Friday, June 13, 2008

The Walking Dead - Chapter 4 - A Leisurely Stroll

Read Chapter 3 here

She started driving. I guess you could call it driving. She really just floored it, and spun the wheel in different directions. After she drove over the small car in front of her, she turned down the embankment and almost crashed into a damn tree. She's gonna kill me! "Whoa! Whoa! Slow down!" She plowed through a car parked on the side of the street, and swung the wheel to the left, putting the top-heavy vehicle on two wheels. If we flip, we're dead! "Stop! STOP!" She must have felt the weight shift, because she straightened out of the turn, and slammed into a car on the opposite side of the street. The familiar flash of white, and the heat, once more.

I pushed the airbag down, trying to hasten the deflation. I'm getting fucking tired of these things. The woman was gasping, and riding the deflating air bag down to the steering wheel. Neither of us had seat belts on. The girls! I turned around and saw the girls twisted in a heap behind the front seats. They looked shaken but uninjured. "Are you ok?!" They replied weakly, in unison, "Yeah..." As they untangled themselves, I returned to the woman, who was still gulping air, leaning against the steering wheel. "Ma'am? Ma'am! Are you ok?" I cautiously pushed her shoulder back, pushing her back into her seat. "Yes," Came an exasperated reply, "I'm ok." The crash wasn't bad enough to stop the engine, which was still running, idly trying to push the parked car out of the way. I drew my pocket knife, and began cutting the airbag from the steering wheel.
"Can you drive?"
"Good, can you get me to the other side of that river?"
"What?! We need to get out of here!"
"I know, and I know a way out, but I need to get to the other side of the river."
"Don't you understand?! They're crazy!"
"Of course I understand! I just saved your lives! I just need to get to the other side of the river!"
"Why? The military base is back that way! Can you people take care of us?"
"I don't need to go to a military base, I need to get to the other side of that river!"
"But aren't you in the military?!"
I was becoming upset, "NO!"
"Then why do you have an assault weapon?!"
"So I can help the people who don't!"
Then she was quiet.

"Mommy?" A voice from the back seat asked, "Don't we ride our bikes across the river?"
"Yes, Honey, but be quiet; grown ups are talking."
Hope! "Can you get me to the bike path?"
She thought a moment; considering something. "Yes. Can you get us out of here?"
"Yes; if you go--" I stopped, realizing I might not be able to trust this freaked out lady.
"Go on! Where do we go?"
"Please, take me to the path first."
"No! We need to get out of here now! Everyone's crazy around here, and we're not staying!"
"I need to get to the other side. How far away is it?"
"It's not far, you can walk, now where do we go?!"
"I'm not walking! There aren't that many down here, and I can clear a path!"
"We need to get out of here, not drive some gun nut around! I have kids!"
I paused. Unbelievable. "Ma'am, I just stuck my neck out to save you and your girls, and nearly blew myself up in the process. With all due respect; you owe me." Anger grew in her face.
The little girl pointed to the zombies crawling down the embankment after us. Without words, the woman backed the SUV up, and drove down the empty street.

The streets were almost completely empty. The occasional zed shambled around, but apparently the curfew helped slow the spread. Curfew isn't going to keep the people fed in two days. Whenever we passed a zombie, the woman advised her kids not to look, and they covered their eyes in a rehearsed fashion. After a few minutes we came to a small group of zombies on the sidewalk to our right, maybe 10. She told her girls not to look, then looked again, and slammed on the brakes. The girls lurched forward, and fell to the floor. The woman turned her head back to them, and hissed, "Seatbelts!" The girls scrambled back into their seats, and clicked their seatbelts. Kids. It's the fucking zombie apocalypse, and they still won't put their seatbelts on. The woman looked at the group of zombies, and then honked. "What the fu-- heck you doing?!" I asked, trying to keep my language clean for the kids. She didn't break her gaze of the zombies, now slowly shambling toward us. "Do you see the one with the Hawaiian shirt?" I looked, and saw a middle-aged, balding man with white socks on under sandals. "Yes, I see it. Can we go now?" "HIM!" I jumped, and she continued, "Him. You can see him." I began to understand. "Yes. I can see him..." I looked at the woman and realized here eyes were beginning to tear up. I sheepishly cleared my throat, "Did...? Did you want...?" "Y-- Yes." Her voice cracked. "Jenny? Sharry? Look at the yellow car over there and cover your ears, ok? Mommy needs you to be strong, and do what she says." As the girls looked left, the woman joined them. I shouldered my rifle, clicked the safety off, and lined up my sights on the zombie-- man-- she designated. Rest. As the rifle barked I thought I heard a stifled sob from my left. Wordlessly, she drove on.

The streets here were confusing. I never would have been able to take surface streets and get there in time. There was no way I would have been able to walk. After a series of endless turns, we came to a street that paralleled the river. Immediately I could see the covered walk way that crossed a thinner section of the river. She stopped as we pulled up to the path. "We're here. How do we get out?" "The freeway--" Her face flashed to rage, "The freeway is jammed for miles!" I raised my hand to calm her, "Wait. Yes, the freeway is jammed, but it's totally open at the exit before the valley. Just get past it, go up the off ramp, and go north in the southbound lane. You won't see any cars. Just keep going until it looks pretty clear, then exit, and get back on the right side, and keep going." The woman calmed, then looked lost. She asked rhetorically, "Where will we go after that?" "North. Just keep going north until this blows over." This will blow over, won't it? She nodded blankly. I opened the door and as I jumped to the ground, my right thigh jolted with pain. I cried out in surprise. "Are you ok?" "Yes. Thanks, it gets easier when I walk." I started for the empty walkway, trying to walk off the pain, when behind me the car shifted into drive, and the windows rolled down. The woman called in a sing-song voice, "What do we sayyyy?" I turned around and saw the two girls hanging out the side windows as they called to me, "Thank you, Mister Gun Nut!" I laughed, ignoring my ribs.

The walkway was made of wood, and while it looked rickety, each step telegraphed its strength to me. This has been here for a while. This will be here for a while. It was two lanes wide for bicycle traffic, split by a railing, and covered from the sun by a wooden roof. The sides were reinforced railing, allowing the wind to push through the structure. My pain had just began to dull when I caught my toe on a slightly raised board. My body didn't react. Uh oh. *Wump* I fell almost flat on my face. Ugh... I felt as if my energy fell free of me when I hit, sinking through the floor and into the river below. I could feel a splinter in my cheek. I didn't move. I didn't want to move. What am I doing? I should have just gone with them. I should have just gotten out of here. Why am I even down here? The answer was obvious. Because Josh asked me to come. Josh wouldn't have asked me to come if he didn't need me. My friend needs my help. I numbly moved my arms up, and braced them against the floor, pushing myself up. Come on. You've already come this far. I held on to the side railing, and pulled myself up. Well, I'm getting up, but I'm still drained. I stood and leaned against the railing, looking out on the river. The wind blew strongly for the first time, somehow snaking under my vest, cooling my hot chest for the first time. I hooked my thumbs under the vest, and pulled it forward, allowing more cool air in. That feels perfect. I breathed in easily, chest unencumbered by the elastic of the vest. My nose filled with the sweet smell of the ocean. I squinted at the horizon, and watched the sea shimmering into the distance forever. I looked up and saw a deep blue, cloudless sky. I drew a deep breath, tasting the air, and smiled.
What a beautiful day.

I felt much better after I was on the other side of the river. Everything seemed easy, nothing was impossible. I climbed the incline of the bike path up to the street, and saw the same ghost town I had seen on the other side of the river. Time to get a car. I walked down the street checking cars for keys in the ignition, but finding none. I didn't have the right tools to pick the double-sided locks the cars had, and I had no idea how to hotwire a car. I remembered the movies where the hero jams his hands under the dashboard blindly, waves them around, and the car starts. If only it were that simple. I had enough knowledge to figure out how to short the ignition if I had enough time, but certainly wasn't going to trap myself inside a car, and stuff my head under the dashboard, blinding myself for the 5 or 10 minutes it would take me to get the car started. "What's that? You want to eat my brains, you say? Well, I'll be with you in a moment; I've almost got this 'hotwire' thing figured out." I looked around again. At least there aren't any damn zombies.

I walked two blocks before I saw a car crashed into another car with the door hanging open down a side street. Score? I hurried to the car, and found it empty. I reached around the steering column and found no keys. Damnit! Who the hell crashes their car, flees the undead hoard, and thinks, "Oop! Almost forgot my keys!" I turned back to return to the street I was on and saw a lone zombie about 100 yards back, limping slowly toward me. The single zombie shambling endlessly toward me was hilarious considering what I had just been through. I chuckled, "Hey there, fella. All alone? Did you lose your friends? Are you lost? Ya hungry? Huh? Ya hungry, fella? Well, I'm all out of the flesh of the living, but I've got plenty of lead! What's that? You like it hot? Well, we guarantee it'll be hot and delivered within one second or it's free! Let me wake up the delivery boy for you." I clicked the safety off and centered the sight slightly below its putrid mouth. *CRACK* The rifle sounded different among these buildings, but the bullet did the same thing. It hit right where I intended, breaking through its teeth, and blowing out the back of its neck, dropping it to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I turned back to the car and said to an imaginary companion, "I lose more customers that way."

I noticed a parked car had two bikes attached to a trunk mounted bike rack. Somehow, that's not a bad idea. I walked to the bike rack, and saw a padlock that locked two bars together with the bike frames in between. Padlocks, I can do. I reached backwards into the side pocket of my backpack, and fished for my lock pick set. All those years convincing people my lock picking was just a hobby, and here I am stealing bikes. I pulled out the torsion wrench and the snake pick to perform a simple rake on the lock, and bit the flap of the case in my mouth so it would be available. I held the lock as I had so many others, and inserted the torsion wrench, applying slight pressure with my thumb, while I readied the snake pick. I began raking the pins, and felt a few pop into place, dropping the pins free, when I heard moaning. I turned around and saw that my hungry zombie really did have friends, and they were just waiting for a loud noise to find him. I should have used the sword.

There were quite a few coming out of alleyways and from down the street, some were even moving at walking speed. Open the lock, get on the bike, get out of here. I returned to the lock, and continued raking, feeling a few more pins fall into place, and partially turning the keyhole. There's probably just one more. I raked furiously, and finally stopped and started searching for the pin. It was the last pin, and it was a deep pin behind a shallow pin. Oh, come on! I need my hook pick. Why did I go the lazy way, and rake it? I looked back at the zombies closing in, and tried to figure my time. Letting go of the torsion bar to shoot would mean starting over, and I didn't know how many more were just around the corner, working their way over here. Go for the pin.

I lifted the pick to my face, and carefully returned it to the lock pick case dangling from my mouth, and tried to feel for the hook pick. As I felt the tips of the picks, I pushed the case loose, and it fell to the ground, spilling its contents on the asphalt. Damn! I spotted the hook pick and reached down to pick it up, finding myself a few inches short. I couldn't get close enough to it while holding on to the lock and torsion bar, and the zombies were still on their way. Double damn! I reached for it with my foot, and by some miscalculation, managed to kick the pick further. Seriously?! Then my thumb slipped, releasing the torsion bar, resetting the lock, and dropping the bar to the ground. This was too much. I flustered and yelled, "Arrgh! This is not a fucking horror movie!" I shoved my hand into my satchel, and pulled out some silly thermite and a magnesium fuse. "Make-!" I tore a small piece off the block. "-lock-!" I molded the putty around the lock. "-go-!" I stuck the magnesium fuse into the putty. "-open-!" I kicked two of my picks out from under the lock. "-NOW!" I lit the fuse with my torch.

I stepped back into the street, took aim at the approaching zombies, and opened fire angrily. There were a lot of them, but I had plenty of ammo. Somewhere along the way, the thermite ignited, and burned brightly at 2000 degrees, showering the area with light sparks, but I didn't pay it any mind. It had a job to do, and I had mine. After three magazines I felt much better.

I had cleared them back far enough to buy myself some time, and returned to the bike rack. I picked up my lock pick case, and began gathering my set from the ground. I came to the small puddle of molten metal and slag that was once the padlock. I pointed at the puddle angrily, "Not so tough now, are you?!" I stupidly got my angry finger too close to the melted metal, and burning pain alerted me to the fact that I was very close to adding my finger to the molten puddle. I yelped and fell backwards checking my finger to make sure it was all there. My finger was still whole, but the padlock had the last laugh. I was angry, and was about to yell when I started laughing at the absurdity of the situation. I composed myself and snapped the lock pick case shut, placing it in my front pocket for easy access. I stood and looked at the bikes. Blue. My favorite. I grabbed it, and my hands reflexively jumped back at the burn they received. After the initial shock, I looked down and saw where some thermite had touched it, and dribbled down the frame, melting one side of it. Ok, then I'll take the-- I stopped because I had somehow missed this piece of information until now. I don't believe this. I jerked the blue bike off the rack without touching the metal, then pulled down the bike behind it and hopped on. I immediately felt silly. Maybe this IS a movie... I emptied half a magazine making a path past the gathering zombies and rode down the street on my new Hello Kitty pink beach cruiser.

I started to chuckle as I rode down the street. I must be the most hilarious thing in this city. A guy armed to the teeth with guns and explosives, dropping zombies left and right, and then hopping on my pink bike and peddling away. The chuckle turned into a laugh, and the laugh turned uncontrollable. The more I pictured it, the funnier it got. I crack me up.

There were more zombies the farther I went, I had to shoot quite a bit, but I had to keep going parallel to the freeway so I wouldn't miss my exit. At first I tried to just ride around them, but after some near misses, I realized that it would only take one grab to send me crashing to the ground, and into the jaws of a hungry zed-head. So I rode, stopped, shot, and continued. I had gone about four miles before I began to notice my magazine pouch was getting very light. I was afraid to count how many loaded mags I had left, so I tried not to think about it. Gotta get to Josh's place.

I rode on, fearful that I had somehow missed the street I usually exit on, or worried that it curved off like so many of the other streets, and never crossed the one I was on. There was nothing else I could have done, so I just continued on. Finally I made it to the street I was supposed to exit the freeway on, and found the intersection full of zombies. Except this time, the zombies were very evenly spread out, and picking a path was difficult. I wound up walking the bike, and shooting more than I had at the last intersections. When I made it clear, I only rode up the new street another block before I ran into more spread out zombies. I dropped the bike so I could shoot a smaller path, and move more quickly through it. I made it to the other side, and the zombies I had been used to riding away from were now after me. I didn't want to take the time to shoot them all, so I picked out the ones moving faster than the others, and shot them. My shoulder pushed back with the recoil of three shots, and then the recoil changed noticeably on the last shot, signaling an empty magazine. I reached for my mag pouch, feeling for another upside-down loaded magazine, but I only found right-side up empty ones.

I slung the empty rifle behind my back. Space age plastics and lightweight metals made it a great rifle, but a lousy club. I pulled out my .45 and started running down the street. It's been a while since I ran track in high school. Lets see if I still got it. The pain in my thigh was gone, replaced with a forgiving numbness. That's probably not good. My legs found their pace, and my body settled into the groove it had been in so many years ago. The extra weight I was carrying should have been hell on my knees, but I hit a runner's high quickly. Guess I'm already in a lot of pain, why not trigger those endorphins a little early? I made it to the next intersection and found it just as full of zombies. Why do they congregate in the intersections? With my elevated heart rate I missed more times than I should have, but I was in a rush. This was a mistake. By the second intersection I was out of ammo. When the slide locked back on the last magazine I just stared at it dumbly, as if to say, "Well? Are you going to shoot them or not?" I was about two miles away, and in the middle of a sparse group of zombies. Well, I guess it's Samurai Jack time. I holstered the .45 caliber paperweight, and drew the sword. I stifled a smile at what I was about to do, and swung the sword into what I thought was a fighting stance. "Whachaaaaa!"

I addressed the nearest zombie shambling toward me. "Welcome to Benihana." I raised the sword over my head in a two-handed grip, and grunted as I dropped it on the zombie. Instantly the sword was in the zed's chest, and a clean slice of the side of its head fell to the ground. Wow. I'm glad I brought this thing. I jerked the sword free, and the zombie fell to the ground in a heap. I turned to the next zombie, and pulled the sword into another overhead grip. Lets see what this thing an do... I aimed for the right side of its neck, and swung it with all my strength down and to the left. Holy shit. That was too easy. I had cut clean through. Its rotting organs were visible as the top half fell backward, and they spilled out in a gory mess onto the asphalt as it hit the ground. Ugh. That's dis-- Uh oh. I threw up my apple jacks.
Worst samurai ever.

Instead of moving on, I practiced for a bit. A few zeds later I had a good pace down, and the swings felt more fluid. I cut a swath through the loose congregation of zombies, and ran down the street, sword in hand, feeling three kinds of badass. About half a mile later the street narrowed, and a large group of zombies that would have normally been spread out were now quite close together. Lets see. How to go about this? I searched my memory for something that might help me, but drew a blank. The zombies noticed me, and quickened their pace. Well, lets think about this logically. I need to swing, and recover, then swing again, like I've been doing. I can't think about it like a baseball bat. Then I remembered watching Samurai Jack swing his sword through an opponent, then move his body so his arms were ready to swing again, and continue. I'm taking lessons from a cartoon... If I swing, then step into it, I'll be able to keep swinging. Plus I will have moved out of the reach of the other zombie. Swing and move. I spotted an opening between three zombies, and imagined how I would move. Left foot forward, swing forward from the right, spin to the left, step, swing left, move right... left leg in, left leg out, left leg in, and I shake it all about! I chuckled. Why don't I just go over there?

I remembered to do a small skip-jump as I approached to be on the right foot as I swung. I severed the head of the first zombie, and stepped between the next two, keeping my blade where it had been, and extending my body away from the sword, cocking it for the next swing. At fullest extension I swung the blade through my next target, bisecting it at the stomach. As I finished the swing I realized I didn't check for my next move, and wasn't ready to swing again, so I retreated through the hole I had just made. That was pretty good. It must have looked cool until I forgot what to do next. I just gotta check for my next opening after I pick my swing. Swing and move. Move and swing. I tucked my empty magazine pouch behind the backpack strap so it wouldn't swing around, and shifted the satchel behind my back. I picked another opening in my slow moving targets, and plotted another approach. That one first, then that one, then his buddy over there... Wait. Maybe I should try... Yeah. I ran at a zombie with another close behind, and made a short step so I was on the right foot when I got close enough. I yelled as I swung the sword through the stomach of the first zombie, and continued through the stomach of the second. I almost lost my balance as the blade pushed through them with minimal resistance, but recovered and changed direction, swinging at the next head I saw, and pushing my blade forward into the next zed's chest, stepped around the blade, and drew it from the zombie into a swing at another. Somehow this seemed like enough, and I stopped, breathless, in a circle of zombie pieces. Not bad.

For the next minute I practiced my swing and follow through until I realized I was out of zombies. All out? How many were there? That was kind of easy. I should get going... Which way was I going? I sheathed my sword and resumed my run down the last street to Josh's house. Mile and a half? I only saw a few more zombies as I ran, but I was more concerned with getting to my destination. I tried to focus on breathing right, and landing my feet correctly. Remembering all the time I spent in track, and trying to keep my mind off the muted pain. Knees up. In the nose, out the mouth. My breathing rhythm settled into the familiar pattern I had used before. My lungs burned, and I coughed, dislodging phlegm cobwebs from my underused lungs. It really wouldn't have been hard to run half an hour three times a week. I noted the increasing sluggishness in my movements. I can ignore the pain as much as I want, but eventually my muscles will have to give... Nah, that won't be for another few miles. After all I've done today, I can make it a few more blocks. I increased the effort of my thighs to make sure they didn't drag my feet, and trip me. I hit another runner's high, and my legs disappeared. My muscles moved mechanically, but I felt nothing. I forgot how a good runner's high feels. I can run 10 more miles. Easy. I ran on, relishing my high, and trying not to think of what I'd do if Josh was gone.

I reached the top of the small hill that curved down to Josh's house. I could see a few cars in front of his house, and I'd be able to signal him if he left now. Assuming he's still here... and not a zombie... Seeing Josh's house a block away meant more than arriving at my destination; it also meant I'd be able to walk without worry of missing him. I gasped for air as I walked, lifting my legs, and stretching my calves to keep them from knotting up. I made it. I really fucking made it. I casually regarded a zombie shambling into my path from the right, speaking in between breaths. "Hello... Sir... Welcome... toBeni--... Fuckit." I grabbed the sword with one hand, and dropped it cleanly through the zed's outstretched arm, sending it spinning off to the left. "Need... a hand?" I chuckled as the zombie stared at its stump, confused by the sudden change in its physiology. I swung the sword one-handed back to the zombie's neck, snapping my wrist just before it hit. The blade cut just as easily as it had before, sending the head tumbling off to the right. I smiled and walked on, catching my breath. "You'll never get ahead if you don't ask for a hand every now and then." Man, I am on a ROLL!

I sheathed the sword as I walked up to Josh's door. Moment of truth... I raised my hand to knock, and stopped. That might be a bad idea. I listened at the door for a moment, and heard murmurings that could be talking or moaning. Picks. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my lock pick set. Large torsion bar, aaaand... hook pick. I looked at the manufacturer name on the door knob and deadbolt, and chuckled slightly. I told him to buy Medeco... I slipped the bar into the door knob lock and needed only make the slightest effort to unlock it. These damn things practically pick themselves. I moved to the deadbolt, and was careful to not apply too much pressure. I wanted to unlock the cylinder, but not turn the lock open all the way. Just then I clearly heard a curse word from inside. That's Josh alright. I quickly finished the deadbolt, unlocking it loudly, and walked in, making the entrance I was known for. I was grinning like an idiot. I had made it. I looked at the group of people, and saw Josh pointing his .45 at the unexpected intruder. I winked. My lips broke their smile and I spoke, "Sup, fuckers?"

Read Chapter 5 here


Anonymous said...


Bradley said...

nice, very nice, is this the end of this story, or just this line?