The Fast and the Dead - Day 32

They finished their bottles and stashed the empties back in the bag in case they found clean water elsewhere to fill them with. That done, they reluctantly moved on, trying not to sound too much like the dead they were avoiding as aching muscles protested.

Ben kept an eye on the street as they progressed up the block. They were traveling across the roofs of a series of low single-storey buildings that gave him a very good view, but made him very nervous. He wasn’t at all sure how good a zombie’s vision or hearing was, or from how far away they could otherwise scent, or sense you, or however they found you. His arms and legs weren’t looking forward to the next climb upwards, but the rest of him definitely was.

While he was keeping an eye out though, he found himself noticing other details that had escaped him from higher elevations. Just little things, like a certain order to the chaos of the debris, an arranged quality to the abandoned cars. “Claire.”

She stopped. They backed away from the edge of the roof aways to make themselves less visible to the dead below. “What is it?”

“Is it just me, or do all of these shops have cleared entrances?”

She squinted down at the street, looking more carefully at the scene below. “Yeah. What do you think it means?”

“I’m thinking of the highway, the moved cars.” Those had been very obviously placed for a specific reason. Maybe these had too, though the reason was apparently different.

“Now that you mention it … and it’s more than that. There are no zombies stuck in any of the cars on these streets. None in any of the cars we’ve passed that I’ve seen. I haven’t seen a single set of remains in a vehicle anywhere.”

“Let’s get to higher ground.” He hadn’t picked up on the bodies or lack thereof, but it was true as far as he could recall. It made him uneasy, walking into a situation they didn’t understand. Things were chaotic enough as it was.

He tried to shake the feeling off, concentrating on crossing the next several roofs to the next two-storey building. The climb was painful, but every exertion got them further from the street and he felt that much better for it.

Once up higher, they took another look around. “It really does look like someone’s moved cars to clear paths around here. None of the streets are blocked off, everything’s accessible. All the buildings too.” It wasn’t like everything had been cleaned or maintained. The roads themselves were just as bad as in the Core, maybe even worse; the pavement was broken, shattered by age and the elements, and that was where it was visible at all.

This far out from the city the effects of time were becoming even more obvious. More dirt had blown in and settled over the streets, the roofs, every available surface. Grass was growing in patches everywhere, and even some larger plants. They’d found several saplings as they crossed the roofs on their way to this vantage point.

They’d seen it before on the highway, but the pattern of it here reinforced the uncomfortable feeling Ben got. “The roads look like they’re still being used. Not much, but enough to keep as many plants from growing, at least down the center.”

“You think someone lives out here?” Claire sounded more tired than surprised at the thought.

“I don’t know what else to think. But they’ve never shown anything like that on the broadcasts, have they?”

“No, they’ve always told us we’re the only survivors anywhere near here.” Which meant that if Ben was right, the leaders of the Core were either ignorant or liars, and of more immediate import, that they might have more to be cautious of than the dead out here.

The Fast and the Dead - Day 31

A little bit of the tension rolled back over Ben as he stared down at the broad street between them and the final block. There were no big groups or clusters, and they were unaware of the watchers above on the rooftops, but there were still about two dozen or so of the dead down there as best Ben could judge. One of them caught his eye; it was Duster. He’d settled into a half-sitting, half-fallen position against the building across the street from them, staring up the street vacantly, unmoving.

Ben looked up the street in that same direction. The numbers did thin out that way before too long, and the roofs didn’t look too difficult to navigate …

“Hey, you still awake?” Claire passed him a bottle of water.

“Yeah. Just thinking ‘bout how to get across there. Or rather how we don’t have to get across there.”

She followed his gaze and nodded. “I’m getting awfully sick of rooftop life, but it’s better than being dinner.” Her voice was a touch resigned as she said that. They were both sore today, not just him. Neither of them had been professional athletes before their banishment, and yesterday had been a grueling experience that wasn’t over yet.

“I haven’t been out to this part of the city much. Before the end, I mean. I know there’re docks around but I don’t know what we’ll find there, or where the best ones are.” He drained half his bottle. “Boats may have sank years ago, or floated free, or been moved.”

“We’ll find something. Maybe like we did with the car. Check inside. There must be boathouses, places people kept them when they weren’t in the water.”

“We can hope. Worth a shot, if we don’t find anything more convenient.” His tone was eloquent in its expression of how likely he thought it was for anything to be convenient these days.

The Fast and the Dead - Day 30

For all his protestations that he was okay, they ended up staying put for some time anyway. The crowd of the dead that had gathered after the racket they’d made took hours to disperse enough that they could even think about moving on.

“We’re only a couple of blocks away, the street will be safe enough.” Ben awkwardly paced the edge of the roof, partly to make sure he could move when he had to, and partly because he was anxious to get going.

“And how do we get down to it? We made it through the night because we were up here after all the noise the fire escape made. If we go down on it, we’ll be right where they’re gathering!” They’d been having the same argument for a few hours.

Ben threw his hands up in dismay. “Fine then, we don’t go down that way.” He glanced over the side he was on; there was another building abutting the one the were on in the direction they wanted to go, but it was a couple of storeys down to its roof. Claire could make it easily enough but it would be difficult for him. His eyes followed a drain pipe that dropped straight down the wall. “We’ll go down here. Once we’re on the next roof we’ll figure out where to go next.”

Claire frowned, inspecting the route. “Better than the fire escape, I guess. Are you going to be able to manage it?”

“The pipe runs down next to windows, that’ll give me a way to brace myself with my working foot. Won’t be easy … but it’ll be easier than climbing up out of that pub was.”

By early afternoon the risk of moving was outweighed by the pressure of waiting so long that they were moving by night again, or stuck in the open on the roof. Neither option sounded appealing. Claire grabbed the plastic bag containing their food and water to let Ben focus on getting himself down safely. “We’ll have to try and find something better to keep this stuff in. The cans are too heavy, the plastic is wearing. It’s going to break soon.”

Ben nodded. “Should’ve grabbed a few more bags while I was there, but I didn’t expect to be carrying cans in the thing. We’ll make do as best we can, I guess.”

As predicted, it wasn’t easy, nor was it silent. Ben made it down safely though, and from there it was a relatively painless crossing of several roofs at the same level to get them across the first of the remaining two blocks. The small amount of noise they’d made in their descent hadn’t drawn any extra dead back to the area that they could see.

The smell of the water was getting stronger, strong enough at times to clear the air of the smell of the death they’d been so used to they hadn’t even thought of before. The unexpected relief lifted their spirits and cleared away some of the tension, too.

The Fast and the Dead - Day 29

As soon as he grabbed the first rail of the fire escape’s ladder, he expected a spontaneous swarm of the dead to appear. The instant he put weight on it the whole thing creaked and groaned with an ear-piercing loudness.

Having no other choice, they double-timed it upwards, every step they climbed bringing more noise and causing the structure to rattle and vibrate until Ben was convinced it would soon tear itself off the wall entirely.

The awful metal stairs ended at the top floor, but a short ladder section brought them the rest of the way to the roof. They forced themselves through a quick perimeter check to make sure they were alone, then collapsed near the ladder.

“That was much easier than the last ascent, at least,” Ben commented.

Claire nodded. “Loud though. How long do you think we’ll be stuck up here?”

Ben was about to reply when sleep came crashing down on him.

 

<>

 

The sky was bright and the sun high enough that it must’ve been about 10am by the time he woke up again. The first thing he was aware of was the dull, gaping ache in his belly; he hadn’t had a chance to eat yet. The next was the dull, roaring background sound of the dead.

His eyes snapped open and he looked around, expecting to find them surrounded, but it was just the two of them.

“We’re okay, for now,” Claire said. She looked much better after some sleep, and she’d eaten as well. She tossed him a half-eaten can of something that smelled incredibly good with hunger as a sauce. “Lucky for us, a few of these cans are pull-tops. We’ll have to get a can opener somewhere for the rest.”

“How many dead are there?” Ben asked as he started scooping stew out of the can with his fingers. It wasn’t elegant, but they weren’t in an elegant world, he thought.

As the food started hitting his stomach, he felt immeasurably better and he almost relaxed. “Looks like there was a bit of a crowd overnight, but we’ve been quiet long enough that they’ve been drifting away. There’s still too many out in the open for my taste. If you ask me, we’ll be here a while longer.”

He finished off the stew and turned his attention to his ankle. It was still horribly sore, and the color was ugly, but the swelling had gone down overnight. He pulled himself to a fully-upright sitting position and groaned. Sleeping out in the open, in the cold, and on a gravel roof made for very sore muscles.

“I’d tell you to walk off the stiffness, but …” She glanced at his ankle in concern.

“Might as well try. Gotta see if I can put weight on it anyway.” He stood awkwardly and hobbled a few steps. He grinned, though it was more of a grimace. “You ever see that old zombie flick where they acted their way through a street full of zombies? Maybe this walk’ll fool ‘em.” He lurched and limped to the far side of the roof and back.

“How is it?” she asked.

“Hurts, but not as bad now. I can make it.” He’d seen the water when he got to the far side. They were only a couple blocks away. “I’m not letting this ankle stop me when we’re this close. I’ve gotten this far on it. I can rest it when we’re on the water.”

The Fast and the Dead - Day 28

The street looked safe enough when Ben did a hurried check. He couldn’t see anything that wanted to eat them alive anywhere within the nearest fifty meters or so, anyway. They advanced up the street a short distance, wary eyes open for more of the dead.

He spotted what he took to be the two he’d seen before, the crawler and the walker, but they were some distance away up a side street and facing the wrong direction to spot them. He was watching them and hoping it would stay that way when Claire grabbed his shoulder and bodily turned him, pointing.

He followed her outstretched arm and finger, puzzled until he spotted it; a subtle red glow in a dark corner. As they got closer they were able to make out what looked like a crude covering that had slipped out of place. The glow came from behind it. “Another camera?”

Ben frowned. “Two still working, this far out?”

There wasn’t much they could do about it; they kept walking. They maintained an easy pace. Ben’s ankle was swollen and painful and he kept his weight off it as best he could with Claire’s help. They couldn’t take it too easy though, as the zombie Ben had started calling Duster in his head was still behind them. Not close behind, but they couldn’t stop.

They’d made it several more blocks when Claire again pointed. This time when Ben followed her arm he found himself staring at an old fire escape.

“Really? After all this time, this close to the lake?”

“We have to stop, and we can’t do it down here. You can’t go much farther like this, and I’m getting awfully tired. Adrenaline only goes so far.”

She was right; he was exhausted. They both were. They had to chance the old and probably rusty fire escape.

The Fast and the Dead - Day 27

Ben froze; by the sound, Claire did the same. They moved back into the black hall; Ben kept a hip firmly against what must have been a kitchen counter so he wouldn’t run into anything. Once there they could see the lighter grey patch that marked the end of the hall; they practically ran for it.

As soon as he was back in the larger, more open space, Ben dumped the bag and its contents on the reception desk and looked around frantically for the source of the noise. It was the same one they’d seen before, duster and all, and it was making a bee-line for them. Sunken eyes stared dully at him, jaw hanging loosely. He hefted the wrench in his hand, half to get a good grip on it and half to stop his hand from shaking too badly. It’s just one zombie, he told himself. It helped. It’s just one. It’s just one.

It was less than halfway across the space between them and the door, and it was a big room. “Through or around?”

“Around!”

He scooped up the bag again, managing to keep any cans from falling out in the process. Clutching it tight, he moved at as quick a pace as he could straight to the other side of the room, keeping behind the reception desk. Claire was right behind him.

The dead thing came as close to lunging across the desk as a zombie can when they crossed paths, making them jerk back involuntarily into the shelves that lined the wall on the other side, away from it; it ended up more as a fall against the other side of the desk though, and Ben was elated when it lost its footing and collapsed to the ground. They pressed on, leaving the building the way they’d gone in.