Read Empire's End Online

Authors: David Dunwoody

Tags: #apocalyptic, #grim reaper, #death, #Horror, #permuted press, #postapocalyptic, #Zombie, #zombie book, #reaper, #zombie novel, #Zombies, #living dead, #walking dead, #apocalypse, #Lang:en, #Empire

Empire's End (2 page)

BOOK: Empire's End
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

We’ve seen a few badlander communities.
They’re shanty towns set far back from the highway and the ghost
towns. No one has approached the convoy at any point. They don’t
trust the Senate. That’s why Gillies has come out here. He’s a
brave man, Mom (divorced too, FYI) and it’s an honor to be his
aide. I’ve spent most of every day with him. That’s how I’ve
learned so much in such a short while.

He says that the Great Cities region will be
expanded to include St. Paul to the west and Lansing to the east.
They’ve decided that Chicago will be the capital city. All in all,
parts of seven former states will be inside the Wall when it’s
complete. Senator Gillies says there are big plans in the works for
Cleveland, too. I don’t know what, so don’t ask! Maybe I’ll know by
the time I get back.

I’m putting as much as I can into this letter
because there’s no postal service beyond Utah. Can’t trust that a
lone rider will be safe any further south. We’re rolling through
the Utah desert as I write this. The Army commander says there’s a
large group of badlanders out here, and Gillies wants to stop and
talk to them about the Great Cities.

Why would anyone choose this wasteland over
civilization? That’s what I’m going to ask them. Maybe they just
don’t know about the work being done.

Gillies said that the withdrawal could begin
as early as 2111. The Wall won’t be finished then, but that’s
actually a reason why he wants to pull the troops out of the
badlands. The Wall’s completion would be safeguarded by the
military, and then I guess it would become their job to patrol it.
The withdrawal is just another reason why everybody should be
heading north now.

The most interesting discussions we’ve had,
though, have been about the undead. They supposedly only outnumber
us by five hundred to one now, but that’s because the human
population has dropped so sharply. However, the Senate maintains
radio contact with Europe, and they say things might actually be
worse there than here.

The plague virus isn’t just a virus. It
doesn’t behave that way. Gillies believes there’s more to it,
something otherworldly. Some people turn only hours after being
bitten while others take weeks. There’s no real proof that it has
anything to do with biology. It could just as well depend on one’s
spiritual constitution, and that’s what he says it is. You know
what? I believe it, too.

That’s why Gillies calls the plague God’s
judgment. Even though it began on an Army base what, 102 years
ago—he says that their tampering with nature is what brought on the
Lord’s wrath. He’s a very spiritual man. I think most of the
Senators are, but especially Gillies. His father was a religious
teacher at a place called Seminarium Vita. He told me that his
father died trying to minister to the undead.

It’s also because of the virus’ otherworldly
energy that the rotters have a sort of aura about them. I’d never
heard about that before but I know now that it’s true. I’ve seen
dead insects rise in a rotter’s wake. Sometimes, at night, the
soldiers hang bags of fireflies around the perimeter of our camp.
I’ve seen the bags light up and start thrashing seconds before a
stray rotter walked into camp and into a hail of bullets. Yes, even
though bullets don’t kill rotters, the troops still use guns. They
shoot out the rotters’ knees and then torch them. (Sorry if that
seems morbid. I thought it was interesting.)

You remember when I read Darwin to you? His
observations are present in the undead. Not just undead animals,
but people too. See, if a rotter feeds often enough, it can
“regenerate” tissue. Anything from skin to bone to brain matter,
they can grow back. Those undead lead the packs and get stronger,
while the others rot away... Senator Gillies says that some rotters
have the potential to relearn things like speech! Wouldn’t it be
awful if a rotter looked and sounded like a healthy human being?
Luckily that’s only in theory.

Those rotters that run like the wind... I’ve
seen them. “Alpha zombies,” as the commander calls them. I’ve only
seen a few, and they didn’t last long against our troops, but Lord
they were frightening.

I guess that’s it for now. I want you to know
that I am safe and I am happy. Believe me when I say that our men
and women in uniform are up to the challenge, and only the best of
the best were handpicked to protect the Senate President’s convoy.
I think we’re going to make a real difference out here. We’re going
to save the badlanders.

I love you, and I’ll see you in a month’s
time.

 

Todd

 

* * *

 

Mom never got the latter.

It was lost in the ambush. An ambush by
rotters.

Heavy with stains of blood, the letter fell
into the Utah sand and was forgotten in the unfolding chaos. Then,
eventually, it was buried, and finally the elements claimed it and
erased the words that a naïve young man had written to assuage the
fears of his worried mother.

 

Two / The New Flesh

 

October 18
th
, 2112

 

Every Main Street in every town in the
badlands looked the same. The leaves had turned and fallen from the
trees encroaching on empty businesses; plants grew in smashed
windows and uprooted the sidewalk. The sun bleached crumbling brick
and cracked asphalt, The rust-eaten skeletons of cars sat in the
street, now home to small animals, the entire city slowly being
reclaimed by Nature; the last signs of human life nothing more than
scars fading in her flesh.

This particular Main Street in central
Colorado had only a few cars in the road. There was a minivan that
had run up onto the sidewalk, and a police cruiser abandoned in the
middle of the street. At the end of the street, however, blocking
off a municipal plaza, was a barricade of vehicles scorched by
fire

And at the other end of the street, hanging
from a traffic light, was a man in a noose.

He’d hung himself that very morning, and the
rotters scattered throughout the area had begun to take notice.
Raspy moans issued from desiccated throats, and creaky joints made
scraping sounds as the dead started to move.

The moans increased in volume, attracting
rotters from nearby streets. It wasn’t long before a mob of several
dozen shuffling corpses was advancing inch by inch toward Main
Street, most of them with no idea why; they just followed the
sounds.

Rotters who would have once growled
menacingly at their competition could now only gurgle on the rotten
paste filling their windpipes. They hadn’t fed in perhaps years and
had just stood, silent, patient; waiting for food to come along as
they decomposed. The virus could only fight off the elements for so
long. The dead in this Colorado city were nothing more than
shambling husks. But most of them still had arms, and fingers, and
most important of all, teeth. And they all had the hunger.

They closed in on the hanged man from all
directions. The man wore a dark suit. He was pale and hairless and
thin. A pleasant breeze carried the odor of decay through the air,
though none of them could smell; had they been able to, they might
have noticed the lack of any odor coming off the hanged man.

Closer, closer. Thick saliva gathered behind
swollen lips. Hands groped through the air. The moans all came
together in a maddening crescendo.

The hanged man had one arm behind his back.
Strapped to it was a blade: a long, curved implement made from
fused bone, sharpened to a razor’s edge on both sides. Its tip
rested against the noose around the man’s neck.

His eyes opened. They were dark and lifeless,
doll’s eyes. They stared coldly down at the undead.

A shoulder sling and wrist straps secured the
enormous curved blade to his right arm. A leather thong bound
around his hand, he simply flicked his wrist; and the noose was
severed.

The man came down in a tight crouch, sending
plumes of dust into the air with his impact. Before any of the
stupid, shambling dead had a chance to register what was happening,
to even hazard a guess at what the man really was—he rose and
thrust the blade out and spun with a battle cry that killed the
dead’s senseless conversation, as if he were an unwelcome guest;
and he most certainly was.

As he spun, rising, the blade cutting upward
in a sweeping arc—heads flew off of shoulders and rolled through
the air. And those slashed across the torso opened up and rotten
gray guts spilled onto the street. Stomachs burst and vomited their
contents onto the man’s feet. He threw the blade out again,
spinning in the opposite direction, and cut down a dozen of them at
once.

They were dead, the ones he’d struck—dead and
deader. They would not rise again.

The others came at him. He planted the tip of
the scythe blade in an emaciated rotter’s gut and ripped through
his sternum and skull, halving the bastard. The blade turned and
tore downward, through the legs of another undead, then reversed
course and decapitated a hissing female. Her open throat continued
to hiss as foul ichor spayed into the air.

The man barreled into a line of rotters,
lifting one off its feet and divorcing its legs from its torso with
a mid-air strike. He whirled to knife through the kneecaps of the
others, and they fell limp, never to get up again. Every blow with
the scythe blade was a death blow. The blade seemed cursed; no,
enchanted
.

He had forged it himself, binding and shaping
the bone with dark magic, then endowing it with the power to kill
the unkillable—to reap the undead. Such a task had been his burden,
as he had once been the Reaper himself.

For thousands of years little more than a
silent record-keeper, marking the passage of souls from one plane
to the next, the Reaper had felt obligated to take on a new role
with the rise of the undead. It was more than just a plague on
humanity; they upset laws and balances set before time began. With
every fiber in his being he’d hated them... and with that, he
himself had begun to change, even as death had.

He’d found will, and righteous anger. And
when he’d found
her
—the one he dreamed about, the child from
the swamp-house—that had been it. He had relinquished his role as
Death and bound himself to the mortal coil upon which shuffled Man
himself.

He was still a supernatural being, yes, but
so much more fragile than he had once been. Unharmed, he might live
for an eternity, but if the undead were to overcome him, and tear
him apart, he’d simply be gone. No afterlife awaited the pale man
with the black eyes. He was a spirit made flesh, and this was his
only
life.

But he had accepted all this without
hesitation because it meant saving
her
. Lily, the child who,
once he found her, helped him to find himself. She had been forced
to live among the undead in the swamp-house by her mad brother,
forced to treat the cadaverous predators as kin. And the Reaper
had—

You simply lost it. You lost it.

But what he’d gained had been worth the
price. He was
alive
now. And he had begun to sleep, and to
dream, and in his dreams he saw the little girl and he knew he had
to find her again. To ensure her safety, of course, but more than
that. Their bond seemed beyond his understanding.

Upon entering this strange new life, the
former Death had chosen a name for himself: Adam. And it was as
Adam that he spun like a grim dancer through this sea of severed
limbs and putrid gore. He’d already cut down a third of the mob;
the end was near, at least for today.

Leaping atop the police cruiser, he vaulted
off the roof’s edge and took down a row of rotting fiends before
they could flinch. Some of the undead had begun to slow in their
approach, but the lure of the flesh was too great. None would flee,
making Adam’s job all the easier.

And I am not a man of flesh. They could not
consume me. Although some have tried...

He climbed the barricade of vehicles at the
end of the street and ran onto the municipal plaza to make his last
stand against the horde.

When they came at him he spun right into
their midst, cutting a crimson swath through the center of the mob,
ripping it apart at the seams and scattering the shell-shocked
remnants across the plaza; he then flew at those stumbling about
the edge of the plaza and slew them with surgical precision. A pair
of rotters attacked from behind. He turned on his heels and
skewered them both. Their guts churned as they struggled, fluids
spilling down their threadbare jeans, and then both fell still.
Adam yanked the blade free and watched them drop. They were the
last. It was done.

His own clothes were soaked through with
gore. He’d taken this nondescript suit off of a corpse after
shedding his reaper’s robes. A spongy mold was beginning to grow
inside the jacket, feeding on the blood that suffused it. He
figured it was time to trade up. Maybe this time he could find a
pair of pants that felt less awkward, since he didn’t have a—

Movement to the left. He spun and saw a
shadow disappeared into the old town hall.

Uncommon for a rotter to run; then again,
this one had just seen dozens of its contemporaries mowed down by a
single man. Maybe they were getting a little smarter. Adam wasn’t
really interested in the reason for it, though. It only made his
mission more complicated.

Stealthily he crept up the steps of the town
hall building and peered through the open doors. He saw a lobby,
littered with debris and dimly lit by the sunlight spilling through
a fractured ceiling high overhead. As he entered, the floor creaked
loudly beneath his bare feet. It felt like the whole thing might
come down on his head at any moment.

Somewhere in the building, footsteps creaked
in response to his. From upstairs. Up the grand staircase, past the
soiled American flag and the faded photos of city councilmen. Adam
padded across the floor like a tiger after its next meal. Another
creak led him down a narrow hallway lined with empty offices. The
windows were all shuttered, allowing only a few slits of light into
the corridor. Any moment now he’d find his prey cornered in one of
these rooms, and he’d pounce.

BOOK: Empire's End
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Harley and Me by Bernadette Murphy
Major Demons by Randall Morris
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Something Like Hope by Shawn Goodman
La tía Tula by Miguel de Unamuno
Return to the Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz
Warpaint by Stephanie A. Smith
Lumière (The Illumination Paradox) by Garlick, Jacqueline E.
The Cuckoo's Child by Margaret Thompson