Editor's noted: This chapter is strictly experimental. While I want to move the story forward and not just limit it to survivor's tales, I want to do it in a way that makes sense. Be honest with your opinions. If this sounds like bullshit, let me know and I'll do something different.
The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 12: Mindless Over Matter
William Haskner never thought he would his term would end like this.
As the governor of Nebraska, Haskner was a man known for keeping his promises, no matter what it took. When a bill he wrote to expand the state's police force looked like it would fail for lack of funds, Haskner worked for three days straight to find the money. When an elementary school was in danger of closing, he donated half his personal fortune to keep it open. And when rumors began to surface of an affair with his secretary, Haskner came clean, knowing that it was better to fess up now before the press cost him the trust of the people.
Yes, Barry Haskner had accomplished much in his thirteen years as governor, and as he looked out upon the zombie-infested wasteland that was now his constituency, he couldn't help but despair at how pointless it all seemed.
From the concrete building code-named Safe Haven, Haskner and several of his fellow politicians watched zombies shuffle through what once been a lush, pristine forest, before fire and other plagues reduced it to charred ash and dust. When it became clear the police, National Guard and even the Army couldn't stop the walking dead, politicians from across the country were airlifted out of their cities. Maintaining a working government was of prime concern if the United States, now known only as the Graveyard, was to ever be restored.
The fortress was designed to be self-sustaining community. Along with the barracks for over five hundred soldiers, there were training rooms so the warriors of Safe Haven could hone their skills to a razor's edge. After all, they were protecting the leaders of the country. A communications center allowed the staff to maintain contact with every city and town in the nation, but by now, static was about all the high-tech systems picked up.
Civilians were treated to spacious quarters that made cruise ship accommodations look pathetic by comparison. Safe Haven was meant to house whole families if need be, and the installation sported a school, and activities like pottery and writing classes were offered, though such amenities seemed useless in a world ruled by the dead.
Safe Haven was only a pit stop, however. A larger fortification, meant to house every member of the U.S. government, had been set up in the Rockies, where the remnants of the Armed Forces were holding the line against the undead. Haskner and the others awaited the choppers that would bring them the rest of the way, to the underground complex known as New Washington.
Except the choppers never came.
For the first few days, all eyes were on the sky, convinced the airlift would come, any minute now. No one unpacked the few possessions they had grabbed in their mad rush from the ghouls.
A month later, those eyes were cast downward, at the cold grey concrete hideout that was now their home, and more than likely, their tomb.
Escape by land was impossible, though the building's garage housed several vehicles. Lured by God knew what, the undead were everywhere, making Safe Haven more a prison than anything else.
But it was a well-protected prison. Stone walls topped by barbed wire were enough to keep even an army of zombies out, no matter how they howled or banged on the walls. Small anti-aircraft guns turned the zombies into target practice, blowing them to decayed bits of flesh. Land mines laid out a mile in every direction made approaching Safe Haven less than a thrilling idea. Large holes in the Nebraska prairie attested to that.
Yes, this was a well-protected prison. But a prison all the same.
A distant explosion resounded off the concrete walls. A small plume of smoke marked another tripped mine. Haskner smirked and made a notation on a small pad of paper. One of the ways people passed the time in Safe Haven was to place bets on how many zombies exploded in a day. Not that money held any real value anymore, but it was fun, and watching movies had taken on a depressing turn once the knowledge set in that most of the cast was likely dead.
Lieutenant Jack Wilson walked up the stairs to the wall, just as another explosion echoed off Safe Haven. He walked over to Haskner, saying, "So what's the count at now?"
"Twenty-three," responded the politician.
Wilson snapped his fingers. "Damn. I had the number stopping at seventeen. That's another hundred bucks I owe the captain."
"Seem a lot more of them than usual the last few days," said Haskner.
Wilson shrugged. Safe Haven would be tough enough to penetrate for human soldiers. Against the mindless, shambling undead, the defenses almost seemed unfairly stacked in the refugee's favor. "Well, it usually doesn't take 'em long to figure out when food's in the vicinity. Like it matters. Once they use up all the mines they'll just pound on the walls, moaning and wailing. We'll just use 'em for target practice."
As the two spoke, more and more zombies converged on the fort. As the senator had said, there were a lot more zombies than usual, a fact which Wilson noticed but decided not to make too big a deal out of. Such surges in the undead's presence were not uncommon, but even still, he always got nervous when he saw so many.
As the zombies approached, they stepped on the mines, setting off one explosion after another, each one claiming a few of the rotting ghouls. Most of the creatures were blown to pieces, bursting like cheap pinatas. Others merely lost an arm or a leg, and continued moving toward the fort as if nothing were amiss. As Haskner watched, he saw one zombie, both its legs claimed by an exploding mine, crawling across the ground, trailing a long section of exposed intestine. The dry, brittle organ became entangled on the bones of a twice-time killed zombie, and the creature stopped, looking around in confusion as to what impeded its journey.
In their hurry to establish a perimeter, most of the mines had been poorly buried, and to a human, the small mounds of upturned earth would be easily seen. To the mindless undead, however, such details were lost, and in some cases, the explosives hadn't been buried, but laid bare on soil once teeming with life, now ashen and dead, much like the populace.
Then Wilson saw something that made his blood run cold. Over the weeks, he had come to see the undead as just another part of his life, and his fear of them dissipated. But that terror had returned, new and improved.
On the barren killing field, a zombie stopped before a mine, seemed to regard the object before it with a primitive understanding, like a Neanderthal's first encounter with fire. The creature looked around, saw the explosions, and looked back at the mine.
With a quiet moan, the undead, formerly a postal employee named Chris Phelps, father of three, stepped around the mine, and another, and another.
Wilson's throat was dry, his mind numb with the sight before him. He looked at Haskner, and saw the governor gripped with the same horror. But it wasn't with what Wilson saw.
It was with the reanimated corpse of Kathy Samun, a cafeteria worker at a local elementary school, as she too maneuvered her shambling form around the deadly devices, even reaching out to stop other zombies from stepping on them.
"Mary, Mother of God," breathed Wilson, at last finding his voice.
"They've..they've never done that before, have they?" asked Haskner, hoping against hope that such behavior was at least occasionally seen among the undead.
But Wilson only shook his head. "Never. I've never seen them do anything intelligent. Never."
As the two watched, more and more undead began avoiding the mines. A small group of them continued on, detonating more of the explosives, and Haskner and Wilson breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of undead behaving like they should.
But this hope was quickly crushed, as they saw the purpose and strategy being employed by creatures known far and wide for lacking both.
"They're clearing a path. They're clearing a fucking path," said Wilson, as he watched the group form into a column, triggering every mine in a twenty foot-wide path that led straight to Safe Haven, a path that hundreds of the undead took advantage of.
"What, what do we do?" asked Haskner.
"I sure as shit ain't inviting them in," was all the lieutenant would say as he sounded the alarm, bringing ever soldier in the complex.
Most could only stare in horror as they saw the undead maneuver their way around the mines, while others cleared a way for their fellow ghouls. A few of the troops not gripped by fear opened fire, bringing the rest back to their senses.
Bullets soon filled the air, chewing up soil and undead flesh alike. The larger guns turned the Nebraska landscape into one more closely resembling the moon, and Haskner watched in morbid fascination as zombie parts flew though the air, then began to patter on the ground, the sound reminding the governor of a rainstorm.
One of the soldiers paused in his firing to watch a few of the zombies make their way to the walls of Safe Haven, large black bundles tied to their chests, their arms protectively around them. He made his way to Lieutenant Wilson, pointed out the undead, just as they came to the base of the fortress' concrete walls. The officer's eyes went wide as he recognized the telltale signs of a kamikaze.
"Shoot them!" he shouted, just before fire and thunder filled the air, taking out a twenty-foot-wide section of the wall and all the soldiers on it.
Haskner's vision swam from the impact of the blast, which threw him ten feet, slamming him into the concrete, knocking the air from his lungs. For a moment he heard nothing but a ringing in his ears, and he feared he was deaf, a serious handicap in a world where sound is often the first indicator of a nearby zombie.
The scene before him seemed to happen in slow motion, and Haskner watched in detached fascination the slow, rhythmic movement of the zombie's jaws, the drip of saliva and blood from their mouths.
Through the haze of pain and shock, Haskner noticed saw small metal collars on the necks of the undead, collars which blinked with a red light, like some sort of signal device. An electrician in his youth, Haskner found himself trying to calculate the possible range of the devices, and just what their purpose could be. Then unconsciousness claimed him, right before the zombies got the chance.
Hundreds of undead flowed into the base like a rotting wave. Those soldiers not killed in the blast mounted a courageous defense, but in a matter of moments the undead swarmed over them, ripping them to shreds with terrifying speed. Jack Wilson, his body torn asunder by the blast, lay among the rubble, his lifeless eyes staring at a Heaven few believe existed anymore as the soldiers serving under him died in agony.
Screams of the dying filled the air, cries for mothers or wives, or for the mercy of God, or for sweet Death to take them, if for no other reason than to end the pain.
Flesh was torn from bone like ribs at a Texas barbecue. Entrails were slurped down like the finest pasta. Skin was torn from bodies like peeled grapes. When the food began to run low, zombies turned on each other, fighting for the last scrap of skin or a loose eyeball.
Outside the fort, it was as if the undead could smell the food, and casual moans turned to howls of desperation, as they clamored for a piece.
The civilians inside thought nothing of the alarms, which were often set off for drills or target practice. The children in the base's classroom were the first to go, devoured in the midst of learning their multiplication tables. One child was torn in half by a pair of zombies. Amazingly, he was able to stay alive for a few moments longer, just long enough to feel the torment of having his liver and lungs ripped out like prizes in a box of cereal. Their shrieks of agony brought others, who were just as quickly devoured, some begging to be spared so they could save their children.
The guards on duty attempted to evacuate who they could, but panic is the natural predator of order, and the herd of civilians became a screaming mob, trampling and striking out at any who hampered their escape.
As they made their way to the garage and certain salvation, the crowd skidded to a halt. Inside the motor pool were hundreds of zombies, expressions of eager anticipation on their faces. The door to the garage was gone, blown apart by the same explosions that had reduced the impenetrable barriers of Safe Haven to dust.
Captain Mark Starynski, commander of Safe Haven's soldiers, barricaded himself in his office, ordering his troops to stand their ground and protect their brave leader, who managed to wet himself on four separate occasions. From under his desk, he heard the screams of his loyal troops as the undead overwhelmed them like a house of cards in a hurricane. With a splintering crack, the oaken door to his office was torn down. The officer stood to meet this threat, but rather than go out fighting, Captain Mark Staryinski turned the gun on himself and decorated the wall with his brains.
Several hundred yard away, three figures in white lab coats stood on a hill and watched as explosions wracked Safe Haven, bringing the walls and buildings tumbling down. Though human, they had nothing to fear from the undead. Indeed, it was because of them that the creatures had won the day. The three began shaking each other's hands, congratulating themselves on a job well done.
"Well, Dr. Sachin, it looks like our experiment was a complete success," said one, as she snapped photos like a tourist on vacation.
"Indeed, Dr. Yarin," said Sachin, a bespeckled man of fifty who couldn't help but laugh as the cries of the dying carried to his ears. "We've certainly outdone ourselves, haven't we, Dr. Larson?"
Frank Larson looked up from the notes he was furiously scribbling. A long, jagged scar ran from one corner of his face to another, and an eye patch covered one empty socket, a testament of the perils that came with working on the undead. The gleeful smile he wore was in stark contrast to the wounds that would mark him forever.
"Oh yes, my friends, we have done that," said Larson as he made a few more notes before closing the notebook and passing around cigars. "I think we're ready for Phase Two. But let's let out children eat first, hmm? I think they've earned it."