The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Eighteen: Changing of the Guard
"How fucking proper," Matt thought as he tied a rag over the bleeding bite wound on his arm. Jake and Sara were right behind him, bringing as m uninfected any people as they could find. "Safe my ass."
The ghouls had come during the night, traveling under the waves and emerging on the beach like a twisted, undead version of Normandy. They rose from the water without a sound, save for some moans and hungry growls that were easily drowned out by the waves and wind. Those unfortunate enough to be on the beaches and docks were the first killed, dragged under a swarming mass of zombies so quickly they barely had time to scream. The patrols, though high in number, had grown lazy and complacent after so many nights without a zombie, and often spent their time joking, playing cards or visiting their lovers.
So much for eternal vigilance.
Martha's Vineyard, once the sight of so many family vacations and school field trips, was now nothing more than a killing field. There was no leadership here; no one knew what happened to Joseph Corin. People ran in all directions, some for the docks, some for the hills, others back to find their friends or loved ones.
Suffice it to say, then population was dwindling fast. At least for the living.
Some decided to fight back. A few had the foresight to take to the roofs, shooting as many zombies as the could. Most simply chose to remain on the ground, facing down the hoards of howling undead, and dying before they could do any real good.
Matt rounded a corner and nearly ran into Michael, who came with Kaitlin and James in tow. He looked at his friend's arm and all the color drained from his face. "Jesus Christ. Matt," he said.
He brushed off his friend's concern. "Yeah, pretty fucking typical ain't it? You guys finally manage to convince me it's safe here and look what happens. At least I get to say it."
"I told you so, motherfucker," Matt replied, laughing.
Michael could only nod distractedly. He kept his eyes rooted to the bite wound, which was already starting to look infected. "Well, not that it'll do any good, but here," he said, handing off a backpack with Matt's bomb squad gear. He wore his own, as did Ron and Jon.
Matt nodded his thanks, shouldering the pack but not putting the suit on. "Come on, we've got to get to the boat. Hopefully those idiots haven't turned it into firewood."
Unfortunately, it appeared that everyone else on the island had the same plan, and soon the group was swept up in a frenzied mob as they made their way to the docks. Jon and James, as well as the people they had saved, soon became separated from the others. The two made their way to a house, climbing to the roof just the undead reached them.
The others continued on to the waterfront, and the sight that greeted them was one out of their most chaotic nightmares.
It seemed like taking a boat was in fact the last thing on anyone's mind. Most of the townspeople simply dove into the water, counting on the zombie's inability to swim to save them.
As Matt so succinctly put it, safe my ass.
One young man, his name lost to the plague, soon found himself dragged under by dozens of rotted hands. He looked around, and saw the faces of over two dozen walking corpses, the dirty water obscuring their features like an old horror movie. As he gasped for air, he suddenly felt pinches all over his body, and as the undead horde began ripping chunks out of his body from all sides, those gasps turned to screams of torment muffled by the water. Looking around, the young man could see other people being dragged under, the water shallow enough for the zombies to reach. Dozens of people were being pulled beneath the waves and torn to shreds, the entire scene playing out in slow motion, gallons of blood clouding the water a dirty red.
He turned away from the gruesome scene, just in time to see the withered, reanimated corpse of an old woman rise up to tear his eyes out.
On the surface, the companions could only see bubbles and a slowly spreading dark red stain, but it was clear what had happened. They ran for the boat, only to find others had already laid claim.
"Back off," shouted a man, one of the group's new neighbors. He waved a butcher knife back and forth.
Without a word, Michael pulled his gun and put a bullet in the man's head. The corpse teetered backward and fell into the water, where it was quickly pulled under and apart by the undead. It reminded Michael of the way his pet goldfish would go after food.
The would-be boarder's companions took one look at the corpse of their leader and ran, taking their chances on land.
Shouts drew the group's attention back to land, where they saw Jon and James' situation had gone south in a hurry. In the chaos and panic of the undead's invasion, several of the homes caught fire, including the one their friends had taken refuge on. The two ran from one side to the other, but the other homes were too far away. Hundreds of undead surrounded them, their howls those of starved animals.
"We have to go back, we have to get them," said Kaitlin, as she prepared to jump off the boat.
Ron tackled her to the deck and pulled back as she screamed and kicked. "Let me go! we can't just leave them!" she shrieked.
"It's too late, darlin'" Ron said.
As the flames ate the timber of the home, it began to sway and crumble. James barely made it off the roof over the front deck before it caved in, the rubble burying several undead. The two looked towards their friends, and in their eyes they told them not to blame themselves.
The house collapsed, and as it did, a pair of gunshots rang out.
Though the air was thick with the sounds of fighting and dying, the group heard nothing as they watched the zombies surge forward through the flames to ravage the bodies of their friends. The creature's flesh sizzled and melted off as the fire claimed them, yet still they went after the succulent morsels, the agony of the flames lost to their bestial minds. Though the din the survivors heard the sound of tearing meat and snapping bones.
Kaitlin sank to the floor, her body shaking with sobs.
A thump turned their attention to the other side of the boat, where they saw Officer Steve Rankin lying on the deck. He was covered in blood and his clothes were torn. A quick check revealed he had not been bitten, however. His breath came in heavy gasps. "The Governor...he's dead..."
"What?" asked Michael.
"We got separated, when I came back to get him he was surrounded. He told me to run, and before I could do anything he pulled out that detonator he carries and blew himself to kingdom come. Musta had four pounds of C-4 strapped to him."
"Christ," said Jake.
Matt holstered his gun and made his way to the pilot house. "Anybody know how to work this thing."
Ron nodded and took the wheel, breathing a heavy sigh of relief when the engine roared to life.
Steve got to his feet, "Wait, what are you doing?" he asked.
"Oh, I thought we'd take a little cruise, maybe head down to the Cape, do a little fishing," said Matt sarcastically.
"They're still survivors there," said Steve. "We need to get them."
Matt put a hand to his chin in an expression of deep thought. "Hmmm, let's see, ummm, no," he said as he released the mooring lines.
Steve got to his feet, hatred burning in his eyes. "You son of a..."
His voice trailed off as his eyes sighted something, or rather someone, on land. The others turned and saw what had captured his attention. An Asian girl, at best sixteen years old, running toward the boat, a legion of undead literally nipping at her heels. She looked back at the zombies, her fear so great tears streamed down her face. At one point she tripped and fell, scrambling to her feet just in time to avoid being eaten.
Steve made to jump of the boat, but Matt stopped him, grabbing his arm. "What're you doing? We can save her."
Matt shook his head. "No, you can't. Not yet, anyway."
It was then that he noticed the bloody rag on Matt's arm. "Jesus, you..."
Matt handed the backpack with his armor to Steven. "They're your responsibility now. Do me proud, officer," he said, and with that, jumped from the boat, running toward the zombies that were chasing the girl.
In any other case, one lone human against an army of zombies would be less than nothing. Here though, the undead broke against Matt's assault like waves on a rocky shore. Wielding two axes, he cut the ghouls down one after another, severing heads and splitting skulls. He moved among them like a ghost, seeming to disappear whenever the undead became too numerous. He screamed like a man possessed, and as Jake watched, he was reminded of the monster Matt had become on the boat when the undead had buried him.
The girl reached the boat, and Steve threw down a rope to her. She climbed up and into the boat, collapsing on the deck, her fear so great she had passed out. He looked back to the shore. "Matt, she's safe, get back here!"
On land, though, Matt only heard his blades whistling through the air, the rotted bones splintering like moldy logs, the snarls of the undead that quickly turned to shattered gasps as they were cut down one after another.
"Come on, you stinking lepers, give me something to enjoy here!" he screamed as he littered the ground with bodies.
Steve grabbed his weapons and prepared to go to the young man's rescue when Michael stopped him. "What are you doing? He can't last much longer!"
"You saw his arm?"
Steve nodded, looking back to the battle apprehensively.
Michael's eyes shone with such sadness as he watched his friend tear through the ranks of zombies. "I want to be out there more than you can know. He's the one who saved me from those things in the first place, gave me a reason to fight when all I wanted was to eat a bullet. If I could choose my death, it would be fighting by his side. But he's doing this so we can survive. I won't waste his sacrifice by doing something stupid and heroic."
He signaled to Ron, who backed the boat away from the docks. Everyone watched, and Steve could see how badly they wanted to join Matt on the beach. Ron gripped the wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. Kaitlin turned away, her face buried in her hands. Jake and Sara watched the shore, not daring to even blink, lest they miss their friend's final moment.
Despite the ferocity of his attack, despite the rage that drove his moves, Matt was fighting a losing battle. Again and again the teeth of the undead sank into his flesh, tearing and ripping like sharks on a dying porpoise. But the pain was merely an inconvenience, the pinpricks of mosquitoes, insects that could easily be crushed. He swung his axes in a wide arc, decapitating five of the ghouls in one swing. When one got to close, he tore out its throat, grinning, chunks of rotted flesh hanging from his teeth.
"Just let me know when you fuckers plan on giving me a decent fight!" he shouted. "You gotta to work for your meal! No free handouts!"
Soon there were hundreds of undead surrounding Matt, the other inhabitants of Martha's Vineyard having joined their ranks. Some came from the burning houses, their flesh blackened and charred. Some were new recruits to the zombie army, sporting fresh neck wounds that still pulsed red blood. The beach was a maelstrom of blood and slaughter. Soon Matt was knee-deep in corpses, unable to escape.
Yet the whole time he wore a smile, his voice tinged with excitement. As far as ends go, Matt wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Suddenly one of the undead sunk its teeth into Matt's shoulder, and he screamed, dropping one of his weapons. He turned on the creature and snapped its neck like a piece of rotted celery. He turned to those on the boat and waved, a final salute to the soldiers fo the Graveyard. Ron saluted, crisp and sharp, while the others waved or cheered him on. As the battle wore on, Matt's shouts lost some of their fury, and as the boat pulled further away from shore, his solo performance was soon drowned out in an undead a capella chorus.
But there was one last note to sound. As the boat turned to make for the Graveyard, a single gunshot sounded, cutting through the moans, snarls and howls.
Matt's last sunrise shone bright and clear, golden rays lighting the clear azure sky.