Based on the series by W. G. Sweet
AMERICA the DEAD: BOOK ONE
Copyright © 2013 by independAntwriters All Rights Reserved
Writers: W.W. Watson, Geo Dell, W.G. Sweet, G.D. Smitty
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the authors imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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EARTH’S SURVIVOR’S – AMERICA the DEAD: BOOK ONE
We were down along the river checking over some of the old buildings that perched on the cliffs high above the water. Summer was coming on full and we knew we had to get moving, get out of this dead city. We had half the country to cross and find a place before winter came back around again.
I was thinking back to March. Just two months ago but the world was still the world. And for the next little while there, we didn’t even know about the dead. Dead was still dead. When you closed your eyes for the long eternal sleep you didn’t wake up a short minute later as something else. No. We were ignorant up until a few weeks ago when they decided to come after us. Ignorant. Stupid. Didn’t know a thing: Have a clue. We didn’t know what the blue shit the government planes sprayed us with right after everything went to hell was. And I am still not convinced I know all there is to know, but I suspect things. I have been told things. I met a guy a few weeks back that said he worked at the Army base. He knew what it was. What I do know was it was designed to strengthen us. Keep us alive a little longer. Make us stronger somehow. Some dip shit scientist’s idea.
I suppose it was meant as a help for us. A help. The world slowed down, fell apart, everything stopped working. They knew they couldn’t get to us. We would die. So they sprayed the blue shit on us. And I could suppose further that some of us survived the last few months because of it. I can’t prove it but I suspect it did help us evolve into… I don’t know.. Whatever the hell we are now. I know we’re alive? I know our hearts beat. I still feel human and I truly think I am still human. If it made changes to the living they are very small changes… At least so far.
But the dead. Oh, the dead. That’s a different story. It did something else to the dead.
I walked along thinking my thoughts. I was lost in them, I’ll admit it. We were right in front of a line of cliffs that overhung the water, spread out a little, at least I was. It’s funny how you can forget to be careful so Goddamn fast. It was somewhere past midday when they came for us.
Emma from a hundred yards down. The panic and fear in her voice made my heart leap into my throat, and because of her fear, and probably some of my own, I did a really stupid thing right then that cost me time. I was so panicked that I threw my rifle down and sprinted towards the sound of her voice. I got maybe twenty feet when the realization of what I had done hit me. It would have been comical to see the way I locked my legs up and tried to turn around ,before I had even come to a stop, if it had not been so Goddamned serious.
I had the rifle back in my hands, the safety off, just a fraction of a second later when Emma and Madison opened up on the UN-dead closing in on the mouth of the cave on the narrow trail up from the river. I added my fire to theirs before I had run another fifty feet and their leader, a shambling wreck of a corpse folded up and then flopped over the side of the trail and down into the river. I continued to run as I fired and was shocked to realize that I was screaming at the top of my lungs as I closed in.
“Goddamn-son-of-a-bitching-goddamn-bastards,dead-fuckers!” All strung together, fear words. I did not hear them at first so I did not know when they started, and I could not shut them down once I did hear them, the panic and fear were just too hot.
I watched as, unseen by Emma and Madison a Zombie crouched on a narrow path above them swiveled his rotting head to me, seemed to take my measure with a wide, yellowed grin, and then dropped from the ledge on to Madison’s back.
“No! Goddamn-son-of-a-bitches-dead-bastards-bastards!” I could not say Madison Look Out!Or speed up my feet or any other damn thing. Time had slowed, become elastic, strange, too clearly seen… The Zombie hit her hard and she folded like an accordion and was driven into the ground, a few hundred pounds of animated corpse riding her down into the dirt. Clawed hands clutching, mouth already angling to bite…To taste her…
I was still thirty or more yards away. I could not see how that could even be possible. I should have been closer but I was not. I saw Emma turn, panicked, take her eyes off the other UN-dead, and start towards Madison. Unchallenged the other Zombies closed ground far faster than they should have been able to. I saw the Zombie on Madison take a mouthful of her back and rip the flesh away from her spine. Emma’s rifle came up and barked and the zombie blew apart, raining down on Madison like a storm of red. Somehow I managed to switch to full auto, get my rifle up, and spray an entire one hundred round clip into the other Zombies where they rushed along the path towards Emma and the fallen Madison.
Madison screamed. Time leapt back into it’s proper frame and I found myself five feet away as Madison arched her back, screamed, and tried to stand. Blood ran in a perfect river from her gaping wound, across the white of her T-Shirt and down to the waist of her jeans.
“I think… I think…” Madison tried.
“Baby… Baby,” Emma sobbed. She dropped to her knees and pulled Madison to her. “Oh, Baby… Baby,” Emma sobbed.
I looked back up at the trail. Empty. At least of moving UN-dead. Three or four, it was hard to tell with the tangle of legs and arms, lay dead on the pathway. Silence descended. I heard a bird in the trees above calling as if nothing was wrong with the world. Emma sobbing. Madison crying, hysterically. The wind moaning through the empty buildings of the downtown area, which was set just back from the cliffs and the river on this side of town.
I was thinking… “That wind is colder. Colder even than when we started out this morning. Fall is here. Maybe it will slow those bastards down… We will be okay… My, God… They bit Madison… They BIT Madison!!!” I sagged to the ground my mind full of confusion and numbness.
Emma was sobbing uncontrollably, Madison had lapsed into shock. I was sitting crossed legged wondering where in Hell this would all end up, my rifle fallen from hands and laying on the ground next to me. Time spun out. Dragged. Seemed elastic once more, sticking in places and jumping ahead from those places to where it should have been had it continued to run properly.
Emma sobbing, holding Madison up. Kissing her forehead. Telling her how much she loved her… How she was her world… Madison… Eyes rolled back in her head… Face pale… Fine beads of sweat standing out on her forehead… Her back a bright slick of red running across Emma’s hands where she held her. Slowing… Slowing… Emma mouthing words in such slow motion that I could not understand what she said… Madison’s body sagging, eyes rolled up to the whites… Bright dots of blood speckled across Emma’s cheeks… Then time jumped, staggered, came back to normal and Emma was screaming and screaming…
“No! … NO! … Not my… My, love, my Madison, my…” Collapsing to the ground with Madison, crying still… Softer but continuous.
“Emma…” My voice, but I did not know it at first. I actually stopped speaking and looked around, startled, before I realized it was me speaking. I turned my attention back to Emma. “Emma… Emma, it’ll be okay… It’ll be…”
“NO!….NO!” She scrambled back pulling Madison’s unconscious body with her. She wiped one hand across her eyes trying to stem the flow of tears… “NO! She’s… She’s okay… Okay… You can’t… You…” She broke down into sobs, pulled Madison to her and began dragging her away from me.
“Emma… Emma, it bit her… Bit her… Emma… Emma, it’s… It’s just you and me, Emma… It bit her… It bit her…”
She let go of Madison and lunged for her rifle. I sat, still cross legged, stupidly, as she grabbed it and leveled it at me.
“Get out,” She said very calmly. Much more calmly than I thought she should have been capable of.
“Emma… What are you doing… Emma.”
“GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT!” She screamed. I reared back as the rifle barrel came up and then slashed down across my face. I jumped back but not fast enough. The steel barrel smashed into my lower lip, through it and then hit my teeth. I immediately tasted blood, machine oil, and I could feel pieces of my broken teeth on my tongue. Sharp splinters.
The pain was delayed but it came never-the-less. Hard, heavy, fast, down into my lower jaw and then ricocheted back up into the top of my head. I scrambled backwards, tripped over my own rifle, got it into my hands and then time did that funny slowing, elastic thing again.
The blood dripped from my chin onto the ground. My rifle was pointed squarely at Emma, safety off, and an empty clip, but Emma didn’t know that. The blood dripped slowly. Emma’s eyes swam in and out of focus but remained on me. Her rifle barrel dipped and rose again, leveled on me.
She seemed to take a deep breath that went on forever, and then, once more, time sped up. “I’ll kill you,” Emma told me. “If you touch her, I’ll kill you… I will,” She started out strong but ended in a doubtful, whining whisper.
I didn’t drop my rifle barrel but held one hand out in front of me in a placating gesture. “Not touching anyone… Not,” I managed through my busted lip and broken teeth. The pain was a live, throbbing thing.
“You will… But… I know you will… You think… You think…” She seemed all at once to realize that she no longer held Madison in her arms. She took a deep shuddering breath and then dropped her rifle to the ground. She collapsed back down to the ground and crawled to Madison’s body.
I stood. Shocked. Not knowing what to do. Time side slipped. The bird went back to calling out, if it had ever stopped, the wind came back, blowing cold against my face, pushing the flush of heat that the situation had bought with it away, cooling the sweat on my brow. The bird called… Another picked it up and soon all of the birds were talking a though nothing at all had happened. It became a perfect storm of noise after the deepness of the silence. Time slipped away again, clouds moving across the cold, blue of the sky.
Emma sat, Madison pulled up into her lap, a large smear of maroon on her forehead, stroking Madison’s black hair. The birds called. The coldness of the wind seemed to bite at my bones. Nipping. Tasting. An Undead thing of it’s own.
I can’t tell you why I did it but I am glad I did. I pushed the button on the rifle butt, dropped the empty clip in to my waiting palm, and slid another up into the rifle where it socketed itself home with a solid click. I did it perfectly. Like I had been doing it all of my life instead of just the last six months since the Undead disease, epidemic, disorder, what-ever-the-fuck it was had happened. She never looked up. The birds didn’t stop singing their birdsong… Just in case, I told myself. Just in case.
I stood, my knees screaming, flexed experimentally and then walked a short distance away, leaning up against the cliff face. Emma’s voice had fallen to a barely audible whisper as she stroked Madison’s hair and held her. A private conversation. A private conversation in the wide open, which thanks to the UN-dead was a very private place. No one at all around, alive anyway, and the dead could care less about love, secrets, whispered promises, goodbyes. The UN-dead only cared about the hunger that seemed to drive them. Flesh, and more flesh… The time turned elastic once more and spun out of control for some unknown length. I only know that when I came back to myself the sun had moved across the sky. My thoughts were about darkness, Zombies, staying alive.
When I think back on it now I realize a noise had brought me back. Had to be, otherwise there was no reason for me to come back at all. Just stay gone. Let the sun go down and the UN-dead take the night, me, Emma, Madison and whatever else they wanted. But it didn’t go that way…
A noise. A sliding foot. A pebble falling from above… I really don’t know. I know that this time I reacted fast. My rifle came up, my mind was clear. I focused, two of them dropping from the cliffs above… Like cats… Like dead, stinking, feral cats… Dragging that stink of death with them. The stench of rotted flesh falling from the sky along with them and enveloping me even as I fired into them.
I had a choice. I couldn’t get them both. One falling at me, one falling at Emma where she sat with Madison cradled in her arms oblivious to everything around her. My reaction chose for me. The rifle came straight up and spat short, little barks of noise and flame. The Zombie started to come apart before it hit me. A shower of cold, dead blood rained down on me, splattered against my face. The body hit the barrel of the rifle and took me down to the ground clutching the rifle hard to keep from losing it as the full weight of the Zombie came down on it.
I kept it, but only by sheer determination. The Zombie had impaled herself onto the barrel. Her flesh so rotted that it had simply punched through her breast and out her back. I shoved her off as quickly as I could. One booted foot kicking against her chest. Knocking her apart, pulling the barrel back through the soft flesh and hard bone.
I expected to see Emma done for. I expected to see her dead or dying, but she had somehow ended up about twenty feet from where the Zombie had fallen. She looked herself as if she had no real idea how that had happened, but when I raised my eyes and they took in the whole scene before them, I saw exactly how it had happened..
Madison must have been awake. Laying there badly injured but not gone. Taking the comfort from Emma that she offered. When the Zombie fell she saw it. Saw it and managed to push Emma away from her and take the attack on herself.
The Zombie was no match for her, wounded though she was. She straddled the Zombie with a rock easily the size of her own head and bought it down hard. Once. Twice, and then I lost count and the Zombie quit fighting. The UN-dead dead again. This time for good.
The silence came back hard. Like a curtain on the last act of a play just when the audience isn’t expecting it. It crashed down.
Time did it’s elastic trick and then snapped back before I was ready for it. My senses were shot. A first I could not connect the dots of memory that I needed to connect to make sense of what my eyes were seeing.
Emma rose to shaky legs and started towards Madison. Sobbing once more. Madison’s eyes swiveled to me. A sick look in them and pain riding there too. She slumped forward, one wrist flapping uselessly and lunged for the rifle that Emma had had trained on me not that long ago. Time stopped it’s elastic trickery right around that time. I knew exactly what she intended to do before she did it. Emma stopped in mid stride and nearly fell backwards at the effort of stopping so quickly. I think she believed for a second that Madison intended to shoot her. I really believe she thought that, but that was not the plan and I knew that was not the plan. Because the plan that had resurfaced in her mind was the one we had talked about, half seriously, half jokingly for the last several weeks that we had been traveling together. Before she followed through on that plan I heard her tell it to me in my mind once again, the way she had several weeks before. Several weeks before when she had been unmolested… Whole.. Not about to join the ranks of the UN-dead herself.
“If I ever fuckin’ have to I won’t hesitate,” Madison had said, “Once I’m dead I don’t want to be alive again.” She shuddered and grimaced at the same time.
We had been in an old house on the outskirts of the city. We had had gas lanterns for light. The windows were boarded. The UN-dead scratched and cried and pleaded, but they could not get in. The four of us–John had still been alive then, in fact he had died just two days later… Fell through a rotted section of floor in that same old house… Impaled himself on a pipe in the basement… Madison had shot him in the head nearly as soon as he had stopped his struggles. Emma had bent double and vomited. I had held it in but barely–but that night John had been alive, he had still been with us. With us as we listened to the sounds of the UN-dead that were trying to get us. To kill us. To eat us. To satisfy their ceaseless hunger. In the flickery light from the gas lanterns, she had said it, and he had nodded his head, agreeing immediately with what she had said. And I had not. It had not been a real thing to me until two days later when John had died and she had wasted no time. None. “He would have expected it,” she had said, and nothing more. But that night… That night she had said it right out. Like a mantra. Like looking into the future and seeing this day.
“If they come for me? If they get me? I’ll put a bullet in my own head. I will . I swear I will.”
And Emma had begun to cry. “Don’t say it, Maddy… Don’t say it.” And she hadn’t said it again, but it didn’t matter. She had already spoke it into truth. I had heard it. I had heard it and I knew she meant it.
And now… Time stopped it’s trick. She jammed the rifle under her chin and squeezed the trigger… Her head exploded in a spray of red and gray. I swear I could hear the sounds of small bits of bone and blood pattering down to the ground. And then the silence was roaring again.
I took a breath, another… And then Emma began to scream once more…
It’s been three weeks. I thought Emma would never talk again. I believed she wouldn’t right up until she did yesterday.
I just kept us moving. Out of the city and south. Walking days, seeking refuge at night. The zombies smell us, you know. They can smell us for miles. So at night it’s strong places. Strong places where they can’t get in and then hope like hell these were not some of the new breed, the ones that didn’t seem to have a need to avoid the day, and they would be gone in the morning.
I started carrying a radio the other day. Clips on the belt. FM. Picks up a lot of talk during the day. There’s a place that a lot of the people I hear from have heard about. In the middle of no place. Somewhere in Kentucky… Tennessee. Some swear they have even talked to the people that founded this place. I had never heard them myself until today, but the word I had heard was that it was a safe place. That it is open to everyone.
So that is where I’ve been walking us too. I don’t know who these people are. If they even exist, I only know the whole world is fucked up. I have come to understand that even if I get us as far South as I can, we wont make it for long. We’re only two. The dead are getting smarter. And that is not just my point of view. It’s on the radio. They all say it.
L.A. and New York both are barely hanging on. Both! Barely hanging on! Nearly over run! If they can’t make it how can we? No. I’m heading for this place. I’m hoping it’s real. Today on the radio I caught something. Someone named Conner. I heard that name. And it sounded like he was talking about the same place I have heard about. I’m just hoping it’s true. That I didn’t just imagine it to assuage my mind.
Meantime I am trying to keep us alive. Find strong places to stay through the nights. There are strong places. Places you can find if you give it some thought. Stairwells in highrises. Steel and concrete. They can’t get through those doors. Deep freezers in grocery stores. Heavy steel doors. Vehicles if you have to and we have had to. You can find a big truck with a steel trailer. The roads are jammed with them. They can’t get in there either. A little fire at night if I can. The Zombies are afraid of fire. Don’t like the smell of smoke. Canned stuff to eat. Christ, we’ll be eating canned shit until we die. Get up the next day and push on. Get moving again. And that is what I’ve done. Kept us moving. Kept us safe. And she came willingly, although silently, like a big, semi animated puppet. And then yesterday she was walking beside me, silent as she had been since the thing with Madison, and she spoke.
“I don’t like beans, Mason. I just don’t… Maybe we could find something different tonight?” She had lifted her voice at the end and made it into a question. I stopped in the middle of walking between an abandoned car and a wrecked, burned out truck. Months old. I looked back at her. She smiled, tentative at first but then it lit up her face. I had to laugh. I had had so much pent up inside me.
“The beans are a bit much then,” I asked?
“A bit,” she agreed.
I stood for a second not knowing what to say.
“You could say, welcome back,” she said softly
“Welcome back,” I repeated every bit as quietly. “Welcome back…”