Sunday, June 1, 2008

Chapter 22 - Straggler

June 14th, 2008
Rear Apartment Alley

The night air was warm and wildlife could faintly be heard in the distance. The dominant noise, however, was the irregular moans and shuffles of zombies, close by. Accompanying such sounds was a horrible stink which hung on the humid breezes.

Standing in the dark alley, the Fools stared expectantly at their leader. He took one deep breath and began speaking in soft voice.

"Everybody pay attention. We're gonna take this one step at a time, and work as a team. Our first landmark is the greenhouses. That's two full blocks directly west of here, running parallel to Harrison Street. We'll stay off Harrison for now, cutting through backyards and parking lots. You guys know I've lived here for two years, and I know the entire area really well, so stick close to me.

"I need you all to be my eyes and ears. I'm gonna concentrate on navigating and trying to avoid what I can, but I can't watch all around. Don't yell. Just tell me what you see, and work together. If I hold up my fist, that's me telling you all to hold. For now, melee weapons unless the shit hits the fan. I'm gonna try to keep a brisk walking pace, so we don't tire out or make too much noise. Don't let yourself get behind - just tell me to slow up, okay?"

The group nodded. "Good," he said. "Now follow me."

T.Rex walked a half dozen steps along the backside of the apartment, staring intently at a row of shrubs that lined a wooden fence. The foliage looked uniform in the darkness. He paused a moment before shoving one aside, revealing a large gap in the lower portion of the fence. Ducking, he scooted through and glanced around the clearing on the other side, waiting for Peace to follow. Then Cowboy. Then Kamikaze, Angel Hair, Rubble, and finally Beard.

Ryan hoped by keeping the group focused on a single goal at a time, they would avoid worrying about the larger picture. They huddled against the aluminum siding of the apartment complex directly behind their former fortress and waited as T.Rex stared down South Grant Street.

Nobody moved as he stood, immobile. Skirting through the bushes was one thing, but they were about to poke a hornet's nest. He now could see down the entire block and saw a number of shadowy figures, some just yards away. Sprinting was sure to draw their attention, but they had to cross somehow, and dragging it out surely wouldn't help either. Looking across, there were two large buildings straddling a largely empty gravel lot. There was a rustle in the bushes nearby, and he started to get nervous.

He contemplated running directly through the lot, or perhaps trying to hug the walls of the complex. The left one has more shadows, which could hold more zeds, he debated. And the cars don't look moved at all, so they're not likely to hold any trapped people. The right building is bigger, though, so it probably has more people. There was more rustling, and Ryan began to perspire. Maybe it would be better if we moved north a bit, he argued to himself. There may be a better place to cross, even though we'd be moving closer to campus. No, better to stick to the plan and-

"T.Rex!" Kamikaze hissed. Ryan snapped out his mental debate and realized the group was waiting on him. "On three!" he impulsively whispered to the group.

"One. Two. Three!" He sprinted a few steps excitedly before calming down long enough to slow his pace. The group followed in a staggered line, clutching their weapons tightly and constantly turning their heads in all directions. T.Rex stepped off the sidewalk and onto the pavement, nearly stumbling over a sewer grate in a nervous concentration. Staring directly across, he aimed for a spot in the gravel lot close to the right building and refused to think about the number of creatures that were undoubtedly stalking them now. They were committed.

Ryan reached the other side, and stopped at the bumper of a blue pickup truck. He squatted near the right rear tire and peeked around, holding his fist above his head. The rest of the Fools were no more than a few steps behind and squatted in a line against the car to his left.

T.Rex's pulse was racing, and they hadn't even engaged a single foe yet. They haven't even gone more than a few hundred feet. Gravel crunched as three zombies shuffled towards them from the other side of the truck, with no doubt in anyone's mind that more were closing in. There was no time to carefully debate which exact direction they would run to anymore, as precious seconds drifted away.

This is war, T.Rex told himself. We have to get going, because just sitting here is gonna get us all killed as every zed in the county converges on us. "Let's move!" he whispered back as he stood and rounded the fender of the truck.

He nearly ran straight into a zombie. An overweight figure, with wild eyes and blood dripping from its mouth. As Ryan's head turned from giving the command to follow, he saw the creature out of the corner of his eye. He cried out in surprise, and started swing his crowbar wildly. The outstretched arms of the zombie were batted away by the panicked movement.

Peace, who had seen the entire exchange happen from a few feet away, was on the move. He grabbed Ryan's upper forearm with his left hand and held it down, to stop the frantic swinging crowbar. With his right, Peace swung his hatchet in a horizontal sweep and buried it just behind the left ear of Ryan's attacker.

The zombie groaned, and slumped to the ground. Ryan looked at the fallen body, and then Peace. Then back to the zombie, then back to Peace. "Thanks," Ryan sputtered. "Thank you. I didn't...thanks. I just..."

Peace removed the hatchet and pointed west.
"Welcome. Let's go."

T.Rex looked back and saw the others had taken down two other zombies, one male and one petite girl. Cowboy's bat was smeared in blood, and Angel Hair's sharpened pool cue had a black ooze on the end. Everybody was panting. He hadn't even noticed the others were fighting in the confusion of his own attack, and hoped nobody had seen his embarrassing exchange. "Keep moving!" he whispered, as two more figures stumbled around the corner of the nearest house.

They took off at a slight jog, moving across the open parking lot and weaving around a red sedan. Beard, covering their rear, confronted a zed that was closing in on the group. It lunged for him, and he kicked squarely in the sternum, knocking it backward. He increased his speed to catch up with the group.

Pausing near a small garden shed, The Fools collected at the far end of the parking lot. T.Rex looked around, trying quickly to find the best place to cross. His hands were shaking, and sweat began to bead on his forehead.

Just then, the doors of the shed burst open, startling the Fools as two zombies shuffled out. Inside, a freshly mutilated corpse laid on a sack of fertilizer, gripping a shovel. Its torso and skull were torn open, exposing organs. Blood was splattered all over the white walls. The zombies, still chewing, reached for the Fools nearby.

Rubble stood and yelled, swinging the thicker end of his pool cue with full force at the closest zed. There was a wet thwack as the pole connected with the skull, and the zed crumpled against the door. He paused, then quickly spun the cue vertically and brought the base down onto the second one, a glancing blow that nonetheless sent it to the ground.

The entire group stared in awe as Rubble nodded at his handiwork, then turned around. He shrugged, and Ryan called once more to move out.

As the parking lot ended, Sheetz Street came into view, as did more zombies. A small group of zeds noticed, moaning as they started towards the Fools. "Shit!" Ryan called out, and increased his pace. T.Rex led the group towards an apartment complex on the other side of the street that had open air staircases.

The zombies stumbled after them, blindly following the Fools through the gap in the apartment architecture. This achieved Ryan's intended effect of funneling the zeds together behind them, slowing the attack by taking advantage of their simple minds. With an extra burst of speed, the Fools ran away and paused behind yet another building.

"Everybody okay?" T.Rex whispered back, slightly out of breath. All five nodded back, and he snuck forward to peer around the corner of the building in front of them. "I can see the greenhouses, guys!" he whispered back, excitedly.

Wait, he thought. All five? Rubble and Angel Hair, one and two. Kamikaze and Cowboy, three and four. Peace and...

"Where the hell is Beard?" he whispered back to the group.

Current Word Count: 28,903


  1. Steven "A.H." SaltsmanJune 1, 2008 at 5:11 PM

    “They were committed.

    Ryan reached the other side, and stopped at the bumper of blue pickup truck.”
    “He cried out in surprise, and swing his crowbar wildly.”

    Ya, 5...I saw your game.

    The other day we found a large/long iron railroad bolt covered in rust, and my first thought was, "Ya, I'd be willing to use that during the invasion."

    I forgot that I was using a sharpened pool cue, and rereading that fact made me happy.


  2. boo yah.

    more action the better.

    i'm betting beard is toast.

  3. @ Mike

    Clearly I'm biased (I'm the friggin author), but Beard is more or less the Foolish Mace Windu. It's gonna take more than that to slow this guy down.