Chapter Fourteen

“When all was ready to their hand
They loosed their hidden sword,
And utterly laid waste a land
Their oath was pledged to guard.

Coldly they went about to raise
To life and make more dread
Abominations of old days,
That men believed were dead.”
~Kipling

Williams watched from his sniper hide as the line of vehicles rolled past his position, and into Gate city, with out firing even though there were at least four very tempting targets he could have taken out easily the return fire from the men manning the weapons on the vehicles would have shredded him before he could escape.

Stones people were learning he thought, every other vehicle with a weapon covered the right side, while the others covered the left. this had to be a scouting team, he didn’t see the LAV or the Styker which was probably with the main group where ever they were camped.

What he needed was another way to strike at Stone, The kids had been a start, but the people at his camp, and the supplies were better. If I do this right I can turn him against his own people, he will think there is another spy in his midst and will go after Kronnen even harder.

He didn’t take but a second to make up his mind, toying with Stone would be far more entertaining and destroying any trust they had with each other would keep another man stepping up and taking over an intact group.

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

1300hrs December 10th

After Leaving Big Stone Gap, they had followed the Four lane Highway as it wound through the mountains, having to stop and move wrecks and stalls on occasion, for the most part the road had been, not empty but, but uncluttered. The various towns along the route, had been either gutted ruins or filled with undead and heavily damaged.

Finally they were on almost to Gate city and beyond that the Gap in the Mountains that would let them head south to Kingsport. Jared was starting to feel the itch, his foot was tapping and even nibbler could sense the heightened tension and anticipation.

Jared gazed up at Clinch mountain lost in thought for a moment then turned his attention to Gate city.

“looks like the Army tried to put up a fight here” Mike said, pointing to a crashed apache.

“who the hell were they fighting” Jared asked no one in particular as he saw the first bombed out building. “ I guess the chain gun on the apache would do some damage to undead and those 2.75 rockets.”

He looked at the damaged buildings he could see, thinking over the obvious tactics that a pre zombie commander would have used and frowned.

Bombing wouldn’t have been entirely effective against the undead, but it still would have reduced the numbers of a horde especially if combined with Artillery fire he thought, and it was the only way to engage over whelming numbers with limited numbers of men and ammunition.

“Slow down, crawl if you have to, I’m worried about bomblets” Jared transmitted to other drivers.

“you think they… “ Mikes voice trailed off as he saw a line of snow filled caters surrounded by rubble and tossed cars.

“they bombed the undead here, probably trying to keep the horde from following the evacuee’s” Jared guessed as he saw a Styker sitting beside the road, its ramp down.
“well look at that” Jared commented jerking a thumb at the vehicle, where DHS markers stood out clearly on its side. This had probably been the first Evacuation center, Jared thought.

Gate City had been a scenic mountain town, with a rich and vibrant past, but these days it existed only in name, the vehicles rolled through a scene out of WW2, here and there a partial wall stuck up out of the rubble, over there was a church minus its roof but oddly its steeple was still intact. There was the occasional mostly intact building surrounded by ruins but by and large there was nothing left of the town but piles of debris.

Between craters, scattered across the roads and parking lots were bodies, bodies every where. The odd thing, well one of the odd things about the undead was even once dead, again, they decomposed slowly, very slowly. Kill an infected person before they turned, or seconds after and they seemed to rot normally. It was just another of the mysteries that would probably never be solved.

“I guess this is why those other towns were blown apart the Army or who ever was trying to destroy the bulk of the undead in the area.” Mike said his mind picturing the noise and fury of the guns as the world died around the men and women who fought to hold the line, with out ever realizing there were no secure rear areas or flanks. Where every people lived and died you would have undead.

Maybe they had, and refused to give up just let training and their commanders lead them in what they had know was a futile attempt to save as many as they could. Mike thought.

“next time we bring a mine sweeper” Ori said over the radio.

“or an MRAP” Mike added even though Ori couldn’t hear him, the vein in Mikes throat was jumping as he looked around for threats.

They passed a huge cleared are that held Hundreds of burned and gutted motor homes and Semi trailers, on one Jared could barely read FEMA on the side of the blackened trailer.

“I wonder what New York or Boston looks like “ Logan said as he gazed at a crater pocked section of land, there were cars and trucks half buried under the rubble, some upside down or on their sides. The sign out by the road was half broken but there was enough of it left for Logan to figure out that had once been an Elementary school.

“worse than you want to see” Jared said thinking about the population differences between the cities and towns his group had seen and a place like New York, which was a city he would have bombed till even the pebbles were dust before letting eight million zombies get out and sweep over smaller towns.

The gap would have been the logical place to try and bottle neck the undead from Kingsport, and from the craters and burned out vehicles as they rolled up to it, was exactly what they had attempted. Somehow the undead had broken past and the fight had moved slowly down 24 leaving destruction in its wake.

“should we check anything out before we leave” Mike asked.

“that Stryker back there would be nice, but if we have to work on it to get it to move forget it..” Jared said then he called the column to a halt.

Half a hour later the stryker was running, but calling it a fighting vehicle was an exaggeration, most of the sensitive electronics like the comm. system were fried after being exposed to the weather for almost two years, the remote turret wouldn’t work, its problem could be anything from rust to the electronics.

Jared eyed the stryker then shrugged it was still a big heavy off road vehicle that come in handy even with out all the electronic do dads in side the thing. “ Mount up and Lets Roll” he said heading for the Hummer, grinning to himself he had always wanted to say that.

Two minutes later the line of vehicles with its new addition, rolled out of Gate city heading south through the gap.

Kingsport, was an old city for the State of Tennessee and it had the dubious distinction of having traffic circles like European cities, from a distance it looked intact, but as they drew closer they saw that it had seen its share of violence, not like Gate city or some of the smaller towns, but fires and some fighting had occurred there as well.

What was different was aside from a few wrecks the streets seemed to be clear of vehicles, Jared was of the opinion the people here had probably at first holed up at home, or headed to evacuation centers when the crisis had first risen. The exodus had probably occurred at the end when people had started to realize there was no stopping the spread in their city.

Considering the population of the old tri cities, most of the fleeing population had run head long into the arms of even larger hordes than they were running from.

That explained the war zone along 24, the population of the tri cities had fled and the undead had followed the remaining population as they fled to every point on the compass
The Guard had chosen to fight in the narrow confines of the mountains thinking they could hold the undead at the Gaps.

“where are they” Jill asked looking at the window of the hummer at the empty streets and buildings that still looked intact. “ the dead, there’s not enough” she said spotting three of the dead standing on a street corner.

“probably lurking around here just waiting to surround us” mike said as following the ELSORV as it took a turn leading them towards the river that ran along the edge of the city.

Jared didn’t answer what he thought may have happened was probably correct but he wasn’t going to tell them this city was probably safer than most places, people would get sloppy and then some one would die, and Jared had far to many deaths on his hands already and didn’t feel like adding to the soul crushing load.

“do you think we are going to actually reach the edge of Knoxville today” Logan asked bored causing him to shift around in his seat.

“yes, but we aren’t going back to the camp at the lake tonight, its to far” Jared replied.

Logan glanced at the Radio mounted to the dash and lifted a dark eyebrow. “how are you going to call and let them know, that thing isn’t going to be able to broadcast over the mountains.”

“Sat phone, its strapped to my pack, Ori, Ronny, Jansen, Resse, and Chris have one. “ Jared replied.

“I had forgotten about those” Logan admitted.

“most people will never think of them, and if they do, they wont have a clue as to were to look for them at. There were some in that FEMA cache we got on Fort Jackson too” Jared said as they drove past a business with a large plastic clown out front, it was some kind of Mickey D knock off Logan thought casting a quick glance at Jared whose jaw tightened and his lips thinned a little but he didn’t yank the wheel and run the thing down.

Ori, driving the ELSORV, was far from bored his nerves were jangling, his stomach was in knots and the closer he got to Knoxville the worse it was becoming. He kept catching himself drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and would have to force himself to stop before Jeb Killed him.

The buildings looked damaged here, Ori noted as he saw the shattered glass and the cracked and pitted brick and cement walls around him, and the closer they came to the Munitions and research facility the worse the damage became.

He listened to Jeb talking with Zoe and Jorge in the back using them to keep his mind off the worry that threatened to consume him. Finally the plant lay just ahead and he knew they were not going to find much here unless they had days to search. The Buildings were badly damaged, at least one had burned to the ground. And even with that loss there were still plenty of buildings in the complex at least thirty maybe closer to forty.

The fence was damaged and sagging in places, he could see the jagged broken stumps of trees that jutted up out of the melting snow and dead weeds, it was the kind of damage he would expect from a large explosion.

Just outside the gate were several FMTVs and Deuce and a halfs, scattered around a few even lay on their sides. Ori parked the ELSORV near one of the Deuces, “Jorge, man the .50” Ori said as he opened the door and stepped out. Jeb climbed out on the other side, snugging his weapon to his shoulder and pushing the door closed with his foot.

“whats going on” Jeb asked curious.

“I want to look in the trucks,” Ori said as Jareds hummer pulled up.

the Hummer stopped beside the ELSORV, and Jared and the others in the hummer joined him.

“got your back” Jared said softly looking around for threat.

“thanks” Ori replied as all emotion smoothed from his face and he got into the zone. He pulled back the cover on the Deuce and looked inside, seeing shock cases and crates he climbed up inside and looked at the markings on the items

“RDX, Semtex, Demo Kits, and other goodies” Ori said as he passed several boxes to the men waiting at the back. “looks like.. oh your going to like this Jared” Ori said with a tight emotionless smile, “ looks like a few cases of Javelins.”

Jared nodded in approval as he looked around, spotting a zombie a hundred feet down the road, limping towards them. “we can take a few things, but leave the rest we have to come back through here on the way back to camp and can take more with us then.” Jared said, “so lets hurry up and get all this stuff loaded.”

“should we take one or two of the trucks” Jeb asked.

“no just more fuel to burn, unless we really need the cargo in one we leave them all here.” Jared said, even as he said it, his mind was looking at his plan and how the trucks and the stuff in them would help them all out. “ I might reconsider that” he said quietly to Jill who only shook her head and glanced at her husband.

“men”She said

the worked their way through the trucks, as quickly as possible, finding ammunition, explosives, and many other items. They stripped off what Jared and Ori figured the might need short term. While it was being loaded, Jared returned to the Hummer and pulled the Sat phone off his pack.

Logan watched Jared talking on the phone, and felt a wave of nostalgia for the good old days when every one had phones and people to talk to.

He glanced at the radio as there was a beep and then Ronnys voice came over the speakers.

“Alpha six actual, Goat man, this is priority”

Logan leaned out the Hummer, “ Jared, Ronny is on the horn, asking for you ”

Jared nodded and hung up in Mid sentence anything come in from Ronny was Priority.

“this is Alpha six Actual, Over.”

“ Alpha six, This is Goatman, be advised, I have five possible enemy vehicles in sight”

“Roger keep me advised”

“standby” Ronny said suddenly. Then suddenly “Alpha six, Goatman, you can tell Delta six I have the location. Standby” Ronny transmitted

Jared resisted the urge to smile, Ori was Delta Six and there could only be on location Ronny was talking about., he was just about to transmit a question when Ronny said .

“Alpha Six, I am transmitting in the clear, Best estimate Mayapple road, near Chapman highway.”

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

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

“Every one load up, if it aint in a vehicle leave it, Ori get your game face on brother we have your wife to save and bad guys to kill” Jared shouted thankful that Ronny had already scouted out the best routes into Knoxville earlier or this trip would be even longer.

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

It was mostly a residential area, with wooded lots and old style homes probably filled with undead. The yards were covered in melting snow and abandoned personal items, like suit cases, purses, toys, and everything else that people had once considered import.

She could see undead as she braked and came to a stop, there were hundreds of them staggering out of houses, from behind houses, emerging from the wooded hills behind the houses, they were coming from every direction.

The trucks slowed and came to a stop behind her, the men inside had to see the undead, which was why they were not getting out. One of them honked his horn and yelled out his window.

She wanted to cry at failing, but as she looked around, and saw the men in the back of the trucks leaping out and squeezing into the cabs for safety. At that moment She knew she had a second chance.

They honked their horns one was starting to pull out from behind her no doubt to get in front of her to get her follow him. she didn’t give him a chance, “ hang on kids” She said as she slammed the van into reverse and floor it.

The driver of the truck was taken by surprise as the van accelerated towards him, he tried to turn out of the way but it was too late, the vans bumper struck the passenger side front tire, something snapped and he no longer could steer, smoke was rising from the spinning flat tire of the van as it pushed the truck backwards to smash into the truck behind it. glass shattered and metal crumbled and then the van pulled away, metal squealing as the bumper on the van, bound tightly with something on the truck pulled free.

Oliver as scared and worried for Kathy as he was, was grinning from ear to ear. “ you must have played grand theft auto Ms. Beth” he whooped then ducked down as the van struck a zombie and gore splattered the windshield. “you get points for hitting the pede.. pedrestrain. The .. the people on the street to” he said not able to find the correct word.

Behind them she could hear gunfire, she tried to avoid as many undead as she could but she couldn’t avoid all of them, the van lurched almost out of her control with each strike, but somehow she made it through the huge number and turned down a relatively clear street, then took another turn and saw the highway and the huge number of undead that were heading her way.

She had a wounded girl in the back, and half a city of undead ahead, she needed a place to hole up and the van wasn’t not going to get them much further even if she could drive through the horde ahead. But it couldn’t and that left that little business plaza off to her left, she could see a sign for a bakery and a hardware store, which had only one window and a single glass door. She could block most of the window and the door with the van if she parked right but she had to hurry, or the undead would be on top of them.

All that had taken less than a second to think about she twisted the wheel and rolled into the parking lot. If she were lucky Kronnens men would not be able to follow her, if they did they would have to get through the undead to get to her, and that would buy her a little more time, after that she had no idea. I’ve made it this far, I can think my way out of this she thought as she pulled up against the building.

She rolled down the window and pushed on the door and miracle of miracles it opened. Yes, she thought as she tried to open the drivers door and found she had to pull forward a little more. Finally a precious forty seconds later she could push the drivers door against the door to the hardware store and open both.

She grabbed the pistol and tossed the pillow case she had carried into the store, then propped the store to the door open, the drivers door couldn’t open all the way but it was enough for her.

She climbed back into the van, and picked Kathy up, seeing all the blood on the girls shirt she wanted to just cry but Kathy was still alive and that’s all that matter. “okay, get your pillow cases, and follow me” Beth said, cradling Kathy to her chest.

The first of the undead from the highway, reached the van and began pawing and beating on the side. Beth ignored it, and the sobbing of the kids as she led them out of the van, Christopher balking at having to let go of Kathy’s hand as Beth maneuvered through the door. As soon as she was inside Christopher grabbed Kathys hand again, clutching it tightly. “what if a booger man is inside” Christopher asked.

Beth shushed him and led them to the box like counter, she looked into the center where the employees had once stood and then had the kids gather inside, where she laid Kathy on the floor. She dumped the contents of the pillow case out on the floor then ripped the case into strips. Quickly she lifted Kathys shirt revealing the wound, oh my god it looks bad she thought, but refused to let the kids know how scared she was for the Kathy and themselves.

Using the strips of pillow case she fashioned a bandage for both the entry and exit wound, finished she studied her handiwork knowing it was the best she could do. She had to shut the front door and clear the store before they were safe.

“kids I want you to sit over there, do not get near Kathy. If she… if she gets sick she could wake up as a zombie and attack you. So if she sits up I want you to scream as loud as you can. Okay” she asked them. All of the kids but Christopher nodded.

“Christopher, you need to let go of Kathys hand and go sit with the others” Beth said softly her eyes sweeping the counter top for any zombie that might appear.

“Nu uh, Ms. Beth you said if we hold each others hands we will be safe, but I let go and Kathy got shot If I let go again she will… “his lip quivered for a moment “die” he finally got out. She sighed knowing she was running out of time, they were running out of time.

“Christopher, I know how you feel honey but you have to, If Kathy wakes up sick she will attack you even thought she doesn’t want to. “ Beth said gently pulling the boys hand out of Kathys pale limp hand, tears welled up, but he moved to sit with the other kids.

“you stay here and be quiet” she told them in a whisper then turned pistol in hand and raced back to the door, where she shut the van door then the hardware store door breathing a sigh of relief. At least none of the crawlers can get in now she thought as she turned back to the store she found herself face to face with a zombie. it had been off to her left some where, and she hadn’t even noticed the smell. It grabbed her shoulder it s mouth opening and bit down even as she tore free.

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

Bradley was happy he wasn’t in the RV with Kronnen chances are he would be bleeding out right now. The last of his men trailing Beth were either dead or trapped by a horde.

The rest were under siege at the hospital, thank god I had taken the two teams I could trust with me, or they would be trapped with the dumb asses, no chances are beth wouldn’t have been able to escape at all if I had left Greene and his ODA like I had started to.

What’s done is done, he thought hoping Proctor could keep Kronnen from killing him, the last report was his men had shot out a tire on the van and there had been steam coming out from under the hood and with the number of undead that had swarmed the area she couldn’t be to far from where his men had lost her.

“ Bradley,” it was Kronnens voice on the radio, he thought flinching sub consciously away from the radio. “ how exactly did a slender little school teacher burdened with eight kids manage to escape your men. I would really like to know that answer”

“ I don’t know sir, and till we get back to the hospital we wont be able to talk to any one to find out” and hopefully who ever it was that knew would be dead, if they were both lucky. Another stroke of luck was the batteries on the radio had gone dead, well not really luck the dumbasses had forgotten to charge them again. he sighed and rubbed his temples, no matter how much they had learned about fighting, they hadn’t picked up attention to detail or responsibility and the two guardsmen in charge of them had tried, they had tried hard to the point one of the men had tried to stab his commander one night.

“ I gave explicit orders she was not allowed to leave the room she had been given, there were guards on the doors. That was the state of things when I left to meet you.” Bradley replied in his most professional voice.

“well someone didn’t follow an order, or do you think this school teacher might have secretly been a Ninja” Kronnen asked caustically

Bradley thought about the information he had heard about Jared Stones wife, then shook his head Beth was not that Amazon, if she had known any real martial arts she would have used it when she had been captured.

“no sir” he replied.

“then do you think one or more of your men might have failed to follow your orders in your absence” Kronnen asked dangerously calm.

“it would seem likely sir” Bradley said, wondering if he should just run for it now and would his men go with him if he gave asked them. “ but that’s not important at the moment sir, I think I can find her, the last report was the van was damaged and barely drivable she couldn’t have gotten far, no more than a couple of blocks from her last known location.”

“Willing to bet your life on that Bradley” Kronnen asked.

“No sir I’m not, I’m trying to give you the best information I can. Threats or suggestions of threats wont change that and my lying to you about it wont either.” Bradley said refusing to be scared or browbeaten by Kronnen, if he was going to die for this he wasn’t going to do it groveling.

There was a long, a very long pause. I’m dead he decided then “Take your people and find her, report back when you have and I will bring up my force. Your not out of the dog house, but I’m not going to execute you so do your job.” Kronnen said.

Bradley sagged slightly in relief as did his driver, there was on thing about Kronnen you could count on, he didn’t lie about things like that, he knew if he told a man he wasn’t going to be punished and then turned around and did it anyway, even his thugs would start to slip away in the night. with out some trust none of the men under Kronnens banner would hang around. There were times Bradley suspected Kronnen really didn’t care all that much about rape or any other problem beyond its impact on his control of his army and the civilians who supported it.

“lets go, we need to head east, and work our way around to Lindy street and seiverville road, she is in that area, there’s maybe ten streets we need to check, and I’m betting there will be a crowd of undead around her hiding spot.” Bradley said.

“What about our men that are trapped” Grant his driver asked.

“Not much we can do, we don’t have a way to wipe out a huge number of undead they reported not with out Kronnen’s help anyway and he isn’t going to give it, and we don’t have room in our vehicles to carry them even if we could figure out how to get them.” Bradley said with real regret, he thought they were idiots, but they were his idiots and he didn’t like leaving men behind.

“If I can think of a way, we will get them out okay” He assured Grant who looked happier. “let them know on the company push, not the general band. If Kronnen doesn’t know I’m trying to figure out how to rescue them he cant order me not to” Bradley said and Kronnen would give such order, Bradley knew, Kronnen hated failure and those men had failed.

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

Beth didn’t scream as she hit the floor and crabbed back away from the zombies, but as soon as she was a safe distance away, she reached up and touched the spot between her neck and shoulder and shuddered with relief as she realized that the Jacket had kept the zombie from breaking the skin, she lifted the pistol her hand shaking with both fear and relief, she let the zombie get so close she couldn’t miss and put two bullets in its head, the first blew its jaw off which was good, the second took off the top of its head, it stumbled and fell against her. she shoved it away revolted at its touch.

She looked up to see Oliver standing on top of the counter clutching a cast iron skillet he had taken off the rack beside the counter. My little knight she thought, the kid was to much like Jared, she added silently shaking her head. But it beat the detached kid he had been who had rarely spoken.

“Oliver I need you to keep an eye on every one, I have to make sure there are no more zombies in here” Beth said as she began to search around the counter. Thank god for impulse buying she thought as she found flashlights and batteries on the counter. .

In a case she found hunting knives and clipped one to her belt. with a flashlight and an extra weapon, she headed into the back praying she wouldn’t get all the way to the back and hear breaking glass up front.

Now that she wasn’t rushing she could concentrate on the store itself, it was on of those old places, the shelves neatly stocked, the tiled floor covered in a layer of dust, but it under the stench of the undead it smelled like a hardware store she thought, like lubricating oil and wood with a touch of plastic maybe. She didn’t know and never would but it smelled like every hardware store she had ever been in.

With the power on it would have been well lit, but with shadows that lurked amongst the tightly packed aisles, today the shadows and darkness hung about the beam of her flashlight, they ruled the store now.

She searched each aisle feeling braver with each step, which was funny to her she was also so scared she felt like she might soil her pants with each step. In the back she found another counter with a door behind it, she stepped around the counter and opened the door shining her light inside and saw racks full of pipes and PVC, sheets of plywood, two by fours and other things. She closed the door and finished sweeping the back of the store finding a door in the east wall with an exit sign above it. quickly she found the chain section and cut her self a piece long enough to secure the back door and then hunted down a padlock to hold the chain closed.

With the rear door secured she entered the, I guess stock room is the best term she thought as she shone her light around, the room thankfully was empty, with a large roll up door on the east wall secured with a padlock.

What ever the technical term the Stock room was actually situated in the middle of store so that that the back half of the store was shaped like a U around the stock room.

It was much safer back here than up front she decided as she headed back to where she had left the kids. “okay kids get your pillow cases’ she said as she knelt and picked Kathy up, Christopher grabbed the girls hand again he gave Beth a look that told her he wasn’t going to let go. Beth smiled sadly at him then led the kids back to the stock room,

Once she had the kids settled, she left the pistol and flashlight with Oliver, which she hated doing but if Kathy died and rose, she knew the boy could at least hit the broadside of a barn and would have the means to protect himself and the others. She headed back out into the store where she collected several oil lanterns and plastic bottles of oil, a Machete, some kind of wrecking bar thing that looked like a weapon Jared might carry. She piled every pack of batteries and flashlights into a bag, added all the sealed candies and cakes from the counter.

She carried all that back to the stock room, staying only long enough to fill two lamps and get them lit with a bbq pit lighter she had picked up. she went back out front four more times to collect things and then finally returned to the stock room to rest and watch over Kathy.

“is she going to be all right” Christopher asked trying to be brave.

Beth almost lied, it was an automatic response but she didn’t in this new world, that kind of white lie could get people killed, especially kids. “ I don’t know Christopher, but If I tell you to get away from her I want you to do what I say, so you don’t get hurt or killed, Kathy might wake up as one of the sick people” Beth explained.

“A booger man” Mikey said helpfully.

“yes a booger man” Beth said somehow finding a smile, that smile might be part exhaustion and part worry but it was genuine.

“My daddy used to tell me about the wompas cat” Shiela said suddenly and with the total irrelevance for current conversations that kids normally had..

“What’s a wompas cat” some of the other kids asked. Beth settled in listening as Sheila told the other kids all about the wompas cat, a myth that had been common in this part of Tennessee since the first settlers as far was Beth knew. Some said it was a demon, others a ghost or Indian spirit, but the stories were all the same, a lone man or a two hunters would be stalked by something that would eventually leap on their backs and drag them off, their bodies later found ripped to shreds. Though the way Sheila was embellishing the story Beth kept waiting to hear Luke Skywalker or wolverine pop into the story to save the kids in the tale she was weaving.

Silence Fell as Sheila finished, then Christopher said. “ Mr. Ori could kick the wompas cats butt.”

“Nu huh, Mr Jared would kill it first.” And the argument was on.

She shook her hear feeling amused despite the situation, no matter how dire the situation was, at least they weren’t prisoners of Kronnen somehow she would come up with a way to get them out of here.

Outside she heard motors the sound grew louder and the kids began to cheer but she shushed them. “ it might not be Ori or Jared so you kids settle down.”

The sound retreated after a moment and silence fell again disturbed only by the thumping of the undead against the window up front.

The odds had always been heavily against Ori and Jared finding them, she knew that but had hoped and kept hoping. But that hope was slowly fading, even if they did, how were they going to get them out of here.

How was she going to get them, what would Ori do she asked herself, then shrugged. Ori wouldn’t have been kidnapped. She pushed the thought aside and checked on Kathy again relieve to feel the girls pulse was stronger but her skin was cool.

I don’t know if any one is really up there, but if you are please don’t let her die. I don’t know if I can take it, if I can take putting a bullet in her Beth prayed. Not put her down, not send her back, no semantics here, Beth would be putting a bullet into the head of a child she loved as much as if it where her own, she felt that way about all the kids she had protected since the dead rose, they were her family now and she didn’t know if she were strong enough to shoot them.

But deep down she knew if there were no other choice, none, she would because she wouldn’t let them suffer and that included Kronnen, what little she had heard about what he might do to the kids was something she couldn’t allow to happen.

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

Kronnen had been running out of patience by the time Bradley and his remaining ODA found Beths hiding spot, and the only reason he had found it had been the route that he had decided too take to go back to the Main group.

His vehicles pushed through the undead, the numbers so thick it was slow going and he was worried about centering out on the bodies but eventually they reached the plaza that sat on Chapman highway and saw the Van parked in front of a Hardware store.

I be damned Bradley had thought, she hadn’t gone to far from her last location after all, he had assumed she would have headed away from the highway and its concentration of undead, but she hadn’t, or more likely she hadn’t realized she was so close to the hightway till she reached the plaza. And then it was too late.

Bradley called in the location, but kept his unit moving, the moment they stopped they would not be able to get moving again. he would circle area and see if he couldn’t come up with a way to rescue his men. While he waited for Kronnen to arrive.

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

They sat in silence for a while, one of the kids singing a kids song that was beginning to set Beths teeth on edge, but she kept her annoyance from showing as she talked quietly to the kids trying to keep them calm, Mikey and Sheila were actually coloring in their coloring books, and Lindsey was drawing in her note book. In the day before the undead what she was drawing would have had her parents taking her to a counselor, Beth thought with morbid humor.

She still believed Ori and Jared would find them, but she also knew she had to do what ever it took to keep her kids safe till they arrived. Ori would be proud of her escaping Kronnens men even though she had ended up trapped in a hardware store.

As she talked to the kids, she was busy putting her science knowledge to use making booby traps for the undead or Kronnens men which ever got in first, thank god for all the science contests she had entered as a kid and taught over the years.

None of her traps were going to be half as effective as some thing Ori could have come up with, but she had what she had as long as it worked and stopped a few the effort was worth it.

“are we going to die here” Oliver asked suddenly, still not happy that Beth had taken the pistol back.

“ No, Oliver we are not going to die here” Beth assured him, not happy with herself for saying it, but she had to keep their hope up. if and when it was inevitable she would tell them the truth but till there was no more hope, she was going to stick with her belief that some how they would survive.

“how are we going to escape then” Oliver asked determined to get an answer out of her.

“Oliver look around you, everything we need to escape is here, we just have to figure out the best way to use it.” Beth replied

“Like how Ms. Beth.” Oliver asked being obstinate.

“Why don’t you kids come up with some ideas and Ill judge which one is best” She said hoping to make a game out of it. that idea got the kids all fired up, all but Oliver of course who was wanting armored vehicles, an army and a machine gun.

“we could make kites to fly away on”

“I bet we could make a giant balloon like my daddy took me on once”

“an airplane.”

“ we could make a tank out of the riding lawn mowers.”

“ we could make….”

Beth listened to each suggestion, these kids were brave and smart, she only hoped they all got out of here so she could help them grow into something more than farmers and soldiers, they might be the scientists and engineers that helped bring civilization back.

“we could make a giant wheel with spikes and run inside if it like a hamsters” Christopher said suddenly, still holding on to kathys hand. Kathy looked no better than before but she hadn’t gotten worse either which Beth was thankful for.

“that’s stupid” Oliver said.

“is not” Christopher shouted back.

“is too”

“is not”

Beth sighed heavily; the escalating is to is not war looked like it might go on for a while so she was forced to step in. “you two quiet down, we have to keep our voices down,” She said both boys quieted down instantly . “and Christopher that was a good idea.” She said fixing Oliver with a pointed look that promised dire consequences if he argued.

“who won” Oliver asked suddenly, referring she knew to the ideas not to the is not war.

“no one won, Oliver, they were all good ideas, we will have to look and see what supplies there are to figure out what we can build to escape.” Beth said, then fell silent, her hopes falling as she heard motors, lots of motors outside.

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

Kronnen stood between the drivers seat and the passenger seat at the front of the RV looking out over the sea of undead a slight smile on his face. Bradley had done good he decided, no matter what the fuck up earlier had been. Which is why he had sent Bradley on a scouting mission to the northeast side of the city were Jared and his crew would be coming from. That it got Bradley out of his sight till he could calm down was secondary.

Beth and the children were right there he thought emotionlessly looking at building with the van parked in front of it. again that slight smile as he saw the bullet holes in the van and the shattered glass, I wonder how many kids survived. Doesn’t really matter, none of them will survive in the end, each death will be like a nail in Jareds heart, he thought

“How are we going to get them out of there” Proctor asked, he looked tired, there was more gray in his hair these days, and he had bags under his eyes, Kronnen noted the man needed a break, but the simple truth was Kronnen needed him.

“We plow the undead under” Kronnen said, Proctor nodded and moved over to the radio to call up the dozers. “and then bring up the ladder truck.”

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

Beth sat there listening to the motors, the new ones sounded louder bigger somehow, like construction equipment big, and there were at least two vehicles behind the hardware store now.

“are the bad guy going to get us” Christopher asked tears of terror trickling down his cheeks.

“ I don’t know Christopher, I really don’t” Beth said, and that was a lie. Kronnen and that’s who that had to be out there was going to get his hands on them after all. Her whole escape had been pointless, an hour or two of freedom was almost as cruel as none. Her grip on the pistol tightened, her knuckles white as she tried not to look at the kids she was debating on killing to keep them out of Kronnens hands. What a damn world she thought be captured and tortured to death or kill ourselves and our loved ones, hell of a choice she thought bitterly.

Something struck the floor, then the sound came again. there was a metal on metal noise and a shaft of light spilled down into the Stock room from a hatch or something in the roof in the east corner, where she could see a rungs affixed to the wall. Her heart leaped into her throat, fear swept over her, she lifted the pistol not really pointing any where, in her agony she was trying to decide which child to shoot first and her mind refused to make the decision.

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

the sea of undead had been reduced, at least enough for the Ladder truck to force its way up into the parking lot, the number of undead that were arriving every minute were not enough to fill the ranks of the dead back up, but given time they would, Kronnen didn’t feel like giving them that time.

he watched the men hanging on the ladder, they would reach and secure the roof, then enter the building to recapture the school teacher, “ I think she will be less likely to run if I strip her naked this time” Kronnen commented, no one responded but he hadn’t expected them to either. From what he had been told she was a very good looking woman so the idea had some appeal to him beyond the humiliation she would feel at being kept caged and naked.

The Ladder was almost to the edge of the roof, when one of the men pitched over backwards arms and legs flailing as he fell into the reaching hands and snapping teeth of the undead below.

Kronnen snatched up his binoculars and placed them to his eyes just in time to see two arrows punch into the next man on the ladder, he managed to hang on for a moment then went limp and tumbled down taking the man behind him off the ladder, they both fell and into the horde that was going berserk.

Up on the roof he saw a bronze red skin and long dark worked into a long braid with two feathers worked in, and a bow in his hands duck down out of sight. Kronnen had seen enough Native Americans in his life to know when he was looking at one.

“ Pull the ladder truck back for the moment” Kronnen ordered “and get those street clearing charges put out, I want to be able to raid that building.”

Proctor passed the order but it was to late, bottles with burning rags were tossed from the roof of the building and landed on the ladder truck, glass shattered and the gasoline in the bottles caught fire as it splattered across the top of the vehicles.

“Who is in that building with her” Proctor asked.

“I am not sure, but the one man I saw was Native American, Cherokee at a guess since we are not to far from where they have been living.” Kronnen said thoughtfully.

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

Beth’s finger trembled on the trigger but she couldn’t bring the weapon to bear an a child..

“Beth” a mans voice called down, “don’t shoot”

Her head snapped up in shock it wasn’t Ori, she recognized that voice but couldn’t think of who it was. “I’m coming down” she heard an exchange of gun fire from up top as a stocky man in Jeans and fleece lined denim coat climbed down the ladder. A Dirty John Deere Tractor ball cap on his head.

He turned to face her and recognition dawned as she saw his face. “Lloyd Caldwell” She said in disbelief. She barely glanced up as another man climbed down after Lloyd.

The other man reached the bottom and walked over to stand with Lloyd. Packs and a large carry on were lowed down into the room, and then three men climbed down inside.

“Lloyd its great to see you,” Beth said still looking stunned, man who stood beside Lloyd wore a long leather coat, like a cross between a duster and something one of the German Gestapo might have worn back in world war two. A sword in a ornate scabbard hung around his waist on one of those long belts, the end dangled down between his legs, like knights had once worn in the movies.

“Same here.” Lloyd said “Ori is worried spit less about you Beth

Beth started to ask how Lloyd had found her but there were other pressing concerns “ Tell me Doc Winton is with you I have a wounded little girl” Beth said, an edge of desperation in her voice.

“ let me take a look at her” The other man said his voice soft and soothing.

Beth led them over to the kids who backed away, except for Christopher who sat beside Kathy, holding the girls hand like he was her life line and maybe he was she thought.

“Who is he” she asked Lloyd “is he a doctor”

“We ran into him yesterday, his name is Brian” Lloyd said. “he’s okay. I don’t know if he is a doctor, don’t know much about him other than he is a decent guy and has dogs” he added.

She watched as Brian knelt beside Kathy, watching as he studied the wound then opened the bag he carried and began to clean and bandage the wound doing a fairly proficient job as far as Beth could tell.. .

Pulling out a bottle he shook a pill in to his hand then pulled a bottle of water from the bag and lifted Kathy’s head. “ Here I need you to take this honey, your going to be okay” he said soothingly as he placed the pill in her mouth and held the bottle to her lips so she could take a drink and swallow.

“it looks clean, there’s not much vital stuff in that area, so hopefully nothing got nicked, infection and her blood loss is what we have to worry about.” He said looking up at Beth and giving her what looked like a genuine smile.

now that Beth was with friends and could actually breath with out her heart trying to explode and take everything in she really took a good look at Brian, around his right wrist was some kind of triple strand silver and black bead bracelet with a cross dangling from it, he had a kind looking angular face, with a pug nose, his shoulder length blond hair was pulled back into a pony tail. He looked up and caught her staring and smiled showing a few faint lines around the corners of his faded green eyes.

He winked in a friendly fashion and then began to talk to the kids, asking them how they felt, where they hurt, when he found out Christopher had been sick, he asked several pointed questions then rummaged in his bag and gave Christopher a couple of pills. The boy who never let go of Kathys hand placed them in his mouth then took a drink of water.

“Why don’t you go sit down over there” Brian suggested. “ you can let her rest okay”

“Kathy her name is Kathy, and Ms. Beth told us to hold hands and it would keep us safe. I cant let go or Kathy will die” Christopher said starting to cry.

“then you just go right ahead and hold her hand young man” Brian said patting Christopher on the shoulder.

“How did you find me, how did you even know where to look for us” Beth asked Lloyd as the other men gathered around, all of them had rifles slung across their backs and bows in their hands. She recognized John Graham and gave him a tired smile.

“long story, short version is we were on this side of the mountain because some one had been creeping around the Landslide that blocked any one getting down to the farm on New Found gap, turns out it was a large band of raiders, who strangely had the same three black birds painted on the doors of their trucks.

I called back to let every know what we had found and got a message relayed to me from Ashton about you and these kids being kidnapped. Some where in that message was a mention of three birds as the symbol of the bad guys in this movie, so John, you remember John Graham” Lloyd asked as John Stepped up and smiled warmly at her.

“Yes” she said tears of relief leaking from her eyes.

“Well John and his Merry band of Cherokee braves who were tagging along to make sure us white folks didn’t get lost or screw up while we were out, found one of the raiders out collecting firewood and convinced him to talk to us, which is how we found out that you were being held in Knoxville.” Lloyd explained.

“its sad that you white folks still need have your hands held every time you leave the farm” John said grinning at Lloyd it was apparent that their friendship had deepened over time.

“I know we are sad. But Jared at least can find his way around.” Lloyd pointed out.

“that’s because he stays lost and just acts like he meant to arrive where ever he finds himself” John said.

Lloyd and the men behind him chuckled.

“it’s a large city,” Beth pointed out cocking her head as she heard gunfire outside fear and hope warred in her, fear that it was Kronnens men and hope that maybe just maybe it was Ori leading the rescue.

“don’t worry I left a couple of men on the roof to discourage any one from dropping in to visits” Lloyd said, glancing up at the ceiling for second

“ so how did you find us.” Beth asked.

“ Yes it is a big city” Lloyd said, “but an hour ago, we heard a voice on the radio, two actually and recognized both of them. Ronny was up there watching you escape, and radioed your location back to Jared. They are on their way. I don’t know where they are exactly but I’m pretty sure they will be here in no more than an hour.”

“ I hate to break it to you Lloyd, but we might not have another hour” John said, “I don’t think the guys outside are going to be slowed down by the undead very much longer”

“no they aren’t” Lloyd agreed, wishing he were still just a Ranger in the Park. “But if Beth and the kids are willing we can leave the same way we came in” Lloyd said.

Jared was a hell of a nice guy Lloyd thought, but damn if trouble didn’t follow him around.

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

The first thing that the bulldozers had done was to push vehicles along the highway into a wall on three sides of Kronnens units, the open end of the long rectangle was closed by boxy shaped M113’s. Secure or at least reasonable secure half of Kronnens men dismounted and moved to the wall and began to fire slow into the undead. it was a new tactic for them and not one that many were happy with, but it was effective against the undead as long as there was enough ammo and supplies to last them.

The other half of Kronnens forces turned headed to the Hospital they planned on using as a base in the ruined city. Four M113s, trundled up into the plaza their tops open, acting as gun trucks supporting the two Bull dozers that were doing a good job of crushing and grinding the undead there into so much past.

The undead for ten miles converged on the area, leaving swaths of the surrounding countryside virtually empty of their presence.

Kronnen glanced at the clock mounted on the wall by the door in his RV and grunted to himself, Beths escape had lasted an hour and half so far. The undead in the plaza were almost down to manageable numbers, the rest of that horde was busying trying to get through the wall of vehicles around his units. That would change the moment they realized men were on the ground behind them, but it shouldn’t be a problem.

“I still think we should have brought up the behemoth” Proctor said, he wasn’t criticizing Kronnen knew Proctor was just a fan of the Behemoth being the main designer of the thing.

“Its better to have it at the hospital helping them clear the area, than here. in the scheme of things the woman isn’t that important” Kronnen said. “ its just a matter of principle”

Proctor nodded in agreement, and it wasn’t like a waste of ammo, they were going to have to clear the undead in the area anyway and this was drawing off the crowd that might otherwise have surrounded the hospital.

Proctor watched his old friend for moment, wondering what he was thinking, in many ways Nate Kronnen wasn’t the same man that he had been before the dead, back then he had been a funny guy, competent at his job but not great. Proctor didn’t really remember him being the emotional type, but he hadn’t been the cold and calculating leader that he was now.

Not that Proctor was a saint now, but there were times he worried about those changes in Kronnen, and worried some of the whispers he had heard were true. Given time, and things settling down and he believed his old friend would come back scarred maybe but back. Kronnens head turned and his eyes blue thanks to the contacts fixed on him, almost as if he knew what Proctor was thinking about.

“we are almost finished, do you realize that, all we have to do is figure out whats so Important in D.C. that Stone is willing to risk going into the old capitol, then we can end him, and seize the island, after that is only mopping up and rebuilding, and I plan on spending six months just lounging around with a few women making babies.” He said with a smile that wasn’t quite sincere to Proctor. “Maybe the school teacher will be one of the mothers” Kronnen said his smile growing larger.

“Sounds like a plan Nate” Proctor replied with a smile that at least didn’t look as forced as it felt.

“it is and you need more women so you can have plenty of kids, we need your genes in the gene pool.” Kronnen said, the familiarity in his tone and the conversation were so different then any conversation they had, had since Kronnen had gone into the hospital.

“I’ve got two at the moment, and I can barely keep up with them” Proctor said.

“You need four or five, so they fight amongst themselves and leave you alone” Kronnen said with a laugh

a sudden uneasy feeling swept over Proctor but he laughed all the same, it was funny in a way, he could barely keep one woman Happy, two was near impossible for him, he might was well slit his wrists with more than two no matter how fun having choices would be every night.

Kronnen smiled but it never touched his eyes, then he turned back to the scene unfolding outside and smiled coldly at what he saw, he pushed down the hunger that snarled up in him when he was dead it would have control but not till then.

“mind if I ask you a question?” Proctor asked.

“no go ahead” Kronnen said his back still turned to Proctor.

“why not just try to capture Stone and torture the information out of him.” Proctor asked.

“a couple of reasons, some good others not. One if we did capture him, I doubt the island folks would sit back and take it. and we are not set up just yet for a war with a large organized force, two I seriously doubt he would talk, Bedford mentioned that Stone has been through SERE school between that training and what I’ve been told of his personality he would die before he talked. Mind you his dying is not a problem, but I want what ever he is after, three as long as his friends are still his friends they will come after him, and the odds are good they might actually succeed, and for sure they will kill a lot of our men” Kronnen said stressing the ‘our’ part of that last sentence.

He had again fallen into a modified parade rest as he looked out the window and some how he made it look casual Proctor thought.

“and they have the damned Hunter helping them, and we both know how big of a pain in my ass he has been now give him a small group of like minded, equally nasty men with real training.” Kronnen said casually.

Proctor nodded in whole hearted agreement about that, the Hunter had been the their biggest threat till now, the man had done damage far out of proportion to what had been expected.

“its almost time” Kronnen said glancing at the clock again. “ the undead in the plaza have been reduced enough that our men can breech the building.”

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

The bulldozers came about and lined up side by side sweeping towards the front of the hard ware store the armored personal carriers, APC’s for short trailed in their wake, ten feet from the front of the buildings they turned and opened up the distance between them actually looking professional for once, as soon as the APC’s pass them the Bulldozers turned in place and moved back towards the road crushing the undead that trailed behind the APC’s.

The Lead APC buttoned up and accelerated crashing into the wall of the building, while the other two APC’s came in behind it to seal off the hole. the wall collapsed, and the vehicle rolled into the building crushing steam cleaners, window unit air conditioners and fans, the Counter fared no better it was crushed under the tracks of the vehicle as the hatches on top opened up and a flood light came to life.

Kronnen was smiling again, watching the scene unfold, in minutes the woman and those kids would be his.

Something flashed across Lindsey street, he only had second for the tongue of flame and the missile to register and then one of the bulldozers exploded. Another flash and the second dozer followed the first, leaving two burning wrecks in the parking lot of the plaza, Kronnen had just a moment to see two military vehicles, one a Hummer the other one he didn’t know what it was reveal themselves as the wheeled out of cover turned and raced off into the neighbor hood behind the plaza throwing smoke behind them.

The men at the wall who had glimpsed the vehicles opened fire with everything they had but with the smoke no one knew if they had actually hit their targets.

Stone had arrived, He thought, already calling out orders, he wasn’t stupid enough to demand that no one Kill Stone, it was combat, but he would prefer his plan remain some what intact at this point.

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

Beth shivered as the building shook, the kids screamed, and all but Christopher who still held Kathy’s hand, rushed to her and grabbed anywhere they could find on her body to hang on to.

“we have to move” Lloyd said as an explosion rocked the building, the shock wave shattering glass, then a second explosion that emptied the glass in the remaining intact windows.

When she had first entered the parking lot she had noticed the building at the end of the hardware store, a two story building with a lot of windows on the second floor, but at the time she couldn’t reach it so it hadn’t really mattered.

When Lloyd had told her the plan, it had taken some quick thinking to get Kathy up on the roof and Christopher hadn’t been happy about not being able to hold her hand as he was lifted up to the roof top were two of Grahams men waited. Then they had almost crawled across the roof top, thankfully the hatch in the roof was not all that far from the wall of the next building, till they had reached the open window that Lloyd and the others had come through to get on to the roof.

How they had managed to slip inside with out being seen from the highway Beth didn’t know, but they had and that was all that mattered.

John Graham was the last man to slither through the window and drop to the floor, “you people just love running across roof tops, you have a bat man fixation” He complained as he looked around the large open room, mostly filled with boxes, labeled with titles like “Christmas decorations” or “ fall decorations.”

“what, every movie I’ve ever seen with Indians in it, had them standing on butte tops and hiding in trees.” Lloyd said as he lead them towards the staircase. He paused only to look out the windows that overlooked the back of the property and smiled.

“Do you see any buttes around here. we Cherokee are civilized, we use guard towers.” John said “and why are you smiling like an idiot?”

“Because the undead that were back there behind the building when we got here must have moved around to the front where all the noise and people are, there’s maybe a dozen I can see back there near our vehicles.” Lloyd said.

“you don’t drop her mister” Christopher said looking up at Brian who was carrying Kathy.

“ I wont Christopher, you just keep holding her hand and she will be okay” Brian said as they started down the stairs, just as another explosion tore the day apart then weapons fire, lots of it.

They reached the ground floor and as quickly as they could and headed to the back door.

“okay the vehicles are parked around the door, me and my guys will go out first, as soon as we are sure its clear, Brian you lead Beth and the kids to the SUV, we will cover you.” Lloyd said reaching for the doorknob.

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

Evan Toombs, was happy as hell, he triggered the .50 caliber machine gun with almost orgasmic joy. Most of his life he had been a petty crook with a penchant for jewelry and pretty women, ones he usually had to pay for. Back in those days he had been living large by his standards even as the cops had hunted for him. They had finally caught him in a hotel outside of Reno passed out from a night of sex, drugs and possibly rock and roll not that he really remembered much if it. After his for modern American Speedy trial he had spent four years in a cell till the dead rose. He had been close to dying of dehydration when Kronnen had shown up and busted him out.

Kronnen had given him freedom, real freedom, and guns. He triggered another burst into a shelf of paint cans laughing as the bullets ripped through the ans, a rainbow of colors vomited into the air, he walked his fire down the shelves blowing paint supplies into the air.

Life was good he thought, as he swiveled the weapon around and fired again, the bullets ripped through four sets of shelves, then punched through the wall and the metal cage beyond, the cage that held metal tanks full of propane.

Evan Toombs died as the explosion tore through the wall, sending shrapnel riding a wave of flame through the area, roasting and shredding the former criminal. The fire ball touched the chemicals that had spilled out onto the floor from Evans shooting, they ignited and fire raced across half the store following the flow of paint thinners, mineral oils and anything else that was flammable and had been splashed around, in seconds more than half the store was on fire.

Undead were knocked from their feet, as flaming debris landed around them, those on the edge of the area staggered forward through the hole in the wall and into the burning interior.

Kronnen saw a gout of fire come out of the hardware store as part of the roof lifted up and drop back down burying the APC inside the store. Black smoke boiled out of the shattered windows and he could see the orange tongues of flame flickering inside the store.

“I suspect that the school teacher and the kids are dead,” Proctor said as something exploded in the store.

“it would seem” Kronnen said doubtfully.

“You think she might have survived” Proctor asked.

“Possibly” Kronnen said watching the building burn. “ fall back, we have lost enough today.” he said, his eyes dark and flat with anger. Stone wouldn’t be running around out there if they hadn’t already rescued the woman, hopefully the wedge in his friendships would fester and shatter them sooner or later.

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

Lloyd opened the door, and raced out followed by Todd Becken and Raymond Zinca,
Raymond made it six steps before a stray round went through the building wall and blew out his chest in a welter of gore. Raymond fell heavily dead before he hit the ground.

Todd went to the left stopping behind the park services truck and shooting across the bed, covering the others as they came out, John Graham rushed out followed by Jimmy Chota and Charely Singingdog, all three carried their rifles now, with all the shooting from next door and the front there was no need for silence at the moment.

The rest of the men, all four of them ran out and spread out picking targets, Lloyd had been both right and wrong, there were only a dozen zombies near the vehicles, but the undead on the roads to either side of the Plaze were packed with them, and the woods and the residential area behind the plaza were packed with them, it took the dead maybe a minute to notice but when they did they swarmed. In the chaos, Lloyd and his friends didn’t even think about the body laying behind them.

Through the wall she could hear something crash into the hardware store then the roar of a diesel motor and the building was vibrating with the noise. The kids began to panic as a machine gun opened up on the hardware store and the sounds of glass and other things shattering under the impact of the heavy slugs

Beth ducked as bullets punched through the interior wall smashing glass vases on a shelf then out the exterior wall leaving large holes. Just as she started to stand she saw the dead man just outside the door eyes open.

Trying not to scream she reached out and picked up the rifle that lay beside the corpse, she grabbed it and pulled it to herself just as the corpse sat up.

Rifle went to shoulder, steady breaths, sight and stroke the trigger, Ori’s voice said in her mind. Raymond’s face filled her view as she peered through the sights, she tried not to pay attention to the fact she could see through his chest, as she stroked the trigger, Raymond’s head snapped back as red and grey erupted from the newly formed large hole in his head. He toppled over a second time.

Todd fired putting down the last zombie that was close the truck and turned his head to look at the undead that were staggering towards the vehicles from the woods, they were sixty feet and closing, but so slow they had plenty of time, He took his pack off and slung into the back of the truck,

“Todd watch out” Jimmy shouted, Todd wasted three seconds looking around, before he looked down, just as the legless zombie that had crawled under the truck bit him in the calf. Todd, fighting the pain and knowing he was a dead man shot the thing in the head, “Lloyd make sure my gear is given to someone that needs it” Todd yelled as he stepped around the trucking making himself a target, he walked slowly towards the undead coming at them from the road to the north side, knowing that the most of the undead from the woods were heading his way too. He started firing, as calmly as he could.

“ Brian lets go” Lloyd shouted turning away from Todds last sacrifice. “the south side is about to be over run.”

Beth stood by the door. “Kids, do not look to either side, just follow Mr. Brian okay, its going to be all right.” She told the terrified and sniffling kids. Brian carrying Kathy with Christopher attached like a limpet stepped outside, Beth stepped out rifle in hand and counting kids as they exited the building.

Lloyd had just happened to be looking north at Todd who was as brave as a man could be in his final moments when he saw a fireball roll up into the sky lifting part of the roof of the Hardware store off. The roof crashed back down sending smoke and debris flying. A wall of fire swept over Todd and the dead who were tearing at him. Lloyd squinted into the flying dust and debris and saw the charred body of Todd fall over. He put a single bullet into Todds head.

Kids were screaming as debris rained down on them. Smoke was filling the air, covering the fight in a hellish haze.

The undead from the south side reached the parked vehicles, Charley Singingdog died, as four undead got around the truck and latched on to him dragging him down. Jimmy Chota backed away firing into the undead. John Graham leaped into the back of a truck and fired into the undead that surrounded the bed.

A zombie broke past the men trying to hold them back, it headed straight for Sally who shrieked at the top of her lungs seeing the rotting scarecrow in shorts and a tshirt. Beth wasn’t what she would call brave, not like her friends or her husband. But she didn’t have the luxury to depend on others to protect the kids or herself. Lloyds men were doing the best they could but it wasn’t good enough. She lifted the rifle she carried and fired a burst at the zombie, it staggered as it took a bullet in the chest another to the throat and the last bullet struck the thing in the head and dropped it, but there was another one right behind it, she stepped forward and rammed the barrel into the things head and pulled the trigger, then did the same for the next, saving bullets.

Harry Lighton, was the next to die, he had been on vacation with his family at the farm Museum when the dead had rose, and he was the last, his wife, son and daughter were all dead and today was his day. He was dragged down, hands were all over him, teeth were tearing chunks out of his body, he dropped his rifle and drew his pistol and through the pain shot three more, feeling his life flowing out of him like a red tide, he put the barrel in his mouth and managed to pull the trigger.

It was a tight fit, but Brian got all the kids into the SUV with the dogs, and then saw Beth was in trouble, a zombie was grappling with her. somewhere to the east he heard motors, he turned to see Beth Struggling with a zombie that had grabbed a hold of the rifle she held.

He leaped forward and grabbed her by the shoulder, and was rewarded with a shriek . “we have to go” he said dragging her away from the zombie, seeing its prey escaping it dropped the rifle and staggered towards them, Brian shoved her inside the open drivers door with one hand as he lifted the shotgun slung at his side and fired at less then four feet, the double ought buck shattered the things skull, the body pitched over backwards.
Beth was barely into the passenger seat before Brian was climbing into the SUV.

“GO,” Lloyd yelled as he climbed into his truck and started the motor.

Jimmy Chota was the last into the king cab ford firing as he climbed in. the sound in the enclosed cab making his ears ring. John trapped in the bed beat on the roof to let them know he was ready.

The SUV was beginning to rock from side to side as the Undead pushed on it. the kids were shrieking. Except Sally who had her face buried in the fur of the old Beagle she held, she was crying uncontrollably and couldn’t scream if she had wanted to.

Lloyd backed up and almost got stuck, he popped the truck into drive cranked the wheel and gave it gas using the tuck to push aside the undead. to the east he saw a tree go down as a huge green truck rolled out of the woods, the cattle catcher on the front pushing the undead to either side. Reaching the open it turned and stopped. Lloyds heart sank as he saw the armed men in the big metal box attached behind the Semi cab, and the guns. They were dead he thought, as he saw the menacing shape of a mini gun swivel around.

A Stryker appeared coming around the truck. Its paint was faded and chipped its main turret or what ever it was called didn’t move, but the secondary weapon, a .50 cal was manned.

Then as if on signal fire swept out from the weapons of the new arrivals mowing down the undead, something exploded near his truck clearing a space and Lloyd didn’t hesitate he gunned his motor and moved into the gap, hoping his people saw what he was doing and followed.

A hummer roared out of the woods and slid to a stop, and Lloyds eyes widened as he recognized the man standing in the gunners hatch, there was no way he could mistake who that red hair belonged to.

Jared emptied the drum on the M32 six shot 40mm grenade launcher in three seconds, walking the grenades as close to the trapped vehicles as he could get with out endangering the people inside, feeling the tick of the clock as he did so. Kronnen would figure out there was a rescue any moment now, only the raging fire and Kronnen’s own weapon fire was masking their presence.

“Jansen use The HET to clear the undead as close to the vehicles as you can, we need to cut the herd down.”

Ori was firing the fifty on the Styker trying to look into the vehicles, fear tore at him he couldn’t see Beth.

“Check fire, moving into the zone” Jansen said as the HET roared forward, the vehicles were starting to move, speeding up, Jared’s Hummer turned and began to speed up so he could lead the group out, Then as the SUV passed through a cleared area he saw the passenger window go down and saw Beth Waving wildly at him

“YES” he screamed at the sky, then burned through the belt of .50 sending undead tumbling to the ground. He reached into a pouch and pulled out a grenade, he pulled the pin and added insult to .50 cal injury. The Stryker started forward, turning to following the line of vehicles that entered the thick smoke heading east.

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

Fred Walters was on the roof of the hospital, supposedly on watch, since Kronnen was in a fire fight to the south, and the only threat at the hospital were the zombies down below what he was really doing was listening to the chatter on the radio from his friends in the middle of the hairball Kronnen had led them into.

Who know that woman would have ended up causing so much trouble he thought, oh sure she was pretty, nice pert boobs, not to large not to small, great legs, and a body that would look good naked or in a bikini, but she wasn’t like that woman in the books that wars had been fought over, he couldn’t remember her name, but it was a long time ago and had something to do with Trojan condems and a wooden horse.

Fred had spent hours imagining what she would be like in the sack, how soft her skin would feel under his hands, he had always wanted to bang a school teacher and the fact she was good looking made that fantasy even hotter.

“all I need” he muttered “ a chub” he forced his mind away from the images of Beth naked and looked down again, half the city had to be down there, the other half was around Kronnens men “at least we know were they all are” he said laughing, though say his laugh sounded more like braying was more accurate.

He was still laughing at his own stupid joke when as silenced rifle ended his life.

“Got him” Jim said lower the rifle, “I can not believe that they only have one guy on watch.”

“no reason, they know where the undead are, they know where Jared is” Kafil said he readied the weapon, which appeared to be long box with four holes in it and a grip a third of the way from the front, four long tubes that contained the rockets stuck out of the back of the weapon. Kafil knelt at the window and lifted the weapon into place, which meant most of the weapon was either on Kafils shoulder or sticking out behind him.

“you sure you know how to use that”Jim asked

“yes, and do not stand behind me” Kafil said as he sighted on a window on the second floor where he had seen movement earlier. the fact that there was a back blast when firing the weapon was the main reason they had chosen the large office space in this building to fire from.

Known as a M202 Flash, or Flame Assault SHoulder weapon it fired four 65mm incendiary rockets either one rocket at a time or all four at once, it wasn’t commonly found in the armories of the US Army these days, with the exception of Afghanistan where the Army had decided there was a need. The weapon had been made in the thousands and had been stored in stockpiles at Depots like the one in Kingsport.

They were also used by many military’s in what the US loved to call third world countries, Kafil had used them a few times, like most US military gear they had been designed to let all but the stupidest person on the planet operate. Any one to stupid to use one would eventually die from chocking on a pencil eraser or something else unlikely and equally stupid.

“wait” Jim said and pointed. Coming around the corner was a truck, followed by a obsolete M113, then another. “I would call those better targets.” Jim said.

“yes, I think you are right” Kafil said as Jim now eager to be in on the action picked up on of three remaining M202’s and read the instructions.

The top hatch over the troop section was open on the M113’s, which was perfect in Kafils opinion, since he doubted that the warheads on the small rockets would do much damage to the APC obsolete or not.

He quickly told Jim how to set up the weapon, while the Relief force pushed its way through the crowd of undead and parked in front of the hospital the men inside the vehicles standing and firing out of the hatches or in the backs of the trucks.

“do not aim at the sides of the APC’s I do not think this will do much damage, but against walls, windows and flesh it is perfect” Kafil said as called out the target he had chosen and its location so that Jim wouldn’t wasted a round on the same target.

He fired, Jim fired second later.

Darius smiled as he watched the carnage, they didn’t have a lot of time, the Behemoth was only two blocks away leading the rest of the relief force, this group had been sent on ahead to start clearing the undead out.

He readied the Javelin, still surprised at how heavy it was and waited. There it was, he thought as the first M113 broke away from the line in front of the hospital and raced in its slow assed way towards the street.

When Darius had first proposed splitting up and attack both targets at once Jared had hesitated, but weakened after a few minutes. Now it was paying off, Kronnen was taking the biggest heaviest loss that Darius knew of.

He let the weapon lock on, and fired, the Javelin was a modern weapon designed to take out Modern problems. The M113 was neither a problem or modern. The missile in the shoulder fired weapon, leaped out guidance fins snapping up and into place the electronic brain in the missile fixed on the IR signal of the vehicle it had been told to kill reaching the pre set safe distance from the launcher its motor fired off and roared after its prey.

The M113 was essentially an aluminum box on tracks, its armor had never been effective against heavy weapons, only some what effective against small arms before the upgrades began, but this was an orginal, and its armor was no match for the Javelin.

He smiled coldly watching the smoke rise from the dead vehicle while Quention reloaded for him. “you know, hooking up with Jared is a good thing, this beats the hell out of my 30 30:” he remarked. “ while they last at any rate” he said they only had two reloads, and he was hoping to get in a shot on that damned Behemoth before they had to run.

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

Jared climbed out of the Hummer, watching as the rest of the convoy rolled into the old out of the way mine yard. Darius was still in Knoxville, but Jared wasn’t worried about the man, when he was done he would either meet them here or back at Camp.

The vehicles parked, and men climbed out to stand in the old Gravel lot, a few glanced up at the massive crushers and conveyors that ran into the three mine shafts sunk into the mountain.

Seeing an exhausted Lloyd Caldwell slide out of a truck Jared walked over and gave the man a bear hug. “its damn good to see you again” Jared said letting the other man loose. Lloyd rubbed his ribs, and tried to smile.

“good to see you too” Lloyd replied then a real smile did cross his face, it wasn’t much of one and it didn’t last long, the deaths of his friends was still to fresh, but seeing Beth Charge across the Lot followed by screaming and shouting kids and leap into Oris arms was a good thing.

“damn that’s nice to see” Jared said.

“yeah. There wont be three happy endings at the farm when we get back, if we get back” Lloyd said.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Jared said shaking his head. “we tried to get there as fast as we could.”

“I know Jared, “Lloyd said his eyes still on Ori and his family and that was the only thing to call them, those eight kids were as much his now. “Todd had just gotten married to Jeannette, you remember her”

“yeah, short, brown hair, cute but plain, and feisty as hell” Jared said remembering the woman.

“that’s her, she’s three months Pregnant and I don’t know how to tell her that Todd is gone.” Lloyd said quietly.

“its never easy” Jared said remembering when he had been given permission to carry word to Brendans family about his death. “ever”

Lloyd nodded and looked up as John Graham and Jill walked up. John was limping and blood was dripping from his boot onto the crushed gravel.

“tell me you didn’t get bitten” Lloyd asked anxiously.

“no, but it was a close thing, “ John said sitting down on the gravel and rolled up his pant leg to show the gash in his calf. “I cut it on that damn piece of metal Chota used as a spacer to mount the roll bar.”

“thank god, We have already lost enough people today, I don’t want to lose another friend” Lloyd said.

“white man, I cant die on you yet, how would you get back to the farm” John said laughing softly, but there was pain under the laughter he had lost a good friend today as well.

“ I don’t think getting back is going to be much of a problem” Jared said looking up at the plane that was coming in for a landing. “ I think you guys might be flying first class”

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

Kronnen glared at the fires that raged in and around the hospital, and the gutted wreckage of his APC’s, the flickering light from the fires was bright as the sun slide below the horizon, the undead shuffled through the wreckage that should have been his base here in Knoxville. A few drawn to the idling motors, began to head towards the convoy, “sir” Proctor said drawing Kronnens attention. He looked angry and annoyed, which was never a good sign for some one like Proctor.

Kronnen walked over and looked out the window of the RV and saw what had upset Proctor, painted on the wall of a building across the street, lit by the fires, was the sign of the hunter.

He snarled silently unable to speak for a moment, when he could his voice was cold as the void “I’m going to gut that son of a bitch and his sister too.”

While Stone had been rescuing the school teacher, the Hunter and another force had found the hospital. And if that idiot Carlton hadn’t sent half the relief force ahead instead of keep them back with the Behemoth, he wouldn’t have lost so many vehicles and men.

He didn’t even puzzle over how Stone had know about the hospital, it was that plane it must have spotted the vehicles moving around, or the guards on the roof. well it was time to remove the plane from the equation.

“ I want any one trapped inside picked up if possible, and then we head to the alternate. I want every anti air weapon we have broken out and ready if that plane shows up again I want it to rain debris, do you understand me” Kronnen said.” Then contact Ailen in St. Loius, I want our plane and both choppers down here, two can play aerial recon.”

“Yes sir” Proctor replied “anything else”

“find me a cooler so I have some place to put the hunters head when I catch him” Kronnen said angrily.

9 thoughts on “Chapter Fourteen

  1. Finally! Finally you save Beth! But now I’m worried about Kathy. You just can’t leave the kids out of it, can you?

    Well done on this chapter, O’Kelly.

    Like

thanks for reading please leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s