Afterward

If you are reading this, hopefully, you read A Long Walk. If not, the index page has all the chapters on it, or you can get it for Kindle (or in dead tree edition) on Amazon. If you want to go for the dead tree edition it will cost you money, but the other methods are free.

I wrote A Long Walk as a NaNoWriMo Project, and it was my first finished novel. Before that, I think the longest story I had ever finished was in the five thousand word range. A Long Walk was a ten-fold increase over my next longest piece. It was a bitch, and the finished product had a lot of issues. I added viewpoints and moved characters around. When I wrote it there were some major plot points I had planned to turn out differently, but the story made more sense this way.

After I finished I was going to take it easy, I was going to slowly accumulate some books, with a plan to make a living as a writer in about ten years.

Life had different plans. I ended up in a position where I had the time and resources to give this writing stuff a serious try, and I really wanted to make it happen. I’m still on that journey, trying to make the writing thing my living.

If you liked A Long Walk please join my mailing list. I send a message a week, and the occasional one when I publish a new story. There’s also a free ebook copy of Almost Like Wearing Nothing at All in it for you!

Feel free to leave a review if you liked it or not. Also, if you download the kindle version before you leave a review you get a free Kindle version and Amazon gives the review more weight by marking you as a verified purchaser. This makes me very, very happy.

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Chapter 32 – Barbarians at the Gate

Lisbon

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Jasper got up, trying to process what he had seen. He grabbed his sword from where Robert had dropped it, and turned, ready to keep fighting if he had to. He could barely breathe. The lot seemed nearly empty, with all the zombies down. Robert was already down, a nice neat bullet hole in his forehead. Mona was just getting up, her eyes white and full of hunger. Where the hell had she come from? Jasper swung the sword, taking her head off. He cried a little as he did it. The pain in his side was beyond anything he could imagine. He didn’t know how he was able to stand.

Jasper started looking for Taylor, scanning the faces around him. Naomi came running, grabbed him under the shoulder, apparently she could see that he was in too much pain to stand on his own.

“Taylor, she jumped in the dumpster. She’s alright. Let’s go get your girl.”

Naomi supported him as they made their across the parking lot. Amazing how small it actually was, space for a couple dozen cars at most. So much had happened, a war, in a few thousand square feet. Jasper thought his monstrous house in Bedford was larger.

Jasper said, “I have to stand on my own, I have to make sure Taylor sees me standing strong.”

“Kay jackass. All good, but you sure you ain’t gonna drop soon as I let you go though?”

“Yep. Well, maybe sure is pushing it. How about let’s try it and if I fall down we go another route?”

Naomi let go, and Jasper didn’t fall down. It was a close thing though. He let Naomi take care of opening the dumpster lid, he didn’t think he could manage it on his own.

Taylor looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. She reached out her arms, and he grabbed her, lifting her into an embrace. He almost faltered, almost dropped her, but he didn’t. No amount of pain was going to make him let Taylor down now.

They mopped up the zombies pretty quickly from there. As soon as no more could come in it was a matter of time. Jasper sat that part out, his injuries were bad enough that in the old world he would have been in the hospital by now. The building had a doctor of sorts, really a paramedic, but he was the closest thing they had. He patched Jasper up, bound his chest, told him to stay off of his feet. Including Karen, the building lost ten people. Robert and Mona made it an even dozen. Jasper was never sure who put down Robert after he turned, but he didn’t really care. He hated the man, of course, but he never developed the same kind of fixation that Robert had on him. Instead, he moved his focus to cleaning up, to making things better for his daughter.

The next few days were hard. They had to repair the damage to the fence, building a new gateway. Naomi spent most of her days pouring over maps, figuring out where supplies might be. There was an intense flurry of activity. Jasper spent a lot of time outside despite the protests of the medic, and of Naomi, but he made sure to spend as much time as possible with Taylor.

They were able to find the supplies, not only to fix the gate but to finally add the extra gates to the ends of the street. They lost three more people during that operation. Construction was hard, always. It was Taylor that came up with the portable building zones. Vehicle mounted temporary fencing that could be interlinked to keep zombies away from the work crews, something they adopted much later on.

As winter progressed the building dug in, hardened their perimeter. They maintained their commitment to allowing new people in, however. More people meant survival.

That’s the end of book 1.

Afterward
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Chapter 31 – Into the Fire

A Half Albino Chimera Peacock

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For a long time, Mona just lay there. Trevor was watching to make sure the zombies didn’t come in, and maybe to make sure she didn’t go out, she wasn’t sure. She was curled up on the floor again. Finally, something in her head snapped. If Robert won, if he managed to do whatever mad thing he was trying to do this time, this was the rest of her life. Better to die than that.

She got up and walked to the bathroom. She opened the door, half thinking she was going to get cleaned up, maybe try to look like a human again, when the smell of chemicals hit her. The bathroom wasn’t going to work. She closed the door and went downstairs. Trevor looked at her, his eyes dead and empty, then looked back outside. She didn’t know if he would let her go or not, or if he would even care at this point. He was already dead, but his body hadn’t figured it out yet.

She walked into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. A large chef’s knife. It was a high-end blade, she didn’t know that, if she had she wouldn’t have cared. She just knew that it felt heavy and solid in her hand, something she could use.

Trevor barely looked at her as she approached him. As she walked out the door he said, “Planning to kill him?”

“Yep”.

“Good luck”.

At that moment there was an explosion, a second later a couple of gunshots. Mona walked down the front stairs. Much to her surprise, Trevor covered her, firing round after round into the zombies. Their attention was split, a bunch headed towards the explosion, but some started swarming the house. Mona saw Trevor take his handgun and place the barrel in his mouth. He pulled the trigger just as the first zombies made it through the door. His body had finally caught up to his spirit.

Mona walked through the zombies. They seemed to ignore her. One or two turned their heads to her, but they turned away without touching her. As she walked the zombies became denser, but she was able to slip through them. Finally, she slipped into the parking lot. Humans were fighting off the zombies, and thankfully they seemed to be winning. Mona had known that Robert had lost it, but to purposefully try to sacrifice humans to the zombies was far, far worse than she had believed even he was capable of. Sure, he was a sadistic brute, but this was monstrous evil, almost cartoonish evil.

She scanned the crowd, looking for Robert. Finally, she spotted him, beating someone who lay on the ground. Robert seemed to share whatever it was that was making the zombies ignore her. Maybe they were both dead inside. One or two seemed to notice him, briefly, but most were oblivious to his presence, almost as if he was one of them. Nobody else had that advantage. The guy on the ground was dodging the zombies, moving aside as they lunged at him. He was in trouble. It took her a minute to realize that it was Jasper. Robert’s obsession had driven him to this.

She skirted through the combat, moving purposefully. One of the zombies did pay attention to her, finally, reaching for her. She responded the way she usually did to physical threats, Robert notwithstanding, and slammed her blade into the creature’s temple. It fell, instantly.

Mona had always been good in a fight. A combination of fast reflexes and having no limits. Robert was different of course, he was so much larger than her, and even more savage than she was, he took her strength away. Against most people and things though, she was a killer.

Finally, she got near, as Robert pulled a handgun. He was aiming it at Jasper. There were almost no zombies left, the last few were being mopped up. Jasper was unconscious on the pavement. Robert’s first shot went wide, slamming into the pavement. His hand was trembling, body shaking with rage and adrenaline.

Robert lined up the shot again. Mona struck. She slammed the kitchen knife into his side, below his rib cage. He grunted in surprise and turned. They locked eyes and Mona could see the madness, the rage, the fire. Robert dropped his gun and grabbed her throat. She stabbed him again, in the stomach, and again, and again. The world started to go dark around the edges… she could see that the zombies were noticing them, and then that Robert was one of the zombies, the colour draining from his eyes. Her last thought before he tore her apart was “I got you motherfucker. I win”.
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Chapter 30 – Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting

A Garden in Paris

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It was quickly obvious that Robert had a major advantage in terms of size and strength. His reach was much longer than Jasper’s and his hits were incredibly powerful. Jasper was quicker, more agile. It wasn’t obvious to Robert, but Jasper also had a lot more training in unarmed combat. Robert had always relied on being bigger and stronger, and it made him lazy in training. If he could win the combat every time, without having to work too hard, he was clearly doing it right. Jasper on the other hand, while still being a decent sized guy, was not always the biggest, the tallest, the fastest. He made up for it with training and dedication. His shots were precise, and he was more aware, paying more attention to the environment, constantly scanning for any opening, any slight mistake on Robert’s part. That’s why he was the one who noticed the zombie closing on Robert. The creature grabbed Robert by the arm as he drew his fist back to punch. Robert spun, slamming his huge fist into the creature, sending it flying back. As he did that he felt rabbit punches slamming into his kidney. Robert turned back as Jasper swung a low roundhouse kick into his thigh. It hurt, it hurt a lot. Robert grabbed the smaller man and pulled him off his feet. Technique counts for a lot, but it has limits. He lifted Jasper and threw him to the ground. Jasper hit the pavement, hard.

Robert casually walked two steps and slammed his foot into Jasper’s ribs. He heard a crunching sound and Jasper gasped in pain. Jasper was on the edge of blacking out, the pain in his side was so intense. He rolled and fetched up at the feet of a zombie. The creature bent down to grab him. Jasper reached up, shifted his weight, dropping the already unbalanced zombie, sending it crashing to the ground between him and Robert, just as the big man brought his foot down, hard. Robert ended up smashing the zombie, missing Jasper. The zombie tried to bite Robert’s leg, forcing Robert to deal with it. Robert slammed his other foot down on the zombies head over and over again until its skull shattered. Jasper’s ribs were screaming bands of pain, breathing was fire. He managed to stay conscious, but every movement took him right back to the edge.

Jasper was doing everything he could to stay out of Robert’s grasp. He couldn’t find the space to get back to his feet. If he wasn’t hurt, maybe… but with his ribs damaged as they were, he didn’t have a chance. The zombies kept reaching for him, Robert kept pressing forward. Jasper kept moving, rolling, crawling. At one point he was certain Robert had him, but he managed to slide between two zombies, they turned to him and Robert smashed through them, sending them falling to the ground.

There were no zombies around them anymore, just the two of them, a pocket of violence in the calming sea. No more distractions, no more places to hide. Just the two of them, like it was always going to be.

Jasper couldn’t lose the big man, couldn’t get free, this was it. All this time, all this distance, and he was going to be beaten to death in a parking lot by a madman. At least he’d had a chance to find Taylor, to tell her he loved her. That was something, more than he had expected when he started the journey. His vision started to go black at the edges, his body finally giving up, finally losing the ability to stay conscious.

Just as he blacked out he saw something, a shape from a nightmare closing behind Robert, then the world went away.
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Chapter 29 – What She Saw in the Night

The Portuguese Countryside From a High Castle

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Naomi ran outside, close behind Jasper. She got separated from him in seconds, turned around and isolated. She was in the open, surrounded by zombies, no cover close at hand. She charged, head down. She thought she was running for the building but wasn’t sure. It was loud, gunfire going off on all sides, zombies moaning, impeding her vision. Hands grabbed her, trying to bear her to the ground. She lashed out with her machete, catching dead flesh, one of the arms that was grabbing her came away from its body, fell to the ground. It gave her enough momentum to hit the accelerator inside her, she slammed into a wall, hard. At least she could keep her back to it now.

Naomi turned, pushing hands off of her. She had on light armour, skateboard pads and paintball gear, but it was enough to have kept her alive so far. She swung the machete over and over again, the weight of zombies never seeming to get smaller, until suddenly it did. She found herself in the middle of a calm moment, the eye of the storm so to speak. Where she was there was a slight rise in the ground. She could see most of the battle, clusters of violence swirling around her.

Taylor swung into view, swinging a stick, one end sharpened into a vicious point. Taylor was using her small size and agility to weave back and forth between the zombie. Naomi saw her whirling the stick around, slamming into one zombie after another. They fell, lifeless and limp, but more kept coming. Naomi called out “Taylor, over here!” but the girl didn’t hear her.

More and more zombies were piling on to Taylor, cutting her off from the rest of the defenders. One of them grabbed her arm, trying to bite through the armour there. She pushed it off, darted through their legs on the ground and dove into one of the dumpsters lining the lot. She was closer to other defenders now, they were pushing the two dumpsters across the open gate. Her leap moved it the final inches into place, then the lid dropped on her, taking her from Naomi’s view.

Naomi could see Karen now too. Karen had a length of re-bar in her hands and was fighting like a demon. More zombies closed on Naomi, she had to fight again herself, her arms starting to fail, to lose strength. If not for the slight armour she would have fallen some time ago.

She drew her arm back and dropped the heavy blade on the skull of a young woman, probably her age when she turned. A pretty redhead, dressed like Ann of Green Gables. The woman fell, and Naomi had another brief gap. She saw a woman, almost a zombie herself, slipping into the compound. Fuck, it was Mona!

Mona was lost to sight instantly, walking between zombies. They didn’t seem to even notice her, like she was one of them, but she wasn’t moving like them, striding tall and purposeful.

Back to Karen. Karen had her back against another defender, one of the large men with the beards. They were laying out zombies all around them, dozens on the ground. The man slipped, Naomi couldn’t see on what, and hit the ground. Zombies piled on him, tearing him to pieces. Naomi felt so helpless, stuck against the wall, no way to make it to Karen. More zombies were coming at her anyway, Karen would have to fend for herself.

When Naomi got her next brief window she saw that the gap in the fence was closed, the flood of zombies stemmed. The two dumpsters weren’t enough to close it completely, but they were close enough that the zombies had to try and make it in single file, squeezing through a too narrow gap. A couple of defenders were slamming knives into their skulls as they passed the gap. It was going to be tight, but they stood a chance now.

Naomi scanned for Karen, trying to spot her in the confusion. Finally, she saw her, still fighting, still swinging her piece of re-bar. She wasn’t even raising it over her head anymore, slamming zombies in the chest, then pushing the re-bar through their skulls once they fell down, leaning her weight into the bar, it looked like she didn’t have the strength left to lift the bar.

Finally one of the zombies grabbed her from behind. Naomi watched her spin, trying to make it around to hit the zombie, but she didn’t have the energy left, the strength. The zombie bit deep into her throat, arterial spray washing over the rest of the zombies. They tore her apart, a dozen of them biting into her. The defenders took advantage of the lull, closing on the zombies and dispatching them.

In the far distance something was happening that looked different. Was that Robert? Yes, and that was Jasper at his feet. Naomi abandoned her relatively safe perch, running for them as fast as she could.
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Chapter 28 – I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

An Arch in Winter

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Robert had his explosives. Not exactly what he wanted, not military grade or anything, but enough to take out that shitty gate. He waited for the cover of darkness. No point in making his life harder and alerting the building. Discipline. No matter how much he wanted to move he had to wait.

Darkness fell, the days were short now. He moved, stealthily, trying not to attract the zombies on the street too early. He wanted their attention when the gate went, but he wanted to make sure they gave him time to plant the explosives. For some reason, they seemed to be paying less attention to him than usual.

He made it to the gate without getting noticed. Then he set the explosives on either side of the gate, enough that it would fall, and would get some attention. Mona and Trevor were waiting back in the house, as they should be. They were weak. Would only hold him back for something like this.

The fuses on his explosives were short, a minute or so at most. He lit them and moved back. A zombie grabbed him from behind, drawn to his movement. He flipped the creature, a classic judo throw, and slammed a knife into its brain. He lay prone as the spark hit the end of the fuse. The delay was only a second or so, and then the explosives blew. There was a brief bright flash and a muted sound. The shockwave rolled over him, a feeling of pressure, there and then gone. He popped up and ran, straight through where the gate used to be.

The rear door was mostly glass. It was closed and locked, but it was still just glass. Robert fired two shots into it, then smashed it with the butt of his gun. The glass shattered and collapsed. The dirty anarchists were now open to the zombies. That weak point had proved to be one they couldn’t afford.

By now people were coming, running down the stair towards him. He ducked back into the night, slipping the crowd of zombies who were coming in. There were hundreds of them, more every minute. He slipped along the wall of the building and found himself a narrow alcove to hide in. It wasn’t much protection, but it was enough. By maintaining strict discipline and not moving or making a noise he would blend into the wall, the zombies would never see him.

As the defenders streamed down and out, firing on the zombies as they went, Robert scanned their faces… looking for Jasper or Naomi. After a few minutes, he saw the devil, swinging a machete he had acquired somewhere. No need to look for the whore, she could be dealt with after. It was clear the weapon didn’t have the versatility and capability of the sword he used to carry, but it was a sharp piece of steel and Jasper seemed to be content with it. Behind him was a woman Robert didn’t recognize. Pretty in an intense kind of way, she looked softer and better fed than he was used to these days. Clearly, this woman hadn’t been through the same kind of things that he had.

Then Robert spotted the girl. Small and slight, she looked like she was in her early teens. Yet more proof that Jasper was the devil. His child was still alive, while both of Robert’s had turned right away. Not that Robert really cared, but it would have been nice to have someone to carry on his legacy. Certainly, his genes were much more valuable than Jasper’s.

He waited, looking for an opportunity. The defenders were being overrun, the sheer weight of zombies too much for their limited weapons and training. A bunch of them weren’t even fighting. Instead, they were clustered around a dumpster, trying to push it or something. Fucking idiots, don’t they know you deal with the immediate threat then worry about other things?

Finally, Jasper was in a clear spot. Robert ran out of his alcove, slamming Jasper with his shoulder, screaming, a wordless cry of rage, as he raised Jasper’s sword above his head to bring down on the demon.

Jasper spun on the ground, rolling with the fall and turning as he came up, moving to one side. The heavy blade bit into the concrete. Jasper kicked out with his right leg, catching Robert just above the left wrist. Robert let the sword go, dropping into a low stance as it fell.
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Chapter 27 – In the Mouth of Madness

Zombie Girl

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Mona had recognized that Robert had lost his mind a long time ago. She’d been around enough mentally ill people to know what it looked like. This was clearly insanity. Doing something about it was a different matter. He was bigger, stronger, had a mean right hook. A mean temper too. She was good in a fight, but he outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds… she had to go along with him. She was terrified. Everything about herself that had come back while travelling with Jasper had died since that day in the camp. Every time Robert smashed her in the face or the stomach she went back to the little girl she had been, the one in the trailer park whose mother had terrorized her, beaten her randomly because she wanted to. The only thing she had to protect herself was sex. If she fucked Robert, if she did it well, he would be calm, at least briefly. Also, he was good at it. Made her cum, again and again, every time. It was the only respite though, the only source of peace. It brought her right back to trading her body for meth, or booze before that.

She wished she had the strength to stop him, the courage to run away, something. Instead, she took it.

Trevor also seemed broken. The young soldier was never very smart, or good with people… but he at least had a light in his eyes once. Now he didn’t. He barely ever spoke, just replied when Robert asked a question, usually with a single word. He followed orders unthinkingly, like a robot. Between Robert and the road, Trevor was no longer present, had nothing left inside. Mona could tell. She had seen guys like him before. People who just stopped being people with enough abuse. Sometimes she wondered if someone else would see her like that. Most of the time she assumed they would.

Robert left. Mona knew she should warn the building, warn Jasper and Naomi, about what was coming. There was nobody in the world who had ever been kinder to her. She just couldn’t make herself do it. What if Trevor decided to stop her? What if Robert came back and she was still outside? She waited, perched on the edge of indecision, stuck between knowing what she wanted, what she should do, and the fear. In the end, the fear won. She lay down curled up in a ball and hoped that she would die before Robert got back.

She didn’t. He returned with a bunch of bottles and things and went into the bathroom, muttering to himself. His once handsome face was now a mass of sores and dirt, she didn’t think he knew. He’d been picking at his own skin for a while, probably a reaction to the constant filth that was his new normal state. His beard was long and unkempt. She was pretty sure he had fleas, then again so did she, the itch was contributing to her breakdown.

She waited, lying there in the half-light, listening to his muttering, smelling the acrid chemical smells. Trevor was keeping watch on the door, making sure nobody, living or otherwise, came in to interrupt them.

Mona started crying, making sure to stay silent, so Robert didn’t hear her.
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Chapter 26 – Reap What You Sow

A Modern House in the Wilderness

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Robert saw the settlement as he wandered the city. It was obvious it was there, all the zombies clustered around it. Clearly, there were humans inside. He spotted Jasper about a second later. The snake was being carried over the road on a wire. Fucking bastard, polluting another place with his chaos and anarchy.

Discipline. That was what was needed. Jasper had no real discipline. This place looked like it was in the same boat. If humanity was going to survive this anarchy needed to be stamped out. Chain of command needed to be sacrosanct. The more he looked at the place the more convinced he was that it was just wrong. Sure, it might last for a little while – and while it did people would be seduced. Anarchy is fun, it allows you to be a child, to think like a child. To be a real adult though, you need rules and order, and you need to accept them completely. People can’t be trusted to live how they want. Increasingly he was convinced that places like this needed to die so that the species could live. So he watched, and he waited. He had food, a nearby house with a decent vantage point, Trevor and Mona to make sure that food was prepped and ready. He studied the building. People came and went at all hours. Nobody really seemed to be in charge. He also spotted the weak points, lots and lots of them. Clear evidence that these people were inherently weak, that that trait flowed from them to their preparations. Better to have a few people who knew the chain of command, what to do, than to have a large number in chaos.

He was going to take the gate down, make this place end. Sure, some people would die… that would happen eventually anyway. They couldn’t be allowed to infect everyone with their ways. Humanity needed to survive. The question was how to get the gate taken care of, and how to make sure the building door was open after he did. He didn’t think the second part of that question would be hard… just run up and open it. The gate itself though, a bit more of a challenge. He remembered passing a Canadian Tire a ways back. There would be things he could use to make explosives. Enough to take out the gate at least. Once this place was gone the next place could be made better, order could be preserved.
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Chapter 25 – I’m Living Downtown

Lama Conversation

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“Fuck. Days. We are losing days getting around this shit.” Jasper was frustrated by the delay once again. It seemed like every time they found a path into the city flooding was stopping them in their tracks.

“Nothing we can do. Just keep walking. You know we gonna make it. River don’t give a shit you wanna go faster.” Naomi was patient. To her, it was all very much the same. She was sticking with Jasper out of loyalty and had no hopes for Charlottetown over any other place. The small city seemed viable, lots of forage around, lots of empty homes, nothing else really to recommend it though. It was a small and poor place, all small buildings.

They finally reached the city, ragged and tired. The first houses started to show up. Again, many of them had burnt. You could see whole swaths where one house had caught fire and the flames had leapt to the next house. The signs of civilization being wiped from the face of the planet. Jasper wanted to make it to the downtown core. Karen had been living with her boyfriend on Spring Park Road. They were going to need to rest before then, to recoup some strength. Too many dead between them and downtown.

They found a small farm, within the city limits. It was, however, a working farm. There were cattle in the field, looking somewhat worse for wear, but alive. The farmhouse was in good repair. They opened the door and met the owner, an elderly man wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, body blackened with blood pooling and rot, guts protruding over his boxers, stained with shit and piss. His smell settled around them, turning the air thick. They say you can get used to anything, but if there was one thing that Jasper hadn’t managed to get used to about this new world it was the smells. Sweet rotten meat mixed with human waste followed the zombies wherever they went, building a miasma of stench that was almost solid, almost a thing you could touch. The smell pervaded his senses, bringing him to the edge of vomiting. The cold, clear late fall air and small number of zombies had left him unused to the stench again. He drew his machete and smashed through the old man’s skull.

Inside they found what had ripped the man’s face apart. There were two dogs, starved to death from the look of it. Lying in the living room, rotted and decayed. Jasper didn’t want to stay there. “I can’t. Too much. I can’t stay here.”

“I know honey, but you gonna. This ain’t Snow. Now, grab the other end of this rug. Let’s get them bundled up and out of here.”

Jasper pulled himself together and did as Naomi said, the two of them hauling the remains of the dogs outside.

They build a fire in the stove and raided the kitchen. As usual for a farmhouse, there were preserves and lots of canned food. Having the wood stove to cook on made a huge difference, as did the oil lantern that was hanging in the kitchen. If there’s one thing an Islander is used to, it’s power outages.

Jasper started packing canned food into his bag. “Okay, so let’s grab what we can, head out.”

“Hell no. You can barely stand up white boy, and I ain’t carrying your ass. We staying here until we get a rest. Taylor still alive right now, she still be alive in two days. Don’t be fucking stupid.”

“Shit, I just, I’m so close now. I don’t know how to wait anymore. I’m sorry.” Jasper broke down into tears, big gaping sobs, unable to catch his breath. Naomi put her arms around him and held him until the tears subsided.

They spent two days in the farm house. The house was set up with grates leading from the living room into the other rooms, a way for the wood stove to heat everything, and some of the rooms also had fireplaces. This house had stood long before central heating became available. They slept in comfort their two nights there. Jasper was never able to get the dogs out of his mind though.

Finally, they gathered up everything they could and left, headed for downtown.

Jasper knew that one of the places with a community was an apartment building on the corner of Spring Park. He thought that was the best starting place, because of how close it was to where Karen had lived before the collapse. Spring Park meant making their way into the most densely populated part of the city, but densely populated was a relative term. As they walked Jasper said, “Does it seem like there should be more zombies to you?”

“Yeah, now shut up about it. We don’t want to tempt fate. I’d say knock on wood, but we probably get 50 fucking zombies running over cause they heard it.”

“Good point. Still, though, this place was decent sized. Over a hundred thousand I think. The flood probably helped a bit. We better keep a good eye out though.”

They passed subdivisions, and then neighbourhoods, and then the university. Naomi pointed to the university grounds. “Smoke. Just a bit though.”

“Looks like a cooking fire. Probably we have survivors there. That’s amazing! Survivors! Wanna go check it out?”

“Was thinking yeah, but zombies between us and them, lots of them. Maybe we skip it, come back once we find your brat.”

“Sounds like a plan. Still, people alive! Amazing news. If the building turns out to be inhabited that’s two groups just in this city.”

Downtown was denser, there were zombies wandering the streets. Jasper and Naomi moved from cover to cover, travelling through back yards where possible. Back yards meant fences, and that meant they could climb, while the zombies would be stopped. Normally it would be an hour or so from where they were to Spring Park. The hours walk took them a day and a half. Eventually, they could see the building. It was surrounded by zombies, but they saw smoke coming from the chimney, and there were other signs that this was a place inhabited by humans. The parking lot was now fenced in, with high barricades. There were stakes driven into the ground, pointed out. Many of the stakes had zombies impaled on them, still trying to pull themselves forward despite the damage it was doing to their bodies. There were also long ropes leading across the street to many of the surrounding houses. All of the ground floor windows were boarded up, although the windows on the upper floors seemed fine.

By Charlottetown standards this building was large, but by any other standard, it was tiny. The thing took up one street on a short block and was only three stories tall. Jasper was trying to figure out how to get to the building then the problem solved itself. Someone came out on the roof and yelled down to him, “Hey, get up on the roof over there if you want to come in.”

The figure was pointing to one of the houses across the street. Jasper and Naomi headed for the house, moving fast. A few of the zombies had noticed them, but only a few. Most of them were still fixated on the building. They headed inside and up to the roof. There was a line running from the building to the house, but once they got close it was clear it was a very, very thick length of aircraft cable, doubled on itself. Kind of like a clothes line. There were handles that could clip on to the cable and had a loop of padded wire hanging off of them, to allow someone to sit in them. The person on the roof yelled, “Get one of the loops around your butt, we’ll pull you over.”

Jasper got himself seated in one of the loops, Naomi took the next one. They needed both hands on the handle part to stay stable, and they were basically helpless the entire time they were being pulled across. It was friendly, easy, and a death trap if the people in the building wanted it to be. The cable started pulling them across, high above the heads of the zombies.

There was a group on top of the building. Six large men dressed in camo gear and layered rags. They looked happy, smiles on all their faces, but they were heavily armed. All of them had ragged beards. The loop left Jasper suspended about six feet above the roof, and he still needed his hands to steady himself. If he let go he started spinning. There was no easy way down. The group of men brought a wheeled platform close and then started asking them questions. He cut them off by saying, “Hey, you guys know Karen Smith and Taylor Pellerine?”

“How you know them?” one of the men asked.

“I’m Taylor’s dad. Karen’s my ex.”

“Well shit, that’s crazy. Taylor’s going to flip. Hell, even Karen might be happy. Let’s get you guys down! Jed, go get Taylor and Karen.”

They waited. Jasper was so amped up he couldn’t keep still. He explained their journey to the men, but kept bouncing up on his feet, excitement bubbling out of every pore. Everyone seemed to be catching Jasper’s joy, even Naomi was hyped up, talking fast, words bubbling out at a million miles an hour.

Taylor came bursting out of the rooftop doorway, a bundle of thirteen-year-old energy. She was still half little girl, dressed in cast off clothing. Her face still had a bit of baby fat. In the months since Jasper had seen her, she had grown up a lot. Her dark hair was cut short and her face was dirty. She took a running jump and landed in Jasper’s arms, knocking him over. He didn’t mind at all. He hugged her, holding her close to him. All this way, and finally, finally, he had found her. Karen came up a little slower, a little more reserved. It made sense, after all, she was his ex. They didn’t hate each other, but the divorce had been hard. At that moment Jasper didn’t care at all.

Naomi stuck out a hand “Hey, I’m Naomi. Been walking with Jasper since just past the airport. Sorry, it took a minute to get here.”

“Hey, I’m Karen. The hyperactive teenager wrapping herself around your… friend is Taylor .”

“Figured. She’s just like he said. So glad you alive, both of you!” Naomi replied.

Karen gave Jasper an obvious look as she met Naomi. Right, that was part of why they broke up, the jealousy. No way she could know that Jasper saw Naomi as, if not quite a sister, maybe something even closer than that, a comrade in arms. Any chance of them hooking up had evaporated hundreds of kilometres back down the road. Karen looked good for the circumstances, not as thin as she might have looked, less weather worn, like she had survived the apocalypse relatively unscathed. “Did Pete make it?”

Pete was Karen’s boyfriend, the reason she had moved to the island.

“No. He turned that first morning. Taylor and I had to run. I was up doing my Pilates when it happened.”

“Lucky. If you’d been asleep… I don’t want to think about it.”

They talked, each giving their stories. Karen’s was a lot less harsh than Jasper’s. Taylor cried when she heard that Snow had died, and even more when she heard how. Jasper tried to minimize it, but it was still too raw for him. Karen introduced Jasper to the people in the building, and explained more or less how things worked. The setup was pretty secure, but it had weak points. Nothing a zombie could easily overwhelm, but in enough numbers they could be an issue.

The building had annexed the rest of the block, and was planning on converting the backyards into crop land, and the houses into additional quarters. The whole thing was low key, and ambitious in a minimal sort of way. They had drawn up plans to take over the surrounding blocks over time, piece by piece. Each block had to be secured and then access built to bring it into the fold. Their overall plan was a series of cells, each one linked to the others, but with gates that could close. That way if there was a breach, if the zombies did get in, it would be limited in impact. Apparently someone in planning had watched zombie movies too.

The building had some electricity even, although it was pretty limited. A bank of solar panels on neighbouring roofs, some lead acid batteries pulled from cars and set up down in the basement. It meant they were able to run a few freezers to keep some frozen food available, and keep the furnace pumps going.

It was a pretty loose community. The people all came from different backgrounds, different lifestyles, etc. They didn’t even get along all that well. Didn’t really matter. They had one guy, a young student from the college who lived in the building, John. He was the closest thing they had to a leader, despite only being in his early twenties. He had set up the solar collection, the idea of the cells, the winch system. Apparently he was very unhappy with the rear parking lot. It had a single sliding gate they had set up, and he was trying to figure out some other system, something more secure. For the most part they didn’t use it, but if a foraging party brought back something large it would need to open, and that was weak point for the building. The working plan was to set up kind of an airlock, fence either end of the block the parking lot was on, and between the houses across the street. That would allow them to get large items in and the dispatch any zombies that followed in a controlled manner, before opening the final gate and letting the load in. Problem was the weather had turned, and they needed the materials and manpower to do it.

Other than that, the building was well supplied with food. They had a full cow in the freezers, lots of frozen vegetables, lots of canned food. Someone had raided a supermarket and managed to get a full refrigerated truck into the lot two days after first night, and it was enough that they were still living off of it.

Jasper had seen a few viable communities in his travels, but this was the first he had seen in a city. It showed that it was possible, that abandoning cities wasn’t something that needed to happen. Humanity could continue its pattern of building specialization into society, lots of people with different skill sets doing different jobs. He felt in that moment like they were going to make it.
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Chapter 24 – Can’t Rely on Anybody

Misty Morning by the Water

The Index Page for the Book (all chapters will be there as they are published)
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Standing in the suburb on the south shore Robert could see the city proper across the river, low buildings and houses. Charlottetown had never been very built up, he guessed it never would be now. In between him and the city was a small island with a shopping complex, nothing else. A couple of zombies wandered between the shops, aimless and confused. Not enough to worry him. The shopping complex was exactly what he was looking for, a place he could ambush Jasper and his people, maybe even find some relative comfort. The river might not be the best water in the world, but he was confident that if he boiled it they would be fine.

As they walked through the shops they started to attract a following. More and more zombies were heading toward them, coming from both sides of the river. Robert found an open door in the shopping complex. It was a Reebok store. Apparently, they weren’t the first to shelter there. Inside there was clear evidence of people, but it looked old, like maybe someone had sheltered there months ago, and it had been empty for a long time since. The large glass doors had rough cloth hung over them, as did the large window. The glass was still intact, and the window had a steel cage covering it. Robert locked the door once he got inside.

A little human nest had been built out of coats and other clothing, most of the items of clothing still had tags on them. There was a door at the back of the retail area, again not locked. Robert went through and found a stock room with a set of stairs at the far end. Robert went up, nerves on edge. The stairwell was dark, just a hint of light peeking around the edge of the door at the top. He made it to the door, listened, ear pressed to the thin wood veneer of the hollow core door. When he didn’t hear anything he opened the door, slowly, cautiously. The space was a hallway, cloaked in shadows, a small window at one end letting in grey winter light. There were doors on either side, one was slightly ajar, dim light leaking around the edges. Robert went for that one first, since any zombies would have likely already made it out to the hall, meaning it was far more likely to be empty. Inside was a small staff lounge. It was comfortable a comfortable space, lots of sleek black furniture including some couches. Robert guessed whoever had made the nest downstairs hadn’t made it up here. There was also a large window. He looked out and realized that where he was was even better than he had thought in terms of setting a trap. The island had roads leading on and off, but the island itself was just the shopping complex. A narrow channel that offered no cover and no alternate routes this time of year. Swimming was not a viable option in December. He would have a clear shot at Jasper from the moment he came in view.

The one thing that was a problem was heat. Robert scouted the ground floor, leaving Mona and Trevor in the employee lounge. Mona was useless, too weak to do much of anything except provide for his needs, sometimes he wondered if liberating a fleshlight from one of the stores would be just as good, and Trevor needed to guard her, make sure she was safe for him. He found an entry to the next store and the next. Apparently, they were all connected inside, a series of passages at the back of buildings. Most of the doors were locked, but a solid kick changed that. Near the centre, there was a set of stairs leading down to a basement. It was clean and dry, and there was a gas generator, shiny and new. He fired it up. The lights came on around him.

He made his way back to where he had left Mona and Trevor. As soon as the lights came on they had tried the sink. The taps were working. Best of all, after a few minutes, the water started to flow hot. Mona was naked, scrubbing her emaciated frame with a dripping cloth. Robert took a moment to appreciate her body, maybe she was better than a fleshlight after all.

They spent days there, getting cleaned up, gleaning food from the stores around them. There was nothing fresh of course, but there was a restaurant in the complex, with plenty of canned food. The stoves didn’t work, probably out of propane, but they had a microwave and a toaster oven in the upstairs staff room, an electric kettle. It was better than they had lived in a long time.

Things went bad after the rain started. It was pounding down, tropical force, but cold – barely above freezing. Enough above to melt the snow though, the river was rising fast.

Robert spent most of his time looking out the window at the south shore, scanning with his rifle scope. He didn’t want to take a chance on missing Jasper. Finally one day his diligence paid off. He spotted Jasper, Naomi following close behind. Apparently the bitch had survived too. At least it was just the two of them. The rain made vision hard. He saw them approach the bridge, just out of the range he could manage in that weather. He saw them turn, he saw them walk the other way. He had no way of following them. There were no good vantage points in the direction they headed, and he didn’t know their route anymore. He scanned the ground and realized why they had turned. Fuck. The river was now above the bridges, flooding over the ground. It would be minutes at most before the basement started to flood. No more lights, no more hot water.

The only bright side was that the approaching zombies were washed away. It was a short trip to the ocean, and they were headed that way quickly. Provided the water receded soon they would be okay. Sure, the comfort was over, but it was nothing worse than they had endured so far… and sure enough at that moment the generator failed. The room was cast into half-light, the rain beating down on the roof.

It took a while for the place to get cold. They had moved some of the coats and stuff upstairs to use as blankets. They huddled under the mounds of coats most of the time, exhausting their meager supplies. The waters finally stopped rising after 3 more days. The flooding was 4 feet deep downstairs, and the building was showing signs of strain. Tree branches kept washing past. By day 5 the water was only ankle deep. The bridge to the south was washed away, but the one into Charlottetown proper was still mostly intact.

Robert thought to himself “Well, nothing for it now. Just find a spot to set myself up. Deal with Jasper if I see him.”

It was probably the most rational thought he had had in months, although he didn’t realize it.

The journey into town was hard. Charlottetown was the most heavily populated place on Prince Edward Island, and that meant it was the most zombie heavy place as well. Surprisingly though, the numbers weren’t all that high. Sure, there were clusters, but Robert and company discovered that by moving cautiously they were largely able to avoid them. The odd individual zombie didn’t prove to be much of a challenge.

They traveled through low density neighbourhoods, made up of single family homes. It seemed like that was pretty much what Charlottetown consisted of. It wasn’t that the zombies were no threat, they were still around, still trying to kill them. It was more that so long as they kept moving the numbers were low enough that they were able to stay ahead of them. Robert knew however that even he would run out of physical reserves eventually and the zombies wouldn’t. The zombies would win unless he figured something out. Mona and Trevor were already starting to flag.

One downside to Charlottetown: single family homes didn’t make for great fortresses. They needed someplace that could be secured. They passed a couple of hotels. The first one looked like a no go, there were dozens of zombies clustered inside the front door, trying to break it down, trying to get out. Somebody had jammed a bunch of junk in front of the door, which was preventing it from opening. It was straining under the weight of the bodies trying to push through it. Robert didn’t want to be there when it finally gave, so he continued on. The next one only had a couple of zombies visible in the lobby. The door wasn’t locked, which probably accounted for it. The undead had pushed against the door and had managed to get out, in fact that was happening again, with the two that were left.

Robert took out Jasper’s sword. He didn’t have the smaller man’s skill with it, but he was getting better fast. One of the zombies was a Japanese tourist, fulfilling the stereotypes nicely by having no less than three cameras hung around his neck. Robert took his head off with a clean blow and turned to the other one. A hotel maid by the look of things. She was badly decayed, her face and body showed many, many bite marks. Robert closed and thrust his sword into her open mouth, aiming slightly up. The resemblance to fellatio excited him, and then the tip of the blade came through the back of her head and she fell to the ground, limp and finally motionless. Mona and Trevor rushed to follow him into the hotel.

A few zombies followed, but they couldn’t figure out how to pull the door open, so they were pushing against the frame.

The inside of the hotel was cold. The place hadn’t been heated in a long time. This wasn’t going to work long term, but for now it was okay, if they could get enough heat going.

Robert checked the cubbies behind the counter, looking for unoccupied rooms. The place had been doing a decent business over the summer, a lot of the keys were gone. It seemed likely that many of the rooms would still have guests in them, but there were a few vacant. He picked one on the second floor and headed up to it.

The lock was of course not working, a safety feature if the power went out, but the door was latched and when he entered the room it was empty. Cold as hell, but empty.

The next priority was warmth. He left Trevor and Mona in the room, wrapped in blankets, and went in search of something he could make a fire in. Eventually he found a large steel drum in the furnace room, near a bunch of loose cinder blocks. If they were careful it was possible they wouldn’t burn down the hotel. The smoke would be a problem of course, but so long as they left the window open a bit they could vent some of the smoke outside.

It worked better in theory than in practice, but it did work. In the end they took the mattresses off the beds and put them on the floor, throwing the beds out of the room. That way they were under the worst of the smoke and could still breathe. It wasn’t going to last them long, but it was a place to recoup their energy and start to plan. There were maps of the city in the lobby as well.

Robert thought the golf club was his best option, but he would have to see conditions on the ground. There were very few apartment buildings, and one of those might make a decent spot as well. There were also a number of options downtown.

One last blessing. There was a fair bit of canned food in the kitchen. The hotel was set up to serve a large number of people, so it was enough even just in tins for them to eat well for an extended period.
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