Authors: Robert Kirkman,Jay Bonansinga
Tags: #Thrillers, #Horror, #General, #Media Tie-In, #Fiction
At almost precisely the five-minute mark, as Martinez is climbing a fire escape ladder, he begins wondering if the stranger with the dark hair has up and vanished. Maybe it was all a scam. Maybe the guy just wanted to steal the SUV with all the goodies from the Guard station.
Right then Martinez hears the amplified voice reverberating in the distance.
Philip Blake stands on the roof of the idling SUV, parked on the edge of a Marathon station two hundred yards north of the downed fence. The wind whips his pant legs, and the brilliant cold sun shines in his eyes as he screams into the bullhorn that the guardsmen had tossed into the carryall, probably earmarking it for crowd control.
“COME AND GET ME, YOU BRAINLESS SMELLY STUPID MOTHERFUCKERS!!”
The megaphone crackles and rings with feedback, the volume turned up to ten. In the distance Philip can see the first dribbles of dead things coming this way, about twenty or thirty of them, drawn to the sound of his voice. Philip starts jumping up and down, waving his free hand while he clutches the bullhorn and presses the transmitter button.
“I WILL SKULL-FUCK EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU PATHETIC SHIT-BIRDS!!”
More of them are coming. In the distance, across the bulldozer-rutted lot bordering the construction site, the twenty or thirty in the lead are joined by a huge crowd only half a block or so behind them, hundreds of them, all sizes, all conditions, some of them bloodied by bullet wounds, others dragging entrails.
“YYYYYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHOOOOOOO!! THAT’S RIGHT!! COME TO PAPA SO I CAN RIP EVERY STINKING HEAD OFF EVERY FUCKING ONE OF YOU AND SHIT DOWN YOUR NECKS!!!”
It only takes another minute or so for the multitude to begin its spectacular exodus. Behind the hundreds in the lead appear hundreds more, maybe thousands. The human eye can barely take it all in, the throngs homing in on the gas station like a broken-down army coming home starving and shell shocked. And the sound is almost beyond comprehension—a wave of feral groaning that swells to a gurgling roar—and the stench is worse. The incredible putrid odor bathes the entire countryside in its black tide.
Philip pulls the .45 pistol from his belt, and slams in a fresh magazine.
The first zombies reach the gas station and come toward the SUV.
From the vehicle’s roof Philip fires into the top of the first one’s head, blowing a divot in its skull and sending it to the pavement. The second one reaches up for him and Philip blows it away. Brain tissue splatters the side of the SUV and spits across the insteps of Philip’s boots. More of them reach the SUV and claw at the roof. Philip empties the clip into their heads and then springs into action.
He swings his legs down and through the open driver’s side window, and then lowers himself into the driver’s seat. He jacks up the windows and drops the empty magazine, grabbing another one from the passenger’s side. He shoves it into the gun, cocks the slide, and watches the gas station parking lot teem with dead people.
The SUV begins to shake as more and more zombies arrive. They flood the property and crowd in like rotting, moldering lemmings seeking the source of the clarion voice. Philip honks the horn.
Within seconds there are so many of them filling the lot and surrounding the SUV that Philip can barely see daylight. Greasy fingers and slimy lips drag across the window glass. Some of them manage—almost accidentally—to crawl onto the hood. Pale, gray faces with pupilless eyes scrape across his windshield. The symphony of gurgling moans—muffled by the sealed windows—vibrates the air and penetrates Philip’s ears and puts the hackles up on the back of his neck.
He keeps honking the horn until it looks as though the SUV is buried in an undulating womb of dead flesh. Like sides of rotting beef, the lacerated ribs of cadavers streak against the glass in Technicolor hues of purple, salmon, oxblood red, and the deepest, darkest, oiliest black. Hair matted with dried blood and torn fingernails and the blackened stumps of ragged amputations—all churn against the window. The sights and sounds would drive any normal human being out of their wits, and even Philip, locked in this zone of utter focus and concentration, starts to feel the wind of madness stirring in his brain. This is what Judgment Day looks like. He flashes on the impulse to put the barrel of the .45 in his mouth and make it all go away. But he has other plans.
He yanks the shift lever down into drive and slams his foot on the accelerator hard enough to bend the metal brace.
The SUV lurches.
The front end steamrolls through layers of the dead, and then gets stuck, the rear wheels spinning in the grease and slime of all the human tissue collecting under the chassis. Philip keeps the pedal pinned. The rear end fishtails for a moment, the engine screaming. Then the tires find purchase and the vehicle rockets forward, bowling over another hundred or so on its way out of the lot.
Philip slams on the brakes at the edge of the lot, then twists around and shoots out the rear window. The earsplitting blasts erupt inside the car. Philip’s ears ring unmercifully as he trains the front-site of the .45 on four tiny spiral-shaped objects on the ground by the fuel pumps, only partially visible now behind the throngs of zombies milling about the lot. Only moments ago Martinez gave him a quick tutorial on the volatility of such military ordnance, and now Philip executes his Hail Mary pass.
He squeezes off four quick blasts—the rest of the clip—and the sparks off the pavement catch the detonator cords coiled by the pumps.
The first explosion pops like a camera strobe, followed by three more successive pops of the flexible plastic tubing, which is filled with Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (or so its says on the label, right next to the field guide directions), sending debris up into the air and roasting a small group of dead that are too close. As these initial flashes of “det” cord light up the sky, Philip gives the SUV a kick, and the vehicle takes off with a jerk.
He gets far enough away, slamming through another few rows of zombies, and then careening across the vacant lot, that the second-level explosion—the C-4 that he hastily squeezed under the pump housings—merely slams him against the dash and momentarily blinds him. The SUV keeps going, while the eruption behind him vaporizes hundreds of moving cadavers and opens up the sky, sending a necklace of fireballs heavenward, making Philip swerve and gasp, the shock wave goosing the vehicle and flashing magnesium-white in the rearview.
Now he knows he has only microseconds to get behind cover, and he yanks the wheel.
The SUV skids sideways in the mud, completely clear of the zombie horde now. The gravitational forces push the vehicle over. The interior slams down onto its side, cracking Philip’s teeth and sending jolts of searing pain up his rib cage. He curls into a fetal position, as the third and final level of explosive gases ignite.
On the fire escape across town, above the dry cleaners, Martinez instinctively ducks down. The shock wave rattles the storefronts, some of the windows imploding in a series of sucking crashes. The few zombies left inside the cordon of town are knocked over like bowling pins. Martinez shields his eyes against the heat flash.
In the distance, a fireball the size of a house shoots up and ignites the sky.
Martinez backs into the corner, squinting up at the brilliant maelstrom. A crown of black smoke curls up on the tail of the fireball, then mushrooms with a rumbling roar that sounds like a freight train. The radio tower ignites in a fiery column of pure white light.
Martinez is transfixed by the sight.
At this distance, it looks as though the blast is raining litter. The sparks and burning chunks of debris bloom in all directions, then cascade down like a smoldering waterfall. With a mixture of exhilaration and nausea Martinez realizes that the burning particles are body parts.
The blast dissipates within seconds, but the light and noise are so intense that the shock wave seems to go on for many minutes. Martinez covers his head as debris rains down from the overhang. Car alarms go off. The very foundation of the building seems to shiver and quake in aftershocks.
Then the roar ceases, and Martinez inhales a deep breath. He stretches his sore neck in the ensuing stillness. Now there are only scattered car alarms chirping and a few stray gunshots as the stragglers are dispatched.
At length Martinez gets his bearings. He picks up his M4 and climbs down the ladder to ground level. Dizziness washes over him as he starts north. The sky hangs low with a haze of noxious smoke.
The streets are relatively quiet. Burning debris lies here and there. A few of the armed residents patrol, some them dragging bodies into a giant funeral pyre near the courthouse. Others take out the last of the errant dead with easy head shots.
Martinez makes his way north toward the construction site. He can see men already starting to gather at the fence, the sound of the bulldozer firing up somewhere. They will have to get the barricade back up soon. The explosions will surely draw more biters to the area.
At the end of the main road, as he makes the turn, Martinez sees a ragged figure emerging from the fog of smoke beyond the fence.
The figure limps along with a .45 in his hand, and the closer he gets the more familiar he looks. His raven black hair is frosted with ash, his face covered in soot. His clothes are scorched and torn. But he walks with a hell-bent purpose, like a repairman who has just grappled with a stubborn job and emerged victorious. Some of the townspeople see him and rush over to him to slap him on the back and congratulate him and thank him.
The figure sees Martinez and comes over, coughing lungs full of smoke.
Martinez puts hand on the man’s shoulder. “That was…fucking good.”
Philip Blake looks at him though parboiled eyes. Something resembling a smile appears on Philip’s face. “Just another day at the office.”
Martinez shrugs. “You okay? You might want to see the doc….”
Philip rubs his eyes. “I’ll live.”
Martinez cannot put his emotions into words so he just nods.
An overwhelming certainty is washing over him that he is looking at the new leader of the little community called Woodbury.