Authors: J.L. Murray
Copyright © 2014 by J.L.
All Rights Reserved.
Kindle Edition published by
Hellzapoppin Press, Honolulu Hawai'i.
Table of Contents
Jenny ducked under a concrete overpass riddled with cracks and graffiti. Huddling
against the cool stone, holding her knife with both hands, she
tried not to breathe. She stared straight ahead, afraid to move.
She willed her heart to slow down. It was beating so hard in her
ears that she could barely hear the dozen rotters stumbling across
the road above her. They were old, which was lucky, but she still
couldn't take that many at once.
Someone had painted “
PRAY TO THE
in three-foot tall letters. She had seen the tag
before. The Thirteen were a myth, everyone knew that. They were
supposed to be a brave cult of superhumans looking for a miraculous
cure. It was a fairy tale. Some said they were rotters who were
somehow still living. Most said it was all bullshit.
She stayed still as the wave of rotters passed
overhead. A few stopped to sniff the air above her, but they kept
their odd gait up the street, a few tripping and falling over their
own feet, then getting up again. Jenny looked down at her Righteous
dress, covered in rotter guts, and the bowie knife in her grip,
dripping with dark, coagulated blood. She stank as much as they
did. But that wasn't why they passed by. They were going toward
Expo, and the scents of hundreds of Heathens was overpowering, all
their blood and flesh like a buffet. The vendors at Expo had ways
of dealing with the undead. There was a strict no-violence rule
inside the walls, but outside, anything could happen. The vendors
were probably the safest people on the planet because, generally,
they spent every waking hour inside the walls.
The vendors weren't stupid. They hired prowlers
to lurk around Expo twenty-four hours a day. It was a shit job,
being a prowler, but loners were willing to work for food or car
parts when they didn't have anything to trade. There always seemed
to be an abundant supply of people with nothing to lose.
Jenny could hear the prowlers tearing the
rotters apart, not more than a block away, cringing when she
heard a scream far too human to be undead. She ran toward the sound
of fighting. Rotters littered the ground. They had been old, frail.
The prowlers had made short work of them as she had been cowering
like an idiot. But one of the prowlers had gotten unlucky. He was
sitting on the ground, two other prowlers holding him upright. He
had a cloth stuffed over one of his hands, but blood was soaking
through it. He lifted the rag to inspect the wound and Jenny could
see that his pinkie finger had been nearly torn off. Blood spurted
out of the wound and he quickly stuffed the cloth back over it,
sucking air in through his teeth as he did so.
The four other prowlers were busy pulling the zombies to the
side of the road, away from the tall wooden fence that stood around
Expo. Doing their jobs while the poor bastard sat bleeding to
death. If he was lucky. If not, it would be a slow, agonizing death
and then he'd turn. Jenny had seen it happen. It wasn't pretty.
She crouched in front of him. One of the guys
propping him up was talking.
“I don't know, man. Maybe if we amputate
your hand you'll be all right.”
“Doesn't work that way,” Jenny said.
“It's already in his system.” She looked at the
bleeding guy. “You can feel it already, can't you? You're
already infected. You can't stop it.”
He stared at her for a long moment. Then he
nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I feel it.” He kicked at the
ground with a spiked black boot. “Fuck!”
“Who the fuck are you?” said the
“I don't listen to no Righteous bitches.”
“Hey, shithead,” she said, looking
at him. “Why don't you go help these guys clean up. You're
clearly too fucking stupid for this conversation.”
He scrunched up his face in anger and reached
for something in his ratty, dirty jeans but Jenny had her knife at
his throat in an instant. “I've been busy, too,” she
said. “This blade is covered in rotter blood. One scratch,
motherfucker. You want to take that chance?”
“Crazy bitch,” he said. But he
stomped off, throwing her a dark look. She sat down next to the
“You ain't no Righteous,” he said
through gritted teeth, “are you?”
“No,” she said. She used her knife
to tear a strip of fabric off a clean part of her dress. She handed
it to him. He was wearing a leather jacket in the heat. Leather was
thicker and could usually withstand even a young zombie's teeth.
But it was hot as hell and he must have been dying in the thing.
His hair was short and choppy, like he'd cut it off in chunks with
a knife or a dull pair of scissors. He had a big metal ring through
the middle of his nose like a bull. Jenny looked at the other prowler holding him
“Hey,” she said. “Take a walk,
would you? I want to talk to your friend.”
“Fuck that,” said the guy. He had
his hair in a ragged knot on the back of his head. Stringy, greasy
strands of hair had fallen down and hung around his face. “We
have to get him inside. Doc can fix him up.”
Jenny looked at the injured man. “You know
that's not true, right?” she said as gently as she could.
He swallowed. “Yeah. I guess.” He
looked at his friend. “Do what she says.”
The last companion reluctantly joined the other
stacking bodies, occasionally glancing over, curious. The red bands
they had tied around their arms seemed to glow in the sunlight. The
strips of fabric identified them as prowlers instead of just common
dregs. It let people know they were hired.
“What's your name?” Jenny said.
“They call me Bloody,” he said.
“That's appropriate.” He almost
smiled, but it came out a grimace.
“It's a stupid nickname,” he said.
“My real name's Adam.”
“I'm Jenny. You got anyone, Adam?
“No one,” he said, a hollow tone to
his voice. “It's just me now.”
“It's not going to be pleasant,” she
said. “It's going to hurt.”
“I know,” he said woodenly. “I
seen it before. My girlfriend went last week.”
“I'm sorry,” she said. “That
“And our son last year. I guess I've come
full fucking circle.”
“We all get there eventually,” she
said. “Maybe the Righteous are right. Maybe there is a
“You believe that?” he said.
“I don't know,” she said.
“From what I've seen, if Heaven's full of Righteous, I guess
I don't want any part of it.”
“Ain't nobody in this world could get into
Heaven right now,” said Adam. “Every single one has
done bad shit. Really, really bad things. But you know, everything
I did was for them. And I did it as long as I could. I got nothing
to protect any more. There ain't no point with nothing to protect,
you know? Don't matter what it is, but you got to have something
that gives you a purpose. I've lost everything. Ain't no point to
“You have a choice,” said Jenny.
“Slow or fast. Slow gets you killed by your friends over
there. Fast gets you killed, too, but without long, drawn-out grand
finale of vomiting and pain and helplessness.”
Adam snorted. “Those aren't my
“Whoever they are,” she said.
“They'll kill you as soon as you turn. But no one's going to
let you into Expo. Not with a bite like that. They have rules. So
you won't get to the doc, you won't get a cozy bed, and you won't
get anything for the pain. You'll die sitting right here. You might
die of dehydration before the infection kills you.”
“And the fast way?” he said. His
eyes were green, Jenny saw. He had a tattoo of a rose in the middle
of his throat that moved when he swallowed.
“I think you know what the fast way
is,” she said. “Either way, you're going to turn. But
it won't be you any more.”
“What if you do it?” he said.
“You could just kill me like a rotter. Just pretend I'm one
of them. One stab in the back of my head. Or up under my throat.
You wouldn't even have to look at my face.” Tears were
filling his green eyes. He blinked and wiped at his face with the
back of his good hand. “I won't come back if you do it
“Could you do it?” she said.
“If it was one of these guys, or me, or anyone living, could
you do it?”
Adam was quiet for a while. He frowned.
“Once, someone tried to take my kid. It was right after the
shit started hitting the fan and the whole world was going crazy.
He ripped my boy right out of Larissa's arms and ran off with him.
Guess he thought he'd get some money on the Black, or maybe he was
just a fucking sick pervert. But I chased after him. He was scrawny
as hell and he was panting when I caught up to him. He gave my son
back to me. My one-year-old son was crying so hard his face was
purple. Then I looked at the guy and I just shot him. I just
fucking shot him while I was holding my son, and left him there. I
didn't even think about it at the time. But that motherfucker has
been in my dreams ever since. He deserved to die. He tried to steal
my kid. My goddamn son. But now I can't forget him. I never have.
It's been three years and I think about him every day.” He
shook his head. “I've done it. Maybe I could do it again. But
it ain't right to ask someone else to do it.” He inhaled
deeply and exhaled sharply through his mouth. “How should I
“A few years ago I'd say, blow your brains
out,” she said. “But I'm guessing you don't have a
“That's why I'm here,” he said with
a dry laugh. He wasn't leaning against her anymore. The blood from
his hand seemed to be slowing. It still had to hurt like hell.
“A guy inside said if I work this gig for a month, he'd give
me an old pistol. Bullets, too.”
“A month? As a prowler?” Jenny said.
“No one prowls for that long.”
He shrugged. “Not like I got anywhere to
go.” He nodded at something on the ground by his feet.
“Hand me that, would you?”
Jenny picked up the blade, a sword replica that
had been sharpened. It felt cheap, but it would do the job. It was
black with slime, she guessed from the rotters. She wiped it on her
already-disgusting dress and handed it to him.
“I don't want you to see it,” he
said, taking his blade.
“I don't know. You're the only one who's
told me the truth in a long time. And you kind of remind me of
“Larissa. She was sweet like
“I'm not sweet.”
“Yeah you are. Promise to go inside. Don't
Jenny nodded. “Okay, Adam.” She
“Just tell me one thing,” he said.
“Why are you dressed like that?”
“Because I've been living with the
Righteous for three days,” she said.
“Why the fuck would you want to do
“I'm looking for someone,” Jenny
said. “Someone I left behind.”
“Family?” said Adam.
Jenny nodded. “Yeah.”
“Then you should do whatever you have to
do to get them back.”
“I will,” she said. “It was
nice to meet you, Adam. If there is a Heaven,” she smiled,
“I'll see you in Hell.”
He nodded. “Look me up when you get
Jenny recognized the guys at the doors. Declan
told her their names, but she'd forgotten immediately. They were
built like brick buildings and worked hard to look mean, but when
they saw Declan their faces broke into good-natured smiles. The
Asian guy told Declan a horrifically dirty joke last time they'd
been here. They had their mean faces on when Jenny walked through
the opening in the fence.
“Oy, Bible Girl,” said the ruddy
white guy. “No weapons. Put it away.” Jenny scowled at
him and his face lit up. “Jenny!” he said. “I
didn't recognize you.”
She lifted her skirt and sheathed the bowie
“Why the hell are you dressed like a Thumper?”
“Long story,” she said. “Sully
“Sully's always here,” he said.
“Seen Declan today?” she said.
“Munro?” said the Asian guy. Jenny
thought his name might be Kevin. The white guy was Todd, or Trevor,
or Troy. Something with a T. “He comes every day, the sad
bastard. Ain't seen him yet today.”
“Why does he come every day?” she
White guy smiled. “Looking for you,
stupid. Where you been?” He looked at the state of her dress,
his eyes lingering on the dried blood. “Making friends, I
“Funny,” she said. “Can I go
“Fine,” said Kevin. “Don't
talk to us. We're just the hired help. Isn't that right,
Tyler. Of course his name was Tyler. Tyler
laughed like that was the funniest thing he ever heard. Jenny
rolled her eyes. “It's been a hell of a long day.”
Tyler patted her on the back and nearly bowled
her to the ground. “Go ahead, Jenny. We're just giving you a
hard time. Shall we let madam know if her girlfriend
“Don't let Declan hear you calling him
that,” Jenny said.
“Munro? I can take him. Easy.” He
frowned and looked past her. “What are those guys crowing
“Lost one of their own, I'm
guessing.” Jenny glanced over, but couldn't see through the
crowd that had gathered around Adam's body. The prowlers were
probably robbing him before he went cold.
“Those rotters got him, huh?”
“Yeah,” she said. “They got
him. I told him his choices. You know how it is.”
“Aw shit, that's bad luck,” said
Kevin. “He do it himself? That's the way I'd do
“I'd take care of it for you,” said
“You'd do that for me?” said
“Fuck yeah. I'd kill your ass in a
“Thanks, man,” said Kevin.
“That means a lot.”
“Jesus,” Jenny said. “I'm
“I told you not to fall in love with us,
Jenny,” Kevin called. She looked up at the sky. The sun was
searing a downward path. She'd taken far too much time on foot.
Time to find Sully. If it took her as long to get back to the
tunnel as it took to get here, she could be in trouble.
She headed into the insanity that was Expo. Some
vendors had tables, others just spread their goods on the ground.
For the most part, the folks who bartered professionally were
older. Some had gotten hurt bad and couldn't cut it in the brave
new world. A few were just tired of running. Expo was the one safe
place in any given city. It was loud and busy and the amount of
unwashed people in one place made it smell like a rancid swamp. But
at least they were all people. There were no undead lurking around
corners or limping down the streets in packs. It was safe.
The various vendor tents throughout Expo made it
look a bit like a circus. The business up front was only part of
what they did. You had to know what you were looking for and who to
ask, but if you'd been around like Jenny had, it wasn't too hard to
procure the more rare items. Declan had a guy who could get him old
milk jugs full of diesel. Every Expo had a doc who could sew you up
if you got hurt, and it was more than likely they'd never been a
doctor before the Collapse.
Jenny was only interested in information. Lucky
for her, she had Sully for that. He almost always steered her
right, except this time. There was something off about his intel
about Casey. She wanted her brother back bad enough to accept a lot
of things, but Sully had told her that he heard Casey was in
Chicago. Then when she got to Chicago, Sully had shown up here and
told her about the cult in the subway tunnel. She'd taken his line
of bullshit about how he'd heard Chicago was booming for vendors
because of how bad she wanted to find her brother. But she'd been
in that tunnel for three days and hadn't seen or heard about Casey.
She had a weird feeling in her gut that he was somewhere down
there, but there was really nowhere else to look.
She shouldered her way through the Heathens. A
few people recognized her and nodded. Most just stared at her
Righteous costume, covered in rotter guts. Someone was cooking over
an open flame, something sloppy and greasy right out of a horror
movie. A guy in a choppy Mohawk was sitting in the dirt with
several wicked-looking motors spread out in front of him. Declan was always on
the lookout for diesel converters and other various car parts. He
was a genius with a motor. Jenny couldn't tell a carburetor
from...well, from anything. If she didn't have Declan she would
just walk everywhere. It took a hell of a lot longer to walk.
An old lady with thick blue eyeliner leaned
against her table glaring at anyone who stopped to look. Big cans
were stacked like a pyramid in the middle, surrounded by snack
cakes so filled with preservatives they never went bad, a few candy
bars, a tattered box filled with cans of carrots and peas, packs of
generic smokes, and something precious: a big plastic jug filled
with jerky. From real meat. Jenny tried not to salivate. The old
lady lit a cigarette as she approached and narrowed her eyes at
Jenny through the blue smoke that rose in front of her face.
“Just what in the hell are you
wearing?” she rasped.
“Long story,” Jenny said.
“Well, I ain't hugging you,” she
Jenny smiled. “Hey Rosie.”
She pointed her cigarette at the Thumper dress. “Is this
about that business with Sully?”
“He told you about that?”
“Damn fool can't keep his mouth shut to
save his life. Dangerous in his line of work.” She offered a
pack of smokes and Jenny took one and handed back the pack. Rosie
pulled a silver lighter out of her bosom and lit it for her. Jenny
inhaled, closing her eyes. “You been with those Thumpers a while then?”
“Three days,” Jenny said.
“Without a smoke?”
“Smoking's a sin, apparently.”
“Hey, you know anyone who can get me
another Thumper dress?” Jenny said.
“What, you're going back?”
Jenny shrugged and exhaled smoke. “I have
Rosie shook her head. “Look, honey. I
don't know what you're looking for that's so damned important, but
you're going to get your ass killed. What you're doing is
dangerous. Even for you. You're a tough bitch, but you're testing
“Fate?” Jenny said.
“Yeah, fate,” she said, grounding
out her cigarette in the dirt. “I can believe in
“I'm almost done,” Jenny said.
“I just have to make sure.”
She breathed hard out of her nose and eyed her.
“Whatever. No skin off my nose if you get yourself
“I'll be careful. I promise.”
“Youth is wasted on the young,” she
said. She pointed over her shoulder with her thumb. “There's
a guy over there who keeps a few things in the back. As in, not for
“He's a cozzy?” Jenny said.
“That he is,” she said. “Came
out of his tent the other day dressed like a damn ballerina.
Weirdo. Keep your knife handy. I think he gets some of that shit on
“Sully in his usual spot?”
“You know it, sister,” she said.
“Watch that guy. I don't know him as well as you do, but I
get the feeling nothing he says is straight, you know?”
“I know the feeling,” Jenny said.
“Stay safe, Rose.” She ground out her own cigarette and
turned to go.
“Will do, doll. Hey, wait a minute.”
She pushed something into Jenny's hand.
“Oh, Rose, I don't...”
“Shut your mouth,” she snapped and
pointed a finger at her. “Don't tell no one I gave you one for
free. I'll be tits-deep in Heathens wanting a handout.”
Jenny smiled and shoved the jerky up her clean
left sleeve. “Thank you.”
Rose frowned. “You're skin and bones. Eat
some damn food.”
Jenny nodded and went to find Sully.
Four kids in ripped-up leathers were trying to
scam him for a bashed-up generator. It was obvious that the damn
thing hadn't run in years, probably decades. Sully folded his hands
on his rotund belly as he looked at it. A pair of round spectacles
sat on his nose. His gray hair was tied back in a ponytail. Jenny
watched, eating her jerky. She hadn't had real meat in months. It
was gone way too fast. She couldn't help but wolf it down. It
tasted a little dusty, but meat was meat.
“This is a gas generator,” Sully
said. A girl stepped forward. Her blond hair was cropped on the
sides and hung down her back in the middle. “Not diesel,
either. Just gasoline.”
“So?” she said defiantly.
“Still works. You just need to find gas to run it.”
Sully rolled his eyes. “Ain't no gas,
lady. Ain't been gas since it all went sludgy in the first
“It'll come back,” she said, but she
didn't meet his eyes. “Someone will figure out a
“And I'm just supposed to hang onto this
junk until the world reboots and someone starts bleeding oil from
the earth again?”
“Please?” one of the guys behind her
said. His voice was softer than hers, less defiant. “We got
people in Atlanta. We just gotta get there.”
“So I'm just supposed to give you an
alternator? Just because you're asking real nice?” The kid
shrugged and Sully crossed his arms over his chest, staring the
kids down. They all looked like shit. Like none of them had slept
in a week. They were dirty and had a hungry, desperate look.
“Give me your leather,” Sully said after a long
“What?” said the blonde girl.
“Your leathers. Give them to me,”
“You'll give us the part?” said the
“For all your leather. I can't sell them,
but I can use them to make...I dunno. Something. I'll figure it
All four kids hurriedly took off their sweaty,
torn jackets and thrust them toward Sully. He took them and tossed
them on the ground behind him. He picked something up off the table
and tossed it at the girl. She caught it like it was priceless and
held it out to look at it like it was the holy grail.
“Get that piece of shit out of
here,” said Sully, gesturing at the generator. “I'm not
a junk hauler.”
“Thank you,” said the blonde. There
was sincere gratitude on her face.
“Didn't do you any favors,” said
Sully. “I'll make a good trade off those leathers.”
The kids went away, looking every bit like they
were walking on air. Jenny saw a smile cross Sully's face as he
watched them go. He glanced over and saw her watching and arranged
his face into a frown. Jenny laughed.
“I saw what you did,” she said,
coming over and sitting on his table.
“I didn't do a goddamn thing,” he
said. He started arranging the shiny parts on the table, picking
one up to polish on his shirt. “Just an even
“I don't know anything about cars,”
Jenny said, “but seems to me you just traded shit for a
fucking gold nugget. What are you going to do with those coats?
Make a hot air balloon?”
He looked at her and narrowed his eyes.
“The fuck happened to you?” he said, noticing her state
of dress for the first time. “Maybe you want to buy a coat to
cover up all them rotter guts.”
“I need to talk to you,” she said.
“In the back.”
“Oy, Frank,” Sully shouted.
“Watch my stuff, would you?”
“Yeah, whatever,” said a guy in the
next booth over around the stub of a cigar in his mouth.
“Milady,” Sully said, gesturing
toward his tent.
Jenny headed toward the tent. Once inside, she
pulled up her skirt and took out the knife, turning quickly and
surprising Sully as he untied the flaps to give them privacy.
“What the fuck, Jenny?” he said,
raising his hands in surrender.
“You told me Casey was in that
tunnel,” she said. “He's not.”
“Is that rotter blood?” he said
weakly, looking at the blade.
“Fucking right,” she said.
“Took me a long damn while to get here.” The blood and
guts and saliva of a rotter was a death warrant. You died painfully
and sometimes slowly from an infection or a virus or whatever it was. No one had ever really figured it out. When it hit the
air and dried it was harmless. Gross, but harmless. But the
what-ifs were usually what got most people. And Jenny knew that
Sully was one of those people who got real edgy around anything
that had to do with rotters, dried or not.
“You walked from the Underground?”
Sully said, his eyes bulging even more than they usually did.
“Why did you say Casey was down there,
Sully?” she said, her voice shaking and high-pitched.
“Where the fuck is my brother?”
“Jenny, calm the fuck down!”
“I've been in that hellhole for three
fucking days. And frankly, it's a hell of a lot more
pleasant to spend quality time with rotters. Three days with those
freaks and I have not seen anything to suggest Casey is or ever has
been there. So you're going to tell me how you fucking know he's
“Jenny, you know I can't
Where is he
“Okay!” Sully shouted back.
“But sit the fuck down and put that thing away. You know
what'll happen if you get caught threatening me. You'll never get
in here again.”