Read Just Another Day at the Office: A Walking Dead Short Online

Authors: Robert Kirkman,Jay Bonansinga

Tags: #Thrillers, #Horror, #General, #Media Tie-In, #Fiction

Just Another Day at the Office: A Walking Dead Short (4 page)

BOOK: Just Another Day at the Office: A Walking Dead Short
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“What—” Lilly jerks with a start, twisting around toward the big man with eyes blinking.

“Lilly, we gotta—”

Josh barely gets the first part of a sentence out when a dark figure stumbles out of the trees fifteen feet away. Josh has no time to run, no time to save Lilly, no time to do anything other than snatch the hammer out of the girl’s hand and shove her out of harm’s way.

Lilly tumbles and rolls almost instinctively before getting her bearings and rising back to her feet, a scream stuck in the back of her throat.

The trouble is, the first corpse that comes staggering into the clearing—a tall, pasty-colored walker in a filthy hospital smock with half his shoulder missing, the cords of his tendons pulsing like worms—is followed by two other creatures. One female and one male, each one with a gaping divot for a mouth, their bloodless lips oozing black bile, their shoe-button eyes fixed and glazed.

The three of them trundle with their trademark spasmodic gait, jaws snapping, lips peeling away from blackened teeth like piranhas.

In the twenty seconds it takes the three walkers to surround Josh, the tent city undergoes a rapid and dramatic shift. The men go for their homemade weapons, those with iron reaching down to their improvised holsters. Some of the more brazen women scramble for two-by-fours and hay hooks and pitchforks and rusty axes. Caretakers sweep their small children into cars and truck cabs. Clenched fists slam down on door locks. Rear loading gates clang upward.

Oddly, the few screams that ring out—from the children, mostly, and a couple of elderly women who may or may not be in early-stage senility—dwindle quickly, replaced by the eerie calm of a drill team or a provisional militia. Within the space of that twenty seconds, the noise of surprise quickly transitions into the business of defense, of repulsion and rage channeled into controlled violence. These people have done this before. There’s a learning curve at work here. Some of the armed men spread outward toward the edges of the camp, calmly snapping hammers, pumping shells into shotgun breeches, raising the muzzles of stolen gun-show pistols or rusty family revolvers. The first shot that rings out is the dry pop of a .22 caliber Ruger—not the most powerful weapon by any means, but accurate and easy to shoot—the blast taking off the top of a dead woman’s skull thirty yards away.

The female barely gets out of the trees before folding to the ground in a baptism of oily cranial fluid, which pours down over her in thick rivulets. This takedown occurs seventeen seconds into the attack. By the twentieth second, things begin happening at a faster clip.

On the north corner of the lot Lilly Caul finds herself moving, rising up on the balls of her feet, moving with the slow, coiled stiffness of a sleepwalker. Instinct takes over, and she finds herself almost
involuntarily
backing away from Josh, who is quickly surrounded by three corpses. He has one hammer. No gun. And three rotting mouths full of black teeth closing in.

He pivots toward the closest zombie while the rest of the camp scatters. Josh drives the sharp end of the hammer through Hospital Smock’s temple. The cracking noise brings to mind the rending of an ice-cube tray. Brain matter fountains, the puff of pressurized decay released in an audible gasp, as the former inpatient collapses.

The hammer gets stuck, wrenched out of Josh’s big hand as the walker folds.

At the same time, other survivors fan out across all corners of the clearing. On the far edge of the trees Chad gets his steel-plated Smith up and roaring, hitting the eye socket of a spindly old man missing half his jaw, the dead geriatric spinning in a mist of rancid fluids, pinwheeling into the weeds. Behind a line of cars a tent pole skewers a growling female through the mouth, pinning her to the trunk of a live oak. On the east edge of the pasture an axe shears open a rotting skull with the ease of a pomegranate being halved. Twenty yards away the blast of a shotgun vaporizes the foliage as well as the top half of a decaying former businessman.

Across the lot, Lilly Caul—still backing away from the ambush engulfing Josh—jerks and quakes at the killing racket. The fear prickles over her flesh like needles, taking her breath away and seizing up her brain. She sees the big black man on his knees now, clawing for the hammer, while the other two walkers scuttle spiderlike across the fallen tent canvas toward his legs. A second hammer lies in the grass just out of his reach.

Lilly turns and runs.

It takes her less than a minute to cover the ground between the row of outer tents and the center of the pasture, where two dozen weaker souls are huddled among the crates and provisions stashed under the partially erected circus tent. Several vehicles have fired up, and are now pulling next to the huddling throng in clouds of carbon monoxide. Armed men on the back of a flatbed guard the women and children as Lilly ducks down behind a battered steamer trunk, her lungs heaving for air, her skin crawling with terror.

She stays like that for the duration of the attack, her hands over her ears. She doesn’t see Josh near the tree line, getting his hand around the hammer embedded in the fallen cadaver, wrenching it free at the last possible instant and swinging it toward the closest attacker. She doesn’t see the blunt end of the hammer striking the male zombie’s mandible, staving in half the rotting skull with the tremendous force of Josh’s blow. And Lilly misses the last part of the struggle; she misses the female nearly getting her black incisors around Josh’s ankle before a shovel comes down on the back of her head. Several men have reached Josh in time to dispatch the final zombie, and Josh rolls away, unharmed and yet trembling with the adrenaline and tremors of a near miss.

The entire attack—now vanquished and fading away in a soft drone of whimpering children, dripping fluids, and the escaping gases of decomposition—has encompassed less than one hundred and eighty seconds.

Later, dragging the remains off into a dry creek bed to the south, Chad and his fellow alpha dogs count twenty-four walkers in all—a totally manageable threat level…for the time being, at least.

 

“Jesus, Lilly, why don’t you just suck it up and go apologize to the man?” The young woman named Megan sits on a blanket outside the circus tent, staring at the untouched breakfast in front of Lilly.

The sun has just come up, pale and cold in the clear sky—another day in the tent city—and Lilly sits in front of a battered Coleman stove, sipping instant coffee from a paper cup. The congealed remnants of freeze-dried eggs sit in the camp skillet, as Lilly tries to shake the guilt-ridden ruminations of a sleepless night. In this world there is no rest for the weary
or
the cowardly.

All around the great and tattered circus tent—now fully assembled—the bustle of other survivors drones on, almost as if the previous day’s attack never happened. People carry folding chairs and camp tables into the great tent through the wide opening at one end (probably once the entrance for elephants and clown cars), as the tent’s outer walls palpitate with the shifting breezes and changes in air pressure. In other parts of the encampment more shelters are going up. Fathers are gathering and taking inventory of firewood, bottled water, ammunition, weapons, and canned goods. Mothers are tending to children, blankets, coats, and medicine.

Upon closer scrutiny a keen observer would see a thinly veiled layer of anxiety in every activity. But what is uncertain is which danger poses the greatest threat: the undead or the encroaching winter.

“I haven’t figured out what to say yet,” Lilly mutters finally, sipping her lukewarm coffee. Her hands haven’t stopped shaking. Eighteen hours have passed since the attack, but Lilly still stews with shame, avoiding contact with Josh, keeping to herself, convinced that he hates her for running and leaving him to die. Josh has tried to talk to her a few times but she couldn’t handle it, telling him she was sick.

“What is there to say?” Megan fishes in her denim jacket for her little one-hit pipe. She tamps a tiny bud of weed into the end and sparks it with a Bic, taking a healthy toke. An olive-skinned young woman in her late twenties with loose henna-colored curls falling around her narrow, cunning face, she blows the green smoke out with a cough. “I mean look at this dude, he’s huge.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

Megan grins. “Dude looks like he can take care of himself, is all I’m saying.”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

“Are you sleeping with him?”

“What?” Lilly looks at her friend. “Are you serious?”

“It’s a simple question.”

Lilly shakes her head, lets out a sigh. “I’m not even going to dignify that with—”

“You’re not…are you? Good-Little-Doobie-Lilly. Good to the last drop.”

“Would you stop?”

“Why, though?” Megan’s grin turns to a smirk. “Why have you not climbed on top of that? What are you waiting for? That body…those guns he’s got—”

“Stop it!” Lilly’s anger flares, a sharp splitting pain behind the bridge of her nose. Her emotions close to the surface, her trembling returning, she surprises even her
self
with the volume of her voice. “I’m not like you…okay. I’m not a social butterfly. Jesus, Meg. I’ve lost track. Which one of these guys are you with now?”

Megan stares at her for a second, coughs, then loads up another one-hit. “You know what?” Megan offers the pipe. “Why don’t you take it down a little bit? Chill?”

“No, thanks.”

“It’s good for what ails ya. It’ll kill that bug you got up your ass.”

Lilly rubs her eyes, shakes her head. “You are a piece of work, Meg.”

Megan gulps another hit, blows it out. “I’d rather be a piece of work than a piece of shit.”

Lilly says nothing, just keeps shaking her head. The sad truth is, Lilly sometimes wonders if Megan Lafferty is not exactly that—a piece of shit. The two girls have known each other since senior year at Sprayberry High School back in Marietta. They were inseparable back then, sharing everything from homework to drugs to boyfriends. But then Lilly got designs on a career, and spent two years of purgatory at Massey College of Business in Atlanta, and then on to Georgia Tech for an MBA she would never get. She wanted to be a fashionista, maybe run a clothing design business, but she got as far as the reception area of her first interview—a highly coveted internship with Mychael Knight Fashions—before chickening out. Her old companion, fear, put the kibosh on all her plans.

Fear made her flee that lavish lobby and give up and go home to Marietta and resume her slacker lifestyle with Megan, getting high, sitting on couches, and watching reruns of
Project Runway.

Something had changed between the two women in recent years, however, something fundamentally chemical—Lilly felt it as strong as a language barrier. Megan had no ambition, no direction, no focus, and was okay with that. But Lilly still harbored dreams—stillborn dreams, perhaps, but dreams nonetheless. She secretly longed to go to New York or start a Web site or go back to that receptionist at Mychael Knight and say, “Oops, sorry, just had to step out for a year and a half…”

Lilly’s dad—a retired math teacher and widower named Everett Ray Caul—always encouraged his daughter. Everett was a kind, deferential man who took it upon himself, after his wife’s slow death from breast cancer back in the midnineties, to raise his only daughter with a tender touch. He knew she wanted more out of life, but he also knew she needed unconditional love, she needed a family, she needed a home. And Everett was all she had. All of which made the events of the last couple of months so hellish for Lilly.

The first outbreak of walkers hit the north side of Cobb County hard. They came from blue-collar areas, the industrial parks north of Kennesaw woods, creeping into the population like malignant cells. Everett decided to pack Lilly up and flee in their beat-up VW wagon, and they got as far as U.S. 41, before the wreckage slowed them down. They found a rogue city bus a mile south of there—careening up and down the back streets, picking survivors up—and they almost made it onboard. To this day, the image of her father pushing her through the bus’s folding door as zombies closed in haunts Lilly’s dreams.

The old man saved her life. He slammed that accordion door behind her at the last possible instant, and slid to the pavement, already in the grip of three cannibals. The old man’s blood washed up across the glass as the bus tore out of there, Lilly screaming until her vocal cords burned out. She went into a kind of catatonic state then, curled into a fetal position on a bench seat, staring at that blood-smeared door all the way to Atlanta.

It was a minor miracle that Lilly found Megan. At that point in the outbreak, cell phones still worked, and she managed to arrange a rendezvous with her friend on the outskirts of Heartsfield Airport. The two women set out together on foot, hitchhiking south, flopping in deserted houses, just concentrating on survival. The tension between them intensified. Each seemed to be compensating for the terror and loss in different ways. Lilly went inward. Megan went the other direction, staying high most of the time, talking constantly, latching on to any other traveler who crossed their path.

They hooked up with a caravan of survivors thirty miles southwest of Atlanta—three families from Lawrenceville, traveling in two minivans. Megan convinced Lilly there was safety in numbers, and Lilly agreed to ride along for a while. She kept to herself for the next few weeks of zigzagging across the fruit belt, but Megan soon had designs on one of the husbands. His name was Chad and he had a bad-ass good-old-boy way about him, with his Copenhagen snuff under his lip and his navy tattoos on his wiry arms. Lilly was appalled to see the flirting going on amid this waking nightmare, and it wasn’t long before Megan and Chad were stealing off into the shadows of rest stop buildings to “relieve themselves.” The wedge between Lilly and Megan burrowed deeper.

It was right around this time that Josh Lee Hamilton came into the picture. Around sunset one evening the caravan had gotten pinned down by a pack of the dead in a Kmart parking lot, when the big African-American behemoth came to the rescue from the shadows of the loading dock. He came like some Moorish gladiator, wielding twin garden hoes with the price tags still flagging in the wind. He easily dispatched the half-dozen zombies, and the members of the caravan thanked him profusely. He showed the group a couple of brand-new shotguns in the back aisles of the store, as well as camping gear.

BOOK: Just Another Day at the Office: A Walking Dead Short
8.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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