Authors: Joseph Talluto
Book 2: What
For my greatest fan:
October 10, 1941 – July 6, 2013
Be at peace.
“Do you see them?”
“No. Am I supposed to?”
“Are you looking?”
“In case it’s escaped your notice, it’s really dark out here.”
“That’s a no, then?”
“Well, if they’re out here, they’ll hear you for sure.”
“Fine. Be that way.”
My brother Jake was a pain in the ass, but since he was consistently a pain in the ass, it was easier to handle. However, there were times,
being one of them, that his signature resemblance to a person’s posterior was really annoying.
We were standing on a bike path directly underneath a bridge in St. Charles, and we were hunting zombies. Not
exactly, the way I’d like to be spending my evenings, but since we decided to be the saviors of the new country, we had to go where the action was, and that brought us to St. Charles.
Before this, we were collectors, going into forbidden zones and zombie infested territory to bring back a piece of the life other people left behind when they fled the first hordes of undead.
However, circumstances forced us to take a hard look at what we were doing and why we were doing it, and we changed course rather suddenly. We realized we were trained for a different purpose, not just to go after other people’s crap. Our father had spent years making sure we could survive attacks by any person, alive or dead, and we had come to the realization that we were meant to do something bigger than ourselves.
, it’s dark tonight. Do you think we’re nuts for being out here?” Jake wondered.
I was glad he couldn’t see my
face. Otherwise, he might have been offended by the severe eye rolling I was giving him at the moment.
“Slightly. It’s darker than hell out here
. I can’t hear a thing, thanks to the river next to me, and we’re chasing zombies along a bike path at night. I’m not sure which part of that might qualify for sanity,” I said.
“Good point. Well, I…wait. Did you see that?” Jake peered forward and stared hard at the shadows.
I looked in the general direction that he did, although I didn’t stare directly at the same spot. At night, you could actually see better using your peripheral vision. That was something Julia’s father had taught us years ago. I couldn’t see anything at first, but then it became clearer. Something was moving along the path, and it was slow enough to be a concern.
“Got it. Think it’s a zombie?” I asked.
“Only one way to find out,” Jake said, moving forward. I followed at a slight distance, not wanting to crowd him if he began swinging his melee weapon. It was a three-foot length of wood, topped by a few blunt pyramids of steel. It was brutally effective on zombie skulls, and not nearly as messy as mine.
My weapon for this evening was a falchion. It was a sword with a single edge and a drop point made for stabbing. It was sharp enough to cut a zombie in half, and I
had done just that several times since acquiring it. It was a butcher’s blade, no finesse about it. It was meant to hack and slash, and it did both with equal enthusiasm. I used it sparingly, preferring to take on zombies with my knife and tomahawk, but given the darkness we were in, I couldn’t hope to be as precise as I needed to be with either of those weapons.
Jake moved quietly, hoping to get a kill in before the zombie saw him and raised a groan. He stepped around trees, keeping to the soft grass growing by the path. The sound of the river was constant, and helped masked our app
roach. The trees provided a darker cover for us, and the cloudy sky helped make things even darker. Zombies couldn’t see very well at night, and they processed what they saw fairly slowly. Nevertheless, they hunted at night through sound and smell, and those two senses were enough.
Jake made it to a tree and peered
around cautiously. I was about fifteen feet back in the grass, ready to lend a hand, but I knew Jake wouldn’t have any trouble with a lone zombie.
out, I was right. The ghoul shuffled along, oblivious to the danger, and never saw the mace that swung out from a tree and crushed its skull. The zombie, a young male, let out a single croak as its unlife left it, then collapsed to the ground.
Jake looked at the zombie for a second,
and then stepped out onto the path.
“Not too hard
,” he whispered.
“Don’t get cocky
,” I whispered back. “There’s some movement by that big gazebo over there.” I pointed into the gloom with my sword and something was definitely over by the big grandstand gazebo that occupied a small peninsula on the river.
you,” said Jake.
We made our way carefully along the path, making sure we didn’t step on any twigs or acorns. Since it was so dark, it wasn’t easy, so we had to slide our feet along. Since that was going to cause noise, we had to do it carefully. Every step became a much longer exercise than just walking along, taking in the night air.
As we moved, I thought about what brought us here. Our world had been turned upside down by the coming of the Enillo Virus and the resulting rise of the dead. Billions died in the aftermath, and the world was pretty much over for anyone in the breathing category.
However, a few hardy souls, our father among them, decided not to go quietly to the grave, and fought back, carving out an existence on the backs of the undead. It took a concentrated effort, and a lot of sacrifice, but the country was saved and essentially starting over. We’d had peace for nearly sixteen years, but someone had decided that it was more fun to see if they could turn the clock back. We found evidence of a deliberate outbreak, and realized we were probably the only ones who were trained enough to handle it. The first outbreak was aimed directly at us, and we found it wasn’t thrilling to wake and be surrounded by townsfolk that were living the night before but no longer.
Once that was
finished, we discovered another outbreak where one shouldn’t have been, and that brought us to this bike path in the middle of the night. We’d arrived too late to save the whole town, but we managed to corral the rest away from the zombies, and by the time that was done, we were looking at darkness. We couldn’t hold up for the night, since there were living communities directly to the south and north of us, and as the river was right here, that was the only way the zombies were going to go.
We really didn’t have a choice but to go out and hunt the damn things. As we moved, I wondered again
whether our dad felt like this when he was in a crazy situation not of his own making.
“On your right
,” Jake whispered.
I looked carefully and saw a pair of zombies making their way through the long grass. They were difficult to see, but I could tell by their pale skin
that they were relatively fresh kills. New zombies tended to be very pale around the face, as the blood drained and pooled in the lower part of the body after death. In the darkness, they nearly glowed.
I slipped into the grass and crouched as I stalked them. The noise of the river was reassuring, and the breeze
on my face made sure they couldn’t smell me. However, I could smell them, and they were already giving off that sickly-sweet smell of death. It was like nothing else, and once you caught wind of it, you never forgot it.
I waited until they were close,
and did so while crouched among the grass and leaves. It was a pain to wait, but it meant I controlled the encounter from start to finish. Give the zombies an inch and they will rip your throat out.
When they were within four feet of
me, I suddenly stood up, bringing my sword up in a two-handed strike from the ground. The blade caught the nearest zombie right at the jawline, and cut her head off in a single stroke. With the blade high, I took a step towards the second zombie, a thin man of about twenty. He stepped towards me at the same time, bringing him within reach. My sword split his skull easily, and dropped him with barely a whisper. I poked around with my sword tip until I found the other zombie’s still moving head, and finished it with a quick stab to the eye.
I moved back to Jake and waited while he dispatched a big zombie on his side. He didn’t finesse the thing at all. He just stood there, waiting for the zombie to come to him,
and then he jumped and brought his mace down with a crunch on the big guy’s head. The zombie fell like a tree, smacking heavily on the bike path.
Shh!” I whispered. “You trying to attract attention and get a horde?”
,” Jake said sarcastically. “Next time, I’ll ask him to politely lie down while I bash his brains in.”
“Please do.” I pointed with my sword at another trio of zombies that were attracted to the noise, and were coming to investigate.
“Great. All right. I’ll wait here, and you go by that tree. When they pass, come up behind and cut them down.”
“Sounds like a plan.” I slipped over to the tree he had indicated and peeked around the tru
nk. Three zombies, about four feet apart, were making their way quickly towards my brother. In a few seconds, they would be past me. I ducked back around the tree and listened for them to pass. As I did, I readied my sword, holding it up by my shoulder, with my hands in the hilt about chest high.
That posture saved me. I heard the zombies go past,
and then I moved around the big tree. I was all set to kill some zombies when I ran smack into one. Apparently, this one had seen me and was coming to see why I wanted to be alone. I bounced into her and she grabbed at me as she fell back. Her hands grabbed my sword blade and they were immediately cut to the bone. I whipped the steel away and managed to slice three of her fingers off. Her other hand grabbed at my shirt, and she tried to pull me in for a bite while her diced hand futilely grabbed at my arm.
I put a hand on her chest and pushed her against the tree, dropping my sword and plucking my tomahawk from
its sheath on my belt. I didn’t have much room for a swing, being stuck holding a zombie chick against a tree, so I choked up on the handle, reversed the blade so the spike was to the front, and jammed the point into the forehead of the zombie. A quick twist and she was done, sliding down the tree to the ground.
I grabbed up my sword and ran around the tree, finding Jake
, who was finishing off his two attackers.
, the girl surprised me.” I said, by way of apology.
Jake shrugged. “No worries. I saw her angle off, so I figured it wasn’t going to go as planned.”
I thought about that for a minute. “Wait. Why didn’t you warn me?”
Jake pointed to the gazebo. “That’s why.”
I glanced over and saw several zombies milling about the gazebo. In truth, it really wasn’t a gazebo; it was a small outdoor stage. Nevertheless, it was designed to look like one so that’s what we called it.
“Think they’re here to do
? I asked.
“Why not? Everyone’s dead at the end of that play, too. Let’s move around these trees and see what we can do about this.”
We crept back to the grass and kept low, trying to stay out of sight. It worked for the most part, but then the zombies started to get agitated. They began moving faster and started coming off the stage. Every single one was headed in our direction.
“What the hell?” Jake whispered. “Did you make a noise?”
“Did you hear one? No, stupid, the wind is at our backs. They can smell us,” I said. “Get ready.”
We split apart and stood about twenty feet from each other. This was going to get messy in a hurry. Jake rolled his shoulders and I popped my neck and arms. We couldn’t run, they’d locked onto us and we had nowhere really to go. The brush on the other side of the bike path was thicker than Jake’s skull and
might as well have been a stone wall.
As the first few zombies began to approach our position, I began to hear strange sounds,
as if someone was cracking walnuts. It didn’t make any sense so I didn’t mention it to Jake. Besides, the game was on and I had zombies to slice.
The first one in line was an easy kill
. I just thrust the point through their open mouth and kicked them off my blade as they fell. The second one got its left leg cut off at the knee, spilling it to the ground. I moved away so as not to be distracted by a crawler. To the side, I could hear Jake cracking skulls, and piling up kills on his own. A smaller zombie, probably a kid about fifteen years old, stumbled through the grass at a decent clip, and caused me to time my swing incorrectly. Instead of slamming into his skull, the big blade cut deeply into his collarbone. The blade stuck, and I didn’t have time to yank it out. The teenager grabbed at me and the hilt of my sword, while another two came barreling out of the darkness on my right. Crap. I hauled the zombie around and blocked the advance of the nearest oncoming zombie by stabbing it in the chest with the blade still sticking out of my first one. The second zombie lurched at me and I dodged its arms, bumping it with my hip and knocking it to the ground. I shoved hard on the sword, pushing over my two pinned zombies and pinning them to the ground with the sword.