Rise of the Corpses Online - Ty Drago

ChapTer 1

DeaD Men Walking

o n a sunny Wednesday morning in October—a day that would mark the end of one life and the beginning of another—I found out that my next-door neighbor was one of the walking dead.

The day had started typically enough, with Mom nagging me to get dressed. Emily, my five-year-old sister, was wailing because the cable was out and she couldn’t watch Dora the Explorer. And me? I was in the bathroom, trying to get that “sticky-up” part of my hair to lay flat.

My name’s William Karl Ritter—Will to the world at large. I’m twelve years old and just about as “middle of the road” as you can get. I’m not skinny or fat, not really tall or short, not butt-ugly or particularly good-looking. What I am is a redhead. See, I’ve got my mom’s pale face and green eyes and my dad’s freckles and mop of orange hair, Undertakers_FinalINT.indd 1

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Ty Drago

which he had always called the “family heritage” dating back to the old country. If so, then it was one weird heritage. After all, who ever heard of a redheaded German?

I hated being a redhead—and still do. Sort of.

Back then, I guess I hated a lot of things. For example, I hated middle school. The classes were boring. I hated being called Red all the time. And I especially hated when the school bullies pinned me down and played “connect the dots” with my freckles and a ballpoint pen.

But most of all, I hated that my dad wasn’t there to make it all right.

“Bus in ten minutes, Will!” Mom called from downstairs. “I’ve got a Pop-Tart for you!”

“Okay, Mom!” With a groan, I gave up on my hair, fled the bathroom, and bounded down the steps three at a time.

Mom was in the kitchen, calming Emily down with a glass of apple juice. “There’s nothing I can do about the cable, honey. It’ll come back on when it comes back on. Will, grab something to eat. You’ve got…eight and a half minutes!”

“I’ll make it!” I said, shoving half a Pop-Tart into my mouth.

“Isn’t today the deadline for the soccer sign-ups?” Mom asked, glancing sideways at me.

The Pop-Tart suddenly caught a little in my throat.

“I guess so.”

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The UnDerTakers: rise of The Corpses

She gave me her “mother” look. “I want you doing more with your free time than playing Xbox. A little exercise, maybe? Why don’t you sign up?”

I made a sour face. “Soccer sucks.”

“You loved it up until two years ago. Tell me again how many goals you scored that last season you played.

Was it eight?”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “But it’s, like, different now.”

“Will, your dad would want you to continue doing the things that interest you.”

“I know,” I sighed.

“Sign up today,” Mom said firmly. “Emmie and I expect to see you in some games this fall. Got it, mister?”

“Okay, I’ll do it,” I relented, only half-meaning it.

Smiling, she forced a hug out of me, after which Emily dumped a sloppy kiss on my cheek. Then I snatched up my backpack from its place by the door and headed out.

“Have a good day!” Mom called.

I did not have a good day.

I leapt down the stoop, letting the door slam behind me. I was determined to get all the way up the hill to the bus stop in less than thirty seconds. But before I could get as far as the sidewalk, I heard Old Man Pratt call to me.

He sounded pissed. He usually did.

Inwardly I groaned. What had I done now?

I turned around—and instantly all thoughts of school, soccer, and bus stops went right out of my head.

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Ty Drago

Pratt said, “You got your trash cans mixed up with mine again, boy!”

He’d moved in next door to us about two years ago.

His house looked almost exactly like ours, which looked almost exactly like every other house on Grape Street, which looked almost exactly like every other street in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia: a two-floor, vinyl-sided row home with square windows and a flat, tarred roof. The Manayunk Standard, Mom always called it.

Pratt was the neighborhood grouch. Somewhere in his seventies, he lived alone, kept to himself, and got pissed off more often and with less reason than anyone I’d ever met.

“I’m talking to you, Ritter!”

I tried to speak—I really did—but no sound came out. When you turn around expecting to see something familiar—not particularly pleasant but familiar—and instead see something else altogether, it takes a little while for your brain to catch