The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Forty Five: One Last Look
The city of Nanjing, China, belonged to the dead.
Across the once opulent city, millions of walking corpses roamed, claiming the flesh of the living with ruthless efficiency and endless hunger. Every few days, fresh screams filled the air, as another life, a rarity in this soiled acropolis, was stolen by the zombies.
Yes, the city of Nanjing did indeed belong to the dead. Of this there was no doubt. That didn't mean that the remaining humans had to lie down and take it.
Atop a warehouse that once contained countless pop music CDs, a lone figure, notable for its lack of shuffling and moaning, aimed a well-polished sniper rifle toward an abandoned strip mall. Near the door, three undead wandered, dragging rotted or broken limbs, unaware of the pain which they should by all rights be feeling.
So it likely didn't bother them when the figure pulled the trigger three times in quick succession, dropping each with precise and practiced headshots. The figure spoke into the air, the words carried through the walkie clipped to their jacket. "This is Shaya. Coast's clear, fellow fighters."
A moment later four young men and women quickly and quietly left the store, careful not to make a sound. They were dressed in an assortment of clothes, some in leather, others in thick denim. Their heads were covered in rags, hats and hoods, and sunglasses shielded their eyes.
Blood soaked their clothes, but it wasn't theirs. No, these life juices had clotted long before they had drenched their gear, an experiment which was about to be tested. A wandering zombie turned a corner and spotted the four. The humans froze, barely breathing, not moving a muscle.
The ghoul approached them, growling softly. As it neared the living, it seemed to inspect them, curious who these newcomers were. It inched closer on rotted legs, and the four tensed, ready to move, yet at the same time eager to see if they could fool this mindless husk.
Closer. Closer still. Seems zombies don't have much appreciation for personal space. After a moment, however, the undead creature moved on, apparently convinced that the four were its own kind. A bullet through the skull surely showed it the error of its ways.
Shaya's voice was heard once more, dripping sarcasm and venom. "Bunch of fucking geniuses, you are," she said. "You risk our supplies to play Mr. Wizard. Next time I shoot you in the leg and we see which blood smells sweeter."
Nianzu Han pulled off his hood and glasses, pressing the button on his own walkie. "OK, Shaya, we get it. I just had to be sure. Looks like with a little zombie bloodbath, we smell just like them."
Tyrone Atkinson, boyfriend of Addie Mayor, gently cradled their son Michael in his arms. It had been a little over a month since she had left, bound and determined to make it to Boulder, Colorado to assist in the rebuilding of the city. Left her husband and child to help a bunch of damned strangers that for all she knew, were dead long before she began hearing that transmission.
Damn Jason Stradd. Him and all those other assholes. They had taken away the woman who meant the world to him. Now she was back in The Graveyard, a hellhole of the walking dead and even worse, the ones who had survived. Because Tyrone knew that the nice guys hadn't made it. All that remained were the bastards.
Ever since she had left, he had tried to wrap his head around her reasoning. His mind drifted back to that fateful night, when Addie had tried to explain that it felt like destiny, something she was meant to do—her calling now that she had escaped the zombies and made a new life in Canada. He had yelled at her, called her an idiot, a coward, and worse, that she was abandoning her lover and child to ease the guilt that came with surviving when so many others had not.
Matthew stirred in his sleep, opening his eyes and smiling at his father. Though he more closely resembled Tyrone, Matthew had his mother's eyes and smile, which was why he couldn't look at his son without crying. As much as he hated her, and he did, he still loved Addie with all his heart and soul. Though he said otherwise that night, if she ever returned, he would welcome her back without a second thought.
"Yeah, I miss her too, little man," said Tyrone, walking around the living room of the apartment he shared with his friend Joe.
He, Joe and Addie had made a break for the Canadian border once it became clear that not even the might of the U.S. Army could stand against the walking dead, not in any way that brought about victory. As police officers, she and Tyrone had been heartbroken to leave their brothers and sisters on the force behind to face the undead, but survival instinct is a powerful force, one that can sever even the strongest of bonds.
The Canadian Army had managed to erect a blockade along the entire border, once that repelled any and all zombies. Naturally, U.S. residents flocked in that direction like birds fleeing a forest fire, but the Canadians were determined that the zombie plaque wouldn't infect their country. And if they had to mow down several hundred American citizens?
Collateral damage, nothing more.
Along the way, Addie, Tyrone and Jim picked up a few stragglers, promising them that they'd all walk into Canada safe and sound. A ruse, nothing more—once they got to the border, Tyrone had shot the three, giving the border guards something to find, and an assurance that their land remained safe and American-free.
Once inside, they had bought fake IDs and started new lives, but the guilt had eaten away at Addie, and once she heard that there was a colony of survivors, she had broken the blockade once more, this time breaking into The Graveyard, a move which the Canadian Army made no move to stop, surprise, surprise.
A month later, and no word of any kind. Not that he expected one, it wasn't like she could drop him an e-mail or have a video chat. But he needed to know she was safe, that the woman he loved and the mother of his child was still among the living.
He walked over to the duffel back on the living room couch. Setting Michael down, he rummaged through it, making one last check: guns, food, clothing, first-aid kit, flares and flashlights. All set.
He had to know.
"I'm telling you, Al, an axe is the best way to go. Forget baseball bats and crowbars, a good ol' fashioned fire axe is one shot, one kill. It's especially useful if you don't have a lot of upper body strength. Momentum and the blade to most of the work."
"Are you sure, Francis? I mean, axes get dull."
"Get yourself a good whetstone and that won't be a problem. Besides, even if the blade gets a little dull it's still in a great shape to decimate the undead."
"OK, Francis, I get what you're saying. I trust you on this—you've never steered me wrong before."
"They don't pay me these big bucks just for my good looks. Anything else I can help you with?"
"No, I think that's about it. I need to be hitting the sack. Supply run tomorrow, but I'll pass your tips along to the rest of the group before we head out."
"Keep those eyes open, man."
Francis Tarny thumbed off the transmitter and sat back, exhaling. That was a pretty good conversation, as far as things went. God only knew if those folks would make it tomorrow, but he thought there chances were decent.
Not a bad day's work.
He got out of his chair, his back creaking in protest at the sudden and unexpected movement. A few cracks told him that he needed to stretch more often before settling in for a long spell as DJ Tarny at World's End, a lonely research station in the Antarctic that had become the communications center for what was left of the American people. For months now, Tarny and his team had watched on TV, listened through the airwaves and read in countless panic-stricken news reports as the walking dead wiped out the United States, turning it into what was now known as The Graveyard.
Thanks to a bottomless government budget, World's End had one of the most advanced communications systems on the planet. From satellite phones to Morse code, they could access it all, allowing them to give advice, assistance, or just a friendly ear to those still packing a pulse. Above all, they gave hope to the masses, that someone was watching over them.
Because from the look of things, God wasn't taking calls from the Americans.
Tarny paused before leaving the communications room to turn on the iTunes player. Along with the best communications gear money could buy, they also had a library of thousands of songs to give folks something to listen to when the commentators needed a break. He called up all the Spinal Tap albums and hit the play button. You'd think that in the apocalypse people might prefer Elton John, but you give the people what they want.
He strode into the kitchen to find Ilsa Parmekos sipping from a cup of coffee. She nodded over to the full pot on the counter. Francis sighed in relief and poured himself a cup, adding lots of cream and sugar for effect. The two stood there in silence, sipping and enjoying the company.
"Good day?" asked Ilsa.
Tarny paused a moment before answering. "Yeah, just great. I needed this."
Ilsa looked down for a moment, as if wondering whether she should say what she so clearly wanted to. Francis caught this moment of doubt and put his cup down.
"OK, out with it. Are we out of food? Out of water? Are the penguins organizing a coup de tat?" he asked, smirking at his own wit.
That smile faded when Ilsa looked up, a defeated expression on her face.
Her gaze drifted towards the communications room, and Francis knew that whatever she was going to say, it wasn't the kind of bad news that could be deflected by hot beverages and dry wit.
"I've been trying some different frequencies lately, seeing if I can get any information about how things are going across the seas. Yesterday, I picked up some chatter in England and Russia."
Francis stared for a moment, eager as hell for an answer. "And? What's the news?"
From a distance the little orphan watched as the darkness closed in on the home of steel and stone, lorded over by a small little man who believed himself to be God.
The darkness flowed around her, but never came near. It accepted her as one of its own, and left her be, so long as she kept her wrath tethered. If she lost control, they would all be destroyed, and so this uneasy truce was forged.
She watched the home of steel and stone. Inside were the pieces of her heart, those that watched over her, cared for her, though she could not return the emotions, for she had forgotten what they felt like.
On the hill she saw the anger of the world, the greed, the lust. It would destroy all for its own desire.
The little orphan turned away. This was not her fight, and in any event, she was not worried about the heart.
The heart always survived. Most of it, anyway.