“Or whether o’er some wide waste hill
Thou mark’st the traveller stray,
Bewilder’d on his lonely way,
When, loud and keen and chill,
The evening winds of winter blow
Drifting deep the dismal snow.”
The Piedmont region of Virginia was a place of thick forests, Rolling hills, grassy meadows and valleys cut out of the plateau by all the Rivers and creeks. Once people flocked here to visit, Richmond, Mount Vernon, Monticello and Manassas Battlefields.to the west were the blue ridge mountains and its foothills.
Today it was a land of rolling snow covered hills and valleys with roving bands of undead, where nature was slowly reclaiming some areas that man once called home.
Ronny looked out over cold gray lake water, thinking how much the gray skies and water fit his mood. He shouldn’t be here, it had taken seeing the dead lands again for reality to slap him in the face. But here was were he was at, and he wasn’t going to just run home and Leave Jared and the others in a lurch.
What bothered him, was if he didn’t have a place here, if he couldn’t move well enough to fight along side Jared, could he actually defend Mary if he had to. He had failed once already, and had paid the price with his leg. I’m not going to fail again, he told himself.
He turned his back on the lake and limped over to where Lee, Cooper and Spacey, were almost finished installing the tricycle landing gear on the Twin otter. To say he was irritated would have been an understatement not being able to help get his plane ready only added to it. instead he looked around the once busy camp.
The main building with its attached bath house sat just to the east about a sixty yards away from the lake and the boat ramps surrounded by Hemlocks and Oaks.
The Trees along the shoreline of the lake were broken only by gazebos and picnic tables covered in snow. To the north east was a stable large enough to hold forty horses and a two hundred yard field behind that, which was why he had chose this spot, he could taxi up and take off in the field, once he had the Bradley or the LAV pack down a runway.
The few cabins all were clustered along the south east side, each with their own little gravel parking spot. Daws and his men had found ten undead
Scattered through out the eight cabins and cleared them out. Some of the men were debating on spending the night in one of the cabins, and Daws seemed all for it, talking about pulling the plane up close to the Cabin and parking the LAV and the Bradley on either side of the plane, which would allow them to cover three of the approaches to the plane with out a men being out in the open, and the two armored vehicles could also cover the front approach as well. All in all it wasn’t a bad plan, but Ronny had no intentions of sleeping in the Cabin, inside the plane was fine since it kept him from having to deal with other people for now.
He turned his gaze back to the men struggling to get the Tricycle gear attached, He had been half tempted to just leave the amphibious floats on since he could still do wheel landings with them, but the chance of damaging them landing on snow or ice was just to good. The problem with removing them was he couldn’t just land on a lake and sleep safely away from the undead.
He glanced over at the LAV where it sat idling, the troop door closed against the weather and any surprise visit by undead.
The Bradley, not a great choice for long distance travel, sat on the other side of the Twin Otter its turret occasionally rotating as it swept its zone of control using low light and thermal. Contrary to movies and books, the undead did show up on thermal, but just barely if they were moving, they generated just enough heat to be a degree or two warmer than the surrounding area. If they were just sitting they tended to blend in with the background, especially when sitting in snow.
“got it” Lee said finally.
“great, now the problem is, its almost dark which means I cant fly.” Ronny said stiffly.
“why the hell not” Cooper asked not thrilled at all with the thought of being here all night.
“Number one, no where I can land is going to have lights. Two, even if there was some kind of light to mark the strip, I would have turn on the planes lights and that would be seen for miles and draw in any undead in the area. And then I would have to deal with landing on rough ground I cant really see well in the dark and risk crashing. So, no like it or not I’m stuck here for the night” Ronny grumped. At least they had installed the collapsible fuel tanks that Eric had given them. So fuel wasn’t an issue just yet. but they were going to have to secure a fuel supply in the next day or so. Till then his range and time in air was limited.
“No bitching” Daws snapped striding up, a wool scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face. “ shit is what it is, if he says its to risky to try and find a place to land in the dark, then its settled.”
“Yes Sergeant” Cooper said, subsiding.
“Sorry, I wanted to be at the Camp by now myself” Ronny replied sound as sympathetic as he could. Feeling something wet land on his forehead he looked up and shook his head not happy as the snow began to fall faster and the flakes changed from small dry flakes to big fluffy flakes what would stick to everything.
Just great, I either have to run the heaters and deicer all night and waste fuel, or don’t and pray nothing happens that requires a quick take off. Ronny thought, whats next, the moon crashing into the planet, maybe a drunken giant sailor will rampage around till we can lure him to Norfolk and get his ass laid.
Ronny turned to Ben who was standing near the door to the plane. “ Ben get out that Mr. Buddy heater and get it fired up its going to be a cold night with out it”
“is that even safe”Daws asked
Ronny shrugged “ its as safe as anything else out here in Hell” Ronny said striding for the plane.
Daws watched Ronny limp away and shook his head, Ronny had changed and not for the better in his book. I might have a talk with Jared when we link back up with them, maybe he can do something about it.
He turned to his men, “All right men, Cooper pick three men and gather fire wood so we can get a fire going in the cabins fireplace, I want a two men in both IFV’s at all times, Ill work out a watch shift in a few minutes but till then, Spacey you and Bollinger in the LAV, Pennywise you and Clark in the Bradley. Every one else get what you need to sleep and eat dinner and get into the cabin.”
Jared lay in his bed listening to the wind, Jill curled up against him on side, Nibbler under the blanket was curled up against him on the other. Ori had the passenger seat laid all the way back and was sound asleep.
Logan was sleeping on the cramped floor of the van in an old Mummy sleeping bag, snoring softly. He was worried about Ronny who had radioed early and to let them know he was going to have to wait till dawn to get into the air again.
He knew Daws and his men were there, but if a horde showed up Ronny and Ben the men sleeping in the plane would be trapped inside till Daws could clear out the undead, assuming they could clear them all out, it was possible there could be so many Daws wouldn’t have the ammo or the fuel to do much good. Around 0200hrs he finally drifted off into a deep dreamless sleep.
Sunrise, was anticlimactic, it only went from black to grey light that revealed much deeper snow than had been on the ground yesterday evening. And the snow was still falling.
Jared climbed out of bed shivering as he dressed quickly in the cold, his breath forming a cloud around his head.
He looked down and saw that Logan had curled in a ball at the bottom of his sleeping bag, smiling to himself at the sight, he pushed Logan with a boot.
“what,” Logan said instantly awake and alert. DI’s have nothing on fear of the undead eating you in your sleep, Jared thought.
“Get up, its dawn”
“I hate dawn” Logan muttered. “ I hate mornings”
Jared ignored the 20 something former college student, as he moved up to the drivers seat and slid behind the wheel.
“touch me and I kill you” Ori muttered. “ I slept like shit last night.”
“you always sleep like shit when your not with a woman” Jared said cheerfully only because he knew it annoyed the hell out of Ori.
“I hate you” Ori said, turning his head to look at Jared who tried not to laugh the hair that stuck up in all directions. Oris eyes were bleary and bloodshot. “I think I might be coming down with something” Ori said.
“yeah its called I don’t want to get up disease. Ronny still isn’t back.” Jared said as he started the van, and turned on the heater.
“So if we go looking for him we have to drive right, so Ill just stay here and guard this seat till we get there.” Ori said rolling over and pulling the blanket tighter about himself.
“good god, you people have gotten soft” Jared said shaking his head. He didn’t have to look to see the extended middle fingers being flown at him.
“ow, son of.. ouch. Damn dog” Logan shouted as Nibbler leaped on him as she headed for Jared. “you dog just stepped on my nuts” Logan moaned sitting up still wrapped in his sleeping bag and rocking back and forth. Jared burst out laughing, and even Ori chuckled.
“Hold the fort, I’m going out” Jared told Ori who nodded.
Snow crunched under his boots as he slid out of the van and shut the door sinking down about eight inches into the snow. There was no sign of undead, and no tracks in the snow, which was a good sign as far as he was concerned.
Tonight they were going to stay in the RV and to hell with it, he thought as he climbed up the ladder on the side the van and wiped the snow from the solar panel before positioning it to catch the full light from the sun that was covered by clouds. It probably wouldn’t help but what the hell he thought as he dropped back to the ground and trudged over to his RV.
“Any word from Daws or Ronny” Jared asked entering the RV and seeing Vaughn manning the radio.
“Not a word” Vaughn replied.
“What’s wrong” Mike asked sitting up from the Couch bed where he and Ily had been sleeping.
“I just have bad a feeling about Ronny” Jared said as he checked his weapons over. “Might as well get up, and go wake up Ed and Paddy. If we haven’t heard a thing in an hour, we go check it out.”
Mike didn’t protest, but he couldn’t help think about how much fuel that was going to waste back tracking like that.
Diane stepped outside drawn by a sound she had thought she would never hear again, the undead clustered two deep around the fenced in one acre lot, started pushing, pulling and slapping at the chain link fence as soon as they saw her.
She ignored them as usual, if the fence had been broken anywhere along its length, an alarm would have sounded warning her. she searched the sky, and finally spotted the plane off to the north, it was flying low and pretty slow. From here all she could see was that it was red and white, painted like a coast guard plane. Maybe it was searching for survivors she thought so excited she could barely breathe. Oh god let it be a government plane, let this finally be ending, she prayed. She had been alone since her last Christmas when her husband had died of an infection.
She didn’t like to think about that, putting him down had been the hardest thing she had ever done, even though she knew when his eyes had opened and she saw the film over the eyes and the blue tinged white skin, that he was no longer her husband, but she had delayed dodging his clumsy attempts to grab her, hoping some spark of her husband was still there and would finally show itself and take control.
But it hadn’t happened, and she had finally shot him, her hands had been shaking so badly it had taken four shots before she had struck him in the head, and each pull of the trigger had been like a knife in her heart.
The plane was growing smaller with the distance as it flew away, scared she might be to late, she lifted the flare gun she had grabbed out of the emergency kit and pulled the trigger. As the hissing and sputtering flare arced skyward she inserted a second shell and waited.
Ronny looked over the gauges, then out the windscreen where the mountains loomed before him. he felt calm up here, where he didn’t have to worry about his crippled leg or the undead. the only thing that would have made better would have been to have mary flying beside him.
He glanced over at Ben, who was staying quiet trying not to set Ronny off again. I should apologize for earlier, Ronny thought guiltily. Its not his fault and Ben deserves better than to have me bite his head off because I’m depressed, and miss and Worry about Mary.
“Hey look at that “ Ben said suddenly pointing out the window beside Ronny.
Ronny turned and saw a flare off in the distance behind them.
“Should we check it out” Ben asked.
Ronny hesitated, part of him didn’t just wanted to get to the camp. After a second he nodded and turned the plane back onto a heading that would take him across the area the flare had been over. At least he wouldn’t have to land. He wasn’t sure his leg could take any more at the moment.
“Hey Ben sorry about earlier, just got a lot on my mind lately” Ronny said as he gazed down at the farms and homes below, most were separated by strands of woods.
Up ahead he spotted a second flare shooting skyward, “there it is” he said. A minute later they flew over thick woods and then saw a large pasture or maybe field it was hard to tell with all the snow, in the middle of it was large building with a tin roof surrounded by a chain link fence topped with razor wire.
He could see some one jumping up and down and waving wildly. He found himself smiling, and his bad mood lifted as he realized how excited who ever that was down there had to at seeing a plane. he waggled his wings, then pulled up came around and flew over the building again, wagging his wings once more then turned back on course.
“Alpha one, goatman,” Ronny said hating the handle, “ your going to love this we have a survivor shooting off flares at ” he checked the GPS and rattled off the Coordinates. “only saw one, so be careful if you decide to check it out.”
“Roger, thanks and good to hear your voice, was just about to go hunting you. “ Jared replied a minute later, Ronny felt relief as Jared gave him the GPS coordinates of where they were camped and promised to have a runway marked out for him to land on.
It was quiet in the plane for a few minutes only the rumble of engines kept the silence at bay. “what’s going on Ronny, your normally really calm, and cool.” Ben asked.
“just missing Mary and worried about stuff” Ronny finally said not willing to explain the rest of it.
“I understand that, this is the first time since we arrived at the Island that I’ve left, and I miss the hell out of Megan” Ben replied.
Ronny glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, and found himself smiling at the look of love, lust and longing on the boys face. “mind if I ask you something Ben”
“no go ahead” Ben said happy to have Ronny actually talking.
“what’s it like being married to a much older woman” Ronny asked his bad mood vanishing at least for a little while.
Jared stepped out into the still falling snow, watching as the LAV entered the camp, things were already going wrong he thought seeing the shuttle van that was being pulled behind the LAV.
The HET was busy driving back and forth crushing down the snow and anything under it for a thousand feet creating a runway for Ronny who would be coming in for a landing in about ten minutes.
He walked over to the LAV, as it came to a stop. Men leaped out of the shuttle bus, carrying their gear. “nice bus” Jared remarked to Daws as he leaped down beside Jared.
“The Damn Bradley threw a track halfway here, I knew it was going to happen, its one of the reasons I hate tracked vehicles.” Daws said. “almost lost two men getting that stupid bus hooked up so we could load every one onboard and pull it here.”
Jared rubbed the bridge of his nose for a moment; in the distance he could hear the plane coming in. Today was damn near shot to be honest. They might still be able to spend a few hours looking for fuel, and possible go visit the flare shooter. Jared was half tempted to stick Ori and Jeb out there overnight to watch the place to see what was what.
“we are going to need another vehicle, to carry them and we are fresh out of Military vehicles.” Jared muttered.
“Well look on the bright side, we didn’t have any Tow missiles in the damn thing, and there was only 250 rounds for the chain gun which we transferred to the LAV and we don’t have to worry about that fuel guzzling, temperamental piece of Shit crapping out on us anymore.” Daws pointed out. “ I still think we should have brought a Stryker, but unless someone learns to fly a C 17 and drops one off for us, we are shit out of luck.”
“You really don’t like Bradley’s do you” Jared asked looking up as the Twin otter passed low over head, heading for the double line of flame pots that had been set out marking the Runway.
“hate the things” Daws admitted with a grin. “not as bad as you hate clowns though”
Jared laughed for a moment, watching as Ronny flared the plane and brought it down to land. “get your men into the house and take a rest.” Jared said pointing to the Lodge. “ I need to get some men out on a patrol, sure as hell there’s undead heading this way.”
By the time he got things organized and headed towards the plane, Ronny was limping across the snow covered field, his arm around Ben, laughing at something Ben had said.
“Nice to see you in a good mood” Jared said, his gaze drifting back to Ben. When did he get so tall, Jared asked himself. The skinny, dark haired fifteen year old with the sunken fear filled eyes and the steady pistol he had first met at an Elementary school last June, was now a foot taller and filled out into a fairly muscular good looking kid… no man Jared corrected, Ben had stood firm protecting a class full of elementary kids with a pistol he had taken off a dead man. When every one but Beth, Ori’s now wife, had left them to die. After that Ben had fought beside the group against undead and raiders, he had stopped being a kid June 23rd, like a lot of teen agers they had found over the last year.
Ronny smiled at him and it looked sincere, which was a change. “yeah, Ben here was telling me all about his sex life. I’m almost envious” Ronny said clapping Ben on the shoulder.
Oh hell Jared thought if Ben takes any of Ronny’s advice Megan will skin him alive. “Ronny, don’t corrupt the guy, or Megan might just kill you when we get back”
Ronny chuckled “I only gave him a few pointers, being more experienced and all”
Jared shook his head, but held his tongue not wanting to get any deeper into that topic. “Ben why don’t you head into the lodge and get warm. Ronny how do you feel about taking a little trip to visit a survivor”
Instantly Ronny’s good mood seemed to dim, Jared mentally face palmed himself. “what’s the place like.” He asked trying to keep Ronny from getting upset.
“ Looked like a huge tin roofed cinder block building sitting inside a large fenced off area, the fence had Razor wire on top, and zombies completely around it pressing against the fence. The whole thing sits in damn near the center of a several acre pasture, about half a mile from a decent road.” Ronny said as he rubbed his thigh.
“Get your kit, we will probably be gone overnight” Jared said, staring to turn away, but Ronny placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Jared, I… I don’t think I’m ready for this okay.” Ronny said, hating the fact that he felt shame for admitting something that was entirely true and angry at Jared for asking and putting him on the spot.
Jared gazed at Ronny for a moment, then nodded. “if you say your not ready, your not ready.” Jared said making Ronny feel even angrier at himself and Jared.
They walked the rest of the way to the lodge in silence, Ronnys good mood gone like so much smoke. Jared stopped at the Door blocking it with his body. “I’m sorry, man I didn’t mean to upset you. I Meant what I said back on Sullivan I trust you at my back Ronny anytime, wounded or not.” He said.
“I know Jared, its going to take a while okay” Ronny said and flashed Jared a smile that though strained looked sincere. “now you need to get your ass into Gear, and If your not back tomorrow afternoon Ill come looking for you.”
The trip out to the survivor took them through Madison Virginia, a sleepy little town of 210 people set in the rolling foothills of the Blue ridge. Other than the picturesque buildings with overhanging snow glad trees, there was nothing of any real note, other than a convenience store that both Ori and Jill forbid Jared from stopping at for a phone book reminding him of what had happened the last time he had gone for a phone book.
It was a very small town its main street also Alt. 29, was covered in snow and free of wrecks and undead. which was puzzling but no more so than other things they had seen over the last year and some odd.
Turning down 634 they followed the rising road that plunged through a forest, till it emerged on a hilltop and reached a four way intersection with only a single building, and lots of trees and snow where Jared stopped not trusting the GPS.
“let me have the Atlas” Jared asked, Jill handed it to him and watched as he checked it over he pulled out a compass and laid it on the atlas and drew a line with his finger, “we need to find a highway Dept and get the maps they have. This atlas sucks” He muttered.
“Contact one,” Lew said over the radio. There was a single shot outside. “ one pile of stinking pus dripping zombie down.
Jared shook his head, Lew the tattoo covered former office worker was one of the better volunteers. But he seemed to enjoy this a little to much.
“okay, we go straight” he said putting the van in gear he gave it gas.
“Your asking a lot of me” Ed called out from the back, elicting a chuckle from Jill.
Jill loved the wooded countryside outside her window, she could almost pretend there were no undead, almost she thought as the road dropped down into in between two hills and crossed a frozen creek, before climbing back up to the top of the next hill.
They drove for a while longer, Jill enjoying the forest rolling hills and snow, even the occasional frozen creek. The road wound up another hill, “well you don’t see that every day” Jared remarked as he slowed, up ahead a helicopter had at some point crashed and burned on the road crushing a pick up when it landed. Jared drove slowly around the wreckage, and found two more wrecked vehicles on the other side.
They turned off three miles later onto a narrow snow covered road, that snaked around and over hills. Every so often the trees would open up revealing a farm house and fields the occupants long dead.
Reaching an intersection with a house on the left, a small two story building, to the right, with two old fashioned gas pumps out front Jared stopped .
“What’s wrong?” Ed asked from the back,.
“Some one else drove through here not long ago” Jared said eyeing the tire tracks, that turned off the side road and headed in the same direction that Jared was bound for.
“That’s a lot of traffic,” Ori said looked at the churned up snow that had yet to be filled in by the falling snow. “ looks like four or five vehicles maybe a few more.”
Jared didn’t even ask Ori to explain, he was rarely wrong.
“The place Ronny spotted is maybe three miles from here” Jared said thoughtfully.
“You think who ever this is, might be from the place and it’s a trap or something” Jill asked.
“Possibly, or they are going to raid it.” Jared said.
“I know, I know Ori get out of the van and go sneak around, don’t mind the undead.” Ori muttered.
Jared chuckled as he rose from the drivers seat and climbed into the back, He opened a waterproof foot locker and pulled out the snow ponchos, leggings and snowshoes passing a set to Ori. He stripped of his web gear and tac harness and quickly donned the leggings the replaced his gear before pulling on his pack, making sure his M32 and two bandolier of 40mm anti personnel rounds were attached in addition to the standard load of HE rounds.
“Your planning on going” Jill asked, giving him the you’re a total idiot and don’t make me angry look.
“Yes” Jared said refusing to argue.
“You know your not completely healed up” Jill pointed out.
“No choice, Ori is going to need some one with him and I’m about the best choice we have at the moment.” Jared said as he clipped the Khurkri to his belt then added the Tomahawk. He and Ori quickly checked over each others gear to make sure nothing was going rattle, roll, or anything that might make noise taping or tying down anything loose.
As soon as they were finished with that Jared leaned between the seats and kissed Jill lightly on the lips. “don’t worry I cant be killed just yet” he said half joking. “I’m wearing super man boxers”
“you don’t own super man boxers” Jill said wanting to argue with him, ask why logan couldnt go, or Mike. But she knew why, Jared wasn’t right, Jeb was back at the camp, and that left him as being the second best sneak in the current group.
“Ed, take care of my wife. Your in charge and no making out while I’m gone” Jared said as he opened the side door and slipped outside into the cold afternoon. “Ready” Jared asked Ori as he pulled up the hood.
“as ready as I can be” Ori replied with a shrug, the two men set off into the woods.
The compound, Jared could come up with no better name for it than that was surrounded by a tall fence topped with razor wire, inside the fence he could see stacks of plastic wrapped stuff on pallets and stacks of empty pallets. Near the front wall of the building was a forty foot travel trailer.
The compound itself sat on a low hill in the middle of tens of acres of fields, with thick woods around all that. Undead were pressed against the fence, and six vehicles that were slowly circling the fenced property shooting at the undead. some of the undead were busy trying to get at the trucks, but about half stayed at the fence pawing and pulling at it.
A speaker on the roof of one truck was playing Dixie over and over. It started to get on Jared’s nerves to the point he had to resist the urge to have Ori used his sniper rifle to take out the speaker.
From the tree line where Ori and Jared sheltered watching the scene unfold it was almost a hundred yards to the fence line, Ori tapped Jared on the shoulder to get his attention then using sign language, just in case there were any undead nearby you realize if there is anything in there worth having those guys are going to get it, right he signed.
I was thinking more about the fact that Ronny only saw one person down there, we both now how people get hearing a plane, they rush out just to look at it. so I have to think there is only one person in there. Jared replied.
Ori sighed softly knowing what was coming. So we are going to rescue who ever is inside that place then Ori asked.
Jared nodded, watching the scene below, there was no way he could get any one from the camp here in time to make a difference and they were to important to the actually mission of reaching the Cache to risk. So that left his team, at least it was larger than six people these days he thought, considering the best way to take the group below.
He slipped back deeper into the trees to make sure he couldn’t be seen from the field, then looked around to make sure there were no undead. “Alpha two, Alpha one, we have a situation here. I want you to proceed to…..” Jared outlined his plan rapidly not really worried about the yahoo’s in the truck over hearing the encrypted Military comm. units.
When he finished he returned to Ori’s side and grinned. Time to do what we do best he signed.
What run away ori replied.
No tonight we take over the world pinky Jared signed back.
One minute the things were going great for Kevin and his buddys, the next minute their entire plan to finally take this place from the out of town assholes fell apart.
Kevin, 34, balding, formally pot bellied and alcoholic, but still a hell raiser and bully, gaped as Tim Delaney’s jacked up Ford exploded, no he realized a second later as the truck veered out of control across the field, something had exploded in the bed killing the four men who had been firing from inside the bed.
“What the hell” he asked aloud but his passenger, Buddy Coldridge, only grunted looking pale and scared.
A second vehicle spun out of control and flipped shedding parts and men, Kevin gaped as he saw one man, his arms and legs kicking as he flew threw the air and landed in the middle of the undead.
A second then third explosion bracketed Gig Andersons truck and who turned and raced for the entrance to the former farm trying to put distance between his vehicle and what ever as happening.
Kevins truck suddenly pulled hard to the right it felt as if a Tire had blown out, something exploded just in front of his truck and Buddy screamed like a little girl.
“some on is throwing bombs at us” Buddy shouted then screamed again as Kevin hit a zombie that flew up over the hood and smashed face first into the windshield staring the windshield where its head had stuck.
“That bitch and her husband” Kevin shouted angrily. Fuckers hording supplies that family that have lived here for generations needed badly and that out of town jerk off and his snooty wife were hording it letting people starve and now they were trying to kill him and his men. Well all we were going to do was take what we needed, now I’m going to kill you.
He started to turn the wheel, intending on tearing down the fence with his vehicle but Buddy grasped the wheel and yanked it causing the truck to veer away from the undead and the fence and actually saving their lives as something exploded directly in front of the truck.
He snarled angrily but saw the rest of his friends were racing away from the compound already. He wanted to curse at them call them cowards, but he couldn’t. he drove after them fighting the wheel the entire time.
All the work scrounging gas and ammo to get what they needed, all the men who had died, and it was all for nothing for fucking nothing, he thought bitterly.
“Hostiles coming at your position, hope your covered” Jared transmitted, trying to ignore the fear and worry he felt for Jill, and his friends. But there was nothing he could do from here but trust in their skill and courage. Cold comfort that.
He didn’t get a response not that he was expecting one, it had been over an hour since he had last spoken to them, he did the math thirty minutes back to Madison, get the vehicle, and thirty minutes back, another thirty minutes if they had trouble getting it started. He watched as the last of the Raiders fled the field, leaving a butt load of zombies.
“so got a deck of cards” Ori asked as he squatted beside Jared.
“Only the regular kind, Ronny has the ones with the naked women on them” Jared said, and then signaled for silence and to get down. Through the trees he had seen a group of undead, Jared quietly dropped into the snow and slithered backwards halfway into a stand of snow covered brush. As usual Ori had vanished.
He lay there and watched twelve zombies stagger towards him. Ori had proven time and again that camouflage worked against the undead as long as they didn’t see you move or they tripped over you.
Knowing Camouflage worked and trusting it when a group of flesh eating butt munches were walking towards you was hard. But it was either that or fight twelve of them with out making a sound, and he didn’t see that going well.
They drew even with him, and then slowly moved past. Then one stopped, it had been a man once, dressed in blood stained jeans and a sleeve less western shirt. Its hair was stiff with old blood and dirt. It turned slowly and the image of a it sniffing the air raced through Jared’s mind.
The other eleven zombies continued on heading for the crowd around the fenced in building. Finally he saw its face, gaunt and scarred with bite marks, the cloudy eyes flicking from side to side, looking for what ever had caught its attention.
The seconds ticked by becoming minutes as he lay there watching the zombie who seemed determined to outwait him. The longer he lay there the colder he was becoming.
The sound of the raiders motors had faded into the distance some minutes ago, and total silence descended and his breathing sounded like a roar in his own ears.
The zombie took a step towards his position, its head cocking to one side as if puzzled. Like it had seen something that puzzled it the gesture sent chill through him, this thing wasn’t acting normal he thought.
Its eyes suddenly fixed on the bushes he was laying half under, if I take it fast with out a sound the others wont come back he thought tensing as he prepared to leap to his feet. The things mouth yawned opened as if it were silently hissing
“Hey” the zombie turned hearing the quiet voice behind it, only to stagger backwards, then fall into the snow in front of Jared Ori grinned at him, then knelt and used the zombies shirt to wipe the blade of his Combat knife clean.
“that one wasn’t acting Normal” Jared whispered
“I noticed” Ori said as he looked around to make sure no more undead were creeping up on them. Maybe they get smarter as time goes by Ori signed,
Jared started to reply but didn’t get the chance.
“Alpha one, Alpha two, inbound and down, loaded up and trucking” Mike said over the radio, Jared could picture him grinning.
“Roger that, Peel of the ELSORV to pick us up, come down the driveway, go west along the tree line we will flag him down.”
“ Roger, see you in a couple of minutes” Jared replied three minutes later He and Ori could hear motors, one was really heavy.
“you plan big” Ori said as a Fire department Ladder truck came rolling down the drive, it was doing fifty and heading for the fence. Along the front fence line undead turned and swarmed towards it stumbling across the snow covered pasture.
“I asked for one of the light company bucket trucks” Jared said, a stupid grin on his face.
Both men moved to the wood line and waved their rifles in the air drawing the attention of the ELSORV. It had barely stopped before Jared and Ori squeezed inside.
“how do you like the fire truck” Mike asked as he moved aside to let Jared climb up into the gunners position.
“its great, get me up behind it,” Jared said as stood up in the hatch. The firetruck had finally stopped and the ladder was extending out over the top of the fence.
The ELSORV shot forward, and turned in a tight circle then raced across the field to the firetruck slamming through the undead till it could come along side. As soon as the ELSROV stopped he climbed up on to the roof of the vehicle through the gun mount, then leaped up and grabbed the top of the Fire truck and pulled himself on top. a moment later Ori joined him, Then Mike. “what” Mike said seeing that Jared was about to protest. “I’m going don’t even argue about it”
Jared shrugged, then moved out onto the ladder ignoring the reaching hands of the undead below him. one slip and he was going to be ripped apart. He moved slowly concentrating on what was directly ahead of him. then finally climbed past the fence. No longer worried about falling he climbed faster till he reached the end of the ladder where he pulled a coil of rope out of a side pouch of his pack and tied it off on the ladder rung.
“see you on the ground” he called back to Ori then swung over and slide down the rope.
Diane sat in the small steeple her husband had installed as snipers nest for when the shit hit the fan. He had died before he ever got to use it. and to be honest she wondered if he would have been able to deal with the harsh realities of this new world.
She had watched the Raiders from up here and now watched three men climb down inside the compound from a fire truck. The two in white that the jeep kind of vehicle had picked up must have been the ones that had been attacking the raiders.
She knew she should shoot them, but part of her resisted. If they were going to loot the place they were a few men short and with out taking care of the zombies they were not going to be able to get trucks in here to haul off the supplies her husband had spent years amassing.
First she had seen a plane this morning, then the raiders had arrived. Now a second group was putting in an appearance. She held her finger off the trigger of the rifle. Let them get inside the building, they wouldn’t get into the bunker where everything worth while was stored, and she could get down from here and into the bunker with out being seen anyway.
Jared tried the regular door set in the cinder block wall next to the big roll up door and found it open. Ori stepped out suddenly “let me check it out” Jared stepped aside, more than content to let the former EOD expert take a peek.
He waited while Ori did his thing, and then when the all clear was given, Jared opened the door and looked into to see the huge open interior, filled with rows of plastic wrapped pallets and shelves loaded with boxes, cases and foot lockers.
“Hello” he called out. “our plane spotted you this morning” no matter how he played this the odds were better than even gunfire could result. Trust was in short supply these days, he thought when he got no response. We are with the government we are here to help, wasn’t that the old joke Jared asked himself.
“Mike, Ori you guys stay out here. Check the yard and or something, while I see if who ever lives here is friendly or not” Jared said.
“no way, if something happens to you, Jill will kill me for letting you go alone” Ori stated. “either I come in with you, or you don’t go in”
Jared raised an eyebrow at that, Ori didn’t usually make demands or tell Jared what he could or couldn’t do. “well if you feel that strongly about it, your more then welcome to get killed right along side of me.” Jared said almost smiling.
“Good” Ori said, stepping past Jared and entering the building.
Jared looked at Mike and could see the man was on the verge of having a major case of shakes. “ well what about you, ready to get killed with the two other idiots you wanted to tag along with?”
“No, I think I am good with being left out here to be the only survivor” Mike said trying to smile but ended up looking nervous as hell.
Jared grinned at him, then slung his rifle before stepped into the shadowy interior.
“Sling your rifle” Jared told Ori who was “try to look friendly, not angry and constipated”
Ori flipped him the bird but did as Jared asked. “look we don’t have a lot of time to spare here. So if your wanting to talk or to leave or what ever, now is the time to do it.” Jared called out as he walked deeper into the building Ori following along behind him.
Jared stopped at set of shelves, where boxes fill with small envelopes covered all six of the shelves. Each box had been vacuum sealed and a piece of laminated paper had been taped to each shelf. “look at this nothing but seeds” Ori said scanning two of the lists. “ cabbage, corn, mustard greens, onions and a lot more”
Jared checked the next set of shelves and found plant food, bags of fertilizer and garden tools amongst other things. “Prepper on a large scale” he commented. Eyeing a stack of large square plastic water containers each encased in a metal frame. Jared estimated they would hold a hundred gallons each currently they were empty.
Every where they looked were pallets of buildings materials and wood, the shelves where filled with tools, Rope, Nails, screws and a whole hardware stores worth of supplies. There were four shelves eight foot high, six foot wide, loaded with Mason Jars, across from that were Pressure canners and other canning supplies.
“ Jared we could use all of this stuff” Ori said softly.
“Except its not ours and until the undead outside are gone, we couldn’t haul it out if we wanted to.” Jared pointed out.
Diane had been listening to the two men talk as they walked around the building, whether they suspected some one was eavesdropping or not she didn’t know, but they didn’t sound like homicidal rapists and looters.
And they didn’t tear into anything, they respectfully walked around looking at all the stuff her husband had spent a fortune on preparing for the end of the world. she shook her head at the memory, she had thought he was an idiot for prepping, as much as she loved him his obsession had driven her nuts, just like moving up here and into the bunker.
She had grown to like it, more or less but had been slowly working on him, trying to convince him to build a real house even if it had a secret tunnel to the bunker. In every other respect he had been a great husband, with faults like any other man, but a great husband none the less.
And then one morning she had woken up and found his paranoia had become reality. They had called their friends who were supposed to come stay with them, then sat and watched the news safe inside the bunker she had thought was ridiculous when he had first had it built. Their friends had never made it out of the cities they lived in, probably killed trying to escape.
And all this wool gather does nothing to help you make a decision she chided herself. trust or not to trust, how badly do you want out of here, they didn’t come in shooting or making threats and they didn’t come in with a group of people.. she reached a decision.
“put your weapons on the floor and then we can talk” a woman said from somewhere back in the shadows behind a bunch of pallets.
“Some one once said trust starts with one man” Jared said as he unhooked the HK and placed it on the ground, then added his pistol. Ori frowned but did as she asked
Well if she or they are going to kill me now is the time, Jared thought looking around his heart beating hard as he waited for a bullet
“who are you, and don’t say the government, you don’t look like your from the government.” The woman called out still hiding.
“Jared Stone, Formerly a Staff Sergeant in the US Army” Jared replied. “and no I’m not from the Government, there is no government anymore at least not that we know of. “
“I’m Ori” Ori said almost sounding normal.
“then what are you doing here, and why do you have a Coast Guard plane” She asked.
“I’m here because you shot flares up to get our pilots attention, We have an Island that’s clear of the undead there are over six hundred people there already.” Jared replied wishing he had brought Jill with him, she might be able to gain this womans trust.
Diane sat there listening to the man, Jared talk. It had been so long since she had actually talked to another human being, it was amazing how much she had missed it. “why should I believe you.” She asked determined to be sure her decision was the right one.
Jared sighed not really in the mood for this “because we didn’t come storming in, shooting the place up, then Rape and kill you. Honestly Lady, I could be out hunting fuel for my damn convoy instead standing here wasting time while you debate on whether to trust the guy that came in with three people and dropped his weapons to make you happy. So either shoot us or stop wasting my time” Jared snapped.
“shoot Him, Id prefer to go home” Ori replied
There was soft laugh then silence for a moment “ My name is Diane Parker”
“so Diane what can we do for you today”
three hours later, half a dozen people had joined the Jared and Ori, Diane had been worried till she saw a women slide down the rope from the ladder, they had quickly hustled inside out of the cold biting wind,
“Diane here has an offer for us” Jared told Jill and the others, “ she wants to leave here, and in exchange she is giving us everything here.”
Jill turned her attention back to the platinum haired woman
“are you sure you want to go out there” Jill asked Diane “ its not nice out there”
Diane nodded, “assuming he didn’t lie about this island of yours, hell yes I’m sure. I’ve lived here for a year completely alone, I cant take it anymore.” Diane said tears spilling down her face, as it really hit her, that she was talking to people real people who weren’t here to rape or kill her.
“you’ve been living in this warehouse for over year” Jill asked incredulously, looking around at the dismally cold and dim interior.
“no not in here, I..” she looked at Jared “I’m sorry I didn’t want to show you all of it right away.” She said then led the entire group through rows of loaded pallets and crates stacked nine foot tall. Reaching the wall she stopped, beside a GFI plug and a Light switch. With out saying a word she pressed the test button on the GFI then flipped the light switch.
Mouths Dropped open in surprise as a section of wall, slightly larger than a door swung silently open revealing a space eight feet wide between the interior wall and the exterior wall. Dim LED lights came on in the space, she stepped inside and the group followed. The hallway, which was what it was, ran towards the front passing a ladder that led up through a hole in the ceiling, from that point on the hallway slanted down taking them fifteen feet under ground level and ending at a Metal door that looked a lot like a Large safe door, complete with a combination dial in the center.
“how did you afford all this” Jill asked quietly as Diane opened the door revealing a Decon/Airlock foyer.
“Stocks, a business my husband owned, and he won the lotto about six years before … what ever the hell it was that happened to the world.” she said as she led them into the bunker that turned out be nothing like the cold war bunker the group expected.
Instead they found themselves in a well lit home. The living room had thick brown carpet, a couch, love seat, coffee table, an oak entertainment center, flat screen and all the other modern things you would expect in a home, Pictures of Diane and her husband and other people decorated shelves and hung from the walls. There was the usual decorative knickknacks one would usually find in a home as well.
A full modern kitchen, and two full bathrooms, five bedrooms, then down a short hallway, a huge food storage room, and past another metal door with a combo lock, the armory and gear room.
The armory contained mostly hunting rifles of various calibers, four AR 15s and four 9mm pistols, five bows and crossbows, and plenty of ammo, arrows and bolts for every weapons in the place.
There was more gear than weapons, combat vests, web gear, climbing ropes, packs, emergency kits the whole works.
The last surprise was the ten thousand gallon underground fuel tank about ¾ full. The valves and pumps hidden in the wall upstairs. “my husband had intended to clear a space to park our truck inside the warehouse so we could refuel it with out being seen. He.. He had wanted any one that got inside to just see a warehouse and not much else.
“this must have cost a fortune” Jill said not even being able to contemplate the safety this woman had lived in since the dead rose.
“ over ten million,” Diane said. “my husband as good a man as he was, was a bit paranoid”
“that’s the understatement of the Apocalypse” Ori muttered.
“please understand, this wasn’t all he did, we took trips, ate out, went to movies.. but this was his passion, I thought it was stupid to be honest. But I didn’t mind, and he had been collecting a lot of this stuff since before we were married. So honestly I couldn’t say how much he actually spent in total. Just what he bought after we were married.” She said defensively.
“Not insulting the man” Ori said “he save your life with all this”
Diane teared up, excusing herself she walked quickly to a bedroom. Jill cast Ori a way to go look then hurried after Diane. Diane had already shared how her husband had died of the flu or something last Christmas and how she had to put him down.
Jared cleared his throat and looked around. “ I want the Tacoma brought up and parked under the ladder close to the fence, we are going to carry out some of this stuff, lift it up to the ladder then lower it into the bed, the Van and the ELSROV can drive around the Tacoma taking the pressure off, when its full, all three vehicles can return to camp offload and stay for the night. While the rest of us stay here. So lets get moving, I want to be ready to roll out in the morning when they get back.
It had been a busy day all together Ronny thought watching as the men unloaded the all the goods from the Tacoma. At the moment there was no sign of the undead which was the first time since Jared had left to scout that they could say that.
He limped over to the table in the dining room and sat down stretching out his leg which hurt like hell. Okay so Linda had been right, he wasn’t really ready for this. But damn it, he couldn’t let Jared, Chris and Ori go out alone, they needed him with them, both in the air and on the ground.
And yet here you sit while Jared and Ori are somewhere else. Lot of good I’m doing Ronny thought, then pushed away the angry thought away.
“how are you feeling” Chris asked as he entered the room.
“Not bad leg hurts a little” Ronny said as Chris stripped off his coat and stood in front of the fireplace to get warm.
“Ronny, Jared might not say much, and we both know Ori doesn’t say much, but come on dude don’t bullshit me, it hurts a lot right” Chris said turning to place his back to the fireplace.
“yeah” Ronny admitted.
“as your friend Ronny, and one who was almost paralyzed for life, don’t over do it. and don’t sit there feeling sorry for yourself, it doesn’t make things any easier. Trust me I know that. Why do you think I ran to get to the terminal when I knew you guys were heading there. I barely kept up with Jared on that long run across the terminal trying to keep away from the undead and save Ori. I wasn’t ready then and I knew it.”
“but you did keep up Chris, that’s the point, I can barely walk much less run” Ronny said.
“but you might be able to if you don’t over do it and make things worse. Remember Stohl” Chris asked.
Ronny nodded, they had served with Stohl in the guard, the man had some of the worst luck. But Chris was talking about when Stohl had refused to admit to anyone his back had hurt badly till it had given out at the wrong moment and sent him falling sixty feet to land on a bunch of Rocks, he had ended paralyzed for life. “ yeah, trust me I don’t want this any worse than it already is.”
“good” Chris said and let it drop. He was not one to just drag out advice to the point he was lecturing. “so tomorrow morning I think you and Ben need to fly down and keep an eye out on that compound and help Jared find a faster way back here. I think we are going to have to leave here the day after, going by the numbers of undead that have showed up off and on today.”
Ronny nodded, determined to be in a better mood and do what he could to help out. “ as soon as its light Ill take off scout the immediate area then head to the compound.
“Great now how about you break out that deck of dirty cards you have and lets play a game or two before shelly comes looking for me” Chris said with a grin as he pulled back a chair and dropped into the seat.
Ronny woke about 0400hrs. to gunfire. He tried to shoot out of bed, but his leg buckled and spilled him to the floor. He got back on the bed and dragged on the brace that Jared and Rob had made for him, the pulled on the rest of his clothes and strapped on weapons.
As he was finishing, Ben burst into the room seeing Ronny dressed and armed the Teen nodded. “ there’s undead all over out there,” Ben said breathlessly. “ they started showing up about 2, small groups but now its like a flood they just keep coming. Chris and Jansen want to know if you can take off right now.”
Ronny nodded, cold fear clutching at his stomach at the thought of the distance between the lodge and the plane. “as soon as we are ready, Chris is going to bring a truck up to the doors to take us out to the plane.”
“we can take off, but we don’t have the fuel to just loiter around for two hours, Ill have to land at an airstrip and refuel” Ronny said trying to ignore the fear he felt bubbling up side him, he had known sooner or later he was going to have to face the undead, face danger. And he had thought he was truly prepared for it but he wasn’t.
he shoved his things into his pack, then slung it on as he headed for the door, shaking of the helping hand Ben offered. “ I can fucking carry my own stuff” Ronny said feeling like an ass for acting that way. Down stairs two other men waited, they had been assigned to guard the lodge which really meant guard my ass Ronny thought. To keep me from getting hurt.
“Thor, every ones ready in here” Damon Cranston transmitted glancing at Ronny and Ben who nodded.
“Roger, I’m sending, a truck to pick you up. Lany and Garret will be riding with you,” Thor replied. “be aware there are walking dead assholes close to the lodge.”
Outside the chain gun on the LAV opened up briefly then the hammer of two .50s rocked the night, if any thing the smalls arms fire had intensified.
“ when the door openes, I go out first to provide cover, then you’re the first one after me sir” Damon told Ronny politelty. “you’re the pilot and that makes you the most important one here.”
Ronny nodded, wanting to protest there was nothing about a plane that made him so damn special, but he remained silent steeling himself as heard a motor approaching in seconds it was just outside the front door. “in position move it” some one said over the radio. Damon threw open the door and stepped out, rifle up firing almost instantly as he saw two undead at the front of the truck that somehow managed to slip close to the lodge.
Ronny limped out the door, and cross the three feet to the truck, he stepped up on the tire with his good leg, and heard Ben shout a warning behind him as a cold hand grasped his ankle. With out thought he pushed off with his good leg, trying to throw himself back into the lodge. He made it halfway into the door before he slammed down on his back, the pack taking the brunt of the fall.
The zombie, a woman in a ripped and blood stained wedding dress crawled after him on her hands and knees, her head darting down as she opened her mouth. “no no no no” Ronny screamed, there was a double crack of a pistol right behind him, and then hands were hauling him up pulling him out from under the dead weight of the zombie sprawled across his shin.
“Come on Ronny Ill help” Ben said. Ronny wanted to tear himself away from Ben, shout and yell he could do it himself but the proof was right there on the ground in a wedding dress he couldn’t do it alone.
He made it back to the Truck and as Ben fired into a group of three, Ronny was hauled ito the truck by a Harald who grinned at him. “thanks Gimli” Ronny said, fear and anger almost vanishing as he realized the Norwegian with is braided beard and massive battle axe he loved so much reminded him of a dwarf.
He sat up just as Ben scrambled into the back then Damon and the other soldier. Damon fired at a group of five undead that were heading straight for the rear of the armed and armored Tacoma. Damon hammered on the side of the bed shouting“ go”.
The truck lurched forward leaving the undead behind. Ronny held on for dear life as the truck plowed through groups of undead then it broke free of the horde and raced across the pasture.
It slid to a stop beside the plane and Ronny climbed out limping to the door. As soon as he was inside, he dumped his pack and head for the pilots seat. sitting down he strapped in, powered up , instantly the radio came to life the chatter of the men and women in combat filled his headphones. Ben joined him a moment later, and started pre flighting.
“don’t have time for the full thing” Ronny said knowing that at least some of the horde would follow after the truck and would end up in his way.
“Just tell me what I need to do” Ben said, Ronny quickly instructed Ben on what to do as Ronny worked on his own duties. Through the windscreen Ronny saw headlights as the vehicles of the convoy moved to block most of the horde from the pasture where the plane sat it wouldn’t hold them back for long Ronny knew, And then the lodge exploded..
“Some on hit the Propane tank” Ronny offered not really sure, but he had seen the tank earlier and it made sense to him. In the light of the fire Ronny finally saw the silhouettes that staggered across the pasture towards the plane, drawn by the idling truck and the light that spilled from the windows.
The engines of the Twin otter roared to life, “you folks might want to be strapped in for this one, its going to be rough,” Ronny called over the intercom. Forgotten for the moment was the fear and panic of earlier, gone were the self doubts, this was something he knew he was still damn good at.
As soon as he let off the brake and the plane began to roll, the truck raced ahead of him and positioned itself in front of the plane swerving to take out the few undead in its path. As the plane sped up so did the truck, its driver attempting to clear the way.
Ronny piled on the speed, determined to try for as short of a take off as safely possible.
The plane bounced as it hit a hump under the snow and the stick got spongy for a second.
Thor Jansen watched the plane from the gunners position on the HET, silently cheering on the plane as it raced across the pasture, the truck that was trying to protect it finally had to dart to one side to keep from being hit by the plane even as the lights on the plane blazed to life so Ronny could see what was ahead of him.
Thor blinked trying to clear his eyes, he could barely see the plane behind the lights as it swept forward, then the engine noise of the plane change pitch, as the spots obscuring his sight faded some he was able to see the twin otter clawing for the sky. Then the lights went out and it vanished snow filled night sky.
“We are out of here” Thor transmitted. As the vehicles all turned and ran for the road, in twenty minutes they would be up into the mountains and headed for the alternate campsite Thor and Chris had chosen in case something had happened.
“Jared,” he woke almost instantly, a bit slower than he used to he admitted. Getting older sucked.
“What?” he asked already climbing out of the incredibly comfortable bed and slamming his feet into his boots.
“The Trucks are almost back, Chris and Thor had to abandon the camp at the Lodge, it got over run by the undead” Jill said as she turned on the bedside light. Diane was not going to enjoy life a lot once she left here Jared thought
“over run” he asked
“we lost two, but that was it. They held them back till Ronny could get in the air, and then bugged out.” Jill told him she almost held back the last bit, but didn’t, Jared would never forgive her if she did. “They lost contact with Ronny after he told them he was going to find an airstrip to land at and refuel. Lany, Garret and two soldiers are with him, so don’t panic.”
“he should have had enough fuel to fly ahead of the convoy and then back here.” Jared said as he pulled on his shirt, then added a sweater and then his coat. Jill was silent as he strapped on his weapons.
“maybe he used more than he thought, who knows Jared all I can tell you is what was relayed to me.” Jill said. Jared stopped and eyed her for a moment.
“what were you doing up and on the radio anyway” He asked, curious.
“I wasn’t, I woke up to go to bathroom and the radio beeped so I responded.” Jill said.
“Ill go wake every one else, I hate leaving but, if Ronny needs help. I’m not going to just sit here.”
“Jared” Jill said placing a hand on his arm bringing him to a stop. “we don’t even know where Ronny might have landed, it could be DC, or Fredricksburg or someplace close by the camp. We don’t have the fuel to waste to hunt around every place he could have landed.” Jared started to protest, but knew she was right.
By Dawn every one was up and ready. Jared stepped out side and saw the snow was falling again and if anything heavier than before. As soon as every one was outside he them check their gear and then one by one they climbed up onto the crates they had stacked in yard and climbed up onto the ladder then slowly crossed to the fire truck
Diane sat shivering in the cold atop the fire truck as the ladder was retracted, suddenly wondering if she really wanted to leave the warm safe haven her husband had provided.
“Last chance to say no” Jared said softly as if he knew what she had been thinking.
“Ill miss it, I could feel my husband there with me. But no I cant go back there alone again. I’m lucky to still be sane” she said, wiping at her eyes. The fire truck backed away from the fence, and turned and headed down the road, towards the trucks that waited a couple of miles away and her future what ever it might be.
The sun was rising as Ronny finally spotted the air strip, he had seen the strip yesterday while heading for the camp, and used the notes in his log book to back track to it using instruments only. Now that there was some light he could see he was pretty close all things considered.
He maneuvered around till he could line up on the strip, and began preparations to land. “how hard is it to land on Snow” Ben asked nervously. Ronny bit back a smart ass comment knowing his own twitching nerves were behind it.
“To be honest Yesterday was the first time I’ve landed on snow.” Ronny said, as Ben Gawked at him. “look I know how okay its not that big of a deal” Ronny added lying a little he had seen a plane flip over once, had heard about planes sliding off the runways and into trees and all kinds of things. But he did know how to do this, just no practical experience “it appears airport maintenance isn’t what it once was.” Ronny said, trying to joke but his heart wasn’t really into it.
The airstrip wasn’t much, just a snow covered one thousand foot long strip, an above ground Fuel tank, and two hangars, one with an attached office. The entire place was surrounded by dense snow covered Virginian woods.
Ronny lined up and began to shed altitude, and prayed there was no ice under that snow. Or anything else under there that is. Ben was muttering under his breath as the plane dropped slowly towards the strip, where thankfully not a single zombie could be seen. That would change of course, it always did Ronny thought.
What I need are maps, and there should be some in the office down there or in one of the hangars or aircraft.
He glanced back and saw that Lany was leaning against Harald, sound asleep. I wonder if she trust me that much or if its pure exhaustion, Ronny thought. As he contemplated what might happen once they landed, he felt the same sick fear and anger from earlier.
“You know maybe now is not the time to decide I should have been a sailor” Ronny muttered.
Ben actually barked a nervous laugh, then went back to looking pale and scared crapless.
“If we live through this, would you like me to install Jesus Bars” Ronny asked watching the altimeter.
“Jesus bars?” Ben asked.
“You know the bars above the door in a car, that when a car goes out of control people grab them screaming oh jesus” Ronny said as he corrected left drift.
“that would be really nice if we are going to keep this kind of stuff up. grabbing bars beats my crapping my pants every time” Ben replied, as Ronny found himself actually laughing for the first time in a while.
“here we go” Ronny said as he brought the plane down, he adjusted the trim, brought his nose up set the flaps, reduced speed even more and prayed.
The main gear finally touched ground and got traction to his surprise, every thing else went like clock work much to his surprise. He made it to the Fuel tank, debating on shutting down the engine.
“Keep it running” Harald called up, Ronny realized he was getting used to the Norwegians accent. “I will check the fuel tanks” he added grabbing the Massive Troll axe and headed for the door.
Harald stepped out side, tucking his braided beard into his belt. The snow fall was light, and the temperature was almost balmy compared to his former home. what little wind there was, had a crisp clean smell to it. back home there would hints of fir and wood smoke.
Better not to think of home He told himself as he rapped the tank with his axe a few times and it wasn’t full but there was fuel inside. “Lany, get the soldiers to bring out the pump and generator” He said, then realized he had spoken in French, old habits die hard, he repeated his request in English, and as he waited he walked a little ways from the plane looking around.
“You be careful, I only just fell in love you, so no getting killed” Lany called out as she and the Soldiers got the pump out and set up the generator.
Harald nodded in agreement, his falling in love with the Lany had been a great surprise. Oh yes she was pretty, with an athletic build sparkling topaz eyes and long brown hair. And She was so much younger than he was, and yet for her lack of years she was like a shield maiden of old. Tough, even hard, very brave, and incredibly smart for her years. nothing like he had always heard Young Americans were.
He smiled to himself he gazed at the hangars, it was he supposed a product of Nationalism, each country played up the bad stereotypes of others while emphasizing what was good in their own country. But as Simms had pointed out a few times, there were stereotypes because a group no matter how small had acted that way.
“Ready to explore” Lany asked joining him. Behind them the Generator fired up, and the slight smell of gasoline reached his nose. She looked up and smiled at him, she hid her fear well he thought.
“Is Ronny going with us?” Harald asked.
“I think so” Lany replied as she gazed up at Harald for a moment staring into his light blue eyes.
They waited for a few minutes then finally Ronny emerged from the plane, rifle in hand. He looked nervous Harald noted, he should any one should be nervous exploring in this new world.
Ronny limped over to join them Ben following along behind. “lets do this” Ronny said, his leg throbbing with pain which he was starting to suspect had a lot to do with the weather.
Harald nodded and led the group towards the first Hanger a eighty feet away. its doors closed hiding what ever might be inside.
“Lets try the office first” Ronny suggested ignoring the hanger doors and heading to the low single story metal building attached to the hanger. Ronny peered into the windows and saw a room with two desks, an over turned chair and papers scattered all over the floor and a map on one wall. “looks clear” Ronny said, Harald nodded and with out asking stepped up to the door taking lead position.
Ronny stifled an angry comment, he was more than able to open a door and enter a room instead he fell in behind Harald. As soon as Ben and Lany fell in, Harald opened the door, having to really force the knob to turn.
They entered the office which had no other doors, Harald relaxed slightly, “ what are we looking for exactly.”
“flight map boards, Topo maps like that one on the wall, gear, food. Anything we can use but maps above all.” Ronny replied as he limped over to the wall to pull down the map that turned out to be several topo maps overlapping to form the one huge map.
The others rummaged through the debris on the floor, and through desk drawers, gathering up what they thought might be useful Lany, found a still sealed bag of small chocolate bars and shoved them in her pack. Finally they had recovered what little had been in the room then headed outside.
There was still no sign of the undead and the one of the soldiers was refueling the plane while the other stood guard. The snow if anything seemed heavier to Ronny, and he didn’t really like the look of the sky.
“Do we really want to open those hangars” Lany asked suddenly. “What if they are full of undead maybe some one trapped them in there and shut the doors.”
“all we have to do is knock on the doors and wait to hear them bump or beat on the doors to know.” Ronny pointed out, then looked up at the gray sky overhead
“we might not have a choice now” Ronny said. “the weathers getting worse and I don’t want to end up flying in a white out.”
“your saying we are stuck here” Ben asked, looking around nervously.
“at least till it clears up.” Ronny said not liking this any better than Ben. “ the only way we are going to be safe spending the day and possibly the night is to clear one of the hangars and tow the plane inside”
Harald studied the sky for a moment then nodded in agreement. “ I would not fly a helicopter in this either. I think you are correct.”
Ronny turned back to the hangar determined to overcome the emotions holding himself back. “lets get busy, if we are lucky this will blow over before we have visitors of the stinky pus filled variety.”
The now Abandoned Ladder truck was parked under the trees beside Jareds three vehicles. Snow was already covering the tops of the vehicles even here under the trees. Where the silence was broken by quiet conversations from inside the vehicles.
Nothing human or undead moved in the woods, only the occasional rustle of dry dead tree limbs and bushes as a gust of wind stirred the woods.
snow slid from a tree branch and fell to the ground with a thud, Jared stood in the Gunners hatch of the ELSORV, while Mike Tried to raise Ronny.
“Nothing Jared,” Mike called up. “not a peep”
Jared racked is brains, there was no way Ronny would have landed at any airport in or near a major city like D.C. , Charlottesville, or Fredricksburg, and he would have looked for something close by to conserve what fuel he had in case where ever he landed was out of fuel. So that narrowed things down to a basic area, Madison, Culpepper, unionsville, Orange, or Gordensville. What he needed was a good fragging topo map, or better yet one of those Flight maps that marked all the airfields.
“we cant sit here much longer” Mike called up. “Which way do you want to go?”
Jared looked at the falling snow, the smart move would have been to stay put in the bunker but there was no way they could have gotten every one in there safely. And it would have have their vehicles sitting outside fence, some where with out guards just begging for raiders to take them
“Take us towards Charlottesville, we still have to find fuel for the convoy.” Jared said, making that decision was one of the hardest he had ever made. But there were almost sixty people that needed that fuel to survive.
“are you sure” Jill asked.
“yeah, we have to secure fuel and even if we found a truck and came back here, and emptied the fuel tank here, we would have to let a few hundred zombies in as well. I’m not willing to risk losing any one in a situation I know is bad news. “ Jared said.
“I meant about Leaving Ronny” Jill said.
“I’m not leaving Ronny” Jared said ducking back down into the ELSORV. “at the moment we don’t know anything other than Ronny landed to refuel. And we have sixty people waiting for us to bring them fuel, so they can survive. Jill they don’t have the fuel to make another run if a horde strikes.
no matter how much I want to run out and look for Ronny, we have to have that fuel for the convoy first. And in order to look for Ronny we have to have an idea on where he is at or we waste what fuel we have. But I Promise this, if we haven’t heard from him by sunset, Ill set off on my own while the rest of you get that damn fuel.” Jared said.
“you cant go by yourself,” Jill said. “Ill come with you and don’t you dare argue about it.”
“ me too, cant let either one of you run around by yourselves with out someone knowing what they are doing going along” Ori said.
Jared sighed, then looked up front “mike aren’t you supposed to be driving or something” he asked. As the ELSORV Finally pulled out of the Trees, with the other two Vehicles following he turned back to Ori and Jill. “I’m not even stupid enough to try and talk either of you out of this.”
The three vehicles moved slowly down road, the snow falling steadily the temperature hovered around 25 degrees, but seemed colder with the wind.
“According to the map State Route 33 is the closest big road, we might find a fuel truck along it some where, I would prefer staying the hell out of Charlottesville if at all possible, there was something like 200,000 people in and around that city odds are good 99 percent of them are still there.
“I, uh hate to interrupt “ Diane said almost shyly, “ but My husband has, had, our fuel delivered from a place in Orange. Maybe there will still be fuel there.”
“how big is the place” Jared asked ducking back down into the ELSORV to hear better.
“a few thousand people, I’m not really sure.” Diane replied.
Ori muttered something to low for Jared to hear. “whats that?” Jared asked.
“I said, great we get to go on a Phone book hunt” Ori replied.
Jared laughed for a moment, “it could be worse, we could be heading into Charlottesville. How bad can it really be stopping at a convienence store.”
“a seven foot tall, six foot wide mobile wall of undead flesh that weights 400 pounds of pure dead muscle trying to eat my happy ass.” Ori muttered.
“good god, let it go already, one giant zombie locked in a cooler and your scared to go back into a convenience store.” Jared teased then stood back up in the gunners mounts.
“I think he takes giant undead zombies to lightly” Ori said then fell silent as Diane paled.
“don’t worry, it only happened once” Jill assured her, “ besides you wont be leaving the ELSORV.”
Reaching the intersection with the small convienence store, Diane told them to turn right, the Raiders tracks led left. Which was a relief to Jared, who wasn’t interested in getting into a fight.
“I wonder if Marty and his wife Lived” Diane said as they turned.
“who?” Jill asked,
“Marty he was 70 and his wife Edith was 79, they’ve owned that store since the sixties. Nice people, wouldn’t hurt a fly” Diane said, starting to cry again as she pictured the horror Marty and his wife must have gone through when the zombies or what ever they were had come for them.
Jill silently placed a hand on Dianes knee lending her what support she could. Diane had been sheltered in that bunker and hadn’t experienced the fall like every one else had. Reality was going to be hammering her pretty hard for while, as she saw what she could only have imagined from the safety of her bunker.
After winding around Back roads, with Diane giving them directions, they finally found themselves on Route 20 constitution Highway, in the past have been scenic, but not so much these days as they drove around snow covered vehicles abandoned for what ever reason so long ago.
Seeing a sign for Orange, Jared ducked down into the ELSORV. “stop” he ordered, Mike didn’t question he just slowed then stopped the ELSORV in front of a Farm and its open snow covered fields. “apparently Orange had over four thousand people in it.” Jared said.
“oh that’s just great” Ori Muttered casting a look at Diane who looked abashed.
“I’m sorry, I never thought it was that large” She apologized.
“so what do you want to do” Ori asked Jared.
“well there is a farm house up there, I would bet your left testicle there’s a phone book in that house” Jared said.
“ do you mind not betting my testicales, bet your own.” Ori muttered.
“your left testicle, not both, calm down.” Jared said “ you only need one”
“you could bet yours.”
“Jill likes them as a matched set. Besides Beth is pregnant, you don’t need more than one now anyway.” Jared said, the usual pre entry jitters kicking he and Ori into rambling jokes.
“don’t mind them, they get like this anytime they are about to enter buildings to clear them of undead or before a fight.” Jill explained. “ so as weird as they sound, just realize it’s a stress relief thing”
“okay james take us up that farm house” Jared said pointing, the two story semi antebellum style home on a hill top.
“okay who the hell is James” Mike asked, “your always calling me james when I drive”
“James is a fictional chauffer character who seemed to work for every one in old black and white movies of the 30’s and forties, in fact I suspect you had to be named james to Get a job as a Chauffer. God what a bunch of movie heathens” Jared said as the ELSORV started rolling again and turned into the driveway and started up the gentle sloping hill to the farm house.
They came to a stop beside a pick up parked beside the steps that led up to the wrap around porch, the truck still bore the faded legend. “Wagner Brothers, construction and Restoration.” On the doors.
“I can see this going wrong already” Mike said shaking his head. “ construction zombies armed with nail guns, it was probably a SyFy movie at one point.”
Jared climbed out into the snow, half blind as the wind gusted and snow whirled up into the air creating amost white out conditions for a moment. it was scary really, a man could walk around the corner not able to see one of the silent dead through the snow and his first warning would be teeth sinking into his flesh.
“Nibbler, come on girl” he said quietly the pit bulls head popped and a second later she was trampling over Ori to get outside and stand beside Jared, her tail wagging hard and fast.
“Ed, you take Lew, Steger, and Paddy and Check the barn, Ill take Ori, Jill and Logan and sweep the house, Mike you stay with Diane and be ready to haul ass if we come running.” Jared said. “ every one else Stay with the vehicles and be ready to cover us if we need a fast exit.”
With that done, Jared led this group up onto the porch intending to peer in the windows only to find them covered from the inside with plywood, even a dining room table had been used to cover a window.
“any one getting the idea that the Wagner brothers might still be inside” Logan said as they walked into the back yard again, where a work tables had been set up how ever long ago, two miter saws and a table saw were half visible under a coating of snow.
“Do we really need a phone book that bad” Ori asked.
“Yes” Jared replied walking up to the back door, he tried the knob and found it turned easy but the door refused to open. Probably nailed shut from the inside he thought.
“Take to long to tear the door down and it would make to much noise.” Jared said thoughtfully then moved to the edge of the porch, leaning backwards over the railing he looked up at the edge of the Porch roof.
Jill started to shake her head, but she knew Jared well enough to know he would ignore her, he wanted that phone book and his mind was in problem solving mode.
Nibbler sniffed around the door and began to growl low in her throat, backing away.
“Well guess that answers that.” Logan said.
“Jared” Ed called over the radio. “your not going to believe this, we have pigs back here, and.. well you need to see this.”
“Pigs, as in bacon and Ham on the hoof” Jared transmitted.
“Yeah those kind of pigs, only bigger.” Ed replied.
With out another word Jared turned and head towards the barn, the small group tromping through the snow, following Eds Tracks into the Barn. Inside they found a Tractor, bales of rotting hay, dead horses in stalls and Ed his group clustered along the back wall peering through cracks.
“Not real brave” Logan commented grinning.
“You don’t know much about pigs especially feral pigs” Ori replied shaking his head.
Jared ignored them both and walked up beside Ed and peered through a crack. Behind the barn the snow had been trampled into the ground creating a muddy slush, beyond the slush were both pig tracks and human tracks, judging by the drags and staggering marks, undead had made those tracks. But it was the corpses behind the barn that drew his attention, in the mud were pigs some were huge looking like wild boars, tearing and ripping apart a zombie that even with out legs, and only one arm and that one had no fingers mindlessly tried to bite at the pigs.
There were at least seven corpses, and not much left of them, a rib cage here, part of a rib cage and a thigh bone over there. A cracked skull over by a plow blade, and pigs every where rooting and sniffing looking for morsels they had missed.
“oh shit” Logan said a bit to loudly as he looked through a crack and saw the scene. A big sow lifted her head and looked towards the barn for a moment then went back to stripping meat from the torso of the still moving zombie.
Jared stepped back from the wall and held his fingers to his lips and pointed at the front of the barn. Silently every one headed to the barn doors. Jared glanced down at Nibbler who seemed totally unconcerned or maybe she was just smart enough not to draw attention to herself.
“I’m betting there’s more Pigs in the area, probably a lot, I’ve heard of feral hordes that have numbered in high hundreds in parts of Texas just a couple of years ago. “ Jared whispered, and a hungry feral pig was a dangerous feral pig. “ every one head back to the vehicles. Keep quiet, and if you see one coming, Run and do not fall down.”
“up side, something has found a use for the undead” Lew commented as they headed out side and started for the vehicles.
“down side, they will eat us too” Ori said.
They were halfway to the vehicles, when a squealing scream erupted from behind them. Nibbler snarled and whirled around, but Jared grabbed the dog by the collar and almost tossed her after Jill, who had taken off running. Nibbler torn between Protecting Jared or Jill turned back and forth then waited for Jared snarling a challenge “go Dog, GO” Jared shouted at Nibbler as he kept running. as soon as he was even with the dog, the dog took off running at his side.
Three Ferals or maybe wild boar, having come around the barn had spotted the humans and were now in pursuit. Lew slid on a patch of ice and almost fell on his ass, Steger managed to grab the Lew and keep him on his feet but both had slowed. Jared whirled his HK 416 in his hands and fired a burst into the lead boars chest and head. Just as he suspected it pissed the animal off. There was blood flowing from it, staining the snow red. Its beady hate filled eyes, fixed on Jared. It only sped up.
He triggered another burst and this time the 1500 pound monster stumbled to its fore knees, its two partners swept around it and kept coming. There was a boom of Eds .12 gauge and one of the ferals fell on its side, but was back up in a moment.
“I hate ferals, especially the mixed breeds” Jared muttered as he turned and ran. Ed already far ahead of him.
“see, what happens when you say things like How bad can it be. No it’s not a giant zombie wanting to eat me, now its giant wild boar” Ori shouted as he fired his rifle then turned and ran with Jared.
“stop bitching and run” Jared said almost laughing at the total absurdity of the situation, in a world full of flesh eating undead they were being chased by breakfast on cloven hoof.
Upstairs glass shattered, and a zombie drawn to the windows by the squealing and gunfire fell out of the now broken window onto the roof and slid down, reaching the edge it flew off the porch roof and into the air, looking surprised, or at least that’s how Ori pictured it. the Boar that Jared had shot, still in the game, veered towards the zombie that was now sitting in the snow, it lowered its head, and then with a savage toss of its head gored the zombie and tossed it to one side, then focused on Jared again.
“I think it really hates you” Ori said as they rounded the corner of the house and saw every one else scrambling into vehicles.
“you think” Jared replied ignoring the burning in his thigh.
“Down” Mike shouted from the Gun mount of the ELSORV.
“never seen a boar vs a .50” Ori said as he threw himself down and rolled over, Jared joined him a half second. The ma deuce opened up, Mike raking its fire back and forth, the unwounded boar in the lead, stumbled and fell after taking five rounds, Five Jared thought in shock as he held on to nibblers collar one handed to keep her from charging the boars. The second boar, was hit and crippled collapsing into the snow, but the last boar, the one Jared had first shot, staggered on heading straight for Jared,
it took two rounds from the fifty it was dead already and it knew it but it didn’t stop, its eyes were fixed on jareds face and finally five feet from him it collapsed into the snow..
“don’t relax now” Ori said as they heard the squealing cries of hunting ferals, like the undead they were drawn to noise, blood and gunfire.
Both men scrambled to their feet and dove into the ELSORV. As at least twenty five or thirty of the damn things, came around the corner of the house. There were only two more of the huge half breeds in the bunch.
“oh don’t whine, its just a phone book, how bad can it be.” Ori said as Jared put the Vehicle into Gear, and raced away, the pack of Ferals stopping only to devour their dead.
“now I get to add giant Feral pigs as possible hazards to phone book collecting.”
“does he always Swine like this” mike asked, as groans swept the Vehicle. “I know Puns are Boaring but… ouch, that hurt”
“now I know it’s the end of the world, The porkchopalypse is upon us” Logan laughed.
“one warning no puns” Jill said.
“no problem I didn’t want to hog all the attention … ow…” Mike said.
“Surrounded by Hamatuers I swear.” Jared added, his head rocked forward as Jill gibb slapped him. the vehicle was rocked by the tension relieving laughter as they headed for the next farm. The snow fall growing heavy once more as the Temperature dropped.
For miles around, the undead staggered, crawled and stumbled through the snow, a pallid horde in ragged blood stained clothes, as silent as the snow fall as they slowly converged on a small mountain camp where sixty men and women huddled waiting for fuel and word from their friends.