Wednesday, 18 November 2009 - 6:47 pm

A story in shambles

Yesterday, I was missing the sight of people outside of this little group. Today, I have a bit more perspective on the subject.

I never thought I’d be relieved to see shamblers. There was something especially eerie about their absence – it was easy to believe that living people might be hiding or have escaped elsewhere. But shamblers are stupid. They fumble about for food and batter their way in straight lines towards their targets. They’re smart enough to get in out of the rain, but that’s it.

The notion that something had wiped them out was terrifying. What could do that? Who could do that? And a lack of shamblers suggested a lack of people around to become them – new ones are always being made by the Sickness. So where are all the acid-splashed victims?

I don’t know about that last question. We still haven’t seen any other living people, distant or otherwise.

The pod of shamblers we found were stumbling listlessly in a street, their heads lifting and wavering as they searched for scents. Their skin was blackened and cracked from exposure to the sunlight, their hands ruined from grabbing heedlessly at food and obstacle alike. Their faces were slack and vacant, with mouths torn from trying to chew their way to their prey.

They didn’t notice us at first. They didn’t hear the noise of our arrival, engines rumbling up the street and slithering to a stop as we rounded the corner. Then the wind shifted direction slightly and carried the aroma of long-unwashed bodies over to them. Fresh meat, full of the right chemical to sate the imbalance in their broken bodies. More than one of them groaned in hollow hunger as they turned laboriously to lurch towards us.

I thought, briefly, of little Debbie. Of her pale skin burnt by a sun she was suddenly allergic to, with blood and bone tainting her pretty nightdress.

Then we were spinning the bikes around and heading back the way we’d come. Dale left black streaks on the tarmac as he made the rear wheel spin in a perfect donut. My own turn was more cumbersome but more than fast enough to take us away from the shamblers’ already-reaching hands.

On motorbikes, it wasn’t hard to leave the shambling dead in our dust. We turned purposefully downwind, to make it harder for them to track us, but I still wonder if they’re still doggedly walking on our path. Determinedly following the only scrap of meal they’ve seen in a while with the focus of a body that knows nothing else any more.


The shamblers changed something in the group, making us huddle closer together and loosening something at the same time. Bobby was confident enough to grumble over dinner while we listened to the rain from inside what was once a hardware store.

“We should’ve taken them out,” he said. It’s possibly the longest sentence I’ve heard from a cutout since we left Haven.

“Waste of ammunition,” Thorpe said in his usual argument-flattening tone.

“It’s not like we have a store any more,” Dale added, ever more diplomatic. It gave Bobby something to think about; they’re not used to having such limited supplies. Just like they’re not used to the tiny meals we’re rationing out at the moment.

Things fell quiet for the rest of the meal. It wasn’t until later that the subject came up again, in private while we were bedding down. I must have been quieter than usual, because Dale stopped by the patch of floor where I was putting down blankets.

“I’m sure he’s all right, y’know,” he said. He seemed to assume that I was preoccupied by something specific, but I couldn’t make the connection.


“Your dad. He knew what he was doing.”

My stomach clenched uncomfortably around the dregs of dinner. I nodded, and then frowned as I wondered why he would think I was worrying about Dad at that moment. It could be because I’ve been moping over leaving him behind since we left Haven, but that didn’t feel true in this case.

“What’s that got to do with the shamblers?”

Dale had been about to move on and stopped again, looking at me quizzically. “You don’t know?” Clearly I didn’t. “That was the distraction he went to create.”

I stared at him, horror seeping down to my toes. I would have thrown up if I thought we could spare the food. Dad released the shamblers in the basement to keep the cutouts busy while we escaped. How did he get close enough to do that without getting hurt? They’d tear him apart before he could touch the chains that bound them. Thinking about it, all I could see was hungry mouths and bodies with familiar faces breaking against a chainlink harness.

Dale put his hand on my shoulder to make me look at him. “I’m sure he’s fine. He got the shamblers out. He’s a smart guy; knows how to look after himself.”

I tried to make it make sense and wound up just nodding dumbly. My throat wouldn’t work; it was having a hard enough time just letting me breathe, never mind forming words. He gave me a squeeze and went on his way, leaving me to my thoughts.

Dale was right – the shamblers had been set free. I remembered the alarms going off, the hurried scramble to action in the compound. Something awful had definitely happened there.

I couldn’t shake the image of Dad being their first meal, left bitten and bloody in the basement while they sought other prey. Even if he survived, what would the General do to him? Freeing the lurching dead is yet another transgression, earning even more punishment on his head. It’s why he gave me his ring. It’s why he didn’t think he’d ever see me again.

We shouldn’t have left him there. I should have made him come. I want to go back for him. I need to see his face again, hear him tell me to stop being silly.

I’m so sorry, Dad. One day, I’m gonna go back to Haven and take you out of there. I promise.