The Fast and the Dead - Day 38

They tried to run, but the water was thigh-high. Claire put on some speed and reached the boat, scrambling in while Ben struggled to keep up. “Get it started!” he yelled. The dead were converging on them, more and more approaching from either side.

The first one grabbed his arm just as he was reaching out for the side of the boat, the water up past his waist. He jerked his arm away, nearly pulling the thing onto him, its mouth gaping open. He stumbled back, shoving it away. More were crowding in close.

Desperately he surged toward the boat, gripping the sides and pulling himself halfway over. Cold, wet hands grabbed at his legs and shoes; he kicked and shoved, trying to use them to get in to safety faster. One of the hands got a solid grasp on his good ankle.

Claire slammed an oar into the thing’s head, knocking it away. It didn’t let go, but Ben pulled himself free. “I couldn’t make sense of that thing!” Claire screamed.

He wasted no time replying, clawing his way to the engine while Claire beat the oncoming dead back like so many weeds in a field.

The water was thick with them. Franticly he primed the motor, jabbed what he thought must be the starter, and it roared to life. Claire stumbled and nearly fell as the boat began moving slowly ahead. Claire shoved the second oar at him as they moved, and together they shoved and bashed any that got too close.

Ben steered them into deeper waters; they were picking up speed but too slowly to stay where they could be reached. From below they began to feel heavy impacts; more of the dead, still in the deeper waters, unseen but still coming for them. The heavy impacts gave way to softer scraping. “They’re reaching up for us,” Ben said with a shiver. Dead fingers outstretched from the deep.

Finally the water was too deep and anything below couldn’t reach them. Looking over the side, they could see them though. Pale, lifeless faces, staring up hungrily, slowly following them.

“Where to from here?” Ben had been thinking an island. Now he wasn’t so sure.

“I don’t care,” Claire said, staring back at the ruins of the once-great city. Pinpricks of light glinted off the buildings as the afternoon wore on. Broken glass? Or camera lenses? Even in death, the city had a million eyes. “Anywhere but here.”

END

The Fast and the Dead - Day 37

Yesterday’s entry. It’s a bit late, but I did get it written!

 

Claire walked right up to the edge of the water and stood, staring at the boat. Ben trailed behind, trying to put his finger on the source of his unease. There was nothing around them but long-overgrown grass and trees and benches that were falling apart. The water was blue, and if not exactly clear, was at least shallow enough that they could reach the boat without swimming.

A can of gas was sitting in the boat, visible from shore. Sunlight glinted off the glass of the boat’s windscreen. He snapped his fingers. “That’s it!”

“What’s it?” Claire looked as if it was starting to bother her too, but hadn’t yet seen what was right in front of them.

“It’s clean. It’s as if it’s new. It’s right in front of us. Why? And how? It can’t have been here long. It looks like it was left here specifically for us.”

She frowned, nodding, and turned back the way they’d come, or started to. “What’s this?” She jogged back to a particularly thick bunch of grass where a small non-descript light gray box sat. Ben painfully limped over to join her. “It’s a camera. Another one.”

It looked like any of a thousand security cameras you’d see in any store, or would have in the world before. This one had been hastily installed and was pointed right at the boat. It wasn’t even secured to the ground; a cable ran loose into the grass where they found some sort of power pack.

Ben’s head was reeling; he couldn’t believe it. “It’s the damn shows. They’ve been watching us the whole way, the whole time.” They must’ve gotten intrigued when they survived the massive horde the previous day. Beating impossible odds always drew attention on the broadcasts.

“We got popular. They had to expand their coverage. They herded us into that funnel last night, and now this. I hope it was entertaining; I’m done being the star of the show. Let’s get out of here.” He said that last right into the camera.

“Can we trust it? I’ve never seen anyone just sail off into freedom before.” She was eyeing the boat apprehensively now. An ending nobody had ever seen before, or … what?

“Do you want to try going back through all that?” Ben was already wading into the water, splashing loudly as he limped. Too loudly, he thought.

“Ben!” Claire cried out, running and splashing in after him. He saw it; matted, stringy hair emerging from the water maybe 20 meters off to the side. The dead didn’t breathe; they could walk anywhere there was land, whether or not it was covered by water.

Another, and another became visible. They were farther out where it was deeper, attracted closer in by Ben’s careless noise. 

The Fast and the Dead - Day 36

Claire snorted at the word “clean,” then paused and stared out into the distance. He followed her gaze. The water was finally visible, just one short block away. It was bright blue under the blazing sun, and—

“Is there something out there? What’s that bobbing in the water?”

Claire narrowed her eyes, shading them with her hand. “I … I think there is something out there, yeah. A boat maybe?” The hope in her voice was infectious.

They were just about to start an awkward and slow climb down using only windows as handholds when Ben caught something else moving. It was closer, and moving on the road. It looked for all the world like one of the utility vans the crews used when they had to move beyond the most central core areas of the city. “What…?”

Claire had seen it too, and the sound of an engine reached them. It was quiet but audible, and moving away at a decent clip given how bad the roads were out here. They looked at each other in confusion. “Was that one of ours … theirs?”

“It looked kind of like one of our work vans, but I never heard of anyone working this far out.” They sat listening for almost a minute, but the pressure to move forced them down while the streets were still empty. By the time they reached the ground, the sound of the van was long gone. So was the sound of the fire escape.

A glance back up the street the way they’d come showed some dead activity; a small aimless crowd of the dead who had lost their focus when the noise stopped. “I wonder what happened to it,” he said as they started across the road.

“Fell, maybe, or just sat down like they do sometimes I guess,” Claire commented. Her voice was far away; she was staring fixedly at the water and the bobbing shape in it. He turned back and they rushed down the last of the roads between them and the water.

The coast was clear. Literally clear, Ben thought. The grown-over road ran parallel to the coast with a strip of what must’ve been grass long since gone wild in between. The remains of a running path cut through the long grasses, with young strong maple trees growing at even intervals that spoke of their having been planted before the fall. Old park benches faced the water. There were no buildings, no docks to be seen anywhere up or down the coast.

A small motorboat floated lazily out a short distance from shore. An anchor line dropped off the back into the water. It was a welcome and very tempting sight.

Their footsteps faltered and slowed as they crossed the overgrown street.

The van was long gone, but the path it’d taken couldn’t have been more clear. There was only two sets of tracks. It had come out from somewhere, parked right in this area, driven off in the same direction. Then it passed through again without stopping. The dirt it had kicked up and displaced told that story plain enough. What it didn’t say anything about was why, or why right then, that same day.

 

The Fast and the Dead - Day 35

He yanked his leg up hard against the clamping pressure to no avail; all he got for his effort was screaming pain as his efforts aggravated the injury. He looked down to find a zombie had lunged through an empty window at him from inside the building as he passed, and it awkwardly writhed through the frame as it tried to get at him.

He yelled out and took a good grip on the rusty fire escape, stamping down on the grabbing hand. His terror mounted as it kept its grip; of course he knew the dead felt no pain, so there would be no instinctive release of the grip. He kept slamming his foot down and finally the fingers weakened; he pulled free of its grip just as it pulled itself halfway out the window and onto the metal stairs.

He stumbled backwards and felt more hands grab him by the shoulders. He struggled at first before recognizing Claire. Together they half-climbed, half-stumbled their way to the top. “Gotta … stay away from … fire escapes,” Ben gasped as they pulled themselves onto the roof. They lay still, just breathing.

It took a minute for Ben to realize the creaking, clanking sound of the fire escape hadn’t died down. Claire dragged herself to her feet; he followed, and they peered down.

The zombie that had snagged his ankle hadn’t given up; it’d followed them up and was fruitlessly trying to reach them, unable to climb the short ladder that led to the roof top from the top floor. In the distance they saw more of the dead in the streets; it wouldn’t be long before there was another horde to contend with.

“Great, what do we do now? We can’t leave it there!” Claire’s face was contorted and stressed.

“We …” He broke off and took a deep breath. “Actually, why not? We should leave it there!”

“What? Are you crazy? It’ll be like yesterday all over again! It’ll just keep bringing more!” Her face was white, her voice a little unsteady.

“It’ll keep bringing them here. Let’s not be here. If we’re not here, the more of them it attracts, the better for us!” He looked down at it; it was an old one, dried out and rough, movements stiff and jerky. Every time it moved, the fire escape rattled. He wondered whether it might collapse completely if the thing stayed there agitating it long enough.

“You’re crazy, Ben. But so is this whole situation. Okay, fine, let’s get out of here.” The idea was winning through to her, he could see it in her body language. A tiny touch of the stress drained visibly from her.

They stopped just long enough to eat a few quick bites and drink a half-bottle of water each, and then they were on the move again.

To his great relief the entire block was the same height; no scaling up and down building exteriors this time, not until they had to get back to street level. The straight shot across the buildings allowed them to make good time, and they found themselves scanning the streets for a way across once more.

The distant creaking of the fire escape could still be faintly heard from this distance, and it had done its job and called away whatever dead might have been hanging around this part of the street. He grinned tightly, trying not to grimace. “Nice clean empty street. Now we just gotta get down to it.”

The Fast and the Dead - Day 34

“There’s still too many of them,” Claire groaned.

“I think we can make it.” Ben was sure of it. It was true, there were at least 5 in the immediate area he could see, but they were facing the wrong way to see them, and they were just far enough out that they should be able to make it across and out of sight. Then they’d have to find a way up. One problem at a time, he figured.

Claire stared indecisively at the scene, which actually helped; several of the dead shuffled along their aimless way and put more distance between themselves and the living onlookers.

“Okay,” she said at last. And with that they started down, slowly and as quietly as possible.

Ben led the way, and surprised himself with how quickly he reached the ground. Once there he stood still and silent, waiting for Claire. She was making good progress herself, though she still held the bag with what supplies they had left. She was moving a bit cautiously so as to keep it from rustling and giving them away, but it was awkward for her. As Ben watched, she had to catch it with one hand while bracing herself on window ledges to keep it from swinging too far with her movements.

She was about halfway down, between the first and second storeys when it DID swing out too far and suddenly slipped off her belt. She couldn’t stop a soft gasp, and Ben gasped himself. Frantically, he reached out for the bag as it fell towards him. He managed to snag one of the plastic handle holes and stop it, but his heart skipped a beat as it rustled and clunked with the sudden stop.

Frantically they both looked around at the nearby dead, barely daring to breathe. No reaction from most … but one, the nearest one, paused where it was shuffling away. They watched with mounting dread as it stood still, giving no sign what it was about. Ben felt like his heart was about to pound through his ribcage, it was beating so hard.

The sigh they let out when it started walking off again was long and heartfelt. Claire barely breathed the whole rest of the way down to the ground; Ben helped her down as she got near, and with another quick look at the zombies to make sure none had turned their way, they crept across the street and into the cover of a thankfully-empty alley they guessed would lead them to the back and a route up to the roofs.

They kept their pace slow and careful. As they got close to the rear area, Claire nodded for him to keep to the other side of the alley; they’d overlap their fields of view as they approached, the better to ensure they weren’t walking into a crowd of the dead.

They slowed further, keeping their backs to the walls; Ben saw what looked like it could’ve been an old parking area. There were a few rusted hulks that may have been cars at one time. Beyond the lot there was a smaller building, probably a house, partially collapsed. He saw no movement, nothing that looked like a person, a zombie, even a corpse. Claire’s face was intent, showing no sign she’d seen anything distressing either.

They paused at the end of the alley; everything seemed clear, so they eased out into the back lot and double-checked. Nothing moving. And as he’d hoped, there was a fire escape. The sight cheered him, though he found himself wishing fervently that this one was quieter than the last.

Claire blanched a bit at the sight of it, and he nodded. “We’ll take it REALLY slow on that thing, see if we can avoid the noise this time,” he whispered. Relucantly, she nodded. She started toward the fire escape. He was about to follow after when sudden movement caught his eye.

Turning back to the alley, he watched with horror as one of the dead—he thought it was the one that had stopped—turned into the alley from the street beyond, slack-jawed and with a face that was half rotted away. It fixated on him, advancing in slow, methodical silence.

He broke into as much of a run as he could. “It followed us!” he whispered.

Wincing at the noise, they rushed up the fire escape. “This is going to be bad,” Claire groaned. It rattled and clanked as they climbed the short ladder at the bottom and then rushed up the stairs that traversed the bulk of the height. The building was 3 storeys tall.

Halfway up, Ben paused and looked down. The thing had reached the bottom of the fire escape and was pawing ineffectually at the rungs above its head. He was turning his attention back to the climb when something clamped around his injured ankle, stopping him in his tracks.

The Fast and the Dead - Day 33

“Could it be activity from the city this far out? We did walk most of the distance. If they’re using cars …”

“Could be,” Ben conceded. “I’m no expert on all the comings and goings there. I was in maintenance, mostly internal stuff, in the living quarters. The towers, mostly. Didn’t get out beyond the safe zones too often. Not ‘till now anyway.”

Claire nodded. “Me neither. I’m an … was an Aggi.” Agriculturalists, or Aggies, spent a lot of time tending the rooftop gardens that fed the population of the city. “Mostly fertilizer mixing/application, and harvesting.”

He nodded. She’d have gotten out into the overrun areas even less often than he had, and he’d never been more than maybe 20 meters from a safe zone until yesterday.

“We should keep moving,” he finally admitted, regretting the words as soon as he got under way.

The block they were traversing was long, but eventually they came to another street to cross. They anxiously examined the route.