Read Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance Online

Authors: Taz Gallaher

Tags: #Zombies

Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
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Republic of the Living: Vengeance

By Taz Gallaher

 
 

© 2015 Taz Gallaher

All Rights Reserved

 
 

Table of Contents

1. Friday Morning

2.
Thursday Afternoon

3.
Tuesday Afternoon

4.
Friday Morning

5.
Wednesday Noo
n

6.
Friday Noon

7.
Wednesday Evening

8. Friday
Afternoon

 

A Note to the reader: Some readers have commented
on the twisting structure of my novella.
 
There is a convention used by ancient epic called “in media res.”
 
This translates into English as : “in
the middle of things.”
 
This novella
begins
in media res
.
 
In the first chapter, we join our
protagonists already on the run from a sequence of deadly events that occurred
36 hours earlier.
 
In the second
chapter, the story flashes back to a slightly earlier time.
 
In this way, as you read forward in the
novella, the story takes you further back in time, until you arrive exactly at
the narrative’s central event - -
 
a
bloody confrontation between good and evil and the birthplace of vengeance
.

1. Friday
Morning
 
 
 

The fog rose up over the mountains like a pompadour
of smoke combed into the sky.  Beneath it, canyons furrowed the dusty
brown hillsides in long, shadowed scars. On the flatlands, empty buildings and
crumbling houses poked their heads above a sea of oaks and pines.   A
flock of birds wheeled across the sky, swept across the tracks, and disappeared
into the streets below.

The morning sun bounced off the pale concrete bed
of the elevated railway.  It should have been raining but the seasons were
out of joint.  Instead, a warm, dry wind gusted from the west, herding
brittle leaves across the rails.  

Chewy and the girl trudged along the flume that
cradled the tracks.  They had left Fruitvale late Wednesday night, headed
north and then east, hurrying to outrun their pursuers.   When dusk
fell, they had broken into a platform booth and shared a can of beans.  In
the morning’s gray light, she curled against the corner of the booth and slept.
 Chewy dozed on the chair in front of a console studded with buttons and
switches.  He prodded her awake just as dawn broke and they set off again
for the hills.

           
She
was tiny.  As they walked together, the top of her short, dark hair barely
reached his chest.  Her black t-shirt billowed below her waist.
 Before they left the small settlement on the edge of the dead city, she
had traded her heavy over-sized boots for a pair of children’s sneakers - -
bright pink and tattooed with cartoon images of cats and dogs.  The
machete belted around her waist bounced against her right knee.

She slipped away from him toward the edge of the
rail bed.  “Over there,” she said, pointing her arm back in the direction
they had come from.

He stopped and shaded his eyes.  A line of
inky smoke wriggled into view above the tree line.  He breathed deeply and
the wind brought him the taste of burning wood.


Happens when it’s dry,” he
said.  “Somebody does something stupid and things start to burn.”

She arched her eyebrows and the corner of her
mouth tilted upward.  “You serious?”  She put her hands on her hips.
 “You think I’m still that stupid?”

He shrugged and turned back up the track bed.


It’s them,” she shouted.
 

He stopped.


Fire must be around 20th
Street.  Means they’re close.  Real close.”


Well then.” He turned to
her.  “Better get your ass in gear, hermana. Tunnel’s up ahead and we
wasting time.”

He trudged forward and she jogged up to him, her
pink sneakers slapping against the concrete.


Come on, old man,” she said
as she passed him by.  “Better get your hustle on.”

He laughed and tightened his fingers around his
pack straps as he shifted into a fast walk.

She was tiny, but she was tough.  He’d seen
that right away.  The night she raced across the hard sand at the mouth of
the river and pounded on his door.  The dog barked twice to interrupt his
pen as it scratched across the long sheet of yellow paper.  He twisted the
wick of the old kerosene lamp, shoved the knife into his back pocket, and
opened the door. Her cheeks were flushed and her black eyes glittered in the
faint moonlight.  He’d seen her a couple of times before outside Auntie’s
house up on the bluffs.   He nodded once and words exploded out of
her mouth.  

By the time they’d climbed back up the narrow
trail, the State militia had taken Auntie.  The other girl lay in a
crumpled pile next to the old woman’s big table.  Her cold fingers
clutched the shank of a kitchen knife.


She told me to get you,” the
girl whispered into the silent room.  “She told me to get you.”

They buried the red-haired girl just beyond the
haphazard columns of Auntie’s beehives.  She helped without saying a word.
 The sun was rising when he returned the shovels to the old woman’s
rickety shed.   He dropped to his hands and knees and peered under
the ancient cart Auntie used to haul her honey and wax to the market in Arcata.
 The packed dirt was still smooth.

Ripping a page from a book on Auntie’s shelf, he
scribbled a note to Jackson.  They hiked to the next shack up the road and
he asked the hard-bitten woman who answered the door to pass the note on.
 She twitched her head left and right and then nodded.


Say,” the woman whispered,
leaning through the door toward Chewy.  “You hear what happened up in
McKinleyville?”

He shook his head.


They’s back,” the woman
continued.  “Militia’s up there right now.  Not looking good.”

He tipped his head at the woman as she retreated
back into her home.


Come on,” he muttered to the
girl and turned back down the road.

She argued with him until they stood along the
bank carved by the river as it approached the ocean.  She wanted to
continue on to Arcata.  Find Auntie.  Find the men who’d killed her
friend, Connie.  Wreak havoc on the militia.  He just nodded as they
crossed through Auntie’s yard and negotiated the narrow path down the bluff.
 At the river’s edge, he raised an arm to block her.


Where you from, chinita?”

She gazed across the fast, dark waters of the
river and then back at Chewy.  In the distance, a black and tan dog rose
to his haunches on the narrow porch in front of the cabin.  The dog shook
himself and barked once before trotting toward them.  Soft, lazy waves
rolled against the beach and the ocean spread beyond the beach like a sheet of
blue silk.


What do you care?” She
answered, scowling at him.

The current pulled at Chewy’s boots as he waded
through the river.  He heard her splashing behind him.  Panting with
joy, Cato ran a circle around him and then sat and watched the girl.  He
leaned down to pat the dog’s head and offered his hand to help her up the
crumbling bank.  She ignored him and vaulted onto the sand.


They’ll be coming for you,”
he said softly.  “You don’t want to be here when they do.”

She dropped to her knees to stroke Cato, who
responded by lapping his tongue along her cheek.  


I’m from Oakland,” she said
finally.  She looked up at him.  “You know it?”

He laughed.  “Been there a couple of times.
 You got family down there?”

She nodded.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on the rhythm
of the breakers drumming softly against the beach.  This had been a good
place. He took a deep breath and tasted the clean, rich perfume of the onshore
breeze.  Beneath him, the river whispered across its sandy bed.
  A really good place.  On the farthest edge of the state.
 About as far away from the danger and worry and stupidity of the road as
a man could get.  

He opened his eyes.  

“Okay,” he said more to himself than to her.
 

Get on back to
Aunties.  Get your stuff.  Take Cato with you.”

She stood and glared at him, hands on her hips.


Go on, pequena.  We
ain’t got much time.”  

He whistled and pointed across the river.
 The big, broad-shouldered Shepherd loped beside her as she disappeared
into the scrub that thickened along the bluff.  

When the girl and the dog returned, he explained
everything to Cato and left the dog on the porch next to the water trough and a
tub of food.  Jackson would find him later in the day.  He grabbed
the long, metal-tipped staff from where it leaned against the wall.

They left before noon, trudging south along the
pebbled apron of the beach.

2. Thursday
Afternoon
 
 

The city had never been Hanrahan’s friend.
 And, now, without the people, the cars, and the noise, it had grown even
less friendly.  A long wedge of shadow sliced across the shop fronts to
his left.  The brick and clapboard buildings had been buffeted by some disaster.
 Windows replaced by dark empty holes.  Doors flung from their
hinges.  Scarred paint and chipped, crumbling brick.  A few,
scattered cars  - - victims of the same catastrophe - - glowed weakly in
the dim morning light.

He slapped his heels against the horse’s sweaty
flanks and cursed.  The animal, a big roan mare, flipped her head back and
halted.  He rubbed his hand along her neck while he studied a flock of
zombies stumbling through the intersection at the end of the block.  They
bounced against each other, spreading across the street like a bag of spilled
marbles.  No order, no purpose. Obeying the simplest rules of cause and
effect.  Worse than animals, he thought as he shifted his gaze to the
horse’s thick mane and wide eyes.  Much worse.

“‘S okay, Bama,” Hanrahan whispered, patting the
animal’s thickly muscled shoulder.  

Hooves pinged against the pavement to his rear and
the rest of the posse assembled on either side.  The horses nickered as
their riders pulled them to a stop.  He nodded toward the intersection.


God damn,” Pearly muttered
under his breath.  “Thought we’d catch up to them this morning.”

Pearly’s horse danced under him, nervous and
anxious to keep moving.
 
More
zombies flowed into the intersection and a burst of wind pushed the stench of
dead flesh into his nostrils.  Another five minutes and the meatbags would
be halfway down the block.  Already, a short, thin figure in rags danced
slowly ahead of the larger group, aiming in their direction.


How many you figure?” Luke
whispered in his low, gravel-washed voice

Hanrahan pulled the curved saber from the scabbard
tied to his saddle.


Does it really fucking
matter?”  

He kept his eyes on the lone figure stumbling
ahead of the pack.  It was obviously a child, maybe twelve or thirteen.
 Wild, fuzzy tufts of hair spotted its gray scalp like sickly clumps of
grass.  Its feet had been reduced to tiny paws.  The thing weaved its
head back and forth, searching the breeze for the scent of food.

Sunlight glinted off the saber as he raised it and
pointed to the sidewalk.


Pearly, you take the right.
 Tilt, you take the left.  Get the rope.  Luke and I roll up the
center.”

He and Luke tugged their horses back while the
other two men guided their mounts close together.  Pearly donned a pair of
thick gloves and pulled a fat loop of rope from his saddle.  He passed one
end to Tilt.  Each man wrapped an end around his saddle pommel. They
nodded to each other and the rope unspooled between them as the horses trotted
slowly to opposite sides of the street.  

As the riders separated and advanced, the tough,
nylon cord grew taut as a bowstring across the street.

Hanrahan glanced at Luke, who rested the thick
wooden handle of a flail along his thigh.  The spiked ball at the end of
the heavy chain swayed gently with the movements of his horse.  Pearly and
Tilt stopped a dozen yards in front of the small zombie and tugged at their
gloves.   Their horses waited patiently, flicking their tails and
bobbing their heads.  The rope stretched across the street high as a man’s
shoulders.  Its encrusted glass fragments and metal shards glittered like
beads of dew in the sun.


Listen up.”  He spoke
to Luke but his eyes stayed on the zombie child.  It had raised its nose
toward them and begun shuffling more purposefully down the street.  Like
iron filings dragged by a magnet, the scattered zombies behind the ragged boy
gathered together and drifted toward them.  “You and me.  We run the
ball up the middle.  Get on over here.  Closer.”

Luke nudged his tall, black horse next to
Hanrahan’s mare until their shoulders almost kissed.  He shifted the flail
to his opposite hand.

Hanrahan flicked his eyes at the younger man.
 Narrow rivulets of sweat crawled down Luke’s cheeks.  His dark eyes
were fastened on the thickening mob of zombies and he blinked slowly.  A
gloved hand squeezed the haft of the flail.  Hanrahan heard the creak of
the other man’s thick, scarred leather chaps.


You’ll be fine, boy.”
 He reached over and tapped Luke’s shoulder.  Luke nodded.
  “Just ride like hell and swing that stick in your hand.  It’s
not your day today.  I promise.”

Luke glanced at Hanrahan and offered him a tight
grin.

The zombie child drew closer, shaking its head
left and right.  Hanrahan yanked Bama’s reins.  The zombie responded
to the horse’s snort by swiveling his head forward.  As if receiving the
same message, the mob of zombies squeezed together behind the child and surged
forward.  Hanrahan clucked once or twice to settle the mare and raised his
saber.  When he dropped it, Tilt and Pearly whooped and kicked their
horses’ flanks.

The big animals pushed back on their haunches and
rocketed forward, shifting from canter to gallop in the blink of an eye.
 Beneath the hoots and hollers of the two riders, hooves thundered on the
pavement.  The glittering rope raced down the center of the street,
zipping just over the zombie child’s head.  The boy trudged onward dumbly.
 Behind him, the razor edge of the black cord sawed across the first line
of zombies.  

Heads exploded, splattering dark blood and greasy
liquid onto the street.  The first, ragged line of undead tottered
drunkenly and then collapsed to the ground.  Tilt and Pearly’s horses
plunged forward and the singing rope mowed down one corpse after another.
 With a shout, Pearly suddenly yanked his reins back and his horse spun
across the sidewalk.  Tilt galloped onward, the free end of the rope
hissing along the street.   

Pearly struggled to regain control of his horse,
and Hanrahan leaned down and murmured into Bama’s ear.   He nodded to
Luke and their horses shot forward together, muscles rippling and swelling
along their flanks.  Hanrahan tightened his thighs around Bama’s ribs as
they raced down the street.   Luke hollered and swung the ball at the
end of the flail deep into the zombie child’s chest.  The creature flew
backward and disappeared.  Wind feathered through Hanrahan’s long hair as
a zombie crunched against Bama’s broad chest.  He swept the saber downward
and the flashing blade split a gray, bare skull in two.  He heard the
whomp of Luke’s flail as it slammed into another rib cage.

They galloped over the slick, gleaming results of
Pearly and Tilt’s work and drove the horses onward into the gathering mob of
zombies.  Ten yards in front of the zombies, a cloud of sharp, sweet
stench enveloped them.  Next to him, Luke gagged and the horses jolted
forward and accelerated.   The momentum of the big animals detonated
like a bomb within the mob of undead, an explosion so furious and rapid that
the rotting, gray figures were bowled over and tumbled down the street before
they could raise their withered arms. The sound of shattering bones and tearing
flesh filled his ears.  

Hanrahan pumped the saber up and down, slicing
arms and carving the blade into skulls and spines.  Next to him, Luke rose
up in his stirrups and lifted the whirling flail over his head.  He heaved
the weapon down in a long arc and a crumpled body shot into the air ahead of
the horses.  Hanrahan whooped and drove the tip of his blade into the
gawking mouth of a tall zombie.  Bama’s momentum whisked the zombie away
onto the ground.   

The thick herd of wan, stinking bodies was robbing
the horses of momentum.  As the animals slowed, he raised the saber and
craned his neck.   Ahead and beyond the thinning edge of the undead,
Pearly and Tilt had already arranged themselves on opposite sides of the
street.  

A hand seized the shaft of his boot and squeezed.
 He swung the saber down without looking and the fingers released their
grip.  He whistled and waved the saber in the air.

Luke’s horse wheeled away from him and Hanrahan
caught a glimpse of the younger man’s grimace as he hauled on the reins.
 He pushed his heels into Bama’s ribs and leaned left.  The horse
snorted and heaved onto its rear legs, twisting its long, heavy body even as it
lifted him into the air.


That’s it, honey,” Hanrahan
shouted and flicked the reins.  “Go on, baby.  Go!”

Bama whirled and found her footing.  She flexed
her hips and galloped away from the zombies.  Next to him, the iron shoes
of Luke’s horse chimed against the pavement.  The two animals raced neck
and neck back down the street.  Luke bent over his horse’s mane, grinning
and whispering into the animal’s ear.   The twisted body of the
zombie child - - a heap of tattered cloth stained dark and wet  - -
flashed beneath Hanrahan and he yanked on Bama’s reins.  The horse slowed,
its chest rolling beneath him and its thick brown coat slicked with sweat and
black blood.  He patted her as he wheeled around toward the zombies.

Tilt and Pearly were thundering back down the
street toward them.  The rigid, sparkling rope repeated its deadly work.
 The remaining zombies swayed and fell like wheat beneath the thresher’s
blade.  The rope whizzed across the top of a woman’s head and her skull
parted like ripe fruit.  A glimmering rind of bone and long, dirty hair
popped into the air as her body shivered and buckled to the street.  When
the pair cleared the near fringe of the zombie herd, Tilt released his end of
the rope.  He spurred his horse and the animal raced toward Luke and
Hanrahan.  Pearly glanced over his shoulder and tugged at his reins.
 His horse slowed to a trot, snorted twice, and pranced down the center of
the street.


Goddammit,” Tilt shouted as
he joined Hanrahan and Luke.  “Goddammit!”  

Luke laughed..


A good day’s work. Eh
friend?” Hanrahan grinned

Tilt shook his head and slapped his gloved hands
against his thighs.


Goddamn,” he repeated.
 “Fucking meatbags just stood there!  Like they were asking for it.”

Pearly trotted up, his chaps and boots spattered
with dark strains.  “Now that was fun!”

Tilt laughed and drew a long breath.

Hanrahan nodded up the street.  “Still more
fun to be had.”

They followed his gaze.  A half-dozen zombies
wandered amidst a carpet of lifeless flesh.  They tripped and stumbled in
confusion.  Luke dismounted and grasped the flail in two hands.

Pearly growled. “Looks like the kid wants to bat
clean up.”

Hanrahan chuckled and pulled a rag from his pack.
 He wiped his blade carefully and slid it back into the scabbard.


Oh shit,” Luke mumbled and
they looked down at him.


Up there.” He pointed with
his finger.  “Looks like they called in reinforcements.”

They followed his gaze.  From the cross
streets down the block, two new mobs shambled and jerked forward, swarming into
the intersection and collecting into an expanding, simmering mass.


Jesus,” Tilt whispered.
 “Where the hell do they all come from?  Like fucking cockroaches.”

Hanrahan glanced at each of the men and stroked
Bama’s sweat-damp shoulder.


Ain’t gonna happen today,
fellas,” he said slowly.

The men looked at him.

He shook his head.  “Just ain’t gonna happen
today.  We got ‘em all riled up now.”  He snapped his head back over
his shoulder.  “Two more hours of daylight.” His eyes scraped across the
group.  “Not enough time to take care of these fuckers.”

Pearly quickly rolled the rope, still peppered
with flecks of skin and bone, into a sloppy loop and snapped it onto his
saddle.  Tilt’s horse pivoted in a circle around its back legs.  The
zombie cluster grew and expanded around the scene of the slaughter.
 Sighing, Luke wrapped a thin blanket around the flail.


Yep.”  Hanrahan combed
his fingers through his hair.  “There’s a place I know back on Piedmont.
 Plenty of room for the horses.”

Luke climbed onto his saddle and Tilt pointed his
mount back down Broadway.  Hanrahan and Pearly floated on their horses
next to each other.


You’re the boss.”
 Pearly spat onto the street.  “But if we bunk down for the night, we
give them an extra day.”

Hanrahan nodded silently.


That little girl.”
 Pearly paused.  “You remember what she did to Parker.”

Hanrahan glanced at the man’s thick, broad face.
 “I remember.”  He nudged Bama around.  “She’s not going
anywhere fast.” He tapped the reins against the horse’s neck.
  “She’ll get what she deserves.  No worries, friend.”

The others trotted off, leaving Pearly to silently
observe the zombies teeming across the intersection.  He cocked his head
at the pale concrete of the rail bed suspended beyond the houses and trees.
 Nodding twice, he turned his horse around with a gentle cluck and fell in
behind the rest of the posse.

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
10.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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