The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 33: Insomniacs
Night had fallen on the reclaimed city of Boulder, Colorado. As he had since arriving five days ago, Michael Rayanson spent the night wandering the streets alongside Ron Bern. The two had long since divested themselves of the body armor they had worn when they arrived at the city, drawn by the mysterious message of the city's new leader, Jason Stradd. Still, they were uneasy removing the mantle, and so every night they walked the streets, on the lookout for any signs the undead had found a way to penetrate the walls of Boulder.
So far, they had encountered none, instead seeing the happy and relieved faces of the city's inhabitants, more than two thousand and counting. In the past, the tension and fear of those in The Graveyard was like a cheap cologne, but here, only the scent of serenity and joy could be detected. In a way, it reminded him of Martha's Vineyard, which was why he was sure such peace had a short expiration date.
But in Boulder, there was a difference. On the island, the peace and happiness was a thin layer over a core of fear, fear that wouldn't go away, fear that the water surrounding them would do nothing to stop the dead should they turn their rotted eyes their way.
It was a fear that proved valid in the end.
But here, Michael sensed no fear. The joy here went deep, down to the people's souls. They truly believed they were safe, that at long last, the days of running and nights of hiding were over.
Michael found himself wishing for some sort of incursion, if for nothing more than to relieve the boredom.
Ron seemed to sense his companion's unease. "If you want, I can start a fight with one of the guard, give you a head to crack."
Michael laughed but shook his head. "No, I don't get much satisfaction pounding on the living, unless we're talking about Officer Chickenshit," said Michael. "Besides, you don't need my help to take these losers."
Ron shrugged. "Never said I would," he said looking at the figures patrolling the walkways attached to the walls. "Doubt these Nancies ever spent more than a week in The Graveyard."
The two turned a corner, and were nearly run over by a group of eight teenagers. Four girls, four boys, each couple holding hands, laughing like they were on spring break. The two former zombie killers watched them run off, looks of bewilderment on their faces.
"Okay, did we just cross into some alternate universe where the dead didn't rise and start eating people?" Michael asked.
"They're just trying to forget what's going on outside these walls," Ron replied, pausing to light a cigarette. It was a habit he carried for years, and was forced to drop after The Great Exhumation. But in Boulder, smokes were in large supply. "Same nonsense we saw in Martha's Vineyard. They want to believe they're safe more than anything, and if they have to slip on a pair of blinders and play pretend, then that's just what they're going to do."
Deep in the subway tunnels of the city, Jason and his undead brother Daniel kept to the shadows, learning all they could about the city, this supposed island of safety in a sea of death. Jason leaned around a corner, watching a pair of guards as they left a subway station, no longer needed for trains, but a perfect place for storage.
Even if that storage was the walking dead.
He turned back to his brother, shaking his head in confusion. The two had been on the road for weeks, after Jason had discovered his brother had been infected, yet still in control of himself, and more importantly, the hunger that coursed through his veins. They had traveled aimlessly, until they heard Stradd's message, and made their way to Colorado. Seeing the soldiers capturing the dead, the two did some role-playing, joining one of the capture teams as they entered the city, sneaking off to the tunnels once they were inside.
"Why do they keep capturing zombies and bringing them inside?" asked Jason. The pens nearby were teeming with dead, over three dozen. Why they caught them remained a mystery, but it was one he was determined to solve.
Daniel stood still, head cocked to one side, listening to the moans coming from the cages. "Sad….scared," he said in a gravelly voice almost devoid of any emotion.
"Since when to zombies get scared?" Jason asked.
"Minds….changed, but….still human," Daniel said, and Jason could see how his brother strained to form the words. "Hunger….controls them….but they….still feel."
"So what are they scared of?"
"Can tell….humans….want to…hurt them," Daniel replied.
"So they're catching these things just to kill them?" Jason said.
Daniel turned to his brother, and the look in his eye said Jason's use of the word "things" had been a mistake. "Sorry, bro, but it's a good question."
"Yes….they don't know….but one….thing for…sure."
"What's that?" Jason asked.
Daniel turned back in the direction of the pens. "If it scares….the dead….it can't…be good."
Nighttime also found Addie traversing the streets, trying to make sense of what brought her here. She had managed to safely cross the sealed Canadian border, along with her lover Tyrone and the unborn child she had carried in her womb. Weeks later, they had established a good life together. Their young son, Matthew, had been safely born, and no one knew they were refugees from The Graveyard, a crime punishable by death, or worse, expulsion back into the land of the dead.
They had achieved something unthinkable in this world. Safety, a new life where they could focus on the mundane things: grocery shopping, sending their son off to school, growing old together. But she had heard Stradd's transmission, and suddenly that wasn't good enough anymore. She suddenly craved a chance at redemption, to wipe her soul clean of the since she had committed to earn this new life.
She had abandoned her lover, her baby boy, to come here, make a difference, save some lives, prove to herself that she wasn't as cold and unfeeling as the undead around her.
But the people here didn't need saving. They had soldiers, walls, weapons. They didn't Addie.
So why was she still here? Her camper was refueled and repaired, waiting in the nearby auto shop. She could leave anytime she wanted.
Why was she here?
"Damned if I know," Addie muttered.
Jason Stradd surveyed the city from his top-floor penthouse, formerly the property of a Fortune 500 software company executive. Where the man in question was now was no concern of the current owner, and were executive to attempt to reclaim his home, he'd likely be fed to the howling ghouls outside the city's walls.
People like that were the reason the United States had fallen in the first place. Fat, power-mad maggots, content to feed off the masses, while ordinary civilians, good, God-fearing Americans stared to death in tenement housing and cramped apartments.
Insects, all of them. This country needed a leader like Stradd. A true American, a true soldier. Only he could save them.
And save them he would.
Frank Tiball, his second-in-command, approached the new leader of Boulder carefully, wary that he might interrupt his leader's reverie. Stradd turned to Tiball, a quiet smile on his face. "Report. What news from below?"
"Well, Jason," Tiball began, cut off almost immediately by Stradd.
"Call me General Stradd, from now on, Colonel Tiball," Stradd said. "We need organization if we're going to survive, and that starts with establishing rank, letting all know who is in charge."
"Yes, sir, I understand," said Tiball.
"Now then, colonel, give me your report."
Frank glanced at the papers in his hand. "We've seen the number of refugees drop off as of late. Yesterday we only had thirteen new arrivals. The scouts are reporting fewer and fewer uninfected."
Jason resumed looking down the window. "Not enough, it's not enough," he said.
"Sir, if I can suggest something?"
"General Stradd, sir," Stradd said, ice coating the words.
Tiball hesitated for a moment, used to being Stradd's confidante, his right-hand man. Though Stradd was clearly in charge, Tiball had always thought of them as equals. Apparently, those days were over. "Right, General Stradd, sir, can I make a suggestion?"
"Of course, colonel."
Tiball straightened his shoulders before he spoke. His suggestion was not one his friend would like, but it needed to be said. "Maybe it's time to shut the gates, close the city off from the rest of the world. As long as these doors can open, we're at a disadvantage. We've got over two thousand people here, enough to start anew. Why risk things by sending our troops out every day?"
Stradd took his time responding, and Tiball knew he was angry. But when the newly-minted general of Boulder turned around, he had a broad smile on his face.
"Tell me, colonel, what happens if we seal the gates?"
"We keep anyone else from getting in. Including the undead and any bandits and criminals. We've heard reports of gangs and thugs turning towns into their own kingdoms. We close the gates, they can't get in."
"And we can't get out," Stradd said, striding closer to Tiball.
"Yes sir, that's correct, but it affords us an added security measure. No doors to open means one less way to get in."
"But again, colonel, we can't get out," Stradd said. "And we are getting out, and soon."
Frank paused. "Sir?"
Jason's hand swept the panoramic view of his window, which took up one entire wall of the penthouse. "Do you think a couple city blocks were the extent of my plan? No, my old friend, we've got an entire country out there. A country bloated and fat on liberal slop and unfettered capitalism, a country that got exactly what it had coming. A country ripe for reshaping, into the perfect American nation. This is the opportunity we've been waiting for, and I will not pass it up."
Stradd turned back to the window. "Double the scout patrols," he said, not bothering to look at his colonel. "Get as many refugees as possible. We need an army capable of sweeping The Graveyard from coast to rotted coast. That's an order."
Frank stood there, unable to speak. Yes, they had spoken of reclaiming The Graveyard, but he had always assumed that to be a pipe dream, never to be taken seriously. And using the refugees as soldiers? They wouldn't last five minutes! Everything they had worked and suffered for would be wiped out, and for what?
Stradd eyed his colonel coldly, and Tiball found his voice "Yes sir, General Stradd, sir," he said weakly. "I'll see to it."
Tiball turned to leave, but Stradd's voice stopped him. "Colonel, how go the roundups?"
Frank had to look at his reports, so shocked was he by what Stradd had just said. "Well sir," he stammered out. "We've collected 40 undead so far."
"Excellent," the general said. "And the dissidents we've identified?"
The dissidents were residents of Boulder who, though grateful for a safe place to live, had openly spoken of their desire to form a government, something Stradd was less than happy to hear. "What of them, sir?"
Stradd turned to Tiball, and once again he flashed that cold smile. "Gather them up at once and prepare them for the arena," he said. "It's time the people of Boulder understood that here, there is no authority but mine, and mine alone."