Tuesday, January 17, 2012

With Bells On

I killed a man in cold blood this morning. I cut his throat while he slept, and I held him down as he bled to death.

I don't feel bad about it at all.

Yesterday afternoon, we stopped at a small homestead. We'd seen the smoke from the road and decided to investigate. The long driveway was peppered with zombies, a few dozen maybe. We drove past them, as they didn't seem interested in attacking our vehicle. They were new breed undead, and they followed us toward the house.

The house itself was grand--a big old farmhouse that had clearly been around for a century or so. There were additions sprawling out from it, and a wall built around the whole thing maybe a hundred and fifty feet across. A big circle with a single gate, ten feet high. The top of the thing sloped outward, as if someone inside had taken the last two feet of wall and pushed it at an angle. Spires of metal jutted out like claws. All in all, a good defense. Maybe not as effective against the new breed, but clearly the people that lived there were good at keeping them at bay as well.

A face poked up over the gate as we approached, an arm followed. The small boy pointed at the undead following us, his intent clear: clean up your mess before you come in. Steve, Rachel, and I climbed onto the roof of the trailer with our bows as Bill parked the truck. We only had to kill half a dozen of them before the rest made a tactical retreat back to the edge of the woods nearby, giving us time to get through the gate.

I'll say this much: the primary goal wasn't to get a warm place to sleep. The weather is insane right now, going from deadly cold to almost spring-like. It stormed hard yesterday and we wanted a place to park with at least some protection from the wind.

I introduced myself to the small group of women and children that came out to greet us. Most of them were family, the ladies a pair of sisters plus one of their friends, the children belonging to the three of them. Plus one orphan who had wandered onto their property. I introduced myself and the team, but only I was invited in. We were strangers, after all. Trust is a beautiful commodity, but at times has to be treated as precious goods. Not easily shared.

The team didn't want me to go in alone. I agreed it was a bad idea, and I went anyway. My reason was simple--I was curious. Not about a small group of survivors out here on their own, I've seen too much human tenacity and resilience to be surprised by that kind of thing anymore. The thing that got my attention was the body language of the women and kids who met us. They screamed nervousness with the way they carried themselves, but it wasn't me causing it. When those women looked at me, I saw something else entirely.


I won't give you a long account of how my evening went, just the broad strokes. I had dinner with the whole group of people who lived on that farm, twenty-two of them. Of that, six were children. Twelve were women. The other four, men. Well, two grown men and two boys that were old enough to shave but barely that. The leader of the group was a big man named Alex. He was probably six-three, two forty or so. Solid guy. His manners were impeccable with me even if his treatment of the women and kids was more brusque than I'd have liked. We talked about the trip I'm on, the team, New Haven and all the places I've been. He seemed genuinely curious.

Naturally, I wondered what was making the women and children (and from what I could tell, the other three adult males there as well) so afraid of Alex. Was he abusing them, and if so why didn't they just take matters into their own hands? Did he have some kind of hold over the rest of the group I couldn't guess at?

Later in the evening one of the women, a slip of a sixteen-year-old girl, managed to get me away from Alex for a few minutes. Turns out that outhouses are becoming quite the rage, and those people don't let anyone go out alone. Alex wasn't thrilled to see me leave his sight with one of the women, but I'd been searched for weapons, and the girl had a small knife pointed at one of my kidneys. I suppose I should have been angry at those kinds of measures, but again, I've seen too much to blame anyone for their caution. I can have a good pee under pressure. Lots of practice.

During the sixty seconds or so we were outside, the girl fiercely whispered a story to me. The gist was that Alex was the only one with guns, safely locked away in his room with a stockpile of ammo. He only let the others use them when zombies were very close to the walls and in such numbers that firearms were the only choice. Alex was, she told me, very dangerous. He was fast, strong, and clearly had combat training. He carried a small .38 snub nose on him and could whip the thing out and fire with lightning speed.

He was dangerous, and he'd killed the last person who stood up to him with a shot to the head. In front of everyone.

The girl told me that Alex's room was rigged with bells to alert him to intruders, though he never locked the door. He didn't lock it because each night he demanded the presence of one of the women in his room. Whom he then did as he pleased with. He always sent the woman away before he fell asleep, only then securing his bedroom.

Alex invited me to sleep in the house, in the room with the other three men. It would be cramped, he said, but warm. I told him I needed to talk it over with the team, and he agreed. He stood at the door of the trailer as I went in to 'talk' to the others. What I was really doing was grabbing some medicine we'd snagged from the pharmacy and ground into powder. I put the little baggie of it into my mouth where Alex wouldn't see, and went through the motions of talking with the team.

I managed to slip the girl, whose name was Sara, the baggie. I mouthed "his drink" to her, and hoped she got the idea.

She did. Sara volunteered to go to Alex's room, and she made him his usual whiskey and coke. The little baggie made him very sleepy very quickly, and when she came to wake me I was ready. The other men didn't stir as I made my way toward Alex's room. I picked my way carefully across the hardwood, watching the way the moonlight played along the floor to catch the fishing line strung about. It wasn't that hard.

I watched him sleep for a few minutes, and oddly I didn't wonder why so many people had lived with this man for so long, enduring his attention and abuse. In the world that was, someone like him might have gotten away with it for years, but chances were good that he'd get caught or stood up to eventually. Alex was clearly too cautious to be caught off guard, and those people had seen him shoot a woman in the face for daring to protest her own rape.

There's been a lot of discussion since The Fall about morality and what is right. I can tell you with utter certainty that some ultimate truth exists, and I found a small piece of it last night. That man used his willingness to kill to force others into a state of constant fear for their lives. A dictator will brutalize his subjects so effectively that they will lose all but a vestigial urge to fight back. Fear is the most powerful motivator for survival we possess.

I looked down on him, drugged beyond belief but still twitching as if on the edge of consciousness. Almost as though he knew something was about to go terribly wrong. I saw then that shred of pure truth: he needed to die. It was the right thing. The moral thing. I didn't feel trepidation or guilt, nor did I feel good. The only thing that went through my mind was the resigned sadness that another life full of human potential had to end. Also, I really liked the boots I'd gotten from Block and I didn't want to ruin them with blood.

So I did it. With some consideration but no hesitation, I whipped the blade across his neck even as I slid an arm around his face. When he flopped over, thrashing to get away, I wrapped my legs around his body. It didn't take long, though it wasn't easy. We rolled across the floor, snapping lines of string and twine, his ruined throat unable to produce more than a wet rasp.

Alex died with the sound of bells.

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