Authors: Michael W. Garza
SEASON OF DECAY
The Decaying World Saga
Michael W. Garza
Copyright 2016 by Michael W. Garza
For my kids
The future belongs to those who
believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Severed Press books by Michael W. Garza
The Hand That Feeds: A Prequel to The Decaying World Saga
The Last Infection: A Prequel to The Decaying World Saga
The Decaying World Saga
Tribes of Decay
Season of Decay
The work felt pointless. They’d tried to clear out a way into hive five for more than a month with little success. The detonation of the defense system that once surrounded the mighty walls of Canaan had done considerable damage to all of the connection tunnels among its six underground hives. The survivors managed to reconnect four of the six hives through months of hard work, but the remaining two appeared to be beyond reach.
The work was laborious and most of the survivors of Canaan wanted no part of it. The task fell to the compound’s former residents whom the recently elected elder council allowed to stay. The formation of the new tribe of Canaan was an ongoing effort and one filled with its share of potholes and vines. They’d managed to survive the onset of winter, but there was a growing shadow of doubt that any of them would live to see the spring unless they could get the power back on. And that was the primary reason why reaching hive five was the most important task at hand.
“I can’t feel my fingers.”
The taller of the two men continued slamming his pickaxe into a mound of dirt and twisted metal.
“You listening to me, Limmy?”
Limmy stopped mid swing then turned his head to the side. He peeked over his shoulder as if only then remembering he was not alone.
“What are you yapping about?”
Duncan gave up on the meager dent he’d created in the mound and leaned his shovel against the dirt. He was a soldier, and although he’d managed to keep his mouth shut long enough to let the tribal elders let him stay at the compound, he hated the idea of bowing down to their direction. Limmy had been a member of the compound’s administrative group and was used to following meaningless orders. The two were an odd pair, but they always found themselves together.
“We’re never going to get through all this,” Duncan said, slapping the blockage they were working on. “There’s no telling if we can get the generators back online even if we do dig our way through.”
Limmy rolled his eyes.
“You’d rather us lie down and wait to freeze to death?”
Duncan rubbed his hands together and tried to blow some life back into his fingers.
“We should’ve gotten out of here when we had the chance.”
Limmy kept his mouth shut and took another swing with his pickaxe. Duncan was prepared to wait him out. The four other members of the detail were moving the last pile of dirt topside for a dump off. The long climb up the stairs to the surface would buy Duncan plenty of free time. Limmy took a big swing and the familiar thud was lost in a stunning result from the impact. The edge of the tool tore through the mud, leaving a hole the size of Limmy’s head.
“What the…?” Duncan stumbled forward and picked one of the lanterns up off the floor as he went. “You lucky son of a bitch,” he said then scratched at the week-old stubble on his cheek. “We may not freeze to death after all.” Duncan took another step closer, set the lantern down at the foot of the dirt, and pulled the pickaxe pole from Limmy’s grip.
“We should wait until–”
Limmy’s suggestion was lost under Duncan’s grunt as he pulled back and took a swing. The impact from the tool triggered a shift in the wall of dirt, and the distress caused one entire side to collapse from the center of the tunnel to the far wall. The dust settled and Duncan glared back at Limmy. It took a few moments for either of them to find their voice.
“You all right?”
Duncan was still mentally working through what happened and couldn’t process the question. He took a deep breath once the pounding in his chest slowed down enough to convince him he wasn’t about to have a heart attack. Limmy found the thought he was trying to get across before Duncan took his swing.
“We should wait until the others get back down here,” he said. “Mia will want to know about this too.”
It was Duncan’s turn to roll his eyes. He couldn’t stand the thought of getting his orders from a woman. Especially one as young as her. Are far as he was concerned, the only thing that pretty little hero was good for was waiting for him to get back to his room after a long day at work. He also knew there were plenty of those within the newly christened Tribe of Canaan that would cut his head off if he even hinted at harming a hair on her head.
“No one’s been down here since the detonation,” Duncan said.
“So, since we made the opening,” Duncan surmised, “we should at least get first dibs on anything worth finding.”
Limmy took a long look down at the other end of the tunnel. There was no way to be sure how much time they had before the rest of the detail returned. Duncan watched the taller man’s face scrunch up as he finished whatever mental calculation he needed to complete. His response was to the point.
“Let’s do it fast and get out before they come back.”
Duncan didn’t need to hear anything else. He scooped up the lantern and grabbed his sidearm. It was assumed that any of the infected trapped down in the hives would have died off by now, but the dead had a way of hanging on for a long time. Duncan silently told himself that he hadn’t made it this far to get himself eaten now.
The tunnel on the other side of the blockage was surprisingly clear and open. Duncan couldn’t process the abnormality at the moment. He was too fixated on what he might find waiting for him in one of the long abandoned rooms. He figured he could finally get out on his own if he could find some supplies. The tribal council held a tight grip on the few scraps that remained.
The first hall came to an abrupt end, the lantern light revealing a split passage running off into the darkness on either side. Limmy’s face was easy to read, this time showing a growing hesitation. Duncan jumped on the problem before it had a chance to change his mind.
“Just a little farther,” he said. “If we don’t come across anything soon, we’ll head back and wait for the others to come down.” Duncan added more for an extra push. “I’ll give the news to Mia myself.”
Limmy’s shoulders relaxed and Duncan figured he’d bought himself a little more time. He tried to remember what he knew about the layout of hive five. There wasn’t much to pull from considering he spent a majority of his time on patrols out in the remains of the nearby city of Cheyenne. A quick spark of recognition pulled his eyes to the location indicator marked on the wall near the ceiling. The fading letters flashed in his mind like a firework.
“I was assigned to a training group near here once,” he said.
“So, they housed us in this sector for a few days,” Duncan said as his memory attempted to fill in the details. “And we were given daily rations each morning from a storage unit.”
Limmy locked on to him the moment the word
left his lips.
“Let’s go find it.”
Someone was standing in the dark. Limmy saw it first. Duncan heard the rising guttural growl long before Limmy grabbed a hold of his wrist. They backed up together and made it several paces before the figure started toward them. A heartbeat before Limmy and Duncan turned to run, the pale lantern light revealed the outline of more bodies behind the first.
The dead shuffled out of open doorways as they pushed into the hall after the fresh meat. Limmy’s long legs pulled him out in front. Duncan squeezed the grip of his gun until his knuckles turned white. He fought the urge to turn the weapon on the growing mass of dead behind them. His heart pounded in his chest as a single message ran over and over in his mind,
get back to the breach
. Duncan called out as Limmy disappeared around a turn ahead of him.
“Don’t leave me.”
He rounded the corner and slammed into Limmy coming back in the opposite direction. The two hit with enough force to send them down on to the cold, dirty floor. The back of Duncan’s head bounced off the metal plate and the world spun around him as he tried to get back up on his feet. A flood of stench washed through the hall, saturating everything at once. Duncan gagged on the putrid aroma, nearly purging his guts in the process. A chorus of death howls followed the stench rising above Duncan’s terror-induced cries as he tried to find his gun. His hand slipped over the lantern handle as he got to his knees, but his sidearm was lost somewhere in the darkness.
Limmy reached his feet first, pulling on Duncan as he tried to run. Duncan was up and moving before he realized another group of the undead were shuffling toward them from the far end of the hallway beyond the turn. The light from the lantern slid from one wall to the other. Duncan stumbled over his feet and felt his boot kick his handgun. He heard the metal slide farther down the hall into the dark.
He hunched over and took several long steps, sliding his free hand across the floor in an effort to find the gun. The panic rushing through his veins wouldn’t allow him a moment longer and he kept moving forward unarmed. It wasn’t until he turned his attention on the way ahead that he realized Limmy had vanished. His mind raced. Duncan had no idea how to get back to the breach and the realization increased the terror consuming his mind. His response was instantaneous.
“Where the hell are you?”
Duncan reached a pace far beyond his natural ability, and his horrified blindness almost sent him face first into a pile of rock and debris. He slid across the dirt-laden floor coming to a stop as the tip of his nose tapped the centermost stone. The entire end of the hall had collapsed in on itself and the result was impassable. Duncan spun around and the bottom of the lantern smacked the rock knocking it out of his hand. The result played out in his mind in slow motion. The lantern rolled down the hall bouncing twice before it smashed on the floor.
The hallway lit up in an instant as the flames from the lantern splashed across the ground and up both sides of the passage. The light revealed the true measure of the situation. The dead were packed in tight. The front row of decomposing bodies sparked to life as the fuel from the lantern splashed their tattered clothes.
The moans grew with intensity as the flames took hold. The mass behind the front row pressed forward, knocking their compatriots to the ground. The trampling began as Duncan raced to flee the madness. He had a single hope of escape.
The purpose of the room was lost under mounds of dust and dirt, but Duncan wasn’t looking for conveniences. The dead lined the halls, each one of them lusting after a taste of his tender flesh. Duncan slammed into a pile of cots, flipping them across the room in the process. He managed to stay on his feet as he scanned the chamber for another exit.
“Do you need a little help?”
The sudden sound of the words hit Duncan with profound force, bringing him to a dead stop. His jittery eyes swept across the dim room and settled on a shadowy outline standing in the center of an open doorway on the opposite side. Duncan focused on the figure, piecing together the man’s unsettling details in the back of his mind as he rushed toward him. Duncan stumbled forward, falling to his knees. He grabbed the man’s hands and pleaded for his life.
“Yes, yes. Please help me.”
The new arrival looked down at him and the sight sent a vicious shock through Duncan’s mind. Pure black eyes pierced his heart. Decaying skin showed the marks of the infection rushing through his veins. The figure opened his mouth and smiled as he spoke.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
Duncan tried to push himself away, but he was too slow to react. The man grabbed two fistfuls of hair and forced his head back. He leaned down and opened his mouth wide, biting into Duncan’s throat. Duncan screamed for his life as teeth tore through his skin. The last thing he heard as his blood gushed from the wound was the mob of the dead pressing into the room behind him to join in on the feast.