“From panic, pride, and terror
Revenge that knows no rein —
Light haste and lawless error,
Protect us yet again,”
Carl wasn’t sure what to think when the three men sent out to look around had had returned with some sort of urgent news. They had barely spoken entering the camp, and had rushed straight to the Cabin where Jared was.
With in minutes, men and women who looked mighty worried were leaving the cabin and began loading their supplies into their vehicles in preparation for pulling out.
Guess I need find out what’s going on, Carl thought as he started towards the cabin.
Jared stood on the porch talking to Ori and a man Carl didn’t remember. Feeling damned nervous at the anxious looks and frantic pace Jared’s people were displaying, Carl climbed the steps and walked over to Jared. “ whats going, I thought you were staying for a couple more days?”
Jared passed the box he held to woman who carried it over to an RV, then turned to Carl. “ Steve spotted a large group of undead. Up on the knob, we are pulling out. I think you and your folks should leave with us.”
Carl started shaking his head, the camp was safe. He didn’t want to go back out there where millions of those things walked around. all that ran thru his mind, and then the memory of the arrival of Jared and his people and just how well they had handled the undead outside the walls.
“We don’t have any where to go” Carl finally said. It was the truth, but the deeper truth was he was scared of being out there in the wide world again. The camp felt like home, safe and secure and he didn’t want to give it up.
“That’s not technically true.” Jared said stepping aside to let Daws and Crippen pass by.
“There’s a place just on the other side of the smoky’s, theres maybe thirty or forty people there.” Jared said eyeing the younger man. “ it’s a farm, they eat well and are pretty well protected from the undead.”
“Is that where your going” Carl asked, his face fell when Jared shook his head.
“ Not even close, but I can give you a map with a route that avoids the heavy concentrations of undead. You could be there in a day.” Jared said, hoping like hell he wasn’t sending these people to their deaths. But once they got on Newfound gap, they would be safe or at least Safer. Lloyds scouts would pick them up and get them to the farm once they were on the other side of the mountain.
Jared had Carl wait while he went and got one of his maps, then spent twenty minutes with the man talking him thru the route and giving him pointers.
“ but how will we get there” Carl asked, pointing to the battered truck that sat near cabin three.
“ theres an RV camp on the other side of town, that we have to pass on our way out, I think we can stop long enough to get one checked out, fueled up and started before we leave you to it. trust me you do not want to go where we are going” Jared said, Carl studied the mans face and saw something in Jared’s eyes that convinced him. He nodded and went back to studying the map.
While Jared’s people waited Carl got his group packed and then loaded onto one of the Rvs. There had been a lot of arguing, and Jared had no clue how Carl had convinced them, but he had and that’s all that mattered.
Jared and Ori waited at the gate till the last vehicle passed through then the two men shut and barred the gates before climbing up the stairs to the top of the wall. “I miss this place” Ori said as he swung over the wall and started down. While Ori climbed down, Jared turned and looked towards Marks grave, and said a silent goodbye before climbing down after him.
Ash swirled around the vehicles as they drove thru town, many of the buildings were gutted ruins, burned by the fires and booby traps Seth had set. Some of the homes on the back streets were intact, at least judging by what little they could see.
Jared slowed as he drove past the courthouse, almost tempted to stop and burn it down as well. The lair of Seth, he thought melodramatically as he passed the building.
As soon as they rolled past the spot where mark had died, a cold shiver ran down his spine and the old pain welled up.
His lips thinned to a grimace as he sped up, not evening looking at the wreckage of his old off road truck, or at the strip center that Seth had leveled in his first attempt to kill them.
The old road took them past the hospital and small medical center, and then there were only homes and over grown fields to either side broken only by dense stands of trees. The convoy rounded a tree shaded hair pin turn and began to roll down a ridge past the old mine.
They were almost officially out of town limits when he spotted the sign for the Merrybrook Campground and RV park, a truck was nose down in the ditch, beside the road they needed to take.
Turning onto the gravel road that ran into the woods on the right side of the hwy 52, they drove slowly till they entered the campground. It wasn’t the fanciest of places, some would call it cheap. What it was, was old fashioned with the charm of an ealier time. a small building that housed the office, bathrooms and showers sat near the entrance, and was the only building on the grounds.
Most of the campground was empty, but seven tree shaded campsites held RVs and two fifth wheel travel trailers still attached to trucks and that was it. Ten zombies were already heading their way, as Jared pulled up in front of an older motor home.
Men and women leaped out forming into long established teams and went to work.
Daws and team two dealt with the undead asshats in the campground, Jared and team one Cleared the Rv. Team three stood guard around the convoy ready to lend assistance if needed.
They cleared the camp fast and at the all clear, Rob raced over to the RV Jared had chosen with his tool box and went to work. It took two hours before Rob was satisfied with the motor home, completely ignoring Jared who tried to rush him as the teams continued to put down the occasional undead that wandered out of the woods.
Finally the Motor home was fueled up and idling, Carl and his friends had transferred their few possession inside. Jared had a few extra supplies taken from his convoys stores and what they had gathered from the other abandoned motor homes and travel trailers given to Carl and his people to see them on their way.
Jared as a last minute kindness gave the small group, a couple of hunting rifles and ammo so at least they could protect themselves against small numbers of zombies. It was more than most would have down in this day and age and Carl and his people knew it.
As the motor home pulled out of the campground, Jared watched feeling slightly guilty at sending Carl and his people away.
“ think they will make it” Steve asked turning towards his own RV as soon as the college students were out of sight.
“ as long as they listen to my advice and stick to the route I marked out for them” Jared replied. He paused and looked around the shaded campground, for a moment. “ I think that where we are going would prove to be more dangerous for them than driving to the Farm. “ Jared said as if trying to convince himself, Steve didn’t reply. He only placed a large hand on Jared’s shoulder in support then turned and climbed aboard his own motor home.
Jared felt tense as they rolled into Livingston, the last time he had been here they had rescued twenty six elementary skill kids, one fifteen year old and Ori’s future wife.
It had been filled with undead at the time, and he didn’t think it would have changed much. They drove down the main road passing the School where the kids had been hiding. Bodies littered the road, and the parking lot, most were almost skeletal by now.
Jared felt a shiver, remembering just how tight that fight had been. At that point they had only been dealing with zombies for about a week. And the horror of the undead had still been fresh for them. Not that’s its gotten any better with familiarity Jared told himself. I don’t think its something we should get used to.
Jared like every one else had become used to seeing dead towns, full of the walking dead. It was when they saw only empty streets and buildings, and abandoned vehicles that the creep factor rose higher.
No one knew where the undead went, there had been a lot of debate amongst the group over that topic. But the only facts they had currently was that the undead for what ever reason sometimes left the towns they died in heading to God knew where.
If it had only been one or even two places, Jared could have dismissed it as an anomaly but he and the Group had passed thru a lot of towns were there should have been thousands of undead and had seen handfuls or in some cases none at all. Jared had suspicions but had rarely shared them with any one. His ideas would only create more fear and tension so it was better to keep quiet.
What he suspected was that the undead were moving from place to place, hunting down the living. Maybe the undead even followed groups like his, Just kept going in the same direction as the vehicles that had escaped till they ran across more of the living to rip and rend.
Pleasant thought that Jared, he told himself as they left the town of Livingston with its dead and its ghosts behind them.
Mike sat with his back against the stonewall of the basement watching Carrie as she wrote in her journal. One of the new personality traits she had shown on waking. There were times he wondered if he clubbed her unconscious would she wake up his wife again.
Not good thoughts, he decided and shoved them far back into dusty corner of his mind. Carrie chose that moment to look up, and saw him watching. Frowning she closed the Journal and shoved it into the rucksack that contained the few things she had picked up along the way.
“ you can quit staring at me” she snapped and walked to the far side of the basement, placing as much distance between them as possible. Ily looked from Carrie to Mike, pity in her eyes. Mike didn’t need it; he rose and walked to the stairs. “ Im going to see if Mordicai needs help” he said and started up the steps, Lee not wanting to be left alone in the basement for Carrie to hit on followed him up the stairs.
They passed through the neat, old fashioned kitchen to the back porch where Mike stopped and stared out at the gathering storm clouds.
“ Look I want you to know, I haven’t and wont encourage her” Lee said suddenly. He knew just how in love Mike was with his wife, no one that escaped the hospital with Mike could have ever doubted it.
“I know Lee, and thanks.” Mike said as he stepped off the porch and into the grass. “ I just don’t know what to do, she’s just not the same woman, not in any way that I can see. She likes totally different things, she seems to hate me, and to be honest there are times I feel like She’s not carrie at all.” He shrugged unhappily. “Like a stranger moved in while she was in that coma or what ever it was.”
Lee stepped down and stood next to Mike, the burly maintenance guy was way out of his depth in this new world and he knew it, but he was a good guy, and felt a need to help mike get through this.
“ shes still your wife man, its like she woke up to bits and pieces of different movies, and her mind just assembled the pieces into a new personality.” Lee said, groping to explain the thoughts that ran thru his mind. “ she will get better.”
Mike shook his head for a moment, he didn’t know how to explain it to Lee. But she didn’t feel like his wife, not in action or in word. Carrie had been kind, sweet, a good person. This new woman enjoyed being mean, enjoyed hurting Mike. He saw it in her eyes, like when she had leaped onto Lees lap and wiggled her ass against him. Her eyes had never left Mike’s, he couldn’t forget the cold malice he saw in them.
Had that kind of meanness been lurking in her all along, he wondered. No, there was no way, if it had it would have reared its head long ago, especially after I…after my problems.
Mike didn’t want to think about it right now, He was on the ragged edge and dealing with more than he had ever wanted to. Lee fell silent knowing the conversation was over.
Inside the old but well maintained barn, Mordicai was working on repairing a plow that looked old.
The Menonite looked up at them with a fleeting smile then went back to reparing the plow.
They had been damned lucky that he had let them stay for a few days, Mike reflected. The man had even shared some of the food he had. Which mike suspected was stored in much greater quantities than he let on about? Not that Mike cared one whit, the man was sharing some of what he had with total strangers in a fucked up world and that was admirable.
“ Need some help” Mike asked determined to do something to pay the man back for his help.
“ I surely do” Mordicai said turning, “ I need the side of the hen house repaired, My son Ezekiel will show you where the tools and materials you will need are located so that you can get started.”
Ezekiel, a Slender dark haired boy stood by the work bench in his patched and faded overalls. He was the most serious looking kid Mike had ever seen. The undead had caused a lot of people of all ages to grow up and take life far more seriously. Those that hadn’t were either dead or lucky enough to be with someone who protected them.
“lead on,” Mike told the kid.
The tool room was just as Mike would have expected out of Mordicai. Every thing neat, clean and in its proper place. it was the largest collection of actual hand tools, that mike had ever seen. Hand planers, manual drills, hammers of different shapes and sizes, chisels and far more tools that he had no name for.
Not even the end of the world could really disrupt the order that Mordicai imposed on his own little corner of the world. YET! Mike silently added.
His mind turned back to an early conversation with Mordicai about how things had gone around here when the undead had risen, from what little the man had said about when the Devils plague had been loosed on the world, it had been bad for the peaceful community.
And Devils Plague sounded so much better than the Apocalypse or the end of the world, mike thought. The end of everything he knew deserved a colorful name.
Mordicai had explained how he had put down all of his neighbors when they came calling and then had gone out and collected the neighbors remaining live stock after he had decently buried them.
He told them of the flood of undead that had come up the road from the south heading north during the early part of last fall and how Mordicai and his family had hidden away in the basement to avoid being seen by the undead.
He had matter of factly told Mike and the others how his wife had taken ill during the winter and had passed away, he never mentioned putting her down, but mike didn’t doubt the man had, he was to pragmatic not to. Since then he had been taking care of his land, and raising his sons in a faith that he admitted had been shaken by the events of the world. Every ones faith what ever they had believed had been shaken as far as Mike could tell. The undead had shattered the house of Logic and brought ruin to every Religion.
Not that it stopped people from trying to make some sense of what had happened and was still going on.
Mike and Lee finished the repairs on the Hen house, and carried the tools back to the tool room and as they returned to the yard they saw Ezekiel running towards the barn and knew that something was wrong.
As Mike entered the barn he heard the boy tell his father that six of the unclean dead were at the fence at the back of the East field.
“ Let us deal with it “ Mike said, Lee nodded his agreement. It was the least they could do for the help and shelter that Mordicai had given them.
“ Show them the way Ezekiel” Mordicai said with no hesitation. Mike felt flattered that the man trusted them to keep his son safe. Not many would have. “I will make sure that every one in the house is prepared in case more of the unclean arrive.”
“ this way” the boy said heading for the barn door. Mike paused only long enough to snatch up a pick axe hanging from pegs.
They crossed a pasture and then plunged thru a strip of woods, to the plowed fields on the other side. “ shit ones already in” Lee said pointing.
A zombie had somehow managed to get over the four feet fence, and had been slowly heading towards the house. Spotting them it lifted its arms and started lumbering toward the two men and boy eagerly reaching out it hands already anticipating the hot bloody meal before it.
Mike slowed to a walk and slowed his breathing, bouncing the pickaxe in his hands as if to gauge the weight and balance. He felt the familiar urge to heave growing, ever since that day ten years ago, he couldn’t deal with violence or potential violence with out getting sick to his stomach.
“You sure you got it” Lee asked, ready to use the shot gun he carried as a club.
Mike nodded determined to deal with the stress related sickness. He drew back the pickaxe, and as soon as the zombie was close enough he swung like he was shooting for a line drive and planted the spike of the pick axe in the things head dropping it like a rock. It fell heavily twisting the tool from his hands. Mike placed a boot on its chest and wrenched the spike out of its skull. Trying and succeeding in not throwing up. He turned and headed grimly towards the fence and the rest of the undead.
* * *
The town of Olensmill, lay in a region of twisting ridges, deep thick forests and creeks, in better times families had hunted, farmed, grew tobacco and cut timber to get by. It was one of those small Tennessee towns that most people only thought existed in movies and old books. it lay nestled in River valley between two heavily forested ridges. The thick green woods broken only by overgrown pastures and fields, where abandoned homes sat slowly crumbling under shade trees. Here and there Feral hogs could be spotted rooting around under old oaks.
It wasn’t more than a couple of miles from several other towns whose populations were around a hundred plus or minus fifty or sixty. Places like Whitelyville, and Sugar creek, Hayden and Hurricane Tennessee. Not many tourists had ever come across the Cumberland to the small communities on this side of the river and the locals had been generally thankful for that.
Jared drove slowly across the long bridge, that spanned the Cumberland river, then turned onto the two lane road, which was more accurately described as a wide single lane road pretending to be a two lane road, which ran along the base of a ridge to the right and open fields to the left. They passed thru Whitelyville, which was tiny, no more than three buildings, one a small post office. The Convoy turned on to a narrow state road that led towards Olensmill. Five minutes later they were rolling into Ori’s Hometown.
“ This is a town” Jill asked noting the crumbling old general store on the right, the windows were cracked, the door was jammed half open. Vines grew up the buildings field stonewalls.
Jared nodded as he took the next bend and the whole town came into view. a Baptist church, a Post office the size of a construction site supervisors trailer on the left hand side, a long single story Cinderblock building on the right hand side that also served as the Local Garage, Community center, town hall, as well as the Volunteer fire station. A couple of vehicles sat out front, covered in dust and leaves.
A sign from last June announced the Annual fish fry on June 24th with a chance to win a free VCR during the raffle. “ VCR?” Jill said then laughed. “I take it DVD’s never caught on around here and your sure Ori is from here?”
Jared nodded smiling “ he has family scattered all over the ridges, the old family homestead is back off in a holler, its been in the family for generations. That’s where they would have gone when this shit happened.” He said then grinned at something he had thought. “Just to warn you, if his cousins and brothers are still alive, you and Mai linn are going to be really popular. Last time I was up here, I sat and listened to one of his cousins practicing flirting with his sister.”
Jill laughed hesitantly, Jared grinned “ no I meant it He was practicing. He was going to head to Gainsborough for the weekend and wanted to make sure he got himself a woman.”
”That is so wrong “ Jill said laughing. “ and why go to Gainsborough, that’s like 15 miles from here. He could have gone to Cookeville and met college girls.”
“ Gainsborough is as far as most of his family has ever gone, hell Ori was a black sheep for joining the Army and going outside the county. ‘boy just wanted to get out there and spread his seed with those slutty city women, instead of staying here and marrying a good girl’.” Jared said.
“ your kidding, his Dad said that.” Jill replied with something like amused shock.
“ no his grandmother said that. Ori’s Dad was the black sheep of his generation, for joining the military and marrying that furrin woman.” Jared replied. “ Ori’s mom was from Nashville”
“ oh my god that is to funny” Jill said with another laugh, there were some that might not understand how any one could actually laugh and joke when the world had gone to hell and the dead were eating people. There were times even Jared wondered if they were all insane for not just breaking down and crying all the time.
The initial horror they had all felt as the dead came had faded, or not so much faded but held little shock or emotional impact now. Now the undead were common place, a threat that inspired fear and loathing but not the blood soaked horror they had all felt in the first few weeks.
The life long civilians of the group were handling the situation with Grim determination. But knowing that Sullivan, a Safe zone from the Chaos, lay waiting to the east for them to return to had helped them cope even more than Jared would have expected. But at least they were coping. No suicides so far, arguments yes, but few actual fights. But what they needed was a better way to deal with things than just brooding and getting on with surviving.
Soldiers, hell Military members in general usually responded to high stress situations and death with two reactions, bad jokes and sex, in this kind of situation it was the best possible way to deal and knowing that Sullivan lay waiting gave them strength to keep putting one foot after another.
“ Might want to have the large vehicles park here, while we scout ahead in the lighter smaller vehicles” Ori suggested over the Radio.
“ Sounds good.” Jared replied having been up here with Ori before he knew that the roads up on the ridges and leading to the holler’s were narrow as hell and usually had a steep fall on one side or another and had very few places for anything as big as an RV or semi to turn around in.
“ Shouldn’t be more than a handful of zombies down here.” Ori added as he pulled past the larger lumbering vehicles in his Land Rover. True there hadn’t been more than a handful of people in the whole town.
Jared came to a stop next to Ori’s Land Rover at the T intersection and dismounted, he slung his commando and pulled his crossbow out of the Van.
The RVs and other large vehicles maneuvered into the church and post office parking lots. The sound of idling motors loud and bouncing off of the few buildings.
As soon as the vehicles were parked and shut down, Men and women dismounted spreading out around the parked vehicles to keep watch for undead. Most carried bows and cross bows. Jared was glad they had stopped and hit every sporting goods and Pawnshop along the way. Firearms were not the best thing to use sometimes, and ammo was tight.
He smiled to himself as he eyed the people with him most carried swords and axes now as well. Rob had spent a few days on a bunch of wall hanger blades making them combat capable by cutting off the narrow breakable tangs then making a new tang out of the base of the steel blades. Most people didn’t know that the tang was the piece of metal that the hilt or handle of a sword was placed on.
People always sneered at the wall hangers, truth was most, not all, were made of good steel, it was the tang that was made to break. By shaving or cutting down the last six to eight inches of the blades, adding quillons, hand guards to the uninformed, the sword would be shorter but functional. Functional enough for zombies at any rate. Hopefully they would not end up in sword fights with other people to find out how well the modifications worked against other blades.
Even as the thoughts ran thru his mind he saw the screen door on the old store open and an elderly zombie stumble out of the store. Jared lifted the crossbow to his shoulder and let it get halfway to him before pulling the trigger. The bolt slammed into the center of its face driving it off its feet. it struggled to get back up, its legs kicking stirring up dust. “ I really need to practice more with this thing” Jared said was he strode forward reloading the cross bow, and placed a boot on the bony old chest and shot a second bolt straight into its brain pan. He wrenched both bolts free and wiped them on the old mans clothing before slipping them back into quiver on the stock of the crossbow.
“ heads up” Jill called out. Jared looked up to see a top less young woman exit the store, her hands outstretched as she came at Jared. He lifted the cross bow and let her get ten feet away before shooting her in the head. Jared recognized her, Marilyn, one of Ori’s cousins.
Jared glanced at Ori, whose face wore the look of a man attempting to hold back any show of emotion. Jared let it be, Ori didn’t need him mouthing some old saw about how sorry he was for the loss. The world was, what it was these days.
“Lets make sure the damn place is clear” Jared said, waiting only long enough for Ronny, Steve, Logan and Jeb to join them.
Jared was the first thru the door, scanning the dimly lit store. Where sunlight streamed thru dirty glass, and dust motes disturbed by their passage swirled and floated in the beams of natural light.
The store side itself was only ten by twenty, with lines of shelves empty except for dust. A row of bulky rounded 1950’s refrigerators lined one wall. Signs on each one announcing the contents, Soda, Eggs, Cheese, Meats, Vegetables, and Bait.
The racks along the back wall that had once contained clothing was empty as well. Jared moved slowly to the dark hallway eyeing the three doors, two on the north side and one on the south side, and an open doorway at the end that probably led to the garage.
Not willing to trust those rooms were empty, they cleared them quickly and found Two bathrooms and an office, all three empty, though they found bloodstains on the floor of the office and a ripped up woman’s shirt. Jared was pretty sure the shirt had been Marilyn’s. He glanced at Ori, who looked stone faced but said nothing. Only a finger tapped rapidly on the stock of his crossbow to show just how worked up he was.
Next they moved into the garage, Jared almost didn’t see the Zombie, dressed in Mechanics coveralls with the name bubba on its name tag come around the back of the 67 chevy pickup. Jill did and she put three arrows into before it dropped to the ground.
“ way to go Apocalypse momma” Ronny muttered as he peered over her shoulder at the Dry desiccated corpse of bubba.
There were no other zombies in the Garage, but there was a Large Jacked up, off road, rock climbing truck on the rack. Ronny apparently loved the truck judging by the way he acted. Jared ignored the sexually laden comments Ronny used describing the truck grinning only once. His attention was fixed on the connecting door to the fire station and community center. “unless your going to hump the thing, can we get on with this” Jared said after a moment pointing to the door that led to the Community center.
The community center/townhall was only 12 by 20, with only one window high up in the northern wall. Two books shelves acted as the town library, filled with twenty year old books for the most part. Jared remembered attending a fish fry here, eight years ago, it had been a fairly small and tight community. They had their fueds, the hills were famous for feuds, and usually were not to accepting of outsiders. But they had treated Jared kindly all the same.
He started to step into the room then jerked to a stop as he saw shadowy shapes sitting silently in chairs. They didn’t move so he clicked on a light mounted on his crossbow and grimaced as he saw the decomposing bodies.
Six elderly women, and five men, all but one had been shot in the forehead. One of the men, dressed in bib overalls and wearing a john Deere cap on his balding head had eaten the barrel of his own pistol. Each of the dead bore a note pinned to their clothes with their names it. the man who had shot himself, had a piece of folded paper sticking out of the chest pocket of his overalls. Jared walked slowly over and pulled it free.
“That’s Henry Shields, and Mabel Stowe, Carlie Farris ….” Ori said as he entered the room and named off all the dead, as Jared read the note.
“ seems they were stuck in here and listening to the news on a radio. According to Henry, one of the last things they had heard was that any one that died would come back and the only way to kill them was a shot to the head. They were too old to fight the zombies outside, and with out their medications they would die. they were terrified that one of them would pass and kill the others. They all decided that they were too old to fight and damn sure didn’t want to be gnawed on or come back as one of those things. So they agreed on dying together. Henry had a pistol and did the job.” Jared said returning the note to the old mans pocket. Wandering if in the same situation he could have made the choice those people had, he honestly hoped he never had too.
“ lets finish this” Jared said moving towards the door into the fire station, which during the fish fry’s had been empty and with the big bay doors open so that the small town could gather inside to eat and talk, while the kids played on the old fire truck parked outside.
They entered the large bay and found it empty. It didn’t take long to search the supply room, office and bunkroom. And found them stripped. Some one had gone thru the place after last june and emptied it.
They returned to the daylight, and found that a six more zombies had appeared while they had been inside and had been dropped well short of the Rvs.
Jared and Ori talked quietly and decided to take Ori’s Land rover and Jareds Van to the holler, if they found Ori’s Family, and the roads were passable they would send some one back to the Rvs and lead the whole group to the Holler.
Ori drove slowly up steep tree shaded road, till it finally reached the top of the ridge and wound along the curves of the ridgeline. To the right through the trees, a hundred foot steep down slope could be seen.
Rounding a curve he saw his Uncle Bucks house, Bucks tractor was sitting in the middle of the overgrown field where he had raised corn and pumpkins. Amongst the weeds and grass, cornstalks loomed. Bucks truck was parked in the yard in front of the open door to the house.
He came to a stop and honked the horn, hoping buck and his family might be holed up in the root cellar. But after ten minutes nothing had appeared alive or dead, so Ori started driving again letting the Bluegrass music from his cd player fill his mind.
The next house along the ridge was Ethel Morris’s place. Her husband had passed on six, no now seven years ago, but ethel had continued to work the garden plot that ran down the slope of the ridge hiring youngsters to help her plant and harvest each year. Rumor had it she had been having an affair with Henry, though how you could call it affair when both people were widowers was beyond Ori but that was the way the town had been.
Finally he came alongside his Parents house, a pre civil war two story home. The white paint was now flaking off the walls. Two massive spread limbed oaks flanked the house on each side. There had once been a tire swing hanging from the limb of the tree on the right,that he and his brothers and cousins had swung on every summer of their childhood.
His moms Car was parked next to the well house. His dads old battered ford pick up was nowhere in sight. The portable building his dad had used as a workshop stood open. One of the two rocking chairs on the long covered front porch lay overturned, and Ori felt a knot in the pit of his stomach, at the sight, and thanked god Jared and his other friends were with him. If his family were here and undead, he didn’t know if he could actually put them down. fear and tension curled through him like acid.
He stopped the Rover on the side of the road and climbed out his hands shaking. Jared looked grim, as he came to stand beside Ori. “ I want you to stay here” Jared said after a moment. It wasn’t a Request, and Ori knew it. He felt shame about not argueing the decision. But was still professional enough to know that if his family were inside that house and undead, he could freeze and endanger all of them. He nodded mutely, hating himself for not insisting on going. Hating the fact he was thankful he didn’t have to enter the house he had grown up in.
He watched as Jared led the others across the yard, hearing the wind stir the leaves of the trees along the ditch and smelling the wild flowers and honey suckle along the fence line. Every minute that ticked by with out a sound from inside, was like a knife, but it was a relief too, a relief he thought would be shattered in another moment by discovery of the undead.
It was an amazing home Jill thought as she took in the large bedrooms, each with their own fireplaces and ornate hand carved paneling and wainscotting. The Kitchen had obviously been modernized, but there was still a hand water pump at the sink next to the modern plumping fixtures. Jared had pointed out where the Old Ice box had set next to the Fridge on his last visit.
They had to go out on the back porch to get to the stairs to search the upstairs. Which had four large bedrooms like the ones downstairs. They entered each room cautiously and each room was thankfully empty of the undead.
Once they had cleared the last room Jared looked around with a sense of relief. It might be a false hope, but other than the overturned rocking chair on the front porch, there was no sign of a struggle in the house so Ori’s family must have left and might still be alive.
They made their way back downstairs, and swept the yard once more. Jared trying to ignore Ori, who stood beside his land rover looking anxious. Finally satisfied that there was nothing to be found Jared led them back to the vehicles.
“ no sign of a fight or any one dying, theres stuff gone from the house and the workshop, which might not mean anything “ Jared told Ori who tried and failed not to look hopeful.
“ I think we need to head straight for the holler, if any one is still alive that’s were we will we find them” Ori said opening the door to his land rover.
“ Sounds good, and the sooner we find out the sooner the entire group can link back up. I’m not thrilled with staying separated for a long time.” Jared said as he walked back to his Van.
The road down into the holler was steep and wound down along the ridge, chunks of limestone some twice as big as their vehicles stuck out of the tree covered ridge. Massive oaks and Hemlocks covered the road in shade. Down below at the base of the Ridge, sun light slipped through the trees and glittered off the waters of a rushing creek that spilled thru its rocky course with a muted rumble.
Ori winced as the Land rover hit a bad spot and bounced, the skid plate shrieking as it dragged over rock. No one in the family had ever thought about keeping the road repaired beyond the basics. It tended to keep regular vehicles off of their property.
He grinned as he turned up the Volume, tapping his fingers to the Country boy anthem Sung by old hank. He couldn’t help but feel good, at not finding his family undead, and the fact that the old family place had been stripped, meant his family might still be alive. The road finally leveled out, and up ahead he could see a lightening struck tree on the left hand side of the road. Past the tree was the fork, one branch led to the homestead, the other led down to the creek and the fishing camp his Grandfather had made some sixty years ago.
Ori slowed to take the turn to the homestead and then applied the brakes. Some one had strung a thick metal cable across the road with a sign warning of death to trespassers. That, he thought, was new.
He climbed out and glanced up and to the left. If any of the family was watching they would be hiding up there in the rock fall. Its where his grandparents and great uncles had used to keep a look out in the past for Revenuers, and then later he and the other kids had used it to keep a watch out for their parents to keep from being busted while partying a bit to hard.
He shaded his eyes with one hand then waved up at the rocks as he saw a glint of sunlight off glass. He kept his hands away from his weapons in case it was a friend of the family who didn’t recognize him.
“Social visit or Danger,” Jared asked climbing out of the van, his Commando center slung. Ori glanced at him and saw Jared’s right hand hooked casually in his web belt just over the butt of his Mark 23.
“ neither at the moment “Ori said. “ look out up on the left, some one is at home. Might be family might be friends of the family.”
Jared leaned back on the fender of the Van his eyes scanning the area for threats as they waited. The sound of the creek and the wind in the trees was soothing and he had to fight the urge to relax.
After a few minutes Jared heard motors start off in the distance, echoing off the ridges and rumbling thru the holler. Five minutes later, two camouflage painted off road monster fords appeared around the bend down the road.
Jared stared at the lead truck, “what the hell is that thing in the back of that truck” he asked, partly amused and mostly surprise.
Ori grinned, “ that is a 20mm anti tank Gun my dad restored ten years or so ago. “ Jared could almost sense the hope radiating off his friend at the sight of that weapon
The trucks stopped ten feet back from the cable as a man about five ten, built like a tank, leaped from the cab. He had dark hair, Grey eyes, a strong jaw and a close trimmed beard. He was smiling ear to ear, as he ran and leaped over the cable, sweeping Ori up into a hug. “ damn you’ve gotten short” Jesse laughed as he sat his older brother back down.
“looks like the Marines were good for you” Ori said eyeing his little brother.
“ it was, even if half the family wasn’t on speaking terms with me when I got back. Damn sure changed last June though.” Jesse said.
Ori laughed for a moment then his good mood fade. “ what about Mom and Dad?”
Jesse’s smiled faded, “ we lost momma Ori, not from the zombies though. She had a heart attack, just couldn’t take the constant fear and seeing her world die like that. Daddy made sure she wouldn’t come back. Wouldn’t let any one else do it. Bucks alive, Aunt Sharon didn’t make it, Willie, Mark and Shannon made it…..” Jesse continued the list of lives saved and lost, only twenty five of the once huge family had survived. Eddie and Joshua Ori’s two older brothers had made it, but two more and a sister hadn’t.
Jared watched Oris face crumble as he heard how his Sister and her family had never made it out of their house, and how Jesse and the others had to destroy them. Even the eight month old.
Ori had been tight with his sister, Jared remembered Betty as a friendly and caring woman. Who hadn’t held much truck with the Idiot feuding over family leaving the hills and hollers of their ancestral home.
“ lets get you and your friends into the holler, we thought that you might be those damn raiders coming back, but Eddie spotted your ugly ass and sent out a welcoming committee.” Jesse said.
“ Raiders?” Jared asked, thinking about the group Jeff had encountered last year just down the road and across the river.
“ nasty assholes, they burned out a few of the survivors in Town, killed the ones they could catch, took the girls. Tried to push into the holler last fall, but we kicked their sorry asses all the way back to town. They set up in the nursing home just on the other side of the river in Gainsborrough.” Jesse replied, Jared shot a look at Ori, worried now.
“ I think Ill head on back to town, just in case.” He said to Ori then turned to Jesse. “ thanks for the invite, but we have people still in town. We left the big vehicles there with the rest of our crew.”
“ get them rounded up and bring them on up here” Jesse said excited at the thought of having a few more guns to protect the place.
“ Ill try but a few of our vehicles wont make it down here, to big and heavy.” Jared said, then turned to Ori. “ you stay, didn’t come this far for you to say hi and leave again. Ill be okay, I’ve got Logan, Ronny and Steve with me anyway.” Jared said as he turned and strode back to the Van.
“Got movement down by the Bridge” Daws looked up, at Spacey’s voice in his earpiece.
“ What kind of movement Spacey?” Daws asked irritated. “ ducks, small pissed off gophers, maybe some undead looking to borrow some sugar.”
“ The people kind, five individuals, I see four m16’s, and what looks like an AK.” Spacey reported.
“ keep them under observation and feed me updates” Daws responded, as he stepped out of the RV and looked around. “ Ryan, round every one up, I want to move everything but the Semi and the Beast”
Ryan nodded, and started spreading the word. He had no doubt that who ever they were had been watching the bridge, so they probably had an accurate vehicle count, and would be interested in the Semi and Fuel trucks.
After Jared and the others had left, Daws had seen fit to send out two men to scout down the road aways and he was glad he had done so. There was a place two miles down that would be perfect to hide the rest of the convoy. It wouldn’t be impossible to find them, but it would take them time.
The bridge was ten miles down, so it would take them a while to get to a point that overlooked the area the Beast and the Semi. Daws waited till every one but the Guard patrol was assembled and out lined his plan. Making sure every one understood what he wanted done.
I am not command material he thought, refusing to show his doubts. But I’m it unless Jared shows back up, or the natives remove me at the point of a gun. Oh please let them remove me he prayed with a half smile.
Five minutes after his briefing, vehicles were pulling out. The men and women remaining were busying forting up the post office and the Community center.
Mai Linn not thrilled with her part, in the plan kept tossing glares at Daws.
“ you know this is why so many women become lesbians don’t you” she told him as she got ready.
“ Now that I would love to see” He replied.
“ pig, men are such pigs” She muttered as he started laughing.
“ Looks like our guests are splitting up, two are in the woods on the north ridge and three are keeping to the fields and tree line along the river” Spacey reported.
“ Roger that two on the ridge, three along the river. Can you extract with out giving away your presences” Daws asked.
“ not likely at this time”
“ Roger that maintain position, and keep an eye on that bridge. They might have friends” Daws said.
He was certain they had friends, and this was a scouting party. Probably to lock down the convoys position so they could strike the convoy later. “All right folks we have twenty minutes no more lets get set.”
Twenty one minutes later, the area appeared almost empty. The Semi hood was up and Rob was busy working on it. Mai Linn acting as his helper. Three men stood guard around the truck.
“ got movement down along the River” Jeb Hollis reported from the post office, where he was posted to keep an eye on that quarter.
“ Roger that” Daws acknowledged as he settled in to wait.
Ballinger glanced up at the blue sky then down into the river valley, the Town of Olenmills lay below him. Town was not the word he would use to describe the place, but there it was.
In the post office Parking lot, he could see the parked Semi rig, the front end flipped up. Three guards, maybe one in the sleeper, a man working on the motor, and … and a hot little Asian piece of ass, wearing a short skirt that showed a lot of cheek when she bent over to grab a tool and pass it to the man working on the motor. Her top didn’t cover much either. She was either really blessed some one had spent a lot of money for a boob job.
She had a pistol in her waist band he noted and instead of the high heels he would have loved to see her in, she wore combat boots. And she looked annoyed, as she passed the mechanic another tool, she looked like she was reading him the riot act. Poor bastard wasn’t getting any tonight he thought.
He swept his binoculars along the river and felt a little better when he couldn’t see any sign of the men he had sent up the bank. “ Sparky to base” he said keying his radio. Cursing Gioviana for the idiotic com sec and call signs he insisted on.
“ This is base Sparky, report”
“ one supply truck, one transport, three guards, and two others next to shady acres” he replied, wondering what the hell was the point of using code phrases no one they had met yet had radios.
“ Affirmative, one supply truck, one transport, copy. Can you locate the rest of the golden horde” base replied after a moment.
“ Not from the bat cave” he said rolling his eyes.
“ stay in position, will be seeing you soon…..” Daws grinned as the radio fell silent. He had been surprised when he first heard the conversation, before he realized that the Radio he wore had been in search mode. Sucks to be the bad guys he thought. Assuming they were bad guys.
Hearing an engine in the distance he smiled, Jared was back he thought recognizing the sound of the motor. Thank god for that, and he hadn’t eve been tarred and feathered by the natives yet, today was shaping up to be a good day. A moment later the large black Van pulled up next to the Semi.
Jared turned off the Van wondering what had happened to the rest of the convoy. A low whistle from the back of the van showed that some one had see Mai Linn in the catholic school girl hooker outfit. “ can it” he called out, as he opened the door and climbed out.
Rob with oil and grime covering his hands turned to Jared as he walked up. “ Hey boss, there was a mutiny while you were gone. That Ass Daws wants to be the El Jefe around here.”
“ he can have it” Jared said eyeing Mai Linn who seemed even more annoyed at being scoped out.
“ take a picture why don’t you “ She snapped at him.
“ remind me to make that the uniform of the day” Jared said as Mai Linn gave him the finger.
“Wheres Daws?” Jared asked, looking around.
“ hiding, there’s bad guys lurking up on the ridge and down by the river, so he wanted them to think the rest of the convoy moved on leaving guards with the semi while it was being repaired.” Rob told him, “ the rest of the group is a few miles up the road parking on an old farm.”
“ not a bad plan, not great either. If I were scoping this out, Id either assume a trap or that the real good stuff was with the rest of the group. Who would leave a truck loaded supplies behind.” Jared commented, “ Id rather get every one out of here, but since Daws has gone to all the trouble of throwing a party, it would be a shame to cancel it now.”
Jared sounded light hearted, but that was far from the truth and the people around him knew it. One look at the hard cold light in his Emerald green eyes was enough to warn any one.
The truth of the matter was they couldn’t afford a long drawn out Battle. They just didn’t have the ammo for one these days, even with the reloading equipment being used constantly; it just wasn’t possible to replace what they had spent. And that was his fault, he didn’t have to engage the zombies at the camp. But he had, he could have found a different way to take the Isle of pines and Sullivans island, but he hadn’t.
So here they were on the ragged edge of having to use sharp pointy sticks and harsh language. Or as pappy would have said, when your out of bullets beat em to death with your pecker if that’s all you got boy.
Not a fight he wanted to be in Jared decided almost laughing. Should have hit that camp Steve saw, with the LAV 25, no telling what we might have found there, but that would have meant using more ammo to secure the place, and we wouldn’t have been able to replace our munitions losses after we took it.
“ I think I know where the bad guys are coming from. “ Jared said thoughtfully. “ it might be better if we take the fight to them from the very start, we would use a lot less ammo in an assault than in a defense. And I think I know exactly how we can do it.”
Assuming these are the same guys that hit Ori’s family’s place and Jeff had encountered last summer. If they are I don’t mind giving them a few pointed reminders about playing nice with others.
Jared climbed back into his van and keyed the Radio “ Daws, seems like your guests are going to show up late, I think we should send them flowers or something just so they know we understand.”
Daws chewed his lip on hearing Jared, hoping that the scouts up there weren’t scanning the Radio Frequencies. Keep it simple no military slang, don’t let the assholes know they are dealing with professionals as well as civilians over here if they are listening. That’s an edge we can’t lose.
“ if you want to send them something, I don’t mind. I’ll wait here for them to arrive.” Daws said, hoping he understood what Jared meant. He was pretty sure Jared knew or thought he knew where the other side was hiding, and had some plans for dealing with them.
Jared smiled to himself, as he started the van and backed out. He had some equipment to gather, and then they were going to pay a call on the Guard unit, if that’s what they were.
* * *
Ily finished washing the dishes from dinner and took a moment to watch the oranges, reds and golds of the sunset fade from the sky, leaving the kitchen in Darkness. There had been a time she had enjoyed sitting outside watching the sunset. These days she had a hard time leaving the protection of walls to step out into the open where she could end up being eaten.
She so missed dating and going out to eat at nice places, missed going to the movies, and even missed getting her brains screwed out. But that was then and the reality was eating out at nice places now meant eating anywhere that someone else couldn’t get its teeth on you.
All these thoughts led her back to Mike, he was a good looking guy, sweet as hell, and so in love with that bitch in the basement it wasn’t funny. Most women would kill for a man that loved them so much. But there was something else there too, something under his words and actions. She had seen it in his eyes a couple of times now, the instant fear in his eyes, the sick loathing, and then like a switch had been thrown he went cold and deadly.
Why he couldn’t do that where Carrie was concerned was beyond her, and Carrie that bitch knew he couldn’t shut himself down where she was concerned. Like her leaping on Lee and almost humping him before Lee had dumped her off his lap, anger and disgust plainly written on his face. Carrie had watched with silent gloating triumph as Mike had turned and walked silently out of the room.
She did feel a little guilty about her growing attraction to Mike, when Justin was so interested. It’s a hard life, she told herself with out really answering her own question.
“Thinking about Mike aren’t you?” Amy Wiess asked from the doorway that led into the living room.
“ Yes but not in the way you think” Ily responded.
Amy smiled in the dark, she loved listening to Ily talk, that soft husky accent, was so sexy; she wished she sounded like that. “ uh huh, nothing but pure as the driven snow thoughts right” and having that silky smooth golden brown skin would be nice too.
“ Your to young to be so sarcastic.” Ily replied.
“ Actually I’m toning it down, so the bitterness and anger doesn’t come thru “ the eighteen year old girl said as she walked over and sat with one hip on the counter. “ besides, he is a good looking guy, nice too. And his wife is… well. Bitchy is the word that comes to mind.”
Ily nodded; glad Amy couldn’t see her face in the dark. “ that’s a good word, but pure meaness comes to mind too. From what Mike has said, she was a gentle and sweet woman who stood by him with his problems, but now…. “ her voice trailed off, she couldn’t imagine waking up not knowing who she was, or remembering her life. It couldn’t be pleasant, and that might account for some of her actions.
“ Its like she wants him to hurt” Ily said softly.
“ You’ve noticed that too” Amy commented.
“ hard not to, she almost laughs when his face falls, I think she wants to see him cry.” Ily said feeling anger at the thought. She was honest with herself, she liked Mike and if he wasn’t married she would be flirting her ass off.
“ I could understand it, if he was an asshole to her, and she could remember who she was. But she can’t, unless she is doing a really good job of pretending. But I’ve never seen him be anything but the kind of man Id love to share a bed with” Amy said, grinning at the way she could see Ily’s head snap around to stared at her in the dim light from the window.
“ You’re a bit to young to be thinking about things like that” Ily responded.
“ I was a bit to young to see my family and my boyfriend eaten but that didn’t stop reality. Besides, I’ve thought about sex since I was fourteen. It shouldn’t be a shocker to another woman, that I think about men and sex” Amy said remembering conversations with her mother over the last couple of years.
Ily shook her head, everything she had ever believed had been called into the question when the dead rose and began to kill, maybe life was to short to waste. Besides she had never been a saint at that age either no matter what her family might have thought.
“ Anyway, its not right how she treats him. And if she isn’t his wife any more, is he really married?” Amy asked as she hopped down from the counter. “but as nice as mike is, I’m torn between Justin and Lee. Both are so yummy.” She said, and Ily could imagine the wink the girl gave her. Amy walked away leaving Ily to think about things she really didn’t need to think about.
Mike lay on the sleeping bag that Mordicai had given him, trying to go to sleep with out looking at Carrie who had gotten so touchy about him lately that she screamed at him for being a peeping tom if she caught him looking at her. For the sake of every one else he was doing his best to ignore her.
Finally he gave up and rolled up the sleeping bag and tucked it under his arm and headed upstairs. he could hear Ily, Sandy and Amy talking in the living room. Not feeling like dealing with another woman he made his way to the Study, Mordicai had already given them the run of the house, the only exceptions being his families’ bedrooms.
Opening the door, he stepped in only to freeze as he realized that Mordicai was sitting at the desk. “ good evening” Mordicai said, his voice gentle as ever.
“ I’m sorry, I can leave” Mike said.
“ No, but thank you for the consideration of my privacy” Mordicai replied as he rose and pulled the black out blankets over the window, and then lit an oil lamp on the desk.
“ I see you were looking for a place to sleep” Mordicai said indicating the sleeping bag.
“ um… yes sorry. Just a few problems with my wife, she’s not getting better, and wants to start fights with me constantly its bothering everyone else. So I … I thought Id sleep somewhere else just for every one elses sake.” Mike said, knowing it sounded lame, and it was. Yes he wanted to spare the others the constant confrontations. But he also wanted to escape them and for that he felt shame.
“ it must be a hard thing to deal with, in addition to everything else that the world has thrown at you” Mordicai said.
Mike sat the sleeping bag down on the floor then took a chair. “ Harder than any one can imagine,” Mike said then paused feeling stupid; Mordicai had lost his own wife in all this crap.
“ I can imagine, My wife was herself up to the end. And I know she is in a better place, or at least I believe so. The rules have changed it seems, and I have to confess that my faith is not as strong as it was. But for you, your wife woke up a stranger. You see her every day, talking, eating and living. But its only her shell, and I cant imagine anything more difficult to deal with.” Mordicai replied.
“ I wish I could just shake it off, but I cant. Sometimes I think she’s paying for something I did. What that might be I don’t know.” he said, but Mordicai caught something in his voice. there was a story there, something that Michael felt much guilt over.
“ people might say that about you, and it might even be true Michael. But you don’t believe it do you.” Mordicai asked.
Mike started to shake his head in denial then nodded . “ I did something, it was an accident, a mistake. And it killed some people. Every one has told me it couldn’t have been helped and I know that they are right, it couldn’t. but deep in my heart, I wish, and believe something else could have been done. Better planning, slightly slower response times. Something.
Carrie helped me hold it together after I got home, stood by me through it all. Even got me to seek help for the nightmares and the anger issues. But you know, the only help I want and need is to bring her back to me. Because I don’t know if I can make it with out her.” Mike said, ashamed that a tear slid down his cheek. There was something about Mordicai that really brought out the old fashioned beliefs he had been raised with like men don’t cry.
Sensing mikes discomfort at the tears Mordicai smiled sadly at him. “ I cried every day for six months after My wife passed. And felt the same you do Michael. But the pain grows less or maybe our hearts harden to deal with it. Sadly I do not have any words of wisdom on how to deal with the situation. It was not even covered by my faith or any others that I know of. Though I can only say my own opinion is that I respect you sticking by her.”
He dipped his hand into a desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and smiled. “ Im not that old and I have a few vices, one being a good shot of whiskey or two on occasion, and tonight Michael, I think counts as a whiskey night.”
The half moon glowed behind the cloud cover, providing little light to the world below. Leaving deep dark shadows covering the land. A light wind blew through the bottoms, stirring the trees. But other wise it was quiet, and cool with the only other sound the steady flow of the river.
Jared twisted his paddle slightly in the water adjusting the course of his canoe, enjoying the burn in his shoulders and back from the exertion. God he missed canoeing, especially canoeing when there were no Flesh eating zombies around and he wasn’t on a mission to kill a few slime bags.
It had taken two hours to set up his plan, returning to the Holler, he had gotten Ori to come along, and Jesse had quickly kitted up and volunteered to show them a way to reach the area on the Cumberland that was upstream of the Renegade Guards HQ. once they had collected the canoes from the other vehicles Jesse and Ori had led them thru narrow winding roads, over and along wood ridges, down thru a valley then across another section of ridges till they exited on the banks of the Cumberland.
They slid past the Jackson County airport, he couldn’t make out much in the darkness, other than a building and the ridge behind it. and Jared knew Ronny was wandering what if any planes might be stored there. He smiled to himself, sooner or later they were going to have to get another plane or Ronny would become a raving asshole, okay more of a raving asshole.
They moved further down the river, for what seemed like hours with only the quiet lapping of water for company till they saw a small red LED light flash from the lead canoe that carried Ori, Jessi and two of their cousins. No sooner than the light had flashed, Ori’s canoe turned and quietly headed for the river bank.
Jared altered course and a moment later was sliding his own canoe silently up onto the bank. Followed quickly by the other three canoes.
They worked fast pulling the canoes higher up and making sure they were hidden in the tall grass and brush. Jared wasn’t really concerned if they would still be hidden in sunlight, if they were still here come sunrise, they would have worse problems than their canoes being seen.
The nursing home was across the highway with a ridge at its back, it was a long single story building with narrow windows. Each entrance to the home was inside a Courtyard that visitors had to pass thru wrought iron gates to reach. Not a bad place really, the windows were to narrow for the Undead to get thru, and the gates were heavily secured.
“ theres a loading dock in the back that’s inside a walled area, that’s gated as well. They had to gate everything after the great escape of 91” Jessie whispered from the grass off to Jareds left.
“ a bunch of old folks led by our great aunt Bettina, escaped by stealing a truck and going into Gainsborough for a movie and dinner” he explained with a hint of pride in his voice. “ half of them were caught at the dinner when they fell asleep after eating, but the rest including Aunt Bettina escaped out the kitchen stole a sheriffs car, and made it to the theater. Where they were rounded up after the movie, having fallen asleep during the credits after a long day and a big meal.”
Jared almost laughed aloud but managed to keep silent as he pictured the scene in his mind. He lifted a Night Scope to his eye and scanned the grounds of the nursing home. There were two men on the roof, that he could see. But no one seemed to be outside the walls. Not that, that meant much in the scheme of things. They only needed a few guards, on the roof and in the courtyard. The only other option was to blow a hole in the wall, and Jared was pretty sure that the men inside would probably notice that.
He scanned the area for undead but saw nothing, which was a relief, unless they were on the ground and crawling. Crawling slowly through the weeds and brush, till they came face to….. Okay stop thinking about that asshole Jared told himself.
The wind was picking up and there was a rumble of thunder in the distance, Jared had hoped the storm would break loose, it was that time of year. And a heavy rain would benefit them. he got his wish when they were twenty feet from the highway they would have to cross, moving slowly thru the high grass and brush. Thunder hammered the area and lightening flickered above the ridge top, bright enough to dazzle the eyes. And then the rain came riding a cold wind off the river.
They stayed on the ground crawling thru the pounding rain that turned the earth into mud. None of them cared, not even Jill who had become accustomed to things like this, after a year.
Reaching the highway, Jared waited till another lightening flash and they all charged across the highway and into the park lot hoping any one looking would still be flash blind from the lightening. It was a risk but not a high one in Jared’s opinion.
Most people got lazy during storms, lulled into a false sense of security by the comforting drum of rain.
They crossed the parking lot the same way, using the vehicles parked there for cover, and rushing forward in twos and threes as soon as the lightening faded. Reaching the wall, Jared and Steve, Grasped each others forearms so Ori could scramble up and peer over the roof top. A second later, he wiggled onto the roof, Ryan followed, then Jesse. Finally it was just Steve and Jared, Jared cupped his hands and Steve stepped into the Cup as Jared heaved up, Steve wasn’t as Graceful going over the edge as most of the rest. But he managed.
A moment later a rope was dropped and Jared climbed rapidly to the flat top Roof. the rest of the Team was gathered around a skylight, an awning had been set up with chair, for the roof tops sentrys. The sentries must have been sitting out of the rain when Ori got to them.
He noted the sentries were still alive, and nodded to himself. No point in killing if they didn’t have too.
Years ago, they had learned sign language, for missions where speaking was counter intuitive. Some of the other units had thought they were just trying to get an SF aura going but that hadn’t been the reason. Any weapons or tool they could use to make their jobs easier they would use. And now in the dim light from inside the home that came thru the sky light Ori flashed a message to him. Vehicles in the loading area being prepped.
Jared nodded, it was already close to eleven, and if who ever was in charge had any kind of sense, he would try to take advantage of the storm to get close to his target while covered by the Weather. And that Target was Jareds people, sitting across that river.
He slid up and peered down into the home and saw that a ladder had been set up so that the sentries could come and go easily thru the sky light. There was no way to know if there were guards in the hallways or just men walking around. he slipped back and made his way to the loading area, sliding up on his belly and poking only enough of his head up to see down into the yard where four hummers were parked, and were idling while several men in uniform were loading equipment into them.
Since men were moving in and out of the building he knew the doors that he couldn’t see were open.
“ Get a move on Johnson, The captain wants us on the road in ten minutes. Ballinger reports some hot big titted Asian girl was there. Be nice to see a new female face around here.” Some one with a deep voice said from directly below him. The soldier who was dragging ass, Dumped a Mollie pack into the hummer that had a mk 19 mounted, and turned back to the building, “ no problem sarge, she has to be better looking than some of those local girls we saved.”
Saved Jared thought, did they honestly believe that. then again maybe they did. They burst in took what they needed, and then took the survivors so they wouldn’t be unprotected against the undead. Even if that’s the case, it didn’t make them great guys.
He moved back to the group crouched near the skylight, they huddled together to talk quietly. Rain water pouring off his Booney hat. “ okay heres the plan, Jones, you and Crippen, Jesse, Ed, Steger and Ryan will flash bang the loading area and assault. Ori cover them till its secure. . As soon as you assault the entrance, Flash bang before you enter and give me a go, Steve, Ronny, Jill and myself will assault thru the skylight proceeded by flashbangs.” He said quickly then fleshed out the plan on the fly.
It was for moments like this he had insisted on keeping the flashbangs, which didn’t seem to affect zombies in the least. Tonight they each carried two, and two Frags. Steve had wanted to use Willy Ps. But Jared and the others thought White phosperous in an enclosed area, was not exactly a great move, even if the place didn’t burn down there was no way they wanted to risk getting hit by the stuff. No matter how cool it might look.
Ed hefted the M4 fitted with a M203 40Mike Mike launcher, and grinned like a kid with a new toy on Christmas and moved with the rest of the Team till they were just out of sight of the edge of the roof.
Jared crouched ready to go, then gripped Jills arm for a moment. “ you go last hun, cover our asses, but don’t do anything heroic, okay” he said, she nodded and gave him a nervous smile.
Steve looked apprehensive too, which was unlike him. But it also didn’t surprise Jared to see it. Sooner or later all the constant tension, stress, and Fear,. The never ending companions of those who had survived z day, would get to all of them. he should have made Steve stay back at the Fort, but that wouldn’t have worked either, he would have just gotten pissed and gone along anyway.
“ you okay” Jared asked Steve, who nodded slowly
“ got this Brother don’t worry about me. Just having a case of jitters, it happens on occasion.” Steve said softly.
“ if you want you can sit this one out” Jared said almost whispering in Steves ear. After all that his friend had been through, and having a families now Jared would rather not have any of his friends risk their lives unless they absolutely had to. But not a one of them would ever back off, not even Jill who was fearless facing the undead, but went pale and sweaty any time they went up against people. He almost smiled, only a total idiot wasnt scared shitless about going into combat. Some showed it, some didn’t. some got all mouthy, others got quiet. Steve usually stroked his weapon for comfort like he was doing right now.
Ori would damn near rub the hair off his head till he committed to action, and then he was all calm cool and collected when the fight started. Jared was silent but his thoughts would race a mile a minute. Till he was engaged in action.
“ I think I have a hard on” Ronny muttered, it took Jill so by surprise that she had to smother a laugh, her fear forgotten. “ not my fault, Steve keeps stroking that weapon and its so long and hard, and sexy”
“ stow it “ Jared said softly as he went to high ready. “ anytime your ready” Jared said over the radio, it was a calculated chance that the men in the Home couldn’t break the encryption on their radios..
light and sound erupted seconds later from the loading area. Ori was punching out rounds from his M24, Jared could hear the cough of the M203, and the crump of 40mm Grenades exploding as they hit. The rest of the assault team sent a hurricane of fire into the loading dock.
“ move back “ Jared said getting his team just far enough back from the sky light so they couldn’t be seen from below. Ed led his Team down onto the loading dock, then flash banged the interior room from the door. While ori swept the last couple of defenders away who had attempted to hide behind vehicles, and take them from the rear.
Just as Jared had expected, the sky light was pushed open by a pole, and they could hear men below trying to be quiet. They probably expected the attackers on the roof to be watching the loading dock and the enclosed yard and hoped to sneak up behind them. sadly for them, they thought wrong.
Jared let his rifle dangle by the sling and pulled a flashbang. He stuck his hand over the sky light and let the grenade roll off his fingers and fall inside the building through the now open sky light. Jared and his team ducked away just in time, “ Steve Frag my side” Jared said as the two men face each other across the skylight. Jared tossed a Frag Grenade into the hallway to land somewhere behind steves position, steve did the same thing and the hall was bracketed by Frags.
The Frags went off four seconds after the Flash bangs, shrapnel ripping thru the hall and walls. Jared and steve breached dropping down through the skylight to land on bent knees weapons sliding up into position, Jared taking the west side, Steve the east side, a moment later Ronny was down beside them.
Ed went through the double doors into a large storage room, filled with stacks of canned goods, bags and boxes. Directly across from him, were another set of double doors, where three men were staggering around unable to see or hear. He and steger clubbed them down, while the others cleared the sides. He wished he could have used the M203 but it wasn’t a weapon designed for room or building clearing, the grenades wouldn’t be able to go far enough to arm. His HK would have to do the job.
The team lined up on each side of the door, and as they heard more explosions from the other side, Ed and Steger pushed their doors open and lobbed in their last two flashbangs.
As soon as they detonated, Ed went thru the door into a hallway that was painted pale green, he wheeled kicking in the door to his left, it slammed open and started to rebound. Ed saw two men, one standing behind a desk with a rifle another held a pistol and was stuffing something into a bag, he fired three bursts dropping them, ignoring the two women crouched in a corner crying and holding each other.
In another hall Ed could hear Jared shouting “ surrender and you will not be harmed.” Good luck with that, he thought as he stepped back into the hall way, any doubts he might have had about whether they were hitting the right people, was answered when he heard Jesse shout. “ Tiffany, Fuck Im glad your still alive” as one of the two women in the room he had just cleared rushed past him and leaped into Jesses arms.
He and Steger advanced covered by Ori and Jones, clearing rooms as they went. Most of the rooms were empty, a few held women one or two even held women and children. None were tied up, or even looked restrained but that meant nothing really.
“ ten feet from intersection” Ed reported to Jared.
“ Copy that, Ten feet. We have the west side. And are clearing” Jared called back
Ed nodded, thankful for the crude map of the building Jessi and Ori had drawn out for them before they left in the canoes.
“ smoke” Ed called out, Ryan tossed a smoke into the intersection and a moment later orange smoke was billowing up filling the area.
Ed led them down the east corridor clearing the rooms rapidly. As they reached the end of the hall way and turned north into the dining room and activity centers, three men behind two carts opened up. Steger grunted and went down, his weapon flying from his hands to slide across the floor.
Ed knelt firing a burst trying to get them to duck, but they were either to stupid or to brave, to do so. A bullet plucked at Eds sleeve, another struck the helmet he was wearing and almost sent him over, and then one of the defenders fell backwards his head a red ruin where the .308 round from Oris m24 had stuck. Grey matter and blood sprayed over the second man who cursed, then turned and ran. Ed shot him in the head.
After that the fighting if anything grew more intense. till they took the Dining room and the laid siege to the office area.
Jared wrapped a bandage around his arm, as he listened to the man in the office trying to wiggle out of surrendering. Steve had a limp again, but this time it was from a graze nothing serious. Ronnie was still shitting his pants from the bullet hole he had found in the crotch of his pants, less than an inch below his balls. Steve kept smiling and shaking his head. “ stop bitching, you never wanted kids anyway” Steve finally said.
Steger was okay, in so far as his wound wasn’t fatal, but he would be down and out for a while, and as long as no infection set in, or other complications they coudnt even guess about, he would recover.
Sadly one of Ori’s cousins, Jim had been killed, while tackling a woman who had tried to flee from a room and ran right into the gunfire. She was wounded, shot through her forearm and shoulder. But should live thanks to Jim.
It took most of the night to get the Renegade Guard Captain out of his office, but Jared true to his word, didn’t shoot him down.
The surviving ex soldiers, which was actually slightly more than half of their original number had been stripped down to their shorts, or in a few cases were given towels since they were commando. They were locked into the dining room while Jared and the others talked with the women and surprisingly a few civilian men.
By dawn Jared found himself sitting across from Captain Joe Bledsoe, a scumbag to be sure, a thief and even a murderer. He tried to claim his actions were to protect his men and keep them feed, but Jared didn’t particularly care, he was guard and had turned his weapons on the very people he should have defended, that he hadn’t slaughtered the women and kids, or allowed rapes of the survivors of his attacks only meant he wasn’t a total scum sucking bottom feeder.
And considering how fast most of his men had thrown down their weapons and surrendered spoke volumes about how happy they were with their situation. But they had still followed orders. Which was a major mark against them in Jared’s book.
On the walls of the office were oil paintings and watercolors of the local area painted by former residents of the home. And pictures of the late artists were mounted below their works. Bledsoe sat with his hands on his knees trying to maintain a proper military posture and appear calm. But his fingers were shaking.
Jared eyed him coldly for a long moment. Then finally spoke. “ I don’t like you, or what you have done. You’ve murdered people, some of them people I know. You’ve stolen food and left people to die…” he cut off the protest Bledsoe started to interject. “ I don’t care if it was for your men. You could have gathered supplies enough for years if you had just tried, with out ever killing a single person. But you enjoyed the power Bledsoe, you settled some old scores with neighbors you didn’t like and you turned your men into murderers too. I should just shoot you ass, but I promised quarter if you surrendered.”
He let that sink in for a moment, and saw the relief on the other mans pale face, and the hope. “ the fact that you didn’t allow rape, and even shot the few men that broke that rule, tells me your not a total lost cause. but you cant stay here. Ill allow you and any of your men that want to leave to head out, with enough food for two weeks. Ill allow you to keep sidearms but no rifles. I’ll have the sidearms dropped off at some location I pick and you can pick them up outside of town. Ill even leave you a decent amount of ammo too’
“ sidearms, we will get slaughtered by the zombies with only side arms.” Bledsoe protested.
“ you didn’t have a problem shooting down unarmed people or stripping men naked and sending them running out of town to be eaten, Id say you are getting off lucky. In fact some of my people think we should just shoot your asses out of hand and we would be justified in doing so.” Jared said his eyes cold and hard now, and Bledsoe swallowed loudly.
“ I’d suggest you go west, far far to the west maybe Nevada. We have outposts in the east and If I see or hear about you in my neck of the woods again Ill hunt your ass down and kill you. Go west and maybe you can actually redeem yourselves.” Jared said and rose.
“ all this shit going on out there is about second chances, God is asking himself if we deserve one. Judging by your actions, no we fucking don’t.” Jared leaned over the Desk his hands resting on the desk top. “ This is your second Chance, Duck or bleed asshole, now get the hell out of my sight” Jared said angrily biting off each and every word at the end. Bledsoe quailed under that ice green gaze, and the anger radiating off the Red head. He rose and walked out of the room a broken man.
“ think he will change” Steve asked not happy about Jareds handingly of the situation. “ Maybe, maybe not” Jared replied. “ but I meant it Steve, this shit is about a second chance, if we as humans want one, maybe we need to try to offer a few to our fellow humans. But no I don’t plan on making a habit of it. Do you think I would have given that bastard Mikhail a second Chance. Hell Im lucky I didn’t do what I wanted to do to him. I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I had. And I know my soul if I have one would be stained for ever If I had.”
As soon as Steve walked out of the room, Jared dropped back into the seat and gazed at the pictures on the desk of a young pretty woman whose office this had once been, holding her kids and smiling happily into the camera. “ so God you let this happen, whose going to give you a second chance for allowing the slaughter of innocents.” He said bitterly as he touched the picture as if he could touch the happiness that was so evident in the smiling family. “ I hope your resting in peace” he said softly, then leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.
* * *
Shadows lay thick in the old building, it was grey and rainy day outside. Inside it was silent except for the occasional gun shot from a hold out in the building. Zombies shuffled thru the blood soaked halls, past the bodies of those who had come here with them. the newly risen dead, joined their killers in searching down the last living humans in the building.
In the large lobby, bloody foot prints led into hallways and up the stair case, the massive fortified door that the defenders had installed stood open to the storm that still blew outside.
The sound of a motor starting drew the attention of Every zombie in the building who all began to move towards the stair cases and doors. Before they could reach the doors, two trucks sped away, eight humans out of forty survived.
As lightening flickered across the sky casting grotesque shadows into the lobby one zombie was illuminated, its milk white eyes flashed and seemed to glow for a moment in the harsh white lightening, as it leaned forward watching the escaping vehicles.
It stood over a body, that hadn’t risen, and never would. If it could have smiled it would have, the tool that had opened the door for the undead had gotten paid, by his own people when they saw what he had done, it was to late for them to shut the undead out, but they had made sure the traitor had paid for his crime.
It gazed blankly at the Terror filled face of the dead man, its hunger not sated, It was never sated and never would be such was its curse. It had hoped to feed on this one, rip and rend the life from the miserable human husk. Flay the skin from it, peel the muscle off and eat the human a little bit at a time, the simple pleasures of life it had once enjoyed.
It reached down into the skull and pulled out a handful of grey matter that remained and shoved it into its mouth. But the essential spark, the spice that it needed wasn’t there any more.
It cocked its head as if listening to something then walked out into the rain. It was almost time. The master wanted these humans hiding in the city wiped of the face of the planet, but now the other side was moving its pieces once more to counter threats to the Traid. So its plans for revenge were now his masters plans, it wanted that Red headed prick dead and eaten, and every one else with him. They could not be allowed to do any more damage to the cause.
It walked slowly thru the rain, its clothing soaked and clinging to its bony frame, wrapped in shadow it passed thru the city, unseen by those who hid shivering in terror. Unseen yes but the living sensed it, an evil miasma, a putrid stink of the soul. Some few, some unlucky few were asleep, and their dreams turned to nightmare at its passage, of red tinged darkness, and sharp teeth tearing and ripping away flesh, of a shadowy being that stalked them on spindly legs and a smile that froze their blood.
It could feel the terror, and fed on it, it craved the chance to do more. But it had things to do, plans to weave and traps to set. And above all friends to make, it regretted the loss of the last tool, but this time, it would recruit more than one. in the east the presence of its enemies, its prey burned like a flame. The light was meddling again, but this time it was prepared, this time its tools would bleed out their lives for its master and their corrupted flesh would rise, in mockery of the lights attempts to alter the outcome. Humanity would finally be wiped from the face of the world, and burn for all eternity, doomed and damned.