Again, not that any of this was official. Nobody was rounding up the undead and putting them in camps or anything. We’d never do anything like that, not in America. It was just one of those things that kind of…happened. You came back from the dead, and you couldn’t touch your assets because everything was all tied up in probate and there wasn’t any legal precedent for trying to claim your own estate. Without money, you couldn’t find a place to stay, and you couldn’t just wander the streets without being busted on a vagrancy charge. So you wandered until you found a spot you couldn’t get kicked out of. And you stayed there.
The old Roman Catholics used to believe that there was a place on the outskirts of Hell, called Limbo. It was where you did your time if you hadn’t done anything really wrong, but you couldn’t get into Heaven because…fuck, who knew? Probably every time you asked, some paper-pushing angel gave you a vague answer without ever looking you in the eyes. Even God had people who fell through the cracks. That was Limbo. The place on the edge of Hell for all the people who didn’t fit anywhere else. When I heard about it in church, I always pictured it in my head as a sort of endless, gray, empty nothing full of people who stood around, staring vacantly into space and getting rained on.
I didn’t picture it that way anymore. I didn’t need to. I knew exactly what Limbo looked like, and it was those five blocks on Vineyard Street along the river.
It was crowded. The crowd had grown a trickle at a time over the last six months, with a heart attack here and a careless driver there, probably no more than nine or ten each day but they kept coming. Nobody did a census, but I figured there were almost two thousand people crammed into those five city blocks. They were two thousand dead people, too. We didn’t rot as fast as corpses used to, which was another one of those things that scientists kept saying they’d have an answer for any day now, and my sense of smell wasn’t what it was when I was alive. But even I could smell that. The stench alone kept most of the living away.
It was dark, too. Most of the streetlights were broken, and nobody had stopped by to change a bulb in…oh, about six months. Funny, that. Nobody lit any fires anymore; zombies didn’t feel the cold, and all the transients had either moved on or joined the Vineyard Street crowd in a more permanent sense. Hell, life probably hadn’t changed for them all that much.
I walked along Vineyard Street with my head down, trying not to make eye contact with anybody. Most of the time, that wasn’t very hard. A lot of the people on Vineyard Street had already given up on life the same way it had given up on them; they didn’t have the nerve to off themselves permanently, but they couldn’t face unlife. They just wanted to escape. But they couldn’t eat, sleep, drink, or do drugs, so they just sat there waiting for whatever was keeping their bodies animated to give up and leave them alone. They were no problem to anybody. I was more worried about the crazies and the desperate ones.
Being dead took everybody different. Nobody really adjusted to it, but some people handled it better than others. The ones who went really nuts usually wound up shrink-wrapped in a warehouse somewhere—the cops didn’t make much of an effort at policing Vineyard Street, never had, but the really bad crazies didn’t limit their activities to the zombie ghettos. That didn’t mean that everyone left over was sane, though. It just meant that they were smart enough to avoid getting caught at being crazy.
About two blocks in, I figured out that I was being followed. It was the sound that gave them away; one foot dragged when they walked, making a scraping sound on the asphalt that gave them away even with the bad light. I walked a little faster. I didn’t want to run, not unless I had to, but I wanted to make whoever it was work to keep up with me. The more distance they had to close to get to me, the more time I’d have to figure out what to do about them when they got there.
Four blocks along, and that scraping sound was starting to get on my nerves. I knew better than to think they’d give up; we didn’t get tired or fatigued the way a living person would. I could walk to Timbuktu, and that scraping sound would follow me every goddamned step. I didn’t really feel like walking to Timbuktu, though. So instead I headed for one of the few remaining streetlights that hadn’t fallen victim to vandalism or neglect, and waited in the dim sodium light for whoever it was that was following me.
She was young, younger than I expected. From the look of her face, what was left of it, she was no more than seventeen. She’d been cute when she was alive, too; the features on the left side of her face could have been those of a magazine model. The right side, well…if I had to guess, I’d say she bit it in a motorcycle accident. No head trauma, or she wouldn’t still be walking around, but she must have skidded along the ground for a good few feet to abrade off that much flesh. Her right arm was a mangled mess, and her right leg dragged in an awkward way that suggested she’d broken it in a few places when she died. I pegged her for exposure and blood loss from the broken arm. I never thought I’d be glad to get a slug in the chest, but walking down Vineyard Street made it clear that there were a lot of bad ways to die.