Beyond the Badlands
Brian J. Jarrett
Copyright © 2013 Brian J. Jarrett
Elegy Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the written consent of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, people, locales, or events are purely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person (either living or dead), to any event, or to any locale is coincidental or used fictitiously.
This one’s for you, Dad.
Outside the fence, in the no man’s land surrounding the city by the river, a predator stalked. Many knew it as the carrier, while in other circles it had become known as the deadwalker. No matter what survivors called it, it inspired fear the world over.
This predator stalking the grounds outside the city carried a virus that decimated his brain and ravaged his body, taking away everything that had once made him human. Now this shell of a man operated on animalistic instinct as he picked his way across the rubble in search of his next kill.
Visions of a child and a woman sporadically appeared in his damaged mind, though he had no idea he’d once been a father and a husband. These visions didn’t inspire love; they only fed the fire of his rage. He didn’t recognize the people in the visions any more than he recognized his own reflection in a plate glass window. The compulsion to kill overrode everything.
His blessing, if one could call it that, was that he could perceive virtually none of this sense of loss. Instead, he burned with anger and fury, plagued by hunger and insanity.
The carrier dragged himself along, maneuvering around a large object he didn’t recognize as a car. Once around the car, a tall, chain-link fence appeared. He didn’t care about the fence; the figure he saw behind the fence caught his eye.
In an instant, rage overtook what little was left of his mind. Overcome with fury, his limbs moved as if controlled by a sadistic puppet master floating high in the sky. Screaming, he summoned the strength to propel himself toward the source of the movement, dragging his paralyzed left leg along.
The carrier crossed the distance as quickly as his wasted body would allow, his eyes focused on the figure behind the fence.
He did not recognize the creature as a human.
To the carrier, it was prey.
Covering the space between himself and his victim, the carrier slammed into the fence. He felt no pain, only a mild tingling sensation as the wire gouged and sliced his sunburned flesh. He shrieked in wild frustration as the coarse, wire fence shredded his fingertips.
On the other side of the fence the man opened his mouth and spoke, but the carrier heard only meaningless sounds. He clawed more violently at the fence, biting the metal with rotting teeth in a futile attempt to satisfy the burning desire to kill.
The man behind the fence lifted a rifle and fired a single shot, knocking the carrier to the ground. Unable to stand, the carrier touched the wound. His hand came away red, but he could make no connection between the blood on his hands and his own impending death.
As the carrier lay bleeding on the ground, his vision blurred. Closing his eyes, he exhaled for the last time. His heart beat one last rhythm before becoming still.
Destroyed in both mind and body, the carrier’s remaining brain cells began dying by the thousands, until his body was nothing more than a cooling mass of organic material.
Doug McReady stood by the fence surrounding the former city of St. Louis, his ears still ringing from the shot fired through the mesh of the fence. The carrier had attacked, no surprise there. Normally he tried to ignore the bastards, but he knew all too well that its screaming would only bring more of them to the fence. And the last thing in the world he wanted to see right then was more deadwalkers.
He could still feel the effects of the hangover on his body from his binge the night before. Goddamn fucking tequila. Normally Doug didn’t drink, but on the anniversary of his wife’s death he made an exception. Doug never had liked tequila, but it was better than that homemade shit going around the town.
The carrier struggled to get up again after taking the shot to the gut. Poor bastards. They never gave up. He watched the thing until it stopped moving, blood soaking its tattered clothes and pooling on the concrete around it.
Doug noticed a wedding band still clinging to the carrier’s bony finger. He wondered who the man might have been before the virus. He thought of his own wife, who in the end had been just like the poor bastard lying on the ground in front of him. Michelle, so tough and resilient for the first couple of years after the outbreak. They’d thought her immune, at least at first. Turned out she’d just been lucky.
A year ago that luck had run out.
Often he wondered why he carried on with so much lost. Maybe it came down to simple human nature. Deep inside he still held out hope that the work they did in St. Louis might bring humanity back from the brink of extinction. A cause worth fighting for. Something Michelle also had believed.
So he got up every morning and instead of shooting himself in the head, he strapped on his rifle and manned the fences, on the lookout for anything that might compromise the city’s delicate borders.
Tonight, however, he would fail in that mission. As he walked away from the carrier’s lifeless body, he didn’t notice the bomb placed near one of the fence’s support poles some twenty feet away. A bomb designed to take out the load-bearing pipe and allow an entry point for as many carriers as could make it through.
The following morning he’d be dead and the safe haven that had been St. Louis would be forever changed.