1The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 46: Evacuation
"Return to your homes immediately. Martial law is in effect as of now. This is not a drill," boomed the voice over the loudspeaker from atop the military jeep as it cruised the streets. "Lock your doors and windows. The militia has been mobilized and will contain the threat. There is nothing to worry about. Jason Stradd will not let Boulder fall."
The jeep turned the corner and proceeded down the next road. From open windows and doors, hundreds of living humans watched it pass, heedless of the warning being broadcast.
For some reason, the word of Jason Stradd wasn't worth much these days. Shocker.
Ron Bern was one of these skeptics, though to be frank, he never fully trusted the man, or this place. The other survivors with him shared this skepticism, despite the formidable walls and impressive array of armed guards.
What's that old saying, once bitten, twice shy? In The Graveyard, just being bitten once was enough to punch your ticket, so a healthy amount of skepticism wasn't such a bad thing. It's what had kept this bunch alive for so long.
Night had fallen on Boulder. Outside its walls of re-purposed concrete slabs and metal siding, an army of the undead waited. They didn't move, didn't speak, didn't make any attempt to get into the city and the hundreds of humans waiting within. Meanwhile, Stradd's forces had armed themselves and waited. Now and then, a few guns would fire and a few zombies fell, their heads blown clean off. But Stradd had ordered against a full-scale assault.
Something wasn't right about this, and before he committed his limited arsenal, he had decided to meet with his lieutenants to determine what was going on. Say what you will about Jason Stradd, and many did, the man was no fool. He had been around zombies as long as anyone, and knew how they behaved. This wasn't it.
And so it was a standoff, between what could be the last human settlement in The Graveyard and its newest residents, eager to claim this devastated land for themselves.
Ron turned back to his companions. As always, Michael Erickson was the first to offer an opinion, and as always, it was to the point. "Well," he said. "We're boned."
"Why do you always say that?" asked Ron.
Michael just shrugged. "Could be because we usually are."
"I can't believe they expect us to stay in here while there's an army of those damn things camped outside the front door," said Sara Kern.
Her husband Jake Marlowe came downstairs to join them, having gotten his fill of watching the patrol cars wander the streets imposing order. "It's arrogance, nothing but," he said. "Stradd's so convinced that he's in complete control, I doubt it's ever occurred to him that he could be in over his head."
Michael jerked a thumb over his shoulder, pointing outside. "The fact he's got every gun-nut, anarchist and lunatic on his side might have something to do with it," he commented wryly. "Everyone not on his side is too scared shitless to make a move against him."
"So what's the plan?" asked Sara. "We hit the road and try our luck somewhere else?"
Ron shook his head and looked outside. Across the street, a family-wife, husband and young son-listened to the amplified announcement, eyes wide. They talked amongst each other, the husband gesturing sharply to the vehicle that had just passed. The wife kept her hands on the child, stroking his hair in an effort to keep him calm, though it appeared to be as much for her benefit as his. They noticed Ron watching them and quickly went inside, shutting the door. A few clicking sounds indicated that the locks had been engaged. A moment later, the shades were drawn.
"We need to take these people with us," he said, turning back to his companions. "None of them deserve to be here, and if they stay, they're as good as dead, either from the zombies or Stradd."
"I'm all for it, but how?" asked Jake. "Not everyone here came by car, and if we stay on foot, those things are bound to get us."
"So we take what we can," chimed in Steve Rankin, a former police officer who joined the group following the slaughter at Martha's Vineyard, another community thought to be safe from the undead. "We know where the vehicles are parked, so we take as many as we can fit."
Jake looked at him. "And what about the rest? Suppose we only find a few vans in the garage."
Rankin shrugged. "Well, there's nothing we can do. We need to save as many as we can."
Michael laughed, a short, bitter sound without any mirth. "What are you going to tell everyone else? Sorry, no room, wait for the next bus? Or maybe we should pull names out of a hat? How about we draw some fucking straws?"
"Look, I didn't say it was a great plan, but what else can we do?" said Rankin. "If there's no room, there's no room. What's your idea, just force a solution out of a problem when one doesn't exist? I know we could be condemning people to death. I'm not as dumb as you think I am. But one of us has to be realistic."
"Have you had the chance to talk to these people?" Ron asked.
Rankin blinked, his brow furrowed, surprised at the question. "What? What the hell are you talking about?"
"I have, and they all say the same thing," said Ron. "Whether they came from California or Maine, they came alone. Barely any of them met up with other survivors. The flow of people into this place is at a trickle, and it's pretty clear why. Humans-living breathing humans-we're becoming a rare sight on this continent."
The officer glanced at the others, aware that the eyes of everyone in the room were fixed on him, and not out of admiration. "All right, I get that. There are more of them than us."
Ron shook his head sadly. "What if we're it?"
The question penetrated, and he stopped short, unable to speak. "Us? You think us, this whole place here, we're all that's left? No, that can't be."
"And why not?" chimed in Sara. "That broadcast of Stradd's went out across the nation. Addie here heard it all the way in Canada."
The other woman was looking out the window, keeping watch for any signs that things had gone south outside. "She's right, heard it clear as day. And let me tell you something: the whole trip down here, I only passed a handful of survivors, and from what they told me, pickings are pretty slim among the human race."
Ron looked back to Steve, and placed a hand on his shoulder. They were in this together, and he needed everyone's help. "We could very well be all that's left of this nation. If we're leaving, we need to take everyone with us. You say we need to be realistic, and you're right. Hope ain't gonna be enough. But I'll die myself before we leave even one person behind."
Saul and Melanie loved guard duty, especially around the vehicle impound lot.
Why? Simple reason: nothing ever happened.
While everyone else spent their days repairing holes in the walls, gathering supplies or maintaining the infrastructure, they got to take it easy and watch a part of the city that almost no one ever came near. New refugees were few and far between, so it was rare that a car, van or RV was dropped off anymore, but the area still needed a guard, due to the vital nature of what the buildings stored. Any vehicles that came to Boulder were brought to this lot to be refurbished and repaired, to be used for patrols or in case of an emergency, escape. As confident as he was that Boulder would never fall, Stradd was far from an idiot. He knew the importance of a back door.
Just so long as he held the only key.
But, as previously stated, it was pretty much a do-nothing job. Think about it: who would want to leave the security of this place to venture back into the wilds of The Graveyard? Even the patrols had diminished, after a few squads had mysteriously gone missing while making supply runs outside the city. And so, Saul and Melanie spent their days shooting the breeze, smoking, and when they were sure no one was coming, pursuing more intimate pleasures.
This just happened to be one of those times, which was why Ron, Michael, Addie and Jake were able to slip in without being seen. Someone's not making Employee of the Month.
The inside of the warehouse was dark and musty, the result of being unused for so long. The moon was full, but the small, dirty windows offered little opportunity for the light to shine through. As such, the four used small flashlights, their hands cupped over them to avoid being given away.
The building was full of vehicles, from four-door sedans to the semi-trailer that Ron and his companions had used. Though dusty, they appeared to be in good condition, too good after extended use in The Graveyard. The tires appeared new, and the smell of gas lingered in the air, indicating the vehicles had been refueled. Ron went over the trailer carefully, nodding his head in appreciation. "Damn thing looks better than it ever did when we used it," he said.
The others quickly joined him, reporting similar conditions in the rest of the building. Addie had found the RV she had used, and said it looked brand new. "I even checked inside," she said. "The thing is loaded with food and supplies, all fresh."
Ron and the others checked the other vehicles. They had all been tuned up, and the larger ones were loaded with food and equipment. "Clever little fucker," he said. "But at least this makes things easier for us. We can get the people over here in groups, get them inside and haul ass outta here. It'll be tight, but I think we can get everyone."
"But where are we going?" asked Jake. "Even on full tanks we won't get that far, and with this many people, we need a plan."
"We could try for Mexico or Canada," said Michael. "That many people, they might let us in."
"Or use us for target practice," Ron replied, shaking his head. "I don't want to risk all those lives on the off-chance those soldiers have grown a conscience."
"How about the docks?" said Addie. "Last I heard, there were plenty of boats left. Not a lot of people wanted to risk trying to run the naval blockade."
Michael nodded. "Yeah, that might work. When we made the run for Martha's Shithole, there were a ton of boats left behind. Where's the closest port with enough for everyone?"
"Louisiana, probably," said Ron." If not, we can just head east to Florida or up the coast. Even if there's not enough at one port, we can leave people off as we go, and they catch up with us later."
"Works for me," said Jake. "So now what?"
Just then the deafening road split the air. The ground shook underneath them, knocking them to the floor of the garage. They looked around, expecting Stradd's soldiers to spill in through the doors, but the only sounds were the ringing in their ears, followed by gunfire. And screams. Lots of screams.
Ron slowly got to his feet, his head cocked to the side as he heard a combination of sounds which had become all too familiar.