Sunday Archive: The Walkers, Part Three
Selano had seen his share of Walkers up close. Clothes hanging in tatters, if they had any at all. Hair grown wild, nails and teeth broken. They were like stone age men, but without the resourcefulness. The Walkers didn’t settle down and farm…they hunted humans and animals and lived off of that, traveling from place to place. The eggheads were surprised that they had even managed to come together and create a tribal structure. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like waking up after five years or longer into a body like that.
At Pueblo, Selano turned onto US 50. The federal route had been cleared in patches, but it wasn’t safe to any degree. The old two-lane blacktop, when it wasn’t eaten up by the Interstates, had rotted in the last few years. Rain and weather had filled it full of holes and, as you passed through the wilderness, it was stacked with dead cars. With the Walkers holding the crossroads in Albuquerque and all the mountain passes along 70, there was no other way west. Selano wondered if the back roads would claim them before the Walkers even had a chance to mess them up, though.
Leaving Pueblo behind, 50 began the climb to the Continental Divide. The mountains began to close in ahead and to each side, the land breathtaking. It was breathtaking in the old world but, now, without the cruel hand of Humanity upon it for years, it had become pristine. The towns they passed were dead, the Arkansas River coming up to join them after a few hours. This was a land of clean air in the old world, now it felt like it had become a part of the sky. Selano rode with his window down, letting the crisp air wash around him, lift him up, keep him awake.
By the time they got over the mountains and began the descent, the sun was down and a chilly evening followed them. Selano stopped in Montrose, still well over a mile high, and breathed the air for a few minutes. The Country Lodge sat alongside the main road, and he pulled over to the shoulder, facing west.
“We’ll sit out the night here,” he said.
“I can drive.” Isaac said.
“You don’t want to be messing around this road at night. Walkers, washouts, potholes, abandoned cars. All things that like to jump out of the dark.”
They took adjoining rooms at the abandoned Country Lodge. The place smelled of mildew and dust covered every surface. It was strange to be in a hotel this bad off. With the Walkers around, no sane person explored the countryside. The whole world was untouched, unlooted, left to quietly fall in on itself. Selano hated to see the decay. It seemed so lonely, all these poor, dusty buildings.
He brushed the dirt off of the bed and lay down, fully clothed, looking past his boots at the dead TV screen. No power out here. Nothing to watch, anyway. Nothing to do but listen to the quiet night, the sounds of the town rotting. Were they the first humans to come through in a long time? Probably. You didn’t travel too far from the community unless you had a small army with you, or unless you were a runner. Selano knew there were quite a few runners who specialized in items that weren’t considered acceptable by society’s standards. They couldn’t get past the old checkpoints along the Interstate route, back when they were operational and, certainly, they couldn’t get through the Walkers… But, somehow, they always made it. If you wanted something to snort up your nose, shoot in your veins, or wash down with whiskey you could find it. The black market must have come through the deserts and the byways, and those guys would shoot first. Hell, Selano would shoot first out here. He’d shoot first at a van full of nuns. He wished he had some of that black market wisdom, though. What secret route did those boys use?
Sometime around 3am, Selano heard noises that didn’t belong to the night. Animals, probably, but he still went out into the hallway with his shotgun and paced between the two windows at each end. One opened to an alley, the other opened onto US 50, where he could see the truck. When the animal sounds or the wind or whatever it was stopped, he hauled one of the cushioned hotel chairs to the window looking out on his truck and sat down, shotgun across his lap, watching the night.
It’d been years, but he would never get used to empty roads, quiet cities, and lonely nights. No lights on the horizon, no planes in the air. As much as people got under his skin, he couldn’t help but think that not even he belonged in this world without the soft bubble of civilization. No, not at all. This was not Man’s world.
The sunlight woke him up again. He didn’t remember falling asleep, and it was dangerous to get lazy like that out here.
“You been here all night?” Isaac asked from the doorway to his room.
Selano coughed and stood up, “You hear anything last night?”
“You’ve gotta be sharper than that out here, chief.”
“Don’t lecture me, Selano. Can we make Union territory by nightfall?”
“We’ll go up to Grand Junction and get on I-70, then drop down I-15. If the roads are clear, we can make Vegas by tonight. Cept the roads probably aren’t clear.”
“We’ll make time on the interstate,” Isaac said, “We’ve cleared the junk from most of 70, and the Union cleared 15.”
“That’s not what I meant by clear.”
I-70 had been the old route to the Pacific Union until the Mountain tribe had settled in. For Walkers, they were pretty sedate. They held the interstate from Glenwood Springs to the Eisenhower Tunnel 50 miles out of Denver. The Union had gotten the shit kicked out of their runners along I-15 in Utah and had finally given up, taking the route through Albuquerque. The first step towards the Union and the Republic moving further apart, getting cut off. Just like with the East Coast. It sure as hell felt planned to Selano, no matter what the eggheads said. The tribes were working together. Split up the communities, then quietly pick them apart. That’s what was happening to the Colorado Republic. The Northern camp were pressing in above Cheyenne, the Mountain camp 50 miles from the city, Kansas City fell years ago and there were reports of Walkers raiding across the Colorado border. Now they held Albuquerque. The Republic was an island.
Breakfast was rations in the truck. No time to forage for anything fancy in Montrose, Selano wanted to get as close to Union territory as possible before sunset. The Interstates were held by the Walkers, and some of the Union’s best runners were taken out on the stretch of road they’d be hitting later that day. The Mountain camp was huge, a tribe of 10,000. Why they hadn’t bothered Denver, nobody knew, but Selano was sure they’d take the time to knock hell out of a crazy runner blasting into Grand Junction.
US 50 was pretty clear between Montrose and Delta. Selano covered the distance in half an hour and then he was on the pock-marked, rippling final stretch to Grand Junction. The world was empty up here, flat country, a mile high on a little plateau. This was the big country, and real country, too. There were no more ranches or houses along this stretch of road.
The weather had taken a serious toll on the road, though, and there were a few spots where Selano had to navigate the truck over rubble. It slowed them down and, each time he crawled through a section of road in low gear, he cursed repeatedly under his breath. Isaac kept silent the entire way, letting Selano deal with his own driving demons.
When they finally hit Grand Junction, it wasn’t a relief for either of them. Selano weaved through the city, climbed the interstate, and hissed through his teeth as he opened up on the cleared road. He kept an eye on every mirror and he felt like his head was about to spin off.
“No Walkers, Selano, take it easy.”
Selano cut a glance at Isaac, then pounded the gas and took off down the highway, a spray of rocks and trash flying out on all sides. Then he saw it ahead – the roadblock. A line of military vehicles stretched across the interstate. He braked, the truck stopping about 300 yards from the roadblock, and then sat there, staring ahead.
“Well?” Isaac asked, holding his rifle and glaring at Selano.
“Turn around, I guess. Where are the Walkers?”
“That’s what I was asking.”
“Oh.” Selano scanned the horizon, “I don’t know.” Then he saw Isaac’s rifle. “Is that a trank gun?”
“Could you, maybe, trade that for one of the pretty machine guns in the back?”
“This is more effective if they come at us in force.”
“You’ve got, what, six shots, right?”
“It’s more effective. They’re scared of the cure.”
“They know about it?”
“The Northern camp does.”
“I’m turning around. We’ll go down 141, though that’ll be a nightmare. Half that road’s probably gone. We could always head back. This shit would make a lot more sense if we had some backup.”
“Denver can’t afford to lose fighters. Try 141. You said it first, Selano, this is a suicide mission. We get to the Union or die trying.”
“I’m having second thoughts, chief.”
“Have them on 141, with this roadblock far behind us, okay?”