Of the Dead and Dying: Undead Advantage II by Mark Clodi by Mark Clodi - Read Online

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Of the Dead and Dying - Mark Clodi

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Chapter 1

Seven years after Undead Advantage.

The watcher was careful, exceptionally careful; he had chosen a position high up near the top floor of an abandoned business building in downtown Denver. His perch was near a tall tower, a building that had been severely damaged by the fighting over the years, but had not collapsed. He lay covered with a thin mesh of specially made blankets, which should hide both his body heat and prevent detection by the undead that sometimes lurked below. He hadn’t seen any of the creatures when he made the trip in the morning, but that didn’t mean they weren’t around. The blanket offered only spotty protection these days, like all things it was succumbing to the ravages of time.

‘I guess one advantage of all the zeds being pulled east was it left us a fighting chance.’ He thought, ‘We never did figure out where they all went. After the nuke landed we were just glad they left.’

Movement. Down below a shadow detached itself from the side of one building and darted across the alley to another. ‘Zed.’ He knew it was a zombie from the way it moved; few could slither along so quickly like water, blending in and practically invisible as it moving. A chill worked up the man’s spine as he watched the zombie leap towards his building.

‘Jesus, he had to have made it to the sixth floor with that jump!’

This thought was quickly followed by the realization that the only reason the zombie had made the leap was to come after him.

‘So much for the blanket.’

The man didn’t turn or move away from the empty window; he continued to watch and wait, paying special attention to the ground around the building. Further out he saw movement to the west.

‘Damn if he wasn’t right! That is a helicopter!’

The man didn’t have a telescope and couldn’t hear the low-flying aircraft, but he had been fighting the zombies a long time and when you did that you picked up some of their gifts too. Concentrating, face wrinkled up and eyes watering with the effort, he still couldn’t bring the writing on the helicopter into focus, but it looked new. Much newer than anything his group of survivors had seen in a long time.

‘So, what do a bunch of zombies want out in the suburbs west of downtown?’ That was a question for later, now he heard an almost silent footfall behind him. He waited patiently, hoping to catch the zombie off guard when it attacked. At the last possible second, he rolled sideways, going right through the wall into the office next door. The zombie followed, ignoring the sheetrock as if it were merely toilet paper to be brushed aside -- something beyond its notice.

‘There I go, thinking about luxury items again when I should be focusing on not getting myself killed.’

The zombie caught him with a kick that sent him through the better part of a desk and a second wall, he fell into what used to be a break room. The man spun around, dislodging himself from the remains of a refrigerator to face his opponent.

Jeff. He said, somewhat surprised, they had known the super zombie was stalking them, he had been for years, but usually he didn’t trail anyone this far north of the man’s base.

Hank. Spat the zombie, tearing through the wall after his opponent.

We doing this here? This seems unlike you. Hank said, bracing his feet against a counter top.

I’ll give you a quiet death where no one even knows what happened to you, like you did for me.

Hank shook his head, I’m sorry I messed that up. He cracked his knuckles and squared his shoulders; I’m perfectly willing to rectify that mistake now. Hank hadn’t even been at the merchandise store when Jeff had been cast out for shooting one of his fellow guards seven years ago. Jeff had been set upon by zombies and, like a bad rash, had kept coming back to haunt the group. He blamed Hank and his friend, Juan for the great injustice that he felt had been done to him.

Jeff laughed at Hank and said, This isn’t chance, us meeting. I knew it was you yesterday; I could have taken you last night, but I wanted to see what you were up to. This is better; they won’t even know you are gone for another couple of days. By the time they do, I’ll have you ready to lure Juan in.

Juan was currently enjoying his retirement after stepping down from serving as the leader of the group; it was all very democratic and proper. Hank had stepped down five years ago after serving for two years, and Juan was elected to a four-year term without dissent. Hank had been nominated as the vice president, but after some pleading on his part was allowed to retire and enjoy his wife and family. This allowed a young man named Kevin to step into the political circle as vice-president. After four years Juan stepped down, and Kevin stepped into the leadership role with a woman named Krystal as his vice president. Jeff had been a thorn in the group’s side for seven long years. Once Juan was finally free of the responsibilities imposed upon him by leading their group, he and Hank had decided to end the threat once and for all. Jeff worked with a loose circle of other super zombies and preyed on the group when he could. Hank had known that someone of Jeff’s circle was bound to notice him traveling up north by himself, however he had lucked out that it was Jeff himself who had come for him.

Well, you know Juan won’t come for me, Hank said, with no worry in his voice at all.

And you know he will…if his beloved ‘Hank’ goes missing he’ll be leading the posse himself, no matter what you say, Jeff said.

If you think so. I know you’re wrong in this case though, Hank said.

You know what? Fuck you, Hank! Jeff moved in on him faster than Hank would have believed possible, dealing a blow that would have taken Hank’s head off before the zombie wars.

Hank was lifted bodily and thrown through the false ceiling, where he impacted the concrete above it with a loud crack. Fragments of debris rained down in a shower of pebbles, but Hank’s body left a bloody stain upon the ceiling after gravity took over and deposited it onto the floor a few paces away from Jeff.

Jeff laughed and gloated to himself, Well, I guess maybe I killed you. Too bad. Juan will come for your body, animated or not. That felt good! That felt…that felt like, sex on a good day. After eating ice cream and winning the lottery! I’ve waited so long…so long for justice…

Slowly Hank rolled over, bringing Jeff’s laughter to a stop. The zombie watched as Hank stood up and dusted himself off, looking no worse for the wear than he had before Jeff hit him. He caught Jeff’s eye with his and said, This ain’t my first time to the rodeo, amigo.

With a howl of rage, Jeff lunged at Hank but was thrown back by a haymaker that sent him flying through the wall back the way they had come. Relentlessly Hank stalked after him. Jeff’s next attack was a quick feint followed by a combination of blows too fast for Hank to block entirely. As the living man’s head rocked back from blow after blow, Jeff moved to his body, raining blows down on it that knocked the breath from Hank’s lungs. Bellowing Hank swung one arm overhead and brought it down on the zombie’s head.

Jeff saw the blow coming and blocked it with his arm, a loud crack rang out and both men stepped back from each other. Jeff looked down at his broken arm and started to back away.

Oh no you don’t! You don’t get to run this time. Ya see, I owe you. You got a lot of my people over the years; a lot of ‘em. Some of them weren’t even at the club that day you were turned out. And you killed Sammy. Ya see? None of us forgot that either. Sammy was a little girl doted on by the community, the day Jeff killed her he had also killed two relatively new guards walking the perimeter of their land.

Hank moved forward and latched onto Jeff’s broken arm before the zombie had the chance to back away any further. Holding him by the arm Hank cocked his other arm back and asked, Any last words, you son of a bitch?

Jeff howled in anguish and punched ineffectively at Hank’s head, bloodying the man’s nose and bringing a smile to Hank’s face. Yanking on Jeff’s arm to bring the zombie closer Hank let loose with his other arm, driving his hand through Jeff’s head, obliterating it. A sensuous feeling passed through him, and he went to his knees, thinking of his wife, his kids and Juan. ‘They need me. I can’t go south. Focus. Focus.’

Power sickness, that’s what they called it, when people who had been battling the zombies the longest started to go insane. It was a feeling that increased after each kill and no one knew what to do about it. They had lost a few people to the disease, most of them realized what was happening and simply left, moving away from other humans, who would otherwise become prey to the sick person’s passions. Of the old timers, Hank and Juan were the most powerful and had withstood the deprecations of the sickness the longest.

Strong hands grasped him by the shoulders, and Hank bowed his head, focusing on calming himself, trying to use the meditation techniques Jack had taught him to bleed off the excess power. It wasn’t working.

Say the names, amigo, say the names.

I knew this one was going to be hard. We knew he was strong. Hank said after a few minutes.

Si. The mantra. Evaine, Juanito, Vanna, Cage, Sylvia, Kevin, Terry, Jack…

Yeah, okay, I’m okay. You can let go.

Juan let go of his shoulder and stepped around in front of Hank, squatting there in front of him. You never say the mantra, it helps. Thanks.

You’re welcome. I told you I could do it. I doubt Jack or one of Ed’s supped up soldiers could have done it. You could have but…. The unspoken rest of the sentence was that Juan was in worse shape than Hank. They both felt that if Juan had tackled Jeff it might have sent him over the edge.

Si. Juan said heavily, We got lucky Jeff came himself. So did you learn anything about our friends? Juan looked out to the west, where the helicopter was still bobbing and weaving.

They are looking for something.

Claro. But, Hank, what could possibly be out in Arvada that they want? It was a suburb, just homes and normal stores with normal junk. Mostly useless by now.

Hank turned his gaze that direction too, silently watching for a few minutes before he shook his head, I don’t know. Who are they?

From Wyoming? Juan ventured.

Nah, they don’t go in for this sort of display and I doubt they have the resources to waste either. Whoever is out there is burning up a ton of fuel, kinda like they could get more, you know what I mean? The group up in the former state of Wyoming was reclusive, made up mostly of zombies with a few humans. They sent envoys down south of Denver looking for survivors, but didn’t talk much about what they wanted. They would bring a few trade goods with them from time to time and they almost always came on foot or in old, beat-up cars and trucks. What they brought tended to be small and valuable and they traded for other small valuable things. Their spokesman, Red, had a way of getting more information than he gave, especially about where he lived and how many of them were in his group. Hank and Juan both knew that Red had access to better vehicles, even aircraft, but the man was very stingy when it came to using them.

So, who? Juan asked.

I dunno, but I guess that’s something for us to check out and report back on to Kevin, ain’t it? Let’s go see what our new friends want.

Chapter 2

Hank and Juan moved slowly towards the activity out west, as they went they debated more on what the scavengers could want. At first Hank thought they might be further out near the edge of the mountains, there had been an old military facility out there at one time and maybe the group was looking through the remains.

Maybe there is some old stuff out there, nuclear stuff, that they are after.

Juan shook his head ‘no’.

Yeah, I didn’t think so either, they aren’t that far out and the place was mothballed before the outbreak. Who do you think they are? If not from Wyoming?

We’ll know soon enough.

The only person from their groups that had tried to make the trip up to Wyoming was stopped from poking around by a rail thin zombie who told them to leave it alone. She did report that there was a massive semi-opaque dome just sitting on the prairie, it showed up in the pictures she took really well too.

Red seems like a decent sort, a rawhide cowboy straight outta the old west. What did he say? Quit messing out there. Not that we really were and that they would send for us when they were ready. Pah! Hank said, I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

Si.

Moving on passed a highway on-ramp that hadn’t been used in years the two strode up to a convenience store and Juan put a warning arm on Hank’s.

I see her. Zombies were rare in the area, during the initial outbreak they had all been pulled east, both north and south, leaving only a few stragglers on the Front Range. The area from Colorado Springs all the way to Fort Collins, once home to close to four million people had been vacated almost overnight.

The zombie ahead of them looked ragged and dirty, in a dress that was frayed around the bottom and stained black. The girl was watching them too, her eyes a sparkling blue, giving her an appearance that sent chills of Hank’s spine. She stood a head shorter than Hank and before z-day she could have been anywhere from 12 to 20 years old.

Another goddamned super, just what we need, brother, Hank said.

Si.

Hank sighed, Juan…I don’t know, I don’t know how much more I can take, Jeff pretty much filled me up full, I’m still rolling in the surf, if you get what I’m saying.

Si.

I know you’re worse off than I am buddy, so I’m thinking…maybe we should run?

Across the open ground between them, the girl’s voice called out, sweet as a hymn, Juan, Hank. It’s time.

Time for what? Hank called out cautiously, hope blossoming with the thought that maybe he wouldn’t have to fight. Super zombies who didn’t want to kill and eat him were not unheard of, but they tended to be pretty rare and were almost never to be trusted.

Red sent me. Told me I would find you here.

Is that so? Hank asked, Just pointed us out on a map and said, ‘there they are, go get ‘em girl!’

The young lady shook her dirty, long haired head and said, No, I’ve been waiting here two days for you to come along. Red has a job for you.

Are we mercenaries now? Ready for hire to the highest bidder? Hank shook his head, You see here, Juan? This is why I don’t believe she’s from Red; he wouldn’t send for us like dogs to do his bidding… Hank’s voice cut off in his throat as the girl was suddenly there in front of him, within arm’s reach, looking up into his face with a puzzled expression.

Red didn’t tell me you would be hard to deal with. He said you were reasonable. He said you needed his help, and he needs yours. He said you’d be happy to help him.

Hank shrugged his shoulders; teleportation wasn’t a trick he had seen yet, Well, Red did get a good read of me. He didn’t tell me he would be sending a messenger, so you caught me unaware is all. Plus we’re sort of in the middle of something. He gestured to the west. The helicopters had landed, but the girl nodded.

I noticed them. That is important, but so is this. We’re letting someone go, Hank and we need you to get him on his way.

What do you mean, ‘letting someone go’? I wasn’t aware you were holding anyone. You operating a prison out there on the plains?

The girl shook her head as she laughed, No, silly! My name is Nikki, Red said you would be polite, you knew manners, like he does. She offered the big man her hand.

With some reluctance, Hank took her small hand in his; some zombies had touch abilities, which could do anything from turn a man into ash to steal his memories. He was relieved with nothing happened, remembering to say at the last instant, Hank, and this is Juan, though you know that. Pleased to meet ‘cha.

Red said you guys were in rough shape up here, not really thriving so much as surviving, which is why you hadn’t sent anyone up to see us again, like the others have. So you might not know.

Know what and we did have a gal who travelled up there once too.

Oh? I hadn’t heard that. I though you knew that we don’t let people leave once they come into our territory. It just doesn’t happen.

But our gal came back to us.

Then she must only have been near our territory. It’s well marked, a big shimmering dome on the plains.

You seem to have gotten out. Hank observed with a chuckle. And what can Red do to pay us for our service? Give us a few cabbages? Maybe a load of corn? I’m afraid money isn’t so useful anymore, even if you had all the gold in China I’d rather have a cabbage.

Money is and always was a philosophy. I’ve studied it, I never understood what gave it value, but Jimbo says it was the collective thoughts of all humanity holding its breath that made it work. Red is offering something of actual value, but I’m afraid it’s not food.

How old are you? Hank asked she looked like she had been turned when she was twelve.

I died when I was fourteen, but now I’m almost twenty one. I was mature for my age, at least I’m not stuck in a little kid body for all eternity. We have schools up there, but we only learn useful stuff, it’s not a daycare like the old days.

So what is Red and this ‘Jimbo’ offering us. Red may have mentioned him a time or two, he’s your leader.

The alpha and the omega.

Hank’s breathe sucked and beside him Juan choked. Hank pounded his partner on the back before turning to Nikki, He found a cure?

We have something that helps people in your condition.

How long…how long have you had it? How does it work?

About six months, but we didn’t know what we had when we first got it, it took a little while to figure it out. And it doesn’t help us. Only you.

Well, it doesn’t seem to me that your kind has any problems, Hank said, You gonna be okay partner?

Si, Juan said his eyes were wet with tears from coughing, Si.

So you’ll come then?

Hank looked at Juan and nodded his head, Yeah. We’ll come. We’d have come anyway; we said we would. But now we have…incentive. He stared to the west, wondering if the activity there would still be going on when they returned.

A day won’t matter either way; he wasn’t sure when you would show up here, if you want to go look first. Nikki offered.

So it’s not urgent?

What’s a day when you will never die?

I wish I had that problem.

Nikki tilted her head sideways and stared at Hank until he turned away to look at Juan.

Well? Should we go west first? It’ll only take us a few hours out of the way.

Both men wanted to go with Nikki, a relief from the build up of power would be welcome, and they were struggling to maintain their sanity as it was. A silent glance between them said as much. Unfortunately, they had an obligation to almost three thousand souls to the south as well. This activity in Denver had to be investigated and if it was a threat, eliminated.

I don’t suppose you would be willing to handle any fighting that might come up? Hank asked.

Nikki smiled, I’m sure it won’t come to that. But if it makes your choice easier, sure.

Chapter 3

Zeds and humans looking for something… Hank said, looking through binoculars from where they were perched near the top of an old roller coaster. He handed them over to Juan, who grunted in assent.

Good, that’s resolved. Or is it? Nikki asked.

Well… Hank began, If what they are after is there, fine, but what if it’s not? They might start looking further afield, and that might take them to…where we live. He had almost said the location of their base, only catching himself at the last moment.

Nikki looked him up and down, Your territory starts close to Larkspur, we already know that ‘cause we’ve traded a few times. We’re pretty sure your real base is…southwest of Colorado Springs.

Hank grunted and Juan softly chuckled.

I thought you trusted me? Nikki asked.

You can’t be too careful.

Look, we don’t really care about you or your people, not really we just have some things to take care of and could use a hand. She quickly added, Not that we want bad things to happen to you or anything, we would be fine if your community thrived. It’s just for this particular job, you will have an edge, and we are going to capitalize on that.

Would you lift a finger to help us if our community faced imminent danger? Hank asked her.

Nikki sucked her lower lip into her mouth and worried it with her pristine, white teeth. Slowly she shook her head, No. We don’t want that kind of commitment.

I suppose that’s for the best, I know we’d have a hard time rallying to help your people if someone were threatening them. Hank conceded.

But individuals can help us, just like individuals on our side can assist you. Red did it, once.

Yeah? I must have missed that. Hank said.

Probably, you guys seem pretty, uh, focused on something else at the time. She brushed her straight black hair down over her shoulder to try and keep it from blowing into her face in the breeze. So, are we going closer?

Hank nodded, and all three of them climbed down off the old roller