Authors: Robert Kirkman,Jay Bonansinga
Tags: #Thrillers, #Horror, #General, #Media Tie-In, #Fiction
A Walking Dead Short
St. Martin’s Griffin
Thomas Dunne Books
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At exactly 4:34
. Central Standard Time, on a crisp evening in November—the same night that Major Gene Gavin’s tenure as ersatz leader of Woodbury is terminated with extreme prejudice—the leading edge of the zombie throng arrives at the outer fence a mile west of the town square. Like a flimsy breakwater holding back a tsunami, the wooden barricade begins to collapse under the collective weight of innumerable dead things dumbly bumping into it, clawing at it, aimlessly rubbing along its seams.
Inside the fence, people scatter. The noise of wood giving in—a sick cracking sound—drifts out over the rooftops. Screams ring out.
All at once the entire south edge of the fence goes down, a great and massive THUD that rattles the very foundation of the town, ripping moorings from the ground in giant clumps and raising a storm cloud of dust.
A moment later, the dust cloud belches out shambling figures of all varieties. They emerge like phantoms from the fog. Ragged arms akimbo, grotesque bobbleheads lolling, mouths working busily, they slowly fan out toward all quarters. Doors slam. Rifle barrels protrude from second-floor windows, spitting fire and cordite. Folks dive for cover. The noise of scattered gunfire crackles from all directions as the zombie horde moves in.
Some of the biters drag mangled, putrefied legs along like balls and chains. Others hobble toward doorways with eviscerated guts hanging from their stomach cavities. One of the old men loitering outside the courthouse is caught in a dead-end alley, quickly surrounded by the onslaught, and when he tries to push his way to daylight he trips and twists his ankle. The zombies descend upon him.
High-pitched girlish screams erupt from the old codger as a pair of zombies tear into him—one on his left flank, chewing through the soiled gabardine of his pants, into his thick buttocks, and straight through to the bone underneath; the other on his jugular, opening an artery and slurping at the garish fountain of blood.
Within seconds the old man is reduced to a quivering mass of flesh, twitching and gurgling, as the monsters share his face.
In no time at all, the town is overrun. Every doorway, every alley, every courtyard, every lawn, every sidewalk, every square, every playground, every parking lot, every nook and cranny piles up with reeking clusters of walking dead. They bump into one another and claw at windows and groan their atonal chorus of bloodlust. Some of them go down in bursts of gunfire, their brain matter airbrushing swaths of brick walls and boarded doors. Others take errant bullets in their lower extremities and chest cavities and keep on going, flinching at the wounds as a horse might jerk at a fly. The townspeople quickly run out of bullets.
The stench rises like a storm front, choking the afternoon with its acrid mixture of pus and shit and rancid proteins. The collective clamor of a thousand cadaverous vocal cords, their dissonant moaning like the buzzing of a vast hive, drowns every other sound.
Amidst this carnival of carnage, a little human boy, lost and alone, wanders a deserted back street on the northeast corner of town. Maybe five or six years old, dressed in a Thomas the Tank Engine sweat suit, barefoot, holding a moth-eaten blanket to his cheek, sucking his thumb, stupefied with terror, he aimlessly wanders. A casual observer might think he is sleepwalking.
A shadowy gang of dead appears behind him. Three adults in shredded clothing and mangled faces and four teenage creatures with necks bent hideously, they lock their pewter-colored eyes on the tiny human.
The boy continues on, barely noticing the zombies slowly gaining on him. Separated from his caretakers, dazed senseless, the child just keeps on walking and sucking his thumb and pressing the blanket to his cheek.
He reaches a desolate intersection and pauses. As though waking from a nightmare, he blinks suddenly and looks around. He hears languid footsteps and garbled groaning noises behind him, and he slowly turns around to gaze up into the milky eyes of monsters.
The boy squeals with horror. One of the biters grabs at him, but the boy darts away, and he almost makes it to a side alley when another pair of zombies lurches out from the shadows of a doorway. With a yelp, the child dodges the newcomers, stumbles, and falls to the ground. The blanket flutters down into a filthy puddle.
Now the little boy is surrounded, and he lies on his back. Too petrified to scream, too paralyzed to cry, he lies there and looks up at the cadre of corpses towering over him, opening their jagged, blackened mouths, reaching out with insatiable need.
The sudden burst of automatic gunfire reminds the child of his dad’s chain saw.
The attackers stiffen suddenly as armor-piercing slugs zip through the backs of their skulls, exiting the front of their faces in clouds of red. Before the zombies go down—one by one—the continuing bursts smash through the backs of their legs and torsos and spines, making them jitter and dance, a macabre boogaloo in a haze of blood-mist.
Then they collapse like dominoes, and the boy sees four men running up with machine guns.
“Check him for bites!” the slender one says as the men approach. This thin man has hair as dark as crow feathers and he’s so skinny, his muscles so tightly coiled, he looks as though he’s made of hammered steel.
A man with a bandanna on his head kneels next to the little boy. “He’s clean, he’s okay!”
“Get him inside somewhere,” the dark-haired, skinny man says. “And meet us back at the fence.”
It is now obvious—even to this traumatized little boy—that this thin, dark man is a leader. His eyes gleam with some kind of magical power that the child recognizes.
Maybe he’s an angel.
Or a demon.
Philip Blake turns and heads back the way he came, his wing men, Gabe and Bruce, following along on his flanks, running to keep up. Each man carries an assault rifle and a row of extra magazines in their belts. They don’t pause to pick off any stray individual zombies—they have bigger plans.
Working their way back to ground zero—the place where the fence caved in—they encounter growing numbers of dead. Philip learns very quickly that the best way to use the TEC-9 is not to go for a direct head shot. He’s not good enough with the machine pistol yet to hit the bull’s-eye of a moving target.
The best way to use the thing is to spray in the
of the head.
He gets another chance to practice this technique when a grouping of biters lurch into his path as he is approaching the crossroads at the north end of the street. Without breaking stride, he points the blunt nipple of the muzzle at their upper bodies and jacks the trigger—four quick bursts that strafe across the zombies.
Their flaccid bodies jerk and twitch and do the death-dance, as the top edge of the barrage finally connects with brain matter. Sequential puffs of pink mist paint the tree trunks behind the biters.
The dominoes fall, one by one—quicker and cleaner than in any shooting gallery.
Philip turns the corner and runs into another firing line of zombies—dozens of them—spanning the width of the road. Philip and the other two men widen their stances, drop empty magazines, slam in new cartridges, jack the levers, and unleash a torrent of hellfire.
The street turns into a gruesome dance party of jerking craniums.
“The fence stays down! You understand?! It stays down until I say different!” Philip yells from inside the raised tailgate of Martinez’s battered SUV, which is parked up against the corner of the fallen fence. The carryall—filled with weaponry and ordnance from the National Guard station—is split down the middle, and Philip is rooting out assault rifles for the townspeople. He turns and tosses another gun to a middle-aged father standing behind the vehicle.
“What’s gonna keep more of them from gettin’ in?” the father wants to know. The roar of automatic gunfire bounces off the sides of buildings behind them, punctuating their conversation. The father jerks at the noise.
A line of heavily armed men circle the SUV, keeping the biters at bay. The town is closed up now, as tight as a miser’s purse.
Philip comes over to the dad and gives the man a pat. “Just keep the biters away from your barracks…and let me worry about the wall.”
Martinez comes over, slamming a magazine into his M4. His dark-skinned face gleams with stress sweat under his bandanna. “What do you have in mind?”
Philip looks at him. “Is the south side still secure?”
“Yeah, I guess…. The buses and trucks are still there, blocking ’em from getting in…but they’re also blocking them from getting out.”
“Good. You know the gas station up on the hill? Just beyond the fence?”
“The one by the radio tower?”
“That’s the one.”
“What about it?”
“I need five minutes.”
“Five minutes for what?”
Philip nods at the commotion in the streets. “Just keep the biters occupied—keep ’em bunched in the center of town—in five minutes, everybody ditches inside. It’s duck-and-cover time, you understand what I’m saying?”
Martinez stares at Philip for a moment. “We’ll give it our best shot.”
Philip gives him a nod, goes around to the SUV’s driver’s side door, and climbs in.
The engine fires, the rear wheels dig in, and the vehicle roars away.
Over the course of those next five minutes—most of which Martinez keeps close track of on his watch—the heartier souls of Woodbury go through fifteen hundred rounds of metal-jacketed, armor-piercing shells. The makeshift militia consists of eleven men and two women, most of them parents, most at the end of their tethers—former middle-class working people with equal parts fear and madness in their eyes.
Thirty magazines’ worth of 5.5-millimeter slugs taken from the National Guard station are sprayed across the boundaries of vacant lots, into alleys, through tangled knots of zombies that have clustered together near the racetrack, and across rows of storefronts in order to shake the biters out of hiding and ultimately herd them into the center of town. Side roads are blocked with cars. Gates are swung shut. The zombies change course like sheep.
Martinez calculates that four and a half minutes have passed when they finally see the shift in the tide of walking dead. The main road that runs through the heart of Woodbury becomes clogged with a virtual traffic jam of upright corpses. They crowd intersections and mill about in their slow, retarded manner, craning their necks up at the rooftops, where the echoes of automatic gunfire slap back against the clouds.