The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 49: Who Turned Out the Lights?
"So, here are. In a sewer," said Jake Marlow.
"Yep," replied Ron Bern, as he played his flashlight ahead of him to watch for any obstacles. Such as the dead, walking and otherwise.
Behind the two were more than twenty people—men, women and children. The undead had managed to breach the barrier around Boulder, and were ravaging the populace. These people were all that remained of an apartment building that had once housed more than 150. Ron and Jake had managed to save these few remaining survivors, people who had traveled hundreds of miles through territory that would have made the hardest of souls shit themselves to even think about. They had lost their homes, nearly every vestige of their former lives, and more than a few loved ones. They had survived an endless nightmare to make their way here, a promised safe haven. Yet in the end, here they were, wandering in a sewer, while above them, the dead reigned supreme.
Always nice to find a comfort zone.
"I'm not complaining, really, just pointing out that we're in a sewer," said Jake. "Completely dark, except for what out little flashlights can do. Plenty of spots for the dead to hide, and we can only go in so many directions if we get swarmed. Plus, we've got all these people with us, and the only weapons they have are bats and table legs. Not ideal at all."
"Well, look on the bright side," said Ron, his voice kept low, but the annoyance ringing loud and clear. "We do get surrounded by the dead, at least I won't need to listen to your bitching."
Jake chuckled at that, the sound reverberating off the walls. "How fucked up is it that I kind of missed doing this?"
"Pretty fucked up," Ron replied. "But I kinda do too. Guess we've both gone around the bend."
The group stopped at a corner. "Any chance this bend will take us where we need to go?" asked Jake.
"It should. We've been going in pretty much the same direction if we were on the streets. We're probably about a mile or so out."
The two turned around the corner cautiously, then backed away as a zombie reached for them. The creature, formerly a man, was badly rotted, his skin bloated from the water. Odds are he had been bitten, wandered into the sewer in some mad bid to escape, then turned while he was down there. His clothes had almost completely fallen apart, now little more than a pair of soiled boxers. The creature moved towards the group, which was rooted to the spot, though whether from fear or bravery was hard to tell.
Ron sighed with boredom, then grabbed the zombie's hair and smashed its skull into the wall until the brains spilled out. The body splashed into the water and floated away, back down the way the group had come. None made a move towards it, aside from a few fleeting glances.
Ron looked back to the group. "Moving on."
Addie Mayor viewed the garage through a set of binoculars. Though no horde of the undead stood between them, the mobile corpses were still thick on the ground. Most of the human populace still lived, either barricaded in their homes or out fighting the creatures. Stradd's personal army were decimating the dead in some parts of the reclaimed city, and in others, well, not so much. Either way, covering the last mile to the vehicles was going to be tricky.
She passed the binoculars to Michael Rayanson. He set them down and shook his head glumly, dark circles under his eyes and stress etched into his expression. Despite the relative safety of the city, he had slept little since arriving, expecting just this sort of disaster, and at the same time hoping it would never happen. The combination wasn't conducive to a good night's rest.
"So, either the damn zombies get us or Stradd's goon squad does," he said. "Great options."
Addie took another look at the scene before them. "We need a third option. We try and go down the street and less than half of us will make it out."
Michael nodded. "That's the optimistic outlook. We're lightly armed, outnumbered 10 to 1, and a lot of these clowns didn't even do any fighting to get here. They just hid when they had to and ran like hell the rest of the time. Combat isn't the answer here."
Addie's gaze drifted skyward. "Then we rise above it."
"Very Zen, but how does that help?"
Addie pointed up, and Michael realized what she had in mind. Apartment buildings lined the roads leading to the garage, and the roofs only had a short distance between them. Of course, short was a relative term, and one look at this group spoke volumes as to their experience crossing open distances hundreds of feet above the ground. And there was the fact that sooner or later, they'd have to go back to the streets to get to the vehicles, which were housed a good half-mile from the closest of the buildings.
"Oh yeah, this is a much better plan," he said wryly. "I always did want to be remembered as a human Rorschach test."
The soldier passed the telescope to Stradd, a model normally used for stargazing, but re-appropriated for a more practical purpose. "Just over that ridge sir, about two miles out."
Stradd pressed the lens to his eye, focusing and adjusting until the image came into view. Three humans in lab coats, not zombies, but real, honest-to-God human beings. And approaching them, several more, many of whom he recognized as being citizens of his city. They were talking to the other three, and surrounding them were the undead, watching the humans, but not attacking. For a moment he said nothing, then an expression of pure hate bloomed on his face. He threw the telescope as hard as he could, listening with satisfaction as the plastic and glass shattered against a wall.
"Fucking traitors," he snarled through gritted teeth. "Traitors conspiring with the very people behind this incursion. I'll string their intestines on the wall of my office, I'll, I'll put their heads on pikes all along the outer wall…"
"What?!" yelled the leader of Boulder, his head whipping to face the soldier.
"It's just that, there are hundreds of the dead out there," he stammered. "How do we get close enough to kill them?"
Stradd simply smiled and clapped a hand on the young man's shoulder, a gesture he unsurprisingly didn't find comforting in the slightest. "Oh, I think we can come up with something. Let's get to the armory. We're going to need a few things."
Addie, Michael and their group slowly made their way up the stairs of an apartment building now abandoned by its living occupants. But it wasn't the former residents that concerned them, but those that might have recently moved in. Each creak of a stair sounded like an air horn, and every time it happened, the humans would freeze, waiting for the telltale sounds of shuffling footsteps and moans. Only when they were sure they were alone would they move on.
Michael took point, his gun in one hand, a hammer in the other. In the swiftness of the attack and the chaos that followed, he and others hadn't had a chance to reclaim their bomb squad armor, which he surmised was being held in a storage unit within the armory, along with his sword, though he imagined that was likely added to Stradd's collection by this point. The weapon was hardly an heirloom—he had snatched it from a military surplus store in Boston, but he had become fond of the blade these past several months, and planned to return one day to find it. It had saved his live more times than he could count, and without it, he felt vulnerable.
Of course, he was always vulnerable these days. Par for the course in The Graveyard.
He held up a hand, bringing the group to a stop. He stopped near an open door, the smell of death heavy in the air, thick and rich. A recent kill, or an addition to the ranks of the undead. He edged his head around the corner, then jumped back as a women, old in life and looking far more so since she had turned, took a swipe at the space where his face used to be. Michael stepped down two stairs and swung with the hammer, shattering the creature's knee, which sent it tumbling down the stairs. The people behind him set up the zombie without fail, caving in its skull with quick, brutal force.
Michael winked at the others. One of them, a lovely blonde of around 26, actually blushed and smiled, before her eyes went wide with fear. Michael looked back just in time to jam his gun into a second zombie's mouth. Another senior citizen, this one a man, likely the husband of the woman he just felled. He turned his face away as he squeezed the trigger, spraying the ceiling with bits of fetid brains.
"Move it!" he shouted.
The plan had been to quickly and quietly make their way to the roof, but the impromptu target practice had shot that plan to shit, so to speak. One after another, undead appeared in the doorways. By sheer luck, most of them were behind the uninfected humans. Michael swung the hammer like a madman, dropping the undead one after another. His shots were solid and sure, but they were also slow, and every time he fired his gun, more of the creatures appeared. Their progress slowed with each flight of stairs. On the rear, Addie had recruited a few of the survivors to help, the flood of undead far too much for her to handle alone. One of them, a redheaded bull of a man named James, swung into the crowd with a tire iron. His aim was dead-on, but no sooner had his blow connected then another zombie bit into his arm, and pulled the young man into the horde. His screams cut through the air, and silenced everyone.
Addie didn't hesitate. As soon as she had the shot, she put a bullet through his head. Though she couldn't be sure, she thought he had a smile on his face when he died.
"Michael!" she shouted as others rushed in to fend off the horde. "Get us the fuck out of here, now!"
Michael turned to the nearest door and kicked it in. Sheer luck, the place was empty. The uninfected raced after them. Addie slammed the door shut behind her, and was nearly knocked off her feet as the zombies slammed into it. The others rushed to the door to brace it, and a few bookcases made an effective barricade.
Addie backed away as the zombies continued their assault. The wooden door was cheaply made, and already cracks were forming. The bookcases were flimsy discount store knockoffs. Bottom line: this barrier was not going to hold. Everyone realized this at once, and panic began to take hold. Some hefted their weapons, determined to make a stand, while others looked around for a way out. A few of them began to weep and fell to their knees. Michael turned his hammer to the windows, shattering each one out. He peered out and smiled in triumph.
Right beside the window was a fire escape.
He turned to the others. "Come on, everyone out and up!"
One by one the survivors made their way outside, each departure punctuated by a slam against the door by the undead. Addie waited at the top of the roof, partly to serve as a guard in case any zombies made their way up, and partly to make sure no one took the Gravity Express straight to the bottom floor. If they were that determined to meet their maker, let them do it on their own time. Right now, she needed every able body here and now.
In the apartment, Michael herded the last of the survivors out the window just as the door broke down. The ghouls easily tore apart the flimsy barricade, driven by their insatiable hunger. Michael practically flew out the window, and it was then that he heard a man's cry. He looked back, and saw one of the group, a portly man with thinning hair, wearing a soiled white work shirt and frayed grey pants. Odds are he had been at the office when the Great Exhumation hit, and had been on the road ever since. He was in the corner of the kitchen, hiding from the undead he was sure were about to break in. Well, at least he could face his end knowing his instincts were on the mark.
Michael went after him, the ghouls just ahead of him. He struck with the hammer, but with each one he brought down, three more entered the apartment. They surrounded the man, who did his best to fight them off with a frying pan he found in the kitchen. But the odds were stacked against him, and before too long, the undead began tearing chunks out of his arms, chest and neck. He looked to Michael, an expression of pain and sorrow, and a silent plea for help.
Without a word, Michael raised his gun and fired once, decimating the man's brain. Without that, he could never come back as one of the dead. It was a small mercy, but in this world, it was all that was left.
Michael quickly went back out the window and up the fire escape. The undead began to pursue, but in such close quarters and with the high ground, he had the advantage. He fired again and again, dropping one zombie after another, clogging the narrow stairs and weighing down the rickety iron structure. Michael felt it begin to give, the rusted iron bolts pulled from the brick and mortar by the weight of the bodies. As he vaulted over the rooftop, he hear the shriek of metal as the fire escape broke free and tumbled down to the ground, taking the creatures with it. He turned to see Addie and the survivors, now reduced by two. The group looked shaken, terrified, but at least they were alive. Addie approached him, her face grim, but slightly hopeful. "The distance between the buildings isn't too bad," she said. "I think we can get across easy."
Michael nodded, glancing back down the way we came. "That's good, because reversing course isn't going to work."
Addie glanced down to where Michael was looking and signed in frustration. "I swear to God, I think you're making this tough on purpose."
With a dark laugh, he walked past Addie to the others. Looking back over her shoulder he said, "Probably."
Just then he heard the unmistakable sound of a safety being released, followed by a bellow of "Freeze!" He turned to see ten armed men reveal themselves from the pipes and entrance to the roof on the adjacent building.
Stradd's soldiers. They had been waiting for them this entire time.