Alone Among the Living Dead
Liberty gazed out at the city of New York from their perch high atop the Empire State Building, her eyes stopping for a moment on the falcon’s nest resting between the front feet of one of the stone gargoyles. The frozen sentry stood guard over the tiny hatchings that clung to the detritus making up the nest, their mother circling the skies above, waiting for her moment to land again. “Look at them…. Do you think there’s anyone else alive down there?”
“Lib, I don’t know. Maybe?” Her brother answered as he searched through his ever-dwindling pack of supplies—soon they’d need to concentrate on restocking, but first they’d have to get out of the city. “Hell, we’re alive, so there must be others too. It’d be some fucked up karma if you and I were the only ones left…”
The words fell between them—dead like so much around them. There was a time after this all started when there were more people who’d survived the initial outbreak. Family, friends, strangers who became friends, even some who didn’t want to connect. But in the past few months, life found a way of happening. Even the most careful, the ones who never took chances, began to get sloppy. And now Liberty and Trevor were the only ones who remained—alone among the living dead. At least that’s what it felt like…
“Do you see a way out?” Trevor asked, slinging his backpack over his left shoulder and grabbing his trusty round point digging shovel that had seen better days. But it’d also gotten them through a lot of rough times, so he carried it out of need and nostalgia.
“Once we get down to the street, it’s going to be a little rough, but we need to get out of Manhattan.”
“We’re not taking the tunnel, no fucking way Lib!”
Liberty stopped in her tracks as she moved toward the roof’s access door, bringing her head around to stare at her brother, dumbfounded. “Are you fucking kidding me? You think I want to take the tunnel? After the last time?”
Trevor’s body visibly relaxed, but his face still read of panic. They’d come into Manhattan about a month ago with the rest of their group from the New Jersey side—using the Lincoln Tunnel as their point of access. There were still people broadcasting at that time, people who told them Manhattan was free from infection, a last bastion of sorts.
What they hadn’t expected was the influx of the dead who’d found their way into the mouth of the tunnel, both before and after them, all of them moving like a wave that would crash once the light of the sun bathed over them again. They’d lost many that day, only a few managing to break free of the horde to find refuge in the husk of a building. The escape was harrowing and since that day, their numbers had dwindled steadily as they moved around the island, looking for a way to get off.
“We’re going to take I-78 and cross the Hudson. Might not be the best option, but from what I can see, it looks pretty clear.” She spoke with a level of authority, knowing it was what Trevor needed from her in the moment. While he was great in the thick of things, getting him to make a needed move was sometimes difficult.
“Okay let’s get moving then. We need to make it out before the sun goes down.”
Getting down to the street was a slow process for the pair—while the stairwell wasn’t a haven for the undead, the descent exhausted the energy stores within their muscles quickly, demanding they stop every few flights to rest. Once at the bottom, they peered around a corner to get a look at the street through the glass panes that surrounded the lobby. For the moment, everything looked clear.
“Should we go now, or do you want to rest for a few minutes?”
Trevor looked at his sister before answering, “If you’re good to go, so am I.”
With the decision made, the pair crept to the large revolving door they’d locked after entering the building a few days ago. They hadn’t wanted to worry about anyone or anything finding its way up the stairs after them. As quietly as possible, Trevor slid the bolt up from its snug reservoir in the marble floor, his eyes searching the street for any movement. Straightening back up, he placed both hands on the push bar of the door and glanced back at his sister, eyes searching her face for any hesitation. Seeing none, he leaned his body weight forward and the door started to spin.
“Wait!” It was Liberty, her hand grabbing on to his pack, pulling his body backward, making him lose the forward momentum.
“What?” The fear was back in his voice, his eyes scanning left and right up the street in a panicked frenzy.
Then he saw it. The flash of vibrant purple that had caught Liberty’s attention.
“Is she alive?” Trevor whispered, his question falling heavily in the absolute silence.
The pair stared as the girl with the purple hair came toward them, her body burdened by the pack on her back and the sling she wore across the front of her body. “Is that a baby?”
Her hands smacked up against the glass, panic evident on her face. “Let me in!”
The request was simple, but full of danger. She could be infected. Or worse. She could be one of those people who were sent out to lure other unsuspecting survivors into an ambush where her cohorts would claim supplies and weapons, possibly even their lives.
Her hands banged against the double-paned glass again as she looked back over her left shoulder, the bundle strapped over her chest wriggling around frantically. “Seriously, they’re coming!”
Looking in the direction of her gaze, they could see the living dead round the corner, their lifeless eyes searching for the movement that had brought them to the intersection. Seeing the body banging on the glass only a few feet away gave them a burst of energy, as if new life breathed through their deadened limbs. With renewed purpose, they moved faster.
Trevor and Liberty shared a look, a silent question passing between them. In the end, they made the only choice they could—yes. With a quick push on the revolving door, Trevor propelled the door around on its ring, sucking the young girl into the building before making his way back around. Quickly slamming the lock back into place, he ushered Liberty and the new girl back into the hallway that contained the bank of now useless elevators.
“Have you been bit?” Liberty asked the question, knowing what the price would be if she answered yes.
Liberty stared at her for a while, sizing up the answer and trying to figure out whether or not to believe her. The girl stared right back, with no fear in her eyes and a look that said she was willing to back up her claim.
“What’s your name?” It was Trevor who asked, breaking the awkward silence between them.
“Lynn. Lynn Hardgrove.” She pushed out her palm in an attempt to shake, but let her hand fall back to her side when neither of them made the move to accept the gesture. “And this here is Stanley.”
As she drew back the cloth, Trevor and Liberty were both surprised to see a small pig poke its snout out. It grunted quickly and then nestled back into the warmth of her body.
“Yeah, he’s been with me since the beginning. As soon as any of them get close, he lets me know it’s time to move!” Her hand cupped the bundle and stroked the fabric lovingly. “Pigs are actually really smart.”
As if to prove her right, Stanley began to squirm against her just before the banging started. Looking around the corner quickly, they saw the undead pressing themselves up against the glass, their grimy hands trying to break through to get to their prize. It was in the moment Liberty knew there was no way Lynn could be infected—the pig wouldn’t have been so calm otherwise.
“What are you doing in the city? Are you part of a bigger group?”
“No, it’s just me left. My boyfriend and I had been hiding out in an abandoned building for a few weeks, listening to anything we could find on the airwaves. He was ex-Military and knew some of their emergency frequencies, so we listened in the hopes that someone would tell us what to do.”
“What happened to him?” Trevor asked as he poked his head around the corner to take another look at the situation out front.
“He went out one day and never came back. I waited a few days and then figured it was time I made a move of my own.” Lynn relayed the information without emotion and Liberty understood why—you could only mourn so many before loss became so common, it was all you experienced. “Hey, have either of you heard of a city called Setagaya?”
Trevor looked back, puzzled, “No, why?”
“Well, on the radio there was this guy who said he was from Setagaya and that he’d found a cure.”
“Yeah right! A cure for death? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No I’m serious,” Lynn continued. “He said he had a cure. He explained it a little bit; said he couldn’t cure those who were already dead, but that he could prevent those of us who were uninfected from getting infected. Even said he’d cured two people who’d be recently bit.”
“Really?” Trevor asked, hope relighting in his eyes.
Liberty knew it was dangerous to foster hope, especially lately, but even she wanted to believe it was true. Now they just had to figure out where Setagaya was and how to get there…
“It’s in Japan—there’s no way we can get there!” Trevor exclaimed, looking at the atlas he’d found in one of the abandoned offices inside the Empire States Building.
He closed the book and sat there at the large conference table, his arms folded akimbo and his body drawn into itself, sulking.
“Trevor, geez… There’s no reason to get so upset over something that really can’t be helped. We don’t even know if what Lynn heard has any merit.” Liberty glanced over at Lynn as she spoke, trying to gauge her response to the truth of the statement and her brother’s childish behaviour.
“You’re right, I have no idea if the news is true or if the camp in Setagaya even exists, but what else do we have to go on at this point?” She stared out the window down at the street below, her eyes seeming to search the faces of the living dead she could see below. “But if there’s hope, I’d rather go searching for it than ignore it completely.”
Liberty knew what she was searching for—a familiar face—and understood her need for hope. Once upon a time, she’d felt it too. Had actively searched for a silver lining at the end of each day, more often than not counting a day survived as the only triumph in a long line of devastating defeats. Her heart was tired of fighting the despair, but she knew the moment she let it take hold of her, she’d stop trying.
And the only thing that kept her trying each and every day was a little smidgen of hope. With the news there may be a cure, and the arrival of another living person, her stores of hope had bolstered and expanded a fraction.
“Trevor, whether or not Setagaya exists, or we ever find a way to get there, we still need to get out of Manhattan.”
Lynn’s eyes snapped to Liberty’s face, “You’re going to leave? Have you got a route planned?”
Trevor piped up quickly, his voice still twinged with sullenness, “We’re going to take the I-78 and go over the Hudson. There’s no way we’re going underground again.”
Liberty and Trevor shared a shudder as Lynn got lost in her own reverie for a moment.
“That sounds like a decent plan, mind if Stanley and I come with?” Her eyes searched their faces for any negative sign that might pass between then; when she saw none, she started to calm a little. It had been hard on her own for the past few days and to find another group around her own age that didn’t seem like they’d harm her at the first possible moment was more luck than she’d normally have counted on.
Not that she trusted them quite yet, but it looked like things were off to a better start now than this morning. She still couldn’t quite shake the feeling Martin was still alive out there, her eyes back to searching the slack faces for the confirmation her belief was wrong. If Martin was alive, where was he and why had he left her alone for so long?
Liberty spoke before Trevor could answer, “If you can keep up, you can come. But understand one thing—if you do anything to slow us down, we will leave you.”
The words of warning were harsh, but Lynn understood them completely. There was no room for dead weight on this team.
Tune in for Part Four next week!!