The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Walls of Jericho
"And as he surveyed his kingdom Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds left to conquer. Well, that's not exactly true, but who'd want to be king of the United Graves of America?"
Jason Stradd looked away from the window of his thirtieth floor penthouse overlooking the recently freed city of Boulder, Colorado. The walls were covered in maps and paintings of famous battles throughout history, many of them liberated from Colorado's own art museums. The room was vast, almost two hundred feet wide. A double line of lit fountains marked a corridor covered in a rich, thick blood-red carpet that let to a crystal desk. Clearly the former occupant, a wealthy real estate mogul now gone the way of all rotted flesh, had been a man of exquisite tastes.
He turned to Frank Tiball, his second-in-command and head of the city militia. "Oh, just thinking out loud, old friend," he said, laughing and clapping his hands together. "Can you believe this? Can you honestly believe this? Because I have to tell you, there are days when I wake up convinced it was all just a great dream."
"But it is a dream, sir," Tiball responded. "This city, it was what we talked about all those nights in the bunker, your plan for rebuilding civilization, a civilization free of those sneaky, backstabbing politicians and bloodsucking billionaires. It was your dream of a free society. And now it's come true."
Jason walked back to the window, taking in the panoramic view of a city resuscitated, reborn from the death and decay of the walking dead. Below, the city teemed with life. Groups of people labored to turn abandoned office buildings into living quarters. In a converted condo once occupied by the privileged few, schoolteachers ran their students through lessons on math and history, though some of these recounts would seem slanted to the outside observer. The hospital, what was left of it after a suicide bomber decided to take the "harbingers of the undead plague" with him, saw to the sick and injured. When night fell, electric lights would banish the dark, letting children fall to sleep without needing to keep loaded guns under their pillows.
"Yes," Stradd said, turning back to Tiball. "Hard to believe, isn't it? I mean, we talked about it, but even I never thought we could actually pull it off. I figured the second we made our move, the black helicopters would gun us down and torch our families."
Tiball shrugged. "Weightier concerns on their minds, I guess."
Stradd laughed again gleefully, jumping in the air like a child at an amusement park. Tiball was right; this city, his city, had been nothing more than a dream for years. He thought it would never amount to anything more than designs and plans on paper.
Thank God for the zombies.
Stradd had long been a conspiracy theorist, believing that every major tragedy in human history was the work of the government as part of their grand design to keep humanity under its boot. Pearl Harbor, the World Trade Center attacks, foreign terrorists, the constant threat of biological warfare, global warming, all of it the work of the men and women in the White House. He had dreamed of a world where all were equal, where there were no lies and those in power worked for the people instead of growing fat off their taxes.
So long as he was the one in power.
When the first reports of the undead began, Stradd and those like him, those that shared his vision, sought safety in his underground shelter, a shelter he had built over the years. The bunker was state of the art: stocked with enough food and water for a small town, and more weapons than a National Guard armory. There was satellite television, and every form of communication known to man, from morse code on up, with enough room for fifty people.
From there they watched the fall of the human race, as the undead hordes took one city after another. When Boulder fell, Stradd saw an opportunity, a chance to make his dream a reality.
With much of the population dead or otherwise relocated, it was a simple matter for Stradd and his men to retake one of the central buildings. From there they fanned outward, taking the city back one block at a time. After the tower had been cleared out, they began broadcasting their message of hope and safety, and the people flocked like mosquitoes to blood.
With more people, the reconstruction of Boulder proceeded at a quicker pace. Anyone capable of handling a gun or an axe was "recruited" for reconstruction work, either clearing the streets and buildings of zombies or getting the utilities back online. It was dangerous work, and more often not there were casualties. Stradd recalled a report of a group of teenagers, who were so gung-ho about having real lives again, that they ran off to clear a small shopping mall. They thought the place abandoned, and proceeded to steal everything that wasn't nailed down.
The first one to die, a 15-year-old named Jeremy, was killed while emptying out cash registers, his throat ripped out by a former mall security guard. The rest were dead soon after, their screams and pleas for their mothers sounding over the radios.
Stradd had always been a smooth talker. It was how he had convinced his friends to live in his bunker, and how he had brought the people back to Boulder. He placated the grieving families, talked Jeremy's girlfriend off the rooftop, and told the people that these kinds of sacrifices were what had made this nation strong, and would make it strong again.
The people cheered, and appointed him their leader, a position he accepted with great modesty and a few tears.
"You see Frank, the key to making a nation great isn't the people, it's the people in charge," said Stradd. "As long as those running things are wise and capable, the rest of us have nothing to worry about."
Frank nodded, waiting for his leader to continue.
"Now then, make your report, soldier," Stradd said.
Tiball pulled out a clipboard, consulting a list of figures. "We've managed to liberate three more blocks, thanks in part to the many refugees that have arrived in recent weeks. Some were lost in the process, however."
Stradd turned to his lieutenant. "How many?"
"And how many refugees have arrived in the last two weeks."
"Two hundred seventy one."
Stradd waved the casualty list aside. "Sufficient losses, then. The important thing is that our city grows, Frank. The more we expand, the more we prove that our government, our world is the right way, the only way. Nothing else matters. Now what about our food and water?"
Frank looked back at his clipboard. "We've raided just about every grocery store in the city. Produce and meat are a little hard to come by; a lot of the stuff had spoiled by the time we got to it. We've converted some community gardens into crops. Even so, the yield's gonna be small, and with so many people here, we might run into shortages soon."
Stradd looked out the window onto the city below. "And our water?"
Frank nodded. "There we're doing better. We've found tons of bottled water, and we may be able to get some of the filters in the treatment plant running. That's still in the Infected Zone, so we're not planning any trips unless we have to, but the scouts report zombie activity is thin."
"And how's morale?"
There Frank paused. Keeping the sprits of the people high was no mean trick when nearly everyone they knew was either dead or eating the living. The city's power came from a nuclear plant heavily infested with the dead, and even if they could get there, few had even the slightest idea how to run it. Therefore, they were limited to using generators to keep the lights going, which meant things like television and video games were rarely used. Even after all this time, it was hard to detach the human race from the technological treasures it had come to take for granted.
But there were other ways to keep the people amused.
"It's...well, it could be better," Frank said. "Suicides have gone down, but every so often we find people hanging from a ceiling fan or dead in the bathtub. They need to be distracted from what's going on outside these walls.
"Isn't that why we have the Games?"
"Yes sir, but they're not as popular as they were when we first had them," Frank responded. "Granted, the Games still draw in the crowds, but people are starting to get bored."
Jason turned to his lieutenant, a thin, predatory smile on his face. "Yes, yes, and when they get bored, a razor blade starts looking pretty friendly. Well then, I guess we'll have to come up with a way to make them more interesting, now won't we?"
"I'll get working on that right away, sir," Frank responded.
A radio at Frank's side squawked. He pulled it free of the clip on his belt, spoke briefly to the people on the other side, then switched it off. "Sir, it seems we have some new visitors."
Stradd's eyebrows raised. "Oh?"
"Yes sir. They said they came from the East Coast. Some were wearing body armor. The sentries said they looked like they had been through Hell, something about finding a government facility overrun, a settlement wiped out."
Stradd smiled. "Interesting. Bring our new friends here. Immediately."
Frank paused. "Here sir? To your quarters. But they're civilians sir, and we don't know for sure if their story is true.."
"I said do it soldier!" Stradd shouted.
Frank saluted crisply. "Yes sir, right away."
As the lieutenant left, Stradd strode back to the window, overlooking his small kingdom. "There's always more worlds to conquer," he said.