THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
Chapter 1: Locked
Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
That’s how the saying goes, right?
For all my recklessness, for all my brash and boisterous years, when the ends of the earth came, I slipped away without a sound.
Hope would say I’ve been slipping for years. Losing touch with reality. But I’ve never been more awake. Like a kite stuck high in a tree, dangling, tangled in the naked branches, I can see everything stretch out in front of me.
And I can see how lost we are.
“They’re really tearing into him,” Dana remarked. Her voice was clinical, her words observational more than anything. Distant. She had liked Lester, but he had only been in camp about a week. No time to get attached.
Ben ran a trembling hand through his blond hair, the adrenaline still surging.
“Judas, where’d they all come from?” He half-whispered, his throat in need of water.
Ben looked to Dana. “What the hell are we going to do?” He slumped against the garage, a narrow, dilapidated structure painted in faded red, and put his hands on his knees, breathing hard.
Dana still had her head poked around the corner of garage, watching the dead devour poor Lester, imagining it was her there on the ground instead of him, reminding herself that it wasn’t. She slipped back next to Ben and handed her shell-shocked companion the wooden bat in her possession, then tried desperately to wipe the blood and mud from her hands by rubbing them on her tattered jeans. She surveyed the fields and forest stretched out behind the property, thinking.
They were hundreds of miles from camp by car, four days into what had so far been a very lucrative supply run. The houses in the countryside had been well stocked, occupied once by home owners accustomed to being far from grocery stores, salt-of-the-earth types used to planning ahead and, more often than not, planning for the worst.
But being neighbors out here meant a matter of half-miles, not half a dozen feet. So the journey had been a long one. This pale yellow house with the faded red garage was to be their last stop of the trip.
For Lester, it had turned out to be his last stop period.
Dana sighed and spit in her hands, still working them into her jeans. She needed a good grip on that bat.
She almost hadn’t stopped here at all. The house was a heap and looked as if no one had been home in a long time, even from before the ghouls showed up all those weeks ago. But there was the garage, and the property was dotted with a few sheds as well. Lots of places to store lots of things. Ben had said it could be worth a look.
“We can’t ditch the car,” Dana said at last, trying to formulate an exit strategy. “We’d never get anywhere safe on foot.”
“Not with this many of them around,” agreed Ben. “And not if they’re track-and-field stars now, apparently?”
“Apparently,” Dana said dryly. But she had seen the dead move that fast before, back in those first days, when she was trapped in the city. The sprinters were different than the ghouls that has first arrived. She hadn’t worked out why or how. Frankly, she hadn’t cared to give it much thought. Survival was the thing on her mind the most.
Dana took the bat back from Ben. “Come on,” she said. She crossed in front of him and headed quickly towards the far end of the garage, keeping low. There was a back door there, painting white, and it was open a crack.
Dana reached the door and pushed her weight into it, but it didn’t budge. She looked back at Ben.
“Dammit,” she hissed. “It’s blocked.”
She pushed again, a little harder, to see if it’d give. Whatever was blocking the door moved this time, but it screeched and cried out — heavy metal scraping on concrete. Ben reached out and grabbed Dana by the shoulder before she pushed any further, held a finger up to his lips. Dana halted and they both froze, listening.
Nothing. They hadn’t been heard.
Dana, rightfully abandoning the getting-inside-the-garage plan, headed further to the left and peered around the back end of the garage. She spotted a small white shed about one-hundred feet away, towards the front of the property. She turned back to Ben.
“Over here,” she said
“The shed up front.”
Ben gave her a disbelieving look. “You’re kidding.”
“We’ve gotta lay low somewhere. If we try the house, they’ll see us for sure.”
Ben shook his head. “Hope you’re wearing your running shoes.”
Dana rolled her eyes. “No, I decided to throw on my heels today.”
Ben chuckled, the tension briefly broke, and Dana gave him a playful little shove. Together they crept across the edge of the yard towards the shed.
Dana reached the shed first and peered around the front of it, looking for a door. The coast was… mostly clear. She put a hand on Ben’s chest to keep him still, then edged around the front of the shed to try the door.
Ben looked around, nervous. He felt open and exposed here in the front half of the yard. He turned to check on Dana’s progress.
In the tall grass just across from him, a dead girl, her pale pink dress tattered and smattered with blood and ichor, rose to her feet, her yellow-green eyes falling on Ben. She letting out a wicked and raspy howl, more animal than human now.
Ben turned at once, his eyes full of instant terror, to see the girl in pink charging him, breakneck through the grass. She screamed again.
“Shit!” Ben cried and he rounded the front of the shed, fear driving him to get away from his attacker, to get closer to his friend.
Dana snapped her head around to see Ben barrel past her, tripping over his own feet and sprawling headfirst onto the dusty, two-track driveway, the sprinter advancing. As fast and as hard as she could manage, twisted and off-balance though she was, Dana swung the bat upwards in a kind of awkward backhand, like one might swing a tennis racket.
The blow hit the creature just as she was about to pass Dana, caught her right under the jaw. A sickening crack signaled the impact, and the girl went sailing backwards into the shed, blood painting the white siding. She staggered there upon impact, but didn’t fall to the ground. It hadn’t been a kill shot.
Dana cursed under her breath. She looked over to see Ben in the dirt, turned over on his back and looking towards the back half of the property.
From there on the ground, directly to his right, Ben could see the car they had drove in on, a silver sedan, the doors still hanging open. And there in front of that, the herd of ghouls that feasted upon the remains of Lester. Only none of them were feasting any longer. They were all looking up from their meal. And looking right at Ben. He was completely in the open.
“Oh my god…” he uttered, dread sinking hopelessly into his stomach like an anchor to the bottom of the ocean. Then Dana was over him in a run, pulling at his arms and lifting him to his feet.
“Get up!” she cried as the creatures near the car screamed and began scrambling forward towards their new prey. Ben, in a cloud of kicking legs and dust, tore himself to his feet as he and Dana began to run towards the house. But the dead were everything; called by the screams and the commotion they appeared from the woods and the tall grass surrounding the yard. Most were full sprinters, their flesh barely rotted, the blood on their mouths and hands and clothes an almost unnaturally bright red.
These were fresh dead. Quick and strong.
Dana saw the house before them, but the front door was already blocked by a couple of ghouls staggering into view, their brown and black cloaks dragging on the dying grass, their bald grey heads shimmering in the noonday sun, their black eyes hungry. Dana veered to her right to round the house and try a back door, anything to get inside somewhere and hunker down. It was the only fighting chance they had.
Ben took up the rear and fought off the dead as they came at him, allowing Dana to lead. He stiff-armed one to the ground as they rounded the house. From the tall grass leapt a sprinter in a ratted dress shirt and tie. He grasped for Ben’s shoulders, like he was trying ride his back like a kid might, but Ben was able to spin, chuck the monster into the side of the house, and keep going.
The duo rounded the back of the home and came out on the other side, across from the red garage. There on that side of the home was the back door.
Dana reached it and tugged on the knob, twisting.
It was locked. Ben reached her and all she could do was shake her head. Ben felt the sting of tears in his eyes.
“We are so fucked,” he muttered. He couldn’t even believe it.
Dana, not done yet, looked around in desperation. The ghouls were closing in all around the yard now, but the red garage was only a few dozen feet away. She ran to it and Ben followed. She tried the big overhead door, twisting the steel handle. The door came up a little and then stopped, the rattle of a chain echoing somewhere inside. Dana yanked at it again in anger now, rattling the whole building. The garage was locked from the within.
“Son of a bitch!” she screamed, pounding a fist on the door. “What do we do?”
But Ben had already turned around, his back against the door, his face drained of color and his eyes resigned.
“Nothing,” he whispered. Dana followed his eyes and turned around.
They were surrounded, the ghouls lumbering in, the sprinters charging fast towards the kill.
Ben, unarmed, turned back to the garage door and yank desperately on it, willing it to open, tears welling in his eyes. Dana readied her bat and caved in the nearest creature’s skull. But there were so many more closing in immediately, and she couldn’t kill them all. She closed her eyes and bit down hard as the first ghoul did the same. More teeth followed.
But she refused to scream for them...