All Roads Lead to Terror: Chapter Seven

The horrors of the past meet the brutality of the present

Chapter 7

 Reaching the outskirts of the small town of Columbia Meat called a halt and they gathered on a slight rise overlooking the town, if it could be called that. Route Six ran through the middle of Columbia which was nothing more than a scattering of houses gathered around two churches and an old train station that had once been listed on the national register of historic places by the National Historical Society.

The society no longer existed, all of its members were either dead, or had become one of the walking dead that still populated parts of the world around them. Their mission had been to preserve what had survived the wrecking ball in man’s pursuit of progress. Unfortunately for them they were unable to survive man’s own inhumanity to man.

Everything was buried beneath an ever-growing mound of a mile a minute, a trailing vine that in the past had seemed to grow faster than it could be cut, earning it its nickname a mile a minute. Across from the station house stood a group of houses gathered around two old churches. One of the spires had fallen either as a result of high winds, vandalism that was still prevalent, or simple neglect.

Everything carried a neglected air. The front lawn of one house was covered by the contents of the house, the furnishings having vanished beneath a sea of that ever present a mile a minute that was threatening to consume the house itself.

“Why do Zombies eat brains with their fingers?”

“I thought they saved the fingers for last?” Gregory answered with a shrug.

“No,” Billie-Bob said with a barely restrained giggle, “they’re not coordinated enough to use utensils.” He finished with a guffaw as he slapped his thigh with his hand. “Do you get it? They don’t know how to use a fork.”

Gregory smiled patiently as Billie-Bob became quiet, resuming his whispered monologue, speaking to himself in a soft voice, the words coming at a staccato, rapid-fire rate. “They roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws,” He chanted to himself, repeating the same phrase over and over again like a mantra that would protect him.

“Is he always like this?” Gregory said, pointing at Billie-Bob with his thumb.

“Everyday,” Window said with a smile. 

Along the right shoulder, crowded close to route six stood a two-story house that looked like it had once held a business with either a rental, or the owner’s living quarters on the second floor. A balcony on the second floor covered the entire width of the front of the house and hanging from the solid railings were several corpses.

They had obviously been there awhile as all that remained was the mummified torso and head. Beneath each body lay a grisly pile of bones with some of the connecting tissue still intact. Each one had been shot in the head, ensuring that they wouldn’t return for revenge, the blood splatter on the once white wall of the building behind them having faded to a dirty brown color.

Were they one of the missing crews? Meat wondered as he walked by. Scavenging crews had managed to explore all of the points on the compass surrounding Bremo Bluff with the exception of the lands to the East. So far three crews had vanished without a trace in the wilds between the compound and the Atlantic ocean. Earning those unknown areas to the East the name, Dreadlands. 
When Meat first approached the council about going after the children they had been reluctant to give their blessings, content it seemed to mark them off as lost for good. Yet at the same time it was important that they learn what lay to the East, and if it posed a threat to the well being of the compound. A point Meat used to hammer away at their reluctance until they relented, with one caveat. It was a stipulation that even in the present seemed overly brutal to Meat.

There were to be no survivors.

At first he had balked at the requirement, killing those who had taken the children would make them no better that the people they followed, or the roving bands of survivors who took what they wanted killing anyone who got in their way. Yet at the same time he understood their reasoning, so it was with a sense of reluctance that he accepted their terms.

It was also a stipulation he had as yet to share with the others.

As a group they silently walked past the building, even Billie-Bob had grown quiet as the hollow sound of their footsteps on the crumbling pavement echoed from the stillness around them. As they each passed they glanced in the direction of the hanging corpses then cast their eyes down at their feet. Even Billie-Bob, whose ceaseless whispering had become as commonplace as the birds around them, had fallen silent as they passed.

This was real.

Every one of them had seen Zombies, they’d taken shots at them as they gathered beyond the fence at Bremo Bluff. But that fence had served to protect them from the reality of what they faced, keeping them safely encased within the security of the community.

Out here, this far from the security of the fence, the only safety they had was in their numbers, and an ever-watchful nature nurtured by a childhood spoiled by an event beyond their control. They were the children of the apocalypse, survivors hardened by an ever-present death that was no longer hidden away from view as it had been in the past. Since that fateful day in March death had become the norm, an acceptable alternative to what awaited all of them in their final moments.

Moving beyond Columbia they entered what looked like a vast wilderness bisected by the crumbling pavement of route six. Mother Nature had nearly reclaimed what man had taken. Saplings grew from the center of the macadam, their roots cracking the once smooth surface, permitting small brush to emerge. Here and there bare spots of weathered asphalt were the only evidence of the once busy throughway that connected Western Virginia with Richmond.

The rusting hulks of automobiles sat haphazardly where they had been abandoned. The ever present a mile a minute slowly consuming them as weeds grew from their exposed interiors. They dotted the cracked macadam, the shadows beneath them offering refuge to a varied assortment of small animals.

Above them the sky had grown darker as a cool breeze stirred the leaves of the forest around them, speaking to them in its secret voice as the scent of the coming rain was carried upon its currents. Mingling with that refreshing scent was a much darker odor, an earthy fragrance that spoke of things long dead.

“We’re going to have to find shelter for the night,” Meat said.

“Why don’t we go back to Columbia?” Einstein said.

Meat shook his head as a gust of wind threatened to strip his hat from his head, “I want to keep pushing forward, we’ll find something.”

“I hope you’re right.”

With their heads bent to the wind they pushed into the approaching storm as it kicked up around them. Fat raindrops fell from the darkening sky as lightning danced in the distance, its booming voice trailing a few seconds behind. The leaves of the trees around them turned their backs to the wind, a sign that this was going to be a bad one.

Lightning streaked across the sky above their heads, filling the air with an electric tang as the crackling sound of thunder shook them to the marrow of their bones. The deluge had yet to start, but it wouldn’t be long, and Meat scanned the forest ahead for any sign of shelter.

Maybe he should have let them turn back?

Then he saw it, screened by trees on the left side of the road, a ranch style house that sat back from the highway, half hidden behind a front yard that was slowly being reclaimed by the forest around it.

“Up ahead,” he shouted into the wind as the frequency of the falling raindrops intensified. Throwing caution to the wind they ran towards the house, across the lawn where small trees sprouted, and to the front door where they gathered under the small roof that afforded them some protection from the storm. Meat forced the door open and it swung into the shadowy depths of the house as the musty scent of decay greeted them.

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