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 (3 page)

BOOK: Empire's End
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He passed a doorway, just barely registered a
silhouette standing in the room, and stopped short.

It might’ve had its back to the doorway.
Maybe not. He had to strike.

Adam leapt into the room, and the rotter
swung something at the shutters and they came crashing down,
flooding the room with light, temporarily blinding him—

But he saw enough.

It was a thin-haired, stocky rotter in
coveralls. He was holding a shovel. He was the one from Jefferson
Harbor, Lily’s town. The one with the shovel who had separated him
from the girl—and who was supposed to be dead—but now he was here
and he was bearing down on Adam with the shovel pointed at him like
a spear.

No time to think. Adam deflected the shovel
with the scythe and threw an elbow into the side of the rotter’s
head. It stumbled right into a wall—through it—and into the next
room. Adam followed through a shower of sawdust.

The floor groaned as the rotter rose to face
him. Shovel met blade again, and this time it was Adam who was
knocked off balance. He fell on his back and rolled aside just in
time to avoid being impaled. The rotter caught his ankle and hurled
him across the room with inhuman strength.

This was much more than just a zombie.
Something had changed, and Adam knew why. When the bastard had
ambushed him in Jefferson Harbor, he’d done something that defied
all undead instinct: he’d
tasted of the Reaper’s flesh,
swallowing a pound of Adam’s otherworldly constitution before
collapsing on the ground. Adam had revived to find the rotter lying
inert and assumed he was finished. Wrong.

What had his false flesh done to the rotter?
And had he actually followed Adam all the way here from
Louisiana?

Again, no time to think, and Adam paid the
price for his hesitation. The shovel bit into his side and he felt
himself propelled through the air like a rag doll, crashing through
a paper-thin wall and into a railing and nearly toppling over it to
the lobby below.

He turned, ducking as he did so, and the
shovel whistled over his head. He thrust the scythe at the rotter.
No purchase. He had to get closer. But that damn shovel was beating
him back with every effort, and he felt the railing pressing into
his back, then he heard a sharp crack and suddenly there was
nothing at all supporting him.

Adam dropped through space, through beams of
light and dust motes, down down down to the floor where he landed
on the shattered railing and felt a sort of pain he’d never felt
before. It knifed through his spine, from his neck to his buttocks,
and he arched his back with a cry of pure agony.

He had no bones, was only God’s clay, but his
new life had blessed him with a knowledge of suffering, and he felt
now as if he’d been snapped in half by the fall. And the rotter was
thundering down the stairs.

Thunder. The entire chamber was rumbling. It
was all going to come down.

As the rotter crossed the lobby toward him,
Adam forced himself into a kneeling position and swung his blade
into a nearby column. It bowed and exploded outward, and a balcony
dropped from the upper levels with a boom that shook the
foundations of the town hall.

Adam rolled out of the way of falling plaster
and wood, landing right at the rotter’s feet. He swept the undead’s
legs out from under him.

The rotter hit the floor with a solid thud.
He was all meat, wasn’t he? Healthy as a living man but with the
appearance of a cadaver. Bloodshot eyes glared at Adam from
skeletal sockets. The thing fumbled for its shovel, but Adam got it
first and he brought it down on the rotter’s face with a wet
crunch.

The staircase crumbled. The roof was sagging.
Time to go.

Adam dove out the front doors and was
followed by an eruption of debris as the building fell in on
itself. Dust blanketed the plaza, and Adam pressed his face into
the ground and covered his head while hunks of wood and marble
skipped across the concrete like wayward missiles.

At last the world settled. Adam looked up and
took in the scene. A work of classic architecture, centuries old, a
testament to Man’s spirit, now dust; for the sake of one rotter.
And Man would not rebuild. Not today. Such was the plague.

 

* * *

 

By twilight, the man with the scythe was
gone. There were only the voices.

You feel him in your bones. You taste him in
your mouth—quickly now, before he’s gone too far and you lose
him!

Get up! Get after him!

You are the end of him. You are the Omega.
It is what you must do.

Aren’t you aching for his flesh? Isn’t your
black blood on fire? What’s keeping you? GET UP!

A cacophony of disembodied voices crowding
out the rotter’s own animal thoughts. These voices, spitting and
howling, arguing with him and with one another—they were his
conscience, or had at least taken its place. Voices young and old,
speaking in all tongues yet perfectly understandable to him. It was
their rage that made it all so clear, more so than any of their
pleas or threats. He felt their collective rage in his rotten core,
like flames rising to warm the walls of a broken-down furnace. It
was the rage that drove him, and the lingering taste of the
Reaper’s flesh—the memory of it sending chills through his bones
even as his black heart fluttered to life.

The Omega clawed his way out of the rubble
where the town hall had stood. Using the recovered shovel to pry
his legs free, he climbed down from the ruins and surveyed the
plaza.

A few other rotters were standing around the
site, swaying slightly as their blank stares turned toward the
Omega. He approached the nearest one, a female with sagging breasts
and belly, and he raised the shovel.

It cleaved into her heart with a brittle
snapping of ribs. She staggered, arms swinging at her sides, face
expressionless. She tried to turn and walk away.

The Omega sank the shovel into the tough meat
of her back and wrestled her to the ground. Then he fell upon
her.

Yes!

Devour her, all of her! Take her energy into
yourself. We’ll need all we can get.

Cleanse your body! Drive out the rot!

He fed. Pus was spat from the lips of
abscesses in his legs and back. Writhing maggots were forced from
his ears and hair. The fungus in his innards boiled away. As his
body grew stronger—as
they
grew stronger—all impurities were
driven from him, and his latest wounds began to scab over. He felt
the broken bones in his face being manipulated and healed together;
and he ate ravenously.

They knew how to use the virus’ dark energy.
He was a mere animal, maybe less, dead and dumb; but they took care
of him. And they drove him across the badlands after the scent of
the other. Soon would come the inevitable, the final feast... the
Reaper.

Fill your gullet to its brim. Then go after
the other ones. Feed!

When next we cross paths with him, it shall
be our last meeting.

 

Three / Normal

 

More than five months had passed since the
exodus from Jefferson Harbor, and Voorhees still didn’t know what
had become of Lily.

As he boarded a bus on the outskirts of
Chicago, someone caught his arm. It was Killian, a young officer
he’d met during his orientation. “I found her,” Killian said.

They got a seat together near the back and
waited until the bus got moving. “I can’t believe buses run between
the cities like this,” Voorhees muttered. “All those miles of
lonely highway...”

“And not a rotter to be seen,” Killian said.
She nudged his arm and smiled. “So, do you want to know where your
girl is or not?”

“She’s not my girl.” Voorhees frowned out the
window. “I don’t know if I want to know. She was the last living
citizen of the Harbor... I was supposed to protect them all, and I
got one little girl out. Then she’s taken from me the second we
enter the Wall. Who knows what’s happened.”

“Well, do you want me to tell you? It’s
nothing bad, Voorhees.”

“Tell me.”

“She’s in Gaylen, the same city where we’re
headed. A young couple took her in. They’re seeking permanent
custody.”

Voorhees let out a long, tired sigh. “So
she’s safe, then.”

“She’s safe.”

“Now I can start worrying about what’s going
to happen to me.”

“You’ll be fine. I’ve got your back.”

“You’re half my age.”

“Really? I didn’t think you were
that
old.” Killian smiled again, leaning toward him. “It’s a joke,
Voorhees. When’s the last time you had a laugh?”

“I don’t remember what my laugh sounds like,”
he replied.

She saw he wasn’t kidding and whistled.
“That’s gotta change. You’re
okay
now. You’ve come a long
way from that place. You’re in the Great Cities now—and you’re
gonna be a real cop again. Did they not mention that to you,
repeatedly? You’re gonna be a Gaylen P.O.—of course that means
Peace Officer here, not Patrol Officer—but it’s the same
thing.”

“I was a senior officer in the Harbor.”

“Nothing I can do about that, buddy.” Killian
patted his arm. “Look at it this way. Being a beat cop means less
time filling out reports and more time doing the job.”

“Paperwork
is
the job—”

“Oh, you’re hopeless.” Turning from him,
Killian stared ahead. Feeling guilty, Voorhees tried to think of
something to say. “Hey, I’ll be getting paid again. That’ll be
nice.”

“Social Services explains in orientation that
you earn credits, but what they don’t tell you is that, as a P.O.,
you don’t have to pay for everything like the rest. Explaining that
is my job.” She had been in the Great Cities for a year, and had
only been in Chicago to help run orientation. With a sideways
glance toward the other passengers, Killian slipped a card from
within her jacket and handed it to Voorhees. “It’s a forever pass
for medical services. Any hospital, any time. Everyone else has to
spend their credits on day passes and hope that the line for the
doctor isn’t too long.”

“What about emergencies?”

“They still bill people’s accounts. Costs a
lot more too. But not for you.”

“How many emergencies do you think go
unreported as a result of that?” he asked.

“People can afford medical care, it’s not
like they’re being paid minimum wage. Hell, minimum wage isn’t even
minimum wage anymore. You know full-time parents with multiple kids
earn as much as a Senate aide?”

Voorhees pocketed the medical pass. “Any
other perks?”

“Discounted food and entertainment. All the
food in Gaylen is grown or raised on farms. Beef is expensive as
hell.”

“You said entertainment?”

“Sure. You know the live music in Chicago?
They do that in Gaylen too. And he rugby teams are always looking
for new players if you think you’re up to it. Plays, too, chosen by
the Senate. Our city admin, Senator Cullen, writes some himself.
Really fucking boring unless you’re stoned, but that costs an arm
and a leg—”

“What?”

“Nothing. Anyway, all the P.Os live in the
same building, a refurbished hotel on West Avenue. They’ll put you
on the top floor. You think it’s a steal but then you find out the
heating is shot. Course, they’ll still dock your pay for it”

“Yeah, back to the drugs.”

“C’mon, Voorhees. Everyone needs a break once
in a while. It’s just pot.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Do you smoke on the
job?”

She glared at him. “Of course not.”

“Good.”

“Which reminds me, Gaylen’s a dry city. We do
still have some moonshiners underground but we usually just let
that go. Alcohol’s not as much of a problem when no one
drives.”

“I was about to ask. These buses travel
between cities though. And run on ethanol?”

“Yeah, and so do the generators in town, but
the good news is Gaylen’s hydroelectric plant came back online last
month. They’ve been working to keep that thing alive for the last
fifty years. Not a bad investment. Technology, industry may have
stagnated in the last century, but we didn’t. We’re surviving.”

Surviving. That seemed to be enough for most.
Voorhees grimaced. “And is the water as clean as Chicago’s?”

“Cleaner.” Killian’s smile had returned. It
was probably contagious in most circumstances. Voorhees had
forgotten what it felt like to smile. Every waking moment since
he’d been born had been a losing war against the undead. Every day
was the end of the world. And now he was supposed to believe in
this walled paradise, this new Eden, established by the same
government who’d left everyone in the badlands to die?

Of course they would say it was one’s own
choice to remain in the badlands. But it had been hard to swallow
the radio broadcasts about a rotter-free safe zone.

Well, here it is. Right outside your
window.

Gaylen, on the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
His new home. He tried to focus on that, rather than the nightmares
of the past with their strange characters and unanswered questions.
He especially tried not to think about the cloaked specter of
Death, astride a pale horse, charging into the undead hordes.

Life is normal now,
he told
himself.

“We celebrate holidays, too,” said Killian.
“Halloween is coming up. You know what that is? On that
night...”

Voorhees shut his eyes and tried to block out
the rest of her words. He tried to think about health benefits and
utilities and neighbors but he simply hadn’t been bred for such a
life. There was no
after the apocalypse
in his mind. All
they had here was the Wall, and he couldn’t wall out his
memories.

 

Four / Dead Lizards with Bells on Their
Feet

 

They were dangling by strings from the lowest
branches of the trees surrounding the rock quarry. Adam peered into
their lifeless dark eyes and saw his own soulless gaze, doll’s-eyes
blinking curiously.

BOOK: Empire's End
3.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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