The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 9: Unto Himself
Jake Marlow and Sara Kern were put on twenty-four hour suicide watch after the deaths of their children. Their guns were taken away, and every ten minutes they were searched for string, blades or needles. Matt Erickson suspected that after having to kill their infected children, they were ready to take their own lives. He expected it, and had done everything he could to prepare for it.
Which was why he was completely shocked when the bodies of Marie Hinelli and Marcus Flat were discovered the next day, each with a fresh bullet wound in their heads.
Silencers had been attached to the guns, and the bodies weren't found until the next morning. Each had a small note crumpled in their hands, explaining that the world was a place they wanted nothing to do with if small children had to be killed by their parents.
"I should have seen this coming," said Matt, as the bodies of their friends were quickly burned. Graves took time to dig, and if they weren't deep enough, the undead would find them, and rip the flesh from their bones.
As the bus left John Kasada and James Cater scattered the ashes out of old coffee cans. Kaitlin Comeau sat near the front of the bus, curled up in a ball sobbing brokenly, as she had done four hours ago when Matt and Marie were found dead. No one tried to comfort her. No one told her it would be okay.
No sense lying to her.
Matt sat at the open rear door watching the ashes drift away on the breeze, tears rolling unchecked down his face. His longtime friend Michael Rayanson sat down beside him.
"I made her a promise that day," said Matt, his voice choked with sobs. "I told her I'd keep her safe."
Michael only nodded, knowing there was nothing to say that would comfort him. It was Matt that found Marie when he came to Boston to get his friends, Michael and John. She had been in the subway when the undead made their way into the city, and a particularly large number were in the tunnels. The train she was on derailed when it slammed into the mass of walking corpses, and when she came to, those not reduced to paste were pressed up against the glass, eager to crack the lid and feast on the tender meat inside.
It was surreal, watching those bloody, torn and rotten faces push against the windows. Their howls filled her every waking moment, and at times she found herself screaming back, screaming until her throat went raw. But their was no reaction, other than more moaning, more pushing to get in, more bloody hand prints on the glass.
After two days of waiting for rescue and watching the undead, Marie had decided to slit her wrists with a piece of broken glass, rather than let starvation, madness or zombies claim her. She had written out an emotional letter to her family, though she seriously doubted anyone would find her, at least, anyone packing a pulse.
Just then, a new sound filled the air. Gunshots. The undead turned to the new sound, but within moments were cut down, either by bullets or blades. The glass shattered and Marie screamed, the shard poised above her tender arteries. It was then she heard the voice. The human voice. The first she had heard in over forty eight hours. Marie looked up, and saw a man dressed in body armor. With the mask and its red eyepieces, he looked more like a robot, but there was no mistaking the voice.
The man held out his hand. "Come with me," he said. "You'll be safe."
Ron Birm came to stand beside the two, his eyes on the rising sun. "She was never right for this world," he said.
Matt looked up. "What?"
"This world," Ron said as he watched the rotted remains an elementary school vanish into the distance. "It's a cruel world. You have to do so many terrible things just to survive. You have to kill innocent strangers, your friends, even kids, just so you'll live to see the another day. Only terrible people, horrible people that don't have a place in proper society can make it here. That wasn't her. She was a good person. She had a good heart. She couldn't be cruel if she wanted to. She just...didn't belong here."
Matt only nodded. "I know. Maybe it would have been better if I had let her kill herself."
But Ron shook his head. "Now don't go thinking like that, son. You saved her, gave her a reason to keep on going. If she had killed herself, her soul would have been lost to the fires of Hell, no doubt."
"But Ron, she did kill herself," said Michael.
"Oh. Yeah. Well, I'm sure God'll understand, make an exception," Ron said, taking a moment to light a cigarette. "Given the circumstances, I don't think he'd hold it against her."
The supermarket looked to be untouched. None of the windows had been broken, and the doors were still intact, a sign that looters hadn't been here. John drove the bus at breakneck speed, a good way to attract the undead. As he drove near the grocery store, Matt and Michael jumped out, rolled across the ground and ran towards the doors as the bus sped away, dozens of zombies behind it.
Though power was down, they were able to push the automated doors open. Inside, the store was eerily quiet. Apparently the store had just opened when the plague reached what used to be known as "America's Hometown." There were only a handful of zombies inside, and these were easily dispatched by ax or handgun.
Looking around, Matt could almost hear the sounds of small children begging their mothers to buy them a candy bar or a comic book, smell the sweet aroma of grilled chicken served at the store's small café, and if he stretched his imagination, could see the long lines at the counter, the exasperated teen as he tried to keep the customers moving so he could finish his shift on time and not have to work late.
"Ghosts," said Matt.
Michael looked up from the canned goods he was stuffing into a duffel bag. By this point, the items in the deli and produce sections was more bacteria-laden than the zombies, and finding food that could last the long haul was essential. As much as the group yearned for fresh apples and real meat, spam and canned peaches would have to suffice.
"What?" he asked as a box of chocolate bars made its way into the bag.
"There's ghosts here," Matt said.
Michael looked around as if he seriously believed what his friend was saying. "Ghosts," he said.
"Echoes of our old life. And get that look off your face, I'm not cracking up," said Matt as he walked around the store. "It's just, I can remember being here before everything went all post-mortem. I remember what it sounded like, what it smelled like, what it looked like. It all feels so familiar."
There was a long stretch of silence, and in that time, it was as if a horrible truth had been revealed. "Things are never going to get better, are they?" asked Matt, despair in his voice.
Michael shouldered his pack, which clanked with the sound of cans. "You've seen the same things I have. I doubt there's more than a dozen people left alive aside from us. And those dozen have probably turned into murderers, thieves and monsters just to survive. Maybe there's more out there, but you've seen how fast the undead can wipe out a city. You saw it in Boston. Making a stand's pointless. Sooner or later, they get past any defense, any wall. Or else they just drive you nuts and you kill yourself, maybe the others with you. Your friends. Humanity's greatest strength has always been its ability to adapt, to survive no matter how the landscape changes, but now that landscape is a mass grave. How do you adapt to that?"
"So why do we even bother? Why not just shoot ourselves and be done with it?"
"Why not indeed?" Michael replied as he made his way to the door. "I don't know about you, but if this world is going to kill me, and more than likely it will, I'm sure as shit not just gonna give myself to it on a silver platter."
Matt looked skeptically at his friend. "So that's it? We survive just to piss of Fate?"
Michael shrugged. "Works for me."
Matt and Michael watched as the others ate. In the past, such raids could last the small group for months, but with the new arrivals, that was going to change, and fast. A new plan was needed.
Fortunately, this wasn't a tour bus they were in.
"Listen up, everyone," said Michael. "It's time we got moving with the next phase of the plan."
Ron and John only nodded and began stowing the newly 'acquired' supplies. The others watched, confusion clear on their faces. "What's going on?" asked Sara.
"What's going on is we're getting underway," said Matt. "When we found you guys, you remember how we said we happened to be in the neighborhood?"
The journalists nodded. "Well, we weren't there by chance. We were on our way to a new home. This nomadic shit can't last forever, and frankly, I'd like the feel of a nice bed than these fucking bus seats."
"So where are we going?" Jake asked.
"Martha's Vineyard. It's isolated, and there's plenty of food on account of all those fucking tourists that go there this time of year."
James chimed in. "Are there people there?"
Matt smiled. "I certainly hope not. I'm not big on sharing."
"So for all we know it could be crawling with undead," James said, frustration in his voice.
Matt nodded. "Sure, but unlikely. When people fled, they didn't make for their summer homes. Most tried to cross the ocean, find help with our allies. Lot of good it did them. And even if there are some deadheads there, we can clear them out in a few days."
"Or we could look around the rest of the country," said James. "There's got to be more survivors than us. For all we know, they could have reclaimed one of the major cities."
John laughed. "You really think this crate's gonna make it that far?"
Jake joined in. "So what? We can get new vehicles. I agree with James. We should look around, see what else is out there."
"I can tell you right now what's out there," said Michael. "Death. Lots of it."
"Well, we should at least look," said Jake, growing more agitated. "How long can we last on the island anyway? We'll be fucked when the winter comes."
The click of a pistol cut off all further argument. "Fucked can come a lot sooner than winter if you'd like. Now we've made our choice. You don't wanna come, fine. Go on your little road trip," said Matt, opening the rear door.
The undead howled as they approached the bus, arms outstretched, mouths open in grimaces of hunger, a hunger that could never be sated. They began to crawl inside, slowly shambling towards the group. A few tried to gnaw on the armor-clad survivors, who mere stood there as if nothing were amiss. Their meal denied, the zombies moved on to less throughly wrapped morsels.
Jake and the others quickly backed up, eyes searching for a weapon. Matt smiled and snapped his fingers. Without a word Ron and Michael attacked the undead with axe and sword, decapitating the creature with practiced ease. As John put the vehicle into gear, the dispatched ghouls were tossed onto the road, where limbs shattered and coagulated blood soaked into the asphalt.
"Relax," said Matt as he casually sat down. "You're in better hands than you should be."