The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Forty Three: And His Name Was Death
When looking out upon a veritable landscape of the walking dead, several appropriate phrases come to mind.
'Oh God, oh God, we're all going to die.'
'This can't be happening. It's just not fair!'
'Jesus Christ on a carousel, what the hell is that?'
'Please tell me I'm having an aneurysm. No really, I'd much rather have an aneurysm.'
'Hey buddy, feel free to splatter my brains against that wall. Really, I'm cool with it.'
Yes, those choice phrases would be appropriate and in fact, anticipated from the residents of Boulder as they viewed the thousands of mobile corpses that stretched to the western horizon of their settlement. Aside from a few groans and moans here and there, the dead didn't make a sound, leaving the burden on the humans trapped in the city to break the ice. Yet the first phrase to leave the lips of Officer Steven Rankin was most unexpected, and needed a minute to explain in order to place it in the proper context.
The others looked to him, needing no explanation, aside from Addie Mayar, yet at the same time a little surprised to hear it.
"It's just like before. We were all so sure we'd be safe, and the dead came anyway. They came, and they killed us all," he said, his voice lacking focus, speaking more to himself than anyone else. "Just like before."
"Well, it's not quite like before," said Michael Erickson, looking over the scene before them with a sense of an objective observer, as opposed to a woman in mortal danger. "At least we have this wall, and we've got plenty of guns."
Steve turned to face him with an expression of disbelief that she could be so dense. "We had a fucking ocean around our island," he snapped. "Recall how well that turned out?"
Michael shook his head. "No, I remember. Big difference here. Your crew was a pack of fucking idiots, and through Stradd is crazier than a bag of ferrets, you don't retake a city by being the class retard."
"You think that's gonna ensure our survival?" asked the officer.
Michael nodded. "For another five or six minutes, sure."
On a distant hilltop they watched and waited. Three uninfected humans, surrounded by a personal guard of walking corpses. Such a parody. Such an oxymoron.
Such a shitty situation for the fine folks of Boulder.
Dr. Frank Larson, and his colleagues, Drs. Edwin Sanchin and Michelle Yarin, surveyed the fortress that stood before their army. Their army of remote-controlled zombies that had, thus far, carried out their every whim. On more occasions than one would care to admit happened, they had ravaged one human settlement after another, from small groups huddled in RVs to small armies in secure bunkers.
Each time, the living had fought, and each time, they had died, some to become food for the ghouls, others to join their ranks. Each battle was an experiment, with different numbers, conditions and variables.
All to prove some twisted hypothesis that the undead were the next stage in human evolution, superior in every way to homo sapiens. The perfect engine, the flawless creation. Supremely efficient, with no materialistic or nihilistic shortcomings, just move, eat and spread the virus. When viewed through the eyes of a scientist, they were absolutely beautiful, even more so when viewed through crazy-colored glasses.
Larson lowered his binoculars and looked towards his comrades. He had been the first to experiment on the undead, the first to attempt to understand just what made them act the way they did. While the world around him died, he secluded himself in his lab in Maine and conducted experiments sure land him a first-class ticket downstairs when the time came.
The experience left him with a shredded eyeball and a pureed mind, one convinced these creatures were not the disease-infested rotbags that the rest of the world believed them to be. Soon after he left his research facility, convinced that the real answers lay out there in The Graveyard. He eventually made the acquaintance of Sanchin and Yarin-equally brilliant, equally driven, and equally out to lunch. The two were focused on controlling the walking dead, an effort that was completed with Larson's assistance. Using a series of neurological connectors, they were able to construct a hive-mind that brought hundreds, then thousands of ghouls under the control of the three scientists.
Which would be great, assuming they weren't hell-bent on wiping out what remained of the human race.
"How sad," said Yarin, gesturing to the makeshift barricades that impeded the undead hordes under their control. "I doubt they'll provide much sport for the new race."
"Maybe we should level the playing field?" suggested Sanchin. "Remove some of our subjects, make things a little more even. It'd be interesting to see if a small number have the same impact, if it's just the physical presence or the fear that even a few inspire."
Larson made a few calculations in his notebook, then shook his head. "No, we need to maintain consistency with our experiments. We can leave orders to keep a few of them alive so we can conduct psychological tests."
An undead approached the trio, carrying a small battered camcorder. Despite talking their marching orders from the scientists, the undead still had a bare-bones intellect, which made carrying out complex tasks all but impossible. However, "point and press the red button" was a concept that even a remote-controlled corpse could manage.
Larson took the camera and replayed the footage which the rotting tourist had captured, with Sanchin and Yarin watching as well. The zombie had walked among the crowd, capturing footage of the humans on the wall, as well as the defenses themselves, and while none of them sported a West Point ring, the scientists had become good at finding weak spots in their enemy's defenses.
"They look quite angry at us," said Yarin. "I'm not seeing fear on their faces."
Larson snorted disdainfully. "That'll change soon enough, it always does. Right now they're confident they have the advantage, that they're facing a pack of mindless dead."
"This is something new," Sanchin said. "We've never faced a force this large before, and that lack of fear could mean they've got some heavy firepower to back it up."
Larson snapped the camera off and stared hard at Sanchin. Though the three scientists had worked together on their control device, it had been clear from the beginning that Larson was the one in charge. Sanchin was hardly leadership material, and he knew it. From the beginning he had followed Larson's lead, and after all this time, a whipped dog was hardly going to learn a new trick, such as growing a backbone.
"We will topple this monstrosity as we have done to all the others, these monuments to a decadent and outmoded race," Larson said through clenched teeth. "I refuse to back down just because the apes have found themselves some fire-sticks, is that clear?"
Yarin stepped in between the two, trying to bring some calm to the situation. Though more assertive than her husband, she often found herself on the losing end of any staring contest with Larson. She fully believed that the undead were the next step in the human race's evolution, however, she saw it as a gradual one, introduced to a willing population, not forced upon them.
But Larson had firmly established his dominance, and the sad truth was that he knew the intricacies of the devices better than her or her husband, and any attempt to assert control was far too likely to end badly.
"What my husband meant to say is that we could lose several of our test subjects in this battle," she said. "Perhaps we need to rethink our strategy, find a different way to beat them without sacrificing to many."
"I sincerely doubt they'll fall for a Trojan Horse," Larson replied sardonically. "No, these people are cunning. You don't survive this long and fortify yourself this well by being at the back end of the short bus."
"Then let's take the time to formulate a new strategy," said Sanchin.
"No, that will give them what they need–time to dig themselves in deeper," said Larson, his eyes sweeping the walls of the city. "We can overrun them as we did the others."
"But we'll lose too many," protested Yarin.
Larson shrugged at what he obviously considered to be a minor detail and gestured to the impromptu fortress. "I see plenty of reinforcements right there."
"This is the moment," said Stradd.
Frank Tibalt stole a glance at his leader, wishing not for the first time that he was a thousand miles from this place. "Sir?"
Stradd turned to his second-in-command. "The moment when we prove ourselves as the rightful species to rule this nation. We're Americans, goddamnit! We can't let this infection remain in our backyard. They must be expunged."
Frank looked back at the mass of mobile corpses. Something wasn't right, and in The Graveyard, things needed to reach a whole new level of shit for that to happen. The zombies outside their door were staring at them, not moaning, not growling, not reaching for them. It was as if they were waiting for something, a signal, an order. He even saw a few moving amongst the crowd, while the rest remained stock-still. It was as if they were under someone's control, but that was madness?
Stradd reached for a walkie-talkie at his belt and thumbed the transmitter. After a burst of static, a voice answered. "This is Jenkins at the armory."
The leader of Boulder smiled a predator's smile. "This is Stradd. Get the weapons distributed as quickly as possible. We've got some uninvited guests."
"Sir, yes sir!" Jenkins answered, his salute almost audible over the communicator. "I'll get the Weapons Teams out ASAP."
Stradd turned off the walkie and returned it to his belt. He nodded to himself, as if this nightmare at their doorstep was just one more phase of his plan.
Through a small hole in the wall, Ron watched the scene outside and decided that his little master plan for taking Boulder out of Stradd's hands was about to undergo a revision. He turned to Michael and the others.
"I think it's time we blew this taco stand," he said, and turned to walk back to the home he shared with the others.
Michael ran to catch up, the rest of the group close behind. "What happened to us ousting Stradd and getting someone with both oars in the water in charge?"
Ron shook his head and thumbed in the direction of the standoff between Stradd and the undead. "You ever see the zombies act like? Just stand there without doing anything?"
Michael looked back to the wall, then hurried to keep pace with his friend. "Now that you mention it, no, never," he said. "Something's wrong, isn't it? Really wrong."
"Yep," Ron replied. "It's best we leave, better than getting caught up with what's about to happen."
"Just us?" asked Sara Kern.
Ron stopped and looked at her, at the entire group. "No, anyone who wants to come with us."