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    All The Dead Are Here - Pete Bevan's zombie tales collection


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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    GRACE AND COURAGE, WE GOT By Vincent L. Cleaver
    April 9, 2013  Longer stories   Tags:   

    The third house down the street was crawling with the walking dead, three or four of which we could see and there even were more inside of the place. I thought I could hear a little crying. It could have been a man, courage and mind fled. The sound was enough to move a hard heart to pity. I have me and mine, my plucky little band of survivors, to look after, but sometimes it pays to cast a little bread upon the waters.

    And sometimes you just want to feel good about yourself.

    “Let’s go see what they’re trying to get at.”

    Rudy glanced around, looking like he’d just bitten into a lemon. He wasn’t the only one not thrilled about this idea, but he was apparently the only one willing to question my lead. “You sure?”

    “No… let’s went, before I have an even better idea.”

    “By better, of course, you mean more dangerous?”

    “Yep.”

    Rudy turned and walked that way, muttering angrily under his breath, just a little too low for me to hear, but of course my imagination could fill in the details. He strung his hand-made 70 pound hunting bow and flexed it, then selected an arrow from over his shoulder. Up it went, string pulled back by his ear and then he shut up, mercifully, took aim and let fly.

    The arrow flew straight and quietly, God bless, into the head of the nearest zombie, a lean fresh cut of meat who had just turned our way. The arrow punched through above the upper orbit of its right eye and the broad-head sliced through the only vital portion of undead anatomy, the brain.

    A second arrow was already in the air, passing through the mouth of a bare-foot zombie in a red dress, which had just moaned. Immediately we heard more of the same from inside the house, and a second later the first ones were spilling out onto the yard.

    “There seems to be an awful lot of them,” Rudy commented.

    I sighed and brought my crossbow up. I’m not as good a shot and we were still far, but I got lucky and beaned one in the side of its head, a ricochet that landed in the throat of another zombie. The one I had hit fell, creating a nice traffic jam. I reset the crossbow and reloaded, all while Rudy put three more arrows in the air and took down another undead American. Show-off.

    We have had some success with lawn-darts, and the three other members of my go-team were chucking the suckers. They miss, more often than not, but they got banned for damn good reason. They punch through a skull quite nicely, when you hit your mark.

    Presently we ran out of targets, before we had run out of quiet ammo, which is always nice. We moved in cautiously, making sure they stayed down for good, all according to drill. It burns off the dregs of adrenaline, tension, that sort of thing, and nobody likes having to help a friend out after they’ve been bit in the ankle… Rudy surprised me with a kiss.

    “You’re a damn fool, Kendra, and I love you anyway. Now can we get this done and get back to my kids before dark?”

    By my count, that makes public display of affection number three; Rudy is not a touchy-feelie sort, easily embarrassed… and we had to put his wife back down nearly three months ago. One of the first of my ‘patients’ to run to term, from the bite to the fever and then death, followed by reanimation, and quieting.

    The house was a mess. Anderson lead us, as he was the expert, a soldier come home from the deadliest lands of the Earth, to slog through the zombie apocalypse. He was showing us the proper way to ‘clear’ a building, and then we could get to some serious scavenging. We went quickly through the first floor, then we followed the sounds upstairs, dealing with a straggler on the way.

    It came at us unexpectedly, falling down the steps nearly on top of Anderson. The corpse had been an adult male, of middle age, and he had been fed upon at death (and hopefully not before, but I didn’t count on it). His legs were tatters which he had been dragging behind him, thus his tardiness. Anderson split its skull with his spade, his personal weapon of choice, and scraped the remains out of our way.

    “Stupid zombie tricks…” Anderson muttered. The crying stopped.

    “Id sum-buddy der?” A man’s voice called, sounding dull and thick, like a cartoon thug. I tapped Anderson’s shoulder and slipped past him on the stairs.

    “Careful, Doc.”

    I had to chuckle at that. They know better, but they keep calling me ‘Doc’, as if. Well, I’m the best they got in this sorry excuse for a world.

    At the top of the stairs, I turned left onto a short hallway. There were four closed doors and a two quieted zombies on the floor in front of the one on the end. As I watched, a man cautiously poked his head out of that door. “Hello?”

    “Everything is going to be okay,” I lied, but it’s such a little white lie, one I’m sure God will forgive. Or else it really is as monstrous as it sometimes sounds in my own ears, when I tell a child the same thing. I set the crossbow down, still set but I plucked the arrow, or quarrel, out of the groove. I held my hands out in front of me, still with the quarrel in my left, because upstairs was ‘hot’, but trying not to look like a threat to him.

    “Really?” He didn’t sound like he was being obnoxious, and he came out of what looked to be the bathroom, wary of the two corpses. Something strange here… I saw movement behind him.

    “Hold!”

    Anderson and Rudy, behind me, went into threat mode, Anderson pulling his rifle around to aim it.

    “No, no, no,” the man said, and he moved to put himself between us and the small form behind him. There was an edge of hysteria to it, but he was going to get himself killed if he didn’t let us see… it was a little girl. Her fuzzy hair, brown eyes and coffee-colored skin, were beautiful. She looked so much like my daughter that my heart ached.

    “Everybody just calm the hell down!” I shouted. “You! Little girl? Let me see you, please, honey?”

    Predictably, she hid behind the man, who I could see more clearly now. He had dirty-blond hair and wore grey-green cargo pants, a ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ T-shirt, and carried a fire-place poker in his right hand. He was bloody and his dirty face was streaked with tears, but he absently stabbed the poker into the nearest head, twice, to be sure. He licked his lips, watching us and seemed to crab around towards the other one, but Anderson beat him to it with a spade to its skull.

    I heard both men clearly sigh in relief and I had to smile at that.

    “What’s her name?” I asked.

    “The little bird don’t talk; her words got skeerd away…”

    He wiped at his tears and snot, then brightened.

    “She sings pretty, though, when she’s happy!”

    “You’re a little slow, aren’t you, son?”

    The man nodded. “Yes’m, ” he said and hung his head in shame, so I reached over, put my hand under his chin, and lifted.

    “Hey, chin up, Courage! You done good.”

    The little girl laughed at that and danced around from behind the man.

    “More strays,” Rudy said, exasperated. “We got courage, and what, grace?”

    “Yeah.” I rubbed at my eyes tiredly. “Grace and courage, we got.”

    ***

    Courage’s real name turned out to be Ray, but he got such a kick out of being called ‘Courage’ that the name stuck. He and the little girl had been on their own for less than a week, after the old woman they’d been with had died of natural causes… and then come back, because the damn zombie factor is in the ecosystem, near as I can make out. The man had already been drilled on what to do in this new world.

    “Don’t get bit. Run away!” Courage looked puzzled for a second. “If’n you can’t run, hit ’em in the head until they stay down! Don’t get bit!” He screwed up his face, then finished. “If’n you do get bit, you gotta tell. Bed down safe, lock the doors, don’t get bit! Be quiet, don’t cry, go potty away from where you’s hid, and don’t get bit!”

    He had the kids singing his little mantra, and it was driving the adults nuts, but I had to smile. Old Lady Jackson was one smart cookie, and she would have immortality, of sorts. One day this would become a children’s game, like the one based on the Black Death.

    ‘Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!’

    “What are we going to do with him?” Rudy asked. He had come up beside me while I was watching Courage and the kids at play.

    “Do?”

    “You know what I mean. We got enough dead weight.”

    “Somebody has to be the bad guy, don’t they, so if I won’t do the job, you’re stuck with it?” He turned away from me, but instead of a sour look, he couldn’t help but smile. “But I don’t buy the act, Rudy. I’ve seen you with your kids.”

    I came up behind him and hugged him. It felt good.

    “Hey, people are looking!”

    “Let them.”

    ***

    Unfortunately, Rudy is right. We have too many dependents and not nearly enough fighters and scavengers. We had tried to settle in safe places, but so many things have gone wrong. We typically eat our way out of supplies and need to move on, but on occasion we have been forced out by larger or more aggressive groups. We’ve have to make a run for it twice, but I think that the worst time was when we were put on the road by a much larger group of survivors. Their leader didn’t want a fight, but I hated that bastard for cherry-picking a half-dozen of my best people. I can’t blame them for bailing, especially since they took three kids with them, but one of them was our very best scavenger!

    We mostly run away. Most of the other survivor groups are no longer taking people in, and are big enough to take what we have, anyway. There are even cannibal gangs, now. I don’t want to understand them, but maybe if we had nothing to eat, and too many people… I keep having that thought and I keep keeping it to myself.

    ***

    Three days later, we were pushing the ragged edge. The last found food was a memory, of supper the night before, and we’d picked up an old man, God knows how he’d managed to last this long. We didn’t have anything to offer him, and the old man joked bleakly about ‘stone soup’. A pack of thirty or forty zombies had us ‘treed’ us in an office building, but we had gotten the upstairs blocked off successfully. I knew that we had to have food, water, and, well, it wouldn’t hurt if a few of us decoyed the pack away, maybe whittled it down a little…

    “No. Absolutely not,” Rudy told me, when I announced this. I looked around the room and saw that they were all scared, all looking to me and that we didn’t need this.

    “Back off!” I snarled. And for a wonder, he did. I guess I can do scary real good; sometimes I even scare myself. I poked a finger at him, hard, and silently hoped he’d stay backed down. He was as close to white-eyed, white-knuckle scared as any of us.

    “I lead, which means you follow… if you got a problem with that, there’s the door!”

    We could all hear the moans.

    “Now, I’m taking a few volunteers- not you!” This time I put a hand on Rudy’s chest and pushed him back against the wall. Daisy, his youngest daughter, started to cry and that broke him. Rudy deflated a little. “I need three people, fast, for a little run across to the other side of the road. There are houses, we can see what there may be, and we can draw off a few of them-”

    That set them all to talking.

    “Quiet! This is no longer a discussion. This is not up for debate! We go, we come back, and that’s all there is to it! Now, show me, who’s up for this?”

    Rudy’s oldest boy put his hand up. Abe is seventeen. Rudy met my eyes and looked away. Two more.

    “Alright, that’s Abe, Megan, and Bruce.”

    All three had been on scavenging teams before, but they were second string. Older and wiser heads would sit this one out. The word I was avoiding was ‘expendable’, God help me.

    Rudy took his son aside, quickly, for a word and to check over the kid’s bow, a 45 pound draw that he had made the teenager for his last birthday, just a month before the dead rose. Megan and her mother prayed together in the corner. Orphan Bruce walked up to me, saying nothing, just nodded. The fear was there, a thing kept so carefully in check, but he’d do. He would do.

    “I want to go, too, K-Kendra,” Courage said, teeth chattering. He was standing by my elbow, and had come up behind me so silently… I was beginning to see how the two of them had lasted on their own for nearly a week.

    “What about Grace? You’re all she has.”

    “I can do this,” Courage insisted, and I felt just a little more of my soul flake away, as I nodded.

    Expendable, damn it!

    I turned away, but Grace started humming a song and Courage laughed.

    “What?!”

    “The little bird wants me to sing the words…”

    I shook my head and started to walk away.

    “‘The news had come out in the First World War
    The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
    The Allied command ignored all of its men
    And called on Snoopy to do it again…'”

    I turned around in wonder. They all were singing, which the reasonable survivor in me knew was just a bad idea, as the moans redoubled. But, for a just little while, the space of a song, their spirits were borne up into the air on an old Christmas novelty. I took up a spot by the door with the rest of my go-team, and muttered, “This’ll just rile up Mort and Morticia,” but we were all smiling, too.

    ***

    The ghouls were fairly howling for our flesh and blood, and the fresher cuts of meat were pretty spry. That served to spread them out over a ‘stern chase’, with the lead zombies being dropped hand to hand and the trailing ones being hit by our people sniping from our safe place in the office building. They used silent weapons, not guns. I’ve become terribly conflicted on the subject of guns since the rising of the dead; they provide a false sense of security and give you away with the noise, but, to paraphrase some dead guy, they’re a very present help in times of trouble…

    We went down the street and ducked around behind the line of row-homes across from our people. I saw Rudy holding Daisy up so they both could see us and waved just before we did so. A beautiful kid. She’s not mine, but, you know what, they’re all mine, now. I saw Abe looking at me and winked at him.

    “We’ll just go pick up some bread and milk and be home in a jiffy.”

    “What’s a ‘jiffy’?” Courage asked.

    I blinked and shrugged. “Half a moment, twice an instant. I’ll have to google it…”

    Abe and Megan chuckled at that, Bruce rolled his eyes, and Courage smiled a bit shakily. I tussled his hair, then we were dealing with a few followers-on who’d just caught up and then we were back to breaking and entering. That the house was closed up seemed like a good sign, and we found peanut butter, sealed crackers, sugar and flour in aluminum foil… I silently blessed whoever it was who’d put together what looked like a Doomsday Prepper stash and hid it behind a book-shelf. Abe showed me half a loaf of moldy bread and a stinky, empty milk jug. I had to laugh.

    It was a good haul and I loaded my foraging team back up. We headed back early without checking out any of the other houses. I don’t particularly care to go looking for trouble when we don’t need any more. On around we went, with Abe on point, coming back from the other end of Main Street. I’d have been willing to keep going to the back side of the office building, but turned the last street corner and we could see that the front of our destination was strangely clear of zombies.

    We found out why when the old man, our most recent addition, almost staggered into Abe, who came very near to putting the guy down for a zombie. But he saw who he was swinging at with his bat and also what was chasing the old guy in slow motion.

    “Incoming- and this is Saul! Kendra, he’s got a cut on his head,” Abe told me, dumping him unceremoniously at my feet. I love this about my crew- I have a few leader-types who can shut up and follow, and a bunch of follower-types who can step up and lead, at need… Abe, Megan and Bruce stepped forward. Courage covered me with his broken hoe, the flat metal blade gone and the thick wire hook flattened and sharpened into a point, both a spear and a staff. He was watching for Saul, of course.

    “He’s not bit,” I snapped and regretted when I saw Courage’s face. He looked completely crushed, but then he bit his lip and bore up, casting around and watching the backs of the others as well.

    I didn’t see much of the fight, it was over by the time I’d cleaned up Saul a little and gotten the bleeding from the scrape on his forehead under control. Scratches scare me as much as bites, but he had bled pretty freely and I haven’t lost anybody to a Z-factor infected scratch yet. Very few bites run to term, but sometimes they do.

    Saul seemed distracted and disoriented, asking, “Where’s Sarah?”

    “I don’t know, Saul. Who?”

    “My wife.”

    I helped him up, puzzled but feeling a little exposed. Abe and Megan were just bumping knuckles over the last of the small horde zombies, and Bruce and Courage were making doubly certain of several of the bodies.

    “Let’s all go home.”

    Saul started walking away from us. I realized much later that I should have let him go; followed him back home. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and a cast-iron bitch.

    ***

    We got back and cleaned up a little, and then we shared the loot and the love. Rudy had been quietly panicked by Saul’s disappearing act. However, everyone seemed to be distracted by the promise of full bellies, at least for a little while, and we all were in very good spirits.

    Including Abe and Megan. They’re part of our younger set, but Megan is a few years older, almost old enough to have baby-sat, yeah. I glanced at Rudy, who looked away, embarrassed. Our love-birds had their heads together over a late supper of heaping peanut butter crackers. She leaned over and licked a spot of peanut butter off his upper lip, and he stole a kiss right back. Peanut butter was obviously not the only thing on the menu… Megan’s mom looked from them to us and away again, but was smiling. She wasn’t one of those ‘churchers’ who thought God was some kind of blood-thirsty asshole; a mystery, perhaps, but loving-kind, provident.

    The two young love-birds snuck off after what they must have thought was a decent and intolerably long wait. I rolled my eyes. And gave Rudy another hard look.

    “Hey, it’s not a horrible idea… My son could do- I’m okay with it, alright?!” he blustered.

    Daisy cupped her hand to her lips and I leaned over to hear what she had to say. So did Rudy and Daisy asked, impish grin on her face, “Are they gonna make babies?”

    “I- I-”

    “I’ve got this, Rudy. If that’s okay with you?”

    “I- yes!” There was a world of relief in his voice and on his face. Then he looked worried again, went out of the break room and down the hallway. I stuck my head out after him. He knocked on the first door and then the second.

    “Dad!” Abe said with quiet outrage, and then he opened the door a crack.

    “Here!” Rudy handed a familiar and mostly empty box to his son, then hesitated.

    “You do-”

    “Dad,” Abe said, less outrage and more exasperation.

    “Okay.”

    I grabbed Daisy and went the other way, while her father went to find himself a quiet spot to contemplate, uh, tranquility?

    I made sure that everyone else was okay after I had the talk with Daisy. Saul was resting comfortably, did not seem to have a concussion, and I sat with him for a while, wondering about Sarah. I hoped, God help me, that she was dead, and not in danger somewhere, waiting for her husband to come back to her. I realized something else which had been bothering me for a while, and I mentioned it later to Rudy.

    “It’s strange, but I actually seem to thrive on all of this. I’m a paramedic, or I was a paramedic and now I’m the leader/doctor/alpha-mom.” I waited a beat and then added, “That was a joke, you can laugh!”

    Rudy shook his head. “You’re the momma cat, and you look after your kittens; Kendra’s Kittens.”

    “I suppose you’re some old tomcat who I keep around for some reason or other…”

    “Some reason. Or other.”

    I leaned into him and we kissed, then we went and found a little privacy of our own. In a few hours I’d check out our watch-keepers, but until then we forgot about the rest of our tiny, precious little world.

    ***

    People leave me be most nights, as if I’m some vital resource in danger of being used up, and I’ve seen it happen. Leaders lead, but only where their followers want to go, and only for as long as they can hold it together… I knew a doctor, a man I respected and even loved, I suppose. He was a little distant, but he got us through that first horrible week, and then he began to drift away from us, from me. One morning his door was locked with a note taped to it, plus something was incessantly trying to get out, something which moaned. The note read simply- ‘Sorry. Please see to the corpse.’

    Selfish. Cowardly. Bastard.

    They don’t wake me unless they have to, and I went from bliss to full alertness in a heart-beat. Had somebody died in their sleep and turned? Bruce led me to Saul, saying, “He wants to go out and go back to Sarah.”

    Two of ours were holding Saul down at the end of the hall by the stairs, Bill and Erin Meyers, brother and sister and all that was left of their family. They’re a couple of my steadiest people, but they were tense and Bruce looked a little wild-eyed at Saul. Erin was bleeding at the corner of her mouth. Bill had Saul in a choke-hold and was clenching and un-clenching the muscles of his jaw. Bill could have easily broken the old man in two and clearly he wanted to.

    Erin wiped her jaw, shrugged when I looked a question at her and said, “He was trying to get out again. He wouldn’t take ‘wait until morning’ for an answer.”

    Bill grunted, staring fixedly out the second story window. The door to the stairwell was still chained and locked. The window with the security glass was starred but held together with that hexagonal ‘chicken-wire’. There was a hole in it and a form lurched out of the dimness on the other side, moaning and putting its open nightmare mouth there. Bruce shoved a sharpened screwdriver through and up into its brain and that was that. There were no more moans from out there.

    Bruce wiped the screwdriver off, muttering something about ‘stupid zombie tricks’. I guess that phrase was catching on. I turned back to Saul.

    “Bill, give him some air. I need to talk to him. Bill?”

    He looked past me at his sister, who nodded slightly, and then he let the old man go. Bill stepped back and laced his fingers together, cracking his knuckles loudly.

    “Alright, Saul, would you care to explain yourself? I’m afraid we’re not in the habit of letting old men with possible concussions wander off in the middle of the night, at least I’m not. What’s going on?”

    There was a bleakness in his eyes and he seemed to weigh what he was about to say so very carefully. He met my eyes full on and sighed, seemed to deflate, collapse into himself. He fell into a folding chair which had been sitting out here in the hallway.

    “I am a fraud and a liar. I’ve done whatever I had to do to keep myself and my wife alive, but I’m not proud of it… I was sent to spy on you people.” His eyes dropped down to his hands; rough, scarred, with long clever fingers, a musician or craftsman’s hands.

    I heard a noise. Erin had stepped between her brother and Saul, and her hand was gripping his right arm. Bill’s face was completely blank. I looked from them to Bruce, who was nodding. I sighed.

    “Expect the best from people and sometimes they surprise themselves, Saul.”

    His head snapped back, eyes wide. “You-”

    “I believe in second chances, and thirds… my favorite little schemer’s motto is ‘no surrender while we still breathe’. I’m no saint, though. You help us out, we try to get your wife, but if one of mine dies, then God have mercy on you, because I won’t.”

    He swallowed. “I don’t know what they do, but I guess I didn’t want to think about it… kill them, take their stuff. The boss of that gang of thugs kept us safe, kept us locked up and fed us just enough to live. Kept Sarah to make sure I’d play ball, but…”

    “What, Saul?”

    “She’s dying.”

    “Aw hell,” Bill said. I looked up and him and his sister, and he laid a hand on my shoulder. Erin laid hers on top of his. “Let’s just do this, Kendra? Before I wise up and decide I don’t want to?”

    Rudy says that I collect strays, martyrs and heroes. I do alright…

    And of course he wasn’t happy that I wanted to ‘go looking for trouble’. Neither were my watch-keepers, Bruce, Erin and Bill. I stood them down, told them to go get some sleep. I gathered my favorite go-team, Rudy, Anderson, and, for luck, Courage. He looked happy enough I thought he was going to kiss me, or maybe pee himself. Grace doesn’t speak, but even so, she was especially quiet and he talked with her for a few moments before we headed out.

    The Meyers siblings blocked my way.

    “Please, Kendra, let us go with you,” Erin begged, her brother looming over her shoulder. That look on his face, I knew it well.

    “You two have nothing to prove to me. You’ve shown willing, again and again, but this time I’m worried… worried that you two might think you have to prove something to yourselves. Don’t. Sit down, shut up, and carry on, damn it!”

    A shocked look on their two faces gave way, wonder of wonders, to understanding. I hugged them both and made for the damn door before I started bawling. Rudy stepped close to where I was fussing with the lock and chains.

    “Got nothing to prove to us or yourself, hmm?”

    “Shut up,” I said, and then I sniffled, ruining the effect.

    “Shh, your secret’s safe with me, Kendra.”

    ***

    “Meow!”

    Three zombies had a cat treed on the roof of a shed. I hadn’t actually seen a cat or even a dog in months. Dogs were pretty hard hit; they depend on us too much and the stupid or desperate ones, the old and the feeble ones… they didn’t last long. I suppose a lot of them even got eaten by survivors. Cats are a lot more wary and some of them managed to earn a living, dodging the cold dead grasp of ‘several hundred million undead Americans,’ as my Rudy liked to put it.

    Rudy put an arrow through two heads before the last one even noticed us, and Anderson got its attention while Courage poked it with the straightened metal hook on his modified hoe. Then the ex-soldier grabbed Courage and tussled his hair.

    “That’s how it’s done, son!”

    The cat was nearly skin and bones, but still full of piss and vinegar. She, for it was fairly obvious she had been nursing, hissed at us, then was down off that roof and disappeared around the corner of a house.

    “You’re welcome!” I called after her, none too loudly.

    The sun would be up soon. Rudy nodded after the cat and said to me, “I wonder what her deal is, exactly?”

    “Not important.”

    “Maybe. But I wonder…”

    “What?”

    “Just, was she being kept?”

    “Why? Why do you think that?”

    “She has kittens, she’s either beat the odds or maybe she’s had some help.”

    I turned to Saul. “You know that cat?”

    “I’ve never seen her before, but… we would hear a cat, sometimes. Maybe that one.” He looked around. “We’re close.”

    He led us to a diner. Someone had made some improvements; the parking lot was fenced in with a mismatch of chain-link fence and galvanized walls obviously salvaged from a partially disassembled garage nearby. A group of men had just come out of the diner and we watched them get into two SUVs. Seven of them. They drove out through a gate, dispatching zombies and moving out without any great fuss. An old man stood watching them leave and then he went back inside.

    The place was a fort, with two outbuildings, pre-assembled backyard sheds. Saul pointed at the one nearest the fence. “That’s where they keep us. The other building has… their other victims. I’ve never met them, but we hear the screams and the crying.”

    Rudy swore under his breath and muttered, “This just keeps getting better and better.”

    Courage was looking confused, but kept silent. Anderson looked like maybe he was thinking what I was thinking.

    “Why didn’t you mention that earlier?” he asked. I nodded.

    “I didn’t want you to hate me as much as I hate my-”

    “Try again, Saul.” I had a stubby crossbow arrow out and held it underhand. Anderson grabbed the old man and held him, but he didn’t struggle. He looked resigned.
    “I wanted to shock you, get you mad enough to rush on in.”

    “We fight smart, Saul, not stupid. And that, my friend is your wife’s best chance.” I glanced at the second shed. “How many?”

    “I honestly don’t know. More than three.”

    I looked around. No zombies had found us and there were no more in sight, after the ones at the gate had been put down. “We check out the backside of the place, go in back there through the chain-link fence, unless there’s a guard…”

    No guard, but there was something cooking. I wasn’t hungry, but I heard stomachs growl around me. Anderson passed out a little bit of jerky from the Prepper stash, but I shook my head. Rudy mouthed ‘Are you okay?’ I shrugged, took a swig of water and passed it over to him. Anderson patted the bolt cutters, I nodded, and we covered him while he made us a hole. Then we were inside and coming up on the back door.

    That damn door started to open.

    The old man came walking out, a five gallon bucket in one hand and a 12 gauge shotgun in the other. He dropped the bucket but he never got the shotgun up in time. He went down with my crossbow arrow in his chest and a broadhead in his left eye.

    There was a lot of bloody offal spilling out on the back steps of the diner. Anderson and Courage dragged the body away from the steps while Rudy and I went in, low and quick, not spending any more time in the door than we had to, but the kitchen was empty except for a big pot cooking on the stove.

    The smell of it was rich and vaguely like pork, and I suddenly knew. I grabbed Courage’s hand before he could scoop a little bit, a little taste, with his fingers.

    A little taste to blacken the soul, I thought.

    “Don’t,” was all I said out loud.

    “Why?” Courage’s eyes looked a little hurt and he licked his lips. He might be slow, but he trusted; he trusted in me.

    I felt just a little bit like throwing up.

    “Where did they get so much meat?” Rudy asked. Then he silently slapped palm to forehead and covered his eyes.

    “Maybe they killed a deer-” Anderson said as the ‘penny dropped’ and he too, suddenly shut up. There was a dark knowledge in his eyes and he looked ready to do murder. Only maybe it was not murder; when did humans stop being human? When they became monsters who hunted men, women… and children?

    To Anderson I promised, “We kill them. We kill them all!”

    And they all nodded, including Courage, who had started to cry. But he lifted his chin. I hugged the man-child.

    “That’s it, Courage. Be brave; be brave!”

    ***

    “Where’s Saul?” Rudy asked, looking around. He wasn’t in the kitchen with us. Anderson led the way out the back door and he wasn’t out there either. We heard a noise around the corner, out front towards the gate and then we ran.

    Courage took the lead then and we followed him to the open door of that first shed. We could hear a grunt of pain and then wet tearing sounds. Courage paused in the doorway, if only for a moment, and then he advance into the shadows with a purpose. Rudy was next and he blocked me, but I could see over his shoulder. Saul was laying on the plywood floor, throat ripped out and blood everywhere. His undead wife kneeled over him, ignoring us and feeding on Saul. He was smiling, or maybe grimacing, and as I watched consciousness disappeared from his eyes. He was gone.

    As Courage advanced on it, the zombie turned to him and moaned, bloody mouth dripping with gore and scraps of flesh. He put the point of his makeshift spear through its eye, twisting until it dropped off the end of it. Then he saw to Saul, and that was that.

    ***

    We heard gunfire, which is rare these days and always bad. Courage suddenly started running for the back fence, just as Anderson said, “Is that coming from our office building?”

    We looked at each other and then Rudy asked, “What about the other prisoners?”

    “What about them?” Anderson echoed.

    I didn’t know what to say, which was bad, but I didn’t know what to do, which was worse. Courage was running around the outside of the fence, heading back home. “We’ll have to come back for them later. we can’t wait.”

    We never caught up with Courage, who stirred up zombies in his wake, zombies which got in our way and slowed us down. I’ve heard about running gun-battles, soldiers fighting house to house, and now maybe I know. It was tiring us out quickly and the zombies were spaced out just enough that we could get away with this business of hacking our way to a gun fight.

    At last we came into view of the office building. Rotting bodies and a few of the recently deceased lay out front. I saw Erin Meyers just lurching back up again. She had been shot in the belly, died, been fed on around the face… she was a mess, but all I could think was, if Bill was still alive, he was not going to be long in joining her.

    She saw us and all but ran to meet us, in that fresh meat fashion of the recently reanimated. Anderson hesitated with his spade, but he finally swung, knocking her down and smashing with the flat of his shovel a couple of times. That didn’t seem to be getting the job done and he was reduced to stomping her head with his combat boots.

    “Oh Jesus, why?” He knelt over her, not looking at her face. I wondered if he’d even realized before this that he’d been in love with her. I laid a hand on his shoulder, and Rudy laid his on top of mine, but we had no time for this I could hear hollering inside, along with more with more gunfire. I thought I could hear Courage calling for Grace… we rushed in, yeah, where angels feared to tread.

    On the first floor there was plenty of fresh blood and not the zombie ichor, but no bodies. We made for the stairs just as gunfire died down, but not the weeping. Two people were yelling, arguing, discussing terms. I hurried the hell upstairs.

    “What the hell is going on here!” I shouted.

    I heard Abe shout back. “Kendra! Thank God!” He sounded like he was way back by the back set of stairs.

    “Who the hell is this bitch?!”

    “Classy, asshole! You want to explain to me why you came here and attacked my people?”

    “You were poaching on our territory, stole our food, bitch!” I saw him showing himself a little around the door to the break room which we’d been using for a common area. Where were all my people, exactly?

    “I’m only going to say this once- the next time you call me a bitch, I’m going kneecap you with an arrow.”

    The man laughed. “I’d like to see you try it, bit-” Rudy put a broadhead into his right shoulder and the bad man fell back, cussing and spraying blood. Really original, this one.

    “Oops, we missed… now, you got somebody I can reason with, or do we keep on this way?”

    “You think that’s funny? Well I think this is hilarious!” He shouted. Less loudly he said to somebody in the room. “Hold her, dumbass.” There was a cry of pain, and then screams. Without showing himself, he threw a pinkie finger out into the hallway.

    “You’re not going to throw away all the tasty parts, are you?” I called back grimly. It suddenly got deathly quiet and I saw Abe poke his head out way down the hallway, mouthing ‘What?’ He looked shaken.

    “Just where have you folks been, I wonder?” the man asked himself out loud.

    “Jake, they’ve been back at the diner,” a younger man said. “What about Grandpa?”

    “What about gramps, ah, what’s your name?”

    “He’s dead, ‘Jake’, but my name is ‘Mercy’ if you stop cutting on my people and let them go. I’m not about to let you eat them, but maybe we can each go our own way…”

    “I got no idea what yer talking about, ‘Mouthy’, but we don’t need anybody stealing our food and taking our stuff. We just came here to turn you out and things kinda got a little sideways.”

    “I got a pot of long-pork stew that says different, Jake. Stop lying to me, stop hurting or threatening my people, and get the hell out!”

    Quietly, Rudy asked, “You’re not going to let them go, are you?”

    “If they leave I will.” I told him just as quietly. “What happens after that depends on how many there are of them and how many of our people are still alive…” That reminded me. “Hey, Jake,” I hollered, “my mercy depends on whether or not we have anything left to lose! Do not make it easy for me to choose to kill you all.”

    “A whole lot of talk, Mouthy-” Jake came back at me.

    “And plenty of arrows!” I reminded him.

    “Yeah, so you got weapons. We got weapons and ammo, and hostages, too. Plus, we sure rang the dinner bell, and y’all got zombies at your backs now, doncha?”

    Anderson was facing away from me and Rudy back down the stairway which was echoing moans. He began to methodically fire, one precious bullet to a zombie. “Kendra, forecast is sparse with a chance of heavy incoming… good news is we might be able to pile them so high they can’t get through.”

    “What’s the bad news?”

    “We might not.”

    I closed my eyes for a minute. “I love you guys and I wouldn’t even think about trying to do this without you.”

    “Does that mean you’ve got a plan?”

    “Nope. I’m-”

    “-making this up as we go along,” they said with me.

    “You guys having a tea party out there?” Jake hollered.

    Before I could find a snappy comeback, there was a scuffle at the back stairs and Bill Meyers, bloody, bit and berserk, came charging done the way. A man, little more than a boy, showed himself thoughtlessly in the break room door, firing a burst of automatic fire at him, but Rudy put him down with a snap shot. If any of the shots hit, Bill showed no signs of slowing down. I fired the crossbow blindly at nothing into the break room just before he got there. Hopefully it gave him a little cover. Then I dropped it, pulled my machete and followed him in, low and screaming.

    “Kendra!” Rudy was right behind me, and God help me that left Anderson on his own.

    The boy was curled in a ball, alive but in such misery, gut shot through with the broadhead arrow, that he was out of the fight. Rudy kicked him viscously anyway. My love thinks mercy is wasted on such as these, less-than-animals… I don’t necessarily feel that way but I smiled just then.

    Bill was gory and glorious, an avenging angel or demon, wading into a small crowd of surprised and terrified men. Our people got clear of it, mostly, though one of the cannibals tripped and went sprawling over an unconscious Courage. I grimly swung at his gun arm, slashing the tendons and satisfied with hacking it only halfway through, the better for him to bleed out.

    I wasn’t taking prisoners this morning.

    “Hold it, or I cut her!”

    Jake had Daisy with the broadhead from the arrow which had passed through his shoulder held to her throat. It had been broken off and removed during our standoff across the hallway. Bill, for a wonder, went still as death. I could hear moans getting closer and the same slow and sure rifle-fire in the stairway. Self-defeating, that, but strangely reassuring, that Anderson was still holding off the horde at our backs.

    Courage stirred and groaned; groaned, not moaned, which was also heartening.

    Rudy stepped forward. “You get away from her, you son-of-a-bitch!”

    Jake sneered. “What were you saying, Mouthy, about nothing left to lose?”

    I sighed and turned to the nearest table, chopping and sinking half an inch of the machete blade into the tabletop. I turned back to him with open hands. “Your life and freedom, plus what you and those who can walk can carry away with you. That’s as good as it gets, Cannibal King!”

    “That’s just a death sentence!”

    “It’s better than you deserve,” Bill said. Jake and Bill locked eyes, and I don’t know what Jake saw in them, but he looked away first. A promise, I imagine.

    “Alright!” Jake pulled the blade back half an inch, but kept Daisy between him and Rudy. As he started walking towards the door, Courage rolled over and grabbed his left leg. Then he bit into it. I honestly don’t know who was more surprised. Daisy shrieked, broke free and ran, a little blood welling up at her throat. I also saw the bloody rag around her hand and something inside me ‘went a little sideways’. Jake roared in pain and sank the much used broadhead into Courage. Rudy told me later that he had been about to shoot Courage thinking he had turned, but averted the arrow just as he let go, the only arrow of his which missed that day.

    I threw myself at Jake, stabbing him with a crossbow arrow as he tripped up and we went down on top of Courage. I kept stabbing his body for a couple of minutes, they tell me; I was just a little upset.

    ***

    I came back to myself to a strange, hoarse voice saying, “Come back! Please come back…” I was leaning against Rudy’s chest and he was rocking me and his little girl. They were looking over at Grace kneeling by Courage..

    “What’s going on?”

    “Oh thank God, Kendra.”

    By my count we’d lost at least three people today, so I wasn’t interested in thanking God just yet. I scrambled over to Courage, who was breathing shallowly. The broadhead was sunk into his chest, missing his heart but there was so much blood. In the good old days I’d never have considered cutting that arrowhead out. These weren’t the good old days. I transfused with a little home-made saline solution, sterilized with flame and alcohol liberally splashed into the wound, and we made it, my patient and I.

    Not bad for a paramedic. Not bad at all.

    ***

    Bill said a few words privately over his sister’s body, and then he hoisted Erin over his shoulder…those two lifted each other up. He and Anderson went for a long walk. Only Anderson came back. I think I’ll ask him about it, in a few days.

    The second shed was open and empty when we went back to it, or at least that’s what they tell me. I was busy minding Courage. Abe and Rudy went, along with a few others. That’s just as well, given what was on the menu in that place.

    God I’m so tired.

    Courage woke up next morning, in a lot of pain but his usual cheerful self.

    “The little bird’s talking again!”

    14 Comments

    1. Oh that was GREAT! I really enjoyed it! I can’t stop using exclamation marks I liked it so much! Thanks!

      Comment by Justin Dunne on April 9, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

    2. Fine story. I read it even though it was waayyy past my bedtime.

      Comment by John the Piper's Son on April 10, 2013 @ 4:32 am

    3. Very good story, please continue!

      Comment by Gunldesnapper on April 10, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    4. Great read, keep them coming.

      Comment by Doc on April 10, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

    5. Very well done. I’ve always had a weakness for first person narratives and your protagonist was interesting and solid. Thanks for an excellent tale.

      Comment by abe on April 10, 2013 @ 9:46 pm

    6. Excellent read. Nice character development.

      Comment by hijinxjep on April 11, 2013 @ 3:38 am

    7. Excellent story. Instantly liked the characters as they developed. Great story and looking forward to more.

      Comment by Terry Schultz on April 11, 2013 @ 6:52 am

    8. This story reminded me a lot of The Walking Dead, both comics and tv show.
      You had a lot going on in a short space from charity to cannibals and of course zombies.
      i really enjoyed my time reading it.
      Hope we get more stories of how their group
      makes it in their world.

      Comment by bong on April 11, 2013 @ 11:26 am

    9. Talk about stepping up to the plate and hitting the ball out of the park. Man, that was intense. Great suspense and characterization. I’m glad Courage didn’t die, though I can understand if he did. Terrific story.

      Comment by A.J. Brown on April 11, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

    10. Rivetting! Mor, please!

      Comment by JohnT on April 16, 2013 @ 3:53 am

    11. Loved it. You covered a lot of ground without confusing anything. Like how Kendra could go from “Hey, let’s help them out” to “Hey, let’s kill ’em all”. Good job.

      Comment by JamesAbel on April 17, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

    12. Thanks for all the kind words. I hadn’t been aware it had posted. Still working on sequels to some of my other Z-pocalypse tales here, and more of Kendra and her kittens, surely.

      Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 20, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

    13. Love TWD, but I had to give up the comic series 8-( after

      S

      P

      O

      I

      L

      E

      R

      !

      they killed Glen messily in four pages. I expect the characters to have to earn their happy ending, but, damn it, there has to be a happy ending or else why should I care what happens to these people?!

      Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 20, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

    14. That was fantastic, you have talent. You should write about this group some more.

      Comment by Joe from Philly on May 22, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

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