Read Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance Online

Authors: Taz Gallaher

Tags: #Zombies

Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance (3 page)

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
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Pearly grimaced and relaxed his grip on the rifle.


Answer me that?”
 Hanrahan pulled a water bottle from his saddle and swigged it.  “A
bird in the hand.”  He wiped his hand across his mouth.  “Or two in
the bush?  I’m not going back to hunt down a bunch of raggedy ass city
rats.  Not now.”

Pearly swore and kicked at the gravel.
 “Goddam, boss.  They killed Tilt.  Killed him outright.”

He nodded and returned the bottle to the saddle.
 “And now, there’s two of us.  Just two.”


First the chink bitch kills
Parker.  Then these sons-a-bitches get Tilt.”  Pearly flung his hands
outward in frustration.  Spit flew from his mouth.  “We’re losing the
war here, boss.”   

Hanrahan stared at the other man.  “Right
through there.”  He tilted his chin toward the gates.  “We ride like
hell and we finish off those two bastards up ahead.  Then, we ride on down
Highway 13 and gear up for a return trip to Rockridge.”

Pearly snorted and twisted away from him.


Saddle up, friend,” Hanrahan
muttered as he grasped Bama’s pommel.  “Good things come to those who
persevere.  Just like the good book says.”

 
 

She pulled a green baseball cap from her belt and
settled it on her head.   The sun was bright and the air was still.
 It struck her suddenly that she missed this.  The clear, warm East
Bay mornings.  Even in the old times in her parent’s apartment in
Oakland’s crowded, dirty Chinatown.  The street noise outside her bedroom
window accumulating from silence to voices and car horns and the throaty growl
of trucks.  For a few minutes every morning, the day lingered on a threshold.
  There was a kind of order and clarity to it.

She stretched and stepped to the edge of the
overpass, road grit crunching under her boots.  Looping her fingers in the
chain link fence along the top of the bridge, she gazed across the low roofline
of warehouses to the San Francisco skyline.  A breeze feathered against
the back of her neck.  Across the bay, tall rectangles jostled with thin,
high cylinders and oddly shaped pyramids along the city’s waterfront.  It
reminded her of Oz in that old movie, the movie her mother liked so much.
 

Beneath her, clumps of vehicles freckled the big
highway like an ugly rash.  Dull paint.  Flat, gray tires.
 Glass and metal strewn around the clumps.  She spotted a yellow bus
squeezed within a mass of cars and trucks.  She stared at it and inhaled
deeply.  The smell of ripped vinyl seats mixed with the salty breeze and
car exhaust blowing through the windows.  She squeezed her eyes shut.
 The sound of chattering voices.  Her teacher pointing out the
University bell tower and the marina by the bay.  Now, just hushed
silence.  There were still people at the University, she remembered.
 The campus had become a village, mainly salvagers and farmers.  She
peeked through one eye and found the craggy remains of the Ikea store next to a
massive web of overpasses.  The underbellies of the dead, empty highways
so smooth and pale.


Breakfast?”

Chewy’s voice broke her concentration.  She
blinked and slipped her fingers from the fence.


Only another hour to
Chinatown,” she answered, turning to face him.

He shrugged.  “Shrimp and rice.  I guess
I can wait for breakfast.”

He nodded forward and they tramped across the
flyover.  The curving ramp descended and they halted at the bottom.


Over there,” she said.
 “We can get off here and walk up MLK.  It’s faster.”

Chewy followed her as she climbed over a divider
and plunged through a gaping tear in the chain link fence along the highway
exit. They hiked north along a broad street lined with low clapboard apartment
houses and storefronts.  Splintered boards and garbage blanketed the
sidewalk.  The rising wind pushed through scraps of paper and cloth.
 There were only a few abandoned cars on the street.  

A block into downtown Oakland, they slowed to
navigate a collision between a city bus and a delivery truck.  The walls
of a large white church on the corner leaned together like a handful of playing
cards.  The whole front of the building’s roof slumped inward and its
windows were serrated with broken panes.

Farther along, a pair of skinny dogs pulled their
snouts from something on the sidewalk and stared at them.   Surprised
by the appearance of the two travelers, they flexed their jaws in greeting and
then returned to their work.  Mai hurried past them and, as he walked by,
Chewy watched them burrow into a dark bundle on the pavement.


Up here.”  Mai turned
her head back to Chewy.  “We go right.”

Chewy stopped.  “Hold on, sister.”

She halted and rotated on her feet to face him.

He raised his head to the sky and then back to the
street.  “I’m just warning you,” he said.  “There’s been rumors.”

She raised her eyebrows.


Yeah,” he continued.
 “Rumors about Oakland.”  She hitched her shoulders and gazed at him.
 “Slavers.”  He paused.  “I heard about it in Mendo.
 Slavers hitting all the little villages between here and San Jose.”


Taking people?”

He nodded.  “Seems like it.  Taking them
down to Fruitvale.  You know Fruitvale?”

She nodded.  “I’ve been there.  Come
on.”  She pivoted and started walking fast down Twelfth Street. “It’s only
a few more blocks.”

A row of shops with shattered windows and faded
signs in gold leaf lettering announced the border of Oakland’s old Chinatown.
 They came to a stockade made of rusted cars and plywood sheets.  Mai
disappeared into a dark doorway and he followed her to the back of the empty
shop and up a flight of stairs.  She pushed through an open window onto a
fire escape.  They climbed to the roof and hopped across the parapet onto
the roof of the next building.  She pushed open a thick door and they
descended to the ground floor of another shop.

As she stepped toward the front door of the shop,
he dropped his hand to her shoulder and stopped her.  He lifted a finger
to his lips and pushed in front of her.  Pulling the long staff from its sling
on his pack, he peeked onto the street.  It was quiet and empty.  A
child’s shoe sat next to an open suitcase thrown against the curb.
 Farther down the street, an overturned cart blocked the far sidewalk.
 He stepped forward as Mai rushed past him, her machete held against her
thigh.  She took three or four quick steps and then halted.  Spinning
slowly in the middle of the street, her eyes raced across the building fronts.

Chewy swept his gaze along the sidewalks as he
joined her.


Wait here,” she whispered
and dashed into the building beyond the abandoned suitcase.

He walked down the street and poked through the
clothing and boxes in the empty cart.  A few shiny tin cans rolled onto
the street and he scooped them up and stuffed them into his pack.  Mai
appeared at his side, flushed and breathless.


Nobody
home,” she panted as she studied the debris in the cart bed.  

She froze and leaned down to pull an emerald
t-shirt from the pile.  She squeezed it in her hand and tossed it back to
the ground.


Let’s go,” she said, turning
down the street.

They hurried between silent, well-kept buildings
until they reached another stockade.  A tall gate in the middle of the
barrier leaned inward.  She turned and led him to the thick oak doors of a
pale yellow building at the end of the stockade.  She planted a palm
against a door and it swung inward.  

The pews of the church had been pushed away from
the entrance.  Wide rectangles of sunlight from the high windows glowed on
the stone floor.  Mai stalked up to the altar and paused next to a thick
red carpet laid across the raised platform.  She bent and dragged the
carpet aside.


Help me,” she said, grasping
a handle recessed into the floor.

He dropped his staff and helped her yank the trap
door open.  The slab of wood fell to the floor with a boom and she lowered
herself into the darkness below.  Chewy dropped to his knees and clicked
his flashlight on, aiming the beam downward.  Her black hair flashed
across the pool of light.  He arced the beam across the bare concrete
floor of the crawlspace and debated whether to follow her.

He glanced to the right and found three pairs of
eyes glinting up at him.  Gasping in surprise, he rolled away from the
dark opening and sprawling onto his back. Mai’s face poked up from the floor.
 Her forehead was streaked with dust.


Jesus, Chewy,” she
sputtered.  “Help me.”

He crawled back to the opening and a small child
with short, black hair was thrust up at him.  He grabbed the kid under his
arms and swung him onto the floor next to the hole.  Another child
appeared - - an older girl with lemon skin and curly hair.  By the time
they were done, almost a dozen children cowered together on the far side of the
dark opening.  Mai pushed herself up and onto the floor and Chewy settled
back on his haunches.

She spoke in rapid Chinese to one of the kids who
alternately nodded and shook his head.  There was a pause and she uttered
something more soothing.  The boy shifted his gaze to the children around
him.  He stood and nodded at Mai.


What’s this?” Chewy asked as
the boy spoke to the others and they began rising to their feet.

Mai turned to him.  “Spider hole,” she said.
 “It’s where they’re supposed to go if anything happens.”

She turned back to the children and continued
talking to them in Chinese.  They grasped each others’ hands and the boy
led them past Chewy and down the center of the church to the front doors.

Chewy stood.  “What did he tell you?”

Mai squinted at him even as she aimed a string of
sharp sounds at the boy.


We get them settled,” she
said, striding past him.  “Then, we need to get to Fruitvale.”

Mai led the group out of the church and Chewy
followed.  The children were quiet, their big eyes roving up and down the
empty streets.  She shepherded them to the front of a store with a
security gate rolled down over its display window and door.


Wait here,” she told Chewy
before she sprinted down the block and disappeared into a doorway.

He shifted his gaze from the storefront to the
kids.  They looked back at him as if expecting him to say something.
 He opened his mouth to speak when the boy with the short hair whipped his
eyes onto the storefront behind Chewy.  He wrapped both hands around the
staff as he spun around.  The door opened and Mai appeared behind the bars
of the gate.  She tinkered with something and pushed her palms against the
metal barrier.


Come on,” she rasped.
“Push.”

Chewy dropped the staff and dug his fingers
between the metal links.  There was a click and the gate began rattling
up.  The kids rushed past him and scuttled into the store.  As soon
as they were inside, Mai left the doorway to follow them and Chewy ducked
beneath the gate.  He pushed it back down and closed the shop door.

He found them in the back of the store, in a room
where a tall set of shelves ran from one wall to the next and low cots lined
the other walls.  The kids hopped onto the beds and Mai spoke to them.
 They all nodded.  She pushed Chewy out of the doorway and the little
boy trailed along behind them into the bare shop.


This is one of our safe
houses,” she said.  “Food.  Water.”  

She spat a burst of words at the little boy.
 He disappeared and reappeared seconds later clutching a plastic bottle of
water.  He held it up to Chewy.


Thanks,” Chewy said, taking the
bottle and raising it to his lips.


They’ll be fine here,” Mai
said suddenly, watching the boy return down the hall to the back room.
 “Benjy knows what to do.”  She paused as Chewy lowered the bottle.
 “We need to get to Fruitvale.  We need to leave now.”

Chewy nodded.  “Sure,” he said.  “Do we
know how many there are?”

Mai took a step toward him and motioned for the
bottle.  He passed it to her.


Six or seven men.”  She
raised the bottle and gulped.  “Big guys.  On horses.”


Yeah,” Chewy answered.
 “Slavers.  Probably working for somebody on commission.”

Mai’s eyes widened.


Look, sister.”  He slid
the pack off his shoulders onto the floor.  “We’re only two.  You
give me a couple of days.  We could be twenty or thirty.”

Mai shook her head.  


Twenty or thirty against six
or seven.  I like those odds better.”

Instead of answering, she tightened her pack
straps across her shoulders and twitched her head around the shop.  She
tried to move past him, but he settled his weight onto his heels.


Fuck that,” she hissed.
 “They stole people.  Lots of people.  Before we know it,
they’ll move them somewhere else.”

He dropped his hand onto her shoulder and she
flinched.


Okay, mi hermana.”  He
spoke slowly and she raised her eyes to meet his.  “We go get ‘em.
 But, you listen to me.”  He gripped her shoulder gently.  “We
do it my way.  I’ve met these assholes before.”

He felt her body tense and then relax.  She
dropped her eyes to the floor.  Chewy raised his hand but she reached for
it and gripped it between her palms.  She turned her head away from him
then shifted her eyes to a place just below his chin.


I loved her,” she whispered,
her hands tightening around his fingers.  “That girl.  The one in
Arcata.”  She took a deep ragged breath.  “Her name was Connie.
 I never loved anyone before.
 
Not like that.”

She raised her glistening eyes.


Mira, mira,” he said,
wrapping his arm across her shoulders and pulling her against his shirt.
 “Esta bien, m’hija.”

She shuddered and a sharp sob exploded against his
chest.


It’s okay, Mai,” he
whispered.  “It’s good you loved her.  Esta bien. It’s okay.”

She released his hand and pushed away from him.
 


I won’t let them do it
again,” she gasped, raising her hands to rub her eyes.  “Not again.”

He nodded slowly. “Let’s get the kids squared
away.  Then, we go get ‘em.”


Okay,” she mumbled.
 Her dark eyes pierced his and something trembled deep in his chest.

“Good,” he continued, still nodding.  “Let’s
take care of the kids.”

He left her standing behind the shop counter and
plodded down the dark corridor. Beyond the rectangle of light at the end of the
hall, a high-pitched chorus of voices burbled and chirped.

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
6.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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