As promised yesterday, we’re back with another look at the recently released Walking Dead novel titled The Road to Woodbury. The novel—which was written by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga—follows up The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor. The novel is a direct sequel which further develops the Governor character and the people who aided him.
The book was released on Oct. 16, but you can read its eighth chapter here exclusively. Head on over to the next page to start reading the chapter, and you can read the book’s first three chapters here.
They pass the sign on the way into town, bumping over a series of railroad tracks and entering the village from the southeast. Lilly and Bob remain silent in the Dodge RAM’s rear enclosure, as Josh, behind the wheel, scans the immediate area. To his right a busted sign reading PIGGLY IGGLY stands over a parking lot littered with dead bodies and broken glass. The grocery store is caved in on one side as though blasted by dynamite. Tall cyclone fencing, gouged and punched out in places, runs along the road known alternately as Woodbury Highway or Main Street. Grisly lumps of human carnage and twisted, scorched metal litter patches of exposed ground – the white, sandy earth practically glowing in the snowy darkness – an eerie sight reminiscent of a desert war zone smack dab in the middle of Georgia.
“Had a pretty big dust-up a few weeks ago with a herd of walkers,” the man named Martinez says from the passenger seat, lighting a Viceroy and opening his window a few inches. The smoke curls out into the wind-lashed snow, vanishing like ghosts. “Things got outta hand for a while, but luckily cooler heads prevailed. Gonna be taking a hard left up here in a second.”
Josh follows the van around a hair-pin and down a narrower section of road.
In the dark middle distance, behind a veil of windswept sleet, the heart of Woodbury comes into view. Four square-blocks of turn-of-the-century brick buildings and power lines crowd a central intersection of merchants, wood frame homes and apartment buildings. Much of it is laced with cyclone fences and idle construction sites that appear to be recent additions. Josh remembers when they used to call these places “wide spots in the road.”
Woodbury’s width seems to extend about a half a dozen blocks in all directions, with larger public areas carved out of the wooded wetlands to the west and north. Some of the rooftop chimneys and vent stacks sprout columns of thick black smoke, either from generator exhaust or wood stoves and fireplaces. Most of the street lamps are dark, but some glow in the darkness, apparently running on emergency juice.
As the convoy approaches the center of town, Josh notices the van pulling up to the edge of a construction site. “Been working on the wall for months,” Martinez explains. “Pretty near got two square blocks completely protected, and we plan on expanding it – moving the wall back further and further as we go.”
“Not a bad idea,” Josh mutters, almost under his breath, as he ponders the massive high wall of wooden timbers and planks, cannibalized pieces of cabin logs, siding, and two-by-fours, at least fifteen feet tall, extending along the edge of Jones Mill Road. Portions of the barricade still bear the scars of the recent walker attacks, and even in the snow-swept dark the claw marks and patched areas and ricochet holes and bloodstains, as black as tar, call out to Josh.
The place vibrates with latent violence, like some throwback to the Wild West.
Josh brings the truck to a stop, as the van’s rear doors jack open and one of the young Turks hops out the back and then goes over to a seam in the fortification. He pulls open a hinged section, swinging the gate wide enough for the two vehicles to pass through. The van rumbles through the gap, and Josh follows.
“Got about fifty people and change,” Martinez continues, taking a deep drag off the Viceroy and blowing it out the window. “Place over there, on the right, that’s kind of a food center. Got all our supplies, bottled water, medicine stashed in that place.”
As they pass, Josh sees the faded old sign – DeForest’s Feed and Seed – its storefront fortified and reinforced with burglar bars and planking, two armed guards standing out front smoking cigarettes. The gate closes behind them as they roll slowly along, venturing deeper into the secure zone. Other denizens stand around, watching them pass – people bundled up on boardwalks, standing in vestibules – shell-shocked expressions behind scarves and mufflers. Nobody looks particularly friendly or happy to see them.
“Got a doctor on board, working medical center and what-not.” Martinez tosses his cigarette butt out the window. “Hope to expand the walls at least another block by the end of the week.”
“Not a bad set-up,” Bob comments from the back seat, his watery eyes taking it all in. “If ya don’t mind my asking, what the hell is that?”
Josh sees the top of the massive edifice a few blocks beyond the walled-in area, toward which Bob is now pointing a greasy finger. In the hazy darkness it looks like a flying saucer has landed in the middle of a field beyond the town square. Dirt roads circle the thing, and dim lights twinkle in the snow above its circular rim.
“Used to be a dirt race track.” Martinez grins. In the green glow of the dashboard lights the smirk looks almost lupine, devilish. “Hillbillies love their races.”
“’Used’ to be?” Josh asks.
“Boss laid down the law last week, no more races, too much noise. Racket was drawing biters.”
“There’s a boss here?”
The smirk on Martinez’s face curdles into something unreadable. “Don’t worry, Cousin. You’ll be meeting him soon enough.”
Josh sneaks a glance at Lilly, who is busily gnawing on her fingernails. “Not sure we’re gonna be sticking around very long.”
“It’s up to you.” Martinez gives a non-committal shrug. He slips on a pair of fingerless, leather Carnaby gloves and turns up his collar. “Keep in mind, though, those mutual benefits I was talking about.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Our apartments are all filled up but we still got places you can stay in the center of town.”
“Good to know.”
“I’m telling you, once we get that wall expanded, you’ll have your pick of places to live.”
Josh says nothing.
Martinez stops smirking and all at once, in the dim green light, he looks as though he’s remembering better days, maybe a family, maybe something painful. “I’m talking about places with soft beds, privacy… picket fences and trees.”
A long pause of awkward silence.
“Lemme ask you something, Martinez.”
“How did you end up here?”
Martinez lets out a sigh. “God’s honest truth, I don’t really remember.”
He gives another shrug. “I was alone, ex-wife got bit, my kid up and disappeared. I guess I didn’t give a shit about much of anything any more but killing walkers. Went on kind of a rampage. Put down a whole slew of those ugly motherfuckers. Some locals found me passed out in a ditch. Took me here. Swear to God that’s about all I remember.” He cocks his head as though reconsidering. “I’m glad they did, though, especially now.”
“What do you mean?”
Martinez looks at him. “This place ain’t perfect but it’s safe, and it’s only gonna get safer. Thanks in no small part to the guy we got in charge now.”
Josh looks at him. “This is the ‘Boss’ guy, I assume you’re talking about?”
“And you say we’re gonna get a chance to meet this guy?”
Martinez holds up a gloved hand as if to say, Just wait.
He pulls a small two-way radio from the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. He thumbs the switch and speaks into the mouthpiece. “Haynes, take us to the courthouse… they’re waiting for us over there.”
Another loaded glance passes between Josh and Lilly as the lead vehicle pulls off the main road and heads across the town square, a statue of Robert E. Lee guarding a kudzu covered gazebo. They approach a flagstone government building on the far edge of the park, its stone steps and portico ghostly pale in the snow-veiled darkness.
The community room lies at the rear of the courthouse building, at the end of a long, narrow corridor lined with glass doors leading into private offices.
Josh and Company gather in the cluttered meeting room, their boots dripping on the parquet floor. They are exhausted and in no mood to meet the Woodbury Welcome Wagon but Martinez tells them to be patient.
Snow ticks against the high windows as they wait. The room, warmed by space heaters and dimly lit with Coleman lanterns, looks as though it has seen its share of heated exchanges. The crumbling plaster walls bear the scars of violence. The floor is strewn with overturned folding chairs and littered with wadded documents. Josh notices blood streaks on the front wall, near a tattered Georgia state flag.
Generators thrum in the bowels of the edifice, vibrating the floor.
They wait a little over five minutes – Josh pacing, Lilly and the others sitting on folding chairs — before the sound of heavy boots echo out in the corridor. Someone is whistling as the footsteps approach.
“Welcome, folks, welcome to Woodbury.” The voice that emanates from the doorway is low and nasally, and filled with faux conviviality.
All heads turn.
Three men stand in the doorway with smiles on their faces that don’t match their cold, lidded stares. The man in the middle radiates a weird kind of energy that makes Lilly think of peacocks and fighting fish. “We can always use more good people around here,” he says and steps into the room.
Lean and raw-boned in his ratty fisherman’s sweater, his cinder-black hair shapeless and shaggy, he sports a five o’clock shadow of whiskers on his face that he’s already trimming and styling into the beginnings of a Fu Manchu mustache. He has a strange nervous tic that is hardly noticeable – he blinks a lot.
“Name’s Philip Blake,” he says, “and this is Bruce over here, and that’s Gabe.”
The other two men – both older – follow on the younger man’s heels like guard dogs. Not much of a greeting from these two – other than a few grunts and nods – as they stand slightly behind the man named Philip.
Gabe, on the left, the Caucasian, is a fireplug of a man with a thick neck and jarhead crew cut. Bruce, on the right, is a dour black man with an onyx, shaved head. Each of these men holds an impressive automatic assault rifle across his chest, fingers on the trigger pads. For a moment Lilly cannot take her eyes off the guns.
“Sorry about the heavy artillery,” Philip says, indicating the weaponry behind him. “We had a little dust-up in town last month, got kinda hairy for a while. Can’t take any chances now. Too much at stake. Your names are…?”
Josh introduces the group, going around the room and ending on Megan.
“You look like somebody I knew once,” Philip informs Megan, the man’s eyes all over her now. Lilly does not like the way this guy is looking at her friend. It’s very subtle but it bothers her.
“I get that a lot,” Megan says.
“Or maybe it’s somebody famous. Doesn’t she look like somebody famous, guys?”
The “guys” behind him have no opinion. Philip snaps his fingers. “That chick from ‘Titanic’!”
“Carrie Winslet?” the one named Gabe speculates.
“You stupid fucking idiot, it’s not ‘Carrie,’ it’s Kate… Kate… Fucking Kate Winslet.”
Megan gives Philip a cockeyed smile. “I’ve been told Bonnie Raitt.”
“I love Bonnie Raitt,” Philip enthuses. “’Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About’.”
Josh speaks up. “So you’re ‘The Boss’ we’ve been hearing about?”
Philip turns to the big man. “Guilty as charged.” Philip smiles and goes over to Josh and extends a hand. “’Josh’ was it?”
Josh shakes the man’s hand. The expression on Josh’s face remains noncommittal, polite, deferential. “That’s right. We appreciate you taking us in for a while. Not sure how long we’ll be staying.”
Philip smiles at him. “You just got here, Friend. Relax. Check the place out. You won’t find a safer place to live. Believe me.”
Josh gives a nod. “Looks like you got the Biter problem under control.”
“We get our share, I won’t lie to you. Herd comes though every few weeks. Had a bad situation a couple of weeks ago but we’re getting the town squared away.”
“Looks like it.”
“Basically we run on the barter system.” Philip Blake looks around the room, regarding each of these newcomers as a coach might size up at a new team. “I understand you folks scored big at a Walmart yesterday.”
“We did alright.”
“You’re all welcome to take what you need in trade.”
Josh looks at him. “Trade?”
“Goods, services… whatever you got to contribute. As long as you respect your fellow citizens, keep your noses clean, abide by the rules, pitch in… you can stay as long as you like.” He looks at Josh. “Gentleman of your… physical endowment… we can use around here.”
Josh thinks it over. “So you’re some kind of ‘elected official’?”
Philip glances at his guards, and the other men grin, and Philip bursts out laughing. He wipes his mirthless eyes and shakes his head. “I’m more like – what’s the phrase? – ‘pro tem’? President pro tem?”
Philip waves off the question. “Put it this way, not long ago this place was under the thumb of some power hungry assholes, got too big for their britches. I saw the need for leadership and I volunteered.”
Philip’s smile fades. “I stepped up, Friend. Times like these. Strong leadership is a necessity. We got families here. Women and children. Old people. You got to have somebody watching the door, somebody… decisive. You understand what I’m saying?”
Josh nods. “Sure.”
Behind Philip, Gabe, still smirking, mumbles, “President Pro Tem… I like that.”
From across the room, Scott, perched on a windowsill, chimes in: “Dude, you sure look like a president… with those two secret service dudes.”
An awkward moment of silence presses down on the group as Scott’s breathy little weed-giggle fades and Philip turns to glance at the stoner across the room. “What’s your name again, Sport?”
“Well, Scoot Moon, I don’t know about President. Never saw myself as the Chief Executive type.” Another cold smile. “I’d be Governor at best.”