The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 17: Moving Day
Dawn broke over the low gray clouds. There was a heavy mist of the air, and it took some time for the sun's rays to break through, like slogging through a thick, muddy field.
Matt awoke with a start, fumbling for his guns and blades before realizing there were no zombies to kill, no imminent threat. It had been decided, at least as far as Matt was concerned, that they should take turns on watch, and he cursed himself for falling asleep.
Though they were supposedly safe, Matt had trouble adjusting to the concept after being on the run for so many months, snatching a few hours sleep here and there, and generally being scared out of his mind the rest of the time.
He exited the front door of the small suburban home that had been offered to them, still wearing the bomb squad armor he had found months ago; the officer that had worn it was long dead. Matt had seen to that personally. Twice.
Even in the early hour, people were up and moving. Down the road he saw a large garden being tended to. Without regular deliveries from the supermarkets, produce was harder to come by, and the people of Martha's Vineyard were growing their own.
Some of the gardeners looked toward Matt and waved cheerfully, as if he had been a neighbor of theirs for years. Matt waved back, though nervous. He kept looking around for zombies as he had done in the past, his hand never straying too far from his weapons. It was October, and the first signs of fall were starting to show; leaves were turning color, and Matt heard the soft chitter of birds, the wind blowing through the trees. Soon winter would be here, and with it the cold. A part of his mind wondered how the group would survive without heat.
As he walked down the street, he saw more signs of life. At one home a woman was doing laundry on an old-fashioned washboard. At another a family loaded movies, video games and other examples of humanity's greatest achievements into a wheelbarrow that was brought down the street and dumped into a small pit.
It was interesting, he thought, without electricity, how obsolete these pillars of our lives had become. Ipods, televisions, computers, they were nothing more than garbage; food and weapons had become the new essentials of our world.
Steve Rankin, the former police officer, was walking down the street, checking in with the residents. He spotted Matt and gave him a wave, the gesture not exactly overflowing with friendship. "Sleep well? he asked.
"Not used to being able to sleep," Matt responded.
Steve gestured to the bomb squad armor Matt still wore. In this quiet suburban community, he looked incredibly out of place. "You don't have to keep wearing that, you know. Haven't had a single undead sighting since we cleaned this place out. It can't be comfortable wearing it all the time."
Matt shrugged. "You get used to it," he replied.
Rankin's mouth tightened into a line. "Look, that question wasn't out of concern for your comfort. People are starting to get worried seeing you and your friends all dolled up like that. They think something bad's going to happen. Do you know how good it feels to see your children sleep at night without giving them a gun in case a zombie comes in through the window? This place is peaceful, and while the Governor may be okay with you being here, I'm not so keen on the idea, not if it means we go back to dying of fear one by one or eating our guns."
Matt laughed, the sound hollow coming through his mask. "Well don't you worry. Soon as we resupply, we'll be gone, and you can go back to living in your little bubble. Being in one place for any length of time is suicide when zombies are involved, and you'll learn that real soon, I bet."
Steve's hand drifted down to the police-issue 9-millimeter at his belt. "Trust me, we've had plenty of experience dealing with zombies. Just because we've been fortunate to go a few months without doesn't mean we've forgotten how."
For a moment neither man said a word, and onlookers began to worry that a fight might break out. But Matt only laughed and turned away, walking down towards the docks.
The sight that greeted him was a shock to say the least. As Matt rounded a corner, he saw teams of men tearing the boats to pieces, hacking at them with axes or shattering the planks with sledgehammers. The wood was being piled up and carted back into town. Matt saw a team of four people advance toward the boat he and his group had taken from the Cape. Before he could overtake the group, no doubt with a good amount of bloodletting and a noticeable lack of explanation, Joseph Corin laid his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"Don't worry, son, you're boat's not on the kindling list today," he said.
"Just what's going on here?" Matt asked.
"Well, winter's not too far off, and we'll need firewood to keep warm," Corin replied. "Unless you happened to bring a power plant with you."
Matt watched as the team moved past his boat and began work on another, shattering the hull and slicing the timbers. He looked on with wry amusement, his lip curling in a sarcastic sneer. "You realize cars can't drive underwater."
"Last time I checked,' replied the old man.
"So how do you propose we get out of here if the undead decide to pay us a visit. Swim?"
The Governor smiled. "You now what your problem is?"
"I'm the one here with an ounce of fucking sense?" Matt retorted.
The Governor laughed. "Your problem is you're too used to being afraid," he said. "You've been on the run for so long that the thought of finding a safe place to live scares the hell out of you."
"That might be because there's no such thing," Matt said. "You've been lucky: you managed to find a place where the zombie don't outnumber you ten million to one, and you've allowed yourselves to get fat and complacent. When those things realize where you are, they'll be here in force, and while you're dying by the truckload me and mine will be long gone, safe in our fear. You say I'm too used to being afraid, but the fact is that's the safest way to operate."
"Look around you," Matt continued, spreading his hands to encompass the area. "This is as good as it's gonna get, and even this won't last forever. You think things are ever going to go back to the way they were? You think those creatures are just going to disappear some day and the lights will go back on? Not gonna happen old man. This is The Graveyard, and people like me are the ones who'll survive."
Joseph hanged his hand, as if he felt sad for the young man. "Son, let me tell you something, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart. If being like you is what it takes to survive, then I'd like you to bury that axe of yours in my heart right now, 'cause I can't live like that. There has to be hope, or else where does that leave us?"
Matt smiled inside his mask. He pointed to the ground. "Right here."
With that he turned and left the docks, left the men and women working happily, singing songs as they turned their only means of escape into kindling. As he returned to his home, he passed Officer Rankin, who smiled at the young man.
Matt flipped him off, not breaking stride for a second.
Inside their new home, Kaitlin Comeau and Sara Kern were hard at work cleaning up. The house had not been used in some time, and was in need of some industrial-strength elbow grease. As she shook dust from the sheets, Kaitlin stopped folding shirts and began laughing to herself.
Sara looked up. "Something amusing about the laundry?"
"No, it's not that," Kaitlin said, pausing to wipe a tear from her eye. "I just can't remember the last time I did this domestic shit. Cleaning clothes, getting the beds made. Isn't that stuff reserved for places not overrun by the living dead?"
"Like Joseph told us, this isn't one of those places," Sara said. "I can't believe we have clean clothes for once. Those rags I was wearing were smelling so bad I thought they were going to stand up on their own."
No one spoke as they continued going trough the clothing. It was Kaitlin that broke the silence, although both would have preferred to remain quiet.
"So are we staying here or not?"
Sara frowned, and Kaitlin could see the indecision on her face, the two arguments warring for supremacy in her mind. Apparently they struck a truce, for when she spoke, her words were a mix of possibilities.
"To be honest, I'm not sure, hon," she said. "Jake and I want to stay, that's for sure. We just can't stay on the road anymore. It's been too hard for us. Roger, Marcus, the girls..." she stopped, choking back a sob.
Kaitlin laid a hand on her shoulder. "I know, I know. I'm looking forward to sleeping on a real bed, myself. There's a lot of good people here. Especially that cop, Steve."
Sara smiled. Kaitlin was known for almost always having someone to hold hands with. It was natural she'd be looking for someone now that there was someone to look for.
"But what about Matt and the others?" Kaitlin asked.
"That's the whole point," Sara replied. "We won't need them here. Even if the zombies do come, we'll have all these people here to protect us."
"Fat lot of good they'll do."
The two women turned to see Matt standing in the doorway. In any other time, the sight of someone in a uniform like his would imply arrests were soon to follow, or at the least some broken bones.
"It won't come to that," Sara said. "Don't you get it? We've been here for a week and not one zombie has been seen. The dead can't get us here. For the first time since we started this trip we've found a place that is completely safe."
"Death can get you anywhere you go," Matt said. "And this tourist trap will be no different."
Sara raised her hands in mock surrender. "Fine, fine, whatever you say. If this place pisses you off so much, then leave. No one's forcing you to stay, but I gotta tell you, if you do leave, you'll be traveling alone."
Matt turned to see Jake, Michael, Ron and Jon on the steps leading to the second floor of the house. His friends had taken off their armor, and now wore the clothing of civilians. If Matt didn't know any better, he'd swear they were ordinary people.
"What the fuck are you doing? Put your armor back on, now!" he shouted, a part of his mind aware of how foolish he sounded.
He ran through the house, searching for the bomb squad gear that had become so saturated with gore that the stains refused to be washed out. The others watched him, looks of concern and fear on their faces.
"The zombies could be here at any time!" he screamed, looking out the window as if the undead were on the front porch. "Get your weapons!"
Michael grabbed his old friend by the shoulders to stop him. "It's over, man. We've been traveling for a long time and we're all tired. Tired of running, tired of killing, tired of never knowing if this sunrise will be the last ones we see as human beings."
"Ron, please tell me you're not buying into this paradise shit," Matt said, his voice almost breaking.
"Michael's right, son. We've been on the road for a while, and I've been proud to travel with you, and prouder still to fight by your side. But we all knew this would end sooner or later. Hell, you know the only reason Marie went with us was because of our promise to find a safe place. She was scared of us, of the paranoia we represented. That damn armor, it's become our coffin. I just want a place where I can rest my tired bones without having to keep a gun under the pillow."
Matt looked to Jon. "C'mon man, don't tell me they got you fooled too."
"Fooled with what? Fresh food, a real bed, safety we can't find anywhere else? Matt, this place is the real deal, why can't you see it?"
Matt stared at his gloved hands, turned and saw his reflection in a hallway mirror. Among the others, he saw how alien he looked. Out there, in the Graveyard, he was a soldier, an eternal sentry against the undead. Here, he was a relic an example of the fear and paranoia that had become so essential to survive, that which people wanted more than anything to escape.
Matt looked around at the others, and saw pity in all their eyes.
"We've talked it over, and we've decided to take the Governor up on his offer," said Jake, the words sounding like a death knell to Matt's ears. "We're going to stay. You're more than welcome to stay with us. If you want to leave, we won't stop you, and we'll get you all the supplies you need. But make no mistake, you will leave alone. There's nothing for us back there."
Matt thought back to the time he left the others back at the office in Marshfield. He remembered the night like it was yesterday. It took him eight tries to go out the window, he was so scared, and when he started the car, the engine's quiet sound was like an cannon salvo in his ears. He sped down the suburban roads, dodging wrecked cars and running over wrecked bodies, his hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly he thought he would snap the bones.
Now, here he was, back in the same position; he wanted nothing more than to leave, and once more fear kept him rooted to the spot. Fear of what lay out there beyond the safety of the waves. Fear of moans, fear of teeth.
Matt looked out the door, toward the docks, where the sounds of boats being demolished could still be heard. The setting sun cast an orange glow on the clouds, and the sounds of birds could be heard as twilight approached. He looked back at his friends and sighed.
"Fuck it," he said. "I don't even know how to pilot a boat, so I guess I'm fucked either way."
That night was a night of firsts for the refugees from the Graveyard. It was their first night in their new homes, the first night they spent feeling like everything was going to work out for the best.
It was also the first night Matt took off his armor.
He looked at it, a black Kevlar suit stained with blood, entrails and brains. The others had stowed theirs in the attic, and as Matt closed the door, he felt a weight come off his shoulders, both figuratively and literally.
Michael smiled as he watched his friend descend the stairs to the attic. "Feel better?"
Matt stared at Michael as if he had just grown a third head. "Are you fucking kidding me? I'm scared out of my mind. I'm guessing we're not boarding up the doors or the windows."
"Fuck. Well, I guess when the undead rip our throats out we won't have to wonder how it happened."
"Yo can go ahead and say I told you so," said Michael. "Good night, man."
"Who's standing watch tonight?" Matt asked.
Michael stopped and turned, a smile on his face.
"Oh, right. Safe. I forgot," said Matt. "See you in the morning."
Matt stood by the window in his room, his eyes on the town. Candle and firelight shone out of several windows, and a few electric lights lit up the night, courtesy of the island's generator. Matt was gratified to see some guards on patrol, but it was the other sights that had his undivided attention. Children played tag in the moonlight, and in the nearby homes, Matt could see young couples making love. He heard laughter, and for the first time, he could see why his friends wanted so little to return to the hell that the United States had become.
So content was Matt as he got into bed that he didn't notice the slight stink in the air, or the fact that the closet door was open when he knew for a fact he had shut it.