Authors: Robert Kirkman,Jay Bonansinga
Tags: #Thrillers, #Horror, #General, #Media Tie-In, #Fiction
“Weather’s got people panicked,” he says softly, handing the thermos over. With a nod, he indicates the three trucks idling along the road across the clearing. His breath shows in puffs of vapor as he talks. “Bunch of us heading up into the woods, gathering as much firewood as we can load.”
“I’ll come with.”
Josh shakes his head. “Talked to Chad a minute ago, I guess he needs you to watch his kids.”
“Okay. Sure. Whatever.”
“You keep that,” Josh says, gesturing toward the thermos. He grabs the axe that sits canted against his tent and gives her a grin. “Should be back by lunchtime.”
“Josh,” she says, grabbing his sleeve before he can turn away. “Just be careful in the woods.”
His grin widens. “Always, babydoll…always.”
He turns and marches off toward the clouds of visible exhaust along the gravel road.
Lilly watches the contingent hopping into cabs, jumping up onto running boards, climbing into cargo bays. She doesn’t realize at this point the amount of noise they’re making, the commotion caused by three large trucks embarking all at once, the voices calling to each other, doors slamming, the fog bank of carbon monoxide.
In all the excitement, neither Lilly, nor anyone else for that matter, realizes how far the racket of their departure is carrying out over the treetops.
Lilly senses danger first.
The Binghams have left her inside the circus tent, in charge of the four girls, who now frolic across the floor of matted grass, scampering amid the folding tables, stacks of peach crates, and tanks of butane. The interior of the circus tent is illuminated by makeshift skylights—flaps in the ceiling pulled back to let in the daylight—and the air in there smells of must and decades of moldy hay impregnated into the canvas walls. The girls are playing musical chairs with three broken-down lawn chairs scattered across the cold earthen floor.
Lilly is supposed to be the music.
“Duh-do-do-do…duh-da-da-da,” Lilly croons halfheartedly, murmuring an old Top 40 hit by the Police, her voice thin and weak, as the girls giggle and circle the chairs. Lilly is distracted. She keeps glancing through the loading entrance at one end of the pavilion, a large swath of the tent city visible in the gray daylight. The grounds are mostly deserted, those who are not away scavenging now hiding in their tents.
Lilly swallows her terror, the cold sun slanting down through the far trees, the wind whispering through the big-top tent. Up on the rise, shadows dance in the pale light. Lilly thinks she hears shuffling sounds up there somewhere, behind the trees maybe; she’s not sure. It might be her imagination. Sounds inside the fluttering, empty tent play tricks on the ears.
She turns away from the opening and scans the pavilion for weapons. She sees a shovel leaning against a wheelbarrow filled with potting soil. She sees a few garden implements in a dirty bucket. She sees the remains of the breakfast dishes in a plastic garbage can—paper plates crusted with beans and Egg Beaters, wadded burrito wrappers, empty juice boxes—and next to it a plastic storage container with dirty silverware. The silverware came from one of the retrofitted camper/pickups, and Lilly makes note of a few sharp knives in the container but mostly she sees plastic “sporks” sticky with food gunk. She wonders how effective a spork would be against a monstrous drooling cannibal.
She silently curses the camp leaders for not leaving firearms.
Those who remain on the property include the older settlers—Mr. Rhimes, a couple of spinsters from Stockbridge, an eighty-year-old retired teacher named O’Toole, a pair of geriatric brothers from an abandoned nursing home in Macon—as well as a couple dozen adult women, a good portion of them too busy now with laundry duty and philosophical chatter along the back fence to notice anything amiss.
The only other souls currently present in the tent city are children—ten sets of them—some still huddling against the cold in their private tents, others kicking a soccer ball around in front of the derelict farm house. Each gaggle of kids has an adult woman in charge of them.
Lilly looks back out the exit and sees Megan Lafferty, way in the distance, sitting perched on the porch of the burned-out house, pretending to be babysitting and not smoking pot. Lilly shakes her head. Megan is supposed to be watching the Hennessey kids. Jerry Hennessey, an insurance salesman from Augusta, has been carrying on with Megan for days now in a not-too-discreet fashion. The Hennessey kids are the second-youngest kids in the encampment—at ages eight, nine, and ten respectively. The youngest children in the settlement are the Bingham twins and Ruthie, who at this moment pause in their play to stare impatiently at their nervous babysitter.
“C’mon, Lilly,” Sarah Bingham calls out with her hands on her hips, catching her breath near a stack of fruit crates. The teenager wears an adorable, stylish imitation-angora sweater that breaks Lilly’s heart. “Keep singing.”
Lilly turns back to the children. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I just—”
Lilly stops herself. She hears a noise coming from outside the tent, from up in the trees. It sounds like the creaking bulwark of a listing ship…or the slow squeak of a door in a haunted house…or, more likely, the weight of a zombie’s foot on a deadfall log.
Another noise cuts off Lilly’s words. She spins toward the tent’s opening at a loud rustling sound, which rings out from the east, shattering the stillness a hundred yards away, coming from a thicket of wild rose and dogwood.
A flock of rock pigeons suddenly takes flight, the swarm bursting out of the foliage with the inertia of a fireworks display. Lilly stares, transfixed for a single instant, as the flock fills the sky with a virtual constellation of gray-black blots.
Like controlled explosions, along the far edge of the camp, another two flocks of pigeons erupt. Cones of fluttering specks punch up into the light, scattering and re-forming like ink clouds undulating in a clear pool.
The rock pigeons are plentiful in this area—“sky rats” they’re called by the locals, who claim the pigeons are actually quite delicious if boned and grilled—but their sudden appearance in recent weeks has come to signify something darker and more troubling than a possible food source.
Something has stirred the birds from their resting place and is now making its way toward the tent city.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously.
THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS.
An imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
THE WALKING DEAD
. Copyright © 2012 by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The road to Woodbury / Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga.—1st ed.
p. cm.—(The walking dead series; no. 2 of 3)
ISBN 978-0-312-54774-5 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-250-01344-6 (e-book)
1. Zombies—Fiction. 2. Atlanta Region (Ga.)—Fiction. I. Bonansinga, Jay R. II. Title. PS3611.I7555R63 2012
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS
An imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE
. Copyright © 2012 by Jay Bonansinga. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Cover art by Lisa Pompilio