Authors: Peter Carrier
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
by Peter Carrier
While many works of film, television, literature and gaming influenced this book, none of them were as instrumental to its inception as Jeremy. He inspired me to begin the journey and without his example, none of this would have happened. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.
I offer a call to the Lord of Hosts,
That he may hear his servants toast.
A prayer for those whose paths I've crossed
And all the souls that I have lost.
Your children, the proven humans of our race,
Know the truth of life's End embrace:
By blade, bullet, tooth or claw,
Our lives should ever inspire your awe.
Grant your son some deeper strength,
That he may endure the day's great length.
Keep his path a true and righteous one
And know where you send him, your will be done.
I only ask some sign of your gracious blessing
That I remember this most holy lesson:
The life you save is the life you keep,
The life you take is the soul you reap.
This was Hell. At least, one version of it.
Sitting in a white walled office, surrounded by screens and monitors bombarding him with audio and visual data from coast to coast, mindlessly searching for some worthwhile piece of media; sound byte, still image, video. The needle-in-haystack investigation that would inevitably uncover some bright, shining turd just waiting for the right amount of polish to be the Next Big Thing. In a strange way, it was reminiscent of the American Dream. Toil long and hard and maybe you, too, could hit the big time.
Yeah. Definitely some version of Hell. Maybe one of the outer circles.
Marvin Hughes shook his head in an effort to restore focus to his wandering mind. A glance at the clock on the monitor in front of him confirmed it: he had been in the office less than an hour. With a sigh, he continued clicking through the feeds. Another minute passed and another, every panel or frame as deserted as the last. Eventually, he noticed the blinking notification of his interoffice chat client. Curious, Marvin pulled his gaze from the desolate wastes and crumbling ruins he had been watching with vacant interest and opened the notification.
It was a link from Rose, which opened a feed on the monitor to his right, number four. The image was sharp, much crisper than most of the channels he was accustomed to. Must be new equipment, he thought. While most of what he saw was the same drab grays and browns that were nearly invisible to him now, there were items in frame that showed shocking bits of fall color. This color was what drew him in, initially. Before the wonder of that spotted color could fade, he noticed the code on the bottom of the screen. Marvin frowned when he saw it.
5H-34, 038, 6P? That's gotta be somewhere in the northeast.
Sure enough, cross-referencing the location portion of the stamp confirmed it came from central New England, in what had been southern New Hampshire. At this point a figure entered frame from the left.
It was a young man, of average height and solid build, though it was tough to tell for certain beneath the coat. The sizable pack on his back indicated strength and endurance. An older model military rifle was slung over his shoulder, and he wore a gun and large, angled knife on his hips. He was passing in front of a square building, set back a ways in the camera's field of view. A faded sign, tipped and cracked on the roof, read “Miles of Smiles Daycare”. Here the young man stopped and turned toward the darkened doorway of the ruined building.
Seeing the man's hand dip to the revolver at his side and rest on the grip of the sidearm prompted Marvin to wonder what was happening. However increased the clarity of the video, it was still devoid of audio. Marvin's question about what his subject heard was quickly answered and served to further enrapture him in the scene.
Small human-shaped creatures emerged from several points around the structure: the open door at the front, from under the collapsed stairs that once lead up to that door, from the far corner of the building, even from the windows. They were stocky, lumpy, their skin a miasma of sick gray and white and peach. Hair clung in loose, stringy patches, dangled from mottled flesh atop misshapen skulls. What once passed for clothing had long since fallen or been pulled away from their bodies, and their nudity lent a further element of surrealism to the sight. The careful grace, the marked efficiency of every movement, the measure of their proximity to each other and the man they no doubt thought of as their prey; all these things and more told Marvin he had found a clip worth saving and sending to broadcast.
So intent was he on ensuring the recording equipment was ready that he nearly missed the young man's next action. The man on screen, surrounded on all sides and outnumbered ten-to-one, took his hand from the revolver and moved it to the long knife on his other hip. Marvin took his eyes from the monitor only one more time, the half-second necessary to confirm the slave drive had a green light. He was glad he turned his full attention back to the action on screen, because he would have missed much of what happened. Yes, he was recording it. Like most people, however, Marvin got an extra thrill knowing what he was seeing was happening Right Freaking Now.
The young man became a blur of motion, stepping, crouching, leaping and turning before ending up at the far side of the building. In less than three seconds, his subject had doffed the backpack and moved nearly nine feet. While there could be no refuting the precision and effect of the young man's martial movements, Marvin could scarcely believe three of the Turned had already been laid low. The media consultant could feel his mouth hanging open in astonishment: even his trained, experienced eyes failed to see his subject draw the knife, nor could he distinguish individual movements or follow the actions of the young man's extremities. He could only see the trail of carnage left in the young man's passage.
The pack of horrors were undeterred and rushed, converging with speed borne of desperation and ravening hunger. Unimpressed with the young man's demonstration of ability, they closed, unknowing or uncaring that they rushed headlong not to feast, but to their doom. Indeed, when the young man turned to face the creatures, he seemed more a performance artist offering a savage, graceful dance than he did a human being fighting for his life. The subject resumed his quick steps, ducking, crouching and turning, deftly moving to and fro amidst the chaotic fury of clawing fingers and snapping jaws. He seemed to pass within scant inches of some of the beasts, but never came in contact with them. The only sign of his presence was the shower of gore and severed limbs he left in his wake.
Just as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. The young man was standing tall and still, knife tucked against his arm while he surveyed the area for additional threats. Deeming it safe enough, he snapped the blade out and away from his body, shaking the excess fluid from it before producing a rag from his belt and wiping the blood-colored metal clean.
Twelve seconds. Marvin saw the time stamp and blinked stupidly. It took his subject twelve seconds to dispatch a pack of ten Turned. That had ambushed him. And he'd used a goddamned knife to do it. It was almost like watching an Americanized version of Toshiro Mifune cut down rival swordsmen or bandits in a silent Akira Kurosawa flick.
He nearly dropped the phone in his hurry to pick it up. He spoke in an exhaled rush, beginning before he was connected to his secretary. “Rose, put me through to our local affiliate in-.”
“What was that, Mr. Hughes? I'm sorry, but I only caught part of what you said. I think the interoffice line might be on the fritz again.” Her voice came through clean and clear.
Marvin took a breath.
, he told himself, never taking his eyes from the monitor. Assuring himself his subject was still in frame, he released the breath. “It's not the line, just me. That link you sent me earlier came from northern part of the east coast, right, Rose?”
There was a pause where he heard the clicking of a keyboard, then his assistant replied. “Yes, sir. It looks like it was sourced from just outside the ruins of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but routed to us through Quebec. Anything interesting on it?”
Nodding, he also confirmed it to her. “Very. Would you mind connecting me with our local affiliate in Quebec? I think our neighbors to the north will want to see this.”
While he waited for Rose to transfer him, he listened to the clicks and tones of the interoffice, then international wire switch. He also watched the young man on the monitor. Having cleaned his curved knife, his subject now knelt amidst the carnage with his knife tip resting atop the earth before him. Leaning closer to the monitor, Marvin studied the young man. At first, the media consultant thought him to be resting, but then concluded his subject was meditating. Or praying. Peering even closer, Marvin wondered,
Is he crying? Those things hadn't been children in more than ten years.
The intermittent clicking and tonal registry became a ring which was answered almost immediately. A woman with a pleasant lilt said, “CHKZ International, how may I direct your call?”
“Serge Laurent, please. Tell him Marvin Hughes has something he does not want to miss.”
“Just a moment.” Another pause, this one much shorter.
“Alloo? Marfeen?” Laurent's deep timber filled the earpiece of the handset, his accent a hodgepodge of the lifelong Quebecois and English from studies abroad.
“Yeah, it's me. Good to hear you, Serge. Listen, you guys still have a NATO unit that operates out of Quebec City, right?” While speaking to his friend, Marvin was sharing a copy of the clip he had prepped during the call transfer.
“Oui, one of your old Marine divisions, I tink. What about it? And what is dis ting I do not want to miss?”
“I'm sharing it with you, now.” Marvin smiled. “You definitely wanna see this.”
He waited, listening to the other man breathe, hearing the clack of keyboard and click of a mouse in an office a thousand miles away. His smile broadened when he heard Serge's breath catch and then the muttered, “Putain de merde. Where you get dis?”
“It was routed from your backyard. I was hoping you might still have an 'in' with some of the Combat Communications guys you served with. Ask around on the down low, you know? I think finding this guy will be worthwhile for both of us.” Marvin heard Serge readily agree, but the specifics of the reply were lost on the media consultant. He was too busy studying the subject on monitor four. Still kneeling with the long knife held out before him, the young man was more reminiscent of a questing knight than a wandering survivor.
What's your story?
Marvin asked himself, smiling.
If I have my say, many people will want to know.
He had seen them coming nearly a mile away. Using his binoculars to scout the road ahead, he watched them enter a cul-de-sac on the other side of the town. They approached one of the houses with caution, but did not check the surroundings. If they had, they would have noticed the back door was blocked by a fallen tree and most of the windows were boarded. They could not have missed the adjacent house and how it leaned heavily to one side, nearly in contact with the structure they sought to enter. They posted one sentry outside the house; the man with the rifle. That man remained in the yard, in plain view directly in front of the house.
None of this sat well with the Shepherd.
He knew every moment mattered. His course already plotted thanks to his binoculars and some time on the hill, the Shepherd made his way down and into the town. Autumn made the quiet streets and empty houses more colorful, but also lent an unease to the place. The foliage offered not only visual distraction, but the clutter impeded movement; dead leaves and fallen branches made discretion more difficult and offered obstacles to bypass. The basics were still manageable, though: stay out of the road where possible and keep moving. His approach would only need to be masked for the last few hundred feet, so he could sacrifice stealth in place of speed for most of the trip.
When he was three hundred feet from the cul-de-sac, he stopped by a car in a driveway. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he quickly surveyed his surroundings. Nothing visibly following him and no sound of movement around or ahead. Feeling secure, he more thoroughly checked the car. All the tires were flat, most of the windows were intact and there was a healthy amount of rust along the panels. Leaves covered the vehicle like a patchwork blanket. With no sign of activity around the vehicle, he felt confident it would make an ideal place to store a cache and he needed to be as unencumbered as possible during this last leg of the trip.