have
to.It’s best we keep moving.”
corpse’s eyes followed the group as they fled, but it took their bodies another
moment or two to react.Turning
mid-stride, they teetered on the precipice of toppling over, but managed to
right themselves.With a quick clack of
their teeth and a hungry snarl, they sounded the alarm for any other infected
in the area.
of narrow pavement dutifully followed the toe of the levee.The cracked surface felt good under the
group’s feet.It was solid, unlike the
boat, and offered a mild consolation.To
the south lay Port Allen, hidden by a stand of trees.
rust-tinged stacks towered over white product tanks as yet another refinery
languished on the banks of the Mississippi.They were relics, immediately rendered obsolete by the new age.No more would the black lifeblood of
civilization course through the steel veins of these places.Blaine was reminded of something he’d heard
It’s easy for some folks to scorn us,
And we’re blamed for more than our lot.
But you think they’ve ever considered –
The day the last oiler’s turned off?
It needed no considering anymore, he
lamented to himself, for that day had
long since passed.
of abandoned farmland, given over to weeds, acted as a buffer between the
quiet, cross-river suburb and the commanding industrial complex.An occasional wind row or a cluster of oaks
interrupted the expanse, but save for them and the water tower, it was barren.
guided the group north, away from the undead.He hoped the refinery would be safer than the town.They needed to establish a haven before
venturing too far out.
a steady pace,” he said, “we can outpace the walkers easy.”
small thicket, the brush began to quiver as something moved through it.Suddenly, a band of wights emerged.Three runners, faster than any they’d
encountered before, tore away from the pack and bore down on the living.
Kaylee each dropped to one knee, while Blaine remained standing.Pushing back his fears, he took charge of his
breathing.Though the first shot sailed
wide, but the second met its mark.The
runner’s momentum carried it forward for several yards, before it finally
collapsed and slid to a stop.Turning to
engage the others, he was pleased to see they’d already been downed.The girls’ consistent marksmanship never ceased
to impress him.
y’all are here.”
flashed him a smile, but it was weak.More undead were appearing by the minute.Soon, they would be surrounded.
keep to the road,” Kaylee said, still kneeling.
right,” Taylor concurred.
guess we have much choice,” Blaine replied, “This way, then.”
they abandoned the open black top for the tall grass of the field.The ground was soft, sucking at their every
footfall.It was a feeling quite unsettling
to Blaine.The recurring dream of the
fence and the bog flashed to the forefront of his mind.To be overtaken by the hordes was a
Pull it together, he told himself, this ain’t the time.
It was much
harder to maneuver the field than it had seemed from the road.The dead grass was tall – knee-high in most
places. But there could be no turning
back.The ravenours fanned out behind
them, slowing pushing through the muck.
squawked before suddenly disappearing from sight.
began, “Blake, help him to his fee-” but was cut off by a raspy snarl.Again, the boy cried out.
“They’re here – all around us!” Kaylee
shrieked as dozens of the undead rose to their feet.
turned and raced back to Colt, but Blake reached him first.Blaine arrived just in time to see the butt
of Blake’s rifle shatter the corpse’s skull.Begrudgingly, the putrid hand released the boy’s ankle.Blaine crouched low and helped him back onto
his feet.His face was white – full of
okay,” he whispered, “Your brother got him.Are you hurt?”
shook his head.
“Then go,” he replied, before turning to
Taylor and adding, “All of you, go!”
“But where?” She called back, tears in
“The tower!Head for the water tower!”
Kaylee grabbed Colt by his arms and fled for the stronghold.Meanwhile, the departed continued to close
in.Blaine squeezed the trigger as fast
as he could acquire a target.Only after
several moments did he realize Blake was standing beside him, doing the same.
“I told you to go!” He shouted.
“Fine!” Blaine growled, both angered and
relieved, “We drop this first wave then fall back, understood?”
breaking the perfect rhythm of his rifle, Blake nodded.
tore through the soft flesh, downing the snarling wights.Slowly, the pair bought the others time to
escape, but there was no pushing back the tide.The horde only grew closer with every second.With his rifle empty, Blaine slung it over
his shoulder and produced his machete, before shouting, “Go!”
the blade wildly, slicing through meat and bone alike.With his free hand, he retrieved his knife
and buried it in a walker’s skull, before hacking the last of the nearest
infected.Having earned a small victory,
Kaylee cried, “It’s locked!”
might be,” Taylor said, “but there’s a way in – I know it.We’re not the
first ones to use this place.Search the
out, searching for a break in the barrier.After several minutes, Colt called out, “Over here!”
in!” Taylor shouted, immediately falling into the role of leader.
A pair of
corpses met them at the base of the tower, most likely the remnants of those
who had last sought refuge there.Kaylee
downed them with two quick shots, before reaching the ladder.Colt was immediately behind her and the first
turned back and eyed her sister.“Are
you still afraid of heights?”
her lip and nodded.
go first.I’ll be right behind you,
“I don’t know if I can.”
have a choice, Sis.Blake and Blaine need us up there to cover them.We’ve
got to hurry.”
she closed her eyes, thought of Blaine and gripped the rungs.
it,” Kaylee, “just keep going; one at a time.I love you.”
“I love you
too,” she managed with a shaky voice.
By the time
they’d reach the top, Blake was halfway to the tower.Colt was laying prone with his rifle pulled
snugly against his shoulder, watching Blaine wade into the midst of the dead.
pulled herself over the ledge and crawled to the back of the platform, still
unwilling to even glance down.
smiled and said, “You did good, Sis.”
“Right,” a pause, and then, “Where’s
shrugging out of her pack and lying prone, she replied, “He’s fine.He’s got Colt and
I watching over him.”
up any minute now.Just relax.”Leaning over, Kaylee said to the boy, “You’ll
want to aim a little high…”
“I know,” he replied.
fire until Blaine retreats, unless you have to.We don’t want to risk hitting him.”
“I know,” he repeated, even more
agitated the second time.
“Sor—ry,” She replied exaggeratively, “Just makin’ sure.”
They lay in
silence for several moments, their rifles resting on their rucks and their feet
sprawled out behind them.Watching her
from the corner of his eye, Colt shifted his position to match hers.Together, they looked on as Blaine spilled
the thick, black blood of the ravenours.
Come on, Blaine, she screamed in her
head, you can’t kill ‘em all.But she knew his mind was in the thick of the
fight, and it was a difficult task to wrest it free.Just
don’t get killed…
you learn it?”
“…What?” she asked, confused.
shooting… you and Taylor are really
good.And you’re girls.”
“Oh,” she laughed softly, “Well… our
father was a military man – a real hard ass.Oops… so, don’t say ass,
to her the story, he nodded and said,
“Good.So anyway, he wanted a couple of boys that he
could whip into shape, but he got us
“Mean?No, but he was tough.I didn’t always like the way he treated us,
though.Sometimes I felt like I was
she said, “girls like to be princesses – at least sometimes.But not us.No, the closest we got was pink bows and
BDUs.I know now that he was just lovin’
us the only way he knew how.Looking
back, I’m glad he did what he did.We’re
alive now because of it.”
the virus get him – you’re dad?”
dear, he died a couple years ago.I’m
glad he didn’t have to see all of this.”
was silent for a time, before adding, “I bet the virus got my dad…”
put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “Oh, Honey… I’m sorry.”
okay.He wasn’t a good dad.He used to hit us.Blake would try to protect me, but sometimes
he still got to me.That’s why Mom moved
us here,” he paused for several moments, before adding, “I hope it got him…”
he might’ve been a horrible dad, but you shouldn’t say things like that.”
I did, and I meant it.I hope it killed
of what else to say to the boy, Kaylee breathed a sigh of relief when Blaine
finally sheathed his machete and turned to flee.
that runner coming in from the side?” She asked.
he whispered as he squeezed the trigger.The round connected low, piercing the corpse’s torso.Undaunted, it continued forward.
again,” she said.
he fired and again he missed his mark.
watch me.”Leaning in, she continued,
“You want to aim higher – higher than you’d think; we’re pretty far off.Now, he’s moving fast, so you have to lead
him by a bit, but not much though.Then,
just bring that trigger on home and…”
muffled shot was hardly audible, its sound lost before it reached the
ground.Moments later, the runner’s head
knocked back slightly, and then it was tangled in its own feet.It went down hard, and never rose again.
to it, kid,” she said with a grin, “Now, what do you say we get in some
practice, and give Blaine some breathing room, too, eh?”
she resumed her instructions, dropping the undead until Blaine was safely on
the ladder.When he reached the top, he
pushed off his ruck and lay on his back.Breathless, he stared at the gray sky.As he did so, the sounds of the infected grew louder, until a great
clamor of death echoed up from beneath them.Dozens hungrily rattled the fence and circled the structure.Meanwhile, hundreds could be seen moving in
from the nearby countryside.
Blaine,” Kaylee said.
do have a plan to get us down from here, right?”