Through the Valley
Dedicated to the memory of George A. Romero
Chapter 1: Summer Snow
Emmit Mills opened his eyes and was immediately blinded by bright white light. His head felt empty somehow, as if his brain had done a full memory dump and left no files behind in storage. There was a steady roar around him, a sound like rushing water intermixed with the creaks and snaps of tall, waving trees.
Jesus, I'm freezing to death.
Emmit's entire body, which was long and lanky and had little meat on it (his nickname among friends was Slim Em, or just Slim for short) burned with cold fire. He brought his numbed, stinging fingers up to his face and brushed them against the bridge of his nose, feeling for his glasses. They were missing, which meant he was essentially blind.
If I knew it was going to snow today, I would have worn a coat, he thought, running his hands up and down the stiffened flesh of his bare arms and then doing the same to his exposed calves. He was dressed in a short sleeved plain black T-shirt and camo cargo shorts, with ankle socks that were too small for his gargantuan feet stuffed into a pair of thin skater shoes. Glancing around himself, he found that he was sitting in a drift of crisp snow like a piece of freezer burnt steak. Why the hell had he left the apartment without a coat on? Or pants for that matter?
Come to think of it... just where the fuck am I anyway?
Emmit's vision was extremely poor, but he could still make out the tall black stalks of trees on all sides of him. It was like looking through a foggy window. He could feel that it was snowing or sleeting, but "feeling" was hardly the best way to describe it when he could barely feel his own limbs. It was painfully cold, and his teeth were chattering together beneath the stinging flesh of his scrawny face.
Panic began to hasten his pulse. He tried desperately to remember anything, anything at all. Where had he been? Where was he now? How did he get here, and... who the hell was he exactly?
He plunged his hands into the snow drift, grabbing icy handfuls of powder and digging like a hyperactive dog. The only image he could form in his mind was that of a dingy rundown apartment, which he recognized as his. He knew his name started with an E and sounded something like "damn it", but it was just out of his reach. He kept imagining that he could see a huge industrial wall filled from edge to edge with interlocking gears, but they were all spasming and jammed in place. It was like a default thought, the only solid information his brain had for him. He had to shake his head to clear it out again and again, but each time he did his mind was utterly empty. Then he would visualize the gears again, trying to mesh and rotate in unison but the rusty cogs and sprockets were frozen in place.
Okay, E, he thought, gasping and grunting through gritted teeth against the pain of winter. He could already feel his lips beginning to dry and split apart, and his eyes felt like they were filled with razor sharp ice crystals.
The rest will come later, right now focus on what you do know. You're out in a blizzard with no protection and you're blind without your glasses. Find them and then find some sort of shelter, or you're a dead man.
"Come on!" He screamed, his words muted by the roar of the wind through the trees. He had dug out a sizable crater before his deadened hands finally knocked something loose, something small and black that stuck out against the white backdrop of the snow like buttons on a snowman. He snatched at it, barely able to move his fingers.
He had unearthed his thick black framed glasses, and passing the pad of his thumb over the lenses, they felt intact. He rubbed them furiously against the frosted fabric of his shirt and jammed them onto his face. They were smudged and coated with ice, and looking through them was like looking through the bottoms of glass pop bottles. But dirty lenses were better than wandering around blind until he dropped dead of exposure.
Alright. Get up. Move.
His limbs were heavy and pulling his wet shoes out of the snow felt like wading through concrete, but he willed himself to start walking. He alternated between wrapping his arms around himself like bat wings and bringing his fingertips up and putting them in his mouth, trying desperately to warm them and cease the aching sting. It didn't do much good. Through his smeared lenses, he saw nothing but layer upon layer of endless trees, tall black trunks that seemed to tower all the way up to the gray haze of snow clouds that hung lazily in the sky. There was no sound except for the crunch of his shoes in the brittle snow, and the continuous whoosh of the arctic wind through dead branches. The snow was such a brilliant virgin white that he kept having to clench his eyes shut, his eyeballs swiveling madly behind the red curtains of his eyelids. He rubbed at them, watching the strange neon light show of his brain trying to interpret what his eyes were experiencing. They looked like ghostly fireworks hovering and drifting around the inside of his skull.
The thought went off in his empty head, not unlike a firework itself in an otherwise empty night sky. The last place he could remember being before waking up in the freezer was an office building or something like one, with desks and pens and sharply dressed people bustling about inside. He had been waiting for something, and as he had been looking around,