Gods of the Dead (Rising Book 1) (8 page)

BOOK: Gods of the Dead (Rising Book 1)
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I wait for it to happen. I listen as he curses loudly, barking in pain and anger. He doesn’t go quietly. He fights it every step of the way and it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life, something I’ll never forget, something that will wake me in a sweat even when I’m ninety years old and a million miles away from this moment, but as much as I hate it, it makes me proud. And I never once think about leaving him.

I know when it’s over. I can feel it in the air, in the way the rain falls around him. I can see it in the shudder of his breath that bursts out of his lungs one last time and then stills. The entire world and everything in it pauses for a half a heartbeat. One breathless moment that makes my hair stand on end.

And then it explodes in movement and light, in a
crack!
that fractures the night and bleeds black over everything until I can’t see and I’m trembling with fear.

I’ll never remember the exact moment I fired that gun. I won’t remember what made me do it, what move he made that told me it was time, but I will forever be haunted by the one image my brain captured in the light of the gunfire. It was my dad, my family, my hero, covered in mud and blood, his eyes burnt stone, his mouth open and hungry. Hungry for me.

But then I’m alone. I’m blinded by the flash, lost in the dark, and I’m completely and utterly alone with nowhere to go and no one to help me.

No one but my dad.

“Go to the woods. Stay clear of people. Hide with the animals.”

My mouth is moving, forming the words without me knowing it. I can hear the deep vibration of my own voice in my ears and I don’t recognize it, but I recognize the words so I latch onto them and I follow them.

“Go to the woods. Stay clear of people. Hide with the animals.”

I rise slowly.

“Go to the woods.”

I stumble toward the cabin.

“Stay clear of people.”

I take my dad and his words with me.

“Hide with the animals.”

Chapter Nine

Vin

The streets are a horror movie. There are bodies everywhere. On the sidewalk, in cars, face down in front lawns. Some are obviously people caught and eaten by infected, but a lot look totally human and healthy except for the gunshot in their chest. And there are pieces of people flung everywhere. I’ve tripped over fingers twice already. I guess the dead don’t like them. Maybe fingers are their grape jelly.

The deeper I get into town, the more the world is painted in blood. Red and black, fresh and old, wet and dry. Cars line the streets, some burned out and others parked at odd angles or stuck in an endless traffic jam that will never go anywhere. Not with the dead at the wheel. So many cars have infected inside, trapped by unlocked doors and the strength of the safety glass. They pound against it when I walk by, scaring the shit out of me every single time. Even when I roll up on a car and tell myself to expect someone inside it still makes me piss myself a little when some gray skinned ghoul slams its face against the window and starts growling. They claw at it leaving streaks of black blood and skin that looks like putty, and I can’t help but stop and stare at one stuck alone inside a minivan, the bloody remains of what was probably his family coating the inside of the car.

I lean in close as he moans and writhes, and I get my first good look at the infection.

His skin is sagging from his face like the muscles that held it up have gone slack or straight up disappeared. He could be forty years old or four hundred, I wouldn’t know the difference. Not with that yellow color to his skin and the hair falling out of his scalp.

I pull the gun from my belt and I press it to the glass. I aim for the center of his face.

I hesitate just for a second, a shadow of a doubt filling my mind and making me wonder. Are zombies real? Are they dead? Are they still people? Is this murder? He doesn’t flinch away from my gun the way Sienna did when I pointed it at her. He doesn’t acknowledge it at all. The only reaction I get out of him is an excited groan as he gropes for my hand kept safe behind the window. As he pushes his face so hard against the glass that the rubbery skin on his forehead rips off in a strip and dangles above his black eyes.

And that’s all it takes to tell me he’s gone. One look in his eyes and I can see how empty they are.

I turn my head and pull the trigger.

The night and his face explode, glass shattering and falling to the ground with a weirdly sweet sound as I put one between his eyes.

I stand there staring at him as the ringing slowly leaves my ears and the black sludge that was his blood leaves his body. I expect to feel something. Remorse or guilt, maybe even a psychotic thrill, but I’ve got nothin’. I don’t even feel relief that he’s gone for good. It’s not what I expected and that worries me more than anything else has so far.

About halfway to the bar I realize I shouldn’t have done this at night. I should have waited for dawn, but I wanted to get outside the bar before daylight. I want to watch the place, count heads for myself, and see what I’m up against. If Marlow’s new army is just a few guys then maybe I don’t have to join up. Their operation could be a joke that will fall apart in a matter of weeks. And who knows? Maybe there’s someone bigger and better out there to join up with. Someone that will squash Marlow in the first month, and if that happens I want to be on the winning end of that fight.

I’m three blocks from the bar when I meet my first zombies out in the open. Six of them roaming in circles in a parking lot, the tattered remains of two humans scattered over the asphalt at their feet. They keep going around and around like they’re protecting them, but from what I have no idea. Maybe they’re just attracted to the lingering scent of blood still fresh on the ground.

And just like every single body I’ve seen on the streets, they’ve left the fucking fingers.

As I slowly close in on them the smell hits me hard. It’s not like anything I’ve ever smelled before. It’s earthy and rancid. Sickly sweet that makes my mouth water like I’m gonna vomit and I’m turning to leave or gag in the street when they smell me too.

I pull out my knife just as one of them stops circling and starts heading for me. It’s a woman with long blond hair that looks almost brown on the ends where it’s caked in dried blood. She moans loudly, getting the attention of the others, and then they’re all shuffling behind her. They don’t move as slowly as I thought they would. Not nearly as rough as some of the corpses in the cars did. None of them looks as rotted out or inhuman, and I wonder if this is the new strain. The one that kills slower and is harder to spot. I wonder how old these zombies are.

And I wonder why I’m not running.

I flex my fingers on my knife, rush the woman, and sink the blade in her neck. She reaches for me but I pull away quickly, taking my knife with me. I escape her hands but she’s still coming at me as though nothing happened. She doesn’t give a shit that her neck is bleeding black sludge all down the front of her shirt.

I whisper a curse, watching her in amazement. The others are getting closer. They’re starting to circle me as she keeps right on bleeding and groaning and reaching.

And still I don’t run.

I spin my knife, grit my teeth, and thrust forward. This time the blade goes in her eye and when the metal hilt connects with the bones of her face, I feel her weight sag. I yank my knife away just as she falls. Her body crumples to the ground in a lifeless, rotting heap at my feet, a heap that the others stumble over. They step on her, trip on her, two fall, but the other three keep their footing and hurry toward me. I don’t have time to knife them all. They’ll eat me before I can drop even two more of them. I’m dead if I don’t change my plan.

But I never once considering running.

I pull out my gun and fire a shot into the face of the guy closest to me. I’m pissed I have to shoot so close to the bar and announce myself, but I’m glad I did a practice run on Mr. Brady back there in the minivan, otherwise I might have hesitated. I might be dead right now.

This guy eats the bullet I feed him and falls as I turn to do the same to another guy on my left. Both are down in a matter of seconds. I save my bullets and use my knife on the last Z on her feet. She gets her hands on my arm and digs her fingers in painfully, nearly breaking the skin, but I manage to push the knife into her eye deep enough to put her down. 

There’s a crack like lightning and one of the stumblers goes down. Another crack and the last Z is dead, a bullet hole bleeding out of his temple.

I spin around, my heart in my throat, and search the darkness. I don’t see anything or anyone.

“Up here,” a voice calls softly.

Four stories up in a building on my right is a dark figure waving happily down at me like I’m Santa parading down the street and tossing out candy.

“Thanks for the assist,” I joke breathlessly. My lungs are screaming and I realize I’ve been holding my breath since I spotted the infected. My mind I can keep calm but my body does what it wants and apparently it wanted to freak out like a thirteen-year-old girl.

“Vin?”

“Yeah.” I squint uselessly up into the dark. “Who’s up there?”

“Bennett.”

I can’t help but laugh. “No way. You’re still alive?”

“Far as I know,” he chuckles.

“I thought you were dead the first day, man.”

“No such luck. Hey, come up here. There’s a door in that alley. It’s unlocked.”

I wave to him and jog toward the alley. It’s pitch black in here and I have to feel along the rough, grimy wall to find the door. It pulls open reluctantly, screeching so loudly I wince. Then it bangs shut behind me, the sound oddly final.

There’s a set of stairs to my right that I jog up quickly, all four flights. The building is an office space with open doors and papers thrown everywhere. Manila folders litter the ugly gray carpet like confetti on New Year’s. There’s no blood, not like the world outside, and I wonder if everyone bailed on this place before the Fever hit. My guess is once word got out that Tacoma was going under, people probably stopped showing up for work here in Seattle. I know I did.

“Down here!” Bennett calls out to me.

I follow his voice down the hall to a big office with a huge dark desk and a wall of books. I can’t read what kind they are but they’re uniform – same size, color, gold etched title. It looks like a set of obese encyclopedias and my guess is this place was a law firm.

Bennett waves to me from where he sits kicked back in a black leather chair. He’s dressed entirely in black, even a black beanie covering his shaggy brown hair. He has a rifle positioned on the window sill pointed down at the street right where he saw me and immediately I know – I was never going to sneak up on the bar. Marlow has people watching the perimeter, meaning he has manpower, meaning I need to tread carefully and make a decision fast.

“What’s up, man?” I ask him, leaning against the wall by the door.

“Oh you know, nothing new. Just the apocalypse.”

“Where were you, douchebag?”

He laughs. “You still pissed about the Southside?”

“How’d you know I was mad about that?”

“Wright.”

“He’s still alive?” I ask hopefully.

Bennett’s smile fades. “Nah. He’s dead. Boss too.”

“I heard. How’d they die?”

“Zombies, dude. How else?”

I nod even though I know he’s lying because he’s telling me more than I asked. That lie says he’s with Marlow, through and through. “Tough luck.”

“The worst.”

“Who else is still around?”

“Quite a few of us. Marlow, obviously. You, me, Jameson, John, and Reynolds are the big players so far. The rest are strays Marlow’s taken in.”

My palms sweat as I casually look around the room. “Any idea how the other gangs are doing?”

“Haven’t really seen ‘em yet. Not a single head, just the low levels that have wandered in looking for a home. Anyone worth anything is probably laying low like us, waiting for the dust to settle.” He grins again. “We’ll cross paths soon enough.”

That’s what I’m worried about
, I think to myself.

I want to know who’s out there and how big their pull is, how strong their push, but if everyone is still laying low and licking their wounds I won’t know until it all shakes out. And by then I might have backed the wrong pony.

“How long until Marlow moves?” I ask.

“You signin’ up?”

“Never checked out,” I answer vaguely. “How long?”

“A couple more days.”

“He have his eye on a new home?”

“He wants the football stadium.”

I chuckle, amazed. “Going from the bar to CenturyLink? He’s got stones trying to take a place as big as that.”

“It’s now or never. We’ve been scouting it for the last couple of days. It was closed when the Fever hit. No one inside but maybe a couple janitors. Place is a ghost town. Z free.”

I nod my head, scanning the wall of books blindly. I’m working on an exit strategy, a way to leave this building without heading straight to the bar and popping up on Marlow’s radar until I’m ready, when Bennett hands it to me on a silver platter.

“Your dad has been by.”

His words hit me like a punch to the gut, sucking the air from my lungs. “He’s still alive?” I ask, my voice full of gravel.

“Last I saw. He’s got the luck of the Irish.”

“He’s Italian, asshole.”

“Whatever. He’s still kicking. Told him you were alive last we checked but that no one knew where you were camped out. He begged Marlow to let him on. He wants to join up but Marlow doesn’t want him.”

“I can’t imagine why not.”

“He had the shakes when I saw him,” Bennett agrees.

I go to wipe my fingers across my mouth but my hand is shaking. I stuff it my pocket. “Withdrawals.”

“That’s what Marlow figured. That’s why he said no. Told him if he showed up clean and clear it’d be a different story.”

“He won’t survive that long.”

“I don’t know, man. That was only day before yesterday. He’s made it longer than a lot of people.”

“His luck’s about to change.” I peel my reluctant body off the wall, my blood rushing in my ears. “Did he tell you where he was hiding?”

“Fairmount Apartments over on Lent Avenue,” he recites. “Room 406.”

I snap forward off the wall, my body full of electricity that’s itching through my veins and crackling on my skin. I nod to Bennett with a hard jerk of my head. “Thanks.”

“Where are you going?”

“To find him.”

“What about Marlow?”

I dart out of the office and sprint toward the stairs. “I’ll get to him next,” I mutter.

The loser is hiding just a few blocks from the bar, from Marlow and the neighborhood where he knows I work. He’s probably been watching and waiting, trying to find me. To use me. My palm aches where the handle of my gun is held tightly in my hand and I run tirelessly toward the apartment building. I take the stairs two at a time and if my body doesn’t like it I don’t care. This moment has been a long time coming. Too long. Now that it’s finally here I can’t keep my shit straight. I’m coughing and laughing, shaking in small tremors under my skin like I’m cold but my body is burning up, and some small part of me is afraid I have the Fever.

BOOK: Gods of the Dead (Rising Book 1)
4.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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