The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Nineteen: Frontline
President of The Graveyard.
Not exactly how Alexander Jones had envisioned his presidency.
Then again, the title had a certain air of macabre nobility that he found strangely appealing.
"Mr. President?" called a member of the Secret Service,.
"Yes, Will, what new crisis has occurred in the last few minutes?" responded the president.
"I'm not sure, sir, but the general wants to speak to you."
Alex smiled and made his way to the stairwell. "All right, Will, let's see what new ways Fate has decided to screw us sideways."
The Secret Service agent followed Alex down the stairs, speaking into a mouthpiece as they walked. He was one of the few members of the Presidential security group to make it out of Washington when the Great Exhumation decided to pay them a visit. Now, he, the president, and any other members of the governing body fortunate enough or lucky enough to escape now enjoyed a splendid view of the Rocky Mountains, home of the last refuge of the United States.
When rumors of the living dead began spreading, the reaction was laughter and jokes. Zombie skits were done on late-night talk shows and radio hosts held contests asking for the most ludicrous of the zombie reports.
Can't say we didn't warn them.
Once people realized the rumors were anything but, it was far too late, mainly due to the fact that the realization coincided nicely with people having their throats ripped out.
As one, the population of the United States not yet torn to shreds headed for the hills. Many had no clear direction in mind, only escape. A few had the foresight to "commandeer" a plane or boat, thus escaping the eventual blockade set up by the rest of the world. Most simply picked a direction and ran. Riots broke out as people raided camping stores and supermarkets, and many were killed by their fellow man before the zombies even got the chance. Spoilsports.
Local authorities tried to quell the violence and organize an evacuation, but between the panic of the approaching dead and the single-minded survival instincts that took over, many towns soon found themselves lawless as the police gave up and got the hell out of Dodge.
Like a living wave, humanity fled west, the unliving wave of zombies right behind them. Alex recalled an image taken by a news copter of a line of cars ten miles long on the highway as panicked Americans choked the roads in their desperate flight from the dead. People had nowhere to go, and shelters soon became deathtraps as they were overrun with zombies.
New Washington, as the bunker had come to be called, was located on the far side of the Rocky Mountains, a natural barrier which kept the undead at bay. It was intended to operate as a second capital in the event an enemy army ever got a foothold in the United States. It was large enough to hold all of Congress, as well as several battalions worth of soldiers. It was also supposed to be the best-kept secret of the United States government.
And it was. For about seven minutes and twenty three seconds.
Information of safe houses and military installations was the best form of currency in this new age, and many were willing to part with these secrets for the right price, one with lots of zeros or a healthy anatomy. Once New Washington became public knowledge, refugees flocked to it, demanding entry while they loaded their weapons and readied to take the fortress by force if needed.
In the end President Jones was forced to allow them entry, but not before each person was throughly searched for bites or scratch marks. Several people found to be infected were taken to "decontamination centers," with promises to their families that they would soon return. Somehow, it seemed they always met with disaster just before they were cured. Coincidence, really.
Now, instead of thousands of government officials and military personnel coordinating the efficient counterattack that would save the world the president had a mere shred of the Armed Forces, and too few officers to keep them organized. But there were some bright spots. For the time being the bunker was unnoticed by the dead, and so people were free to go outside. Some enterprising citizens had planted crops nearby to supplement the bunker's supplies. On warm days children played outside with their dogs, and at night people fell asleep to a guitar or saxophone player. If you closed your eyes and tried not to inhale the ever-present stench of death, the new cologne of the Graveyard, you could actually convince yourself that everything was going to be all right.
Alex entered the war room, the heart of the new nation. The army had been fighting a losing battle against the zombies since Maine, at best slowing the ghouls down, at worst strengthening their ranks. Conventional tactics were useless against zombies, and while making a head shot sounded like an easy thing to do, it was far different on the battlefield; hearing the endless chorus of moans coming from a sea of rotting corpses, watching the undead slowly approach you, feeling the rifle shake in your hands as you brought one of the creatures in your sights, smelling the stench of rotting flesh as they drew ever closer, knowing full well that even if you could make the shot, there would be ten more zombies to replace the one you dropped.
Once numbering in the tens of thousands, the soldiers under the president's command were now only twelve thousand strong. Conscription had been attempted, but knowing what they faced, many civilians preferred prison or the firing squad, and the method was soon dropped. With no air support, and limited heavy weapons, few could see how the United States could ever be restored.
General Archibald Transon, the second in command under the president, was the spitting image of Thunderbolt Ross from the Incredible Hulk comics. He was a bulldog of a man with steel-gray hair and a small moustache that quivered whenever the old soldier got mad.
It was quivering now.
"Goddamn it! I said fall back, fall back you idiots!" he slammed the transmitter so hard the plastic casing cracked. The general was known for making innocent victims out of nearby equipment when he was enraged.
"What's happening?" asked Alex.
Archibald turned to salute his Commander-in-Chief, his eyes telling the president that the gesture was nothing more than a formality. "We're losing Colorado, that's what, sir! Intel said undead presence was at a minimum, but a soon as the men got to Boulder they uncovered a nest of the fuckers. Must have been twenty thousand of them!"
"Get them out of there!" said the president.
"Oh, really, gee, I hadn't thought of that," replied Transon, turning back to a screen which showed the battle, or rather, the slaughter of several hundred United States soldiers.
The cameraman on sight swung back and forth, giving the viewer a dizzying panoramic view of the zombies as they tore, quite literally, through the ranks of the troops. Many of the soldiers found themselves surrounded and fought off the undead as long as they could, which in the end averaged at two minutes, three if the creatures decided to take their time. Others ate a bullet rather than be eaten themselves. Officers screamed out orders, but they were either lost in the din of battle or ignored altogether. One captain pulled his sidearm and fired on any soldiers who tried to run and ordered the rest to reassemble and drive the undead back.
The troops didn't hesitate before gunning down the officer and making for their vehicles.
The general swore and crushed the transmitter in his hand, throwing the pieces at the monitor which displayed yet another spectacular defeat. He stormed out of the war room, scattering several minor functionaries as he did. Alex followed, waving off the Secret Service agents, who were sure their boss was about to do something not exactly conducive to a long life.
He found the general on the roof of the bunker overlooking the forests. At this time of the year, which was roughly thought to be October, the leaves were just starting to change color. Ordinarily, this was the time to break out the sweaters and enjoy the early sunsets, but in the Graveyard, fall was just another time of year, and early evenings meant the dead had yet another advantage over the living.
"We can't keep doing this," said the president, keeping a respectful distance from the general.
"And what are we supposed to do?" asked Transon. "Hide in our little village here and hope the dead don't come after us? You saw the reports of Safe Haven. Those fuckers are getting smarter. They know we're here. Maybe they won't come today or tomorrow, but they'll be here. We have to take the fight to them."
"Oh yeah, that's working real well," Alex said. "Tell me, is the part where you run away screaming like a little girl supposed to lull them into a false sense of security?"
Transon turned to his superior, and the president felt his hand drift toward the pistol he carried at all times. Ostensibly, it was for protection against the undead, but more and more often, he felt the living would be the ones to give the weapon a test drive.
"You could have ended this a long time ago," said the general, no fear in his eyes as he approached Alex. "One push of a fucking button, and those things would be vaporized."
"Sure, why don't we do that, and give the rest of the world the excuse they've been looking for to wipe us off the fucking map," he replied, the anger clear in his voice. "Do you have any idea how terrified the rest of the world is right now? They've seen the United States of America replaced by the Graveyard and they're terrified it could happen to them. They see we still have the capability to lob nukes around and they won't hesitate to turn us into a memory."
Archibald smiled, and it was here that Alex tightened the grip on his handgun. "Then maybe we shouldn't be aiming our weapons at ourselves. Maybe it's time we found a new place to live."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" asked the president, although he already knew the answer.
"I've been thinking about this for a long time, and it's the only answer that makes sense. We've been fighting all this time to gain back one inch of ground, and for what? To lose it the next day to the walking dead. We don't even know if the rest of America is safe to live in. People could become infected if they try to drink the water, or plant crops in the soil. What we need is a new home, where the American people can make a fresh start."
"You mean invade another nation?" Alex laughed, although in truth he had pondered the idea himself once or twice, when he drank too much or spent too much time looking at the casualty list. "You're out of your fucking mind. You want me to lead what's left of our people into a war against another country."
"Yes, and what's more, we could win!" said Transon, talking excitedly. "We've got a secret weapon that none of them could stand up against."
"And what's that, your blithering psychosis?"
The general smiled again, like a child sharing a secret with his best friend. "The dead."
"What? How are zombies going to help us? Last time I checked, they didn't exactly pick sides."
"They don't have to," said Archibald. "In fact, I'd like for them to keep their killer instinct."
Jones raised his hand and began to walk away. "You know what? I think I've heard enough. Let me know when there's only one voice in your head, because until you do, you're relieved of command."
The president walked down the stairs, wondering who was left that could lead the troops. Transon may have been at the head of the class when it came to pissing people off, but he was a good soldier, and an effective leader. He had just reached the door when he heard the general call out to him, "the boats."
Alex turned back, the tone in his voice sending chills up his spine. "What boats?"
The old soldier began giggling. "The ones we've been smuggling refugees across the sea in, genius. Let's just say some of the cargo has passed it's expiration date."
"What have you done?"
"Oh, not too much," said Archibald, shrugging. "Just adding a few extra passengers. A few extra infected passengers."
Alex shook his head, not wanting to hear this. "No. We checked them all before we sent the boats out. They were all clean."
"The benefits of a soldier with my sterling reputation," said Transon with a dramatic bow. "Is that you're never questioned. I say add a few more passengers, don't bother checking them, they're clean, and those idiots on the docks just go ahead and do it. They're not infected in any obvious way, just a small scratch here and there, not enough to make them think they're infected, at least not at first. But after a few days, they're as dead as any of those corpses roaming the ol' U.S. of A, and best of all, by the time the boat reaches landfall, so's everyone else aboard. Except the captain of course, a man handpicked by me who knows better than to go running to check on any screaming."
Alex's vision began to swim. The reports he had been getting these past few weeks, of increased attacks in England, Russia, Japan. "You stupid mother fucker!" he screamed. "They'll know where those zombies came from, and they'll turn this whole country into a plate of black glass to stop it!"
Archibald shrugged, as if the possibility of dying in a nuclear fire was too mundane to be concerned about. "I think they have a little more to be concerned about than wasting us. And once they're sufficiently weakened, we can stroll on in, do a little housecleaning and make a new home for ourselves. Even if it doesn't work, I'd rather die fighting for my life than stay here waiting to die, taking orders from a fucking milk baby like you."
"Goddamn you, Transon," said Alex, as he grabbed his pistol and aimed it at the man's head. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"
"Sure. Besides, it was easy," said the general. "Almost as easy a replacing the bullets in your gun with blanks."
Alex squeezed the trigger again and again, as if by willing it he could transform the harmless sound effects into real ammunition. Archibald smiled at him the way a father smiles at a child for trying his best, pulled his own weapon, a Desert Eagle, and blew the president's brains out the back of his skull.
Two Secret Service agents ran up the stairs, but were cut down from behind in a hail of automatic gunfire. Four soldiers walked past the corpses and saluted the general. "Well done boys," he said. "Let the others know Phase 2 is in effect. We know who doesn't need to be here. See to it they find their way out."