Chapter Thirteen

“These were our children who died for our land: they were dear in our sight.
We have only the memory left of their home-treasured saying and laughter.
The price of our loss shall be paid to our hands, not another’s hereafter.
Neither the Alien nor Priest shall decide on it. That is our right.
But who shall return us the children?”
~R. Kipling

Its been said that a city has a soul, if that were true, the soul of Knoxville was gray, grim and defeated. In the last days the city’s defenders had put up a hell of a fight as the city fell into chaos as the undead swept over it. In its final hours, as fires raged and people died, police, the homeless, housewives and hundreds of others whose names were now lost had stood their ground heroically trying to buy time for others to escape.

Thousands had died trapped on roads that had either been bombed by National guard flights or had been blocked by the authorities who had leaped to control a situation they had grossly mistaken for something other than what it was, The apocalypse.

Now the only sound in the once vibrant city, was the mournful cry of the wind between its buildings, and the occasional crash as glass damaged in the final fight and the assaults of nature over the last year and a half finally gave up and fell to the ground.

It was a city of the dead, and the dead wandered the around the abandoned vehicles in the streets like leprous princes of Hell.

December 9th 0900 hrs

Bradley gazed out over the city, wishing he had visited when there had been people, the city sprawled across ridges and hills, and across the River valley, he could see the Smokies if he looked east, more mountains and hills to the south, and to west another hazy line of mountains, he didn’t know it he was looking at the Cumberland Plateau.

All that was nice, but what he was really concerned about were the undead that were streaming across the bridge he could see and heading for the Construction site he and his men were holed up in.

He hadn’t argued when Kronnen had told him to find a place close to downtown and settle in till the Main force Arrived. No one Argued with Kronnen which was part of the problem with his army, no one wanted to speak up when something was a bad idea, of course speaking up fell under bad ideas as well one you might not live through.

He had been lucky to find the old Hospital campus to hide in, almost 23 acres if he judged it right with multi acre sections fenced off for future demolition to build yet more high prices apartments and crap, at least that’s what the signs said around the area.

Just down the road, his scouts, when he had been still able to send scout out had located a locale Gas Supply Company that his scouts had reported had half full tanks, and barrels of stabilize.

What was important was the old Hospital building between the Henley street and Gay street bridges, and the land around it were fenced in, and made the perfect place for he and his men to wait for Kronnens arrival, and once Kronnen and his Cadre arrived there would be more than enough men and munitions to hold this place, till Kronnen’s arrival things were going to be tense, and Bradley was worried that maybe this hadn’t been the wisest choice he could have made.

At some point the numbers of the undead would be great enough that their weight against the fence would push it over and when that happened, he and his men were going to have to either jump into the river or try escaping out the back section of fence that so far had few undead along it.

He looked towards the North where Stone would be coming from, and wondered if his men were really ready for this, part of him tried to shake it off as the usual prebattle jitters but the truth was, he was worried about. Out of what he called ODA’s, two were completely National Guard soldiers who had excelled at the training he had provided.

The other two ODA’s were lead by National Guard but were manned almost entirely by Thugs that Kronnen had rescued from prisons and Jail cells. Some were actually competent, but most of them had sloppy impulse control issues and were only interested in learning just enough to appear Bad ass and intimidating, blowing off training that would have helped build Unit cohesion and team work. They could and did work as a team when they felt like it, but more often than not they would leave teammates hanging at the drop of a hat if they got angry or spotted something they really wanted.

The problem was from all indications Stones people worked as a team and were at least competent in a fire fight, the military units in Stones Group were supposed to be professional and constantly providing training for the civilian teams in the group.

All of which meant two of his ODA’s would be able to operate as planned the other two would probably get wiped out. He shrugged, he had picked the members as best he could, and tried to train them. If half his force were wiped out and the other half survived and did some damage Kronnen would be happy enough about.

Hell he would be happy about it, but what he wanted for his unit was something that would never happen, men and women dedicated to the new America who volunteered to join. It would take years to build that kind of national pride if it ever happened, and under the rule of a warlord there was very little pride and plenty of back stabbing, politicking and Jockeying for position usually by getting your competition killed.

He felt his blood racing, his pulse like the drum beat of war as he considered what was coming, “Bring it Stone, its time the future was decided.” Bradley said aloud.

Beth looked as the door opened, the waiting room she and the kids had been placed in was filled with toys and about as safe as possible.

Two of the Bradley’s men walked in and sat down pillow cases filled with food and water. “Bradley says your to stay in here and shut the hell up, you and the kids.” A semi fit bearded man said.

She nodded and said nothing as they left the room talking and laughing amongst themselves, with not a few looks cast back at Beth, who had shaken out her hair and began brushing it a few days ago, along with wearing the tight ski pants one of the men had found and anything else that showed a little of her figure, she never flirted but she wanted them distracted. Last ditch would be to show her boobs if she had to, men seemed to lose IQ points on seeing boobs and these guys had few IQ points to lose.

She had also started escape plans right under their noses, Bradley had been more than amused to hear her putting the kids through fire drills, and making sure the kids knew who they were supposed to partner with to reach the Vans. He had even allowed her to let the kids run down the van in pairs twice, as long as she stayed put in the waiting room.

Unlike these guys, she had been to Knoxville in the past several times as a matter of fact. She could look at the window and see Calhouns across the river a place she had eaten at many times. She had walked Volunteer landing, and even rode on the river boat that she could see from here that was tied off to the dock.

She knew she had two options when she escaped, not if, but when she refused to consider failure, the Farm was close by, and even though they had blocked the road with a landslide, there were Guards posted there that could help her and the kids if they could reach and cross the Smokies.

Or they could head north towards the Hotel that Jared had been interested in and maybe run into Ori and others along the way, the best choice was to head for the Farm, they could try and contact Jared by Radio and let them know where she and the kids were at,.

With that part of the plan figured out, she was working on the hard part, actually getting the kids out, or rather getting them and herself to the vehicles with out anyone figuring out what was going on. Like her people, Bradley and his men left the keys in the ignitions of their vehicles, no one wanted to risk the undead swarming you, climbing into a truck or van only to find out that the guy with the keys was still out there being ripped apart leaving you trapped inside a vehicle slowly starve to death as the undead beat on the sides of the vehicle.

From what she had over heard, Kronnen was supposed to arrive in the next four of five days, which meant she had to make their escape in the next three days or else.

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

Darius sat in the ManKat, checking his weapons enjoying the sunlight that streamed through the windows of the 8×8, Kafil, a native born Nigerian paced the central aisle.

Kafil at five eight, wasn’t tall, but he wasn’t really short more in that no mans land in between, his skin was so dark it was blue black.

“I do not question your ability Darius, but I have to ask if you truly believe we can trust this Jared person” Kafil said after a moment.

“yes I trust them Kafil” Darius said, not even mentioning the dreams that told him the same thing. Dreams he knew he could trust to be right.

“Kafil, I understand what your thinking and feeling but in this case. I’m with Darius. The man and his group have shared food, fuel and ammunition with us they sheltered us. The least we can do is to help them get back the wife of one of their guys.” Jim said.

Now Jim in Darius’s opinion was tall, almost seven foot, and almost as wide. He was one of those men who had never had to work out, he had just been born large and now with no chance to eat like they had once eaten, there was very little fat on him which made him look more like a Gym rat. . He was wide shouldered and thick limbed and was the picture of a man used to dealing violence.

Kafil frowned but couldn’t argue “I agree, yes, but I insist we proceed cautiously”

Quentin, whose angular jaw was always somehow covered in five oclock stubble, nodded in agreement. “ that’s a good policy to follow, and I do think we can trust them, but thinking and knowing are two different things” Quentin said.

Quentin was almost as tall and big as Jim almost. as muscular as the rest of Quentin looked, he looked like he had a belly till his shirt was off. He was built like a power lifter or a gorilla which Darius sometimes called him.

Darius glanced at Nate who lay on the couch but remained silent. Nate really didn’t care, they were going after Kronnen and that meant he might get his wife back. Nate was the only person here he had know from the beginning, and in some ways these days the one that was most like a stranger. He was being eaten alive with the need to get his wife back, and Darius suspected Nate was jealous that Darius had gotten his sister Kate back.

Jim nodded in agreement “I don’t see a problem with that, do you Darius”

Darius looked at Jim for a moment taking in the raggedly cut short dark hair, the hard eyes. “No I don’t have a problem with it.” he said.

“then lets get to helping these people” Jim said

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

“what is it” Jill asked watching Jared, who was staring off across the lake not even noticing the blustery cold wind that swept in off the lake.

“just thinking about life” he replied. “men and women I served with, all them still young in my mind, still alive. all the places I’ve been, hell holes and otherwise and when I die no one will ever remember them, remember the kind of people they were, what they did, how they lived and loved.” He said softly his eyes glimmering. She could hear the pain and loss in his voice. It didn’t surprise her, Jared no matter the face he showed to the majority of the world had strong emotions it was part and parcel of his white knight complex.

“so little time” he muttered.

“How so” Jill asked

“For while a now, I’ve.” He paused for a second then shrugged “I’ve worried about being killed and whats going to happen to you and the others when I’m gone. But you know the truth is, I could die today or twenty years from now. Nothing is going to change the date it happens.

I finally figured that out, I have the time I have, how ever long and short it may be. So like the song says Live like you were dying and I plan on it.” Jared said as he turned and wrapped his arms around Jill kissing her on the forehead and then just held her for a while under the blue winter sky with the wind blowing around them.

He hoped no matter what he got a chance to see his kid born and spend a few years with him or her, just a few years if nothing else, give me that for what I’ve done and will do for this damn war he silently prayed.

Ori looked up as Jared entered the RV, he looks tired Ori thought for all the simmering anger at the delays Ori felt bad for Jared, he knew on an intellectual level that Jared had the entire group think of, their security, fuel, food, everything and he knew that Jared wanted nothing more than to say to hell with it and head off after Beth and couldn’t.

He watched silently as Jared sat down at the Table looking around at the others that had gathered in the Motor home waiting for Jared and knew Jared hated it.

Ed passed Jared a cup of Coffee, who took it gratefully then looked around

Jared too a drink of his coffee and seemed to perk up some. “ we have a lot to do today” Jared said as the quiet side conversations died down.

“Beth is around Knoxville somewhere, and that’s the problem Knoxville is one hell of a huge place. You’re the expert any suggestions?” Jared asked looking at Darius.

“Rail yards, Warehouse areas, and along rivers, usually close to those two things. In the country its harder to say, but like you they tend to use campgrounds, fairgrounds, fenced in industrial parks or when they can find them Military bases.” Darius said.

“that’s a lot of ground to cover no matter how you look at it” Ori said frowning slightly as he absently ran a hand through his hair.

“Look Kronnens men stick to main roads, even if it means clearing a route or they did things have changed some since Missouri, more out riders setting ambushes and traps and exploring back roads. But his main group of yahoo’s is to large to just set up in the parking lot of a Brookshire brothers.” Darius said

“A what?” Ed asked,

“It’s a grocery store chain in my part of Texas” Darius said, then grinned in approval as Jared pulled out maps and spread them on the table.

“Here’s a map of Knoxville,” Jared said as he took a pen and began to make notes on it marking off landmarks and places he could remember. Darius gazed at the map and Jared’s notes for a moment

“well out of what you marked on the map the Fair grounds are the best bet, and Kronnen has never been shy about driving deep into a city. But there’s a lot of unmarked areas on that map that might have something even better for him to use as a camp.” Darius said, shaking his head. He tapped a spot near the University of Tennessee.

“like here those are rail lines according to the legend, and with ten or so clustered like that, it could be a rail yard which means supplies, possibly a large secured area. That’s a place Kronnen would camp.”

“he has to use to scouts to find these places right” Ori asked interrupting not wanting to spend three hours play the what if and maybe here game. .

There were nods from most of the assembled men and women.

“Ronny can find them with the plane” Ori said.

Jared started to shake his head, for a long while now they had limited the distance and duration of Ronnys flights to conserve fuel. Granted he had broken the rules more than once when they really needed that plane,

‘Okay to make this a lot easier, I have already marked out the private and small public airfields between here and Knoxville on the maps I gave you last night Ronny so I want you to sweep from Kingsport to Knoxville, checking the conditions of the roads, then come back here and land.” Jared said .

“ Jared remember they have stingers or some kind of missile that blows up airplanes” Mary reminded him.

“Thanks Mary” Jared said, that little fact had slipped his mind.

“Ronny?” Jared said turning to Ronny who shrugged

“Its for Beth, I’m willing to take the risk” Ronny replied, shoving his hands in his pockets. Jared knew the fear, doubt and maybe even Shame Ronny felt were still there but he at least seemed to have control over it now or at least for now.

“then it’s a go” Jared said

“You cant” Mary burst out, “its to dangerous, we can do this one foot.”

“and risk losing how many” Ronny said raising his voice, which surprised those who knew him well. “ Think about it Mary, on foot we have to deal with the dead, and that means some one is probably going to die. it wont be like our camp or the hotel were we set up the encounter zone and controlled it. this will be on the streets and in buildings full of undead were we don’t have traps set or secure position to fight from.”

“Ronny”

“NO, Mary. I’m sorry babe but I’m going” Ronny said firmly.

Mary fell silent, for Ronny to argue with her spoke volumes about how strongly he felt.

“okay next on the list, Ori take your guys and scout ahead see if you can locate an RV dealer with a Repair shop, Lee says he needs parts and I for one am not about to argue with the only real mechanic we have.” Jared said ignoring the brief confrontation, and ignoring the looks that Mary was giving him. If something happened to plane and the people on board Jared would shoulder that blame too.

“I hear the call for a phone book run” Chris moaned, there were chuckles around the table. Reese looked puzzled but didn’t ask.

“You got it Chris, but your safe your staying back here with Reese and 1st squad to hold the camp.” Jared said then looked around the table. “for the rest of us here is what we are going to do, First Lee while your waiting on those spare parts I want you to design a cattle catcher for the Command and Control RV and any other thing that will help get it through crowds of undead that you can come up with, Give me a list of materials your going to need and I will try to get them for you. Jansen I want your Squad to …..” Jared outlined his plan for almost half an hour every one listening intently some taking notes.

Once the meeting broke up and every one went to get their gear ready, the sun had been up almost two hours, Reese waited till every one had left and Jared was studying the map of Knoxville., Clearing his throat he walked to the table as Jared looked up. “ yes?” Jared asked his eyes sliding away from Reese who tried not to be irritated.

“is there a reason my squad and I are stuck back here at camp.” Reese asked.

“Yes” Jared replied meeting Reese’s gaze “ Jansen has two new men in his squad and they need shaking down, 1st squad is essentially intact and I want a good squad here in case the undead but in an appearance in force.” Jared stated stiffly then shook his head

“Sorry, this is harder than I thought it would be, its just hard to look at you and not see Steve. But that has nothing to do with why I want you here. Spacey was right you’re the better leader for the Squad till Daws gets back on his feet, and that’s why I want you here with a squad I know wont have problems in case the shit gets knee deep and your don’t have waders.” Jared said

“Fair enough” Reese replied then turned to walk away but stopped when Jared touched on him on the shoulder.

“Why don’t you stay for a few minutes, I was about to make some of that really rare coffee and while you drink a cup I can ask you all sorts of embarrassing questions about your life.”

“I think I would about kill for a cup of coffee” Reese said as he sat down at the table.

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

Jared pulled up and parked the ELSORV just behind the Ori’s Scout, eyeing the gas station that sat just off the highway. It was one of those old Gas stations popular in the seventies before every one and their dog opened convenience stores with Gas stations, a single building with a garage bay to the right of the small office that held racks of motor oil, brake fluid and other things needed by cars, there were usually small fridge sized coolers in the back of the office next to the bathroom door.

The pumps lay on the ground, ripped free of the island they had been bolted to, a chain was still attached to one pump and was attached to the burned out Chevy pick up. a smoke stained Rain cover stood over the pumps and even covered the entrance to the stations office, a zombie in mechanics coveralls sat in the snow against the wall between the office door and the rusting ice machine, and two arrows in its skull.

“Lets make this fast” Jared said as he climbed out.

“Thank god its just a single room, no coolers for Giant zombies to hide in” Ori said his trigger finger tapping the trigger guard of his rifle rapidly.

“He wasn’t a giant Ori” Jared said striding across the melting snow to the door of the office, Nibbler trotting beside him.

“he was over six five that counts as giant in my book” Ori said falling in beside Jared. “ and as wide as a small city bus”

Jared didn’t bother to respond, as he grasped the door handle, it was stiff from disuse and exposure. A bell jangled as he opened the door and stepped inside, the place still smelled of motor oil. A short five foot counter was to his right with a door to the garage behind it.

“lets hurry this up” Ori urged as Jared walked behind the counter.

“Got it” Jared said pulling out the phone book. “See no Giant zombies”

“no just an average sized one in the garage” Ori said lifting his bow.

Jared leaped over the counter and landed bent kneed phone book held tightly.

“You know, its amazing how fast you can move sometimes” Ori said watching the zombie that stood on the other side of the door pawing at the window in the door staring into the office.

“Funny, really damn funny Ori” Jared said “lets get out of here”

“What about him” Ori asked motioning towards the zombie on the other side of the door.

“Leave him, he isn’t going anywhere” Jared said opening the front door. Ori nodded in agreement pausing only long enough to scoop a few bags of his favorite chips from a rack by the counter.

They walked back across the parking lot and once Jared was inside the ELSORV he opened the phone book and quickly found what he was looking for.

“There is a place here in Coeburn that sales campers, not sure about RV’s, there’s several more Motor home and camper sales places scattered all over most of them in and around the Tri cities and that means a lot of undead.” Jared said. Then Keyed his Radio “ Ori head on out, looks like the first place we can check is right off the road out of town.”

Jared closed the phone book and put in the floor board next to Nibbler then started the ELSORV as Ori pulled out on to the road in his Scout.

Ori drove slowly down the snow covered four lane road, snow chains clanking, with the storm past and the snow melting he was going to have to take them off before long.

This place reminded him of home, surrounded by mountains, and deep woods, except that far more people had lived here than the isolated small town he had grown up in.

Just past the airport, where 816 joined Alt,. 58, he spotted the Camper lot near the turn off for Lonesome Pine lake. There were also about forty zombies milling around the road. Ori could see rows of Fifth wheel and pop up campers and at least two rows of RVs. But it did not look like they had a place to do RV repairs. Just my damn luck, we do need the parts, but will probably have to drive all over Gods Green Earth to find them and I’m so damn close to Beth I don’t want to waste the time.

“Alpha six actual, Delta six, it doesn’t look like they do the work here your wanting, but Ill lay money the closer we get to objective one” Ori had almost said Kingsport but caught himself, OpSec was big right now with Kronnen’s men using radios and possibly intercepting the transmission. “ the more likely we are to find a place on the main road that does..” Ori transmitted. “and there is a count of forty pus bags protesting out side.”

There was a long moment of silence then “ Roger that Delta, proceed as planned” Jared replied. It felt out of place somehow practicing OpSec after having not to worry about who might be listening for so long.

Ori went around the undead, clipping a couple of zombies but in a moment he had left them stumbling along behind him.

He rolled through the town of Norton, which looked like a war zone, buildings with shattered windows, scorched walls and burned out cars what ever had happened here it had been bad Ori thought, not even glancing at Jeb who was writing details down a small notebook, like a lot others he had gotten bug to write up his experiences and pass them down to his Kids.

Just out side of the town of Big Stone gap, was a sign welcoming visitors to the annual “Trail of the Lonesome Pine Out door Drama Jun 21 to August 24”

The town lay in a valley surrounded by mountains and it was obvious that the people fleeing the tri cities areas had evacuated here. there were thousands of cars parked in fields, and along the road as he approached the town. He slowed then stopped eyeing the FMTVS and Deuce and halves parked in a field near modern military shelter tents, just off to the north of the camp were dump trucks parked in a semi circle, one still had its bed up.

“ Got something” Ori said then turned off the road and drove down the lane that had been left between parked vehicles till he reached the camp or what ever it had been, he drove around the edge of the camp till he reached the dump trucks then pulled up along side them finally seeing the pit, “son of bitch” Jeb muttered seeing the snow covered charred corpses. “ They were burning the bodies” he said.

There was no telling how deep the pit was not with the bodies piled in it, but Ori would bet it was deep. What he had taken for a rise covered in snow was probably the dirt excavated from the hole,. the pit was almost 160 feet in diameter and it was ten feet down the lip of the pit to the level of the bodies.

“Makes sense, they thought the bodies were infected with something” Ori said. “it used to be standard practice for people to burn bodies in an outbreak.”

“its damn creepy if you ask me” Zoe said, leaning over the Bench seat and staring at a small skull she could see sticking up out of the melting snow.

“ I think we might ought to stay out of this town” Jeb said, turning in the seat to look at all the cars, “in fact we might want to head back now, and have Ronny fly over and see if he can spot a route around ”

Ori nodded, the odds were to great that there were thousands of undead just inside the town and he wasn’t about to get surrounded and trapped, even with the extra ammo picked up from the Bunker he didn’t think the whole rescue team would have enough to deal with the horde that might be in town, judging by the number of vehicles he had seen.

He backed out and retraced his route through the camp almost to the road he began to see a few zombies scattered across the field between vehicles slowly heading his way. He sped up and soon was racing back down the road to rejoin the group.

Ori found the group parked around the front of a building in Norton, loading sheets of steel, steel bar and pipe into the Delivery truck.

He climbed out of the scout as Jared walked up, Behind him Logan watched quietly, his dark hair moving in the wind off the mountains. The boy has come a long way from the college boy he had first met, Ori thought.

“How bad was it” Jared asked.

“Bad,” Ori said describing what he had seen.

“Ronny is already back at camp Ill get him to take off and fly back over this area, its not a waste of fuel if your right and that town isn’t safe to drive through” Jared said. “Logan there had a good idea, that we might want to check out some of the RV camp grounds and just strip the parts off the RV’s there.”

Ori frowned at the delay that would cause but didn’t protest, till they found a safe route around Big Stone gap they werent going anywhere.

“Come on help get the last of this stuff loaded, we can swing by one or two of the RV parks before heading back to camp, hopefully Ronny will have spotted something by the time we get back.”

Bark Camp Lake 1600hrs.

Lee sighed in real pleasure as he kicked off his boots in the newly heated RV, it had taken three hours just to figure out what was wrong with the generator then trace out a line fault and fix that. who ever had built this damn thing had never planned on working on it the assholes.

He wiggled his toes and looked up at Brock who looked like he had been climbing in a hole he was so dirty. “you look like shit”

“Me, you need to take a serious look in the mirror short man, and when was the last time you changed socks.” Brock said shaking his head in mock disgust.

“you two bitch like an old married couple” Cooper observed from where he sat playing guard.

“ I think he is about to suggest we spice up our sex life with a threesome” Lee joked.

“you wish” Cooper replied then turned towards the windshield as he heard the sound of motors, “ Roger Jared inbound” He said suddenly obviously hearing a radio report of his his earbud. “ the Prodigal son returns” he announced.

“he would show up just when I was relaxing,” Lee muttered as he pulled on his boots, then all of them pulled on their coats and gloves and stepped out into the gather twilight, through the trees they could see fire lining the edges of the mountains.

Headlights slashed through the gloom, and the convoy returned slotting back into the their positions with ease. As soon as they were parked and engines turned off men rushed to set up the portable walls that blocked any gap large enough for a zombie to get through. Overhead the drone of airplane could be heard as Ronny headed in to land on the Lake.

Jared climbed out of the ELSORV, Nibbler trampled over Jill to get out right behind Jared.

“ how long would it take you to get cattle catchers on My RV and the new one.” Jared asked. “ and any other ideas you have to make them a little tougher. “

“Two hours maybe three depending on different things” Lee said stifling a groan.

“So hour, hour and a half with two welders” Jared mused.

“Probably but we only have the one….. You got another welder didn’t you” Lee asked a smile spreading across his face.

“ two actually but I don’t think I want to waste the power it would require to run them. Two is enough and that Genny in the Field mobile Maintenance shop your riding around in can power the two easily.” Jared said, “so lets get the metal and crap unloaded, Ori is going to help you weld and I’ll do the low pay grunt shit like fetch coffee and hold stuff.”

“He means pull the age old act like he is working to milk the clock,” Ori said.

“Yeah what ever” Jared said with a shrug then grinned as he headed for the loaded truck. “ We got some parts too, just don’t know if they will work”

as they unloaded, Lee got set up to start welding. Jared stacked the last of the steel pipe and turned to see Ronny standing off to the side watching the men work, seeing Jared looking at him Ronny said “thought you might want to hear what I saw”

Jared dusted his hands off on his Jeans and walked over to Ronny. “would love to hear you spotted Beth, but lets hear the truth.”

“Kingsports looks about like anywhere else, I saw a few groups of undead wandering around but no real hordes, which can change fast enough” Ronny pointed out then continued “the roads down to Knoxville are mostly clear, but Knoxville is like it was the last time, some roads were blocked by cops, others are blocked by wrecks, I did see what looked like Tire tracks in the snow when I got down low. To be honest its hard to say for sure since the snow was melting but that’s what it looked like.”

Jared said and glanced at Ori who was busy welding, “I knew you werent going to get lucky and see Beth waving a flag or something but I had hoped.” He said with a shrug.

“I still have the south side of the city to check out Jared, I was running low on fuel and it was getting close to sunset I had to come back.” Ronny said looking upset.

“Hey, Brother, Chill okay. I understand and Ori will understand too. I was hoping for a quick location fix and a fast rescue, but we are going to have to do this the hard way. “ Jared said clapping him on the shoulder. “Ronny you’re doing great, your head is out of your butt, your dealing well and I have your back. so go get freaky with Mary and you still feel guilty she can spank it out of you.”

Ronny looked over at Mary who was still upset even if they hadn’t been shot down, “oh I think she is going to want to beat my butt tonight no matter what” he said with a shrug.

“this is why I married a normal woman” Jared commented with a smile.

“Jill, Normal. Shes gorgeous even filthy, Shes like some Super hero with a sword.. all she needs is a skimpy skin tight outfit and I could write a graphic novel about her.” Ronny replied.

Jared grinned as Ronny oompfhed, Mary who had walked up behind him gibb slapped him. “what the hell was that for” he asked.

“for what you were probably thinking” Mary said still a upset but a smile tugged at her lips.

Jared turned back to the work as Mary led Ronny off who was protesting his innocence.
At least they were acting more or less normal Jared decided.

Two and a half hours later they were finished both with the unloading and with the Cattle catchers, Jared refused to let Lee work on anything else for the rest of the night. instead he had every one gather but those on guard, in Steve’s old RV to eat and socialize. It was damn crowded and only about a quarter of the group could fit at any one time. the groups wandered between the MANKAT and the RV most mingling quietly outside under the watchful eyes of Night vision equipped Guards.

Jared took the time to talk to each and every man and women in the group, sharing a joke or some piece of advice. Jill watched quietly, she knew what he was doing and so did every vet there, but it made the former civilians happy and the Vets understood the game. When they left this camp some of these people might die and they deserved to have a little fun and to know or believe that they mattered to someone no matter what happened.

Her eyes drifted to Ori who sat quietly by himself, alone in the crowd his hand on his thigh finger tapping steadily.

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

December 10th.

The sun rose slowly spreading its light across the mountains and valleys like a conquering hero. Where it touched shadows fled, but the chill in the air refused to leave and to some it was far more than just the touch of winter, it was like something hung close.

Sarah stepped out of the Rv a cup of something like coffee in her hands, the real stuff was under lock and key. And saw a group of twenty men and women practicing some kind of martial arts under the direction of Jill and her Husband. It had to be thirty two or so degrees out here and the group was sweating like they had been running a marathon.

“it makes me tired to watch” a man said, she turned to see the Olive skinned Italian looking guy that was tight with Jared. “I’m Logan” he said, a smile spreading across his face, his rather handsome face she thought.

“Sarah” She replied “you aren’t trying to learn karate or what ever it is they are practicing.”

“I do sometimes, but I’m just not that coordinated,” Logan said smiling, amusement shone in his dark eyes. Eyes that lingered a little longer than necessary for casual conversation.

“looks like they are wrapping it up “ Sarah said as the group broke up talking quietly with each other occasionally laughing as they picked up coats and gear then headed off to change.

Jared walked towards them, sweat glistened on his broad chest. how he could just wear a muscle shirt out here was beyond her.

“glad to see you up and about, Id like to ask you to fly with Ronny today, he and Mary could benefit from your knowledge.” Jared said as he turned slightly to gaze at Jill who had joined them.

“if your willing to trust me, I would be glad to” Sarah said.

“Good, Get with Ronny who will help outfit you, and get you stocked up on ammo and food for your ruck.” Jared said, then nodded to Logan, a slight smile on his lips, before he headed to RV to change.

“outfit me” She asked Logan and Jill who both nodded.

“Jared likes people to have certain gear and supplies so if something happens, they have a chance to survive for a little while, that’s why his and Oris rucks weigh in fifty to sixty pounds before they even add in weapons.” Logan said, “ besides there cant be much in your ruck after so long.”

“I can’t carry fifty pounds” Sarah protested. “and no not a lot just some clothes first aid stuff and a few other things.”

“See you need supplies and yours wont be that heavy but trust me, but if you have to carry fifty pounds you will find out you can do it easily being eaten is a hell of a motivator” Logan said.

“Jared is a bit excessive maybe OCD on things like that, but he has a point and its kept us alive and with things we need when we needed them.” Jill commented, then touched Logan lightly on the arm. “I’m going to Change, I’m starting to get cold, you might as well help her stock up instead of Ronny since you’re here, Jared is wanting to pull out soon. We have to locate the parts Lee needs, and he wants to scout to just north of Knoxville if we can.” Jill said, “Welcome to the Survivors Sarah” Jill said then headed for the Rv.

Half an hour later, the RVs were pulled down to the boat ramp, pumps busily transferring water from the lake through filters and into the RVs water tanks. Sarah was impressed with the efficiency of their operations, they had been doing this long enough that they had it worked out to an art,

Jared and his scouting group were about ready to leave, but this time they were taking only the bigger vehicles like the HET, anything heavy enough to plow through a horde with out being stopped, which meant both civilian Semi rigs, which already had what Jared called cattle catchers on the front, the ELSORV which Ori would be using to scout ahead of the column, and the delivery truck to carry back anything they recovered and that odd look 8×8 military looking motor home thing.

“Lets go” Ronny called out from the door of the plane, “you can talk to Logan when we get back”

Sarah turned to Ronny and saw he was smiling, “what makes you think I have any interest in Logan.” She said as innocently as she could.

“Major I am a horn Dog I know the signs.” Ronny said then vanished into the plane. Sarah shook her head and climbed into the plane, she closed the door, and soldiers began pushing the plane down the boat ramp and into the water.

Minutes later she was reveling in the sensations of a plane taking off, god how she had missed it. now she wished she was sitting in the seat, the wheel in her hand, watching the indicators and then the plane leaped free of the earth and soared up, she could feel it in her bones like she was part of the plane, could feel the air streaming across her skin see the blue sky all around her.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for flying apocalypse Air, your pilot today hails all the way from Alaska, learning the majority of his skills from sleeping in a Holiday Inn express he wants to thank you for flying with us, if you hear screaming from the front seat, please place you heads between the legs of the person next you to have fun before we hit the ground. “ Ronny said over the intercom as the plane leveled off.

The four men who were flying with them as guards if they had to land, looked at each other and shook their heads. “your shit out of luck if you think I’m blowing you Brock” a blond haired younger man said to the man beside him.

“Thank god, I hear you use a lot of teeth” Brock replied as the others laughed.

“Are they always like this” Sarah asked Mary who sat beside her.

“Yes, but when Ronny is … well more himself he is worse and get him around Ori and Jared and you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff they come up with” Mary said with a laugh.

“Trust me I’ve been around pilots who were really bad” Sarah said watching the four men as they talked and joked quietly. “I just guess I expected ever one to be more somber with the world dying and all.”

“we tried the somber route, but Ronny wouldn’t shut up.” Mary said with a smile. Determined not to let the fear she felt for what was coming to show to every one else. “Jared likes to say its either joke about it or eat a bullet and I guess he has a point, after a while I just couldn’t stay depressed, I had to laugh or I would go nuts.” Mary said brushing a lock of dark hair out of her eyes, then dug in a pocket for a rubber band and pulled her hair back into a pony tail.

Ronny glanced back and saw Mary and Sarah deep in conversation and wondered what they were talking about, he turned back to the controls eyes sweeping over the instruments regularly as he flew south, he wondered if Jared had thought about the fact the last time they had been close to Knoxville it had been winter time then too.

Just don’t let me screw this up, Ronny prayed silently, thankfully the longer he was off the pills the better he felt, but he still fought depression and the fear of failure more often than not. But he didn’t let it show, and he had started spending a lot of time talking to Mike, which was helping.

He was worried about Ori and Jared now more than himself, Jared seem preoccupied a lot when they were in camp, and last nights little meet and greet was almost like he personally was saying goodbye to every one, and Ori was either far to quiet or talked far to much a sure sign he was stressing out.

The only one he didn’t know about was Chris, who was more or less himself when Ronny saw him, but that didn’t mean much Chris had always hid the way he felt about most things other than his man love for Jared. There had been times Ronny had suspected if Shelly had ever left Chris he would have gone for Jared in a heartbeat, note to give Chris shit over that tonight, Ronny told himself, anything to keep his sense of humor going.

He flew over the ruins of Norton, where nothing moved in the wreckage, he followed the road flying past wooded foothills and mountain peaks, nervously trying to anticipate the wind and then the narrow valley opened up wide, revealing a town that had to be Big Stone Gap, he stayed at a thousand feet looking down at the fields full of vehicles the military camp,

Then he saw the town itself. “shit” the word escaped his lips with out thought, he dropped down to five hundred feet to get a better look. Thank god Ori hadn’t entered that town, the undead were everywhere down there.

He could hear comments from the back as the others started looking out windows he banked around and went back to start following roads to see which one might take them around the town because driving through that would quickly become a nightmare.

The column of vehicles following Ronnys directions turned down a side road just inside the Gap, and followed the road that snaked through foothills, and over ridges and hills.

Getting around Big Stone Gap took two hours out of their day, but finally they were heading south again, on the mostly clear 23, at some point during the crisis, there had been an attempt to keep the road clear, for almost two miles there were cars lining both sides of the Road, and parked in rows in every field and open spot that could be seen.

The HET lead the way, pushing aside every group of undead that wandered down the road, some were crushed under the wheels but for the most part they were smashed and tossed aside by the cattle catcher mounted on the front of the vehicle.

“There it is” Benton said as he sat in the Passenger seat of the HET, Jansen sitting in the back seat nodded seeing the motor home and Travel trailer sales business sign.

“I don’t see any undead” Jansen said as they came up to the lot, the ELSORV was already stopped at the gates.

“Never do till they try to bite you in the butt” Benton muttered.

“always the pessimist aren’t you Benton” Jansen said smiling, though the felt no real humor.

“every man has a hobby, mine is pessimism” Benton replied forcing a smile, for some reason the face of his old girlfriend flashing through is mind. which made him wonder if Glascow was as bad as the places he had seen here and was it possible she was still alive.

“looks like we are going in” Jansen said watching as Ori and Jeb leaped from the ELSORV and ran up to the gate. Jeb, covered by Ori, applied bolt cutters to the lock, and then swung the gate open.

“not thrilled about the short fence, I would feel much better with an eight foot fence” Benton said.

“I’m sure Jared wouldn’t mind waiting while you put up a new one” Jansen commented then reached for the transmit button on his radio. “okay be ready, this place couldn’t keep a pack of boy scouts out with a sugar craving much less the walking dead be on your toes”

Ori stepped into the Yard weapon up and sweeping the area for threats, Jared and Logan climbed out of one of the Semi’s and joined him as the Column rolled into the yard.

“lets hurry this up okay” Ori said, looking south were he knew Beth was, so close so damn close, he thought.

“as fast as we can” Jared promised.

“Good I have on place I want to stop at in Kingsport, if I can find it and then its on to Knoxville” Ori said. “youll love it, and I need some stuff from there before we try take on Kronnens men.”

“the only places I love this days either has food or munitions” Jared replied.

“don’t know about food, but munitions and explosives this place has plenty of, they make munitions, RDX, HMX, fuel for Titan missiles and other stuff that explodes. It’s a designated national defense stockpile site too.” Ori explained as they followed the vehicles into the back of the lot, where the office and two large metal buildings sat.

“look at that” Jeb said pointing to the fuel pumps outside of one of the buildings. Jared hadn’t really thought about a place like this having fuel, but it made sense they would have to move Rv’s around, both to display and to work on them, and possible put a little extra fuel so customers could drive off the lot to a gas station or even back home.

“Lets get our pumps set up and Top off our vehicles while we are here” Jared said, “ Ori how do you know about that place” He asked changing subjects.

“when I was EOD, I read a lot to keep up on current news for my MOS, it was mentioned in a lot of articles and I remembered it because it was in Tennessee, before I couldn’t take EOD anymore I had even thought about moving to Kingsport when I separated and getting a job there,” Ori replied.

“if you think its worth the time it might take, I don’t mind.” Jared said refusing to mention Beth, Ori was well aware of the need to get there as soon as they could, barring necessary stops like this one.

“its worth more than parts for an RV” Ori muttered then shook his head. “sorry I know we need the damn thing, but why not just find another one that doesn’t need repairs.”

“Do you really want to go downtown in some city to search the parking lots and garages of the City police station.” Jared asked.

“No but if Darius is right then we will probably end up downtown in Knoxville.” Ori replied.

“maybe” Jared said watching as Jansen led a team into the first of the of the large metal buildings.

“want to check out the office” Jeb asked.

“no, no point in it.” Jared replied as headed for the second Metal building. “ we don’t need files or brochures”

By the time they reached the large Double doors, Jill, Mike and Ed had joined them.

“hand weapons” Jared said slinging his rifle then drawing his tomahawk and Khurkri.

Ed and Mike each grabbed the handle of a door and waited for Jared to give the signal.

“now” Jared said, and the doors swung open. “oh shit” inside, were well over forty undead, sixteen of them children that Jared could see and they were all clustered in front of the door.

“Fall back” Jared said dropping his hand weapons and drawing his pistol, there were to many to close, the .45 roared as he pulled the trigger, and a pajama clad ten year old missing half its face was knocked over, Ori dropped the axe and by the time Jared had three shots off, his rifle was in his hands and firing, the HK spitting flame.

Logan ran backwards cussing steadily, only to find Jill standing in front of him Katana held low and to the right blade up, the back edge resting on her shoulder. like some modern Samuria. He got his rifle off his back, he really needed to start using a center sling like Ori and Jared he thought wildly.

Darius had just climbed out of the MANKAT feeling a little guilty for taking it so easy the last couple of days, but having some one else in charge and dealing with things was a novelty

Hear the shouts and the eruption of gunfire he drew his pistol and ran forward shouting for Nate and the other huntsmen to join him.

“Tolliver set up” Jansen ordered over the radio as he rushed out of the building next door and saw the crowd of undead.

He saw Jared and Ori backing up slowly firing into the crowd, and once again was beyond impressed by the speed and accuracy Jared had with that pistol, Ronny was right the man was scary as hell with a pistol.

Darius slid to a stop dropping to one knee and holding his pistol in a two handed grip and began to fire carefully. Kafil stood to his left, Jim and Nate to his right.

Quentin, for all his size was fast and agile, scrambled up on top of the MANKAT and began to fire.

Tolliver hauled out the SAW and ran forward with Baker carrying the ammo cans it might be over by the time they got set up Jansen thought, then winced and started forward himself as he saw a zombie kid dart forward faster than any zombie he had seen before, it grabbed Jareds arm and tried to bite but Jared was already moving into a hip throw that sent the kid smashing into the ground. Another zombie, this one a man missing an arm lunged at the same time. Jared spun into a Round house kick that knocked the zombie back into the undead right behind it slowing the whole mass,

Jared’s pistol snapped up into position and a round punched into the small head of the child before it could get back to its feet, But the space and time they had bought was over, the whole horde surged forward, teeth snapping, hands reaching. A rotting tide of dead that wanted nothing more than to kill those it saw before them.

“ Fall back fifty feet” Jared shouted as he grabbed Ori by the shoulder and yanked the shorter man away from the hands of several undead.

‘Thanks” Ori called out, his face pale as he realized just how close he had come to dying and leaving Beth alone and in Kronnen`s hands.

Nate his brown hair sweat slicked, cursed as his rifle jammed, he tried to clear it, even as several of the undead headed straight for Huntsmen.

Jared and his team finally cleared the lane of fire then stopped and turned to face the undead again.

“Got it Sarge” Tolliver hollered, drawing the attention of some of the undead.

“weapon free” Jansen ordered watching as Jared and his team turned and opened fire again.

The SAW, Squad Automatic Weapon, opened up, Tolliver guiding his fire across the legs of the adult undead, that low meant he actually put down a couple of the kids. Jared and his team added their fire and in less than a minute the whole group of flesh eaters were down.

Jared replaced his magazine and turned to the others. “ lets find what we need and get out of here” he said, then turned and walked over to the ELSORV and stood there with his back to the building.

I cant take this much longer Jared thought his hands clenched at his sides, Putting down the adults was easy as cold as that was to admit, but he didn’t seem them as people, but the kids, god the kids tore at him, he felt like a murderer every time he had to put them down and he couldn’t stop thinking of them as kids, not like the others, no the others were pus bugs, or walkers or a thousand other nicknames, but the kids were always kids.

“you didn’t have a choice” Jill said from behind him, he didn’t respond even when she slid her arms around his waist. “you’re a good man Jared” she whispered into his back.

“I know I didn’t, but I don’t have to like it either” Jared said softly as he got himself under control. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to lose it he turned to face Jill and kissed her on the forehead. “love you, now lets get busy and get this crap loaded.” Jared said. “all that noise is going to draw even more down on us”

Darius and his men stood there for a moment watching Jared and his wife, then Darius turned to Kafil. “Still wonder about him” He asked.

Kafil shook his shaven head. “No, I do not think I do” Kafil said.

“lets help get this stuff loaded, Jim if you would join Quentin up there, assuming you two apes don’t fall through the roof.” Darius said.

Jim curled his arm flexing a bicep and smiled “ sure if you short clowns want to lug all the heavy stuff I don’t mind at all” Jim said then headed for the 8×8

“damn I hadn’t thought of that” Darius said looking at the buildings then shrugged. “oh well, there’s plenty of people to help.”

As the teams rushed to refuel and load parts, Jared and his team searched the building the zombies had been in, in the final count they had discovered there were actually sixty undead., they found suitcases, sleeping bags, backpacks, empty food cans, MRE wrappers, children’s toys and coloring books.. They took it all, and if it bothered anyone it didn’t show.

By the time they finished, over a hundred zombies were pressed up against the fence which was only chest high on them. “ Lets go we have a ways to go yet if we want to reach the outskirts of Knoxville and check the approaches.” Jared said.

“What about the gate” Logan asked.

“No point in risking lives to open it, let the HET tear it down” Jared said.

The undead clustered around the gate, if alive would have been surprised when the Huge vehicle plowed down the gate, crushing them and tossing the undead contemptuously aside.

The line of vehicles roared out of the Yard behind the HET, turning south towards Kingsport and Knoxville beyond that.

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

Beth paced the waiting room listening to the kids talk quietly. She didn’t want to look at them, not after hearing a guard talk about Kronnen was heading in, he had arrived early. Bradley had left with half the men to go guide this lord and master in to what was going to become their newest base.

They were going to be hurt possible killed and she had done nothing to get them out, she had just kept planning thinking she had time. she wiped at her eyes not wanting to even think about what the pain and fear her kids were going to go through.

Stop it she told herself harshly, you didn’t risk your life to save them when the dead first rose just to let them die now, you have a plan use it.

“how about we practice our fire drill” Beth said, the kids didn’t even complain, they just went and packed their food and drinks into their pillow cases, a few added coloring books and toys they had found in the kids waiting room.

“okay kids, this time I want you to run down to the van, in pairs and wait for me.” Beth said, then raising her voice she called out loudly “ fire alarm drill”

she was still worried about Christopher, he hadn’t shaken his cold, but at least he was much better she thought watching the boy head out the door clutching Bettys hand a pillow case with food and his medicine slung over his shoulder. She had made sure that their kidnappers were used to seeing the kids carrying pillow cases loaded with supplies
When she had explained to Bradley that she was making sure if he gave the order to leave the kids would be ready and not leave anything behind, he had bought the idea and now the raiders didn’t bat an eyelash at seeing the kids run past carrying their things.

The single Guard at the door rolled his eyes as the kids came running out the door heading for the stairs. Beth knew the men thought she was nuts, and only Bradley seemed think it was smart idea on her part to have the kids ready to leave in a quiet an orderly manner.

She walked around the room packing the cans of soup and other items into the remaining pillow case she had a few minutes to get ready, Hearing the door shut she turned to see Richard, who gave her a nasty smile. “ I hear Kronnen has reached the city, your life of ease is about to come to a very painful and humiliating end.” He said shutting the door and walking over to her. she didn’t like the look on his face, she knew Bradley wasn’t around so Richard might just be ready to extract a little vengeance for the humiliation he had been put through because of her. “I’m betting he will rape you first, then pass you off to his guards so they an enjoy you.”

She studied him for a second like a bug under a microscope and as she suspected the look pissed off him. “ you little blond bitch” He snarled reaching for her Beth still holding the pillow case swung it as hard as she could against the side of his head. His head jerked to one side his mouth opened in surprise as his eyes rolled up in the back of his head.

“That’s Mrs. Bitch” She said kicking him between the legs to make sure he stayed down for a little longer. She hefted the back judging the weight, then walked quickly to the door. “don’t you dare rape me” she yelled it sounded credible enough to her ears and as fast as the guard burst in it must have sounded convincing to him as well. She slammed the back against his head, knocking him to his knees. Putting her weight behind it, which wasn’t a lot compared to the guard, she swung again and planted his head into the cement floor.

“Well that was easy enough” she said breathing hard her heart racing, knowing that any second she could be discovered. She knelt and pulled the pistol from the mans holster, she tucked it into her waist band under her shirt then took the extra magazines Thank you Jared and Ori for teaching me enough to survive on she thought as she shoved the mags into her pockets then peeked down the hall. Seeing it was empty she pulled the guard out of the way of the door leaving him his rifle, if some one saw her the might think she was just taking a walk in the building, but if she had that rifle the jig would be up instantly.

In seconds she was in the stairwell thankful for the narrow windows that let in some light, it would have been terrifying if the stair well had been pitch black.

Reaching the bottom, she paused for a moment trying to compose herself. just be bold, sometimes it’s the best way to blend in Ori had said a few times. He would know she thought as she steeled herself then opened the door and stepped out into the atrium, half the vehicles were gone, Bradley had left to guide Kronnen and his men to back to the base.

She didn’t slink or hide, but did walk openly along the first two vehicles using them to hide her presence but if some one spotted her it wouldn’t look like she was trying to hide which might give her time enough to run to the van.

She walked across the enclosed courtyard and saw the kids sitting in the van she smiled and waved, twenty feet, almost there she told herself, ten feet, yes, Five feet…

“hey your not supposed to be down here” A guard shouted noticing her.

“Sally you forget your bag how many times have we done this, you have to carry your bag” Beth said holding out the bag to Sally who, bless her, didn’t bat an eye lash or even protest that she had her bag, like a kid might normally do.;

“ I said your not supposed to be down here” a man said from behind her. Beths blood ran cold, she hated what she was about to do, especially in front of the kids but it had to be done.

“just bringing Sally her bag” Beth said turning and drawing the pistol, the guard had about two seconds to notice she was armed, which for a professional would have been more than enough time, but he wasn’t a professional, he was used to little women like Beth trembling before him, and he knew no mere woman could do much to him.

he was wrong she didn’t tremble and didn’t believe she couldn’t hurt him, she shot him twice once in the stomach once in the chest, he fell over, rifle clattering to the ground clutching at his wounds as Beth dove into the van slammed the door shut and then left the terrified kids so she could get into the drivers seat.

Guards were running towards the vehicle, but she didn’t think about it, refused to think about it or she might just give up, she reached for the keys dangling in the ignition. Kronnens people Like Jared and Ori’s had long since realized that letting men carry keys who might get killed and strand the others was not a good thing and had started keeping the keys in the ignition so the vehicles were ready to leave at the drop of a hat.

She twisted the key and the van roared to life. “Yes “ She shouted as she popped it into gear and then gave it gas. The Van surged forward, some quick thinking guard tried to push a car in front of the gate but he was far to slow, she hit the chain link gate speed climbing and tore it free. she was out and behind the hospital, she knew heading east was the best course, the undead were thin on that side of the fence around the hospital grounds.

She raced around the hospital guards chasing her on foot, and then a truck appeared behind her. she reached the front of the hospital and turned east, trying to balance speed with control, with the melting snow and ice that might be hidden under it she didn’t want to risk a wreck where the kids might be hurt and they would be captured again, but if she didn’t lose the truck, correction now two trucks behind her she wasn’t going to be able to escape.

She had no idea how fast she was going when the van impacted the chain link fence, thin metal poles bent, metal ties holding the chain link to the poles snapped and a forty foot section tore free. Beth screamed as the Van struck something and bounced up into the air before smashing down with a screech of metal and sparks. Children screamed in terror. Her head struck the steering wheel but thankfully she didn’t black out, but the pain was intense and hot blood cascaded down her face and matted her blond hair.

She slowed down weaving around the scattered abandoned vehicles in the street then took a right, seeing the number of undead on the street she took the first left and gave the van gas thankful there were not as many abandoned cars on this street, I have no idea what to do now she thought and at this point with all the noise she was going to have to head out of town, there was no way she could find a place to hide with out a swarm being just round the corner.

She turned another corner side swiping a police cruiser the van tilting dangerously causing her to slow even more. The few undead on this street, were to spread out to even worry about hitting Beth saw as she shot down the street. Just keeping heading south, sooner or later you will end up out of the city, she told herself assuming I’m actually heading south she thought starting to feel turned around, wait as long as I don’t reach the river again I’m good.

Behind her she saw a truck turn onto the street. No she shouted silently as she pressed down on the accelerator as the truck drew up along side a man in the passenger seat yelled, “Pull over lady, your not getting away” He looked flushed, and worried she thought looking over with quick glimpses.

As she came to the turn she stomped on the brakes and yanked the wheel, screaming with the kids as the van slid in the melting snow only smacking a decorative street light stopped them for rolling over.

The truck shot past, but was braking hard. Beth gave the van gas, trying to spot a way out as she headed down the street the needle climbing again as she passed a six car wreck with three ambulances, then turned right again and saw the city skyline ahead of her.

I am not an idiot or helpless she told herself as she took the next left and had to hit the brakes, between the abandoned vehicles the undead she would get stuck here. she threw the van into reverse and backed up then turned and kept heading back towards the river.

Dave Leblanc, The man Bradley had left in charge cursed as the truck he was in slid into a store window, his driver looked about as angry as he backed out of the shattered display window and back onto the street where he turned around, just in time to see another of their trucks take the corner but continued to slid sideways till it smashed into the wall of a Bank.

Leblanc was a Veteran of the Nevada national guard, a man who still kept his brown hair trimmed with a pair of scissors and did sit up and push ups every morning to stay in some kid of shape that wasn’t skinny or fat. Till know he had been only a face in the crowd, but Bradley had essentially shoved him out where Kronnen would notice any screw up and Leblanc wasn’t happy the prisoner had just shoved him out into the spotlight.

“that bitch is insane” his driver said as he accelerated following the tire tracks of the fleeing van.

“no Just desperate” Leblanc said as they heard the sound of metal striking metal and shattering glass behind them. “and she is taking out our trucks” he snarled. “ you assholes slow down, those of you that still have running vehicles pick up the others then follow the tire tracks” he ordered over the radio.

four men dead from the zombies back at the hospital, the new base was compromised and hopefully there were only wounded from the crashes, and we, no I lost the woman and if I don’t get her back, I’m probably going to be killed.

Leblanc had to give her credit, she had knocked out that asshole Richard with a Pillow case filled with cans of Fruit cocktail. I should have left him to die, but Kronnen wouldn’t have been happy about it.

“slow down Timberline, we can follow her tire tracks, and if she dumps the van, we can follow the foot prints or the undead chasing her.” Leblanc told the driver feeling a little relieved as the speed dropped.

Beth finally slowed the Van down the kids screams had grown to much for her. so much for my plan she thought, at least I got to use the Pillow case idea on Richard, he had better hope Ori never catches him.

Beth knew herself, she wasn’t tough, not like Jill, and definitely not like Ori or Jared, but she had always been determined and had more than her fair share of courage, which had been tested time and again since the dead had risen.

What scared her at the moment, wasn’t so much what might happen to her if Bradley captured them again, but what would happen to the kids and the low conversations between the men about the fate of the kids meant she couldn’t risk them being captured again. It would be better if she could kill them herself but she knew couldn’t have pulled the trigger on the children that she had protected and taken care of for so long.

So we escape its that simple, she told herself, then glanced over as Oliver climbed into the passenger seat and pulled on the seatbelt. “oliver you need to stay in the back” She told him

“I want to help” he said. “your bleeding”

“go help keep the others calm” Beth urged him. “and I will be fine”

“No” Oliver said stubbornly. “I can help Ms.Beth.”

“Oliver unless you have a street map and a weapon, the only way you can help me right now is to help keep the others calm okay sweety” Beth said.

“No, you need to put on your seat belt Ms. Beth then you wont get hurt again” Oliver said.

When did he start talking so much she asked herself, she had always thought he should have been Ori’s kid he spoke so little.

Sighing she pulled on her seat belt one handed, and saw the look of satisfaction on Olivers face. There was no way she was going to get him into the back now she realized.

“Okay Oliver what do you suggest.” She asked trying to figure out how to get to the farm from here.

“we can hide at the fair grounds” Oliver said.

“its downtown Oliver, we cant go downtown there are to many zombies” She said calmly

“there’s to many zombies here Ms. Beth” Oliver said pointing past her out the drivers window.

Beth didn’t even look she just backed up and turned around running over something with a bump and the snap of breaking bone as she did so. The kids screamed, she didn’t hesitate she gave the van gas and took off down the road, turning at the first chance she had and heading in the direction she thought was south.

Bradley was furious, two hours, two damn hours and everything had gone to hell, he knew it wasn’t LeBlancs fault and it was going to talk some damn good talking to keep Kronnen from killing both of them.

“I want your current location Leblanc” Bradley said, trying not to grit his teeth or snap at Leblanc.

There was along delay, Leblanc was probably checking street signs. “ Cruze Road, south on Cruze Road. we are following her tire tracks in the snow but its melting”

“shes heading for the Smokies” Bradley said as he thought about her possible destination and the only one that she could heading for was the place the called the Farm. He pulled out the Key Map book he had found at the hospital and quickly looked up the road then checked his own location. “ turn left up there” He said pointing,

“Sir we are going to help catch the prisoner, she is heading for the farm” Bradley reported.

“I would like the location Bradley, I plan on being there when she is recaptured.” Kronnen responded, there was a undertone to his voice that worried Bradley but he ignored it, “ Cruze Street was the last sighting” Bradley reported, “ if you would like to follow my team.”

“Roger, we will follow, please relay directions to the base you had established, I will send half my force to resecure the location so we have a place to bring back the prisoners.” Kronnen replied.

Bradley didn’t want to think about the use of the word prisoners, hoping that Kronnen meant only Beth and the kids. Two choices there son he thought, run or capture her and hope Kronnen was in a good mood.

“lets go as fast as we can with out losing Our boss or crashing” he told his drive who nodded whole heartedly believe that losing Kronnen would be bad for his health.

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

Leblanc smiled as Timberline turned and they saw the van at the far end of the road weaving around abandoned vehicles, She had finally slowed down allowing him to catch up.

“ Got her” he transmitted. “shes on “ he paused “Mayapple road” he said reading off a sign.

“ keep on her I will be on site in five minutes” Bradley replied.

“no Problem Boss” Leblanc replied

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

Ronny was ten miles out from Knoxville when the radio crackled, and a voice erupted over the speaker.

He listened slack jawed for a moment then a huge smile spread over his face. He was damn near bouncing in his seat as he flipped channels to today’s dedicated channel for Jared.

“Alpha six, Goatman, you can tell Delta six I have the location. Standby” Ronny transmitted “ Mary” Ronny shouted into the back.

“Go them Ronny” Mary said having heard the radio transmission, she had already dug out the maps for Knoxville and frantically looking for the location.

“South side, across the Tennessee river” Mary called out, “close to Chapman Highway”

“What’s the Coordinates” Ronny asked.

“I don’t know the map doesn’t have anything like that” Mary said.

“Alpha Six, transmitting in the clear, Mayapple road, near Chapman highway.” Ronny said praying that Kronnen didn’t have their Frequencies and was listening in. Darius had just proven his weight in gold, Not even Jared had thought that Kronnen would still be using the same radio Freqs that Darius had known about, but apparently he was.

“ Roger Goatman, we are enroute, but its going to take a while” Jared replied after a moment. “Good job”

“Alpha six, I have the package and will keep Santa in sight’ Ronny said improvising code words.

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

Beth wanted to cry in frustration as she saw first one truck then another, then a third turn onto the road. she sped up spotting a turn and almost screamed as the side mirror shattered at the same time she heard gunfire.

There was more gunfire and something struck the back of the van, then again this time a window in the back shattered, and the kids were screaming. “get on the floor board, get on the floor board” She screamed at them. Oliver undid his seat belt and leaned over grabbing the pistol in her lap.

“Oliver NO” She shouted as he rolled down the window and leaned out. “NO” She screamed as he pulled the trigger.

Timberline shouted in surprise as a bullet punched into his windshield then another, he yanked the wheel to cross out of the shooters line of fire and hit a patch of ice, the truck slid out of control, he almost got control again but the truck behind him t boned his truck sending it sliding towards a curb where it hit and flipped over.

“yes” Oliver shouted as Beth reached over and grabbed his waist band and pulled him back into the Van. “I got one Ms. Beth, I got one” he shouted pumping a little fist.

Oh my god this is what the world has come to, she thought her heart falling, a little boy, a good boy happy that he just killed a man. She snatched the weapon from his hands. “killing people is nothing to be happy about” she shouted, tears running down her face anger, fear of his life and disgust at what he had thought he had to do warring inside her.

“Mr. Jared was happy when he Killed the man who killed Billy, I heard Mr. Ori say so.” Oliver said slumping in his seat.

Beth was to busy to respond as she slid around the next corner and sped up.

“That was different Oliver” she managed to get out through gritted teeth as she saw the pursuing vehicles come around the curve. She braked and went left heading south again.

“ Jared didn’t whoop and shout about it, sometimes you have to kill, but never ever think its something to be happy about.” She said not even trying to explain the complex situation, yes Jared had been happy, happy that .. That slime bag had paid for Killing not just Billy but so many others, he had been happy Mikhial would never do it again but it wasn’t the same.

But Mikhail is able to do it again, Beth thought suddenly, the world has gone made, the rules are gone.

“Ms Beth, I think Kathy is hurt” Christopher yelled.

Beth’s heart plunged, no, please don’t she prayed. Don’t take another one of the kids.

More gunfire rang out and the van lurched like a tire had blown out.

She fought the wheel, but the van was hard to control with a blown tire and the ice and snow.

She looked in the rear view mirror and saw men standing in the bed of the lead truck rifles to their shoulders. They were to far back for her to hit the brakes, and let them ram her, throwing them into the street all she could do was keep trying to escape.. or stop and spare the kids. I have to stop she thought for the kids before another one of the kids is hurt, she thought as she started to brake knowing it was over.

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

The undead drawn by the sounds of motors and crashing metal stumbled and staggered towards the living they knew were near by, the came from homes and bushiness, from alleys and lots, they came, driven by one mind with one goal and Death came with them.

10 thoughts on “Chapter Thirteen

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