From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey
I spent my last day in the Pines meeting with Chapman, Tucker, Ramo and Lourdes. Ramo as it turns out is a Citadel Graduate, He never told me his reasons for joining the guard as opposed to Active duty but then its none of my business.
He is wary of the Zone and for that I can not blame him, the world doesn’t exactly inspire much trust between strangers these days. I also got the impression that He likes Lourdes which might cause a few problems in the future. Nothing I can do about that, what’s done is done and truth to tell I like her a lot.
Yes I know, I was warned by Eric, Dumont, even Jill Stone not to get involved with who ever I am dealing with. Well sue me.
Back to business, as I wrote he is wary of us, but at this point he is backing the trade deal assuming we can prove we have things they need. So I plan on supply him some ammunition and a little fuel. I know that Ashton and Jared both are wanting to hang on to every round we have and I understand why, but we have tens of millions of rounds we have pulled out of the terminal, and some of the caches. I will have to work my ass off to convince them to shake loose a couple thousand rounds of 5.56, maybe place it on another grounded or half sunken ship or in the back of a Guard supply truck here on the island.
I find it funny that Tucker had a still built to make hooch, but never thought of using stills to make medicinal alcohols and fuel. I dropped a suggestion about that last night and the look on his face was priceless. I don’t have to work in the shadows as much here as I had to in Harbor town so I don’t have to dance around all that much to keep from revealing something I shouldn’t.
If Gideon snows Enclave is doing half was well as the Pines, this island stands a good chance to pull through whether they join us or not. at least assuming that raiders don’t strike or some kind of warfare between enclaves doesn’t ruin it. Well its time to go, Stephanie is giving me that move your butt look. Do not want to piss off the Super Amazon Shaolin as Tucker calls her.
July 2nd, Parkway Gate, the Pines.
“Good morning Mr. McCaffrey” Chris looked up from where he had been tying down the last of the supplies in his cart and saw Pastor Wells, dressed for hiking complete with a battered old pack and walking stick. He was accompanied by another council member, Hercules Secord Chris remembered, it would be hard to forget the man, he was at least six three, broad shouldered, and had the arms and legs of a power lifter. The man had the rugged good looks that separated him from pretty boys like Tom Cruise, he didn’t glance at Stephanie to know that she found Secord attractive and she wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of the two of them traveling along.
It still amazed Chris to see men that large these days, but they had naturally been thick limbed and heavily muscled instead of the gym time and supplements type of man, And like Wells he was dressed and outfitted to go on a long trip. Which instantly made him suspicious.
“I know this is last minute, but we had a emergency meeting this morning, “ Wells said. Early was right, Chris thought it was just after six. “we have decided that it is best if at least two actual representatives from the Pines accompany you. You will of course open the talks and when you feel the time is right we can be included.”
Chris hesitated, it made sense and it made the whole plan much more workable, but he also had things he didn’t want them to know about it. But Secord was one of those who thought the Zone might be lying to them and if Chris insisted on going alone then it would look even more like He and by extension the zone had something to hide. Nothing ever goes as planned, he thought. Improvise, adapt and overcome.
“All right Pastor Wells, and Mr. Secord.” Chris said in a friendly tone, noting that both men carried pistols holstered on their sides. Not surprising in today’s world, what would be surprising would be any anti gun people surviving to this point. “First thing, you do what I say, when I say it, because I am responsible for you. And getting you killed wont help get a trade agreement.”
“I can take care of myself just fine” Secord said looming over Chris. I doubt you’ve spent more than a couple of hours outside the enclave since the Dead stopped walking and that was with in a mile of this place, Chris thought. Which means you have no real clue what its like out there or what you might have to do so survive out there. But that wouldn’t be the most polite thing he could say.
“I don’t doubt that Mr. Secord, but understand me. I wont risk you, if you had asked me before this I could have explained my concerns and we could have worked something out to make us all happy. But you didn’t so we are stuck with this.” and you can like that or not Mr. Secord, Chris thought. and you can keep trying to use your size to intimidate me, but that’s never worked before and it wont now.
“Hercules, please the man has a point.” Pastor Wells said gently placing a hand on Hercules Secord’s forearm. “And you do have a family to return to.” Secord didn’t really relax but he nodded in grudging agreement.
“All right then, we are going to be looking for Franklin Coates first, from what you’ve told me his people are the closest.”
Wells smiled and nodded. “You’re the leader of this little expedition Mr. McCaffrey lead on.” Unsurprisingly Hercules Secord frowned and said nothing.
0700 hours, Tuckers Studio
Lourdes swept into the room, dressed today in Jeans and a blouse with sturdy hiking boots on her small feet. Tucker sat at his drafting table; the one place people usually found him working on some new design.
“Well they are off” She said brightly. “Chris didn’t argue from what I heard from the guards.”
“Good, I didn’t think he would” Tucker said swiveling around on his chair to face her. “Just a point here, but if you don’t want people to figure out your Sleeping with the man, you might not want to call him Chris.”
She blushed and smiled, “true, that is a very good point.” She replied as she dropped into a chair.
“If this goes as planned then there wont be any one thinking that Mr. McCaffrey is playing us.” He said. “At not least with Pastor Wells and hopefully Hercules to vouch for him. The question I have Lourdes why him?”
“Please tell me your not jealous” She asked quietly. Knowing exactly what and more importantly, she knew whom Tucker was referring to.
“No, I am happy for you. Honestly! I’m just curious why you picked a guy who doesn’t even live here.” Tucker said calmly as he toyed with the pencil he held.
“Because he doesn’t live here” she said with a smile then lifted a hand and waved away her joke.. “Honestly it just sort of happened.”
“Well I am happy for you,” Tucker repeated, “which I think I just said. Now since you’re here, I would like you to help me push this latest project” He said turning back to his drafting table.
“You know that some people are nervous about all the things you keep wanting to build.” She pointed out as she rose to her feet and walked forward to peer over His shoulder at the plans.
“Okay it looks like a barrel with pipes and a small door. A heated gnome house?” she asked teasingly.
“yes the island has been infested with gnomes who need housing. The good thing is they can make shoes for us” Tucker replied. She laughed softly relieved that she hadnt misread Tucker’s feelings after knowing each other for so long.
“This is an much larger version of McCaffreys gasifier. If I buckle down and get Clay and Aston to help I can have it finished in a week.” He said looking over his shoulder at her. “we can run that huge ass Generator the Guard put in with the thing.”
“A gasifier runs on wood right,” she said as she checked the dimensions he had written down, “so wouldn’t something that size require a lot of wood on a regular basis, we would end up cutting down every tree for miles to run something that large for any length of time.”
“Good, your thoughts are right on the money. which is why I had to dig around for the information I needed to make the most efficient fire box possible. If my math is right, and the information I based it on is accurate, then this one will require only a quarter of the wood of gasifier system of the same size. Not to mention the fact that it can also use dung, coal and a host of other fuels so we are not limited to wood.”
“so what do you have planned that we need a big generator running?” She asked as she picked up a pencil and begin to twirl it over and under each finger of her left hand like she was weaving something.
“Lights, heat, Freezers and equipment we might need.” Tucker replied. “the stuff that some people around here think should be buried and lost for all time!” his anger was evident with that last sentence she thought.
“Tucker, I think I can understand where they are coming from.” She said softly knowing he hated talk about it. .
“Oh please tell me you haven’t drank the Koolaid too.” Tucker asked turning his chair to so that he could look at her.
“No I haven’t Waylon. But I have at least tried to consider their points.” Lourdes stated. Anything that smacked of Ludditism annoyed him almost beyond reason. “all of us are trying to understand what happened six years ago, and why it happened. This is their belief on why it happened, and you have to admit that man has had a bad habit of coming up with some technological device and throwing it out there for people to use with out any good idea of its impact on society, people in general or if its even safe in the long run.”
“just because they want to believe that Cell phones brought the wrath of God down on us, I don’t. We need this stuff Lourdes, not want it, need it. We need the pumps for water, Vehicles to haul materials, generators to keep and store everything from medicine to food and we need equipment that runs on power to turn materials into tools and we need weapons to defend the Enclave”
“I know and I agree Tucker, but every time some one tries to talk to you about this you get angry. You could, instead, try explaining those reasons in detail if you have to, instead of telling them to fuck off you’re a ignorant savage.”
“okay maybe I don’t handle it well,” he admitted grudgingly. “But only an idiot believes technology was what caused the apocalypse.”
“Maybe it did Tucker, maybe we got arrogant. You mentioned cell phones a second ago. Think about how so many people around the world began to act when Cell phones were everywhere. . I cant tell you how many of my friends would be texting and surfing the net at get together’s. Instead of having a good time, they were busy tapping away on their phones with people across the country instead of actually talking and having a good time with friends they had known for years right there in the room with them..”
“People, Lourdes, people were the reason not technology. Guns have never killed a single person, but the people holding those guns did. Blaming guns is easy because it keeps you from having to try and figure out why Joe Bob went nuts and shot his family before killing himself.
God knows it couldn’t be all the laws that hemmed him in and made him feel helpless, the economic system that kept him in debt and made him fell trapped in debt or any one of a thousand other things that might or might not have sent him over the edge. Blaming technology is a great way to keep from taking a closer look at yourself and the things you support and believe in. it keeps you from feeling responsible.”
Lourdes stood there impassively, letting him vent when he finally wound down she lifted the pencil like a pointer. “all that sounds great Tucker and your right about your overall point. But they are right too in some ways. We cant blame a Nuke for being used, but we can try to limit people getting one.” He stared at her for a moment surprised at the anger in her tone. “I think most of them would be happy if you promised to give a lot of consideration to what your making, how it can be used and if in fact we really need it and then explain it to them with out being insulting or condescending.” She continued.
“and if they don’t agree” Tucker asked.
“Its your guild, but trust me when I say if the Council ever thinks your going to far they will put a stop it and if you tell the protestors that the council has over sight most of them will back off, at least while Pastor Wells is on the council. Even the ones who do not agree with Pastor Wells major beliefs, they still respect his sincerity, kindness and his conviction to do the best he can for themselves and the community as a whole.
Tucker bit back the snarky response that came to mind, Lourdes was only telling him the truth as she saw it, and deserved better from him than the comment that almost came out. She had a point and he knew it which was what made him angry.
He knew Pastor Wells would never turn away from any technology that could save lives or improve the Enclave. Neither would the bulk of the Council for that matter. Wells was everything that Lourdes had just said Wells was, a deeply respectable man. A far cry from the pastors and preachers he had met in his youth.
His mental thoughts tumbled to a stop at that as his anger fell into ash and his basic fairness took the mental reins again. Or where they any different than Wells, he asked himself as he wondered if maybe he had seen what he had wanted to see. Yes some of them had been major pains, a few had definitely been hypocrites but all of them. No maybe not. .
Maybe the people who are scared of the technology feel their lives are as out of their control as the man I used as an example, and maybe they are all as scared of the future as I am., he face that though squarely. Lourdes stood there waiting for his response she knew him well enough to know when he was thinking things over instead of sulking.
And to top all that off, I sent McCaffrey, a stranger off with Pastor Wells and Hercules Secord to set up a summit that I and others believe is the best course of action . With out even thinking about how scared that must make the rest of the Enclave who have to trust us to do whats right, and not even giving them much say in what goes on.
I should have had a town hall meeting or met with all the various groups and explained why I thought this was so wonderful. It might not have made them feel better but at least they would have felt like they had been allowed to voice their opinions and have some influence. God I have been an asshole, he thought angry at himself. There is something to be said about the subtle Corrosion of a mans soul and beliefs when he is in a position of power. What was that old saying “power corrupts, absolute power corrupt absolutely” he said aloud.
“I wouldn’t put it that way” Lourdes replied.
“I would, Caesar, back in Rome, would enter cities where the populations would gather and cheer and praise him as he rode past in his chariot the Legion marching behind him.. but no one noticed the slave or freeman who rode in the chariot with Caesar by his order whispering in Caesar’s ear that He, Caesar, was only mortal. Even Caesar knew how easy it was in a position of power to become stuck on yourself thinking you were smarter than even the gods.” Tucker said.
“Don’t worry, I will stand beside you and not only remind you that you are mortal but that you snore and break wind like any other guy.” Lourdes said with a smile.
“Gee thanks, I love you too” He said then laughed. “Now since you got me feeling all lowly and such, Trot on over and find Brother Malcolm and tell him that I would like a minute of Pastor Wells congregation time, tell him that I wish to apologize and lay out my reasons for the summit and the current projects I am working on..”
Lourdes stepped closer so she could lean down and kiss him lightly on the cheek. “I love you too Waylon.” She said as she rose again. “like a Brother”
“What would Chris say about that?” Tucker asked with a smile
“He wouldn’t mind at all” She replied. “ Though he finds it a little twisted that my brother and I had friend with benefits relationship”
Tucker started laughing at that. It took him a minute to get himself back under control. “oh that’s funny.” He said wiping at his eyes. “sick but funny. Have I met your brother?”
“bite me Tucker” she said with a grin. “Besides My mom would have hated you. So you would have been put up for adoption.”
“You wound me My Lady.” He said with a chuckle as he clutched his heart. “now get, lets see if I can make amends and convince people I am being sincere.”
0830 hrs, Cross island parkway.
Sullen lead gray clouds were sliding across the bright blue sky, like some beast slowly devouring the world leaving steely gloom in its wake. The gloom did nothing to dispel the humidity, but the temperature did drop enough to be noticed.
People back before the end of the world would have believed that you could cover a lot of distance in an hour and half, maybe in a perfect world with out abandoned vehicles and debris from six years worth of storms covering the road. While carrying sixty plus pound, packs and pulling a cart that weighed in around two hundred pounds. You either carried what you needed or you might not find what you needed when you needed it, Chris thought as he moved down the tree lined road keeping alert for any signs of danger now that they were out of sight of the Pines and the roving patrols.
He had become used to seeing the massive parking lots filled with cars surrounded by stores that had once provided, services, food, clothes and what ever else. Like the Publix shopping center just down the road the road from the Pines.. The stores there had long since been cleared out by the Pines, but their modern cookie cutter architecture still stood being slowly worn down by time and the weather.
The road had slowly began to curve to the north, the trees along both sides of the roads were growing thicker, and the brush had finally conquered the verges and were encroaching on the road itself.
Just past a sport fishing supply store, Chris stopped seeing the steel bones of a building rising up from the middle of a fire scorched parking lot that sat in the middle of fire blackened trees and brush. Shattered half melted glass lay in piles around the building catching the fading light and throwing it back in sprays of winking and flashing light.
“What the hell happened there” Chris asked Pastor Wells who looked uneasy.
“It was a nest of the scarred folk, after one of their raids into the Pines, Ramo tracked the group back here. he lost five men trying to clear just the lobby and two offices, so he pulled his men back and burned the place down using some kind of military stuff, it took three days, but he got them all.” Hercules said before Wells could find his voice.
“Two hundred lost and utterly damned souls, were trapped in there” Wells said softly. “And it was a small nest”
“Two Hundred” Chris said, his eyes widening in surprise. The two he had encountered had been bad, but two hundred. He shook his head not wanting to think about that.
“Why do you call them nests?” Stephanie asked gazing at the ruins.
“It’s a good description, from what I saw when I found one.” Chris said, his shoulders and back tense as he studied the ruin. Ramo had to have used something like Thermite or White phosphorous, Chris thought, He was no expert and had no real clue what the military might have had to do something like this outside of flame throwers like the ones in the movies.
“How come Harbor Town never encountered them?” Stephanie asked.
“Never made it that far south I guess,” Chris replied.
“Its troubling news that you’ve seen two of them” Wells said.
“They are both dead now and we didn’t see any others. Its likely they were survivors from the group that the Pines wiped out if there are any more its only one or two scattered all over the island and staying hidden from uninfected people.” Chris said with a shrug. “lets move out. I want to get to the other side of the Cross island parkway bridge by lunch time.” and as far from that place as possible Chris thought.
1100hrs Council building, Dining room.
Tucker eyed his plate, disappointed that he had only one bite of Turkey left, but that didn’t stop him from spearing it with his fork and transferring it to his mouth. Pig, Chapman mouthed from across the table. Tucker nodded in complete agreement as he chewed. At least they had a little privacy here, he thought. The dining room such as it was off the small kitchen in the back of the council building, though calling the other room a kitchen was being kind, since the room was equipped with a camp sink and a camp stove and oven combination, aside from the spices that was about it.
Which he reflected was why Ben had brought his turkey fryer over and cooked the bird for this little get together.
He glanced around the rather plain room, with out complaint. It would barely hold ten people and had about as much decoration as a closet. But it served its purpose, a place to hold discussions and take a meal in when the job require staying till all hours of the day and night. Lourdes, wanting a little color other than white, frequently place vases of colorful flowers in the room.
“ I still think that allowing Pastor Wells and Secord to go with McCaffrey might be a mistake” Ramo stated as he dropped his napkin on his plate and sighed. “I didn’t use to like Turkey, but damn if fresh wild turkey isn’t awesome after eating MRE’s for so long.” He said with satisfaction then belched. “Sorry that was crude.”
“Maybe,” Tucker replied in full agreement with Ramo over the Turkey situation. “But I think that it will end up doing far more good than bad. Besides it was Wells idea to go and I suspect he talked Hercules into going as well.” Tucker said. “Which leads me to something else that I think you need to see. I plan on showing this to Secord and Wells when they return.”
“If they return” Chapman muttered. “Sorry but we know its dangerous out there and neither the good pastor or Secord have spent much time outside the walls since the first few days after the dead rose.” Which was the truth, Wells had only traveled out less than a quarter of a mile, if that, to a couple of the sites the Pines had been salvaging. Few of the residents of the Pines liked to travel out into what many called the Wilds.
“They will return” Tucker said as he pulled some papers from the folio folder on the chair beside him and passed them to Ramo who took them with a questioning look, “just read then you will know as much as I do.”
Ramo scanned the first paragraph and then looked up at Tucker with a raised eyebrow before returning to the paper.
He read it twice, studying the other pages that had been included to support what the letter said finally he looked up at Tucker. “Assuming this is true, and I am not saying it isn’t. Why? Why would this zone do something like that for Harbor Town?”
It must have taken a lot of manpower and time to carry that many MRE’s out to that grounded ship, off load the contents of several containers then fill those containers with enough MRE’s to feed the population of harbor town for long enough for them to stabilize their food production. Not to mention leaving so much useful stuff on that container ship for Harbor town to salvage.” Ramo said as he also wondered why Brinn would have sent a full copy of the Cargo manifest that not only showed that the ship had never been carrying MRE’s or any other food cargo, but also reveal other things that the ship had been carrying, things like Solar panels and farm tools, things that another Enclave might want to take possession of.
“Brinn told us what McCaffrey told her about their reasons for skulking around in the shadows, McCaffrey’s words not mine.. So knowing that, don’t you think that they might be serious about trading with us and establishing closer ties and if we can swing unifying the island it places us in an even better position with the Zone.”
:”I can’t argue that with you, especially not if we can trust Erin Brinn. But I cant fathom why any one with the kind of resources that would be needed to even pull that off, and have the kind of supplies to do so. Would place several months worth of food on a boat, for Harbor Town to find or go to such lengths to drop hints and ideas with out taking credit for it.”
“I think that’s explained in the letter from Brinn” Tucker pointed out.
“Yes the Prime Directive as Erin said McCaffrey jokingly called it. I guess I can see some validity to the idea. But it also implies they are taking a very long view on uniting every one they find and have a very effective PR campaign.” Ramo said thoughtfully. “And trade has always been the first inroad to absorption by larger, armed states.” Ramo added. “Not to mention it can turn around and bite them in the butt if they end up helping the wrong group” he said then looked at Tucker “What I would really like to know is why Brinn would send us this list of the Cargo on that ship things that its possible we might be willing to take by force.”
“Possibly because we have been good neighbors and not invaded so far.” Chapman said dryly. “Of course the fact they had nothing we might want before now isn’t the reason we didn’t invade.” He said chuckling
“I have to admit to a certain amount of surprise at how open Brinn was in revealing what was on that ship.” Lourdes said. “I suspect that they realize, we are probably low on trained man power, and ammunition just like they probably are. So even if we wanted to we couldn’t take advantage of the situation. Though its not smart to let that assumption guide your dealings with others, the Radiers didn’t seem to be to concerned with wasting bullets or men and they didn’t have a lot of either.”
“They are on the main land where there are thousands of small towns and hundreds of small to huge cities that are essentially if not in fact completely empty with lots of warehouses and armories for them to loot. Not to mention homes ” Tucker pointed out. “we have only had Hilton head to scavenge from and at the best of times this place was short on guns and ammunition, warehouses and just about every industry you could name at least in the modern era.”
Ramo looked up from Brinn’s letter again as Tuckers words stirred a memory. “I did like what McCaffrey said about that the other day, when I was talking with him.” Ramo said . “He said ‘our leaderships is determined to establish a society where every town, every state maintains enough crops and industry to keep its self running and support itself and any other town that faces a catastrophe.’ Considering how few farms and industry were in any given state before the dead. We just asked to screw ourselves if something major ever happened to the whole country and world. Which did happen six years ago.” Ramo couldn’t manage to keep the disgust and anger he felt out of his voice.
Oh it wasn’t just the US that had screwed themselves most of the world had too. He couldn’t help but feel angry at the now dead elected leadership that had talked about national security and about this industry or that was vital to the nation and National interest. And then were either to stupid or had refused to see that most states would fall apart if something ever stopped the trains, trucks and planes from delivering the oh so vital supplies to the places that couldn’t provide them for them selves..
Hawaii for example had millions to many people and couldn’t support its population with out the cargo ships that came and went, Ramo remembered a DHS briefing he had received during an exercise that had stressed that Hawaii had only enough food for a week if the ships ever stopped coming. The odds of any one still being alive there after the rising of the dead were astronomical at best.
The Politicians, parasites he thought angrily, had set the nation up to fail, with no consideration beyond words for any kind of major catastrophe. Beyond funding massive shelters to protect their worthless butts and their families that is.
And no he hadn’t expected the undead or planned for the rising of the dead either, but by god they’d faced threats ranging from asteroid strikes, nuclear war to Bio weapons that could have caused the same situation leaving millions cut off, with out power or supplies to die and the survivors would be faced with the exact situation the survivors of the undead were in now, no real skills, little to no industry or farms to support them.
Of course if they had those farms and industries available it wouldn’t matter any way because the lack of skills promised that few people could actually get them up and running.
The Pines had been incredibly Lucky to have had Chapman, Tucker and a few others who had enough knowledge to keep them from dying off in large numbers and give them a shot at long term survival and rebuilding.
I t was his job to think of the Zone as a potential enemy and plan accordingly but he hoped that the Zone was exactly what McCaffrey claimed.
“I wonder if McCaffrey knows what all was in her letter to us?” Chapman asked aloud.
“You mean the fact that she told us he has a working sat phone and short wave system.” Tucker said. “to be honest, I think he does know, or suspects that she might have shared this kind of information with us. But so far he himself hasn’t told us..”
“Why?” Ramo asked the room his suspicions ramping up. “why hide it?”
“I can think of half a dozen reasons off hand. None of them nefarious” Lourdes said.
“Maam, with all due respect. I think your judgment where McCaffrey is concerned might be slanted.” Ramo said as politely a he could.
Lourdes opened her mouth ready to tear him a new rear end but closed it and shook her head slowly. “I should have known you would find out?” she said finally. “My judgment is sound Lt. Ramo, but I can understand why you would doubt that. Which doesn’t make me any less angry for you pointing it out.”
“I realize that Maam, I do. But I have to consider the possibility that McCaffrey is, was using you. I am not saying he was” Ramo said lifting a hand to forestall the angry retort she was about to hurl. “But I have to think he might have been. I know you don’t like hearing that and I am sorry. On a personal level, I hope he is telling us the truth, but if he isn’t and I do nothing but take him at his word and it turns out we have been played and get attacked by his group then I’ve failed in my duty and I’ve failed the people I’m supposed to protect here in the Pines.”
She nodded curtly and leaned back in her chair, she knew he was only doing what was necessary, She herself should be able to step back and take an objective look at the situation but it was hard. Everything she had experienced with Chris told her he was a good man and she did like him, more than she should and that made it almost impossible to take that step back.
Tucker cleared his throat to break the uncomfortable silence. “I too hope, and believe, he is telling us the truth, in fact I am betting our future on it. But we do have to take precautions, which is why, from now on I don’t want a single word spoken in public, or with wives, boyfriends, hookers or even pet Rats about the state of negotiations, other than to say we are deliberating the issue and have not reached a decision yet. Lets not get any ones hopes up in case it goes Tits up… Um sorry Lourdes,” Tucker said as the chuckles rippled around the table. “Agreed?”
1130 hrs near the Cross island parkway bridge.
A few gulls, wheeled overhead in the gloom wracked sky looking down at the small group of humans who were making their way slowly down a crumbling road. The group had taken their time, even exploring a few buildings along the side roads, where they had found some overlooked cans of food and other supplies, it wasn’t much but every little bit helped and it gave Wells and Secord a chance to get taste of what living out here meant and hopefully begin to develop more caution.
“Well one good thing about having a Pastor along, if we have to bury you Chris, we have someone that will want to speak over your grave” Henry said thoughtfully as he pulled the cart along 288, he looked sidelong at Chris..
“Why would I be the one getting buried?” Chris asked.
“Well for starters, you rarely shoot anything until after a bunch of bullets have been fired at you.” Henry replied.
“See that’s because the people that want to kill us are really bad shots” Chris explained as Stephanie rolled her eyes.
“You keep forgetting your rifle too.” Henry pointed out jerking a thumb at the cart where afore mentioned rifle was riding comfortably.
“That’s because it weights seven pounds or so, I am a light packer that’s why we have the cart and I don’t forget its on the cart.” Chris explained with a smile.
Hercules’s watched both men as they argued playfully, his eyes narrowed. Pastor Wells actually chuckled which only made Hercules even more determined to be up set by the whole situation. But a small part of himself found it amusing and comforting that even out here life went on and not as some idiot grand melodrama that script writers used to love to think would be reality.
“are they always like this” Pastor Wells asked Stephanie who nodded.
“at times. It’s a way to blow off steam” Stephanie said her attention never wavering from searching for threats. “But to be honest our leader Jared and his friends have been worse, I’ve listened to those idiots talk and laugh about the weirdest things while bullets and bomb where falling all around us, or the undead were busting through the barricades.” Stephanie said, smiling with the kind of fond remembrance that people usually reserved for the really good times in their lives not life or death situations. The people of this world had well and truly changed, Wells thought, and there had been a ring of pride in her tone too as if the people she lived and worked with were special.
“You think highly of your people” Well said, it could have been a question but it wasn’t. Stephanie nodded.
“They are the best people I have ever met” She said simply and fell silent.
Wells glanced at Secord wondering what he thought of the conversation but couldn’t really read the other mans expression.
Half an hour later they reached Broad creek and the Cross island parkway bridge, on the other side was the area that the Pines had nominally accepted as Franklin Coates and the Gullahs territory. Though if a man wanted to be historically accurate, the Gullah had been living here on Hilton head for a hundred and fifty years or longer, so one argue they had more of a claim to the whole island than any one else. not that any survivor was going to just pack up and move on that basis.
They stopped at the bridge, adjusted gear and had a last minute talk. “Pastor, Mr. Secord Id really like to know what to expect when we cross the bridge. I would really like to not have to start shooting if at all possible”
“the only time we have people cross the bridge they are heading to the relieve men at the Mainland bridge barricade. They have never been bothered, and they have only rarely seen one of the Gullah. But if we get off the main road, I cant say. I would assume since there are only five of us they wont think we are a war band or raiding party. Maybe if we flew a white flag and went slowly?” Wells said
“Sounds like a plan, better than just wandering around fat, dumb and happy.” Chris said as he turned and began to dig around in the cart till he found a white, well it had once been white and at least was still more white than gray, pillow case.
It took a couple of minutes to find a stick long enough to tie the pillow case to, then lash it to the cart. Then with Henry leading the way, they started across the bridge that crossed the Broad creek which was more like a bay than a creek and almost cut the island in half. .
“you know, normally I would be thrilled at being asked to run point, but now I cant help but notice I have been given this honor because I am black and expendable.” Henry said with a grimace that turned into grin.
“What?, your black, Good god I’ve gone color blind” Chris said acting startled.
“Bite me cracker” Henry shot back then both men fell silent slipping into their game mode, eyes sweeping the area for threats. Their hands close to their weapons just in case.
Once they crossed the bridge there was nothing on either side but trees, swaying Spanish moss and a few crumbling buildings but no sign of human beings and of course old abandoned cars that had never been cleared from the road. which pretty much indicated that if Coates and his people did claim this area they hadn’t bothered to move the vehicles and clear the road.
The road almost immediately began to widen from four lanes into eight as they funneled into a tollbooth. All but one lane through the toll booths were jammed with abandoned cars and trucks.
As they passed through, they saw skeletons still in a couple of the booths and in many of the cars. Henry stopped beside an almost emerald green jaguar and ran his hand along the dirty vehicle, dented and dinged from years of storm tossed debris slamming into it. “Always wanted one of these” he said. “had a V12 and the only thing more luxurious would have been a penthouse with a Naked Naomi Campbell on the kitchen table.” He turned his head quickly “sorry Pastor.”
Wells only gave him a shaky smile, he was feeling extremely nervous now and it showed. He was in the wilds for real now, he thought, anything on the other side of the bridge was at least close to the Pines. But out here, very few of his people had been or had wanted to go. This side of the bridge was where the scarred folks had come from after all.
“First time to really get away from the Pines?’ Chris asked quietly
“Yes, I know what’s it like, but haven’t really seen it for myself’ he replied so softly Chris had to strain to hear it. Wells had meant to get out of the Enclave, to find some of the survivors who had managed to live outside the walls during the dead.
Do something useful and worthwhile but his vocation had kept him inside the Pines and the few times he had left it had only been to one of the salvage sites close by, so that really didn’t count. Those places had been full of people and life, this was the reality not just here on Hilton head but across the world. he found his throat and mouth suddenly dry and took a drink from his Canteen. Trying not to picture his old home town and what it must be like now. The comfortable fantasy that his home and all his friends and congregants were still alive and getting on with life shattered for all time seeing the ruin of the real world.
“Bwana, Signs to the Gullah Heritage trail tours, lets follow Boss” Henry said in his best pidgin English pointing at a sign.. McCaffrey flipped Henry a middle finger then smiled tightly.
“Lets do that little thing” Chris agreed.
“He enjoys twitting McCaffrey doesn’t he” Wells asked Stephanie as Chris moved up to talk with Henry. Thinking about that kept his mind off his new world view and just how unsafe he was out here. Stephanie nodded slightly, her mind was more on their surroundings and trying to pick up any signs of danger. .
“Those two are characters” she replied. “long story ask later” she replied then fell silent again. She touched Wells on the arm and indicated he and Hercules should stay in place then ghosted silently off to the west flitting between dead vehicles as she checked for any surprises that might be hiding behind the lines of old vehicles.
“We stop here for a few minutes,” Chris said as he headed to the east leaving Hercules and Wells with only Henry who was crouching and watching the area ahead of them.
1230hrs, the old Lumber yard, The Pines Enclave.
“are you sure this is going to work” Doug Bitternau asked for the sixth time as he eyed the contraption he had come to see. Bitternau was thin man, with thinning brown hair . dull brown eyes and average looks. He wouldn’t have stood at in any crowd at the best of times in the old world but the new world had so far been a little better for the painfully average man.
“Yes” Tucker assured the other man who walked slowly around the contraption that had been built under a Pole barn.
“But you didn’t build it, fifteen year old kids built it.” Doug asked, no doubt worried that the saw mill might explode or attack him if any one but Tucker had built it.
“Doug, I can not personally build everything, that’s why I have apprentices and journeymen, and not all of the people working with me are kids, and not all the kids worked on this project. And I have personally checked it out and they did a fantastic job.”
“But this is important, why didn’t you personally oversee it.” Doug asked. He was not one of the fans of the apprentice ship program Tucker remembered. Which meant he could kiss Tuckers ass for being an idiot.
“Because I was busy building all the brass, wind powered vibrators for some of the women” he said so seriously that Doug did a double take, his eyes widening in surprise. “What you think all the single women have needs that maybe only the single men in the Pines cant satisfy, not likely. Some would rather have a BOB. Or in this case Wind operated. Boy friend.”
“Don’t listen to him Doug,” Lourdes said. “He is joking.” She said then “mostly at any rate.”
“Okay Doug.” Tucker said grinning openly and lifting his hands in surrender. “You wanted to be able to make and plane lumber, well now you can.. the motor that drives the equipment is a sterling motor, first designed in 1816, and an early competitor for steam engines “ Tucker said as he pointed at twin cylinder motor, with its the rather ostentatiously decorative brass plates and colored glass insets. Tucker rarely left off the Steam punk themed Decorative touches and made sure his apprentices applied them as often as possible. When asked he would say that function and art should always be fused or it was soulless. “Its actually a very efficient motor, superior in many respect to a gas powered motor”
“so why didn’t these replace them.” Doug asked sarcastically. He personally believed that gas powered was the only way to go and the apocalypse had pretty much pissed all over his love of cars and racing.
“Better marketing for one, and there were some jobs that a sterling wasn’t suited for but gas motors were. A lot of modifications were made to the design in the 20th century that improved the sterling. My own little touch was to do away with the firebox and install that mirror lined solar collector to heat the gas in the exchanger then add a steam powered back up for days like today.
Since it’s a relatively lower power application to ran the saw mill it provides more power than you will actually need.” Tucker said as he pointed to the lever with its brass handle and something that looked like a bicycle brake lever. “Just squeeze that and pull the lever” he said.
Doug grasped the lever, squeezed and pulled the lever into the start position. With a cough of steam there was a clank and whir of gears and chains the saw blades began to spin. The sound was like music to his ears, he thought as a grin spread from ear to ear..
“Realize there will probably be problems and we will fix them as fast as possible, since this is our first try” Tucker said, in a way he felt sorry for Doug, the women in the pines didn’t really pay him much attention and Tucker really suspected that Dougs idea to get a saw mill up and running had more to do with getting women to notice him than benefit to the Pines. At least Doug came up with the idea at some point the Pines and the island would need a working saw mill and some one who knew how to run the thing. And that someone was Doug.
“After two years, you haven’t worked the kinks out” Doug asked his grin fading..
“Would you prefer, we set up our own lumber mill to test the thing for another two or three years” Tucker asked. “I had to build this from old designs and parts from a electric powered mill, it’s been as fully tested as we can, but testing wont replace real wear and tear usage. Maybe when I have more people we do even more extensive testing but that’s for the future.” Tucker said then pointed “now pull the next lever and it will start feeding that log.” Tucker added
A with a clank a log in the rack mounted beside the conveyor, rolled down into the feed shoot and was fed forward where the saw mill began cutting. Saw dust and chips flew, which would be collected for later use. Tucker had a book somewhere that detailed how to make paper, and planned on getting paper production going and then hopefully a printing press but both were probably a couple of years down the road.
Doug looked excited as he watched the process, they didn’t need a lot of lumber, but what they couldn’t salvage they had to have a way to make and this would give them that ability.
There was nothing really new in the device, Tucker thought as he moved over to the nearby water barrel and filled the mug he always carried with him, there were machines much like this scattered all through out South Carolina and the Appalachians, used by older country folk and their families to make their own lumber, granted they were not all that common any more but there were probably thousands of them still out there, that had been used up till the day the dead rose.
He managed to leave half an hour later, leaving Doug happily making four by fours and two by fours. “We really didn’t need a saw mill” Ramo commented once they were out of the yard.
“No we didn’t have a great need for one, yet but we will.” Tucker said. “at some point there will not be anything left to salvage and when that happens we will not have to scramble to try and find a way to make more lumber. Though I would prefer that we get our timber from the mainland and bring it here for the mill. Instead of stripping most of the island bare of trees. Like Ireland and so many other places did.” Tucker said looking at the trees around them. “at least its another piece of the tech puzzle that we wont have to recreate later when we might need it badly.”
“and you wonder why I want to put guards on you, do you have any idea how many people from outside the pines would be tempted to either kill you or kidnap for your knowledge.”
“yes or I wouldn’t have pushed so damn hard four years ago to start the apprentice ship programs. Because I knew then that one I would need the manpower to make enough stuff to make any real difference for us and two to pass along my knowledge and skills just in case I got killed or kidnapped or both.”
“Waylon, you wont feel so blasé about it if some one does come after you” Ramo stated irritated by Tuckers attitude. He had long worried about the possibility and the passage of time had only made his fear worse.
“And before you start in on no one would waste the time, think about Baker, hell even Gideon Snow might be tempted to snatch you to improve things at their own Enclave or what about the Zone.”
“if we can get this summit off the ground, I plan on offering to train as many people as any of them want to send and provide them with what ever power sources I can get made and then they will have no reason to snatch me.”
“Assuming who ever it is wouldn’t be considering having you would give them an edge against every one else.” Ramo pointed out.
“Pace, my friend I know your worried about me personally as well as what would happen to the Pines if I were gone. But understand I refuse to live with round the clock body guards which would only interfere with my sex life.”
“you don’t have a sex life now that Lourdes is involved with McCaffrey.” Ramo said stopping in the street and turned to face Tucker who grew serious.
“Ben, Listen to me okay. I have known Lourdes since before the Dead rose, and till McCaffrey I have never seen her this happy. She knows its possible that he might just move on once his business here is done. But after the hell we have all been through, I refuse to do anything that might ruin this little bit of joy she’s found.” Tucker said, the fact that he completely dropped his Steam punk persona showed Ramo just how serious he was. “yes I love her in so many ways, but not in the way that I think McCaffrey does and not in the way she wants. Maybe Ben its time I got serious about finding somebody myself. And if you make a crack about men don’t talk like this, I will pop you in the nose.” Tucker said smiling at the last.
“About damn time, you getting serious that is.” Ramo said “and I happen to know about six women that are interested in you.”
“Six you say, Maybe I shouldn’t rush into being serious right this moment after all, so who are they” Tucker said as Ramo started laughing.
1230hrs, Firestation #7, off of Cross island parkway.
Chris crouched beside an old Chevy pick up, its windows covered in grime, fallen leaves and old debris had piled up under it. the roll up door of the fire station was open about two feet, a few of the windows were broken but it looked mostly intact. There were vehicles scattered around the parking lot and a three car wreck had pretty much closed the parking lot entrance.
There were no bones out here, storms and nature had finally started clearing what was left of the dead, thank god. He had been through to many places were bones covered everything and everywhere you looked skulls of all sizes had lain grinning at something only they could see.
He looked back but the lines of abandoned vehicles blocked his view of Henry and the others. With a mental shrug he drew his pistol and moved slowly across the parking lot, reaching the Roll up Bay door he dropped down and snaked under it.
The Fire and rescue vehicles were still parked inside, surrounded by old trash, leaves and sticks. A skull lay near the back wall still wearing a Ball cap with a fire fighters logo. Roaches scuttled away from the skull along the wall and vanished into a hall as he moved closer See you jinxed yourself, he told himself as he moved forward in a crouch pistol up, there was no way he was going to get jumped by any Scarred folk that might be nesting in here.
He checked the equipment lockers on the vehicles and the cabinets along the back wall and found quite a bit of supplies, from medical to tools and equipment. Apparently, Coates and his people hadn’t made it out this far, yet. Well I guess I can help him out a little, Chris said grabbing a couple of EMT rescue bags and placed them by the door, he added a few tools and a couple of axes.
He didn’t go to deep into the facility, he had no desire to see the bones or rummage through the personal effects he would find in the bunk room and he was pretty sure that there would be nothing edible left in the Kitchen either.
As he slung the bags around his neck and gathered the tools he idly wondered if he could get one of the fire trucks running. he would almost bet money there was a fuel tank somewhere in or near the building to fuel up because they didn’t just roll into Exxon and top off. He had no stabilize with him, but stored in a tank protected from heat and sunlight it was possible the fuel hadn’t started breaking down yet. Sullivan was still recovering usable fuel, so the odds were decent this fuel might be good.
The problem being you don’t know if Coates and his people claim this place as their own, and if they don’t now the moment they hear a motor start up, assuming I can get it running they will come running and claim it then and that’s a situation that could screw the entire plan. So leave well enough alone, check for the fuel then you can use that knowledge to your advantage later. He told himself.
It took less than ten minutes to find the pumps, which were out back. Popping the cap on the tank refill station he used the measuring pole he had found and sticked the tank. It wasn’t full, maybe half to a quarter full, he thought once he pulled out the pole and checked the depth. It still smelled good, he thought as he closed up the tank, hide the stick and headed back to the Truck bay to carry all the things he had collected back to the cart.
“Where did you get all that” Hercules asked as Chris loaded the new supplies into his cart. “and do you plan on giving them to the Pines?”
“I got them in that Fire station over there” he said gesturing. “and now, I plan on using them to get in good with Mr. Coates or as bargaining chips if something happens.”
“The Pines really needs medical supplies. You cant just give it to some one else” Hercules said angrily his large fists balling up.
“I can and I will Mr. Secord, what is best for the Pines at this point is making and keeping good neighbors, even if this unification idea doesn’t pan out.”
Hercules glowered at him, but some how held his tongue. “I was told this whole area is considered Gullah territory. Am I wrong? “ Chris asked his voice surprisingly harsh.
“no your not wrong” Wells replied as he placed a hand, that looked small, on Hercules shoulder.
“Then giving this to Coates for his people is the right thing to do since it could be argued that its theirs in the first place” Chris said.. “and if he doesn’t claim this area then it makes the Pines look good and its still the right thing to do.” Chris said. Wells suddenly realized the other mans hand was very close to the holstered pistol he carried and wondered if Hercules had seen it as well.
“Besides” Chris said the harshness fading from his voice. “I promise you that the Zone can help you out with medical supplies. You have my word on that.”
“Where does your zone get its supplies?” Wells asked as Chris slipped the straps for the cart back on. He hoped changing the topic would give Hercules time to cool down.
“Same way every one else does,” Chris said, “well some of it we are now making.” He amended; he wasn’t going to reveal that they had literally tons of supplies from multiple different Government Caches as well as from FEMA supply dumps. That had literally been the thing that had made making the Zone possible.
And who knew how they would react if they had any clue how many millions of rounds of Ammunition, Mortar and artillery rounds, and HESCO barriers, Portable machine shops, Solar power run generators and much, much more all thanks to the Terminal and a few key locations they had discovered. Well that and the fact that it had been Jared, Eric and a couple of other soldiers who had known where the stuff had been stored or might have been stored. Not every where they had looked had panned out, but enough of them had to make Sullivan and the Zone rich by today’s standards.
“Tell you what lets wait till we make camp and then I will answer questions, it’s a little open and exposed out here.” Chris added then started forward pulling the cart behind him.
1400 hrs Tucker workshop
The workshop was a beehive of activity when Tucker got back, which was just the way he liked it. Today the only projects he wanted to work on were personal ones, the journeymen and apprentices could handle the major projects for the pines for the next couple of days allowing Tucker to finish his own little projects. I suspect I might be the only person left in the world who can make time for his own hobbies, he thought. in that respect I probably am the luckiest man on the planet.
He could trust Jack Fry and Thomas Lincoln, his senior journey men to handle the manufacturing of the two initial gasifiers, both were major, but not complex, projects.
One gasifier would be mounted on an old National Guard heavy duty cargo truck. With one of those running it would speed up the salvage operations outside the Pines. It would have to do, because there were more pressing needs for the systems inside the Pines like powering two of the big pull behind generators.
Clay his senior apprentice was more than capable of getting the five pedal powered washing machines finished putting them ahead of schedule by a week. People were excited about those, even having to pedal the things hadnt damped the enthusiasm for being able to wash clothes instead of trying to wash them in the lake, pound them on a rock, wash again then hang to dry.
He would have to move Clay up to junior Journeyman in a couple of moths once the kid turned sixteen. And would probably send Clay over to the new shop that was being built and would run by Jack fry. That shop would handle production of the gasifiers, and several other things that Tucker thought were critical.
Only three people knew the main reason he wanted a second, and larger shop was in case something happened like a fire in the older shop. Fire wasn’t a state secret of course, but he didn’t want to give any one, can you say the anti technology folks a hint they might not come up with on their own when they tired of trying to use politics to get there way.
This, his original shop had never been built to deal with all the fire sources and operations going on inside it. There were things he wanted to build but due to ventilation here, he didn’t dare try those projects because people could get sick and even possibly die from some of the fumes.
If he had the electricity to run the ventilation system installed back when power was plentiful it wouldn’t be an issue but he couldn’t waste the power when they could build a new shop specifically designed for ventilation system their technology could support.
The things people never thought about back when they only dreamed of what it would be like when civilization collapsed and the world had ended, he thought half amused.
His private work space upstairs looked like a set from a dystopian Victorian adventure movie, with potted palms, velvet drapes, phonographs, and a wide assortment of odd looking contraptions that looked like they ran on steam and gears that gleamed brass, steel and silver, decorated in brass and enamel, levers, large buttons, crystal indicator lights and analog counters. All scattered across shelves and tabletops. It looked like what H.G. Wells had envisioned as a laboratory.
He sat down at the main work table and pulled the piece of canvas off his current project, a long tube four inches in diameter that covered six rotating barrels, The tube was fitted to what looked like a rifle receiver that had a ornate trigger guard underneath and an equally ornate rifle stock of teak and decorative brass. under the tube was a large canister, a second canister was nested in the a the hollow in the center of the stock. Braided metal lines ran from the tanks to the Receiver.
It was essentially a souped up, six barreled high powered paintball gun that fired flechette darts and aluminum spikes, he had been working on it for several years, the original had been a custom project for a friend that he had finished just days before the dead rose. He hadn’t gotten it shipped before things went to hell. Which had been lucky for him, probably not so much for Jimmy who had lived in Boston.
It had worked, more or less against the undead, the range was not great and contrary to what many might think air guns with moving parts were not silent, even with out moving parts they made a distinctive sound that could be heard quite a distance especially in a world as quiet as the one he now lived in.
He hadn’t really messed with the design again until last year when Ramo had began talking about how low ammunition was getting and wondering if they should start training with bows and swords to prepare for the inevitable.
His work on this design had helped him create a rapid fire, multi shot, self-cocking crossbow, loosely based on an ancient Chinese design. As soon as the bugs were worked out to his satisfaction he would pass it along to his shop for production.
I would rather make a few more pocket watches, he thought, anything that wasn’t an engine, a weapon or completely necessary. He mentally shrugged then reached for a pen and jotted a note to remind himself to have a few runs poured on the watch gear molds. Might as well have the gears on hand if I get the time to sit down and make those watches, he told himself.
He turned his attention back to the air gun for a moment then covered the device again and moved it aside. Not today, he thought as he pulled a tray from the shelf under his table. He sat the tray down and smiled at what he thought was one of the best projects he had ever attempted. The lightweight skeletal frame of the mechanical bird was still open so he could work, but brass and color glass feathers seemed to glow in the sunlight that spilled through the windows. The feathers only covered a part of the articulated wings for now, but once he had it wired up he could finish covering the rest of the wings and the body. The articulated curving neck and delicate crested head was finished, covered in small intricate plates of Enameled glass.
. When he finished it would be the greatest piece of art he had ever made. The first Clockwork Phoenix in the world. He smiled then donned a pair of magnifying goggles before taking up the tools he needed and began. It was time-consuming work to set the gears and run the delicate brass wires through the pulley system that would eventually cause the wings to spread when the device was activated. But it was the kind of work he loved and not even the end of the world had dampened his joy at working with his hands on something small and complicated.
He had never been a violent man, to be honest he hated violence but he had learned to deal it when he had to, and he had the undead to thank for that. In a way, he liked and appreciated that he was capable of defending himself and those he cared about, and in another way he was disgusted that he had to learn in the first place.
What happens when you’re so convinced that reality is exactly what you want it to be, instead of what it really is, he asked himself rhetorically then snorted in amusement thinking of all the times he had railed against firearms and yet had carried replica firearms as part of his steam punk persona at cons, parties and private clubs. Violence was so 20th century he had stated more than once.
Okay I was an idiot back then, he thought forcing himself to really focus on his work and slowly the random thoughts faded away and he slipped into an almost trance like state where he did his best work.
From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey
I guess I could speed this trip up, but I thought that giving Wells and Secord a chance to get used to traveling was worth the delay. We still haven’t found Coates or his Gullah. We did spot two African American Men late in the afternoon, who might be part of Coates group but they vanished into the brush and we haven’t seen them since.
We found the tour office, the place was burned out, and so was what passed for a down town area on Hilton head before the dead. Judging by the debris it happened a long while ago, and from the fortifications that had blocked off a fairly large area this is where Coates and his people had stayed. Wells assures me that Coates and his people were seen just last year so the odds are good they are still alive. In what shape I couldn’t say.
As to what started the fire I couldn’t say, it could have been the cow from Chicago for all I know. I found us a pretty good camping spot, a post office where I think we might stay for a couple of days. if those two men really where part of Coates group they will report seeing us, and I figure they will show up sooner or later, but if not we will move on to Gideon Snows Astoria Enclave and get this ball rolling.
On to the next topic, I need to slip out tonight with the sat phone to check in with Ryan, Stephanie is threatening to kill me if I don’t. By now Ryan and Garret should be on the north end of Hilton head and hopefully will find the Sixth Enclave. Probably nothing left there but from the way people talk about the Hilton Head plantation and the sixth enclave very few people go there so there might be a lot of things left to collect. At least Ryan and Garrett have been warned about the Scarred folks and I know both men are good at creeping around and staying out of sight so I am not really worried. Not really. I guess if I keep telling myself that I might actually believe it sooner or later.
I am getting a better feel for the Pines after my conversation with Wells and Secord. Secord is a family man, and most of his suspicions about us are because of his fear for his family’s future. I cant blame him either. Change can be scary, and we have already had a big change that killed close to seven billion people.
Apparently, there are some in the Pines, who are very leery of Tuckers engines of technology in General believing that it might have been the cause for the undead plague. Apparently, Wells has done his best to keep them in line but Tucker hasn’t made it easy for him by not having the patience to deal with people who express concern. I understand that he has been known to call them Bleeding Luddites and walk away.
How ever Wells insists that Tucker is a good man, just a little blind to what others think and see. I find I am actually liking Wells, In some ways he reminds me of Brian, minus the dogs and the sword, and the warriors attitude. Okay he really isn’t like Brian in most respects.
I found him in deep conversation with Stephanie earlier, discussing religion and philosophy, if there was any one I would have though wouldn’t have the time of day for a man like Wells it would have been her. Goes to show just how much I know. And you people made me a defacto ambassador.
Anyway back to the topic, the Pines seems politically stable, no Tolmans or slime bags like Mathias. But there is some political dissent on the direction the Pines is heading. Hopefully that won’t erupt into violence but with people you can never tell.
Oh… this is last but it is damn sure not least, I want Henry put through the Pathfinders course as soon as we finish on Hilton Head, I don’t care what any one else thinks. He is a good man and damn good at handling himself and more importantly he believes in what we are doing and has risked his life many times now to get the job done. And I can promise you he will be a lot better at being an ambassador than I am. Stephanie how ever… That’s a joke she’s good but intense but once she settles into the role she will do fine.
Personal note… Eric and snoops this means you don’t read past this point. (sounds like a teen aged girls diary)
I miss Lourdes a lot, and I think once this is over I might spend a little time here with her and see how it goes. I cant see quitting the Pathfinders but … I need to wait to see if it works out with her. I want it too at any rate. Yes sue me I have feelings.
Maybe I can get sent to Puerto Rico and take her with me… Hmmm I am liking this idea.
0100 hrs, Jeff Houses Room, The Pines.
It was dark inside the house, the sound of the rain hammering at the windows and the rumble of thunder drowned out the normal nighttime sounds. Jeff House, waited till the next flash of lightening to see enough to move further into the living room.
At Twenty two, he stood only five eight, but he was a solid five foot eight
Inches of lean muscle. Muscle that seemed weak as water right now, his knees threatened to spill him face first too the floor. His dark blonde hair was damp with sweat that ran into his dark green eyes.
Urged on by an ill defined sense of urgency and fear he moved deeper into the room hands outstretched, groping for any obstacle that stood between him and the door. the rain beat down a heavy drumming sound that seemed to pulse in his bones.
God it was so cold, he thought shivering in the now icy air. Another flash of lighting and he saw the door, and something else that made his blood go as cold as the air. A figure stood in front of the door. head tilted down, its face covered by the odd hat it wore. Long arms dangled by its side water dripped from the old suit it wore then darkness fell again. His heart slammed against his rib cage, beating like a wild tribal drum.
Jeff stumbled back, fear surging through him. The back of his knees struck the coffee table and he fell with a strangled cry scattering the delicate crystal figures that had been collected from a ruined art shop. The figurines shattered on the floor around him a glittering dust that flared to life with the next stroke of lightening . the figure at the door was gone.
Jeff scrambled up, cutting his hands on crystal shards, his heart hammered, fear sweat broke out on his face. Blood from the gashes in his hands dripped hot and heavy to the floor and a hot coppery smell filled the air.
“Dear lord protect your humble servant” Jeff prayed “in my time of need” He felt ashamed that the fear didn’t abate but he was only human.
He stumbled again and threw out his hands to break his fall, almost screaming in shock and surprise as he right hand landed on something that felt like a wet hair on a bony skull.
Images of the undead flashed through his mind, rotting smiles on equally rotting faces, bloody teeth ripping and tearing, blood spraying. The house shook with another rumble of thunder, Jeff leaped away from what he was sure was the couch closing his eyes so he couldn’t see what he had touched, he didn’t want to know what sat there.
Where was his dad, had he died in his bed and now his lifeless corpse was staggering around back there in the darkness waiting to wrap cold lifeless arms around his only surviving child.
Damn Tucker for bringing back Technology, It had brought the dead back again. It was starting again. The screams, the blood and the dying, the dead would sweep over them all now, there was no place to hide. NO place to run to.
“your mine Jeff” a cold voice whispered from beside him, “I get to live again with your blood” . Jeff whipped his head around his eyes huge, beside him stood a almost skeletal man, dressed in clothes that Tucker would have worn, old fashioned crap that was soaking wet. The Narrow almost triangular face was partially hidden under the brim of the old bowler hat it wore. But he could see the thin bloodless lips that spread into a quivering smile revealing a mouth filled with shark like Teeth. “oh we are going to have so much fun boy.” Jeff screamed as a cold leathery hand wrapped around his wrist and pulled.
He woke as he was springing out of his bed, his mind reeled with confusion. The sound of the storm gone. He stood there in the dark shivering, afraid to move, afraid that the thing in the hat was there in the room with him and if he moved it would sweep down on him and those triangular teeth would rip and tear. He could smell something rotten, like rancid meat and old rotting blood but it faded quickly and was gone.
The door to his room opened suddenly letting golden, blessed light spill inside. “Jeff are you okay” His father asked from the doorway lifting the lantern he held so he could see into the room.
Jeff stood there for a moment, as the realization struck that it had only been a nightmare. Oh thank god, only a dream. Relief swept through him washing away most of the fear, but some of it held its grip, corrosive in its intensity. “yeah, sorry Dad, I had a nightmare.”
“I’d say, I think they could have heard you all the way down to the gates” Gary house said, his salt and pepper hair still poking wildly out from his head from his interrupted sleep. “how about I fix us both some of that hot chocolate I’ve been saving, before we try to get back to sleep”
“Thanks.” Jeff said relieved that he wouldn’t have to be alone in the dark. He followed his father, thankful for the light anything that kept the dark at bay. Tucker will bring them back again, the thought tolled like a bell in his mind. there had to be something he could do.
0630 July 2nd 2016. Hilton head Plantation, Arthur Hills golf course
It was a gray day, full of misty rain and steel gray clouds. Thunder rumbled off to the north where lightening danced across the white capped waves of the ocean.
Jimmy Dooly made his way across the old overgrown golf course as quickly as his aching knees and back would allow, an arthritic leathery hand clutching a bag full of fresh vegetables he had gathered from the garden he had planted.
His other hand gripped the well worn walking staff he had made a few years ago, it being the only thing that kept him from just falling down and drowning in the rain.
A head full of dull grey hair was kept in place by an old ball cap with the former golf course’s logo on the front and its name across the bill.
“It’s a damn fine mess of a day” Jimmy muttered. Years back he had been the head Maintenance and grounds keeper for the Hills, back before the dead forgot the rules and started walking around killing people. Days away from retirement and the dead had to screw that up. Not that I am complaining God, Its nice to still have meat on these old bones but I really wouldn’t have minded an easier retirement, something with room service down south where its warmer, maybe with a pool where a bunch of young ladies wearing those shamefully skimpy bathing suits are lounging around. that would no doubt send me to you a lot faster than nature is but that view would be worth the faster trip.
He chuckled silently, looking around carefully as he drew closer to his home of six years. The walking dead might not be around, but there were other threats. Threats that sometimes waited to ambush him, or tried climbing up into his house.
Up ahead, through the rain he saw the ghostly out line of the lighthouse he now called home, climbing up to his house was hell on his old knees but it was safer than anywhere else up on this end of the island.
The lighthouse sat on the fifteenth hole of the Hills Golf course. Officially it had been the rear range lighthouse, or Leamington Lighthouse as it had been called when he was a boy. It had been decommissioned back in the 40’s if he remembered right, about the time a Marine camp was set up around it. it was actually a mile from the sea, which seemed off to most people. But the island was low lying the lighthouse was more than tall enough to be seen from the water.
His grandfather, the last light keeper, had been kept on by the camp commander to keep the place up, performing any repairs and maintenance needed. Jimmy had helped out every summer till the camp had closed and his Grandfather had finally moved in with his family. Jimmy had never stopped dreaming of living there even when the light keepers two house were finally moved down to Harbor town years ago. the only remaining original building other than the lighthouse was the Brick oil building.
He emerged from a wooded path onto the 15th hole and paused to catch his breath and rest his knees, he leaned on his stick looking around trying to spot any dangers. My eyes are not what they used to be. Getting old is not all that fun, he thought. He tried not to look at the two Golf Carts one lay on its side half buried in weeds. He had seen those men die, had known half of them actually they had always been kind to him.
He had stood there at the door to the lighthouse, watching as they tried to escape the undead that bore down on them, he had hoped that some of them would make it to the lighthouse, but the last one had been dragged down twenty feet from safety and Jimmy had, had no choice but to close the door and hide.
The actual Lighthouse sat atop a hexagonal open cast iron frame work that was 30 feet in diameter at its base and rose to 92 feet to the lantern. A cylindrical Stair tower enclosed the stair case that ran straight up the center of to the frame work to the watch room. Once the Frame work had been covered in first wood, then later sheet metal. But that had been back when he was a boy. Yes it was safe and thanks for that god, but Next time the dead rise I hope to be dead or pick a place with an elevator and solar power those stairs are hell on my knees.
He started across the old green, only to see a flicker of movement in the tree’s along the side of the green. He stopped for a moment his jaw dropping as he saw a woman dressed in a long blue gown, like the kind his great grandmother had worn in those old pictures from the 1890’s She waved at him and then pointed at the light house. There was an urgency to her actions. But for a long heart beat he stood frozen as he stared at the ghost of the blue lady.
His grandfather had told him the tale, long, long ago on a warm summer day. About how the light keeper in 1898 had suffered a heart attack during a hurricane, and had begged his daughter to relight the Lamps that had been blown out by the wind so that the ships caught out on the water would have warning . While she was relighting the lamps he passed away. Weeks later she died of grief and from that day on people had claimed to hear her sobbing or claimed to have seen her wandering the grounds around the lighthouse.
He had always half believed the story. Having heard the sounds of crying and sobbing on occasion but had more often than not convinced himself later that it had only been the wind or that quick flash of blue in the trees or on the grounds just before sunrise had been a trick of light. But now he fully believed, she motioned at the lighthouse again this time with even greater urgency.
Jimmy took a step forward hearing something off to his left, like feet moving through leaves, and knew she was trying to warn him. The Crazies were coming, he realized as the wind shifted bring a hint of corruption and sickness. Thank you God for sending her, he told himself as he hitched his mental pants up.
One more run, I can do this he told himself as he forced his creaking knees to accept the abuse and started to run. I made it through the end of the world I can damn sure stay alive now.
I should never have listened to that dream and left the light house this morning, but when God tells you to go, you go even its something odd like picking vegetables as the sun rises. The woman had vanished but that didn’t surprise him. Little surprised him after seeing the dead rise and feed.
He ran as fast as he could, towards the door at the base of the Stair tower. If I were a super hero I would be called the snail, or maybe the tortoise, he thought trying hard to ignore the pain that flared in his knees and back. Faster than a speeding garden slug, catchy motto don’t you think lord and while I have you on the line, could you make this downhill next time, a lot less work on the old knees don’t you know.
There was no replay, there never was, just the occasional dream like this mornings. I guess I might not get to meet my company after all he thought, seeing two half naked men rush out of the woods towards him, he didn’t doubt they would be able to cut across his path and intercept him before he reached the safety of the light house.
Come on, you can go faster he told himself, his breath coming in rapid gasps, fire burned in his knees and now he had a hitch in his side. He wasn’t going to make it, he knew that beyond a shadow of a doubt as one of the men, more animal than human leaped for him. Jimmy threw himself to one side swinging his walking stick, it was a weak blow partly due to angle and partly due to his age. And it did nothing for his ego. He hit the ground with a woof and almost lost his breath, not that keeping it was going to matter much in a minute.
The first man, grabbed Jimmy’s ankle and pulled, the Second man leaped at Jimmy. I guess I am coming home God,” Jimmy thought and then there was a gunshot and the second man was slammed out of the air like God had punched him.
The first man lifted his head the scars that marred his face and scalp were a angry red, Jimmy didn’t even have time to wonder what was going on before five more shots hammered the attacker holding his ankle, holes appeared in the man as hot sticky blood sprayed out of the body that slowly crumbled to one side and lay still.
He lay there trembling , the pain in his back keeping him still. he could hear some one, no two some ones moving through the grass and weeds, heavy tread. A man in a poncho appeared, smoke rising from the barrel of the military style rifle he carried. “you okay” the man asked kneeling beside him.
“Depends” Jimmy managed to get out over the waves of pain from his back.
“You need depends, or it depends” The dark haired man asked a smile appearing on his pleasant good looking face.
“it depends on if your going to help me get home or mug and rape me. And trust me you do not want to see me naked” Jimmy managed to say.
the man began to laugh and turned his head towards another man who stood close by. “Lets get him back on his feet before any more of those things show up. what are they anyway.?”
“Not really sure, there used to be a lot of them, but haven’t seen more than a couple in the last year or so” Jimmy said as the two men easily lifted him back his feet.
“You need help walking”
“Do I look crippled” Jimmy asked, wincing as he took a step and almost fell.
“Not exactly crippled more like walking impaired.” The dark haired man said. “Garret help me out here,” he said to the other man then both men lifted him up using their arms to make a chair for Jimmy to sit in. “which way”
“to the lighthouse, that’s where I live.” Jimmy told them. Well god you said I would have a company. “I pray the next time I need rescuing it will be by two very attractive young women, no offense”
“well an attractive woman was what saved you” Garret said looking around. “shit, shes gone you don’t think one of those things got her do you?”
Jimmy shook his head slowly, “no, there’s nothing they can do to hurt her. not in this world at any rate.” He said slowly.
The two men looked at each other puzzled by his response. But they remained silent till they reached the stair tower and set Jimmy back on his feet.
“To be honest an old man can get pretty used to being carried around by two strong young men. Maybe get me one of those old coaches with poles like the Pharoahs and kings used to be carried around in.” Jimmy said as he opened the door to reveal the narrow spiral staircase that wound up inside the stair tower to the watch room above.
“don’t get carried away, we wont be around for long” Ryan said “unless you know two other strong young men to carry you around.”
“Not likely, or two women for that matter which would be ideal” Jimmy replied as he stepped inside and lit a candle. There was window almost at the top of the stairs but it let in very little light at the best of times, today it only seemed to cast more shadows.
”Normally I am not this trusting of strangers, but considering you saved me when you didn’t have to, and haven’t stolen my bag yet I figure I can extend a little trust, just for now.” Jimmy said as he started up the stairs leaning against the wall for support there are times that getting old is inconvient, he thought as the pain from his knees and back washed through him. He stood that way for a long moment in the gold pool of light from the candle taking deep breathes willing the pain away. down below he heard the Door clang shut and strong callused hands caught a hold of him.
“Here let me help, just this once” the dark haired man said before Jimmy could argue. .
It took a little while to reach the top, but Jimmy managed once more to climb all one hundred and twelve steps, before he emerged into a small room with little furniture. But held plenty of boxes filled with food supplies and gear stacked against five of the six walls of the hexagon room. A door to the viewing balcony occupied the sixth wall. A brace of birds freshly killed hung from the ceiling over a bucket that caught the blood.
Jimmy had used a come along and a net to haul all this up here, including the battered arm chair that he fell into and sighed with relief. The only light was from the two small windows. clothes, as clean as he could get them, hung on the railing of the small staircase that led up the lantern room.
“if you here to steal from me, I only ask you to sit and talk with me for a bit then rob me blind. Gets a bit lonely up here sometimes” Jimmy said as the two men stepped into the Watch room. They looked around curiously, laughing at his admittedly weak joke.
“Stealing from you would be to exhausting We would have to carry all this stuff down those stairs, far to much work on a day like this.” Ryan said as both men stripped off their ponchos then removed the large packs they wore propping them against a wall. “But I think we can take you up on the conversation bit.”
“so” Jimmy said as he leaned over and lit the lantern on the small table beside his chair. “Do you frequently go around saving old men”
“Usually its attractive women, you got lucky today. “ The stocky looking blond man said with a friendly smile that faded as he remembered how they had come to save the old man.
“aaah Knight Errant’s who seek damsels in distress.” Jimmy commented quickly not really wanting to discuss the blue lady. “I am Jimmy Dooly, welcome to my humble abode” He said grandly sweeping a shaking arm around.
“Ryan Bronsen and this is Garret Everson.” Ryan said introducing them.
“I take it you haven’t always lived in a lighthouse”
“no once I had nice little home with no stairs, how ever the light house was closer when the dead rose” Jimmy said reaching down beside his chair and pulled out a bottle of Scotch. “if one of you would get three glasses off that shelf, I think I need little scotch, on the neat side to steady my old heart and to celebrate my timely rescue.”
Once the glasses had been passed to him, Jimmy poured them all two fingers of scotch, he sipped at his drink for a moment studying the two men. Garret was shorter than Ryan by only a couple of inches. He was one of those guys who would always look large, no matter how little he weighted. Large boned was what people had used to call it.
Garrett was not a looker, at least not in the conventional sense. A square face, with a thick jaw, bright blue, heavy lidded eyes and hollowed cheeks under a mop of thick wavy blond hair. But he carried himself like a soldier, Jimmy thought, confident in himself and seemingly alert at all times.
Ryan, Jimmy thought, was maybe five eleven. In his early twenties if Jimmy wasn’t to far off. The man oozed confidence, and there was something hard behind his friendly smile. Not that He seemed a threat, but he wasn’t a man that would take crap lightly.
Jimmy passed the glasses to his guests then lifted his own glass, “ to narrow escapes and good weather for bad knees” he toasted. Ryan and Garrett echoed the toast with a chuckle.
“I have a question” Garrett said after a sip of rather expensive scotch. At Jimmy’s nod he continued. “Who was that woman? if she hadn’t flagged us down and sent us to you, you would be dead right now”
“She spoke” Jimmy asked finally surprised.
”Just told us to hurry, that the lighthouse keeper was in trouble.” Garret replied looking at Ryan as if to confirm he got it right, Ryan nodded in agreement.
“Well, that’s a new twist to the story but it makes sense” Jimmy said then shrugged. He didn’t really want to talk about haunts especially not this one when he lived here of all places. Might as well spread the madness around, he thought taking another sip of his scotch then settled back in his chair propping his feet up on a box. “you see it began back in 1898 when a Hurricane blew in and ….”
He told them the whole story and some of the stories that had come after. Neither man looked surprised or seemed to disbelieve. When he had finished, Ryan looked thoughtful but said nothing as his hand tapped against his thigh. .
“not the first time something like this has happened” Garrett announced. “ a few of our friends were saved by ghosts of the dear, dead and departed. But I’ve never talked with a ghost much less seen one. Maybe its actually a real woman who just thinks she is this ghost.”
Ryan snorted in amusement and shook his head. “it is what it appears to be till we know differently.” He said after a second. Both men fell into thoughtful silence. Jimmy wondered what they might be thinking but He hadn’t become a mind reader in his old age.
“So may I ask why you are up here in the Plantation, Most people avoid it like the plague.” Jimmy asked breaking the silence. I must be really lonely, to want to keep hearing the sound of a human voice that isn’t mine.
The two men exchanged looks then Garret shrugged. “To be honest we are exploring the area and had planned on using the lighthouse to camp in.” Ryan said picking his words carefully. Though he wasn’t really sure that it mattered if he told Jimmy the whole truth.
“aint nothing to explore around here, just a bunch of old houses, a few golf course and parks and that old resort where all them folks went crazy and killed each other.”
Both his guests perked up, eyes shining at that. Now that was an interesting reaction, Jimmy thought. Of course, if they are looking for good loot that place was where to go. if you didn’t mind being killed by the crazies who might still be lurking there, considering two of the crazies had just attacked him he wouldn’t be surprise if there were still more up there and that wasn’t even considering the booby traps that still littered the place.
“You men seem nice, at least you haven’t killed me yet. So seeing how you got all excited about that resort. You want to avoid it, if the booby traps left over from the bad times don’t get you, the Crazies will. Aint nothing there worth spit in this new world.” that last part was a lie, but Jimmy didn’t want these two running off to get rich and end up dead. He owed them that for saving his life.
“We still want to take a look at the place, and the airport. In fact the airport was we were heading when we ran across your blue lady and then you.” Garrett said
“I aint been to the airport in years, the last time I saw it there were lots of military plane flying in and out, and troops everywhere, that was…” he paused, “six years ago, before the dead overran the island.” He said shaking his head. So many people had thought they were going to be saved and they had died anyway watching the last of the planes flee the island as the Dead rolled over every one not fast enough to get into someplace with stout walls and doors. And most of those had died too, either from starvation or when the dead had finally broken through windows or doors.
“How did you survive up here all by yourself?” Garrett asked.
“Well it wasn’t easy, nothing worth doing usually is” Jimmy said with a sad smile remembering all the people he couldn’t help. “truth is the undead don’t look up much, and I was able to look a long ways out to make sure it was pretty clear before I went out scavenging. Got surprised a time or two but me and Tess dealt with them.”
“Tess?” Ryan asked squatting down and draping his arms over his thighs hands dangling between his legs. .
“A number nine golf club, she cracked skulls like a champ” Jimmy said. “I was stronger back then. Luckily, I didn’t have to go to far from the lighthouse for a long time, the Club house is just over that way and was full of food, and other supplies and there weren’t many of the walking dead playing golf so I was able to get back and forth with out much fuss.
Used an old fishing net and a come along to pull everything up to the walk way around the Watch room so I didn’t have to carry it up the stairs” Jimmy explained. “got every bit of booze that was in the place too. Considering I rarely drink more than a shot once in a while most of it will still be here when I die.”
“Pappy would have liked him” Ryan commented to Garrett. Who ever Pappy might be Jimmy thought, Been, not might I guess since they are talking past tense..
“He doesn’t cuss enough for Pappy” Garrett laughed, though there was sadness to that laughter. Like who ever they were talking about was gone. yep deader than a doorpost, Jimmy thought..
“Anything else you can tell us about the north end of the Island?” Ryan asked.
“Well there’s a group living in the old Astoria, the army put up walls around a good section of land there and a lot of them are still alive inside. one of them is a very pretty woman named Ellen comes to visit me every once in a while. Nice enough woman, the kind of woman that makes a mans blood boil or maybe its been so many years since I’ve spent time around a woman I am not all that picky anymore.”
Both men laughed at that, Ryan held up a hand and showed Jimmy the Ring he wore on his wedding finger, it was gold and composed of interlocking gold bands. Jimmy had seen a few rings like over the years, a Turkish puzzle ring they were called. “you don’t have to worry about me being in competition with you over her.” Ryan said still smiling.
Jimmy grinned, he might be a fool for it, but he liked both these men.
“My turn, where are you two from,” Jimmy asked focusing his faded blue eyes on Ryan “you sound like your from Tennessee maybe, or northern Georgia and your friend there sounds like he might be from Virginia.”
“You’re pretty sharp, I am from Tennessee but Garrett is from West Virginia. We both ended up some place safe when the end came.” Ryan explained.
“You had to be what fifteen back then” Jimmy asked taking a guess.
“Sixteen almost seventeen, and alone till I linked up with a good group of people.” Ryan said.
Jimmy thought about that for a moment, no one was just wondering around Hilton head back then and from their accents they were mainland boys so it stood to reason that they had been on the mainland when the end came not here on vacation with their families..
“I’m guessing you didn’t pass the Bad Times here on Hilton head did you?” Jimmy said it came out sounding more like a statement of fact.
“No sir.” Ryan said. His politeness was another point in his favor Jimmy thought. “We didn’t, but we found a good place and cleared it of the dead” and an insane Army Colonel and his crazed Assassin buddy who served the Dark, Ryan didn’t add.
Jimmy recognized people being evasive when he saw it and Ryan was being evasive. He didn’t know why the man didn’t want to talk about where he came from, but at the moment Jimmy was willing to give them a pass based on their saving his life. Maybe later he would press the issue. if they didn’t like it the worst they could do was to kill him, which would only speed things up by a few years he was sure.
“you wanted to know about the north end of the island, well Ellen can tell you a lot about the Astoria crowd. I can only tell you about things outside the Astoria and only a little of it at that. Starting with the Crazies. You see there used to be more of them, not really sure where they all went, probably died. But the ones that are left well let me tell you…”