Sunday, July 14, 2013 Water Under the Bridge

Looting became a part of everyday life. There was an unspoken agreement between the survivors: take only what you need. Chambers Khan seemed to find a niche in the nuances of necessity, collecting the most obscure items like a morning star that he pulled off a Comic Con-nerd too fat to escape the horde.

Rebecca watched him carefully; not only as a doctor would with a post-op patient, but as a guilt-ridden woman looking for the right moment to apologize for possibly infecting him. Through all of Chambers' findings he never looked satisfied, as if he had still not found what he was looking for. Dr. Pratt was reminded of his condition when she operated on him, replacing his eye back in the city. He had all the textbook signs. Now exacerbated through time and withdrawal, it was quite clear to her. The strung out hair, the withered face beyond his years; Chambers Khan had all the trademarks of a junkie.

The Garden State Parkway was packed full of cars on both bounds. People were confused, evacuating in every direction. Once the government fell it was every man for himself. Just like in the city, Atticus was the only one able to maneuver around the snaking parking lot of abandoned cars. That was until they reached the bridge into Cape May County, or what remained of it. Pillars with blackened tips stuck out of the river with concrete and littered vehicles drowned all around them.

Under the bridge was a smaller crossing still held together by cast iron train tracks. Samuel told them to take only what they could carry. They would have to leave the cars and cross over on foot. Fortunately there were no undead in sight. Unfortunately the sky above was clouded and thunder could be heard slowly approaching from the coast. Only Samuel and Atticus knew what that meant, exchanging nervous glances, unwilling to share what they already knew with the rest of the group.

One of the biggest churches any of them had ever seen was on the other side. Samuel brought them all in to hold up while Atticus and Corey, along with Jackson, scoped out the perimeter and searched for new rides.

 "Wait!" Chambers stopped Corey, "Take this, bro" He handed Corey the morning star, a giant metal mace from medieval times, lined with sharp spikes all around its head. A death machine.

The inside of the church reeked of death. Dead bodies lined the benches before the altar. Samuel, Marcus, Chambers, and Tyrell put down the rising dead with ease. Once the church was clear they split up and foraged for new supplies.

Rebecca kept a close eye on Chambers. Marcus and Quinn wandered into a side room out of sight. Samuel stood by the window above the front doors and watched the rainfall sweep over the church and highway. Tyrell came up behind him. Samuel knew he had to tell them. He would start with Tyrell.

Rebecca found a new pair of glasses that had her prescription. She hadn't seen clearly since she lost her glasses when they crashed the War Bird. Upon finding and putting on the glasses, Rebecca had lost track of Chambers. A soft tangle of smoke rose from behind the altar. There she found Chambers sitting down, basking in the light of the stain glass windows. He was huddled over a burnt piece of tinfoil. He had found his fix.

Rebecca sat down next to him. Chambers quickly put it away and held in the smoke.

"It's okay..." Rebecca gave way, "I just wanted to...apologize..."
Chambers exhaled, "Apologize for what, Doc?"
"Putting that eye back in your head." Tears welled up, "I didn't think- there was so much going on at the time, I-"
"Don't worry about it, Doc" Chambers smiled with his dilated pupils, "Water under the bridge."

Chambers offered her the grounded up oxy on the tinfoil as an olive branch. After a brief hesitation Rebecca thought to herself why the hell not? Rebecca got through school on scholarships and dean's lists. She never partied. She never experimented. She was the perfect student turned perfect doctor. Her whole life she lived by society's rules, never pushing any bounds. Rebecca always played it safe. She reached across, took the straw piece from his dirty fingers, and inhaled while Chambers heated the tinfoil.

Jill walked up on them while Rebecca was partaking, causing her to startle a coughing fit. Chambers laughed while Jill appallingly read Rebecca the riot act, "You're a doctor! You know that shit'll kill you!"

Rebecca looked up at Jill as the blue from the pain glass glazed over her, "Better this than them..."
"Here here!" Chambers raised an open can of beer.
"Where did you find that?" Jill shook her head.

Rebecca leaned into his shoulder and swiped it from him. Chambers' laugh masked the screams coming from the side room. Samuel rushed down from the balcony with Tyrell and Jill to meet Marcus and Quinn dragging a man in with his wife and baby trailing behind them.

"We found a garage and a bus along with these three," Marcus explained, "He has the fever, but I can't find a bite anywhere. What does that mean, Samuel?"

"Where's Doctor Pratt?"
"She's occupied," quipped Jill.
"What happened here?" Samuel asked the woman.
" was a refugee camp until...well, we were overrun from the inside, someone must have gotten bit, I don't know, it all happened so fast..."
"Was it raining?" Samuel asked. Everyone but Tyrell looked at him.
"What does that have to do with it?" Quinn asked, almost insulted.
"...Oh no..." Marcus realized incredulously.

"Remember Ed's theory...atomizing the virus...The fallout particles in the rain clouds could have infected them."
"But it's raining right now..."
"Atticus and Corey are still out there!"
"Everyone calm down, don't worry, Atticus knows, he won't get caught in the rain."

"We have a problem!" Atticus yelled, throwing his coat back outside of the front doors while Corey and Jackson ran in ahead of him, still dry.
"The acid rain, they know," Samuel informed him.
"No, not just the rain," Corey rebutted.

They had stirred up a hornet's nest outside. The horde was gathering on the parkway and making its way towards them.
"Everyone to the bus!" Marcus led them all to the garage.
"We can't take him!" Jill protested.
"Where's Rebecca?" Atticus inquired.

She heard her name and needed Chambers' help getting to her feet. He was still laughing. She was still high. Rebecca could barely make sense of what was happened. She could barely put a sentence together. But Chambers took care of the first timer, practically carrying her to the bus.

After one look at Rebecca "WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO HER!?" Atticus' temper took over.
"Nothing! The lady did it to herself..." Chambers grinned.
"You scumbag!" Atticus tackled Chambers in the bus aisle, exchanging kicks and blows.
It took Samuel, Marcus, and Tyrell to break them up.
"What the hell is going on!?"
"He's a tweeker, Sam!" Atticus reached out again to attack Chambers, "Look what he did to her!"
"I didn't do anythi-"

"We don't have time for this!" Marcus yelled while he got in the drivers seat and started the bus. In all the commotion the man with the fever had slipped away with his family. When Corey opened the garage door they ran out into the rain for their car. "WAIT!"

The woman and her baby were covered. But the man was too fevered to be careful. The rain brought him down before the horde could. Once inside the car the woman cried out for her husband, "GEORGE!"
He must have had the keys. Corey watched this all go down while the group battled within the bus. He took the leash out from his pack, the leash that he never used, and clipped it onto Jackson's collar. Corey brought the pup into the bus and handed the leash to Marcus before stepping back out.

"What are you doing?" Marcus questioned his obvious intentions.

"We can't just leave them out there to die" Corey said, maintaining eye-contact with Jackson, accepting the fact that this was the last time he would ever see his pet "Close the door, Marcus, and... look after him for me..."

Marcus obeyed regretfully. Corey ran out into the acid rain with Chambers' morning star and plowed a path to the fallen husband. He rifled through his pockets and got the keys, cringing as the rain burned through his bare flesh. The horde surrounded him, but they could not get close as he swung the spiked mace. Inside the car, the woman got into the driver's seat and cracked the window.

Corey threw the keys to her, while her husband rose behind him.


Corey felt the teeth sink into the skin between his shoulder and neck. He already knew this was his time. The fallout rain had sealed his fate, now the zombies came to claim him. He managed to stumble back, attracting most of the horde away from the garage.

Atticus tended to Rebecca, who was uncontrollably sobbing after she realized what an unwitting mess she had become. How her harmless attempt at recreational experimentation had gone terribly awry, pitting the group against itself. Samuel walked up to the front of the bus where Marcus was driving to witness Corey's sacrifice. He rubbed Jackson's head while the pup pawed at the door with a broken whimper and helplessly watched his neighbor's final selfless moments, wondering if his end would be so noble.

The bus and the car drove off in separate directions leaving Corey behind, the center of a feast in his honor. The dead picked away at him for so long that by the time they were done the fallout rains had melted them all together into one grotesque pile of waling death before the fallen church. In his fleeting consciousness only one thought could escape through all the pain of dying...

Where was God?

Friday, July 5, 2013

2.5.8 When Death Surrounds You, Look to One Another

Who knew a second date could be surviving the apocalypse? That’s what they did. Survive. Through chance and the fleeting service of their cell phones they found each other along the road. Tyrell was a city engineer and Jill worked in the Mayor’s office. They were both very well off before the fall of society. Tyrell fiddled under the hood of a ’97 Ford Taurus in the cover of a bridge’s shadow.

Tyrell and Jill never thought they would need to use their career skills ever again. Jill probably wouldn’t. Tyrell would be needed more than ever. Soon people would need him more than healers and soldiers. In the throes of society it was people like him, and doctors like Samuel who were capable of bringing entire city grids back online.

“We’ve been walking for days, Ty…” she called him Ty, only his Grandma called him that. She was so familiar with him already. Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean he has to marry the last girl he went out with…does it? “…Where are we even going?”
“The last broadcast on the radio said there was a refugee camp at the Meadowlands, shouldn’t be far now…” Tyrell slammed the hood down and got behind the driver’s wheel, “...Especially if I can get this piece of-”

A hard gurgle and the engine sputtered to ignition. “Yes!” Jill cried out softly, careful not to attract any unwanted attention as she ran around the car to the passenger side. Tyrell was not so cautious in the spur of the moment. “WAIT! JILL!”

Before Jill could get into the car a body crashed into the windshield. Tyrell was already racing around the car after her. When he got Jill to her feet they both could barely stand a look at the carnage.
“Is it one of them?” she asked Tyrell as he braved a closer look.
“I….I don’t think so…”
“How can you tell?”
“If it was, it would still be moving.”

The fallen girl had dirty blonde hair. Not much else could be seen of her besides the oddest choice of apparel. Tyrell stepped back, confused, and Jill asked him what was wrong. He did not answer. He just looked up at the bridge above them, tracing the fall of the dead girl in the tweed suit jacket.

“What is it?”

Seven silhouetted figures peered down at them from the bridge. 

They were alive.

Anyone who was capable of surviving the fall of society and world apocalypse could be inherently capable of anything else, no matter how gruesome or depraved. People had to be treated as hostile. Man will do anything for two reasons: to survive and to get what they want when there is nothing to stop them. Tyrell knew this, so did Samuel and Atticus. And yet a small sliver of hope in the remnants of humanity allowed them to give each other a chance. 
That night they spent in a Parkway Rest Stop. There were plenty of drinks and still some chips on the shelves, and most importantly... hardly any zombies. They built a small covered fire and sat around it as they got to know one another. It was not long before Jill asked about Nora, “So she just decided to opt out after the loss of her uncle?”

“There was nothing we could do,” Rebecca explained, “Before we even realized she was suicidal she took the first opportunity our backs were turned to…well… you know...”

Chambers volunteered to do a perimeter sweep. He ran around with Jackson the dog and took care of a former burger king employee and a man missing both of his arms and his nose. Chambers didn’t flinch when he put them down. He spun back around to one knee as they fell, saying, “You are released, my brothers, from this demon of an earthly body.”

Tyrell watched him from afar with Corey, “So what’s the deal with pirate Ted Nugent?”

“Haha, yeah, I can see that. He’s done alright by us though. He seems to know what he’s doing…in fact…he’s damn good at it.”

Chambers spent most of the night on watch. He could not sleep even if he wanted to, his eye was hurting. It wasn’t necessarily painful but it was a lasting, almost throbbing sensation. He tried cutting his headband to take some of the pressure off. It helped a little bit, but the eye was still uncomfortably raw.

Rebecca wanted to think about her late husband the way she could see Samuel was thinking about his late wife. But Ansem was always a madman, before he ever met Rebecca. They both thought that she cured him, she solved him, but really she just unleashed him on the world.
Everybody wanted to know how this all started. They wanted answers that the news and radio reports never gave them. Of course Rebecca, Samuel, and Atticus knew but if they told them and word got out something bad would undoubtedly happen to Rebecca as a result. The need for an explanation was one of the strongest human compultions. So they tried to question and theorize along with the rest of them. “Could be something religious…”

“Has anybody heard anything about the second coming of Christ since all this happened?”
"C'mon, that shit ain't real..." Chambers scoffed.
"Look around, man...It's the end of days," Marcus flared his convictions.
“…Anything about it where you came from?” Corey asked Tyrell.
“One of the last news reports said the military was calling the virus Ansem's Death…”
Rebecca's heart sank in her chest, all this time she had almost forgotten about her late husband.
 "They should call it Zombie Death"
 "God, I never thought that word could be taken seriously..."
"I never thought I'd be living one of my favorite TV shows."
"Are you talking about The Walking Dead? I loved that show!" Jill squeaked. 
"Walking Dead had nothing on Dawn of the Dead." Chambers argued, "George Romero is the king of-"

“Never mind all that!” Quinn interrupted them, “Has anyone heard of a refugee camp or anything?”
“Last we heard they were taking people in over at the Meadowlands, that’s where we were going when ya’ll found us” Tyrell announced.
“We should go there!” Quinn suggested.
“You got to be out of your goddamn mind,” Atticus chimed in.
“Think about it... People are scared and stupid, they’ll go there even if they're bit. The military won’t be able to keep quarantine. It’s as good as overrun. We should do our best to avoid it.”

“Atticus is right,” Samuel agreed, “That’s why we need a place like a prison, no one will be there-”
“…Except the inmates.”
“Right, but they won’t be broadcasting it on the radios.”
“Marcus have you ever been to the prison?”
“…A couple of times after his trial. It’s right by the east coast, right off of I-95.”
“We’re on 95 right now.” Chambers pointed out.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’re going there” Samuel led the conversation.
“What about Baltimore and D.C.? We can’t go anywhere near there.”
“We go down the Jersey shore,” Chambers added, “There's a ferry in Cape May.”
“Why Florida? Why not one of the dozens of prisons we could find along the way?”
“For starters my brother is there. Also Florida is hot year round. These things seem to slow down in the heat.”
“Florida’s surrounded on water by three sides” Atticus added, “Marcus says the prison is on the east coast, which means with our backs to the ocean we will be able to focus on one front instead of four.”

“Wait a second, does anyone even know how to drive a ferry?” Tyrell countered.
“I’m a United States Air Force pilot that has captained the most advanced piece of equipment ever built,” Atticus comforted them, “There's no vehicle on this godforsaken rock I can't comandeer.”
“We have a pilot and an astrophysicist”
“It’s theoretical-”
“Whatever you are,” Chambers finished his thought, “including a doctor… we almost got a full deck. All we need is an engineer…”
“Actually... I'm an engineer” Tyrell admitted.
The fireside fell silent after that. They all just looked at Tyrell in awe. Engineers were one of the most precious commodities in post-apocalyptic America. Tyrell was the key to water, heat, and electricity. Most modern comforts run by factories and fossil fuels; computer systems beyond a common man’s realm of knowledge. Samuel was somebody who could learn all of that or eventually figure it out, but Tyrell was the real deal. Samuel looked over at Atticus. They both knew what happened next. Tyrell was as important as Rebecca now, an integral part of the plan.

“Nothing personal, man...” Corey said to break the ice, “but I think everybody here just assumed engineers were white.”
Everybody laughed at the awkward racial joke that Corey took a chance on. Samuel talked to them before going to sleep about the road ahead. He gave them both comfort and warning. He offered up crucial rules to go by like never wandering off alone, or setting rally points if they get split up. His most important law he first told them in latin, “Salus populi suprema lex esto” And told them it was an ancient quote from Cicero, “You might know it as the good of the many outweigh the good of the few.”

“What’s that got to do with zombies?”

“When danger inevitably comes for us, we have to be prepared to make hard choices for the wellbeing of the group, like leaving Frank behind in the cage or taking care of Ed. Remember this… nobody’s life is more important than the group’s safety. There will always be hope, as long as we still have each other.”

Samuel gave them some inspiring words to end the night on so they didn't all go to bed depressed. Samuel wanted everyone not to worry while they sleep. They would have to be focused and get an early start tomorrow, maybe even use the cover of night before dawn as a way to avoid being seen by any unwelcome visitors.

Monday, July 1, 2013 Keeping Your Demons at Bay

Nobody ever liked the Lincoln Tunnel, even before the apocalypse. The only thing more constant than traffic lining the lanes of both bounds was its everlasting appeal for frustration and torment. Now it was a last standing city monument of horror and death that they had just forced themselves halfway into the heart of with no means of escape. 

Samuel was worried. This was the first time he would have to think about surviving without Atticus. He was adapting yes, but part of him still relied on Atticus. Back at his house was different. He wanted to die, it was Atticus who brought him back. None of that mattered now. Just realizing he would have to deal with that when the time came was enough, because he knew Atticus wasn’t dead, not yet. It wouldn’t be that easy. Samuel got himself together and brought everyone else to action.

“Corey, get the dog and the girls in that car. Stay in there with them until the coast is clear.”
“I want to stay out here with you.” Rebecca grabbed Samuel’s arm.
“We can't afford to lose you. The world needs doctors more than ever, Rebecca. Go!” He pushed her away.
They locked themselves in the car and the guys surrounded it. 

“Protect the car at all costs.”

Samuel had his pistol. Marcus had the ax. Ed was now holding the machete Chambers was using before, and Chambers had his pistol out. It was a shiny silver Desert Eagle .50. Chambers Khan had the best weaponry Samuel had ever seen. It was impressive to say the least.
“Chambers don’t fire until we absolutely have to.”
“Trust me, boss, with one eye I'm not too sure about my aim anymore anyways...”

The zombie-cries and calls were simmering. Something was wiping them away, as though they weren’t even there. Two came out from the darkness. You could tell they were in the open light because the girls were screaming from inside the car. Marcus chopped one's head off and thrust the point on the back of the ax into the neck of the other one, snapping it like a nutcracker and breaking its skull to pieces.

Staggered footsteps come at them again. A light is shown on the next intruder, an exhausted Atticus. Marcus nearly took his head off before Samuel stopped him. He had blood all over him, blood that wasn't his, and he was panting heavily, dazed, like he had just woken up. 

The girls jumped out of the car and Rebecca raced over to him. They opened another vehicle. This time they chose a giant black SUV and brought Atticus to the backseat. They couldn’t go anywhere. But while Atticus rested and Rebecca examined him they would all be safe. As she carefully wiped away the wretched blood that was not his own, Rebecca took a hard gulp. Only Samuel could read her face.

As the rest of the group discussed their current situation, Samuel exchanged worried looks with Rebecca.

“He killed all of them?”Corey asked, petting Jackson's matted hair.
“How many do you think?”
“We’re going to find out when we keep going. We can’t be tripping over them on the floor, so once he’s awake he can lead us around them.”
 "What makes them different from the hundred of bodies we've had to trip on so far?" Ed pointed out.
"These might not be dead, and try to bite your ankle..."

A hair-raising notion.

They waited no longer than ten minutes before Atticus woke up, his head on Rebecca’s lap. Rebecca watched above him as he opened his eyes, realizing Atticus couldn't believe he was still alive. 
"What happened?"
"I don't know...I...I blacked out..."

Eventually he sat up, and they all got out of the truck. This time Atticus stayed back with Rebecca who was keeping a careful eye over him. Corey, Ed, Nora, Quinn, and Samuel watched the back while Marcus and Chambers took the lead with Jackson. Back in the truck, Chambers had fashioned the flashlight onto his bow with some duct tape and was now covering Marcus with his ax and little Jackson padding back and forth.

“How far do you think we are now, Doc?” Atticus paced.
“I’d say five more football fields to go.”
“We’re gonna make it!” Nora yelled enthusiastically.
Everyone cringed and Quinn judgmentally asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“You of all people should know to avoid jinxes, Nora” Ed yelled.
“Just keep going,” Atticus gasped for a breath, “There’s…no such things as…jinxes.”
“Slow down everyone,” Samuel held them up, “Atticus needs a second.”

They hunkered down for a five minute break and turned there flashlights all off, the most reluctant to do so was Nora. Even Jackson cried out when it went all black. There was nothing like pure darkness. That is to say, there was nothing more terrifying. They shared water and listened to the silence. In this moment of pure darkness they finally would be able to fully appreciate the gift of the sun (if they could make it out alive to see it again), and a beautiful sunny day; just as the zombie outbreak made them re-appreciate the freedoms and comforts of being a modern day human.

Once they were all recharged and Atticus felt like he could make the rest of the journey everyone got back into position and began the final stretch. The ground beneath their feet shook. A loud crash and a rush of air hit them. Something was off. It was no longer calm. Ahead of them screams and moans went off with car alarms and behind them moisture and wind filled the air.

“It’s a tidal” Chambers muttered to himself.
“What was that?” Marcus called out.
Samuel caught on immediately and told the rest of them, “RUN!"

Everyone ran for their lives. Samuel and Rebecca helped Atticus as everyone else rushed past them. They screamed out up ahead, “ZOMBIES!” 

It's never easy.

Nora ran ahead of the group in a frantic haste. As she turned around to watch the others fend for their lives she was grabbed. Nora tried to break free, and when her dress ripped at their clawing hands, she was able to slip out of it and get away, but quickly tripped over a broken railing and fell scraping her knee.

Ed caught up to his niece with the machete and cut the zombies down. More smelled her blood and surrounded them. Ed killed another clawing at her and lifted her up to her feet. Distracted with Nora his efforts to fend them off were lost. From his blindside a rotten old man came around Ed's neck and bit him right under his nose. Nora watched her uncle's face get peeled back by hungry teeth. Ed would have screamed in pain if their bites hadn't torn apart his vocal chords. Her screams were the ones that brought Samuel and Chambers to their rescue.

The gunshots were not as loud as they thought, not with the water closing in on them. They cleared a path to Ed and Nora. Amongst the dead zombies was Ed, moaning and clutching his face. Samuel fished through the rubble to find Nora. After pulling her out they found her practically naked yet unharmed, save the knee-scrape. 

"Somebody has to do something..." Quinn cried for Ed and Nora.

Samuel took off his suit jacket and put it around Nora while Chambers stepped forward to tend to Ed. His nose was gone, and a pile of blood spread beneath him. He was still clutching his head with his hands, but it was no longer in perseverance. Ed was eating his own arms. Nora gagged at the sight of it, and cried into Samuel's shoulder. The facts were clear, Ed was dead. After that realization Chambers had no trouble pulling the trigger and putting him out of his misery. Samuel practically carried Nora away while Atticus forced everyone to keep moving.

“There!” Marcus pointed, “There’s the light!”
They were finally at the end of the tunnel. Chambers and Atticus covered the group’s flanks as Corey ran ahead with Jackson to make sure the coast was clear. Marcus noticed the Welcome to New Jersey sign while escorting the girls, and Samuel still tended to Nora...utterly wrought with despair for her fallen uncle. 

"Here...sit...we're safe now..." Rebecca told Nora, everyone finally feeling the sun's grace on their shoulders and the relief of a journey's end. Everyone except Ed. The group took a collective exhale. The remaining tunnel zombies must have been swallowed up by the flooding tunnel.

Atticus found a maintenance closet at the end of the tunnel. He threw his body at the locked door, mustering all the energy he had left to open it. Everyone else rested and acted like they were in the clear. He was the only one who knew better. 

Atticus kept trying to knock the door down with his shoulder even though he was still not one-hundred percent, attracting everyone’s attention. Samuel was the first to put it together and rallied Chambers and Marcus over to help Atticus. Together they busted the door open, got everyone inside, and held it closed as the tidal wave came rushing out of the tunnel. 

The rapid waters flooded the highway and drained into Jersey. They waited in the dark closet and Atticus fell back asleep. Rebecca stayed by his side and rested his head on her shoulder. Samuel sat himself down next to them. "What's the matter?"

"I'm just worried, Sam, that's all, worried to death over whether or not he's gonna wake up with the fever."

"He wasn't bitten..."

"No, but when I was cleaning the blood off of him...he..." Rebecca unbuttoned the soldier's shirt to reveal what she was already saying, "he's got tiny scratches all over his body."