The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 15: This Is My Country
"That'll be $23.57 ma'am," said the clerk, an elderly man with a charming smile.
Addie nodded quickly and handed over the money, not wanting to look the kind grandfather in the face. She was in a small general store in Vancouver. It had been a month since she, her lover Tyrone and companion Joe had made their way over the Canadian border. It had been a long journey, and in the end, half their group was lost getting there, cut down by the soldiers defending Canada.
But that had been the plan all along.
Acceptable losses, Joe had called them. If the soldiers hadn't found someone after all the commotion getting across the border, they would have searched the woods, found them all. He said the others would understand, that his brother Eric, a thin waif of a man who had died crying for his mother, would have agreed with him.
And so Joe went on as if everything were normal. After getting their fake ID's, and a wad of cash Joe had sent to his contact up north when the Great Exhumation had begun, the three started their new lives, lives that had come at a cost that couldn't be measured in simple dollars.
But for Addie, this was as far from normal as she had ever been. Not a day went by that she didn't see their faces in the people around her. Not a night passed that she didn't relive their deaths, heard their pleas for mercy, their screams of pain as they were turned to meat sauce by the soldier's guns.
The elderly man's voice snapped her back to reality. He handed her a few bills and some coins. "Your change," he said, that same charming smile on his face.
Addie took the money, gathered her bags, and turned to leave. As she opened the door, she heard the man call out, "Good luck with the baby."
She stopped at the door, a few tears rolling down her face. Right then and there, all she wanted to do was confess, tell the old man, a kind, gentle man named Nathaniel Arthur who bounced his grandchildren on his knee and told them stories, that she was a refugee from the Graveyard, that she had murdered three innocent people for her freedom. She would be executed for the crimes, but it was a small price to pay if it kept the ghosts out.
But instead, as she had done so many other times, she only muttered a quick "thank you," and left.
Her hand went to her stomach, which had swelled greatly in the past four weeks. Her baby, the life she had saved by giving up three others. Would her child understand? Would it accept the sacrifices that had been made to preserve its life? Would it still love her and call her Mommy? Or would the child curse her and call her a murderer?
Frankly, that would be better, thought Addie as she made her way home.
It was summer in Vancouver, the middle of July, almost three months since the infestation began. Despite the season, the air was crisp and cool, the sweltering heat Addie had expected growing up in Detroit noticeably and thankfully absent. The streets were crowded, the people she passed smiling or saying hello. Addie mumbled a response each time, keeping her eyes to the ground, her head low. Not that she had anything to worry about. Her ID was flawless, an exact replica of the ones given out by the government. It had cost her every penny she had in the world, but she preferred being poor in a human nation than rich in The Graveyard.
She looked off to her right to see a poster put up by the police. It called for Canadian citizens to be on the watch for American refugees, and offered a substantial reward for any that were turned in. The punishment for border crossing was death, or worse, expulsion back to the land of her forefathers.
Along with the forged documents, she and the others had altered their appearance. Addie was now a close-cropped blond with a small facial scar. Tyrone had let his hair grow out and wore a pair of fake glasses. Joe had shaved his head and grown a beard. It had taken some time to get used to the new looks, and more than once Addie had gone looking for her lover only to find him right by her side.
So lost in thought was Addie, she didn't notice the man before her until she bumped into him. She dropped the bag of groceries, their contents scattering across the sidewalk. She looked up, then froze in place.
The man was young, around twenty five years old. His hair was short, a military style cut. But it was his face that caught her, held her like amber.
He was one of the soldiers at the border.
"Sorry about that," said the man, smiling and getting on his knees to gather the food Addie had dropped. "Doesn't look like anything's crushed or broken."
He held the bag out to her, but Addie didn't move. She couldn't. Ever since that night, she had had nightmares about this moment, the moment she would be discovered. A concerned look crossed the young man's face.
"Are you okay, ma'am? You look a little pale," he said.
Her brain screaming like a panicked deer, Addie turned and ran. The man called out to her, but she didn't hear him. All she heard was the gunfire, the screams of the three scared, innocent souls she had left behind. Only this time she was the one being shot, she and her baby. Instead of soldiers, the people shooting were Joe, Tyrone, Eric, Sean and Jessica. Their expressions were ones of gleeful vengeance, as they pumped round after flesh-tearing round into her. Eric, Sean and Jessica screamed at her, calling her a murderer and a traitor.
The people around her moved out of her way as she tore down the street. Some called out to her, while others simply watched as the panic-stricken young woman ran, her face contorted with terror.
And through it all, Addie could only hear the guns, and the accusations of those who trusted her, those whose lives she had traded for her own survival.
Night had fallen when Addie finally stopped running. She was near an old train yard, miles from the apartment she shared with her companions. Fear still gripped her, and despite the illogic of the concept, she knew the soldiers were at her home. Tyrone and Joe were likely dead, and she a wanted felon. She couldn't go home. She wouldn't go back.
The clatter of a rock on the tracks caused her to turn. Her police training took over, and she dove for the ground and rolled into a crouch, a large stone in her hand. Whatever happened, she would not go down without a fight.
But it wasn't soldiers or the police waiting for her. A small boy, no older than twelve, lay under the train. His clothes were torn and dirty, his face gaunt with hunger. Addie advanced on the child, her survival instinct completely in control. He had seen her. He would tell others. They would come for her. This could not be allowed. The boy saw the stone and whimpered with fright.
Perhaps it was that sound, or the resemblance the boy had to Addie's long-dead brother. Whatever the cause, rationality and logic finally broke through the barricade of panic and Addie dropped the stone, fell to her knees. I was ready to kill a child, she thought to herself.
The boy began to back up, looking for an escape, and Addie found herself diving for him. She wrapped her arms around the boy and held him tight. "I won't hurt you, I won't hurt you, I won't hurt you," was all she said, rocking back and forth.
He boy squirmed loose and vanished among the trains. Addie followed him, desperate not to lose him. Though quick, the boy was unfamiliar with the layout of the yard, and soon found himself cornered.
Addie approached him slowly. Her hands raised to show she was unarmed. "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you," she said, keeping her voice even and pleasant.
"That's what the soldiers said when they came for us. They said we'd be fine, they were just taking us home."
A glint caught her eye, and she saw the small blade in the boy's hand. The look of fear was still on his face, but she could tell he would use the knife if he had to.
"Why did the soldiers take you?" asked Addie, making sure to keep her distance from the child.
"We're not from here," the boy replied, holding the knife out at Addie. "My mom, my dad, my sister and me, we're from Atlanta. When the dead people showed up, dad took us to the border. He said we'd be safe there. He gave us fake names so we could get across. But then the soldiers came, said we didn't belong here. They took us out back and...and..."
"What, honey? What did they do?"
"They killed them!" screamed the boy, tears running down his face, smearing the dirt he had accumulated after so long on the run. "They shot my dad and my mom and Carly. I ran, got away."
Addie slowly moved towards the child, holding out her hand. "It's okay, sweetheart. I'm like you. My friends and I, we came here from America too. I have a fake name, and I had to look different so I wouldn't get caught."
The boy shook his head. "You're lying. The soldier tried this before, but I could tell he was lying. He wanted to kill me."
She knew the answer to her unspoken question, but asked anyway. "What happened?"
"He was a nice man, nice like you, but I could tell he was lying," said the boy, and suddenly the tears stopped flowing, the sadness evaporated. "He told me he would buy me some ice cream if I came with him. I said sure. He was a nice man, but a stupid one."
The boy smiled at the memories he was reliving. Addie felt a shiver go down her back, and suddenly, she wanted to be anywhere but here. Her zombie-infested home looked comforting compared to where she was now. That soldier, the one she had bumped into, where was he?
The boy continued on. "Before we went in, I told him my brother was with me, that he would want some ice cream too. The man smiled and asked me where he was. I pointed to an alley, and he walked down it, calling out for my imaginary sibling.
"I slashed at his legs, dropped him to his knees, than drove the blade into his throat, right up to the hilt," the boy said, miming the movement to show Addie how the soldier had died. "He gurgled a little bit, then didn't say anything more."
That was when Addie saw the blood on the blade. The handle was caked with it. The boy's hands were soaked with crimson, the stains melded with his skin.
His gruesome tale finished, the child backed away, bowing like a stage actor after a successful performance, the kind that brings the crowd to their feet. There was no fear on his face, no hatred, no anger. A cold, calculating mind was at work, one twisted and tortured by this new world. He ducked beneath the trains and was gone.
His last words hung in the air, like an epitaph
"If I ever see you again, you'll wish the zombies had eaten you."
Addie didn't move. No part of her wanted to follow the child. She saw it in his eyes, cold as flint. She heard it in his voice, flat, emotionless, like a soulless doll. This was no scared child. He had killed, and had no compunctions about doing it again.
In his parting words, there was something strange in his voice. The child had no problem killing, and it wasn't because of the lack of remorse he would feel as the blade punched through flesh and the hot blood covered his hands.
It wasn't a lack of remorse.
It was an abundance of joy.
Night had fallen when Addie finally made her way back home. Jim and Tyrone were alive and well. No soldiers had broken down their door. No public executions had occurred. Everything was fine.
In truth, any thoughts of soldiers executing her and her friends were gone from Addie's mind. The apartment could have been crammed full of troops, and she never would have noticed. All she saw was the child, the blade in his hand, the cold gleam in his eyes as he casually told of the soldier's death.
Tyrone tried to hug her, told her how happy he was to see her again, asked where she had been, but she ran to her room and fell onto her bed, sobbing brokenly. What kind of world was this, that could turn an innocent child into a cold-blooded murderer? How many had he killed to stay alive? How many had she?
Was that what it took to survive, killing every day so you could see another?