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 (7 page)

BOOK: Empire's End
12.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

But this one was a little different.

It ran like a bird, its arms held behind its
back and its gray head making rude pecking gestures. As it came
into the light, Alex saw the reason for its bizarre posture: it was
handcuffed.

They’d never know why. They’d never know if
this man had been some sort of prisoner, or if he’d been placed
under restraint due to infection. They’d never know why he, or it,
a starving scavenger just like them, was prowling the streets of
Old New York alone and in old-style police handcuffs.

“Buzzard,” Keane breathed, following the
rotter’s movements. “I mean, we call ‘em that, the lone ones... but
never seen one that really was.” And with that, he descended the
hill and, with a powerhouse swing, decapitated the rotter. Its body
ran past him, scrambling halfway up the hill before collapsing and
rolling back down to the street.

The head, its few teeth gnashing madly, lay
in the grass. Keane stomped it to dust.

“Still want to go poking around?” Alex
snapped, heart racing, face flushed. He looked at Jarrett,
expecting to see terror in the boy’s eyes; but he only saw morbid
fascination.

Alex knew he’d been outvoted.

 

* * *

 

“You feel that?”

“What?”

“Like a little quake. Just now.”

“No.”

They had gone into a corporate tower whose
windows were long gone and whose floors had been given over to the
local flora and fungi. Sunlight streamed in from all four
sides—high noon—and Alex watched as rats scrabbled down into their
burrows, going under the floor.

“Think they’re infected?”

“We can’t ask. Just kill ‘em if they get too
close.”

“I feel bad for them,” Jarrett said. “They
don’t know. They’re just living, like us.”

“It’s nature,” Alex said in an attempt at a
calming tone. “We have to protect ourselves. Nature
understands.”

“The rats don’t.”

“Ever hear of a rat king?” Keane muttered. He
was using his bat to clear a closet of debris. “It’s an Old New
York legend. Rats, they live under the city, millions of them. Some
of ‘em get mashed up together and twisted—tangled, their tails,
their legs—and they just go on like that. They become this one
thing that just goes around taking care of itself. A rat king.”

“You mean like a huge ball of rats?” Jarrett
sputtered.

Keane nodded. “It probably happens.”

“It probably happens that they get all
tangled up and can’t separate,” Alex said, “but I don’t think they
become one entity or whatever. They just struggle and die.”

“Why not?” Keane asked.

“Because all every rat cares about is taking
care of its own self.” Alex found a brittle sheaf of papers; they
could be moistened and used as bandages or cloths down the line.
Maybe he’d even do a little writing. “Each rat for itself. Rat king
wouldn’t work. It’s not nature.”

Jarrett looked troubled. Alex gave him an
inviting smile, wanted him to speak up; but he didn’t.

 

* * *

 

The basement was a parking garage, empty.
Beyond that was sewer access.

“I say we check it out,” Keane said.

“What’re we gonna find? Hundred-year-old
crap.”

“New York sewers aren’t just pipes, man!
There could be another fucking building down there. Let’s just look
for fuck’s sake.”

“Okay. Lay off the ‘fucks’?”

“Why? No one’s around.”

“I’m around.”

“It’s just a word.”

“I’m tired of words that mean things like
fuck and shit and all of that. If you’re in a good mood then talk
like it, okay?”

Keane shrugged at Alex. “Right. All
right.”

A ladder went down to the sub-basement in
place of the long-dead elevator, and from there was a door. An
actual door into the sewers.

“Why would they put a door?” Alex asked.

“Because there’s more than shit—I mean
garbage—down there.” Keane rapped the bat on the old metal door.
The room was small and dark and there was no echo. “Who knows? A
vault or a bomb shelter or a
god-please-let-there-be-a-pot-garden.”

“What’s pot?” Jarrett asked.

“Nothing you need to know about,” Alex said,
and approached the door. “Take a torch, Keane. You’re on point
right?”

“Right.”

The door sounded like a banshee’s dying cry.
Jarrett covered his ears while Alex lit a torch and shouldered his
axe. “I’ll take the rear, Jarr. You go after Keane.”

There were stairs; wet stairs, Alex noticed
immediately, old carved stone steps that collected tepid little
pools of water from some unknown source. Had to be the humidity. It
was hot and fucking damp in that narrow stairwell.
Drip-drip-drip
from down below rattled the nerves. Jarrett
was breathing hard, looking from side to side at the flat black
walls as they descended the winding staircase, Alex and Keane each
holding a torch and a weapon. Jarrett was approved for weapons, but
all he had was a length of pipe tucked against his calf, down in
that one old holey sock he wore on his right leg. He knew to strike
them in the eyes and teeth. Blind them, disable them, evade them.
Rotters weren’t to be messed with. It wasn’t Man’s cause to seek
out and slaughter the living dead. Just stay out of their damn way
and let them rot.

“I almost hear a rumbling,” Keane said.

“Well, do you or don’t you?” Alex
whispered.

“I don’t know. It’s kinda in my feet, you
feel that?”

“I don’t feel anything. And I don’t hear
anything. We’re down in solid rock here, Keane, I don’t think
you’re really feeling anything moving about.”

“Just the earth?”

“I don’t know. Your imagination. Your
heartbeat.”

“So dark,” Jarrett breathed. “How far do you
think these stairs go?”

“Don’t know, son,” Alex replied. He was
beginning to feel claustrophobic, despite being the rear guard, and
he thrust his torch toward the ceiling. “Flame’s dancing a little.
I think there’s some air coming up from below.”

Keane nodded. “It’s getting a little less
damp. We’re onto something.” He grinned at Jarrett.

The stairs ended. There was a tunnel, and
another door, sodden wood bulging with just a few tiny holes
letting some cool air push through. Pungent, but cool.

“What do you think the city was like back
then? When it was New New York?” Jarrett asked.

Alex stared at a blank wall. “All I know is,
it was always the same down here.”

“Definitely a sewer behind this door,” Keane
grunted as he tugged at the old, swollen wood. “But there’s gotta
be something more. This passage wasn’t carved out so some guys
could clean shit outta the pipes.”

“Language.”

“Yeah,” Keane mumbled. “I’ll bet this was
here before the sewers. I’ll bet they came later and took this up
as part of ‘em, but this used to be something else—something—”

The door roared as it fell apart, an icy wind
with the smell of rancid waste smacking each man in the face. Then
it was gone. A gaping hole remained.

“Blew my torch out,” Keane whistled.

“Here’s another.”

“I can get this one to go again. No
problem.”

Jarrett approached the opening on trembling
legs. There was a black vacuum, a soundless, sightless void.

“Here,” Alex said, and tossed his torch
through the doorway.

It splashed, and fizzled, but didn’t go out.
It illuminated the six-foot drop, managed by ladder, and the
cavernous sewer tunnel extending from right there to the end of the
world in both directions.

“Lookit this,” Keane said, perched in the
doorway with eyes wide. “It’s huge. By Adam, you could drive a
truck through this here! Two trucks! What were they flushin’?” he
laughed, and it echoed throughout the system, making Alex’s skin
crawl.

“Keep it quiet.”

“You honestly think there’s anything down
here? We had to kill that door to get through!”

“Don’t stir up the rats!” Alex hissed. Keane
threw his hands out in mock horror. “God forbid I should have to
mash a few rat heads.”

“Rat king,” Jarrett said, “could fit through
there. Big enough for a rat king.”

“Rat kings aren’t real.” Alex shot a stern
look at Keane, who just rolled his eyes. “But there are almost
certainly rats in there infected with the Plague or something else
and I don’t want to mess with ‘em.”

“So we’re not going in there?” Keane
pouted.

“Are you kidding?”

“What’d we come down here for? What’d I rip
apart that door for?”

“It’s just a sewer! There isn’t any gold down
here, man! Do you see anything but a little river of shit water?
There aren’t any other tunnels or doors or anything. It’s just a
big-ass sewer, that’s all. I’m sorry,” Alex sighed. “I wish there
was something down here. It would’ve made this day worthwhile. But
there’s not.”

They all felt the rumble.

“What do you think that was?” Keane
asked.

“Maybe...” Alex leaned through the doorway
into the tunnel, feeling the slight breeze. “Maybe there’s water
down here. Maybe there’s like some sort of river system that still
exists, and it shifts things around. Could be natural caverns
underneath all this.”

“Wouldn’t that be something to see,” Keane
said, smiling at Jarrett.

“We’re not sight-seeing, though, we’re—” And
then Alex fell.

It was a jarring drop, not lethal, not
frightening, just jarring. Painful and shitty and wet. He landed in
a fetid slop and knew his ankle had turned. “GOD! FUCK!” It
probably was just a sprain. Just a sprain, Keane could haul him up
if he could just grab that ladder. Alex looked at his hands, looked
for cuts in the dying light of the thrown torch. He couldn’t see
shit for shit.

“Keane, gimme a hand. I’m okay.”

Jarrett’s head shot into the tunnel. “Are you
all right?”

“I just said I’m fine,” Alex grumbled. He sat
up and scooted his butt forward a little, sloshing in the muck. He
was going to stink for days. The group hadn’t come across fresh
water in a week, and it would probably be another damn week before
they did. Alex saw the coming days going to hell; saw himself
sitting alone in a dirty tent and just when he’d gotten up the
nerve to ask Tru if she wanted to lay with him.

“Need more than a hand, looks like,” Keane
said, clambering down the ladder.

“No, I can get myself up there, I just
need—”

“Man, forget it. I’ve got you.” Keane clapped
Alex’s back and coughed. “You smell like shit.”

“Thank you.”

There was another rumble.

“I know you felt that.”

It didn’t stop.

Then the thing came around the bend, filling
the tunnel, all of it, claiming every inch of space in its insane
locomotion.

Torsos, heads, limbs, all desiccated, all
human, all undead, all packed together with mud and blood and
everything else and wound tight with threads of bone and flesh and
fungus. A gnashing moaning rumbling thing that pawed at the walls
with skeletal hands, feeling old grooves, having run this track a
thousand times like a polished marble. Broken teeth and watery eyes
and bloody gums all searching for the least bit of meat. Plunging
through the tunnel, the rumble now a crescendo of wails and grunts
and other things going on inside the wet pulsing core of the rat
king.

Jarrett’s head snapped back as the thing came
by, and he saw a split-second flash of faces and feet and skulls
and things he never wanted to see, ever, ever again. The thing
swept by and rolled up Alex and Keane into it and swallowed them
and it continued its terrible progress through the bowels of the
city, searching for every last warm morsel to sustain itself.

 

* * *

 

Jarrett never explained the rat king to the
others, to anyone. He didn’t tell them just how the rotters had
taken Alex and Keane. He didn’t think they would understand. Only
nature would. Nature, who, he now knew, was a goddess in Hell.

 

Ten / The Politics of Madness

 

“I’ll pick up the tab,” Blake said, sipping
from a terrible cup of coffee. He motioned across the diner to the
waitress.

Voorhees had barely touched his sandwich. It
was ice-cold now, two and a half hours after it was dropped in
front of him, two and a half hours of trying to wrap his head
around what Blake had been telling him.

“There are some elements that can only be
contained, not cut out.”

Crime was an inevitability, and in today’s
world, there were greater priorities than the futile pursuit of
trying to eliminate wrongdoing.

The answer? Government-sanctioned organized
crime. Finn Meyer’s boys ran protection rackets, prostitution,
smuggled illicit goods like alcohol into the city. But they pledged
not to commit acts of violence. No sexual assault, no homicide,
noting that violated their “honor code” and nullified their
standing with the city administration.

Of course, there was the occasional slip-up.
Unavoidable. But wasn’t that occasional fall from grace better than
a robbery spree or, God forbid, a serial rapist?

So what was the role of the Peace Officer, if
not to fight crime?

“We keep an eye on Meyer, sure, but mostly
we’re just a presence on the street for people’s peace of mind,”
Blake had told him. “Our hands are tied a bit, but so are his.
There’s a balance maintained and the people of Gaylen are better
off for it. Don’t get me wrong = every so often a domestic spat or
something escalates, or one of Meyers’ goons crosses the line, and
we get some actual police work. But for the most part, street crime
stays within the honor code.”

“Honor code,” Voorhees growled.
“Bullshit.”

“I know it sounds wrong, I know it does. But
this is a new system, and so far it works.”

“How long do you think Meyer can be
contained? Are you really so naïve as to think he doesn’t already
have other rackets going on right under your nose? That prick
thinks he owns the cops. Far as I can tell he’s right.”

BOOK: Empire's End
12.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

R.I.L.Y Forever by Norah Bennett
B.A.D by Caitlin Moran
Taste of Lacey by Linden Hughes
Montana Hero by Debra Salonen
Only Forever by Cristin Harber
Five Bells by Gail Jones
Ready for Him by Tanith Davenport