Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Walking Dead - Chapter 5 - The Road to Ruin

Read Chapter 4 here

I looked at the other unfamiliar faces, and judging by their expressions, realized I probably looked beat to hell. I don't talk very much, so I was glad to see Josh begin to speak. "Guys, this is my buddy Bishop. If you trust me, know that I trust him." A scoff came from a guy to the left, about my age, "What kind of name is that? Rook was taken?" After all the shit I'd gone through to make it there, I wasn't ready to be made fun of by some 20-something smirking idiot with a big mouth. My mind was too tired to select one the witty replies I had developed for people who made fun of my name, so it just defaulted to imagining how easily I could cut him in half. Now, now, that would be bad etiquette. Josh seemed to read my mind and broke in. "No, ass. His name's Perry Bishop. We went to school together, sort of. We call him Bishop because he hates to be called Perry. Something about thermite on our engine blocks if we kept messing with him about his name, so we stopped." It was an effective threat, but I would never carry it out. You just don't mess with someone's car. "Speaking of which, how'd it go?" Josh's lightheartedness on the last question irked me, even though it's clear to me now he was being ironic. I was still in no mood. "What are you looking at me like that for? You think it was a cake walk getting up to your house here in sub-suburbia?" I calmed slightly. "The highway is completely jammed. There are wrecks everywhere, and the occasional zed-head running around--"

An older woman who's look screamed "hippie" interrupted, "'Zed-head'?" More irking. Her appearance, demeanor, and inflection combined to command every drop of annoyance my tired body could muster. "Yeah, you know, the walking abominations out there? The undead? Anyways, there were more than a few limping around, and after the freeway locked up I had to--"

She interrupted again, I unconsciously counted the steps it would take to get near enough to cut her arm off, non-verbally informing her, and everyone in the room that I was not to be messed with at the moment. I really need sleep before I do something I'm going to regret. "Look, I don’t mean to seem ignorant or anything, but these are just people. Sure, they seem to have been attacked by some chemical weapon, or contracted some virus, but they’re people. Surely they can be reasoned with, can’t they?" A smile crawled up my face. Wow. She's like, third-degree hippie. There's no way she'll listen to arguments, so I'll just set her straight the easy way. She continued, digging her hole deeper, "You men, are ready to go running around like this is the wild west or something. Violence first. I think it’s stupid." My smile must have given away my intentions because Josh began to smile at what he knew was coming.

"Yes, ma’am, I’m sure they can be reasoned with. How about this - next time one manages to come onto this street, you go outside and ‘reason’ with it. We’ll stay here, you go out there, unarmed. Whaddaya say? Any takers? How do you feel about becoming a four course meal?"
"That’s just absurd…what…how…" she stammered.
"Look, I know it might seem to be going a little slow at first, but if they aren’t listening to you, get right up in their ear. If you can’t hear a response, make sure you put your ear right in front of their mouth and stand still. I’m sure it will work perfectly. Then come back and let us…" Shoot you between your hippie eyes. "...know what happened. We’ll be right here." That should be the end of that.

"So, anyway, I was saying…" She stomped off. Good riddance. "Right, so I basically had to hoof it the last few miles up here. A lot of my stuff got left in my car. I had my carbine, some ammo, a pistol and this thing." I braced the sheath as I untied the top, and pulled the sheathed sword from behind my back. Everyone's eyes widened, and Josh's face had a hint of a smile. I thought he'd like this. "Guy up in Oregon or Washington makes these. Criswell. It’s tempered tool steel, a cord wrap handle like those Strider’s you like, and these cool G10 laminate sheaths. Never thought I’d use it for more than a conversation piece, but this thing kicks so much ass its not even funny. When I left the freeway, first thing I ran into was a group of zombies trying to get into this car. Young woman driving, stuck on the off-ramp, two little kids in the backseat. And like thirteen of the bastards rocking the car on it’s springs and carrying on. I had to help, but I didn’t have so much ammo with me. A couple miles up the road and it was all gone and I’m down to my pistol. Another mile or two, and it’s dry. If I didn’t have the sword…" I figured they would understand better if I could just show them, and drew the blade from its sheath. Wide eyes widened even more. The blade was stained with different hues of dried blood, and I noticed everyone except Josh shift in uncomfortable realization that I meant business. And I didn't even have to cut anyone's arm off. I drove the effect home more solidly by extending my smirk into a crazy grin. "Well, lets just say I'm glad I watched Kill Bill like a billion times. Some of it must have worn off on me."

"And on that note," Josh said, "Let’s get moving." Get moving? Did he not just hear me?! "Where are we going to go? The roads are all bottled up. I just told you that. What are we planning on doing, knocking our heels together three times and wishing we were somewhere else? You have a tank or a helicopter you haven’t told me about? A hovercraft?!" Easy now; Josh is smarter than that. My anger lessened. "I mean, unless you know the forest like the back of your hand--" Wait a minute. "Of course; you already thought of that, didn’t you?" Josh smiled, "Yup. How do you feel about driving my Jeep?" I shouldn't have doubted.

Everyone began getting ready to leave, and I took the opportunity to take a break. I stripped down to my undershirt, and tried to cool off. As I stood in the coldest corner of the house I could find that was still out of the way I realized I should probably be drinking water, and found the kitchen. After downing three glasses of much-needed water I started to cool down. I noted a chair, and was getting ready to take a much needed sit when Josh walked by the door dressed heavily enough to ride a motorcycle through a briar patch. Good idea to avoid bites, but he'll be cooking in this weather. I reluctantly put my vest and shirt back on, and joined the group. A young skinny-looking kid handed me directions and introduced himself as Pat just as Josh started. "Alright, so here’s the deal. The route that we’re taking is going to be about twice as long, distance-wise, as going the freeway. And since we can’t take the freeway, its also our best chance at getting to my parents place. It cuts through the heart of the Cleveland National Forest, away from populated areas, and gives us an almost perfect avenue of egress from here." It sounded like a good plan. I had no doubt he had already planned this out quite completely. Chris, the smartass from earlier, spoke. "And why exactly are we dead set on getting there?" Josh replied, "You’ll see when we get there. Until then, just trust me."

Josh finished explaining the plan and looked around for questions. I piped up, and asked the only question I cared enough to ask, "Where can I get more ammo?" Josh smiled and started toward the cars, "Let's mount up!" Beth, who I'd met before, and I followed Josh back to his truck where his trunk contained several green ammo cans. Josh popped one open, "I think I've got you covered there." The ammo cans were full of loaded AR-15 magazines. Zombie food. I grabbed six, replaced the can and walked back to the Jeep I was going to drive. The skinny kid, Pat, caught me half way, and started walking with me. "Hey! We're riding buddies; I'm taking the jeep too. Pretty crazy about the zombies, huh? I mean who would have ever thought this would really happen? I said my name was Pat, but it's really Atticus Patrick Flynn, but people call me Pat for short, like how they call you Bishop instead of Perry." I shot him a look, and he shut up. "Pat, hold these." I handed him the six loaded magazines and he fumbled a bit, but managed to get a hold of them. I pulled the 9 empty magazines from my mag pouch, and stacked them up. "Now hold these." Pat moved to accept them, but wasn't quite ready. He fumbled with them, and wound up cupping them loosely with his arms against his chest. Heh. Not bad. "Now give me those." I said, gesturing to the 6 loaded mags. Pat didn't move for a moment, thinking about what to do, then carefully handed me the magazines, 3 at a time, without dropping any. "Well done, Pat. High five." Pat began to raise one arm, then dropped a magazine from the other side of the pile, then tried to catch it, spilling all of them onto the ground. I stifled a chuckle as I walked on. Man, I am such as ass when I'm tired.

As I approached the door to the jeep I wondered if I should have gotten more ammo, just in case. I opened the door and sitting between the two seats was another green can. Great minds think alike. Pat had gathered the magazines, and hurried to catch up. I stepped up to the cab, and began unpacking myself into the jeep. I put the AR between the seats, and tossed the mag pouch and backpack into the back, keeping the satchel across my chest, and away from any dangerous impacts. Pat managed to open the door, and spilled the loose mags onto the seat. "Toss those into the backpack, if you please." Pat complied, reaching for the backpack. The wind blew again and cooled my brow, I relished it for the short while it lasted, and pulled myself into the Jeep. As soon as I sat I felt my weight double as I began to sink into the chair. It was the first time I'd done anything close to resting in a long time. My eyelids gained weight, and muscles that were quiet until now, ached at me to rest. Wake up! No sleeping yet! I willed myself awake, and tried to look ahead to see if we were leaving, but my eyes kept shifting out of focus. It's no use. I turned to Pat who had finished with the backpack and was now furtively eyeballing the AR so close to him.
"Pat, can you drive?" Pat's face turned into something close to surprise that I couldn't quite place.
"Uh... Well, technically, yeah... I guess."
I eyed him curiously. "You... guess?"
He got nervous. "Well, I can drive, if that's what you're asking, it's just that I'm not technically able right now. Legally, I mean."
I sighed deeply. I was too tired for this. "Pat, are you capable of operating this vehicle at this time?"
"Kinda-yes, or yes-yes?"
"Yes... I mean; yes-yes."
"Ok, I need sleep, and this is going to take at least an hour. Lets change seats, you're driving."

He jumped from the jeep, and ran around to the driver side while I moved across the seats. I put on my seatbelt under the satchel, and put my AR between my feet, muzzle down. "You heard Josh, all you gotta do is follow the guy in front of you, and keep an eye out. Since we're at the end, keep an eye on your mirrors. Don't forget, you're not just looking for zombies, they probably won't even be able to keep up, look for cars following us. If some armed gang has a few automatic weapons and two cars, they'll be able to make mince meat out of this little convoy, so watch your mirrors." Pat looked a little sick. Ease up a bit. My voice took a more comforting tone, "Don't worry; this is simple. We probably won't see anyone the whole trip. All you have to do is drive behind this car, and keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious. If you're not sure, just wake me up, and I'll make the call, ok?" Pat nodded, a little more confident. I didn't like putting Pat in this position, but I was going to fall asleep one way or another. I tilted the seat back, and began to drift away when Pat spoke, snapping me from my reverie. "Perr-- Uh, Bishop?" I lifted my eyelids, annoyed. He looked unsure, then continued, "What happened to your face?" What the hell is this kid talking about? "Something's about to happen to your face if you don't let me sleep." Pat reached for the mirror, and turned it so I could see myself. My face was covered with a thin layer of soot, with a few track marks where the sweat had trickled down. Patches and lines of road rash were on my eyebrow, cheekbone, nose, chin, and jawline. Guess that happened while I was lost in space. Pat was still waiting for an answer. "I cut myself shaving." Pat didn't get the joke, "Shaving?" I looked at him, "Shaving with C4... I wouldn't recommend it." I relented to the pull, and fell asleep almost instantly.

I dreamed that I missed the knee shot back at the offramp. The zombie made it through the back window of the SUV, and growled and hissed. Suddenly, I was above the SUV, but I could see inside. I couldn't look away as the two girls and the woman were ripped apart. Then I was floating above the camper I was shooting from, watching myself run out of ammo as the zombies surrounded me, and tore me apart.

My eyes opened as if I had just caught the last half of a blink. I didn't feel like I got any rest. I became aware Pat had his hand on my shoulder. I turned to him, not groggy, but still tired. We still seemed to be in the suburbs. "How long has it been?" Pat was looking into the rear-view mirror, "10 minutes." "What's up?" He nodded his head at the mirror. I leaned forward, and looked back through the side mirror. I could barely make out the color of a car behind us. It's still pretty damn far back. Why would-- Then I read small message, "Objects in the rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear." Duh. I turned around and saw an older Cadillac with tinted windows a little under half a mile behind us. It was too far back to determine if it was a threat, but I wanted to get back to sleep, and it obviously wasn't a cop car. "How long?" I asked, without looking away from the car. "Two or three miles. There were plenty of spots to turn off." Pat sounded a little worried. "Well," I said, releasing my seatbelt, and picking up my AR. "Better safe than sorry." I rolled down the window and turned around, wrapping my leg around the seat. "You're not gonna--?" Pat started, but I couldn't hear him finish as I squeezed my AR, and upper body out the window. I faced backwards, and held my AR up sideways so it would be easy to see the shape. The car's bumper dipped noticeably as it braked hard. The message had been received loud, and clear. Dragons be here. In another few seconds the car resumed motion, and turned down a side street revealing another similar car behind it, which turned revealing yet another similar car, which followed the first two out of sight.

I wiggled back into the jeep, and carefully replaced the AR, checking that the safety was still on. "Pat, is there any way they can go around and get in front of us?" Pat shook his head, "Not really. We'll be on dirt roads in another few minutes." "Good." I said, quelling my regret. A shape appeared in back window of the car in front of us, it was Angela, and she was giving us the "OK" sign with a concerned look on her face. I gave her a thumbs-up, and she gave it back before disappearing. I adjusted myself in the seat again. "Good job, Pat." He smiled a goofy smile, "Thanks... Say, you didn't really cut up zombies with that... sword, did you?" I wondered why he would ask me a question when the answer seemed so obvious. "Of course." He kept looking straight ahead and swallowed obviously. I was struck by the thought that he might be a little afraid of me. "Well," I started in a lighter tone, "I only threw up once." Pat smiled and then laughed an infectious laugh. I held out as long as I could, and started laughing too. Pat paused between laughing fits to check the mirrors. Seems like a good kid.

I dreamed of running. Zombies were running after me, but I wasn't afraid of them. I knew I could run forever, and I did. The zombies trying to follow tired, fell, and turned to dust, until I was running alone. I thought I should stop, but I had run so long I felt like I should just keep going. A tiny dot of black appeared in the distance, and slowly grew as I ran toward it. Slowly, the dot began to rise from the horizon, like a sun. I ran faster so I could see it while it was still close to the ground, but running faster only made it move upward faster. I ran on as the dot grew large, and raised high into the sky. At the top of the sky it stopped, and grew until it met the horizon on all sides. I kept running, even though there was nowhere to run. The black was miles away, rushing along the ground to meet me from all sides. I just kept running.

Pat shook me awake. "We're taking a break." I was a little cranky. "I was taking a break." If people are out of their cars they'll need protection. Get up, you lazy ass. "Excuse me, Pat. You were right to wake me." Pat nodded briefly. I jumped to the ground, noting my thigh was still numb. We were on a bit of a plateau on a mountain side overlooking a canyon, the view was incredible. I grabbed my mag pouch, and pulled out the binoculars. Everyone was milling about, stretching, and breathing the mountain air. It smelled sweet. I walked to the edge overlooking the canyon to get a good view. Chris saw where I was going and walked to meet me at the cliff. The smug look on his face told me he had spent the entire trip thinking of a clever ways to make fun of my name. I made it within five feet of the edge, and began scanning the valley with my binoculars. I'm a sucker for nature. "Hey," Chris had caught up, "Hey, guess what I decided to call you?" The guy who's gonna cut one of your limbs off if you keep messing with him? I tried to look as uninterested as possible when I heard something faint. Chris was preparing to deliver his punchline when I raised my index finger to his face, and turned to the canyon, straining to hear the sound again. Startled, he stopped, but quickly grew upset with my finger. He began to speak just as I heard it again, "What's your prob--" "Shh! Did you hear that?"

I walked to the edge of the canyon, and looked for the source of the noise in the valley, Chris followed, and took up the search. He pointed to the side, "There! By those rocks." I looked through the binoculars and saw an RV being rocked by several zombies. How the hell are they all the way out here? My distance estimation was a little rusty, but they were at about 500 yards, well out of my range. Chris squinted at the RV, trying to make out the details, and I handed him the binoculars without looking away. He paused, then accepted. After a short look, Chris handed them back to me, "Thanks, I've seen all I wanna see." I looked again. These guys are in trouble. Josh spoke from behind us, "What’s going on, guys?" Chris turned back to him, "Well, there seem to be some people down there who are…well, about to get eaten." Josh spotted the RV, and gestured at me, "Lemme see." I handed him the binoculars, and pointed into the valley, "See that big rock formation, maybe 350 or 400 yards east. Go right from there a hundred yards…looks like a family in an RV, and maybe a dozen zed." Josh found them and studied the situation, no doubt trying to determine if we were going to be able to help. I wanted to help, but Josh was the one with the scoped rifles, and the familiarity to use them accurately. I wasn't even sure how he'd feel about shooting so close to the people in the RV. Suddenly Josh spoke, "Bishop, will you go back to Beth’s car, reach behind the seat and grab that Pelican case and bring it over here." Good man.

The case was way too heavy for a regular rifle, and I wondered aloud what bit of nastiness I had just brought him. He opened the case and revealed two rifles, his AR carbine, and his scoped CZ rifle. He pulled the CZ free and spoke while he set up to shoot. "Chris, go ahead and grab the AR, load up and watch my back. Bishop, get everyone back in the vehicles and ready to go. Once I start shooting, we might attract company." I hurried back to the group, which had now begun to gather. "Back in the cars, everyone. We might have to bug out quickly." Josh's rifle echoed in the canyon. "Lock the doors, and roll up the windows; we should be out of here soon." Everyone started toward the cars rejoined Josh and Chris at the cliff. Josh shot again, and Chris turned to hand me the binoculars. He looked sick. I began to tell him to scan for zeds while I spotted, but Chris just turned, and lost his lunch over the edge. Must be a helluva show. Back through the binoculars I could see that Josh's time at that long range rifle clinic was well spent. He was prioritizing targets, and ensuring his shots didn't go into the RV. Just then, a zombie broke through one of the windows, and was reaching inside. I remembered my dream, and before I could wince at the memory, the zombie's rear end exploded, and it fell backwards. Did Josh just shoot that zombie in the ass?

I started chuckling, but that wasn't enough, I began a hearty laugh. Josh stopped, and sheepishly looked back, hoping my laughter was at something other than his shot. "Did you just shoot that thing in it’s ASS?" The look on Josh's face got me laughing again. "Shut up. I…calculated the drop wrong…" "Dude, you shot a zombie…in it’s ASS! That’s just…mean spirited. I mean, what will the other zombies think…’Hey, John, want to sit down and--ohhh you can’t, can you?’ which would really sound like ‘Arggh-arggg-ucck-uggggh-rrrrgh’ but whatever…" Josh gave in, and started laughing too. After a short relief he returned to the rifle to finish off the last four low-threat zeds while Chris and I walked back to the cars. We were quiet. I extended an olive branch, "Don't worry about the puking. In fact, when I--" He interrupted defensively, "I'm fine. I just wasn't expecting it right then. It's not like I have a weak stomach or anything. Besides, we're not all named after chess--" He stopped and quickly raised his carbine to point at one of the cars. I couldn't believe what he was doing, "Careful! There are people in--!" Then, all at once, I saw the mountain lion standing cautiously on top of the truck. I leveled my carbine at the big cat as Josh joined us, "Uh... guys...?" Chris replied uneasily, "Look on top of your truck." Josh didn't seem to move. After a moment I spent wondering what the hell to do, the mountain lion leapt off the truck, and charged straight at us.

My first reaction was fear. Primarily because the 5.56 bullet I was shooting wasn't going to stop this huge cat in time, secondly, because if I fired I risked skipping rounds into the cars. It was a bad situation, and the cat closed blindingly fast. Take the shot! Don't shoot! Shoot! While I flustered the cat ran right between Josh and I, and jumped down into the valley. My heart pumped in my throat. Holy shit! That was really bad! I looked back at Josh to see if he was as freaked out as I was, and saw him walking back to his bike, while staring at the top of the mountain. I tried to see what he saw, but didn't see anything on top of the mountain. The ground shook slightly with a minor earthquake. Small earthquake, nothing to worry about. Josh fired up his bike, still mesmerized by the mountain. I gave up and looked where the mountain lion ran, and was confused to see the sun behind me. The sun was behind the mountain. I saw the light. But that would mean we would be in the shadow of the mountain, and we're not. What the hell? Josh disappeared over the trail, and his motorcycle's buzz stopped. I started toward the cars as Beth called Josh on the radio, and ran back to the car. Pat already had the car running, and as soon as I was in, he followed Beth as she tore down the fire trail before stopping sharply. We broke the ridge and slammed on the brakes. There's no way... Pat gasped, "Is that--?" It wasn't an earthquake. Numbly, I exited the car, and walked to Beth and Josh to see if they saw the same thing. It just can't be... It was hard to breathe. A mushroom cloud hung over San Diego. It was dark, but somehow glowed orange/yellow, and was slowly getting larger as the superheated air expanded. How could they do this? I could hear someone crying.

Read Chapter 6 here

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