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Authors: Taz Gallaher

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Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance (5 page)

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
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The captain gasped as the sharp steel sliced
through his shirt and Hanrahan’s momentum drove the blade deep into his ribs.
 Hanrahan pushed the captain between himself and Corporal Whitney just as the
young soldier swung the pistol towards him and started squeezing off rounds.
 Hanrahan’s fingers still clutched the knife as the captain’s body slid to
the ground.  He dug a hand into the dying man’s armpit to hold him up and
a sharp pain exploded across his upper chest.


Fuck,” he muttered and fell
to the ground on top of the captain’s body.

He looked up.  The corporal was panting. His
smoking pistol hung at his side and his wide eyes stared at the captain.  Just
as he opened his mouth, a rifle shot boomed from the edge of the clearing and
the corporal’s forehead dissolved into a mist of blood and viscera.  His
body swayed twice on its feet before it toppled to the ground.

The keen bite of the corporal’s bullet became a
deep fire that burned quickly across Hanrahan’s chest and shoulder.  He
could feel his t-shirt grow heavy and wet with blood.


Goddamn,” he muttered.
 “Goddamn.”

Pearly’s face loomed above him.  Blood and
tiny flecks of gristle were smeared across his forehead and cheeks.
 Strong hands pulled Hanrahan to sitting and he groaned.  Pearly
dragged him to a pile of bedrolls and packs stacked next to the fire.  He
leaned back, trying to force air in and out of his lungs.  Pearly dropped
onto his haunches.


Good work, friend,” Hanrahan
gasped.  “Nice shooting with the little corporal.”

Something warm and salty dribbled across his
tongue.  He swallowed and closed his eyes.

Pearly shook him.  “Not yet, partner,” the
big man said hoarsely.  “We ain’t done yet.”

Hanrahan smiled and opened his eyes.  He
dragged his right arm upward and rested it on Pearly’s shoulder.


You got the horses,” he
wheezed.  “Just go get those two bastards.”

Pearly shook his head and clutched the front of
Hanrahan’s shirt.  He pulled his friend closer and a gust of dank, sour
breath washed against Hanrahan’s nose.  The burning across his torso waned
to a spreading chill.  He squeezed his lids shut and tried to picture
Elise’s eyes, not the dull, opaque orbs at the end but the lively, sparkling
blue gems that met him every morning he woke before. . . .   In the
before.   He smiled at the phrase.  

In the before.  In the hereafter.  

Something dark swirled up from the back of his
head and everything disappeared.

Pearly shook his friend and Hanrahan’s head lolled
onto his shoulder.  He leaned his ear close to the man’s parted lips.
 There was no sound.  Whimpering, he and looped his arms around
Hanrahan’s torso and hugged him close.  A horse snorted and whinnied across
the camp and he opened his eyes.


Motherfuckers,” he whispered
into Hanrahan’s ear.  “I’m going to kill every one of them. First, the
girl.
 
Then, the big fucker.”

He released the dead man and the body sagged to
the ground.  Pearly stood and swayed.  

He looks okay, Pearly thought to himself.  He
looks peaceful enough.  He turned to the other two bodies in the clearing.
  Leaning down, he pulled Hanrahan’s knife from the captain’s back
and wiped the blade on the soldier’s dirty blue shirt.  The corporal was
sprawled next to his captain.  Pearly scooped the pistol off the ground
and kicked the man’s hip.

The pot on the fire smoked and bubbled.
 Pearly stepped toward the fire and peered into the tall, iron container.
 A pale, blanched finger bobbed to the surface.  It disappeared into
the smoking water as a small hunk of rosy flesh floated to the surface and
caromed against the side of the pot.  Pearly gazed at the frothy surface
of the stew until his insides jerked upward and he vomited onto the ground next
to Hanrahan.

He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
 “Fucking savages,” he grunted.

He left the soldiers where they fell but spotted a
folding shovel next to the fire and used it to bury Hanrahan in the shade of
the long redwood branches.  He pushed the blade of his friend’s knife into
the top of the mounded earth.  After sliding the corporal’s pistol into
his belt, he tied off a militia rifle onto Bama’s saddle.  

The smell of blood made the animals nervous but
Pearly tugged their reins gently and whispered to coax them across the
campsite.  Leading the two horses, he turned back onto the narrow path and
trudged forward.  Under the warm sun and a soft breeze, the blood painted
across his face tightened into a grim, dark mask.

 
 

They had converted the parking lot next to the
train station into a camp.  Big canvas tents were arranged in two rows.
 In the aisles between the rows, cooking fires smoked and flamed.
 Only one fire was tended.  An old Asian woman in jeans and a dirty
sweatshirt pushed a stick around the lip of a big pot.

Mai knew her way around Oakland.  They had
approached Fruitvale from the east, creeping down empty streets filled with
rotting houses.  Close to the station, broken police barriers and haphazard
piles of junk blocked the roads.  She led him onto the flat roof of an old
brick building across the street from the station.  They crouched on the
roof’s edge and observed the camp.

A small park sat in front of the train station and
a dozen horses were tethered to the wrought iron fence that stretched around
the green oval.  The horses dunked their muzzles into the overgrown weeds
next to the fence and grazed peacefully.
 
Saddles, reins, harnesses and other pieces of horse tack were laid out
neatly across the top of the fence.

Chewy squinted to peer into the station.  A
floor-to-ceiling security gate was rolled halfway across the entrance.
 Mai gestured toward the camp and he shifted his gaze.  A tall thin
man stepped from a metal door on the side of the station.  He strode to
the parking lot fence and leaned a long-barreled rifle against the chain links
to light a cigarette.  He puffed and observed the tents in the camp before
picking up his rifle and climbing onto the cab of an oversized pickup truck.
 

A layer of blankets was spread across the top of
the cab and the man sat on the blankets facing the collection of ragged tents.
 He and Mai waited as the sun slipped down the western sky.  Just
before dusk, two other men emerged from the front of the station.  They
were laughing and one slapped the other on the back.  The man on the truck
cab waved in their direction before the pair split up, one man proceeding along
the fence around the camp and the other making his way to the horses.  

Chewy nudged Mai and held up three fingers.
 She nodded, her eyes still fixed on the scene below.

The man patrolling the fence disappeared around
the far corner of the camp.  The other checked the horse tack and leaned
between the fence rails to stroke the forehead of a tall, black horse.  He
whispered something to the animal and turned around, glancing up the street
that led to the front of the train station.  A whistle pierced the air and
the other man returned along the fence line.  The pair met next to the
truck and spoke with the man on the cab.  He nodded down at them and the
two men strolled back into the station.  The security gate squeaked and
groaned faintly as they pushed it all the way down across the opening.

Mai twisted around and rested her back against the
roof parapet.  Chewy slid next to her.


Three outside,” he said.
 “I’m betting they’ve got two horses for each man.  Math tells me
there’s six, maybe seven of them.”

She nodded and dug into her pack, pulling out a
short-bladed knife in a sheath.  He watched as she drew the blade out, ran
her eyes across it, and pushed it back into the sheath.  

She looked up at him.  “Can we kill them
all?”

He glanced back over the roof edge to the man on
the truck cab and shook his head.


Too many,” he said.


What’s
the plan?”

Chewy rolled back onto his knees and studied the
station.  She crawled up next to him.


He goes first.”  Chewy
pointed a finger at the man on the truck.  “Then the gate to the camp.
 Next, that door.” His finger tracked his words. “The front gate.
 And, finally, the horses.”


We kill the horses?”

He shook his head.  “Shit, no.  We
liberate them.”

She nodded.  

He stared at the station and concentrated.
 “Somebody takes out the man and then blocks the gate.  Somebody else
blocks the door and then opens the camp gate.  We send them folks back to
Oakland and then spook the horses.”


We go back to Oakland with
them.”

Chewy shook his head.  “I don’t know these
particular assholes, but I know plenty like them.”  He sat against the
parapet.  “If they’ve got any brains, they’ll think they can always round
up the people.  But they’ll be mad.  Real mad.  And, they’ll
want to catch us first.  Because we’re the ones who really pissed them
off.”

She leaned her head close to his.  “I want
the man on the truck.”

He stretched his neck and rested his hands on his
knees.  “You ever done that before?”

“Only meatbags.” She pushed herself into a crouch
and turned to the station.   “Never real people.”

He opened his mouth to talk and she glared at him.
 

“I know how to do it,” she said, articulating each
word.

He shrugged.


Night’s coming.  Let’s
get ready.”

They sneaked back down to the first floor of the
building and Chewy clicked the flashlight on.  The beam of light found a
dusty pile of four-by-fours collapsed into the corner of what had once been a
coffee shop.  Chewy stepped over and picked one from the pile.


For the door,” he said.

He raised his eyes to a tangle of electrical cables
drooping from the hole in the ceiling and moved behind the shop counter.
 Resting the thick board on the floor, he began pulling a long, black
cable that ran along the back of the counter.  He tugged hard on the cable
twice and its end popped free from behind an elaborate machine.  He coiled
the thick rope of vinyl-coated wire into loops and passed it to her.


This is for the front gate”.
 He passed it to her and she slipped her head through the loops, settling
the coil across her chest.  “You need to pull that gate shut tight and
wrap it fast.  You wait until you see me get into the camp and get
everybody moving.”

She looked up at him and nodded.


Man on the truck.  Gate
shut up tight.  Then, we’ll spook the horses together.”  He clicked
the flashlight off and stuffed it into his pocket.  “By then, we’ll want
them to see us.”

He guided her to the front wall of the shop.
 “Now, we wait.  Let that man on the truck get a little sleepy.”
 

He sat against the wall and she slid down to join
him.  The wrecked barricades across the nearby streets were working.
 A deep silence surrounded them.  Chewy dug into the very bottom of
his pack until his fingers found a ragged box of cigarettes.


You want one?”  He
pried the lid open and raised the box toward her.

She shook her head and he lit a cigarette with his
old zippo.  


Hmmmmm,” he mumbled as he
expelled a cloud of smoke.  “Used to smoke a lot more.  Guess this
fucked up situation is good for something.”

Mai scrabbled inside her pack and dragged out a
pair of thin-soled sneakers.  They were faded pink and covered with
pictures of animals.  


Saving those for a special
occasion?”  He grinned and stabbed the tip of the cigarette at the shoes.

She unlaced her boots and pulled them off before
sliding her feet into the tiny shoes.


Quieter,” she said.
 
She laced them up and flexed her
toes.  “Besides, they’re cuter than boots.”

He snorted as she tied the boots to her pack
strap.


We’ll leave these closer to
the camp.”  He gestured to the packs.  “Pick ‘em up on the way out.”

They sat together quietly, their shoulders barely
touching.  Chewy thought about the house by the ocean and the sound of the
river pouring across the sand.
 
Cato
would be sleeping on the front porch, waiting for him, ready to gallop across
the beach.
 
Maybe Jackson would be
inside the little house, cooking up a late dinner.
 
He imagined all the combinations of meat
and potatoes simmering in the big, aluminum pot on his stove.

An hour passed and Chewy stirred, dusting off his
pants and flexing his shoulders.  He leaned forward to stand but her hand
tugged on his sleeve.  He turned to her.


I know who you are,” she
whispered.

He relaxed back onto his hips.


You’re the one.  The
guy from Fresno.”


Lots of guys from Fresno”,
he answered.

She smiled weakly.  “Yeah.  But you’re
the guy who kicked it all off.  Connie told me.  She told me you’re
the one who got everybody organized.  Cleared out the valley.”


This Connie,” he said.
 “She knew a lot.”

Mai wrapped her hands around her knees.  “She
said you were everywhere.  Up and down the coast.  And everywhere you
went, two things happened.”  She turned to him and brushed a strand of
hair from her eyes.  “State gov got their asses kicked and people cleared
out the zombies.”


Probably a coincidence,” he
said.  “But, I do like to travel.”


When this is over.”
 She squeezed his shoulder in her small hand.  “Take me with you.”

He stood quietly for a moment and then nodded.
 “If we get out of this.”  He pulled her hand off his shoulder and
squeezed it.  “You can hang out with me as long as you want.
 
Or, as long as you can stand it.”  

He released her hand and stood, bouncing on his
heels.


Vamanos, hermana.”

The street outside was muffled in pitch-black.
 They gathered their things and moved quickly down the block to the end of
the building.  They slowed and crept around the corner.  A dull light
glowed against the far end of the building.


They’ve got electric,” Chewy
whispered.  “Be careful.”

He pushed to the edge of brick wall and peered
across the street.  Two large, round lamps glowed feebly above the station
entrance.  A pair of light rigs had been set up between the truck and the
camp gate, illuminating the chain link fence in stronger, brighter light.
 The man on the cab was turned slightly away from them.  He sat on
the blankets with his feet dangling into the truck bed, his rifle resting
across his lap.  Chewy thought he could see the man’s chin drooping toward
his chest.

He pointed a finger at the truck and wagged it.
 She loped forward like a shadow and drew her knife as she approached the
truck.

 

*********

 

He was dreaming of the house in Stockton.
 Tall, leafy oak trees spread over the front walk and he sauntered under their
shade toward the porch.  Dad must have repainted it.  The porch
railing gleamed pure white.  The light olive-colored wall behind it was
clean and unstained.  Sunlight bathed the porch floor. The wooden frame of
the screen door opened slowly and his mother stepped onto the porch.  She
wore the same starched, blue dress she saved for Sunday services.  She
raised her hand and he smiled.
 
There was something wrong with her eyes.

A sharp pain exploded from his waist.

He blinked his eyes open and turned.  A thin
arm was wrapped around his throat and a body latched itself tight against his
back.  He opened his mouth and a new wave of pain above his belt made him
gasp.  The blankets under him shifted and he began to slide off the cab,
his attacker still clinging to him.  He dropped into the darkness below.

 

*********

 

Chewy watched the two bodies disappear on the
other side of the truck.  The man’s rifle skimmed down the windshield and
clattered onto the truck hood.  He waited.

Mai popped up on the other side of the hood and
waved at him.  He exhaled and jogged toward the station with the
four-by-four in one hand and his staff in the other.  Mai’s pink shoes
flashed toward the station entrance.  He paused at the truck and plucked
the rifle from the hood.   Dropping this staff and grasping the
rifle, he dashed past the front of the station entrance and found the steel
door.  He rested the rifle on the ground and carefully wedged the piece of
lumber under the door handle, pressing the other end into the crumbling macadam.

Scooping up the rifle, he jogged into the swath of
light in front of the camp gates.  Holy shit, he exclaimed silently as he
pulled a pipe from the gate latch, they didn’t even lock the damn thing.
 He pushed the gate open.  The only sound was the rasp of metal on
concrete.  

The cooking fires were banked low and flickered a
dull orange.  He ran to the first tent and struggled with the long seam in
the flap.  Voices on the other side of the canvas whispered back and
forth.


Open it up, goddammit,” Chewy
wheezed.  “Please.”

A pair of hands appeared between the flaps and he
whipped them apart.  A middle-aged Asian man in dirty jeans and a
sleeveless t-shirt scowled at him.


Quick,” Chewy whispered.
 “Mai sent me.  It’s time to go.  Real fast.”

The voices in the dark tent rose in pitch and
volume.  The man studied him for a moment and then turned.  He
snapped something in Chinese to the people in the tent, his voice low and
steady.  The voices stopped and the silence was followed by the sound of
cots moving and feet shuffling.


Get the other tent,” Chewy
said.  The man spun to face him.  “Go back to Oakland.  The kids
are waiting.”  He gulped air into his lungs.  “The children are
waiting.  Do you understand?”

The man nodded his head curtly and retreated into
the shadows of the tent interior.

He waited by the gate and glanced down at the
rifle in his hand.  He recognized the wooden stock and the short barrel.
 It was same one the guards used at Lompoc.  He flicked the safety in
front of the trigger guard.

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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