1The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Forty Three: Wave Hello to the Neighbors
Remember the old saying, "so quiet you can hear a pin drop?" It's usually meant as an exaggeration. I mean, when was the last time you actually heard a pin drop? What does it even sound like?
If Michael Rayanson happened to have one as the three supposed traitors to Boulder, Colorado, were led into a cage with a pack of undead, he have the answer to that old adage. Not a word escaped the crowd as they observed the execution. The suspects screamed and fought against the guards, begged the crowd for mercy, for a second chance, for a quick death. Anything but the snarling mass of rotting flesh which awaited them in the cage. It was a death that had no equal. Rayanson scanned the crowd, and saw plenty of smiles on the faces of those who supported Jason Stradd, self-proclaimed leader of the reclaimed city. It was as quiet as a tomb now, but soon the air would fill with cheers. Not for the first time in his life, Rayanson wondered just why he had fought so hard to stay alive in a world that had fallen so far. It certainly wasn't a place he enjoyed.
He rose from his seat, then stopped when he felt the hand of Ron Birm on his shoulder. "Just where the hell are you going?" the older man asked. "Pretty sure the concession stand's closed."
Rayanson shook him off. "I'm going to stop this insanity."
Ron got up to block his friend's path. "You do that, you'll just get yourself killed. There's hundreds of people here and a good chunk of them are on Stradd's side. You try to save the folks in that cage and you're just gonna wind up in there with them."
"So we just leave 'em to die? I thought we were taking that psycho down!"
Ron looked to the stage. The guilty parties were thrown into the cage, the door locked shut. Unwilling to simply lay down and die, the captives tried to break it down, and though hastily put together, the structure was secure. On the other side, two dozen undead were led into the pen, a look of intense hunger on their faces. Two turned to face the ghouls, apparently intending to fight their way out, despite the lack of weapons on their side and the surplus of zombies on the other. The last continued his attempts to break the door down, tears flowing down his face.
"We are," he said to Michael. "But we gotta pick our fight, and strike when we have the best chance to make a difference. Otherwise we just throw our lives away for nothing. I don't like this any more than you do, but we need to let this happen, and hope these folks at least die quickly."
Michael looked to the stage, to the small army of guards surrounding Stradd, then down at his hands. That was all he had, his bare hands against two dozen goons armed to the teeth. A scream caught his attention and his eyes locked on the cage and the helpless trio locked inside. His hands tightened into fists and for a moment it appeared he would rush the stage, and the certainty of his death be damned. He turned to his friends and saw their thoughts clearly on their faces. None wanted to just watch this happen, but they knew there was nothing they could do about it. With a deep sigh, he sat back down, and as he did so he whispered a prayer of forgiveness to a God he was convinced was laughing his ass off at the human race.
Marshall and Jessica stared hard at the approaching undead, hands held tightly together. Before the Great Exhumation, Marshall had been accounts executive at an advertising firm; his wife, a dance instructor. Neither had so much as thrown a punch their entire lives, so it should come as quite a shock to all that this unassuming couple had racked up nearly sixty zombie kills since fleeing Boston once it was overrun by the dead. The couple had fought long and hard to stay alive, braving death on a regular basis as they made their way from one safe house to another. At times they joined larger groups which promised them food and shelter. When those groups were wiped out by the dead or their own fallow greed, they moved on, only killing one of the living when they absolutely had to: being part of an endangered species and all that. When they began to hear rumors of the city of Boulder being restored and later, the repeated transmissions of Jason Stradd, they gathered their meager supplies and began the long, hard trek across the country, making new friends and oftentimes burying them along the way. But these two had a destination in mind, and nothing would deter them.
Time in The Graveyard had turned these soft city-dwellers into survivors, and as the smell of the mobile corpses filled their nostrils, they didn't bother to fool themselves with even a glimmer of hope. This was their end, but at least they would get to die together.
Marshall turned to his wife, holding fast to her hand. "Remember that monster blizzard we had three years ago? The roads were so blocked we couldn't leave. We spent most of the time lying on the couch together, three layers of clothes apiece."
"Makes you pine for the month we spent in Bermuda, huh?"
Marshall shook his head. "Nah, those five days were the best I ever had. Just you and me, nothing else."
Jessica's voice shook a bit as tears rolled down her face. "I wish we had more time."
Marshall kissed Jessica's hand. "We'll have all the time we need on the other side," he said, then leapt into the approaching horde, screaming as he struck one zombie, then another, never stopping, never quitting. The blows weren't enough to fell the ghouls, but they stunned them for a moment, allowing him to hit at them again and again. He moved around quickly, a trick he had learned over the last several months from fighting the creatures on nearly a daily basis. He grabbed one undead and tripped it up, slamming its head into the concrete floor until rotted brains coated his fingers.
Jessica was next, kicking out the legs of one ghoul and bringing her foot down on its skull, caving in the rotted bone, splattering its brains. She turned to the next, a thin girl, its feathery hair thick with clotted blood. She grabbed it by the skull and smashed it against a wooden post. The creature fell to the ground, whatever force that kept it going suddenly cut.
A splitting pain ripped through her shoulder as a zombie tore out a chunk of flesh. She fell to her knees as blood poured from the wound, and it was then she noticed her husband's cries had stopped. She looked for him, and her eyes fell on a pile of six undead, fighting amongst each other over Marshall's lifeless body. The ghoul who bit her advanced and Jessica swept her feet, knocking it to the floor, and with a savage strength borne of sadness and anger, snapped it neck.
Jessica ran to the razor-wire cage and looked hard at Jason Stradd, who flashed an arrogant smirk back at her. "You'll get yours, you soulless son of a bitch!" she screamed as the undead closed in. "But you won't get me!"
With that, she dragged her neck across the razor wire, slitting her throat. She died before hitting the floor, but the undead aren't terribly picky. They swarmed over her, ripping open her skin, devouring her internal organs and muscles, stripping her bones bare.
Samuel, the last of the three, watched this with a horror that knew no depth. The entire time the couple had fought, he had furiously tried to escape, but the door held fast no matter how hard he fought. As the remaining zombies closed in, he found himself posing the same question many do when facing their end.
Five minutes after the ghouls began feasting, he had his answer. It was yes.
Jason Stradd watched all this with a look of supreme satisfaction, and indeed he did feel satisfied. All his plans were coming to fruition. The city was his, and soon, the entire state of Colorado would be reclaimed and renamed in his honor. From there, he would send his soldiers out into The Graveyard to rebuild this nation, make it strong once more. The kind of country the rest of the world would fear. He had seen how the United States had been abandoned, and he knew exactly why this had happened. This was not a country which was feared; it was mocked, mocked and abandoned like so much garbage. Frankly, he didn't blame the other nations for what they had done. America had grown soft and weak, and some trimming of the fat was just what was needed. Those remaining were strong, they were survivors, and they were the perfect ones to bring this nation out of the ashes.
Of course, Stradd was no fool. Fools didn't make it as far as he had. He knew there were many in Boulder that opposed his plan, those that thought it was madness. But he would make them see: he would make them see that he was a genius or they'd be used for zombie bait. Either way, he won.
And in the end, that was all that mattered to him.
As the last of the traitors was torn to shreds, the crowd—those not crying or staring in shocked silence-broke its moratorium on reactions with a flood of cheers and applause, showing their approval and begging for more. He knew his officers were watching those not applauding, but he made sure to take note himself. After all, a leader not aware of potential traitors had no business leading in the first place.
He turned to his second-in-command Frank Tibalt who was watching the massacre with a mixture of disgust and fascination. "Not a bad reaction, eh?" he said. "We should do this every week. We have plenty of potential traitors to choose from."
Frank visibly swallowed before answering. "Yes sir, the crowd certainly seems to be enjoying themselves. But I think this may deter anyone from committing treason."
Stradd waved the comment aside. "No matter. We've compiled a considerable number of reports on those who don't support my expansion plans. Once a traitor, always a traitor. We'll weed them out eventually, and the survivors will be stronger for it."
Tibalt could only stare at the man he had followed for so many years. Weekly executions, even if there were no guilty parties? Weeding out traitors? Granted, he agreed with Stradd that the country had been horse-fucked by those who were elected to lead it and yes, a change was needed, but more and more it seemed that Stradd had checked out, and a new, more unbalanced man had noticed the vacancy sign and made himself at home. And by more unbalanced we mean nuttier than a shithouse rat.
But while these and other unpleasant notions were processed by Tibalt's brain, he noticed a young man running toward him with an expression of pure, unbridled terror on his face. He nearly ran headlong into the podium. "Sir...out there...tons of them!" he screamed, furiously pointing from whence he came.
The expression on Stradd's face promised a long and agonizing end involving a slow roast if the kid didn't get to the damned point. "Son, just what in the hell are you babbling about?"
The young man continued pointing in a seemingly random direction. "Sir, they're out there! They're at the damned walls!"
Stradd looked out to the crowd, worried that they might have noticed the commotion on stage, but their attention was riveted to the cage, where the undead were lapping up the remains of the three "traitors."
"OK son, just who the hell is here?"
The messenger began crying, tears pouring down his face. "The dead," was all he said before collapsing in a heap, his body racked by sobs of fear.
They were spread out as far as the eye could see. Zombies. The walking dead. Ghouls. Tens of thousands of them, covering the land surrounding Boulder. They didn't make a sound. Not a moan, nor growl, nor road of hunger. None reached for the survivors, but it was obvious they knew they were there. They were all looking straight at the city, no doubt smelling the fear coming off the mobile smorgasbords huddling inside. And speaking of smells, one could hardly help but notice the ungodly stench that filled the air; that delectable scent of so many rotting bodies in various stages of purification.
But even worse than the smell, no small feat, was the sight of the undead, a twisted mirror of the humans now staring at them. Though the clothes they wore were faded and tattered from exposure and the elements, they could still recognize the uniforms of policeman, doctors, and soldiers. They saw the latest fashions being worn by the undead, though they were far from catwalk-worthy. They saw some dressed for warmer weather, others bundled against the cold. There were Girl Scouts, nurses, priests and rabbis, truckers and bikers. All united together in their desire to pick their teeth with the bones of the living.
Jason Stradd looked out upon all this and smiled, his expression one of sadistic glee and giddy anticipation. He turned to his lieutants, who either shared his joy or wished they were a thousand miles away from this nightmare.
"Sound the call to arms," he said. "Looks like we've got a war on our hands."