Sunday Archive: The Walkers, Part One
This was a “margin scribbling” while I was engrossed in my post-apocalypse novel during 2003. The same novel I constantly threaten to serialize on Fridays but have, as yet, failed to do. While working out problems with characters and situations, I’d pound out these little side story exercises, which is what inspired the below. Also — today’s my birthday. So go visit my Amazon Wishlist.
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Death. That should have been a familiar scent by now. Tanner’s lab reeked of it, and the cause was in the far corner. It was the first thing Anderson noticed. One of those goddamned monsters, nude body bruised, filthy and torn. It was chained to the wall, hissing and snarling through blackened, broken teeth with the eerie, clouded eyes that marked its kind following every movement in the room. The thing was a machine, a natural predator. It could take any of them – weasel-like Tanner, the blonde shrink who cowered in the farthest corner, the two brutes guarding the door, and the six Councilors grouped around Anderson. They were all dead in a heartbeat, before the brutes could even draw their guns, if that thing broke the chains.
Anderson didn’t even think of those things as human anymore but here, today, he had to train himself to do so. Dr. Tanner had made a promise. Still, though, how stupid was it to bring all seven elected Councilors into this room? The Colorado Republic would be in a shambles if they were forced to elections, especially now.
“Tanner,” Anderson hissed, “Can we get on with this?”
Tanner mumbled something, pushed his glasses up on his nose, then stepped within arm’s reach of the monster.
“Jesus Christ, Doc!” Young Bainbridge shouted. The people had elected a 25 year old whelp as their minister of health. Anderson didn’t blame them. It was his generation that had brought this horror upon the world, maybe the kids were smart enough to learn different lessons. Probably not. It’s never a question of age or intellect. It’s a question of land and power. Always has been, always will.
Even the monster looked confused. It could have taken Tanner’s head off but, instead, it stood there, stretched out at the full length of the wall chains, and cocked its head curiously at Tanner.
“It’s going to be okay,” Tanner soothed. He kept talking while, at his hip, he slowly raised a trank gun. There was a click-rush of air and a feathered dart blossomed out of the creature’s stomach. It howled, though that’s too human a word to use. The sound was an alien, belly-deep roar that made the younger Councilors step back and the two brutes step forward, guns drawn.
Then it happened. Murphy’s Law. Or was it Peter’s Principle? Anderson had forgotten which was which. Stranger still to be occupied by that pure, undisturbed thought as the creature pulled the chains out of the wall and rushed him. Maybe that’s how life ends. Inane thoughts dancing through a frozen mind as blackened teeth and clawed hands bear down on you.
“Don’t shoot it!” Tanner shouted.
Anderson spun away at the last moment and, rolling across a cart of medical supplies, he watched as that big Indian, Isaac, delivered a vicious blow to the creature’s head. The thing spun in the air and hit the ground with a wet thump. Isaac was six-six, arms like pistons, a Cherokee and the Republic’s minister of defense.
Tanner rushed to the creature’s side and placed a hand on its throat. Anderson’s eyes widened in surprise, then he composed himself and stepped forward.
“This is a disgusting error in your judgment, Tanner. I – “
“He’s still alive, good.” Tanner muttered. “Help me get him to the table! Quickly!”
Anderson was shaking, his brain still locked solid. He stood there, fists clenched, and watched as Isaac picked up the creature and dropped him onto the cold, metal autopsy table.
“Chains!” Bainbridge shouted to the two guards and they rushed forward, snapping the table’s chains on the creature’s wrists and ankles. The chains it had pulled from the wall still dangled, just above the new restraints.
“Tanner, I don’t – “
“Please, Councilor Anderson.” Tanner replied, “Just a moment, I beg you.”
“You’ve taken a moment, Tanner.” Anderson replied. “This thing shouldn’t even be within our borders. What are you – “
The creature howled again. It woke up, rattling against the chains, and began to buck violently on the table. The thing didn’t stop for air, it didn’t need to. A constant, ear-shattering scream stretching on for two minutes without a cough, without a rattle. As if the thing didn’t have lungs or throat or anything. It was maddening. It was a primal sound that flew through Anderson’s skull, building until he felt his breath coming up in a scream of his own, shutting down the lights, beating his heart, pulse racing, the bright lights on the periphery.
Then the howl changed. The creature coughed, the room abruptly silent. A silence that seemed almost as invasive as the inhuman scream. The creature coughed again, moaned, then began screaming – this time in the horse, shaking breath of a man. Clear eyes darted around the room and, just like that, a dirty, frightened, sick man lay on the table.
“Mother of God,” Melissa Jacobs muttered. She’d been elected as Councilor of employment and welfare.
Anderson turned to look at her wide-eyed, cherubic face, then looked again at the creature on the table.
It was trying to talk. Its mouth moved, a low whisper escaping cracked, pale grey lips.
“Tanner, what is this?” Anderson asked cautiously.
Tanner only looked at him, eyes wide with a fanatical joy.
“What… What?” the creature said.
Maybe if you pump these things full of Quaaludes, they could act like people again. He stepped closer to the creature. “Yes?”
“Who are you?” the thing asked.
Anderson looked into the clear eyes of the man on the table, then his guard fell. Tanner’s hands clutched his arm and, after a few seconds, he realized that the little doctor was holding him up. It took a bit longer to get himself under control to the point where he could brusquely push Tanner aside, then he lunged towards the man on the table.
The man jerked back, cracking his head against the metal. He said “Uh.” Uh! It was incredible. Uh! Such a silly little thing. A human reaction, a human sound, human pain!
“My God,” Anderson breathed, “Who are you?”
“Eric. Eric Baker.” The man replied, worriedly.
“Mr. Baker,” Anderson said, smiling. “I see. Mr. Baker, what is the last thing you remember?”
“We were running. The Walkers had broken through our defenses. We were taking the children out through the back…My God! My wife! Is she here?” Baker looked around, “Is this a hospital?”
“Tell me, Mr. Baker, what year is it?”
“Councilor,” the shrink said, stepping forward, “I don’t think – “
“Humor me, Mr. Baker. The year. Please?”
Anderson took a step back, shaking his head. Then he grabbed Tanner’s arm and dragged the little scientist over to the middle of the room where the Councilors and the blonde shrink were gathered.
“What the hell is this drug?”
Tanner, smiling queerly, told him. A homeopathic recipe. The goddamn cure was growing on the hillside. That did nothing but bring rage into Anderson’s heart.
Tanner shrugged, “I don’t know. I want to watch Mr. Baker and make sure. But I think it’s okay.”
“Can you reproduce this? In mass quantity?”
“It depends on the resources available, and it’ll take time. We should cultivate the required ingredients and – “
“How much of this do you have now?”
“Enough to dose quite a few Walkers. Most of the Northern camp, I imagine.”
The bloodthirsty Northern camp. They would come swooping down any day. Only about 1000 of them, but they could clean the Colorado Republic up in a week. It was just a matter of time before Humanity lost its foothold. Just a matter of time…
Anderson pointed at the Councilor in charge of food and water, “Zando, get a list of whatever Dr. Tanner needs. Turn over the greenhouses in the fourth quadrant to cultivate the plants for the cure. Drop everybody to three-fourth rations. Isaac, get a team together. Let’s work out a plan to hit the Northern camp and dose the Walkers up there.”
“What the hell is happening?” Baker cried out from the table.
“Everyone, listen up.” Anderson barked, “Everybody in the Republic has loved ones out there, or believe that they do. If it looks like this stuff is the real deal, then we’ll mass produce it. Until then, nothing that’s happened here today is to leave this room. We’ll have a riot on our hands if this leaks.”
Anderson stepped up to the table, “Mr. Baker, the year is 2015. You didn’t make it. The Walkers got you. You were infected. You’ve been treated with a new drug, and I must ask you to cooperate with Dr. Tanner here. He has to monitor you for side effects but, if nothing shows up, then we have a cure on our hands.”
“2015? That’s impossible…I’m… My wife?”
“Mr. Baker, where are you from?”
“This is Denver, Mr. Baker. You’ve been running with the Northern camp. The world as you know it has changed dramatically. The last survivors of the United States have built three communities. One on the East Coast, the Pacific Union in California, and our own here in Denver. We’ve not heard from the East Coast for three years, and no messenger has returned. We can only assume that they, too, have fallen.”
“Pacific Union? Like the railroad?”
Anderson smiled, “Yes, Mr. Baker. But there’s no railroad now. The Walkers are a serious force, and they rule every patch of what’s become a wilderness.”
“Four years.” Baker shook his head. He looked up at Anderson. “So we lost?”
Anderson nodded, speaking softly, “Yes. Yes, we did.”
“Can I get these chains off?”
Anderson nodded at the guards, who began to unlock the chains.
“You can do whatever you gotta do, Doc.” Baker said to Tanner, “We gotta make this work.”
“Thank you, Mr. Baker.” Anderson felt himself breathing again. When had he stopped? A few minutes ago? Four years ago?