Chapter 1

“ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;”
~Yeats
Nashville, looked much as it had since June 23rd 2010, there were a few more burned out buildings, A little more storm damage that would never be repaired. The major roads were still clogged with vehicles that would never move again.

There were still people there hiding in the ruins, eking out a meager existence while hiding from the undead. Their numbers had dwindled over the last year, from starvation, disease or the undead that swept from one end of the city to the other as if actively seeking the living.

Then it had seemed to stop, the undead had all but vanished from the city. And those people who survived it all had begun to venture further out, gathering supplies, finding more secure places to live. Gathering the things they would need to survive just a little longer.

Broad street, once a thriving downtown area of clubs, tourist traps, the Hard rock café and a thousand and one other venues lay empty of life, a few corpses were scattered along the street where they had been shot down in the early days of the Plague that had almost wiped man kind from the face of the planet.

Something moved on that dead wind swept street, a dark presence, more shadow than flesh, or so it seemed. It crept thru the shadows and the night. Always looking for the living, but more than that, it sought some one to serve its masters cause.

It stopped in the middle of Broad Street in front of the clubs, like Legends where country music stars had rubbed shoulders with the common man. Wind stirred trash into the air where it spiral around it before slowly settling back down on the cracked and blood stained sidewalks and street. The thing rocked back and forth on its heels as it seemed to almost sniff the air with its long hooked, beak like nose. Its triangular face filled with malice and hate, no matter how impossible it was for the undead to feel anything.

Malice that seemed to shine from the milky white eyes, that were now locked on the eastern horizon. Where it sensed not one, but several loose ends it had thought to be beyond its reach. Loose ends that where now moving closer, and it knew, how ever that was possible, knew they would be with in its grasp once more.

Its long arms dangled from its stooped shoulders, almost but not quiet drawing attention away from his spindly legs or its humped back. But nothing could ever distract any one living from that nightmare face of mottled leathery skin stretched tight over the bones of its face, or the quivering grin that revealed teeth filed down to points.

It had a job, and it would enjoy it. they would finally be destroyed, especially the Red head and the cop. And this time, there would be nothing to stop it from Killing the cop, nothing at all.

One leathery hand rose and tilted the bowler hat back on its head, almost as if it had meant to do so. Its thin lips parted as it grinned mirthlessly Then it was shambling down the road again, it had places to go and people to eat.

* * *

it was still early in the day when the a line of vehicles rolled into the area just north of Gatlinburg, it was a hazy golden morning, where the trees swayed softly under the occasional cool light breeze. It was ruined only by the undead that dotted the road.

The lead Vehicle, a jacked up Black Van, customized for serious off roading, slowed as it neared a strip center, then abruptly turned into the lot. The line of vehicles behind the van followed it into the parking lot, running down the undead that were easy to reach.

The shopping center was located on the south side of Gatlinburg, situated on a ridge with one incredible view of the Smokie Mountains from the parking lot.

Men and women, armed to the teeth, leaped from the vehicles. Using hand weapons half of the group waded into the undead that hadn’t been run down. while they dealt with the surviving undead, two teams of heavily armed men and women entered Griffins Outfitters.

They swept the store for undead and cleared it with the speed only experience could teach. A year of surviving on the road had imparted wisdom, such as speed was life.

Delay to long in stripping a place of supplies and the undead would be drawn down on them. and built up areas like those of Gatlinburg, had thousands of zombies that would be drawn to loud noises, like motors and weapons fire.
They worked with a fast efficiency stripping what was left in the store loading the loot onto the Semi. Six of them were busy punching holes in the gas tanks of the abandoned vehicles in the parking lot, draining every bit of fuel they could find into containers. The two US military Hemmit fuel trucks with the Group were mostly full, but they had learned along time ago, to get what they could as soon and as fast as possible.
“ look at this shit, three cases of Mountain house, were stashed in the Stockroom” Ed told two of the men at the back of the Semi as he sat the case down. He turned and stretched his heavily muscled frame, trying not to yawn as he looked around. He hadn’t slept well last night.

His gaze fell on Jared, a handsome red head, with wide shoulders and an athletic build, who prowled around the parking Lot, with Ori, a short, wiry blond who was one of Jareds best friends. Both men worked quickly putting down the few zombies that emerged from other storefronts along the strip center. They and their team worked with coordination that only people who had spent a long time together could obtain.
Steve a massively built man with a shaved head, stood in the back of an old Military Deuce and half, manning the fifty caliber machine gun or Ma Duece as the former military folks called it.. Ed had heard several people say that Steve looked like Vin Diesel, in his build yes, shaved head yes, but in the face not so much.

Ed, tall, with thinning blond, still had the massive muscular frame from before the dead.. He was only slightly bigger than Steve, and aside from his being Gay, he and Steve got along pretty well.

He turned hearing footfalls behind him, and saw Jill and Mai Linn approaching. Jill was a looker, with long black hair pulled back into a pony tail. She wore riding leathers that showed off her toned curvy body to good effect. Some might assume she wore them to look sexy, but the truth was Zombies couldn’t bite through the tough leather with out a lot of work, and she had taken the time to add armored pieces to the areas she considered weakest. She had Married Jared not long ago, and was no body’s wall flower or wilting southern belle who collapsed with the vapors at the drop of the hat. She had also become one of Ed’s best friends.
Today Ed looked like crap and Jill had noticed it immediately. Once she finished loading the supplies into the various vehicles she cornered Ed off to one side. Far enough away no one could hear the conversation, but well with in visual range so they were still covered by the group.

“what’s wrong” she asked Ed who was the closet to a big brother she had ever had. Ed hesitated and looked like he didn’t want to answer.

“Started having nightmares again night before last” he finally admitted. “ the ones I used to have, about Jasper Brown.”

“Bowler hat” Jill asked surprised, no one had dreamed or thought about that freak in a month or two.

“Better name than Jasper brown, not human, it suits him even before all this shit went down,” Ed replied, “I think he is up ahead of us somewhere, waiting. Like he knows where we are going”

Jill pursed her lips in a frown. Like every one else she had hoped that the weird supernatural events that had plagued them for so long were finally over. Leaving them only the undead to deal with. But if Ed was having dreams about bowler hat again, it might not be as over with as they had hoped.

Ed wasn’t happy with the idea that Bowler hat might be back either. Ed had dealt with the serial killer Jasper Brown and his death dealing before the zombies, and it had not been fun. Having had to deal with Brown after the dead had risen when he become something else was in many ways worse then before.

Bowler hat was the best name for the bastard, he thought. Why god would allow a Serial killer, who loved to capture and rape mothers and their children before torturing them to death, with the occasional husband or boy friend thrown in, to escape justice by coming back as something not so dead, I Dont know.

He had feared facing Brown when the dreams had first started last year, but that fear had had been muted after he had fought Bowler hat in the old hotel on Sullivan, Bowler hat had somehow inhabited the body of another Cop named Hanson. though Ed suspected that Brown might somehow have messed with Eds mind letting him see Jasper Brown instead of Hanson. Ed would never know for a fact but deep down he knew it had been Bowler hat he had faced that night.
What ever the truth of the matter, Hanson had died and Bowler hat had vanished from the streets and peoples dreams, till now.

“Lets go” Jared called out pointing to the gathering undead on the street heading towards them.

“Ill tell Jared about the dream, okay?”Ed said. Jill nodded and went to join her husband. Ed let his eyes linger on the Five foot ten, Muscular and very handsome Redhead. Then shook his head dismissing the thoughts that ran through his mind.

Ed jogged over to Pete Steger, another Police officer from Charlston who survived the coming of the dead and had come along on this trip with Ed.

“You okay Partner” Steger asked Ed as they climbed into the RV they now called home. It was a far better place to stay then the old Carrier Yorktown, where the survivors of Charleston had hidden for so long.

“Not so much, just a nightmare that kept me awake” Ed said as Steger slid behind the wheel of the RV. Just the act of sharing the story with Jill made it easy to share with other people.

Steger started the RV and joined the line of Vehicles pulling out of the parking lot, Ed, in the passenger seat, turned to looked at Steger. “ might as well tell you the whole story, See me and Dean were assigned to the Jasper Brown case…….”

******************************

The house was small two story frame house that sat back a hundred yards off the road, being a line of oaks. An ambulance sat in the driveway, its rear tires half buried in the ground where it had become stuck. Just behind the house to the left, was an old barn, and a old water well with a hand pump that lay in the shade of an old hemlock tree.

The town down the road was small but famous in some circles, Known for the most documented haunting in the United states, Adams Tennessee home of the Bell witch.

On the horizon, there were bands of clouds, but they were blowing east and any rain they might be carrying would end up someplace other than here.

Mike stepped out onto the back porch and looked around cautiously his shotgun ready. They had been lucky so far and that couldn’t last. Right after Christmas the undead had vanished from the area. The steady stream of shambling, staggering rotting mobile corpses that had flowed past the old farmhouse heading north towards Clarksville had tapered off to a trickle then nothing, while Mike and his group of survivors had hidden in the basement of the old farm house.

No one talked about it, but they all prayed that the undead couldn’t sense them and come swarming back to overrun the old house. There was no way the old place could hold off the huge numbers that had passed by.

“Its clear” Mike said stepping aside, and letting Lee and Sandy pass. With pistols in one hand, buckets in the other they headed down to the old well while Mike covered them from the porch.
Brent, sick as he was sat upstairs in a window with his rifle keeping watch on them as well. Brent had kept them all alive during the escape from the hospital and Clarksville and again on the long road to this place. It just didn’t seem fair that he had done so much and made it this far only to get sick and die.

“ how are you feeling?” Justina former EMT, asked joining Mike on the porch. Justin was all whip thin muscle with large dark eyes and what Mikes mama had called sensitive lips. His dark hair had been shaved down to the scalp.

The EMT had been literally a life saver several times during the last winter. But he hadn’t been able to do much for Brent, Justin needed meds he just didn’t have to treat him.

“ About the same “ Mike said with a slight shrug then leaned against the wall and wishing he had not stopped smoking years ago. The urge was raging through him, Stress usually brought the craving to the fore.

“sorry to hear it” Justin said softly as he scanned the overgrown yard for threats.

“Yeah, it sucks” Mike muttered angrily. God had seen fit to answer Mikes prayers and Carrie had come out of her Coma or what ever. But she didn’t remember anything, not her own name, not even being married. She even had different interests now. She looked like his wife, smelled like his wife, but she was no longer the woman he had married. And that was like a knife in his soul that Fate just kept twisting to keep the pain going. .

It would be easier if he could turn off his feelings and emotions and forget he was married but he couldn’t, so he had spent all winter, trying to get close to the woman he loved, tried to get her to remember him and their marriage. Instead she had come to like, Lee, who surprisingly, had turned her advances down.

That had infuriated Carrie, but it had cemented Mikes Friendship with Lee who knew and respected how much Mike loved carried and was not going to be responsible for Driving another knife into Mikes heart.

“ at least the nightmares are gone, I haven’t had any of those since … since the hospital.” Mike add, almost to casually.

“ PTSD doesn’t just go away Mike” Justin said letting Mike change the topic. Mike didn’t like to talk about the situation with Carrie and he was fully aware that Justin was offering to let him get it off his chest. Justin didn’t push, sooner or later Mike would either talk to some one or lose it.

“ maybe not, but I have to control it or die” Mike said pointedly. “ With what’s going on out there, I have to deal with it Justin.”

Justin nodded in agreement, he had noticed though, that Mikes shakes and throwing up when first confronted with a violent situation, vanished the second he had committed to action. It was like chaining the beast to his will. Add in the stress of being married to a woman who doesn’t remember him or their life together and Justin was amazed that the man hadn’t gone postal already.

“ As long as you know Im here to talk to” Justin said. There were only two people in the entire group that could even begin to relate to Mikes problems, Brent who was dying, unless they could find the medications he needed, and Justin himself who had been a medic in the army and had seen his own fair share of Blood and mud.

Ily Sanchez, chose that moment to step out, five foot one, long dark hair, with a nice tight body courtesy of the end of the world. She had the exotic good looks of a Latina woman, like a cross between J lo and Jessica alba. Delicate features and golden brown skin with beautiful brown eyes. Mikes group had come across her and six others two days after fleeing Clarksville.

Two of her group had died a week later, one of them her brother. It hadn’t been pretty, They had been clearing a store that still had some food and water, Hector had opened the door to the break room and found the room filled with undead. The undead had swarmed dragging down Hector and Ron Spender

Justin had been forced to tranq Ily for a couple of days just to keep her from screaming constantly as her mind replayed the memory of her brother being literally pulled apart by the undead over and over.

It fucking sucked, Mike could adjust to this kind of life most military and prior service could, which wasn’t to say they enjoyed it or had no problems but it was easier for them to deal with than the average civilian.

But it was that shit storm overseas that still screwed with his mind and had almost torn his marriage apart. As it turned out, tearing his marriage apart had been accomplished by one hiking accident and the coming of the undead.

Which I guess doesn’t really matter now since my marriage doesn’t exist any more than my wife does Mike thought bitterly.

“ Good morning” Ily said, with just a touch of an accent that made her sound as exotic as she looked. Mike nodded silently acknowledging Justin’s offer of help and let the conversation drop with some amount of relief. He wasn’t ready to share his personal demons with anyone in the group, except Carrie and she no longer seemed to exist.

“Morning Ily” Justin said, keeping his tone professional. he really didn’t feel like Showing just how much he was attracted to her, things were to weird as it was with out adding in trying to start a relationship.

Assuming she was even interested in a relationship with him. “I need to go check on Brent” Justin said excusing himself. As the door shut behind him, Ily raised an eyebrow at Mike who shrugged and actually smiled for a moment.

“He likes you” Mike said, enjoying the warm smile she gave him.

“That’s good, I was starting to wonder if I had miss read him.” She commented, as she sat down on one of the chairs, and placed her pistol in her lap. Mike didn’t let his eyes linger on the slender well shaped legs as she crossed them.

He turned and looked out over the overgrown fields behind the barn, letting the sight of the green growing plants and the stand of trees that ran along the back of the property sooth him.

“You know we cant stay here much longer” she said after a moment.

“You feel it too” he asked, almost but not quite surprised.

“That sense of something is going to happen and soon if we stay here” she said nodding. “I’ve felt it growing since spring. and most of the others I think feel it too, just no one wants to talk about it,”

“ Brent and I were talking about finding a ride in the next day or so, but guess its just going to be me and maybe lee, with Brent being that sick.” Mike said his head coming up as he heard Lee shout then Brent’s rifle barked from a window upstairs. Mike looked towards the fields just in time to see a zombie topple over down by the woods behind the pasture, and then two more appeared. Brent shot them both down.

“Guess that tears it, we are going to need a ride and really soon. Those gun shots are going to draw them in.” Mike said as he made up his mind to head out as soon as Lee and Sandy were back inside.
******************************
The thing about homecomings is they are rarely what you expect Jared thought as they drove down the heavily pot holed state highway, leaves and limbs covered it, and in places telephone and power poles had fallen across the road. funny how much damage can occur in a year with out road maintenance crews to clean and fix it.

They had left Sullivan island three weeks ago and had made good time till they reached the Great Smoky mountains, the undead had been so thick thru the area it had taken almost a week and a half to find a way around them.

The approaches into Knoxville had been wall to wall undead. So they had used back roads to avoid the city and its undead. They even tried to get close to the nuclear plant in Oakridge, but had no luck there.

If the lights being on wasnt proof that some people were still alive inside and keeping the plant online, the mass of undead outside the fence definitely told the world that the living were inside.

Crossville had burned to the ground, from the looks of it a tanker truck had flipped off an overpass onto I 40 and ignited, they had counted something like two hundred cars on the interstate that had burned up. The fires had spread into the town from there, leaving ash and bones in the ruins of the town.

They had skirted the ruins and after two days found themselves in Clark range and back on track for the camp.

The Bergstown was as he remembered it, mostly gone, from the fires and booby traps that nut job Seth had set. The tattered and torn American flag over the by pass still hung there, a symbol for a nation that no longer existed. They turned off and took the long winding highway catching glimpse of overgrown fields, pastures, and empty barns in the hollows and along ridges thru the trees.

Finally they reached the turn off to the camp and started up the gravel road, Jared felt the tension rise as the Semi and the motor homes had trouble in the washed out sections, but they made it thru with out getting stuck.

It was all in all a beautiful summer day, bee’s buzzing as they flew from flower to flower, birds warbled and tweeted. A light wind blew fitfully, not enough to cool, just enough to tease with its promise.

Rounding a bend, Rob driving the heavily modified Deuce and half lead the way, hit the brakes bringing the entire small convoy to a halt. Jared slipped out of the van and walked up beside the Duece at the head of the line.

Just up the road were several trucks and vans scattered along the last thousand feet of drive. He could see the walls they had built up at the end of the road undead were crowded along the Palisade wall he and his people had built trying to get at the people who stood atop the wall using rocks and other improvised weapons as they tried to kill the undead.

“Must be close to a hundred of the damn pus bags up there” He told himself as he lifted his radio. “We have a problem up here” He transmitted. “Looks like some folks moved into the camp and the local undead got upset about it.”

The convoy was far enough back that the undead at the walls weren’t aware of them just yet, and Jared wasn’t about to draw attention till he was ready.

Ori and Ryan entered the woods and climbed up on top of a chunk of limestone about the size of a small house. Ori went prone and flipped down the bipod legs on the M24 he held. Ryan knelt next to Ori, his two jobs were to support the assault and defend Ori while he sniped.

Daws took the SAW from the Deuce then he, Crippen, Spacy and Jones began to work their way forward on the right side till they found a good set up that covered their backs between a van and a Subaru. Daws set the SAW up on the roof of the Subaru and waited for the signal.

Jared, Jill, Steve, Ronny, Logan and Stephanie moved up the left using the abandoned vehicles for cover. Jared idly wondered where the vehicles had all come from, but dismissed the idea since it wasn’t important to the matter at hand.

“ Ready with the Beast” Rob reported, Erik, Robs significant other, was manning the .50 mounted in the back of the Duece for the assault. The only people remaining with the convoy were Ed and Steger, who were acting as guards, and the ones driving the big vehicles of course. The rest were spread out covering the rear and ready to support the assualt if needed.

Even if Jared didn’t want to clear out the undead, they would have to anyway, the only place that would allow the RVs and the Semi to turn around was on the other side of the wall.

“ All right Sniper free.” Jared said over the radio. “ Rob bring up the Beast, fire at will”

The Deuce roared as it started forward and about half the undead at the gate turned and began to move towards the noise. Jared saw many of the people on the wall looked up in surprise at the sound as well.

Then the first sniper round blew off a zombies head, the crack of the .308 round echoed off the bluffs behind the camp. It was quickly swallowed by the slamming sound of the .50 caliber as it sent thumb sized rounds downrange, zombies tumbling away as body parts and chunks were removed from their bodies.

Erik gripped the spade handles of the .50 like it was a life line, holding the butterfly trigger down as old machine gun spat out rounds at twenty nine hundred feet per second, he shouted loudly in satisfaction as he saw the carnage it created.

“ Team two, go go go” Jared ordered as the zombies crossed the invisible line he had in his mind, the SAW ripped into them, and then the rest of the fire team added their own fire in support of the heavy weapons. The zombies were caught in a withering cross fire.

Jared hated this, always had. Just because they were good at dealing death and destruction didn’t mean he liked it, and watching those animated bodies jerking and twitching as they were torn apart wasn’t his idea of a good time. Especially the kids scattered in the crowd of undead.

“ home is where the fire fight is” he muttered, forgetting he was on an open channel.

“ I think I prefer a hot toddy and a pipe” Ori replied, Steve groaned.

“ Ori, buddy, you really need to work on your witty banter skills” Steve commented, looking at Jared wondering when they were going to get into the fight.

“ my witty banter skills are just fine, you’re just not sophisticated enough to appreciate them” Ori replied.

By now the majority of the undead left at the wall were turning and wading straight into the storm of bullets, Jared watch for a moment then lifted his rifle placing the stock under his arm pit and prepared to fire the M203 under the barrel. He flipped up the ladder sight, not wanting to risk dropping a 40mm grenade on the other side of the wall.

“ Hi you bastards, I’m home” Jared said as he pulled the trigger.

The grenade arced up and then dropped down into a cluster of undead, it detonated on impact sending shrapnel ripping thru the undead, more than half were actually killed as their heads and body’s were shredded, the rest were just far enough out of the undead kill zone, and were only crippled to various degrees.

But crippled was good enough where zombies were concerned, it made cleaning them out a bit easier as long as you didn’t get to overconfident.

The noise battered the ears of the living, the stink of gunpowder filled their noses. It was a war zone, a home many of them had experience more than once.

“ lets go” Jared said leading team one forward. They ran in a crouch firing from behind vehicles, the fight was one of the most one sided they had waged in the last year. In less than five minutes most of the zombies were down. “ Check fire, check fire, melee weapons” Jared called out as he drew his tomahawks. He smiled as he heard Jills katana whisper from its sheath.

***********************

Carl had survived the slaughter of Cookville despite the odds against him. The shelter he had arrived at had been overrun two hours later, when some one had died and risen again inside the packed building, filled with mostly unarmed folks. Carl and ten other College students had managed to escape and taken a truck from the parking lot.

After wandering around till November, they had stumbled across a few more survivors, Soldiers, where one of them had told them about this camp, and that had saved their lives. Food had been tight, but at least they had walls, power and heat. And very few undead in the area till two days ago. Since then the undead just kept arriving till they were piled up at the walls, clawing and snapping trying to get inside.

They had been using poles trying to fend off the undead. Hoping to get lucky and kill a few. He had been losing hope all morning, when suddenly all hell erupted into the undead. He felt hope flare to life, the Army, the fucking army was here he thought wildly as he saw the military truck for the first time as it rolled down the road, and heard the sound of a .50 cal firing in anger for the first time in real life.

Then there was a hurricane of bullets, explosions and noise as the undead were blown apart. He stood there gaping at the sight. Tthen suddenly there was silence as the gunfire stopped. Men and women walked towards the undead armed with swords, axes and even a pitchfork.

A woman in some kind of full body leather outfit carried a katana in her hands and what looked like a wakazashi still sheathed at her side. She waded into a knot of zombies, with a red headed man at her side using Tomahawks. When it was over they were surrounded by bodies.

The strangers stopped to talk quietly then the muscular red head led three other people up to the wall and stopped ten feet from the gate.

Carl’s eyes lingered on the hot looking big breasted dark haired woman, in thick motor cycle leathers, who sheathed the katana with a flick of her wrist and a flourish that shed blood and gore all with out looking.

The red head, had a face, that was all angles and planes, with a angular jaw and a close cut trimmed red beard and mustache. He wore old Fashioned military camouflage pants and a military vest with lots of pouches attached to the front of it. Ex military Carl decided, so where the two other men with him.

“ thanks, thanks a lot” Carl said as he waved at Jim to open the gates. Not even thinking that he might be opening the gates to human animals. Luckily for him this time fate was kind to him.

“ I’m Jared Stone, and you’ve been camping on my land” The red head called up, though he gave carl a smile as he said it.

“ it was empty when we got here” Carl said defensively as the gate swung open, then relief as he saw the red head was smiling. If this guy really wanted to make an issue out of it, there was not much Carl or his group could do about it , not with the weapons that the strangers had.

“ Come on in and we can talk once your all inside” Carl said praying he hadn’t just gotten them all killed.
The camp seemed full to Carl as the newcomers settled in, their vehicles parked in front of the barn where two of them had gotten a workshop back up and running and were inspecting the vehicles and repairing anything they found wrong and had the parts for.
The huge yard that separated the cabins from the walls, was torn up by tire tracks from all the vehicles that had just arrived. the big vehicles, like the semi had used the yard to turn around in, so they would be ready to leave when the time came.

Jared, the red head seemed friendly but intense. Like the weight of the world was resting on his shoulders. Carl had thought as he stood beside the woman in leather, at the gates watching the organized chaos.

Carl had said something along those lines to Jill. She had laughed, God he loved her laugh, and then said “ no some one else is carrying that load, and sooner or later we might figure out where he is, and head there to help.” Her smile had faltered slightly, as she studied him intently.

Carl had suddenly felt self conscious, as he ran a hand thru his hair, and realized he hadn’t had a bath in days. “ have you had any weird dreams since Last June” she asked suddenly taking him by surprise with the question as she stared into his hazel eyes. Out of all the things she might have said or asked that had been totally unexpected.

“ what do you mean weird “ he asked, not wanting to talk about the few dreams he’d had over the last year. Those had been terrifying and intense and not something he wanted to remember.

“ about people who died, who came back to say goodbye or tell you things about …well who ever it is that’s supposed to stop all this.” she said with half embarrassed smile that came and went.

He shook his head, almost sure she could tell he was lying. Just last night he had dreamed of his best friend who had talked with him about a lot of things, a really vivid dream, but not one he wanted to share.

She looked disappointed, but gave him another smile that faded as she saw Jared walk into the stand of trees behind the middle cabin.

“ that was a friend of yours wasn’t it” Carl said referring to the Grave he and the others had found back in the trees. She nodded in answer then cleared her throat.

“ One of his best friends, killed by a nut job in Town last fall. We left shortly after that” she said after a moment. “ how did you find this place?” she asked suddenly. “ It’s a bit off the beaten track”

Carl nodded “ it is that” he said, “ We were in cookville, when all this went down. Students at the Tech school, and to damn far from home to get back there with all that was going down, so we ended up at a shelter.

if you weren’t in one thank god for that, it drew those zombies like blood in the water draws sharks. Guess some one had been bit and lied about it to get inside, they were in a back room of the shelter, and must have turned. By the time any one realized what was going on, six more people were infected and began to attack others. And since no one but the cops were armed, it became a blood bath.

I got out and saw Jim, and we spotted a few other people we knew from campus, and while the zombies outside were busy eating the people who had first ran out, we managed to get into a truck and get away. Ended up meeting some Army guys at a rest stop, and one of them told me about this place even drew out a route on the map. Telling us that it got worse the closer, you get to Nashville. So we turned around and came back here.”

She felt a bubble of excitement at that, an army guy who knew where the camp was, what were the odds, it had to be Jareds brother. Unless Eric had told some of his buddies about the camp. “ Do you remember his name?” she asked excitedly knowing that Jared would be thrilled to hear this.

Carl shook his head, “ no he was maybe five ten or so, big guy, muscle big not fat, black hair, some really cool tat sleeves on his arms, and heavily armed. That’s about all I remember about him. It took us couple of months to get up here, and by then it was snowing and shit and there was a family here. With a really good looking daughter about my age. They left come spring time. Told us some story about the guy who owned the place had invited them here, but he had been gone by the time they arrived.”

Jill thought about the story Jared had told about the 23rd of June and the Girl he had rescued from the coffee shop next to Allen’s Gym and Dojo. It might have been the same family. If it was she hoped they were still alive and well. As soon as Jared was done she would tell him what Carl had said.

“ Well we have plenty of food and we don’t mind sharing at the moment, lets go get some fresh fish and Venison” she said motioning for him to follow her to the Cabin where most of her people had gathered.

***********************

The zombies when they came, came just after Mike and Lee had returned with a king cab pick up with a slide in camper. It was going to be a tight fit with all the canned goods they had gotten from the house where they had found the truck. The undead came from every direction, advancing on the house and the people inside.

Carrie had glared at mike as he escorted her out the door and got her into the Truck. She only stopped bitching when she noticed the undead surrounding the house and drawing closer. Justin, Amy Weiss, an 18 year old high school student were rushing back and forth loading the bags filled with the supplies from the ambulance that was broken down. Lee stood on the running board with a shotgun as Mike reentered the house and helped Brent out onto the porch.

Brent looked like shit, the flu or what ever was kicking his ass hard Mike realized as he saw the fever flushed skin and sunken eyes. The undead were damn close now; if they didn’t hurry they wouldn’t be able to get in the camper.

“ Brent we got to move buddy” Mike said, as Lee’s shotgun boomed, and he heard Ily’s nine-mil fire from a window in the truck. There were already zombies at the end of the porch trying to get over the railings.

“ Cant, man it hurts like hell and I’m so tired” Brent said weakly, No longer the confident man who had led them all out of the hospital. “ Get them out mike, this is where I stay. Can’t risk dying in the back of a vehicle where I can bite some one.”

“To hell you are staying here” Mike said as he scooped the other man up over his shoulder and ran for the truck, he had to shove Brent into the back of the King cab and then dove into the Drivers seat.

Lee was the last one outside; he fired twice into the crowd, and then squeezed in next to Brent shouting at Mike to drive, as he slammed the door shut. The tires threw dirt as Mike floored the accelerator, and the rocketed around the house, a head light shattered as he clipped a zombie, and then he was weaving wildly around the clusters of undead and out onto the road where he aimed towards Nashville.

As they sped past the old cemetery, mike almost hit the brakes. But the shiver of fear that raced up his spine made him press the accelerator all the way as he saw an old woman dressed in black turn and watched the truck speed past.

Her face was narrow, and made even worse by its gauntness, where her eyes should have been there were only black pits, and her mouth opened as if she spoke revealing blackened and broken teeth. Someone screamed in the back, and all he caught was the word Bruja. By then he had floored it and the cemetery quickly vanished behind them. But not before he saw in the side view mirror the hideous looking woman flow out onto the road beside the cemetery watching the escaping truck.

“ Not possible” he muttered

“ What’s not possible “ lee asked leaning forward between the seats.

“ That old lady,” Mike said. “That’s the same cemetery where it’s said the Bell witch is buried. They say her ghost shows up on occasion, dressed in black, when she is up to evil.”

“ So, what, you think that was the bell witch” Lee asked, he had only heard the old story’s a few times and couldn’t say he believed in them. But then again he had never believed in zombies either. “ And she caused the zombies”

“ I don’t know, all I know is I barely got a look at her, and that image is burned into my mind and it scared the shit out of me” Mike said finally slowly down to go around a wreck on the road.

“Probably a zombie, some old lady who died while visiting a grave there.” Carrie suggested rolling her eyes. Mike sighed, wishing again that his wife would return.

The road they were on rolled thru open pastures and fields with stands of woods scattered through the area. As the sun was setting, Mike spotted something that made him slow down and then stop. Just off the road was a farmhouse with fields behind it. A bearded man wearing a straw hat and suspenders had been repairing a fence as they approached, now he stood there staring at the truck as two young boys dressed the same way ran up, one carrying a shot gun.

“Mennonites” Lee said as mike pulled up then turned onto the dirt road that ran up towards the fenced in home and the man who stood there.

********************

Carl woke early as usual, he fixed himself a quick breakfast, canned soup, and stepped out onto the back porch. He took a deep breath of the cool misty morning air, the trees were indistinct shapes and wondered why Jared and the others had left here, it was a perfect spot. Hearing something thump on wood He turned and saw three people doing some kind of slow dance thing on the deck of the Central cabin. Curious he made his way over and watched as Jared, Jill and the hot Asian woman worked their way thru a series of martial arts moves. At least that’s what he thought it was after a few moments to think about it.

They didn’t seem to notice him, and went from practicing their movements to actual sparring. he watched silently, and impressed as they went at each other with full force. When they finally stopped they were wet with sweat, and grinning at each other.
“ Morning Carl” Jill said coming over and sitting on the steps beside him, as she ran a towel thru her damp hair. If he had doubted they were really hitting each other the bruises on her forearms and the dark bruise coming up on her cheek bone where a heel had caught her was more than enough to convince him.

“ morning, sorry didn’t mean to intrude” he said waving a hand around the deck. “ I’ve just never seen people practice martial arts before. Does it really work against zombies” he asked curious.

“ Some attacks and defense’s do, others not so much. “ she commented.

Jared had gone inside by then but the Asian woman came over and sat down next to Jill.
“ he doesn’t like me does he” Carl asked nodding towards the door to the cabin.

Jill chuckled. “ that not it, he went to get something” she said almost laughing as the younger mans eyes darted from one woman to the other. Obviously attracted and fighting hard not to show it, and seriously failing she thought with a laugh as Mai linn struck up a conversation with him.

Carl was just starting to relax when Jared returned followed by Ori. Jill scooted to one side allowing Jared to walk down the steps and stand in front of carl who suddenly looked nervous again.

“ Jill told me about the soldier who told you about the camp” he said, then held out his hand, which held a picture. “is that the man” he asked, Carl might be young but he picked up on the anxiousness in Jareds voice.

Carl peered at the picture and saw Jared and another man in shorts standing by a river, with their arms around each others shoulders. The third man in the picture had dark hair, a heavy muscled build, and a tatt sleeve on his left arm, some kind of tribal design that curled down his shoulder and across the thick pec and side. Another tribal design covered both of his thick thighs.

He peered at it for a long moment, “ I’m not sure, the man I met had tat sleeves on both arms, and he was wearing a uniform. But it does kind of look like the guy I remember.” He said looking up into Jared’s eyes.

“Okay just a couple of questions, was he wearing a helmet or a Beret?” Jared asked.

“ Helmet” Carl replied.

“ was there something on the helmet or do you remember a black patch on the shoulder of his uniform.” Jared asked intently.

Carl sat and chewed on his lip thoughtfully for a moment. “ He had something written on the his Helmet, some kind of slogan in latin. And there was a black patch but I don’t remember what was on it, but there was another patch just above it that read Special forces. That shit was easy to remember, I had never met any one that was special forces before. it would have been damn cool if there hadn’t been zombies wandering around”

Jared started grinning ear to ear, “ Damn, at least I know he was still alive days after the shit hit the fan” he said happier than any one Carl could remember meeting. Before his thoughts could come up with some weird idea like it must be Jared’s gay lover or something equally absurd. Jill spoke up “ so your brothers unit must have still been intact at that point right” she asked looking around.

Jared nodded, not because he knew it for a fact but because it made sense to him, besides they already knew that Fort Jackson had held out intact for months before disaster had finally struck, the odds of Fort Campbell holding out and running missions wasn’t far fetched at all.

“ the question is why didn’t he ever show up at the camp” Jared said thoughtfully.
* * *

Steve made his way carefully down the steep trail to the valley at the bottom of the bluffs. Scanning his surroundings for undead, behind him Ed and Steger were moving slower. Not as sure footed in the woods as they would have liked.

He was glad Jared had wanted to run a patrol thru the area, it gave him time to get some time to himself, well almost to himself he thought hearing ed grunt in pain.

Reaching the bottom, Steve squatted on top of a large rock and waited for the other two to catch up. Ed finally appeared looking winded, his jeans ripped from a sticker vine. Steger was right behind him.

“ I think I missed at least half the rocks and sticker vines on the way down” Ed said with a grin, that he wasn’t comfortable being in the woods with undead prowling around was an understatement.

Steve shot him a smile, at least I’ve grown to like both of them he thought. He wouldn’t have been so sure of that when they first met. Not that either of them had been assholes, but Steve and Cops were not exactly compatible, it was an attitude problem in his book. The dealings he’d had in the past with cops had shown him a bunch of highly unprofessional, badly trained men and women, who thought they had the skills of a SF operator and the ego of a SEAL.

Kind of sad really it took the end of the world, to figure out I was being an arrogant asshole myself he thought with a mental smile. Ed and the others had all been highly professional, dedicated, well trained men and women who didn’t deserve the shit Steve would have dealt out to them in the past. Well never to late to learn I guess he thought as he leaped down from the rock.

“Come on you city sissy’s we still have a ways to go” he said lightly.

Steger groaned aloud. “ if this was a year ago Id arrest your ass for torture” he muttered.

Steve grinned at him. “ I haven’t even begun to torture you yet” he replied then glanced down the trail.

“ it gets smoother from here, the trail should go down to a creek, then follow the creek down stream, towards the end of the Ridge, the creek will join another creek, that flows down to the South Fork. Where the two creeks join theres a steep slope on the other side that turns into a sheer bluff about halfway up. We have to work our way along the base of the bluff till you see a old fire blackened over hang from there we go up a chimney to the top, run the patrol to the fire tower than back along the old lumber road cut south, and end up back at the Camp. An easy ten miles.”
Ed looked at Steger “ did he just say ten miles” He asked. Steger nodded glumly.

“ I think he did.”

“ no more talking, hike” Steve said with a fake Russian accent.

The trail wound thru the cedars and hemlocks, keeping them in shade. The temperature down here was at least twenty degrees lower than up top, so there was a chill in the air.
As they reached the creek, Ed and steger paused. “ that’s a creek” Ed asked staring at the twenty five foot wide creek, where the white water crashed thru rocky channels. A ten point buck appeared on the other side for a moment and stared back at the humans.
Then it was gone bounding thru the ferns and bushes, to vanish into the Forest.

“ that’s not a creek it’s a river” Steger commented, as he shifted from foot to foot, eyes darting from the incredible view to the forest around them.

Steve chuckled he felt the same way, but that’s what people round here called it, so creek it was. “ lets get a move on, we still have a lot to do” he said motioning them to follow. He wasn’t one to complain, but he was starting to feel the strain. His injuries weren’t as healed up as he led Jared and the others to believe.

The other two fell in behind him and they trudged down the trail, following the noisy creek. As they reached the confluence of the two creek, Steve raised a hand signaling for them to stop.

Up ahead a zombie trudged along the trail, spotting Steve it broke into slow lumbering run. Steve drew the machete at his side, and waited. As soon as the zombie was close enough to grab him, Steve stepped to one side avoiding its embrace and buried his Machete in its head. He wrenched it out in a spray of goo and brains.

“ Contact left” Ed said lifting his rifle, as he saw an old lady, her throat torn out, stagger from a large stand of ferns. Steger knocked Eds barrel down. “ hand weapons, keep the noise down” he said as he slung his rifle and drew the machete he carried. He stepped past Ed, and using both hands brought it down on top of the old ladies head, almost gagging as the head split open with a sound like a ripe melon.

Steve rolled the corpse at his feet into the brush, and then rose wiping his hands on his pants. He looked around intently but saw no sign of any more undead. Not that he saw an indication of the two they had just run across.

Steve cautiously stepped into the creek, “ try not to step on the rock, they are slicker than shit and you’ll fall and bust your ass.” He cautioned as he reached the other side and carefully climbed up over a moss covered rock then squatted in the brush studying the slope they needed to get up. It was a 45 degrees slope, heavily wooded with plenty of underbrush, covered in years worth of fallen leaves and limbs. The soft earth would make climbing treacherous.

“ with or with out Rope” he asked Ed and Steger once they joined him. Ed studied the slope then shook his head. “ no rope”

Steve clapped him on the shoulder and grinned, “ lets go” he said as he slung his rifle. The three men clambered up the slope, using roots, Tree trunks and rocks, till they found themselves on a narrow trail that ran along the base of the bluff that rose eighty feet up out of the slope.

Steve moved carefully along the bluff wall for almost twenty feet, and then suddenly pointed. “ its here” he said.

Steve climbed up the chimney with little trouble, emerging onto the top he found himself standing on the edge of the bluff just behind a thick tree line. He sat up the ropes and the belay before waving to the two men to start climbing one at a time.

While he waited his let part of his mind drift over his problems, he wanted to talk to Jared, but he couldn’t. he was tired of this shit, tired of the undead, damn tired of having to kill the rotting corpses of adults and children who deserved better than to be turned into some thing that ate their own loved ones, tired of being on the road. Tired of being tired.

Funny how realizations can just spring out at you he thought, just two days ago, all he wanted was to find his brother and cover his Friends backs.

And then that damn dream, and now all he could think about was getting back to Bridget and Sharon. Im losing my touch, I guess he thought. And that’s what really had him bothered, Being a soldier had been the one thing he excelled at. Oh maybe not special forces good, that would have been Jared if he had really wanted it. but Good enough. And now, he wasn’t sure he could be as hard as he needed to be.

Jared was the real hard ass of the group, Ori was calm and collected, and good at what he does. Ronny was a smart ass, but a good soldier. But Jared, was the scary one. Jared might be his best friend, and as close as a brother, but you did not want to piss him off. Like that Russian prick had learned when Jared had taken his head.

Lets be honest your self doubts started before the dreams, your self doubts started the second time you woke up with Linda taking care of you in the Infirmary.

“ a little help here” Ed called out. Steve shook himself back to reality. He reached down taking Eds hand and pulled him up. Ed sprawled out on the coarse grass his arms and legs aching, “you know theres a reason I never did this for fun” Ed said getting to his feet and taking guard while Steve waited for Steger, who climbed the chimney a lot faster than Ed had managed. As soon as both men had caught their breath, they headed out.

By late afternoon they reached the Fire tower, Ed stared at the stairs then dreading the ribbing that Steve would give him if he hesitated he started up the stairs behind the former solider trying not to grimace as his legs protested.

From the top, the view was incredible, rolling ridges, deep forests, and the glitter of the south fork to the northeast. “Wow” Ed said actually impressed. “ its not the smokie’s but its still one hell of a view.

Steve had a pair of binoculars to his eyes and was studying a Rocky spur that he could see to the north. “I’d say that’s a hell of a view” Steve said lower the binoculars and passing them to Ed who focused on the area, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust, and then it leaped into sharp focus. A camp, had been set up on the cap rock on top of the ridge, he could see some kind of armored wheeled vehicle with a large gun sat in the middle of a camp composed of civilian model tents. And everywhere zombies and blood, and it was no more than fifteen miles from the Camp.

“ guess running a patrol turned out to be a good idea” Steve said bitterly, “ sooner or later these fuckers will just stop moving and rot, and I really hope its soon.”

***********************

The sun was setting over the city of Nashville, where the numbers of undead were increasing every day. They wandered down the deserted streets, past downed power lines, and automobile wrecks. They shuffled through the trash and dirt that had accumulated on the roads and streets.

On the steps of the country music hall of fame, several milled around the closed doors. More filled the parking lot of the hotel across the street and catty corner to the Hall of fame.

The silence was broken as the sound of motors echoed off the buildings, growing louder by the moment. The undead turned in circles then began to make their slow unsteady way towards the sound.

A line of vehicles, mostly older pick up trucks with armed men in the back turned and cruised past the Hall of fame firing into the undead. About one in four shots dropped a zombie, laughter filled the air. they turned at the next corner and headed back away from the down town area drawing undead after them.

As they passed thru more densely packed buildings, the living began to throw Molotov Cocktails thru the windows of buildings, hooting and holler. Soon fires were burning brightly and with no fire department to put them out, the fires began to consume buildings and spread to adjoining business.

“Look aint that Faith hill?” a man with thinning blond hair shouted and pointed at a zombie that stopped and turned toward the passing vehicles.
“ Naw Rigsby, that’s just some skank” another called out as he shot down the zombie.

“ Besides, even if it was. Shes dead, not like she would handing out autographs” some one else hollered.

“ Rigsby aint looking to get an autograph”

Rigsby grinned, but didn’t say anything. besides fame didn’t matter any more, anyway. All the stars he had liked were dead and walking like almost every one else.

As the last vehicle passed under the overpass, none of them noticed the zombie that stepped out of the shadows and watched them disappear down the road, as more zombies gathered around it as if waiting for its command. Soon the undead were spilling out into side streets their numbers growing by the moment.

With mincing steps, the hunch shouldered long armed zombie in the bowler hat started down the road after the humans, leading a mass of zombies behind it. the lurching, staggering crowd was silent except for the shuffle of feet on the pavement.

Its enemies, needed just a bit of encouragement to come to Nashville, so it would have to provide it. And it had just the thing to bring that red headed bastard and the cop right into his arms. And when they were dead, it would lead the undead to the island they had seized and roll over it like the tide.

He smiled at the image, a dark tide of blood and pain, sending the people there shrieking straight to hell. It enjoyed that thought, but till his guests arrived, another band of survivors waited to be culled. And its master had an insider who would open the doors at just the right time, it felt the anticipation and hunger like a drug. Even if the undead that followed it couldn’t, but they hadn’t been special in life or undeath. Only prey to be stalked and enjoyed before stripping the life from them. Soon it would be able to enjoy the same pleasures again.
<a href=”https://midnightscorner.wordpress.com/a-dark-tide-rising-synopsis/dark-tide-rising-prologue-hospital-of-the-damned/chapter-1/chapter-2/&#8221; title=”Chapter 2″>chapter 2</a>

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