Characters: Raylan/Boyd, Art, Rachel, Tim, others (Slash, AU)
Rating: PG-13 (language and violence against zombies)
Word Count: ~7000
Summary: There's trouble in Harlan County but surprisingly, it is not of the criminal kind.
Author's Notes: Written for undeadbigbang, which tempted me to the dark side of Zombiemania! The wonderful art is by glasslogic—please credit her if you borrow anything. Special thanks to tidal_race, who pointed me to the song lyrics by Kathy Mattea that inspired the title.
This story parts with canon in early S2, as far as Raylan and Boyd are concerned, and with any sort of reality where the zombies are concerned. :)
Link to Art Masterpost
It started at the morgue, where the coroner was in the middle of a routine autopsy to determine the cause of a suspicious death. One minute, he was opening the victim's skull in order to remove her brain. The next, the deceased sat up on the table and returned the favor.
When the medical assistant came in to clean up after the autopsy, he found no body and no doctor. All that was left were the patient's organs, the coroner's instruments, and bloody footprints leading down the hallway and out the exit door.
Confronted with something bizarre and unexplainable, county officials did the usual thing: they covered it up.
It only bought them another three or four days.
At first, the missing dead didn't attract a lot of attention. Nobody liked going to the morgue anyway (it was full of dead people and weirdos), and visiting lost loved ones at the cemetery was mainly a Sunday activity. A few blips in the morgue inventory here and there, some disturbed dirt in a few out-of-the-way parts of the graveyard… nobody much even noticed. Even the missing living hardly caused a ripple, because who knew but that they were off shopping in one of the big cities, or had decided to go out of town for some other reason?
It was when the dead people came back that people finally realized something very, very wrong was happening.
The earliest sightings—carried by rumor from one part of Harlan to the next—were easily dismissed. Harlan was hill country, plagued by poverty and low employment. Moonshine was cheap and plentiful, and everyone knew it played tricks on the mind. But those noises out in the trees were just the wind, and that stumbling, shadowy form under the streetlight was just one of the local drunks. Everyone knew Arlo Givens had been talking to his dead wife already, so him claiming he actually saw her was just more of the damned same.
Arlo's son Raylan sure as hell didn't believe him. Raylan had grown up in Harlan, he knew what the people there were like—it was why he'd left in the first place. He knew Arlo, too, knew the man was as crooked as they came. "Crazy" didn't excuse the things Arlo had done to Raylan or Raylan's mother, but maybe it put some of Arlo's earlier bad deeds in a different light. "Crazy" tended to creep up on a man instead of taking him overnight.
Raylan thought about that off and on. He was thinking about it the afternoon he drove out toward the edge of town, and came across Coover Bennett, lurching out of the brush at the side of the road.
What the hell? Raylan thought. He stopped the car, and got out for a better look. Yup, definitely Coover. Looks a hell of a lot worse now, though, if that's possible. "Damn, Coover, I killed you once already!"
Coover turned toward Raylan. "Ungggghhhh," he gurgled as he moved closer.
Coover was still sporting the bullet holes Raylan had put in him, and there was something god-awful crooked about Coover's neck, like it was still broken from when he'd fallen down the mineshaft.
He didn't smell too good, either.
"Stop right there," Raylan said, his hand already on his gun.
Coover kept coming, his left foot dragging unsteadily (compound femur fracture, Raylan remembered). If anything, the man looked even stupider or more stoned than usual.
"Stop!" Raylan ordered, before firing into Coover's gut. Coover twitched with the gunshot, but didn't slow down—even after Raylan fired off three more shots, all of them clustered to kill.
What Raylan saw utterly defied the laws of science, but he decided science wasn't going to save him. He dodged away from Coover and back around to the driver's side of his car, and then he got in and drove off as fast as he could.
He couldn't explain any of it, and he wasn't drunk or hung over. Though in about an hour, he expected that to change…
"I don't understand what you're telling me, Raylan."
Raylan and Boyd Crowder were sitting at the kitchen table of Raylan's rented house, outside Corbin, where there was a little more privacy than Harlan or Lexington. Not enough privacy that the two of them could outright live together, but some.
Boyd leaned a little farther across the table, his expression earnest as he awaited delivery of the underlying truth. "You ran into Coover Bennett out on the road just now? The Coover that's dead?"
"I know it doesn’t make sense," Raylan said. He poured a couple of fingers of whiskey into a glass for Boyd, then did the same for himself. "But it was Coover, clear as day. Just as dead as ever, but up and moving around, somehow. I shot at him a bunch of times, but he didn't go down."
Boyd regarded his glass, and took a healthy swallow. "Sounds like one of those zombie-type movies they show on late-night TV. Where the dead come back to eat the living."
"God, Boyd, zombies? Really? That's the best you can do?"
"Fits the description, don't it? You got any better ideas? Some other thing rising up from the grave that's impervious to bullets?" Boyd took another drink and set down his glass. "How'd he look, anyway?"
Raylan grimaced. "Bad. Like he'd been rotting underground for a while."
"Well, there you go."
Raylan poured more whiskey into his glass. "D'you suppose there's more of them? God, what then? Dead people wandering around every which way, and we'll have no idea how to kill them."
"In the movies, people sometimes cut off the zombie's head. That seems to stop 'em."
"Jesus, Boyd, that's disgusting!"
"More disgusting than having one of them critters try to eat you?"
"Well…" Raylan considered. "Maybe not."
Boyd got up and went to look out the kitchen window, where the back yard was still mercifully empty. "I'll bet some dynamite would fix 'em pretty good," he said.
"No," Raylan said, "absolutely not. Too dangerous."
"Hm," Boyd said, unconvinced. "Bet you change your tune if we wind up knee deep in 'em."
Raylan sighed. "If and when, Boyd. It hasn't happened yet."
Boyd moved behind Raylan, put his hands on Raylan's shoulders. "Seeing as we're in no danger right now…" he said.
Raylan downed his drink. "Don't mind if I do."
Boyd nearly ran down Doyle Bennett while driving to the mine the next morning.
Well, I'll be damned, he thought. Raylan was right.
Figures Doyle would be on the loose. Damn Bennetts had always had their hands in everything in Harlan County, not that Boyd was supposed to care about that anymore. Of course they'd be on the rising edge of the march of the living dead.
Right now, Doyle was in Boyd's way, which was also nothing new. Boyd honked the horn and Doyle turned his head, but then he just stood there.
"C'mon, move!" Boyd said. He honked again, and this time Doyle started lurching toward his truck. Well, hell, Boyd thought. He had places to be, and whatever Doyle wanted from him was not something he was prepared to give. On top of that, Doyle now constituted a public menace.
Boyd knew what he had to do, he just didn't like it. Gritting his teeth, he stepped on the gas and mowed Doyle down like a clump of crabgrass. Stopping a little farther on, he checked on his handiwork: there was Doyle, a crumpled heap on the asphalt, looking fairly finished-off until—
—Doyle peeled a leg off the pavement, then an arm, then the other leg. He started to rise up, his left arm dangling uselessly and the rest of him battered but still coming.
It was worse than Boyd had thought.
If that's how it was, they were all in a mess of trouble now. Clearly, they also needed some better weapons. Boyd decided to head on into work and do some asking around.
In Lexington, Raylan had the same idea.
He cornered Tim Gutterson by the coffee station. "You seen anything unusual around, lately?" he asked.
Tim stirred his coffee. "Unusual how?" he said. "Like, hillbillies employed in honest labor 'unusual?' Or the kind that involves dead people walking around the streets?"
"Yeah, that kind," Raylan said.
Tim looked at him without expression. "Can't say as I have."
"He's just fooling with you, Raylan," Rachel said, coming up behind him. "We got a report from headquarters this morning."
Raylan scowled at Tim. "Imagine that."
Tim gave him an innocent grin, and went back to his desk.
"So, any idea what's causing this 'rising of the dead,' or whatever they're calling it?" Raylan asked Rachel.
"No official word yet," she said. "Could be coal dust, a virus mutation, biological warfare… all kinds of things."
"And what're we supposed to do about it?"
Rachel smiled. "Sit tight and await further instructions."
Of course, Raylan thought. Isn't that always the way?
Down in the mine, Boyd was thinking.
He went through the usual ruminations, like, was Raylan as serious about being together as he was, and damn but it was hard to work a regular job—especially this one—when his daddy's legacy was just waiting for him to take it. Boyd had promised Raylan he'd stay clear of all that now, but the idea still nagged at him like an itch that wouldn't quit. He was a Crowder, and Crowders were lawless and crafty. Spending his days doing a job any man was fit for made Boyd feel edgy and in need of a little danger.
Zombies, now… those were dangerous. If you were the slightest bit slow or lacked the appropriate weapons, you could wind up dead.
Boyd didn't plan on letting either of those happen.
He talked to Jimmy Winters at break time: "Your Daddy had a farm, didn't he Jimmy?"
"Still does," Jimmy said. "He don't sell but a couple hundred bushels of apples at harvest time now, but he still runs it."
"Think I might be able to borrow—or better, I suppose, rent—some of his equipment?" Boyd asked.
Jimmy shrugged. "Sure as hell cain't hurt to ask."
Raylan was at his desk, going over the paperwork for a shooting he'd been involved in a few months ago. Damn government processes, dotted lines and crossed T's—the follow-up to this stuff just never got any faster. Somebody ought to streamline that shit, not that he was offering.
Art walked into the office. "All right, everybody, gather 'round," he said. "The government finally gave us our marching orders on this zombie situation. This is big—they want us on top of this thing pronto, before it gets out of hand."
"Us?" Raylan said. "Unless zombies are committing crimes, I don't see how this is the U.S. Marshals' responsibility."
"Do you see anyone else lining up around the block to volunteer, Raylan?" Art asked. "‘Cause I sure don't."
Raylan sighed, visions of hours spent patrolling cemeteries rising up in his head. "Yeah, all right," he conceded.
"Well, I'm glad our assignment has your approval, Raylan," Art said. "Okay then, everyone. We'll start out in teams of two, at least until we get the population down a little. Some of you will cover days and some nights, and we'll rotate as we go. These are copies of the briefing notes, pass those around."
Tim Gutterson spoke up: "What're we getting for weapons?"
"Good question," Art answered. "They're still working on that."
"Flame throwers?" Tim suggested.
"Your mind just went straight there, didn't it?" Art said. "I find that a little disturbing… This assignment's going to be hell on my knees, chasing those damn things around."
"That's all right," Raylan said. "You still move faster than they do. A little bit, anyway."
"Thank you, Raylan, for that astute observation. Anybody else got some smartass comment they need to get off their chest? No? Then read up, and we'll meet up in half an hour and divvy up assignments."
Johnny Crowder was sitting in his house, drinking whiskey and thinking that there were too many goddamn soap operas on TV. They filled up half the afternoon, that whole dead spot between when he woke up and dragged himself out of bed, and when he began weighing whether to open up some cans and reheat something for dinner, or just keep on drinking through the cartoons and the talk shows straight into the news while waiting for oblivion to finally claim him.
He heard a noise outside on the porch. Jehovah's Witnesses, probably, or a lost coyote. Neither one was worth opening the door to, so he turned the TV volume down and pretended not to be home. The noises got louder, and something scraped against the screen door.
Unbelievable. Damned Bible-thumpers were getting pushier all the time. Wasn't his problem, though. He took another slug of whisky, and watched the images flicker silently on the television.
The front door opened.
The drive to Harlan was as long as ever. Raylan sometimes thought that if he were going to spend so much time there, the Marshal's office ought to move closer. Too many of their cases seemed to wind up in that part of the state already. This current situation was a perfect example of that. Even when no criminals were involved, the problem still started up near Harlan and tried its best to spread.
He'd let Rachel drive, choosing to catch a few winks along the way. But that had only held him for the first hour-and-a-half. There was still another half hour of road left, road he knew all too well.
Raylan and boredom were old enemies.
"So," he said to Rachel, "what's a pretty thing like you still doing without a husband?"
Rachel glanced over at him, and then back at the road ahead. "Do I ask you about your personal business, Raylan?"
Raylan suddenly thought of Boyd, who was very much part of his personal business. "Uh, no," he said quickly.
Rachel smiled tightly. "Best be grateful, then," she said.
Guess so, Raylan thought.
He looked out the window, where he could practically visualize every coming tree ahead of time. Those boulders by the broken fencepost ahead looked the same as always. The rusted roof on the Tibbets' barn was as familiar as the stream coming up on the right. Honestly, the seasons changed and the animals and abandoned vehicles sprouted up in new places, but the rest of it had the permanence of despair.
Raylan kept leaving Harlan, but he couldn't stay gone.
"What's that?" Rachel asked. "There, in the trees."
Raylan squinted against the sun. Something dark was moving unsteadily in the shadows, something tattered and ungainly and vaguely human. "I think that's one of them," he said. "We'd better stop for a bit and take care of him."
"What about slowing him down, first? We could hit him with the car before approaching on foot."
"Maybe," Raylan said. "It's an official car, though. You willing to file the report on the damage?"
"Yes, Raylan," Rachel said. "I'd rather do the paperwork than risk having him at full strength in hand-to-hand combat."
"All right, then, let him have it. Might wait 'til he gets closer to the road, though."
Rachel pulled the car off onto what little shoulder there was, and then she and Raylan sat there, engine idling. The presence of the car—or the two of them inside it—seemed to arouse the creature's interest. It turned in their direction and made its way toward them.
"Ready?" Rachel asked. "As soon as I knock him down, you can jump out of the car and get him with the machete."
"Still think Tim might've had the right idea about using flame throwers," Raylan said.
"I agree, but they're not in the budget. It'll take at least a day to requisition them."
"And meanwhile, here we are…" Raylan grumbled. "Okay, let's do it."
The thing was four feet in front of the car when Rachel drove into it. Raylan already had the door open, and he made it out and around the car within seconds. Rachel arrived just a moment later, but Raylan was already hacking off the creature's head.
"Oh, that smells nasty," Rachel said. "How can something that's falling apart like that even move around?"
"Beats me." Raylan wiped his machete off onto some nearby grass.
"Is it…" Rachel began. "I mean, do you recognize who it is?"
"Nope," Raylan said. "So many places around here have family cemeteries on their land that it could be almost anyone. Doesn't look familiar, though."
Rachel gazed down at it, and seemed satisfied that it wasn't moving anymore. "So what now?" she asked.
"Now we get back in the car and drive around again until we find the next one."
After his shift ended, Boyd went out to the Winters' farm. The property sat in a pretty little piece of nowhere, about twenty miles from town. There were horses, orchards, and a barn full of interesting tools.
By the time Boyd left, a few of those tools had become his. The scythe didn't fit in the cabin of his pickup truck very well, but damned if he was going to be caught running from Doyle Bennett or anyone else again.
Boyd drove through the middle of town to see how things were looking, and caught sight of Raylan leaning against one of the three Marshals' office vehicles and watching the street. Boyd pulled up alongside him.
Raylan leaned down and into the open passenger side window. "Hey, Boyd," he said, with the easy smile he rarely used when anyone else could see it. "What the hell is all of this?"
"Weapons," Boyd said. "Something better suited to our current situation."
"Hmm," Raylan said. "Not sure anything was ever designed for this particular kind of threat."
"Not designed, no, but I'll go with whatever helps keep us safe. So, how long are you going to be in town tonight?"
"About three more hours, I think," Raylan said.
"Think they'll give you a dinner break? You could come over to my place."
Raylan grinned. "Well now, I just might do that."
Boyd's heart skipped a few beats, forcing him to concentrate on maintaining a regular speed as he drove away. He stopped off at the grocery mart, and then headed for home. It was still light enough to see pretty well, which was how he spotted Johnny Crowder over on Oak Street. It took Boyd a moment to remember that Johnny couldn't really walk anymore, and that if Johnny was walking, something was very wrong.
Oh, damn, Boyd sighed. Johnny had barely survived getting shot (and Boyd sure as hell knew a thing or two about that), and then he'd been pretty much half-paralyzed and housebound ever since. Hadn't he been through enough?
Well, Boyd couldn't do anything to help Johnny now, and he certainly couldn't let Johnny wander around attacking other people.
He pulled over to the curb and got out of the truck, pulling the scythe out with him. Johnny turned in his direction immediately, almost as if he could hear or smell him (Boyd had seen a few clips from zombie movies over the years, and the thought made him shudder). John moved closer and Boyd backed up little, then did it again, the two of the moving in some sickly, ill-gotten dance that ended when Boyd could see Johnny under the streetlight.
The jagged sores in Johnny's arm and neck were new. Probably where the zombies had attacked him, however long ago that was. Johnny still mostly looked like Johnny, except for the blood and fatal wounds, and the dead, vacant look behind his eyes.
Boyd gripped the handle of the scythe in both hands and prepared to swing. The scythe put some distance between him and any zombies, though he wished now that he also had something like a butcher knife to use close up, if he needed to.
Better not miss, then.
Johnny lurched forward, and Boyd aimed for his knees, planning to drop him to the ground. He was utterly surprised when the blade sliced right through Johnny's left knee, and even felt half-guilty about it, but damned if the thing wasn't a whole lot sharper than he'd expected.
Once Johnny was down, Boyd swung the blade across his neck and that was it. But telling himself that the real Johnny had died hours ago didn't change how wrong it all seemed. Boyd staggered back, feeling a little sick. Should I gather up the pieces and bury him?
Something moved in the shadows across the street, and Boyd turned as another undead acquaintance stepped into the light. Hiram Hubley, almost eighty years old, shambling along at about his regular speed.
Boyd sighed, and lifted up the scythe again. He swung right at Hiram's neck, lopping the head off cleanly, and wondered what else might be waiting out there in the dark.
Clearly, it was time to head on home.
Raylan pulled up to Boyd's place at seven. The light was on in the kitchen, and he hoped that was Boyd in there. If they were lucky, they'd have the place all to themselves, but they never knew. The other boarders came and went, using the kitchen and other common living areas as they saw fit.
Raylan was looking forward to a quick shower, some dinner, and a little privacy, if such was to be had. Killing things all day had that effect on a man…
He rang the doorbell and waited. Boyd answered it a few seconds later, his face lighting up as he saw Raylan and then going pale as he glanced at the yard behind him. Raylan turned to look.
When he was alive, Bo Crowder had never let up on Boyd, and now the dead version of him seemed prepared to do the same. He was making his way steadily across the yard, no doubt prepared to torment Boyd all over again.
Boyd stood frozen, just watching it all play out.
"Boyd," Raylan said, but he got no reaction. "Boyd! Go inside and close the door."
"I can't," Boyd whispered.
"C'mon now, Boyd. Don't let him get to you. He made your life miserable—you don't owe him a damn thing."
"I know he did, Raylan," Boyd said, "but he's still my Daddy."
"He ain't your Daddy now. Go inside."
Raylan pushed Boyd back into the house and shut the door. Then he got down off the porch and picked up one of the big rocks that lay next to it. "Come on…" When Bo got close enough, Raylan reached back and threw the rock right at Bo's head. Whump. Raylan still had a damn good arm, and Bo went down like a felled tree.
Another big rock finished the job. Raylan was just sorry the real Bo was long gone and couldn't hear the curses laid down in his name for all the things he'd done. When he was sure Bo wasn't coming back, he grabbed the shoulder of Bo's shirt and dragged him around to the side of the house where Boyd couldn't see him.
Then he went inside, needing that shower and that time alone with Boyd more than ever.
The Harlan County sheriff's office was fairly small. It had been built to help keep the peace, not to impress. Still, Sheriff Napier liked to think they observed the basic tenets of civilized society, the first and most obvious of those being, "Knock before entering."
Sometimes he worked late, and even though he locked the front door, people still knew they could come by if there was some sort of emergency. He was working late now, trying to wrestle information related to a current case out of his balky, beat-up computer. There was a commotion at the front door, but he was in the middle of typing in a search key. "Hang on a minute," he yelled out.
There was a terrible sound, as if the front door had burst open, followed by breaking glass. "What the—" Sheriff Napier said, rising out of his chair.
Two of Harlan County's larger and heavier upstanding citizens stumbled toward him, mouths smeared with what looked like blood.
The Sheriff backed up against his desk, then on it, and found he had nowhere else to go.
"Oh, my Lord!"
Boyd lay in the dark, feeling the slow pulse of Raylan breathing against his shoulder. Raylan was deep into solid, guilt-free sleep, whereas Boyd…
Boyd was still seeing Jimmy's head roll into the gutter, still seeing his Daddy wandering toward the house with his skin all loose and gray and the light gone out of his eyes.
There were plenty of other things to feel bad about, other people Boyd had killed before his spiritual rebirth. But this was different. This was like finding out that the meth trailer he'd set on fire hadn't been empty, or seeing rescue workers pull children from the wreckage of a bomb he'd set in a military zone in Kuwait. Both times, he'd thought he was doing the right thing, but he'd wound up murdering innocent people without meaning to.
Boyd knew he'd had to kill Johnny and let Raylan finish off his Daddy, because Johnny and Daddy weren't people anymore and they were dangerous. But it still seemed like some kind of betrayal, at least in his heart.
He'd thought he was done with those kinds of regrets.
Raylan stirred beside him, and Boyd thought about when all of that had ended. He'd been on the verge of getting roped into the robbery at the mine, but when that group of men showed up at his house to strong-arm him, he'd phoned Raylan and left the line open, hoping Raylan could hear the conversation and figure out what it all meant.
Raylan had come to the house to see Boyd later, after the sheriff's department had busted the whole thing open. "Can't believe you turned that down," he'd said.
The words had stung, but Boyd had just looked at him and said, "I told you I was done with that, Raylan. I truly meant it."
Raylan had looked at him for a long time then, like he was trying to read what was in Boyd's eyes. "Guess so," he finally said, and Boyd had felt this smile like the whole Kentucky sky spreading across his face, like he'd been waiting a lifetime to hear Raylan say those words. Raylan had put a hand out and squeezed his arm, apologizing for more than just the moment, and all the happiness surging through Boyd had caught up with him suddenly and he'd stepped in and given Raylan one of those one-armed hugs they'd thrown around so easily when they were boys.
Raylan had hugged him back, the stubble from his beard rough against Boyd's ear, and Boyd had turned toward that heat, that acceptance, just as Raylan was pulling back. Their skin had touched, a rough-smooth rasp of sensation, and then suddenly Boyd's lips had brushed the edge of Raylan's mouth. They were kissing before they'd even realized what was happening, Boyd chasing hope and Raylan maybe chasing darkness, but regardless, it had spilled out of something that had always been there between them.
Things had ratcheted up so fast after that that they'd barely made it to the guest room with their clothes on.
Afterwards, Boyd had felt a tinge of regret over the fact that it was Ava's house. But he'd wanted that forever without even knowing it, and Raylan had made it clear that he had no regrets. Boyd had broken up with Ava that night, and moved out of her house the next day. Neither he nor Raylan had ever looked back.
"Whatcha thinkin' about, Boyd?" Raylan mumbled into his neck.
Boyd glanced at the clock—past midnight already—and pulled Raylan closer. "Not a thing," he said. "Not anymore."
Raylan walked over to Dot's Coffee Shop the next morning to meet Rachel.
"You must have had a better night than I did," she said, "because I know you didn't stay at that ratty old motel you sent me to."
"What's wrong with it?" Raylan asked. "I've slept there before."
Rachel sighed. "Honestly, Raylan," she said, and went over to the Marshal's Office's car.
Raylan trailed behind her, his arms outstretched in bewilderment. "What?"
Boyd happened to have the day off, but he got up shortly after Raylan. He made coffee, and thought for a bit while he drank it. His conclusion was that there were a lot of dead people buried in and around Harlan who might not stay that way.
He also knew where to lay his hands on dynamite and on an unused stash of military-surplus grenades.
Boyd took the scythe out to the truck, and drove over to his old church. There were two boxes of grenades in the basement, ammunition for a revolt or siege or some other stupid idea he'd had back when he was using the place as his posse headquarters. He put the boxes in the truck bed, and pulled a few grenades out to keep up front. Then he headed for the mine.
He'd made it to the church easily enough, but he had to stop several times on the way to the mine. It seemed like there were zombies wandering all over the place, though at least they only came in ones and twos. Most of them were so long dead that he didn't recognize them, which was a blessing. They were much easier to deal with in the daytime, when he could see them coming from a distance and knew exactly where they were.
There was hardly anyone at the mine—no living people, anyway. Boyd had expected to have to sweet-talk his way into getting some dynamite, but there was no one there to refuse him. He just had to make his way past the undead people without becoming one of them.
He drove over a few of them, and parked right next to the supply shed. It was unlocked, one of the doors yawning open as if someone had been in the middle of taking something out and never finished locking up again. Boyd got out of the truck, taking the scythe with him and using it to poke around inside until he could get to the light switch. Nobody inside the shed, thank God, so he moved a couple of crates into the back of the truck, and put one on the passenger-side floor. Then he hightailed it out of there, throwing a few well-aimed grenades as he went.
He called Raylan on the way back toward town. "The mine's getting overrun. I don't know where they all came from, but there's a whole bunch of 'em roaming around up there."
"I'll let Art know," Raylan promised. "You went up to the mine? I hope you're not out doing something foolish."
Not if any of us is going to survive this, Boyd thought. "Why Raylan, whyever would you say such a thing?" He dropped his voice a little. "Hey, will I see you later?"
"Maybe," Raylan said, and hung up abruptly. Boyd figured Rachel was probably still there with him.
Boyd's next stop was the cemetery, which would either be empty, or full of future trouble. He got into town fairly quickly, and headed on over. He could see movement when he was still a block away, which became awkward movement as he got closer. It even looked like something was working its way up out of the ground.
Nobody resting in peace there, not for long. Boyd parked the truck and got to work, laying out dynamite and creating a network of fuses. Damned zombies would drift close once in a while, and he'd have to stop and take care of them, but after about an hour he had it all ready. He went back to the truck and drove it up to the main fuse, then got out and left the engine running. He waited just long enough to make sure the fuse had caught, and then sped off.
He and the truck were a block away when everything blew up. The shockwave rattled the truck, even as he kept driving away from the wall of fire roaring up from the cemetery to the sky.
The explosion put a smile on Boyd's face, Raylan and his opinions be damned.
He checked the periphery a few minutes later, to make sure the blast had done its work. The east side of the cemetery was quiet, but everything on the west side seemed to be coming apart. The cemetery was burning, and he could see decaying body parts on the street and dying zombies twisting in the flames. But more zombies were coming, whole waves of them. It was as if he'd kicked over a hornet's nest.
He drove out of there fast, and skidded to a stop a few blocks later when he passed a Marshal's Office vehicle coming the other way. The other driver stopped and backed up to where they could talk to each other. It was Marshal Mullen, out riding with that other man Raylan worked with.
"Is that smoke over there your work, Mr. Crowder?" the Marshal asked.
"Yes sir," Boyd said. "I wanted to stop the problem at the source, so to speak. But I think there's too many of them now. Did Raylan mention the coal mine?"
"Yes, he did. I've called in the National Guard—we're already outmanned on this. Looks like this town could go belly-up."
Boyd's breath caught, and his stomach turned to lead. Harlan was his home, had been home to the Crowders for generations. "You gonna evacuate everybody? I don't mean to tell you your business, but…"
"Happening as we speak," the Marshal said. "You'd better get packing, won't have much time."
Ava, Boyd thought. "Yes sir, I will." He nodded to the two men and turned up the road that led to his brother's old house.
As soon as Art called with the evacuation order, Raylan phoned Boyd. "I hope you're on your way out of town. You need to get to someplace safe."
"I'm helping Ava pack her things right now," Boyd said. "I'll have her out the door and on the road in about ten minutes."
"And then you're leaving?"
"Well, Raylan, what do you think? Do I seem like the kind of man to just turn tail and run when his home's being threatened? And let you fight this out by yourself?"
Raylan scowled. "Boyd…"
"You'd do the same thing, and you know it. You can't tell me different."
Raylan let out an exasperated sound and hung up the phone. He glanced over at Rachel, who was smiling a little bit, like she knew something.
Well, hell, he thought. Maybe she does.
"All right," he said. "Art wants us to provide cover so people can get out safely. He and Tim are clearing the town center and moving out toward the edges."
"Not much of a town," Rachel said.
"No. But still big enough to make this a challenge."
Boyd headed back to town as soon as he'd escorted Ava safely away. A whole family's worth of zombies came down a hillside on the way there, and he took them out with one of the grenades. He'd put one of the boxes in the front seat, now that he seemed to be using them more often. It wasn't a good sign, but at least he had the ammunition. It gave him and Harlan's remaining survivors a better chance.
Marshal Mullen and the other one—Tim—seemed to be trying to secure the main road in what passed for Harlan's downtown. Mullen had a shoulder-mounted RPG, while Tim appeared to wielding a flame thrower. Boyd noted the smoking remains of the Harlan Savings and Loan building with dismay. For a situation like this, the RPG was a weapon of last choice. It destroyed everything, not just the enemy.
The flame thrower, on the other hand, might allow too much proximity. Damned if Boyd didn't want one all the same, though.
"Excuse me, Marshal," he finally said. "Have you seen Deputy Givens?"
Mullen barely turned in Boyd's direction. "Do I look like Raylan's answering machine?"
"No, sir," Boyd said.
"All right, then. So I won't tell you that he and Deputy Brooks are probably still over by the high school."
"Thank you." Boyd got back in the truck and drove off to find them.
Raylan just didn't see this playing out well. Things had moved beyond the National Guard, and now the Army had taken over the operation. Soldiers were building sandbag blockades and restricting the perimeter, but the zombies were persistent and tough to kill from a distance. Up close, every mistake resulted in new zombie recruits. The streets were littered with the bodies of Harlan's former citizens.
He and Rachel had helped clear everyone out of the neighborhood, but the two of them were no match for the numbers of undead massing in the distance. Raylan figured the Army was about four hours shy of bombing the entire town to dust, but he wasn't the one calling the shots on this thing. All he and Rachel could do was stay alert and wait for further orders.
In the meantime, he kept coming back to the same question: Where the hell was Boyd?
Raylan knew how Boyd loved Harlan. Hadn't that been the problem all along? Raylan couldn't stay and Boyd couldn't leave, and somehow they'd wound up close enough to the right time and place to start something together, but it wasn't easy. All the sneaking around and the challenges of geography… it was worth it, sure, but how long could they keep on doing it? Raylan preferred not to think about that too much.
His instincts told him Boyd was probably on a one-man mission to save this sorry town, when chances were, Harlan's penchant for destroying its people would prove to be even more stubborn than Boyd.
Raylan's phone rang. "Deputy Givens."
"We're all clear to move out," Art told him. "General Hawkins wants full control of whatever's left of this town, and we're just getting in the way. You and Rachel ought to head back, now."
Raylan closed his eyes, feeling torn. Job or no job, he wasn't about to leave Boyd behind.
Rachel watched him expectantly, and that was it. He didn't care how it looked or what anybody thought. He called Boyd's number and hoped to God he would answer.
Raylan let out a huge breath, nearly dizzy with relief. "Hey, Boyd. The Army's closing Harlan down, and everyone's leaving. The Marshals are pulling out and heading back to Lexington."
"Oh," Boyd said softly, and Raylan knew how he must have felt. There was an emptiness in Boyd's tone that only arose in his bleakest moments
Boyd was quiet for a moment, and then said, "Does that mean you have to ride back with your people? Or could I drive you back, instead?"
Raylan grinned like a fool, ducking down so Rachel couldn't see. "I think that'd work."
He had Rachel drop him off on the high road overlooking the valley. Boyd was waiting there with the pickup. The back of the truck had several boxes—probably Boyd's books and a few clothes—and a good-sized bunch of dynamite. "Boyd…" Raylan said.
Boyd came around to Raylan's side. "I'd throw it out, but I might still need it. We don't know how far this whole zombie thing spreads."
Rachel was at least a mile away by then, so Raylan pulled Boyd close and just held him tight. There was the sharp scent of sulfur and a few other things in Boyd's hair and clothes, things that smelled like explosions and burning and maybe like a hint of exhilaration or defeat.
They stood, arms around each other, looking down at the destruction below. There was plenty of daylight left, but very little hope.
The hills of Harlan were scorched, the streets filled with broken buildings and torn up streets and the bodies of generations of residents all scattered like forgotten trash.
Raylan had only a few happy memories of it to begin with, and there was nothing there worth trying to reclaim. But the real decision lay with Boyd, who had loved it enough to call it home.
"Are you sure you're ready to finally leave Harlan behind?" Raylan asked quietly. "Though I don't think there's much of a choice. They'll probably wind up tearing the whole place down, anyway."
"I'm sure," Boyd said, staring at the devastation to the town and surrounding country he'd known so well.
Raylan was certain most of the people Boyd cared about were dead, the whole area just inhabited now by ghosts of the places and people that made up his past.
"There are other things I can do, besides mining and whatnot," Boyd said softly. "I just can't seem to do them in Harlan…"
"We don't know what's out there, not really," Raylan cautioned. "It might be a whole lot worse than anything we've seen here."
"Then we'll keep moving," Boyd said. "We'll keep searching until we find someplace safe where we can start our lives again."
"Will it be enough, do you think, to make you happy?" Raylan asked.
Boyd turned and held Raylan's gaze, his smile easily the brightest thing Raylan had seen in weeks. "As long as we're together, that's all that matters. The farther we go, the less the two of us'll have to hide, and I've been ready for that for a long time now."
Raylan pulled Boyd closer, his hand cradling the back of Boyd's neck. "Why didn't you say something?" he said. "I could've left that job a long time ago."
Boyd brought his hands up to Raylan's face, and brushed his fingers lightly over the stubble on Raylan's cheeks. He leaned in and kissed Raylan, soft and sure.
"Doesn't matter, not anymore," he whispered. "Because I'm finally saying it now."
----- fin -----