Mar clutched at herself. She weeped until no tears were left. Her mouth felt like she had been eating dirt. The few rags of clothes that hadn’t been torn off her did little to keep her warm. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt cold, but for some reason the dark square into which she found herself imprisoned had a dank chill.
Footsteps could be heard and she wished she had something to cling to—some hope that they wouldn’t be coming to her cell. With her finger she traced words into the dust.
Abandoned Yee All Hope Who Enter…
She never got to finish. The steps had stopped outside of her cell. She traced a quick symbol of a lightning bolt as her door opened. A heavy boot crushed the drawing two seconds later. Instead of looking up, she looked down. A pair polished black shoes, which looked like they were fresh off the rack, had disturbed her writing. It now said Abandon Hope.
Her gaze traveled up and took in the face of a wizened man. Tall, yet impossibility thin, the man dominated the room to the point where the two guards with him were barely noticed. Mar crouched back, her eyes refusing to leave the man’s glare. Something looked wrong with his face, like a man with some kind of disease or had perhaps aged prematurely. Wrinkles the width of her fingers hung in loose sacks. Like flaccid waves of flesh, they crossed every inch of his face.
She tried to cover her gasp with her filthy hands, but couldn’t quite pull it off.
He smiled, while his grey eyes bored into hers. “What is your name, lost child?” When she words wouldn’t come, he spoke again. “Come now, you haven’t degenerated to the point where you can no longer speak, have you?”
“I’m Mar.” She whispered slowly, as her eyes found the floor.
“Strange name, but now at least we are getting somewhere.” He pressed his spidery ivory fingers against his own chest. “I am Father Lynn. I am the leader of these good decent folk. Welcome to Alltown, the only true,” as if noticing the words on the floor for the first time, his left foot ground them back into the dust, “Hope that the people of God’s world have.”
“People think that God is punishing us, but this is wrong.” His clawish hand grabbed her chin painfully and forced her eyes back up to his. “Are you listening whelp? God is not punishing us, he is testing us! Giving us a chance to once and for all purge these lands of evil. Why are the dead walking, because each of them is filled with sin. Everyone was living in sin and our only chance is to purge ourselves and purge the world!”
Releasing her chin, he resumed his full height. “Now, little Mar, I’m going to bless you with the opportunity to confess your sins. How long has it been since your last confession?”
I’m a pagan you prick, was what she wanted to say, but instead she said, “I can’t remember.”
“Tell me your sins.”
The room hushed. In the distance she heard the slow drip of water. Looking up at him, her eyes turned dark in the shadows. “I had promised that I would kill myself before I allowed anyone to rape me again and I didn’t do it. I hate myself for that.”
“That is no sin. You are a fool.” Suddenly his hand lashed out and grabbed a handful of her hair and she screamed. “I’ll tell you your sins, little whore. Sleeping with a man, a black man no less, out of wedlock. We could start there, which in my camp is enough to send you over the walls into the hungry hands of Satan that lurk below.”
She grabbed at his wrists, but he slapped her down. She began to thrash despite the pain this caused her scalp. She screamed up at him, “Then kill your men who raped me, because we certainly weren’t fucking married!”
He released her. Mar crumpled into a ball as his laughter filled the room. “That’s where you are wrong. Those rules only apply to real humans. Which you are far from. If I kill you, you will walk. My flock and I will not for we are blessed and pure. Nothing you do can soil us.”
“What are you going to do to me?”
“I’m not finished assessing your group yet. Tell me who are they biggest sinners amongst you? What have you seen the others do? It will go easier on you if you confess their sins as well.”
He turned on his heel. “Give her the mark of Cain and then enjoy her as you will.”
A strange odor filled the room and then she saw a third man enter. This one wore a black cloth that covered his face and held a glowing cattle branding tool. A symbol had been created looking like three sixes with their bases touching.
“Wait! No! Please!”
“Oh this will just feel like a pinprick compared to what we’re going to do to you, girl.”
She was screaming before they even touched her
Haeds stumbled down the dusty gore splattered dirt road. He mumbled to himself as he hurried his thrashed body along. “How dare they? How dare they? At least I’m finally free of those fucking peasants, but I’ve been beaten, mutilated and shot. Fine way for them to treat the Emperor of the Dead.”
“I’m glad most of the people of this world are dead. It seems to me that if anything there are too many breathers alive.”
Once he reached the ranch, Haeds hurried to the three remaining vehicles. Before he had moved within twenty feet he began cursing. “They took the damn batteries! I bet it was that kid too. I almost hate him worse that that bastard who cut off my two fingers!”
“Argh!” Haeds grew more furious than he could control and kicked over supplies and threw rocks through a couple of windows.
“Okay, okay. I gotta be smart. They might find a way back here. I’m hurt really bad.” After kicking down the door to the main house, he searched around until he found a tie shirt to bandage his arm. It appeared that the bullet had passed through, which had to be good, but he felt light headed and sick. A little water helped him feel better, but not as much as pissing all over someone’s office desk.
He grabbed up the biggest canteen he could find and some dried meat. He dumped the rest of the water in the kitchen on the remainder of the food he could find. “Wait, what am I doing, I should just burn this place to the ground.” He paused. “No, they could have collected some valuable gear. I’ll come back later and search.”
“My own queen shot me. They must have done something. Made her do it.”
He found a backpack, tossed his supplies into it. On the way out he saw a big axe. “Maybe I’ll chop some thing off of them.”
Soon he had headed out the door and back toReddington Pass Road. It would be a very long walk back to San Miguel. He looked around and thought he saw something moving in the desert. He shielded his eyes from the setting sun. “Probably a stray zombie.”
He started down the road. Once he thought he heard a noise like a dislodged rock might make. Looking, he caught a flash of black. Hurrying his pace as fast as his injured body would allow, Haeds headed back to the place he called his kingdom.
“Sons of bitches, Sons of bitches,” Sheriff Dells repeated like a mantra. He looked through the loose pile of firearms until he dug up an M-4. He checked the weapon while Devon just tried to catch his breath. Below them the moans of the dead rose in volume as over two hundred walking corpses forced their way into the high school library.
As the rest of them focused on reloading and organizing the pile, Dells rushed to the edge of the second floor and opened up on the undead below. The shots echoed loudly and the other three watched as he emptied two clips into their masses. When Dells briefly paused to ram a third magazine home, Fosters hurried to speak up. “I assume there’s some sort of plan that involves more than shooting our way out of here.”
“Hell, this was just supposed to be a scouting mission,” Devon said. “I never thought we’d get in this deep.”
“If what you say about Haeds being captured is true, I’m glad you came when you did. It wouldn’t have been any easier for us to get out of here if we were half-starved. Shit, we’re already half-starved.”
“Shut the hell up!” Dells ordered, “And help me waste these pukes.”
Foster moved in closer to Devon and Emily. “The sheriff and Becca had a thing going.”
Emily tiffed, while she threw a backpack brimming with ammunition over her shoulder. “Yeah, I think we figured that out.”
“What are you waiting for?” Dells called out. “With this ammo, we can clean out the whole town and then take our leisure getting our revenge on Becca’s crazy freak of a brother.”
Devon waited until the magazine went empty again, then said, “Leisure is the one thing we don’t have. Whether Haeds is captured or not, there are still four hundred Walkers heading toward our friends and her brother. They’re going to need help—they probably already do. And these guns are that help. You and Fosters are that help. I’m sorry about Becca, but there’re people we care about that we still need to save.”
Dells slammed a new magazine, but didn’t fire. “Sounds like we’re going to need a vehicle. Ann told me that Haeds has a bunch of vehicles parked outside the school.”
Emily looked out the window. “Every Walker in this shit hole is converging on the high school. I love my bro, but we need to think this through before we lose our high ground. With that ramp taken out this is probably the safest place in town. Devon…” she looked at her boots for a moment, “I hate to disagree with you, but I think Dells might be right. There’s a lot of ammo and less than a thousand Walkers left here. It we can all just calm down and pick our shots, this city could be ours.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Fosters said. “We have been living off the corpse of this mining town for years. Not much left, at least not in the ways of food.”
“There are other things we need more,” Devon said. Turning toward Emily, he smiled. “When it comes to the matter of sharp shooting, I bow to my expert. If it will help us in the long run, what’s a few hours making at least one place in Arizona Walker free.”
Emily blushed a little. “Now get rid of those pistols Devon. You need something like this M-4. It’s nice that there are a few of these and a lot of magazines.”
Soon they had each picked a spot and became snipers. Unlike any other war the earth had known, their foes didn’t shoot back. With the ramp destroyed, the breathers couldn’t be reached. Only two minutes went by before Devon went off into a side room, he came back with an old sponge that he tore up to equip them with make-shift ear plugs.
Minutes grew into hours. They had to switch guns several times when the ones they used overheated. The carnage below was horrible. The library had become a horrid soup of death. Four inches of pooling rotten body parts filled the lower level from wall to wall.
Outside was nearly as bad. Zombies covered every foot of ground and pavement with their decayed, but finally unmoving bodies. The smell proved enough to almost rob him of his scenes, but Dells and Fosters seemed less affected and threw themselves into the task.
Two hours later, nothing moved. They traveled over the roof and dropped down to an area free of rotting bodies. A few stray zombies lingered every few dozen yards, but with their firepower they were mowed down easily.
Dawn painted the eastern sky purple as the big hummer roared to life. Soon they drove east to meet the rising sun, but Devon just wished he knew what else he might find.