1The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Forty Seven: Traitors
Roughly ten days following The Great Exhumation, the undead had reached Boston, despite the best efforts of countless police, firefighters and National Guardsmen. When it became clear the soldiers wouldn't be able to hold back the tide of walking corpses, the citizens of Beantown evacuated en masse, clogging the streets with thousand of cars and tens of thousand of people on foot. The scene was one of pure chaos, as people fought to escape the city, as they battled each other to be the first out of Boston, and eventually, as they tried to hold back the undead. Tried and failed.
It was a scene that was etched into Ron Bern's memory-trying to force his way through the crowd to get his granddaughters, 6-year-old Haley and 8-year-old Diana, onto a bus bringing the evacuees to the Army blockade outside the city. Their mother was long gone: she had never been a fit parent, and it was only her shyster of a lawyer that kept him from getting custody of the children.
Ron remembered looking back to see well over three hundred zombies approaching the crowd, tearing them to pieces like piranha on a side of beef. He heard his young granddaughters crying in terror, begging him to make the monsters go away. Tears in his eyes, he told those two angels that it would all be OK, that they would go somewhere safe and warm where the monsters couldn't get them. He looked at the soldiers and pleaded with them, holding up the youngest child and telling them to save his little girls.
But the soldiers didn't. They saw the approaching undead and panicked, told the bus driver to get them the hell out of there. Ron turned away to see a woman not five feet away get her face torn off by a zombie, and that was when he felt the hands. Not those of the undead, but of one of the soldiers. A few of the troops had decided, against orders, to grab what few people they could. Ron felt the hands pull him back, onto the bus, felt the girls drop from his grasp. He felt his fist connect with the nearest man, sending him flying back with blood and teeth spurting from his mouth. Other hands grabbed him, dragging him aboard the bus, heedless of his cries about the two little girls he had left behind.
All this ran through Ron's mind as he and his friends put on their battered and bloody bomb squad armor, retrieved from their homes. He remembered how helpless he felt back then. Now? He loaded a pistol and felt the satisfying click of the magazine sliding into place. Now he could make a difference, and if he died?
Jackson Abel was a soldier posted to the wall surrounding Boulder. He had watched the approach of the undead hordes with a mixture of terror and awe. The terror part was easy to understand, but the awe was something only his somewhat splintered mind, consumed at an early age by horror movies, could fathom. Spread out before him was a walking plague, the most effective killing fore this world had ever seen.
Smallpox? A joke. The Black Death? Don't make me laugh.
Nobody kills like zombies.
Perhaps if Jackson hadn't been so enraptured by the sight before him he would have noticed the lone zombie making its way through the crowd. Maybe he would have noticed the shoebox-sized device it clutched to its chest. Maybe he could have shot the ghoul, or the present it carried, before it got to the base of the wall. Maybe then he wouldn't be looking at his legs from twenty feet away, as the horde he loved so much closed in on him to grant him a final, agonizing mercy.
Zombies roamed throughout the small section of Boulder that Stradd's forces and the refugees had worked so hard to fortify. Undead poured through the breach in the defenses, and the militia responded as best they could, forming a tight firing line and filling the air with lead, shouting curses, war cries and even rebel yells as they annihilated the enemies before them. The stink of cordite and gunpowder mixed with rotted flesh and diseased bodies filled the air, and a few of the defenders had to pause to wrap bandannas around their faces to keep the stench at bay.
One after another, the ghouls collapsed to the ground as bullets tore through their skulls, chests and legs. Soon the ground was covered with shredded flesh, but others quickly took their place, intent on reaching the succulent meat that was so close, so very close. They formed a wall of their own, moving inexorably closer to the soldiers, who exhausted the ammunition in their weapons with frightening speed. Every one that stopped to reload his weapon gave the creatures a moment to move in, and little by little, they made their way towards the troops. The line quickly disintegrated as the undead tore through the ranks, quite literally. The soldiers turned and fled at the sight of their brothers and sisters being ripped to red rags and devoured by the ambulatory corpses. One after another, lines drawn in the sand were trampled by rotted feet.
With uncanny speed, the undead reduced the soldiers to bones and shreds of clothing. They quickly moved on. More meat awaited. More meat would be consumed. That was the nature of the zombies.
Jason Stradd looked around the wreckage of the wall and the creatures that made their way into the city. He smelled the smoke from the fires and heard the screams of anguish. He felt the ground tremble beneath him from the thousands of feet that trod upon it. He saw his dream of a Reunited States of America fall apart before his eyes. A new America, a stronger America, a nation that wouldn't coddle the peace-minded liberals and kowtow to the rest of the world in some pitiful attempt to keep everyone happy. No, this was to be a nation that remembered the men who built it, and laid down for no one.
A dream that he and those who stood by his side had worked, fought and even died to make a reality. He remembered his friends, those who believed as he did, and how few of them remained. He knew all their names, etched into his memory in such a way that nothing would erase them. And as he watched the dead walk into Boulder, hearing the slap of their feet on the concrete and asphalt, he felt a rage well up in him, one that needed a release right fucking now.
His second-in-command, Frank Tibalt, looked around at the horror that had been unleashed. A few of Stradd's personal guards remained, and each shared looks of panic and fear. They knew they were in over their heads.
"Sir, we need to get out of here," sais Frank, his hand gripping Stradd's shoulder. He shook his commanding officer, hard. "Sir!"
Stradd looked at Tibalt, but any recognition of his oldest friend was gone. A part of his brain knew that what he was about to do was incredibly stupid, but right now, that part was tied up in the backseat, and his rage, hatred and anger were all at the driver's seat. With a piercing shriek, he drew his gun and opened fire on the ghouls, hitting limbs, torsos and the occasional head. He pulled the trigger again and again, until the gun clicked, the ammunition spent and the magazine empty. He looked to the weapon as if it had betrayed him, then threw it to the ground in fury. His bodyguards took up positions and opened fire on the undead. Sheer luck that most were more concerned with the fleeing populace of Boulder. They managed to move Stradd to an empty building and were for the moment, safe.
One of the soldiers noticed the splashes of blood on the floor and the windows that had been shattered, and took a pair of his troopmates to search the building. While the others remained with Stradd, a few shots rang out. The scouts returned, nodding that the place was secure.
"Jason! We need to evacuate!" shouted Frank.
That word seemed to trigger something in Stradd, because he turned to Frank and leveled him with one punch. He knelt down in front of his friend and tore the fun he had been holding from his grasp. "This is our home," he growled. "No one is evacuating."
He stood up and calmly assessed the situation, amazing considering the utter nightmare surrounding him. Gunfire could be heard from all directions, and fires burned from where the zombies had walked into fuse boxes or cooking fires. And the screams, oh, the screams! They were endless, and in all pitches and tenors. Yet to Stradd, these seemed not to exist. "We need to retake our city and drive these invaders out," he said. He grabbed one of his guards. "You, get out there, put a squad together and get to work rebuilding this wall. The rest of us will exterminate the undead one at a time if we have to."
The man looked to the ruins of the wall, through which more undead poured and back at his leader. Like Tibalt, his confidence in Stradd was waning. "Sir, that's impossible."
In response, Stradd leveled his lieutenant's gun against the other man's head. "Die here and now for nothing or die out there for something. Your call, son."
The guard locked eyes with Stradd, and for a moment it seemed he would prefer the quick death to the long, slow agony surely waiting for him outside. But at last he nodded, slowly and shakily and made his way outside to find some willing volunteers. Odds were slim on that happening, even with the threat of their boss' wrath hanging in the air.
Tibalt watched the man go, then turned to his leader. "Sir, this city is filled with those things! That wall took fifty people a month to put up, and that was with all the zombies cleared out. You're sending that man, and anyone he manages to corral into helping, to their deaths."
Stradd looked at Tibalt as if he were an annoying insect. "This is our city, Frank, ours! I will not let it fall to those fucking parasites out there! We will repel the invaders, rebuild those walls stronger than ever, and we will bring every living human left in these United States here so we can restore this nation to its former glory."
"And how many of those living humans are dying right now for 'you city?' How many are you going to kill for this dream of yours?" asked Tibalt.
Stradd laughed, as if that were the stupidest question one could ask. "As many as it takes, obviously. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. Look around you–what could be greater than what we've accomplished? In any even, lieutenant, it's no longer your concern. You are hereby relieved of your command. Turn in your weapon and get the fuck out of my sight, you coward."
Frank looked as if he'd been slapped. He turned to the others, and found all their weapons pointed at him. Seems fear of Stradd still outweighed common sense. The former lieutenant said nothing, he dropped his pistol to the floor, turned and left the house, pausing for one moment to look at his leader, the man he had given up everything for.
But Stradd had already turned his back on him and was conversing with the other soldiers about how they could retake the city. Most looked pretty unsure of the sanity of their leader, but nodded at the right moments, their eyes darting to Tibalt should they need a reminder of what happened to traitors.
Just then a radio carried by one of the soldiers chirped to indicate a call. He put it to his ear, nodded, then looked to Stradd. "Sir, one of the lookouts on the wall needs to speak to you. He said something about human out there with the zombies."