Authors: Nathan Kingsley
LEFT FOR DEAD
Copyright Nathan Kingsley 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any form, including digital, electronic, or mechanical, to include photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the author(s), except for brief quotes used in reviews. This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places, and incidents are products of imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
They left me, just like that, for dead.
Sherill, Marcus, and Kevin.
They didn't know what else to do, I know, but I may not forgive them. If I ever find them, I'll go right up to them and say, “You see? They didn't kill me. They didn't infect me. And you left me like garbage, like I was nobody and nothing to you.”
It was five-fifteen in the evening and we'd just left the city. We'd scored supplies, enough to last us a week. I carried the water, two gallons stuffed into a huge cotton bag and hoisted over my shoulder. We'd have to get more water, but the others carried food. Tins of sardines, tuna, salmon. Cans of fruit and beans and soup.
The dead came out of the swamps outside of Houma, Louisiana and swarmed over us like ants on sugar. Sherill dropped everything at once and ran. We had told her to do that. She was much too little to fight off a hungry zombie. Marcus and Kevin and I stood to fight. We slashed our way through a dozen of the cadavers and I was gagging uncontrollably, the scent something I could never get used to no matter how many of these dead came out into the open. When the dozen were done for and lying about like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the wild pigs came out of the swampy woods to snuffle and eat.
I threw up, right there. Kevin said, “Hang on, Craig. Grab the water, we have to get going.”
Then the real gang showed up. At least thirty of them, walking crooked and awkward, mouths hanging open on bloody gums and teeth, eyes as white and unseeing as summer clouds. They could hear, they could smell, and they wanted to eat. Their instincts were finely honed to hunt warm meat no matter who it belonged to, man or animal.
We fought into the dark, screaming in frustration and fear. I thought I heard Kevin command us to run, but I wasn't sure and besides, one of the dead had gotten the drop on me and had me down on the ground fighting for my life.
Once I had him off and had beaten his skull into splinters, I saw the dead were truly dead, or they'd faded back into the murky swamps to reconnoiter. It seemed to us the dead were gaining in thought processes and growing cunning. The very idea was terrifying. It was hard enough to fight off a horde of idiots. If they could actually learn to
I was alone with broken and seeping bodies, a graveyard of the infected dead, and I didn't see Kevin or Marcus anywhere.
I called for them. I screamed. The night was steadfast on me and my imagination ran wild. I felt the pieces of the real dead lying on the ground leaking gore, but moving, moving stealthily, pulling themselves together, reaching for lost heads, for feet and hands.
The images wouldn't end. I knew I was imagining it, but I couldn't shake the idea they were moving. I sprinted out of the bodies, leaping over them like a frightened dog, and ran as hard and as fast down the road as I could go. All the while I looked for my friends. The friends who had left me on my own, left me behind for dead.
No, I couldn't forgive them for that.
Take that time in New Orleans when the dead got to us on the roof and we needed to go down the fire escape. Who held the fire door against them until the others descended? Who took the chance of getting caught? It was me, that's who.
Well, I was through being the hero.
I wouldn't risk myself for anyone again. If even your best friends, your friends from grade school, were willing to leave you behind, then you couldn't trust anyone.
That's why I was so surly with Naddy. She popped up from a trash barrel sitting near the street in a small empty town and I almost shot her head off. I had the shotgun pumped and my finger on the trigger.
“Whoa, cowboy!” she yelled, crawling out one long leg at a time and standing before me barefooted in her blue jeans and halter, her breasts spilling out all over.
“You shouldn't be scaring people like that, you'll get yourself killed,” I said.
“Only cowboys shoot without thinking.” She shook her tumbling red hair and pulled it on top of her head before pushing a ball cap down over it. “So where you headed?”
I thought that might be the question of the year. Where was I going? Where were any of us going? The infection had spread so far inland from the East Coast I'd heard it was just now taking over California and Oregon and Washington state. Where were we heading, indeed?
“I don't know,” I mumbled.
“I've got kin in Texas.” She joined me in the street and taking my elbow, got me walking alongside her.
“Are they infected?”
“I won't know until I get there, will I? It's not like the phone companies are working. Do you miss them?”
“Cell phones. I had an iPhone and it was like my lifeline. When it stopped working that's when I knew the world had ended, really ended.”
I ignored her prattling. Iphones. She was just a silly woman and I wished I'd never met her, even if her breasts were truly astounding.
That night we stayed together in a farmhouse in an open field. Around midnight it began to rain, the drops striking the windows like fingers tapping. I even checked to be sure we hadn't been followed and the dead waited outside.
“You're jumpy. What's your name? I'm Naddy, that's short for Nadine.”
“That's an old name. I don't think I've ever known a Craig.”
“It's not an old name at all.”
“What makes you so all-fired hateful?” She rested her head on her hands and stared at me. She was right, I had felt foul for days.
“My friends left me back outside of Houma. They just...left me.”
“Why'd they do that?”
“I guess they thought I was going to be dead meat and took off. I'd known them since I was eleven years old.”
“That's a big suck,” she said. “My dad left me.”
Surprised, I looked at her. She didn't look so sad as perplexed. “Your own father left you?”
She nodded, sitting up straight on the old sofa left in the otherwise bare room. “Middle of the night, four months ago. While I was sleeping.”
“Maybe...maybe he wandered out and got taken away.”
“No, I found his footprints and there weren't any others beside them. He went alone. On down they road, as everyone says today. On down the road.”
Now I felt sorry I'd been so surly with Naddy. It was one hell of a difference being left behind by your friends and being left behind by your dad.
I pulled a tin of sardines from my backpack and we sat together on the sofa and shared it. Even my fingers smelled of fish. “I wish I could wash up,” I said. “I feel like dirt is caked on my skin. We haven't slowed down since leaving North Carolina.”
“You don't look so bad,” she said. “Come over here.”
She lay back on the sofa and patted her large chest. I lay my head down, too weary to do otherwise, her breasts soft and pillowy, and sleep took me like a wolf takes a sheep.
* * *
I woke with my face squished between Naddy's ample breasts, slobber leaking from the corner of my mouth. Some sound woke me. A scratching sound.
I sat up, wiping off my mouth, embarrassed I'd gotten saliva all over the girl. She was awake, staring at me.
“I heard something,” I said. “We need to get out of here.”
She didn't need prodding. We heard the odd scratching sound again, nails on wood, and she was up, swinging her bag over her shoulder, taking out a sledge hammer to swing in her right hand.
I pulled out my machete. It was hard to come by guns and guns were the least effective on zombies anyway. You had to fight them up close and personal, in the face, eye to eye. The trick was not to let them get a bite in. If you were bitten you didn't always change over, but half the time you did. It wasn't worth the risk. We always kept our eyes on the mouths.
“I think there's some of them out there.” I got to the closed front door and put my ear against it to listen.
Maddy was at the window, looking out from behind ragged curtains.
Out of the blue Maddy said, “My birthday's tomorrow.”
I looked over at her. Such a slight girl to be so well endowed, short and waifish. Her hair was brilliant red, but kept hidden beneath the cap. “I don't think we can find you a birthday cake.”
The scratching came again, a methodical dull sound and it came from the wall nearest the sofa.
“Come on, let's roll.” I opened the door, my machete raised and didn't see any of the dead. “Hurry.”
Maddy was at my back and we scooted from the house, down the short walkway and into the street. We turned to look back and saw them. The monsters lined the whole side of the house, scratching at the walls.
“God, they're so stupid.” I pulled Maddy with me and we hurried along the street out of town.
“We're lucky they're stupid. If they ever get smart that's when we're in real trouble.”
“I want to get to the mountains,” I said.
“The Rockies. In Colorado. I think there might be fewer of these creatures there.”
“Maybe for a while.”
“That would be better than this daily war.”
“It's a long way to Colorado,” she said.
“I figure I can rig a truck to run.”
“And we could find some gasoline...” she admitted.
I turned to glance at her. “So you want to come with me?”
“I don't mind if I do.”
“We'll celebrate your birthday tomorrow. I'll find a way. How old will you be?”
“You don't look eighteen.”
She preened, her smile genuine, the first smile I'd seen in a long time. It made me feel great. I'd have to find her a present. At thirty, I wasn't so old I didn't remember what it was like to have a birthday party.
* * *
Beaumont, Texas was being held together by barbed wire and shotguns. The whole place was surrounded by guards and gates. We had to approach with our hands held high. Once they saw our eyes, they let us get near. “Where you headed?” He was a guard wearing a uniform and carrying a clipboard. There was a holster with a sidearm clipped to his waist.
The guard eyed me and Maddy. “You'll never make it.”
“Why? Is it bad up ahead?”
“Let's just say Houston's a goner.”
“It's been taken over? Completely?” The register of my voice rose. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't heard that any of the larger cities had been invaded.
“If I'm lying, I'm dying.” He checked something on his clipboard and waved us through. A corridor along Interstate 10 had been cleared for walkers. That's what we were, Walkers. We were the people who had given up on towns and cities and taken to the road. Usually we got a lot of respect for that. Some stay-at-home folks envied us and the greeting was usually, “Are you really going out there?”