The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 14: Home, Sweet Home
"Governor! Governor! You've got to come quick!"
Joseph Corin looked up from the book he was reading, a collection of Oscar Wilde's writings. After weeks on the run from the walking dead, he and those who traveled with him had managed to find safe have on the island of Martha's Vineyard. His first stop, after the showers, had been to the nearest bookstore. He had been an avid reader, going through books the way a cocaine addict goes through his family's life savings, and being on the road gave him few opportunities to enjoy his hobby.
With a regretful sigh, he closed the book and walked toward the man who called to him, a former police officer named Steven Rankin. Steven looked more excited than the day the group had gotten the emergency generators going, providing power to the island's three hundred forty-six inhabitants.
"All right, Steven, I can hear you. What's going on?"
"Sir, you've got to come quick, someone's here."
Joseph's breath caught in his throat. On an ordinary day, such news meant he would break out the good wine and prepare a guest room, but these days, ordinary changed by the hour. "What was that?" he said after a moment's hesitation.
"A boat just arrived. There are people on it, real human people, eight of them," said Steven as he looked back at the docks.
"Well come on then, we'd better see if we have some new friends, or someone looking to make trouble," said the man known as the Governor, as he ran toward the shore.
Matt Erickson and Ron Bern stood on the boat's deck, eyes fixed on the dozen or so people standing on the docks. All were armed, and all wore expressions of cautious apprehension.
"Five minutes, tops," Matt said. His body armor was still covered with the gore bath he got when they made their escape from the continent.
"Cool it, son," said Ron. "We're here to find a safe place to live, not start a fight."
"The second may be needed for the first to occur," Michael Rayanson said as he joined his friends. His hand was on the hilt of the samurai sword he wore strapped to his waist.
"I don't think so," said Ron, though he too was armed, a pair of pistols on his belt and an axe on his back. "These folks don't look ready for a fight. I'd say they're scared out of their minds."
Matt was about to reply, but stopped when two more men joined the group on the docks. The others turned to the older one, some bowing with respect. Their leader, most likely, Matt thought.
After a few minutes of discussion, the older man walked to the edge of the docks, his expression unreadable. A good poker face. "My name's Joseph. Joseph Corin. What's your business here?"
Ron stepped forward, removing his mask. "We're just looking for a safe place to stay, Mr. Corin. My friends and I, we've been on the run for awhile. We came to this island hoping to find it free of the undead."
"Well it is at that," Joseph said, with a gesture to the large crowd of uninfected humans near the docks. "We cleared this place out a few weeks ago, and it doesn't seem like the zombies can get to us, on account of we haven't had any new arrivals."
"You do now," said Matt as he walked towards the dock.
The sound of several guns being cocked put a stop to that. Michael quickly drew his sword, and Ron's revolvers were in his hand in a flash. Matt held no weapons, but one look at his stance told the men on the docks how soon that could change.
But Joseph didn't want his first meeting with normal humans from the mainland in months to end in bloodshed. He raised a hand, and the weapons were lowered. "Now see here, son," said Joseph. "You want a safe place to stay, I can respect that. Nothing would make me happier than to have you and your friends over for dinner. But we have rules here. First is that no one infected steps foot on this island."
Matt raised his hands to show off the armor he wore. "You really think a set of rotted choppers is going to get through this?"
But Joseph wasn't swayed. "Maybe you were bit before you got them fancy duds on. We need to make sure. We'll come aboard and check you out, one at a time."
"Well, when you put it that way, I guess that makes sense," said Matt, stepping back onto the boat. He waved to the others, and their weapons were sheathed and holstered.
Joseph nodded, and two of the men stepped aboard the boat. In an instant, both found the blade of an axe at their throats. "On second thought, why don't we just kill you, make playthings out of your women and take whatever the fuck we want?"
The man known to all on Martha's Vineyard as the Governor smiled at the threat. "On account of you'd be blown to cinder and ash before you got one foot onto the docks," he said, and showed a small detonator in his right hand.
Were it not for the mask, one would have been able to see the smile that crossed Matt's face. Slowly, he lowered his weapons, laughing to himself. "Damn, you are one heartless son of a bitch. I think we're going to get along just fine," he said, waving for the others to come forward.
Joseph whistled low at the group's haggard appearance. "Man, it looks like you guys have really been through the grinder," he said. "I had hoped things might have calmed down out there, that the government would have gotten to work cleaning things up."
Matt shook his head as he stepped onto the dock, no sign of fear in his steps for the one hundred pounds of explosives strapped to the docks. The others followed suit, handing over their weapons and submitting to brief inspections for any bites or scratches. "'Fraid not. Near as I can tell, we may be the last people left alive on the eastern seaboard."
Joseph's eyes went wide, then he nodded, as if the news was something he had expected all along. "So it's that bad, huh?'
Matt only laughed, but the sound was devoid of any humor. "Nope. Bad was months ago. There isn't a word for what it's like now."
After being checked for bites, the group had their weapons and armor returned. Joseph explained that this community, which had been renamed The Live Zone, had one rule: no one went anywhere unarmed. Although it appeared that zombies didn't go into the water, no one was willing to take a chance. A young girl named Cindy had made that mistake, exploring the island shortly after Joseph and the others arrived.
Her father found her just in time to watch the zombie pluck out her eyes like peeled grapes.
Joseph had been a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, and the Governor was an endearing nickname given to him by his students. When the outbreak reached the hallowed halls of the college, many of the teachers and students had joined together, deciding that as a group they'd stand a better chance of survival. There were over a thousand of them, and together, they turned the east wing of the college into a fortress, barricading the doors, gathering food, making weapons and creating their own community.
They were forced to abandon it three days later after one of the students, scratched by a zombie, turned, spreading the plague like wildfire.
Fortunately Professor Corin was a practical man, and had planned for this eventuality. Along with reinforcing the windows and doors, he had a team of students clear a corridor that led directly to the parking lot. Any vehicle that could run was taken, and a line of cars almost a mile long crept along the freeway, the larger vehicles used to push the abandoned ones aside.
Along the way they met other survivors, like Steve Rankin, who barely escaped when his precinct tried to retake his hometown of Norwell. Or Jeffrey Roberts, a softball coach who hadn't said a word since he shot his daughter Cindy in the head.
But the undead hounded them every step of the way. Though not as strong as humans, they were infinitely more persistent. Some nights, he could still remember the sight of Susan Tierney as she was pulled by her hair from a car and torn to bloody shreds. Or Gabriel Morn, who heroically leapt to save his brother after he fell out of the pickup truck he was riding. He crushed his brother's skull rather than see him turn, then dropped the hammer he carried and let the zombies finish him, unwilling to go on living after committing such a foul deed.
Their losses were not in vain. Two weeks later they arrived at the docks. Many more died trying to get to the boats, but in the end, over three hundred survivors stepped onto Martha's Vineyard, their new home, a place where the undead couldn't reach them.
Famous last words.
Jake Marlow and Sara Kern looked up from their roast fish, provided to them by the inhabitants of the island, as Joseph finished his story. It was the first real meal they had eaten in weeks. "How long have you been here?" asked Jake.
"A month, give or take," said the professor. "This place has plenty of food, what with it being tourist season and all. We've got generators so there's power when we need it. Best of all, the zombies don't seem to like the water, or else they would have come here by now."
"And you lead all these people," James Cater asked, tossing the bones from his dinner aside.
Joseph smiled. "Well, it's not a job I wanted, I can tell you that. Leading students through a lesson on the fall of Richard Nixon is a hell of a lot easier than leading them through a zombie-infested wasteland, but everyone here looks to me. I figured it would help keep their spirits up if I let them choose their leader. Besides, I've been called Governor for years. Guess it's fate, eh?"
Officer Rankin walked up to them. "There's a few empty houses at the end of Braskill Road. You can stay there. We've cleared out all the zombies, so you don't have to worry about being attacked."
Joseph smiled with satisfaction. "Thanks Steve. We'll turn the power on for you folks, so you'll have hot water. Looks like you could really use it."
Jake and the other reporters got up, shaking hands with Joseph and Steve. Matt and the others had already left, preferring to scout the area themselves before pronouncing it safe. "We really appreciate your help. For awhile, I thought we'd never find a safe place," Jake said.
"Don't mention it, friend," Joseph replied. "We may be the last normal humans left in the entire nation. We have to do what we can to protect ourselves. You can call this your new home."
As the four left, Steve walked up to the Governor. "I don't trust those four in the body armor. They've been out there too long. They've killed their fair share of people, and I'm not talking about zombies."
Joseph nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, those guys are wound pretty tight, no doubt about it," he said. "We need to keep an eye on them. You saw how they acted on the docks. They weren't just blasting hot air when they threatened to kill us. They could ruin everything."
The house was a Colonial style, two story. Pictures of the family that used to live there, the Halberts, could be seen in the living room. There were five of them, Mr. and Mrs. Halbert, and their three children, the youngest an infant. The infestation had reached the shores of Martha's Vineyard via a sick tourist, and it wasn't long before half the island had become the living dead.
It was a fate Ron Halbert was determine to deny his family. It was clear help wasn't coming, and if it did, they would be far too busy tearing out throats and licking up blood to care once it arrived. Some say his actions were born of panic, others insanity, but whatever the cause, Ron Halbert decided death by his hand was better than those of a zombie.
After saying a prayer to a God he was sure had fallen asleep at the switch, he put a bullet through the heads of his family, including his six-month old daughter Olivia. He put the gun to his own head, then dropped it, instead running outside to let the undead feast on his flesh.
He didn't deserve to die so easily, he told himself.
One room was covered with posters of singers and basketball players, while the other had a noticeably more feminine motif. Pop stars and actresses were the hobbies of its previous occupant.
Sara looked into the rooms, tears rolling down her face. Her daughters' rooms looked like this, and the sight brought back a torrent of memories, ending with a sharp bang and a bitter silence.
Jake walked up to her, placed a hand on her shoulder. Sara turned and buried herself in her husband's arms. The two sank to the floor, their anguished sobs echoing off the walls.
Outside, Matt watched the town from the house's roof. There were lights as far as the eye could see. Laughter could be heard, and there were children running through the streets. A dog could be heard barking in the distance.
"Feels kinda alien, don't it?" asked Ron.
The two still wore their body armor. Even in this sanctuary, neither felt comfortable without it. Ron lit a cigarette and took a slow drag, breathing out the smoke with a casual air.
"I've gotten so used to moans and wails, the sound of tearing flesh," Matt said. "It sounds like wet rubber when it tears."
"Thanks, that was worth revisiting dinner," Ron replied.
"Still would be a sight better than the slop we've eaten so far," said James as he joined the others. Ron passed him a smoke and soon the smell of burning nicotine was heavy in the air. "At least here we're safe."
Matt turned to look at him, and James realized he had made a crucial mistake. "Actually, it's as far away from safe as possible."
James was dumbstruck. Isn't this what we were looking for? What all those people died for? We wanted a new home, he thought. The fist which knocked him flat revealed he'd accidently turned those thoughts into words.
"An empty home! One without people, you stupid fuck!" Matt shouted. "It would be better if this place had a million zombies than one stinking human."
"With zombies, you know where you stand," Ron said, stubbing out his cigarette and lighting another. "You know how they move, how they react, how to kill them. But people, living, breathing people, they're different."
"Humans are cunning, sneaky, vile, and would slit your throat if it meant they stayed alive for one more minute," Matt said, waving his hand to encompass the entire town. "You can't predict what they'll do, and this bunch, they've got a nice little thing going here. They may welcome us, but that doesn't mean we're welcome to stay."
Matt summed up the situation succinctly. "Safe? Not hardly. This little stub of land is the most dangerous place on the planet. If we stay here we're all going to die."