Chapter Eighteen

“Within the breath of autumn woods,
Within the winter silences:
Thy venomous spirit stirs and broods,
O Master of impieties”
~L. Johnson

December 29th, 0700 Northeast of Monterey.

The wind blew fitfully through the clearing, kicking snow up into the air where it swirled lazily before falling back to the ground again. the plane a UV 20a, covered in snow sat at an angle at the far north end of the clearing, the frame that held the floats to the body of the plane were bent and slightly twisted from impacting a rock hidden under the snow.

. Three zombies stood around the plane pawing at the sides, With a cracking of ice the Cargo door open letting in a blast of cold air and drawing the zombie on that side of the plane towards the door.

Ronny knelt his bed leg stretched out to his side, P90 to his shoulder waiting, as the zombie, a former housewife, still dressed in a ragged blood stained robe, her hair sticking out wildly and matted with dirt and leaves, appeared in the door, he put a single round into her forehead, ignoring the stench as pus and black goo spurted out of the back of her head, she crumbled to the ground.

He whistled softly several times finally drawing the zombies from the other side around to the door where he could put them both down. One was dressed in real tree camo overalls wearing those odd looking real tree knee high boots, the other wore a sherrifs Deputy uniform. He ignored the shaking in his hands, ignore the soft voice that whispered he wasn’t going to be able to save himself much less Mary.

He half slipped half climbed out of the Plane, determined to do this on his own, he lifted the E tool over his head, as the real tree staggered at him, hands reaching, teeth snapping frantically the only sounds he could hear over the wind was that of teeth on teeth and the creak of dead muscle.

Ragged dirty nails tore at his coat, the stench from the walking dead was strong, He brought the E tool down onto its head, bone breaking with a loud crack.

Deputy dead guy staggered forward striking his head against the wing and knocking himself on his butt then struggled back to its feet, “I’m guessing your trying to kill me with boredom” Ronny said trying to find a bit of the bravado he had use to feel. All it seemed to o was piss of Deputy dead guy.

Since the Dead guy leaped at him, literally leaped, Ronny thought, as he swung the Etool like a bat and struck the thing upside the head like it was fast ball across home plate and caved in the side of its head. It fell dead at his feet, black ooze leaking from its skull staining the snow.

Luckily he didn’t have to finish the rest on his own Dale and Stephen joined him, glad now that Reese had insisted that he take at least two extra bodies in case they needed firepower. The two men armed with axes easily took out the remaining dead guys.

With the undead down, Ronny examined the plane, he wasn’t to worried about the float supports being damaged, the regular gear was inside the plane, and they could use logs to hold the plane up to remove the floats if he couldn’t figure out how to bend them back into place.

“Oh man, this fucking sucks” Dale moaned seeing the damaged float.

“Be thankful it wasn’t worse” Ronny said as images of a tumbling burning place flashed through his mind.

“Are we going to be able take off again?” Dale asked gazing at the floats.

“Not with out an engine we aren’t” Ronny said, as Mary entered the door way, he smiled trying to project an air of unconcern as he helped her down from the plane.

She was pale and like every one else she was cold after having spent the night in the plane with no heat and temperatures that hovered right around zero.

“What about the radio?” Stephan asked, his red cheeks adding some color to his pale gaunt face.

“Dead,” Ronny said watching as Sarah sat on the edge of the door and looked around, she was upset with what had happened, he didn’t blame her either. “listen at the moment what we need is some security and fire wood. We have water, we have food and we have the gear to survive. so lets get our butts in gear, Stephen, Dale, why don’t you two do a patrol just inside the woods around the clearing. The rest of us will gather fire wood, and get a fire going. Once we get situated we can talk about what we are going to do.” Ronny said showing no sign of the fear and uncertainty he felt. he wasn’t sure he was up to this, not with his leg and all, but he was also the only person here with any real wilderness survival training, and that meant if Mary and their unborn child was going to survive, then it was up to Ronny to make it happen.

as the two men walked off happy to at least have something to do, Sarah looked at Ronny “ what are our chances?” she asked.

“better than average” he replied as he limped over and examined the floats. “the regular gear are in the plane, if we can get this bitch lifted up, and I have an idea how to do that, then we can put the regular gear on her. after that it’s a matter of fixing the engine.”

“if the snow doesn’t bog down the wheels and if it can be fixed.” Sarah said glumly. “and I was just getting used to flying again.”

“Look, we are going to be staying here for a few days, assuming the undead don’t show up, because Jared is going to be looking for us. But if he doesn’t find us, we are going to have to get out of here. so I see no reason not to try an fix the plane in that time. I have tools, a few spare parts and the manuals. Unless you have a better way to pass the time?, like strip poker”

“don’t let him sucker you with strip poker, even if he loses he wins” Mary said like Ronny trying to keep her spirits up.

“why am I not surprised” Sarah said rolling her eyes, but she did smile.

“Before you come down here, get the axe out the supplies and the handsaw in the outer left outside pocket of my ruck” Ronny said.

While Sarah got the tools, Ronny limped over and wrapped his arms around Mary, “I swear to you, I will get you and the baby safely out of this” he murmured in her ear.

“I know” She told him stroking his hair affectionately then kissed him. she didn’t protest that she could protect herself, Ronny knew that, he was really saying he would die before he allowed her to be hurt, and to hell with feminist who couldn’t understand it that she thought.

“Here you go” Sarah said sliding out of the Plane, “sorry to interrupt a moment.”

Ronny turned his head to look at Sarah, if he looked exhausted and sad, she could forgive him. “thanks, Mary Id like you to guard the plane, everything we need to survive is in there. if you see undead or people fire a warning shot and get down out of the line of fire.”

“sure leave the pregnant woman behind “ she groused half heartedly.

“exactly,” Ronny replied with no apology in his tone. “I don’t want anything happening to the bundle of joy at this late in the game” he said taking the axe from Sarah.

Mary watched them walk towards the wood line, if the situation wasn’t so tense she would be almost dancing to see the old Pre limp Ronny putting in an appearance. His limp didn’t even seem as bad today either, she thought.

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

“do you think Brock sent us in the right Direction” Ori asked Jared as they climbed out of the ELSORV.

“he swears he saw the planes lights to the north north east of Monterey, from the window of the RV.” Jared said as he studied the map. “and it’s a bit late to turn around and go back to the new camp and ask him for more details”

“Jared let me see that for a moment” Jill said holding out a hand, Jared shrugged and passé the map across the hood to Jill then turned to eye the undead staggering towards them, they were still a hundred feet away.

He lifted his rifle to his shoulder and took aim, “just like being at the range” He muttered as he shot down each zombie some time in the past year, he had stopped seeing the people they had once been and now only saw the dead rotting target they had become.

“what are you doing anyway” Ori asked Jill watching as she wrote in her little notebook.

“trying to figure out how far they might have flown before they went down. No one saw an explosion, so I’m guessing that they lost power. I think they couldn’t have been more then ten miles north, and then factoring in the glide ratio” she said finishing her equation, “that would put them in this area.” She said tracing a circle on an area of the map.

“nice guess” Ori muttered dryly as he looked at Jared who didn’t really react to his wife’s comments

Jill shrugged not wanting to argue or draw attention to what she had done, snow had began to fall again while they stood there and she didn’t want to stand out here any longer than she had too.

“if this gets much deeper we are going to be stuck” she said, there was at least a foot of snow on the ground already

“Then we go on foot” Jared said, not that he was really worried about becoming stuck.
“ Ronny at least knows how to survive in this crap, he wont move far from the plane.” Jared said then looked up at the sky for a moment. “lets mount up and get moving, we might have to score snow mobiles or a snow plow soon”

they drove almost three more miles, the snow falling faster and heavier, building up on the road, making driving more difficult and it was harder to see. Finally Jared spotted a house through the falling snow, he slowed till he spotted a space between a line of trees that was probably the driveway. he turned down the lane and finally stopped in front of the house.

The small group assembled in front of the house, standing in the falling snow and gusting wind they considered the two story home, There was nothing that stood out on the place, it was one of those old farm houses with two gable windows, that had been modernized with a tin Roof. A narrow covered front porch, a the paint was peeling after a year and half of being left to nature. One the right of the place was a car port with an compact car, that had seen better days and right by the steps to the front porch was a childs bicycle sticking up out of the snow like some modern art sculpture.

Ori studied the door in the shadows of the porch, as if it were a snake waiting to strike, his hand betrayed his case of nerves as he pulled off the wool cap he wore and ran his hand through his hair, catching himself he frowned and pulled the cap back on.

“I take it we aren’t driving any further” Darius said.

“not in this crap, there ice under the snow, and the snow is only getting deeper. We need some shelter while we plan the next step.” Jared said as he started towards the porch, only to hear Nibbler, he turned slowly to face Darius who shrugged.” She hopped in my truck and wouldn’t get out.” He explained.

“sure she did” Jared said, Brian opened the door to Darius truck and Nibbler leaped out and raced to Jared’s side tail wagging.

“I cant get my wife or my dog to stay behind,” he muttered then rubbed the dogs head before turning back to the building. The wooden steps creaked under his weight, the wind had blown maybe two inches of snow up onto the porch almost to the narrow wooden door where a sign hung that read “Welcome to the Millers.”

He reached for the knob and as his hand closed around the knob, a jolt like low voltage electricity flowed through his hand.

Come on in, Jared…we are waiting for you, Jared stopped in his tracks but he didn’t hear the voice again, only the sigh of the wind.

“you okay” Ori asked from where he stood against the wall ready to enter.

“yeah, sorry thought I heard something” Jared replied, “ ready”

Ori nodded all emotion flowing from his face like water off a table top, his game face on he was ready to clear.

Jared tossed the door open, Ori burst in, followed by Jared then Jill and Logan, then the rest of the team and volunteers.

It was cold in the house, cold and dusty, Jared moved towards the arch that led into the kitchen where an old fridge rose from the shadows that filled the kitchen like an alabaster finger pointing to the sky.

Darius, Brian and Jim headed up stairs, moving to the first door in the short narrow hall,

Darius moved off to one side of Jim who opened the closet door where the scratching noise had come from. Jim only had time to gasp in shock as he tried to move back, but the zombie had already wrapped its arms around his thigh and bit down, ripping a huge chunk free, in a spray of blood.

Shouting in shock and Horror, Jim ripping the little body from his leg and threw it across the room where is smashed into the sheet rock leaving a hole. it fell to the floor covered in dust and sheet rock but hauled its little body back to its unsteady feet. The five year leathery face of the once five year old boy, twisted into a silent snarl, blood dripping from it lips as it ran towards Jim.

“mine” he bellowed as he rushed forward and grabbed the little body with on hand and lifted it off the floor, with his other hand he grabbed its head and twisted, the snap of bone was loud in the room.

He dropped the body to the floor, tears streaking his face as he sank to his knees. Brian went and knelt beside the big man, who was already looking pale. His life pumping out of his ripped open thigh. The men in the room could hear footsteps pounding up the stairs.

“I don’t want to die” Jim said then shook his head, “guess I don’t have a choice now”

“we all die sometimes” Brian said softly, touched by the other mans tears. “ you did better than most Jim.” Brian said slipping back into the soft assuring tone and cadaence he had been taught so long ago. “you kept doing what you believe was right, and not many men these days can say that.”

Darius knelt on the other side of Jim placing a hard callused hand on Jims shoulder to help steady the dying man who was swaying slightly.

“do you believe in God?” Jim asked Brian, who hesitated.

“I’m not sure what I believe these Days, but Ill pray with you if that’s what you want” Brian said not even looking up when Jared and the others crammed into the doorway to see what was going on.

Jim nodded, the strengh in his huge body almost gone, “hail Mary full of grace……”

Brian recited the prayer with Jim, finishing it for he other man who was voice slowly faded. “tha… Father” Jim whispered,

Brian saw the life sliding out of Jims eyes, saw the fear shimmering in the eyes that were starting to cloud over. He took Jims hand… “Through the holy mysteries of our Redemption, may almighty god release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come, may he open to you the gates of heaven and welcome you to everlasting joy” he prayed feeling like a hypocrite. Jim squeeze his hand and whispered “amen” then slumped forward and fell to the ground. Brian made the sign of the cross over Jim’s body.

“Brian move aside” Darius said lifting his rifle.

Brian shook his head, he had taken this on to comfort a dying man he would see it through. “its my responsibility now Darius, step back please” Brian said his voice soft and full of pain that had everything and nothing to do with Jims dying.

He drew his pistol, the final part of the modern Last rite, he thought angrily and placed it against Jims head and waited, his lips moving silently in prayer. The cross on the rosary around his wrist swung from side to side glittering in the dim winter light that came through the window.

Jims body twitched, Brian pulled the trigger.

Jims body had been wrapped then taken outside and placed in the snow by the porch, when they left the farm house they would place it inside and burnt the house down.

Brian sat calmly on the couch in the living room one his right hand idly fingering the Rosary around his left wrist.as Logan and Mike got a fire going in the wood burning stove.

“you are a priest?” Jared asked still trying to let that soak in.

“No I was a priest” Brian replied. “ I don’t know what I am now”

“looked like a priest to me” Ori commented then walked to the window and looked out at the falling snow, a finger tapping slowly in the sill.

“Does it really matter now” Brian asked.

“No not really I guess. It just surprised me.” Jared replied. “surprised us all.”

“I don’t know why it should, you have strippers, former, soldiers, accountants, construction workers and about every other old job field in your group, a former priest shouldn’t be a surprise.” Brian said.

“I would be surprised If you were a former stripper, soldier, construction working priest.” Ori said trying to joke.

Jared groaned, but smiled slightly “anyway, Ori I need you to find stuff to make snow shoes, Logan, take mike and two others and see if you can find stuff we can make a sled out of.” Jared said.

“what about me “ Jill asked.

“Well when they get back with what ever they find that might make a sled, your going to design it.. that’s what you do isn’t it. Design stuff” Jared said, emerald eyes meeting bright blue eyes. Jill blinked first.

“I Think I need to check out side” Ori said heading for the door.

“me too” Logan said motioning for every one else in the room to follow him.
in moments the room was almost empty, except for Brian and Darius.

“I’m sorry I should have told you” Jill admitted before Jared could say anything else.

“yeah you should have, I’m not an idiot Jill I figured it out a long while back” Jared admitted. Darius, slow on the uptake today rose and gestured to Brian to follow him but Jared waved them both back to their seats. “this isn’t a fight, if it was she could kick my butt with one hand so stay and keep warm” Jared told them then focused on Jill again.

“I am not going to stay behind on the island just because I have knowledge that you don’t want to risk losing Jared. Its that simple. “ Jill stated.

“you should have Jill, you especially. You’re an engineer, your some one that can design bridges and buildings that wont fall down, and god knows how many other things you could do that will stop our slide back to the stone age. And I’m just as bad, I figured it out, before we left the island and I didn’t say a thing because I wanted you with me. I want every minute I can get with you by my side. But that doesn’t change the fact that you should have stayed and I should have made you.” Jared said thinking of Rob who had hated being left behind and yet he had remained silent about Jill’s education which he had to know about since she had been slipping him designs.

Robs silence had made it easy for Jared to pretend he didn’t know and Rob was not the only person that was locked to the island because of that rule either. A Rule that Jared had ignored for Jill, God I have it bad he thought watching her shift from foot to foot.

“what’s done is done, when we get back, You stay from now on. And If I’m lucky no one will want me to be the leader anymore and I wont have to leave either.” Jared added.

“Ill believe that when I see it, now lets get back to rescuing Ronny and Mary” Jill said, refusing to turn this into a fight, she could kick his butt once they got back to the island.

In two hours time, Logan and the others had gathered all kinds of stuff including pipe, wire, and a lawn wagon usually pulled behind a riding mower. While they had been scrounging Jared and Brian hauled in the radio and set it up inside. Ori and Jared sat down and began to make snowshoes.

Jill got to work trying to make some kind of sled out of what they had, it wasn’t going to be easy but she was pretty sure she could do it, especially if they got the old claw foot bathtub out of the upstairs bathroom.

“Why do we need a sled” Logan asked as he warmed his hands over the wood burning stove.

“to haul extra supplies, right now it looks like a foot or so of snow has fallen out there, and we are around twenty eight hundred or so feet in elevation, so we could end up with a lot more snow, and we are going is a lot higher so I don’t want to be trapped by deep snow somewhere up there with just the stuff in our packs, and when we find the others they might not have supplies so we are going to need enough for them too. Unless you want to try and carry it all on your back” Jared said with out looking up from the snow show he was making.

“no that’s okay.” Logan said,

lack of supplies and had always been one of the primary factors in hikers and climbers dying in remote locations when trapped by weather other situations. That’s about the time the lazy pack light hikers figured out they were ill prepared, sadly most died of starvation or exposure before they could put their new found knowledge to use.

Jared had heard all the arguments from the pack lighters, and it all boiled down to none of the pack lighters wanted to spend the time or the sweat building up the strength to carry enough supplies and gear to make safer trips into the back country, instead they shaved down spoons and anything else till there was barely anything left of the tool, they dumped axes, and other essential gear because of weight. He had seen far to many first aid kits the size of postage stamps that contained little more than a Band aid.

The one good think that had come out of it, was that many companies had began to produce light weight but effective gear to replace the older heavy stuff, which mean Jared and people like him could carry twice the amount of gear and supplies they could have had before.

“Why don’t some of you go pull off every door you can find, and start covering windows, just in case.” Jared said, cover the windows was important to security but it was also make work but if it kept them busy and their minds off what may be happening to Ronny and their friends he was all for as much of it as he could think of.

It was important especially Logan who seemed to be keeping his spirits up, but when he thought no one was looking it was as obvious as the nose on his face he really liked Sarah and was worried sick.

1545hrs.

Jared sat aside the last set of snow shoes, and rose to his feet, there wasn’t enough for ever one to go on and he had a decision to make, several actually he thought as he pulled on his coat, grabbed his rifle and stepped out onto the porch, where Logan was playing guard. A moment later Ori joined him. “Logan take a break inside” Jared said hooking a thump at the door.

“Thanks” Logan said heading for the door. As soon as he was inside, Jared sighed softly then took a deep breath of the cold air.

“its to late to head out today” Ori said, looking to the horizon where the sun was almost below the mountains.

“I know, I just hope Ronny and the others are okay, not laying hurt in the wreckage of a plane.” Jared said, Ori was right it was to late and the temperature was already plummeting, yes they could use NVG’s but the batteries wouldn’t last forever and he would prefer to save them, and there were not enough of the things for every one to use, and with out NVG’s there was no way they could hike around in the dark with lights, even in this kind of weather the undead would be drawn in from miles around. No like it or not they had to wait till sunrise.

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

Ronny using logs they had collected had set up a wall on one side of the plane, and a lean too and then place a tarp over the lean too and partially over the fire that was between the lean too and the wall which acted as a heat reflector bouncing the heat back into the lean too and some what warming the plane. it was the best he could do at the moment, they didn’t dare spend all night in the lean too, thanks to the undead. and once the fire burned down the cabin of the plane was going to get cold again. as it was with the fire going the temperature in the cabin hovered around forty which was better than the ten or so degrees outside at the moment.

If there was no fuel left in the tanks on the plane he would have just placed the fire closer to the cabin and they could have stayed inside nice and toasty only getting out to add more wood. But he still hoped to get the plane running again an take off.

Stephan and Dale had actually scouted out around the landing site and found a home with a barn workshop, it had been empty of people but had contained several things they could use including sleds, two snowmobiles that they might be able to get running if need be and several other items that Ronny wanted to go down and take a look at. He was half tempted to move every one down to the house, but for the moment he wanted to stay close to the plane, it was possible even with the weather Jared could show up sometime during the day.

Mary leaned against him under the lean too, where at least it was closer to sixty degrees, “I’m proud of you” she whispered.

“don’t be, I haven’t done a damn thing yet. if I can get the Floats bent back into place, and if I can get the engine running then you can be proud.” Ronny said, glancing at Sarah who sat at the mouth of the lean too poking at the fire occasionally. Probably wishing she had marshmallows he thought.

“so if you cant get it either of those done, what then” Mary asked.

then we jack the plane up using a long tree trunk as a lever and pull the floats to make a sled, load up as much gear as we can and head back towards Monterey.” Ronny replied. “get me to an airport and I’m sure I can get what I need to fix this old girl” he said, it was no secret just how much he loved the UV.

“What if we don’t have the time, you know Jared wants to beat Kronnen to D.C.” Mary said, she was more interested in not thinking about their situation than any real interest in D.C. or Kronnen.

“With out the plane we have to rely on sending men ahead of us in vehicles, and they can only check one road at a time if those roads are connected. You know that. with the plane we can sweep ten, twenty miles, or more out in minutes not hour or days.” Ronnty replied.

Sarah turned away from the fire, still up upset at having a second plane fall out of the sky with her behind the stick. “what if Jared and the others don’t come?” she asked.

“he will” Ronny assured her.

“humor me what if he doesn’t, what then” Sarah asked,

Ronny didn’t hesitate, “then we haul our butts to the nearest airport, and either get a plane running or we gather parts and get this one running, then fly out”

She frowned slightly for a moment then rubbed her eye’s sleepily. “at least you have a plan, I only hope that we don’t see any undead.” She said then rose to her feet, ducking to keep from hitting the roof of the lean too and the tarp. “I’m going to get some sleep. I keep weirding out thinking the fire is drawing undead down on us.”

Ronny and Mary sat there for a little while longer, “ She is right, we need to bank the fire then all of us need to get inside the plane, tomorrow we need to use another tarp and cover all of this so there isn’t so much light shining out into the forest, and make sure there is a smoke hole.” Ronny as he moved to the fire and used his E tool to quickly cover the coals and embers with ash. Finished he turned and took Marys hand and led her to the plane, he didn’t say anything but he was seriously considering taking either Stephen or Dale and going to find the convoy.

They crawled into a single sleeping bag, and Ronny finally drifted off to sleep, he realized it was growing colder inside the plane much faster than he had expected.

December 30, North east of Monterey. 0700hrs.

Jared entered the house and stomped his feet knocking snow from his boots. The storm didn’t seem to have abated. There was at least two feet of snow out there, and it didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon.

Jill was sipping cup of cocoa, as she looked over her notes and the junk that the others had hauled in last night. from the looks some of the men were giving her, the smell of cocoa was driving them nuts.

“I hope you have enough to share with ever one else” Jared said as he walked over and squatted beside her.

“they should have taken boxes of their own, if they wanted hot chocolate, instead of beer, whiskey and Dr. Pepper” she said looking pointedly at Ori as she said the last part.

“When are we leaving?” she asked.

“not sure its still bad out there, if we leave right now, we could end up needing rescue. But if we sit here and wait it out, I’m afraid what might happen to the Ronny and the others” Jared said “can we make a sled out of this crap?” he asked pointing to the junk stacked next to the living room wall.

“yes, with the other stuff Logan and I found scattered around the house” She said. “especially using those” she said pointing to the ski’s they had pulled out of the basement.

“how long will it take” he asked.

“about an hour, we can do most of the work in here, but then we have to carry it outside to attach it to that lawn cart.

“I thought you were going to use that claw foot tub” Jared said looking at the tub they had pulled out and carried down last night.

“we can, the problem is drilling holes in the tub, all we have to drill with is the hand cranked drill you had in the tool box, and that’s just not going to work well on the tub, but if we knock off the legs, the tub is slightly rounded on the bottom and wide enough that we should be able to pull it through the snow with out ski’s or runners”

“well pick who ever you need and lets get it done, no matter the risk at this point, we have to try and find them today. if they are hurt, exposure is going to kill them.” Assuming it hasn’t already Jared thought, wishing they could have risked traveling at night.

two hours later the sled was finished, the extra supplies were loaded and Jared had chosen the people who were going with him, it wasn’t hard he didn’t have a lot of people to chose from, Ori, Jill, Mike, Logan, Darius and Brian who insisted on coming along.

“Ed if we are not back in three days, and the weather permits go back to the convoy.” Jared told Ed who was not happy about being left behind with the other four men.

“I don’t like it but I will” Ed said as the two men shook hands. “you just make sure you get your butt back too”

Jared grinned. “I should be hurt your only concerned with my butt making it back, but you are gay so I’m not surprised.”

“In your dreams Jared” Ed said smiling “now get out of here, I’m I charge of this house now.”

“and don’t forget to let Nibbler out of the closet when we are gone” Jared reminded Ed, he hated leaving the dog.

Ten minutes later Jared and the others were moving across the snow, pulling a homemade sled and a Bathtub loaded with supplies across a pasture and into the woods.

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

Thor Jansen paced back and forth in the dining room of the Lodge that high above the town of Monterey. Outside the snow still fell, but for a change it fell slower and had changed to large wet flakes.

“Sarge calm down your wearing a hole in the floor” Benton said, as he finished shaving the sides of his head down to skin with a straight razor. He glanced at Reese, wondering if the big man had figured out exactly what was bothering the Sarge.

“Sorry, and you missed a spot” Jansen said coming to a stop beside Benton who had for some reason taken it on himself to cut his hair down to a short Mohawk and with hair almost as Red as Jareds, the mohawk looked odd to Jansen.

“Where” Benton asked trying to turn his head and look in the small mirror he had taken from the wall.

Jansen held out his hand ”Let me do it” Benton passed Thor the razor then waited as Thor stropped it on the leather strap to make sure the razor was sharp enough.

“Hey sarge I need to shave my balls want to help” Baker asked.

“can it Baker” Jansen said, his attempt to calm down only went so far.

It only took him a couple of quick swipes of the blade to finish then he passed the blade back to Benton. “there you go, you might even get a date when we get back” Thor said. “but that beard your starting to grow is out of regs soldier”

“Ill sign any LOR, you want to write” Benton said with a laugh then grew serious as ht turned his head to look at Jansen. “I need to ask this Sarge, but how long are we going to hang out here?”

“till Jan 1, then we head east whether Jared and the others are back or not.” He said. He and Reese had actually spent some time talking about Jareds plans and what if anything they would do if Jared and the others failed to return.

The truth was at this point, neither man believed they had the manpower to achieve the goals Jared had set out with the man power available to them, and if Jared returned will all five survivors and no one had been killed in Jareds party they still wouldn’t have the numbers. The truth was the whole plan hinged on how many men Eric brought with him

And Reese had an idea that could radically change the plan for the better if Jared approved it.

Jansen sat down, trying to relax as Spacey and the rest of Reeses squad began to sing a song from Monty python, something about brave Sir Robin. He smiled slightly personally he was getting tired of running away from the Undead, he understood why Jared was doing it, but that didn’t make it any easier to stomach.

“I want you to try and raise Jared again at 2000 hrs.” Jansen said.

“yes sir, Sergeant sir” Benton said snapping a British salute the back of his hand against his forehead.

“Good, turn in when your done, and make sure Tolliver and Baker take second watch.” Jansen said.

Benton leaned forward “Sarge, take it easy. They are fine” he said, meaning she was fine but he want going to say that in a room full of men.

“Thanks Benton, but that’s not really what I’m worried about.” He replied with a shrug. “ just trying to figure out how we are going to take out Kronnen with getting to many of you guys killed in the process.” Only a green soldier or a civilian ever thought that a war could be fought with out people dying and NCO’s even more than officers had to face that reality, it was the NCO who ultimately was on the field giving orders and keeping his people in the fight.

“appreciate that Sarge, but taking out Kronnen is worth it if half the stuff Darius has told us is true.” Benton said.

“I know” Jansen said shaking his head slowly. “like every one else I’m tired, worn out and just want a fucking break. A nice little R and R in some place like Tahiti, white sands, topless women and nothing to do but swim.” He fell silent then looked at Benton, “if the undead were gone, what would you do?”

“Id go to Scotland find my girlfriend and marry her.” Benton said.

“I would head to Philly and see if my nan na was till alive.” Tollliver said slipping into conversation.

“I would find me seven or eight women and settle down” Baker threw in from across the table.

“bullshit baker, you and Sinclair would get marred.” Tolliver said with a laugh.

Jansen smiled listening to his squad descend into a slam fest laughing at each other and relaxing, at least they could still laugh most of the time, which was a blessing. Like an old Brown shoe had once told him “son when your out there on the line, you either learn to laugh or you just shut down and cry.”

“I’m going to hit the sack, I’m taking the dog watch” Jansen said rising and heading for the lounge that been converted into a bunk room for the entire convoy.

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

December 31st, 0100 hrs

Ronny woke to Mary shaking his shoulder. “what?” he whispered, then heard the thump against the side of the plane. his heart sank as he realized what that noise had to mean. He sat up, kicking Stephen to wake him up.

Peering through the window on the cargo door were five zombies, he checked the windows on the other side and saw six more. “what are we going to do” Mary asked.

a tremor in his hands started as Ronny realized every one was looking to him. You cant I’m a damn cripple, he thought angrily but he saw the complete trust in Mary’s eye’s and the way she held her hands over her belly as if to protect their unborn child and knew he had to be the one to take charge, no one else would put her safety before their own.

There was only one way, he thought looking towards the pilots seat. the snow was pretty deep and that would slow down the already slow undead. he grabbed his pack, and then his weapon “what are you going to do?” Mary asked her eyes darting to the cargo door and the undead beyond it.

“I’m going to lead them off, when they are far enough from the door, open it up and put them down” Ronny said. “Ill go out the pilots door, its far enough forward that I can run.” He was going to have to use a firearm too which sucked, but there were far to many clustered together to risk using axe or something, to high of a chance he would be grabbed and bitten by one zombie while attacking another, and his limited mobility would play a large factor in that outcome.

“you cant run Ronny, not with that limp” Mary protested. “you cant go out there”

Ronny just looked at her, hurt but refusing to say it, he didn’t daresay a word because if he did he might back out. Finally she looked away, Stephan and Dale looked at each other then Dale lifted his hand. “I will do it” he said his eyes drifting to the brace on Ronnys leg.

Seeing Dale look at his brace pissed him off, and tempted him to let the man do it. but he couldn’t not now.. “No,” Ronny said firmly, then bent and kissed Mary on the forehead. “Ill be back in a few” he said and climbed up into the pilots seat and placed his back where he could grab it easily. He checked once more, praying a zombie wasn’t laying under the plane under his feet, then opened the door, cold air blasted in bringing the smell of the dead. He ignored it and slipped out into the snow. Remarkably the zombies didn’t notice him for a moment, long enough for him to pull his pack out and slip it on.

Which was in he noticed all five zombies on this side were now staring at him. He causally waved “ hey guys what’s up?” he said all friendly like as he slammed the door shut and limped off towards the wood line. The zombies trailing after him slowed by the snow but no less interested in biting him in the butt. The snow was not helping his lame ass either, and no matter what he had hoped, the undead were not spreading out, but staying massed as they came after him. So there really wouldn’t be a chance to take them out silently.

Thankfully the snow reflected what ambient light there was so it wasn’t pitch black, he thought as he looked back and saw the dark shape of the plane was maybe fifty feed behind him. but he could also see the six zombies that had been on the other side of the plane were now on his side, but had stopped near the cargo door as if waiting.

Damn it, they were to close for Mary and the others to open the door and start blasting. At least one or two might be able to reach inside and grab some one before they can be shot down, he thought. But that was a problem for later, right now he had five zombies, lurching through the snow right at him.

“okay this is easy you can do this” Ronny told himself as he stopped turned, and brought the P90 up to his shoulder, the sight though not a night vision scope, used a Tritium module to light the T reticle and had a system that amplified ambient light allowing him to see his targets a little better. He squeezed off five rounds at the lead zombie behind him, in the dark all he could really see was a shapely female body.

The P90 was the best choice for him, lower recoil, easy to control, it made aiming and more importantly hitting your target easier. Bullets slammed into her upper chest, blew out the throat, and then removed a jaw, shattered the skull and at least one bullet must have hit the brain, since she toppled over into the snow.

“Well come on, I don’t have all night” Ronny called out as he moved the selector from single fire to burst with a flick of his thumb then sent a burst down range that all but took the head off the next zombie. he pivoted on his bad leg, wincing as pain flared, he took a deep calming breath to still the tremor in his hands, and serviced the next two targets cleanly. Leaving one zombie remaining out of the group chasing him.

he put it down easily, and started back to the plane, and saw that four of the six were remaining zombies were heading his way.

He returned to single shots and aimed carefully at his first target, assuming a classic standing shooters position, he fired once, then paused as he took aim at the second, ignoring the body that tumbled to the ground, he put down the next two with careful aimed shots.

Another weapon barked, the sound of the M4 loud and distinctive, Sarah was leaning out the pilots door firing at the two remaining undead at the cargo door.

Ronny let the last of the zombie chasing him get with in arms reach, then put it down.

He limped back to the plan, shaking from head to toe, the cargo door slid open and Mary leaped out. “get your gear, stuff as much extra food in your packs as you can. We have to leave” Ronny told them as Mary hugged him, he hated the idea of leaving the plane but they had no choice, the undead had found them and the gunfire would draw more.

Mary stepped back from him looking as if she wanted to say something but only shook her head then she climbed back into the plane to gather her things.

“Pass me some more MRE’s” Ronny told Stephen who handed him four more, he removed his pack and knelt awkwardly to put them inside then pulled his pack back on.

He hated to leave the plane, which was loaded with supplies, but they had no choice now.
In a matter of minutes every one was ready. the big question was where to go, back towards the convoy was the only real answer.

“I have a suggestion” Sarah said shivering. “when we were coming in we passed near a house or cabin, maybe three miles back. I know the exact bearing we were on at the time so, we should be able to get real close to it.”

“sounds like a plan and its in the same direction we need to head anyway” Ronny said. Three miles, wasn’t all that far, if they could get there with out being seen and followed by the undead, it was possible they could come back and get more supplies off the plane before starting the long trek down off the mountain and into town.

“I think we need to start moving right now” Dale said pointing to almost twenty undead that had emerged from the woods to the north, only seen because they were dark shapes against the snow. “close the door, so nothing can get in, hopefully we can come back and get more supplies in a day or so.”

With Ronny leading the way they set off south across the clearing, tension building as they drew closer to the woods expecting a horde to appear any moment in front of them.

They passed into the woods, every shadow hid a threat, every tree trunk might have a zombie behind it, and none of them dared use a flashlight. They moved in fits and starts, some one tripping or running into trees or brush in the dark almost constantly. Ronny tripped for the fourth time wrenching his bad leg and knew they had to use the lights, they had no choice. They were going to slow, making to much noise because they couldn’t really see more than a couple of feet and no details.

And if he turned on his light it made no sense every one else to follow along behind him waiting to feel a cold hand or hands reach out of the dark to either side or from behind and drag them down.

He turned on his light, with the blue lense and flashed it around his tension level dropped a little but not all that much. “does every one have a colored lense on their lights” he whispered. The answer was what he expected no. he flashed his light around again, and this time thought he saw movement off to his left.

If they used their lights the undead would just follow them, if they didn’t use their lights, the undead would probably catch them anyway. “ if you have a light turn them on” he finally said. “keep them pointed down as much as possible.” He blinked as lights blinked on and instantly saw four zombies off to their left. three more to the right, all of them.

“lets move as fast as we can” He said and started limping forward, the small group following, flashing their lights around in fear, spotting more and more zombies wandering through the woods, now drawn straight for the lights that meant food.

They crossed a creek, Ronny slipped on the ice and fell banging his head on a rock, he hauled himself up slightly dizzy but refusing to give in, then scrambled up the bank on the other side. He turned and helped Mary up, then Sarah, he turned to help Stephen.

Dale started down the bank, and lost his footing, he fell, sliding and bounced down the bank right off the narrow path Ronny and others had taken, he struck a rock, then another till he landed sprawled in some brush. He sat up shaking head, and flashed his light around, and froze for a half second too long as the light revealed a zombie that lay in the brush along the edge of the creek its leg and back twisted and bent at an unnatural angle.

A cold hand grasped his thigh, the fingers worked down to the bone from where it had been crawling around for over a years tore into the flesh of his thigh, hot blood spurted, Dale shouted in horror, then liked a damned soul as teeth tore into his shin and ripped away flesh.

Ronny looked across the Creek and grabbed Stephen by the shirt to keep him from rushing across, in the beam of Stephens flash light they say Dale struggling with something on the ground. Then something dark and red spurted up splattering on the snow and brush.

“oh hell no” Stephen said as Dale slammed his rifle down again and again.

“We cant leave his stuff” Ronny said, earning a glare from Stephan as he Slipped back down the bank. “don’t look at me like that, every bit of food and ammo can mean the difference between living or dying, get it through your damned head.” Ronny said as he moved back across the ice to find Dale sitting there not even trying to stem the bleeding.

He looked up at Ronny, both of them could hear the crack of ice, and breaking branches as the nearby undead moved towards the source of the noise. “sorry, I brought them down on you.” Dale said as Stephen joined Ronny.

“its okay man, that shit has to hurt, but …” Ronny paused… he looked across the creek and saw Mary standing on the bank back to back with Sarah, both women had weapons ready. “I cant leave you like this man.. I’m sorry.” Ronny said.

Dale nodded refusing to cry, he looked up at the falling snow. “do it now” he said. Ronny pulled the trigger of the P90 and Dale fell backwards.

Almost crying he Struggled to get the straps of Dales pack undone. “help me” he muttered hearing the undead draw closer.

“son of a bitch” Stephen said kneeling and in seconds the two men got Dales pack, Combat vest and weapons free.

Together they carried the gear across, and quickly got it the weapons spread out amongst the small group, Ronny hooked the vest to his pack, as the two men climbed back up the bank, a zombie tumbled down the far side. Mary fired at it, the zombie jerked a couple of times then tried crawling across the ice towards them.

“ leave the pack, we can come back for it or something” Ronny said after a second. As much as they might need the extra supplies they were not worth dying for. Stephen nodded and placed the pack under some bushes. And the now smaller group set off again.

They moved as fast as they could, which thanks to Ronny was only slightly faster than the undead, his leg was really hurting, between flashes of pain like fire, there were stabs of pain like ice in between.

He checked their course with his compass and saw they were not to far off the bead and led the group back into course. Up head through the trees he saw that it grew lighter, snow on open ground he realized.

He sped up as much as he could, and finally emerged in a small clearing. “turn off the lights while we cross” he said quietly, hoping with no lights showing they could gain put a little more distance between themselves and the undead chasing them. The lights went out and it took a moment for their night vision to adjust.

“you cant keep this up” Mary said as she moved up beside Ronny knowing how badly he had to hurt.

“don’t have a choice” Ronny replied just as quietly as they crossed the clearing,

“down there” Sarah said pointing down the slope, Ronny squinted but could make it out, far down the below, he could see snow filled clearing that almost glowed in the night and something that looked like a house, it was maybe a mile, mile and a half. They reached the other side of the clearing and plunged back into the woods, behind them undead poured out of the woods and started across the clearing after them

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

December 31st, 0100 hrs, Seybert hills.

Jared was crouched beside a tree, keeping watching while the others slept in the shelter they had made. He had wanted to keep going, but most every one was dragging ass after the rough hike up. he had actually forced Logan into the Tub and pulled him the last mile, because the man was so exhausted he had fallen asleep while walking and walked into two different trees.

He shouldn’t have kept going after the sun had set, but he had stopped only long enough to break out the NVGs and pressed on hoping to find the Plane before it got much later.

The shelter was rough, but it kept the wind and the snow off so it was better than nothing and at least his people were out of the weather, he only hoped Ronny and the rest were…his thoughts chopped off as he heard distant gunfire. He snapped to his feet trying to pinpoint the source, but in the mountains it was damn near impossible. He couldn’t be postive but it sounded like a P90.

Ori climbed out of the shelter “is that gunfire?”

“yeah” Jared replied. “sounds like Ronny’s weapon”

Ori cocked his head listening but the gun fire fell silent. “I cant tell where it was coming from.” He said after a moment, “Ill get my gear and go scout ahead.”

“no” Jared said. “we wait till daylight Ori, if it is Ronny then he is alive, and if he just died, we cant help him anyway. And none of us needs to risk getting hurt in the dark.” Jared told Ori who frowned an absently pulled off his cap and rubbed his hand through his thick blond hair for a moment.

the two men fell silent, scanning the dark slopes for any sign of lights but saw nothing. but an hour later they heard what sounded like a scream then another three or four shots, and then silence again.

Jared was worried, frustrated and angry at not being able to figure out where the sound was coming from. If it was Ronny then at least he was still alive, an hopefully that meant the others were still alive at least he really hoped they were.

“get some sleep” Ori said after a little, there had been nothing but silence for over an hour and the sun would be up soon. “Ill stand guard for you. Tomorrow is going to be a long day.

“thanks” Jared said as he knelt and crawled into the shelter where he curled up with Jill and was asleep in seconds.

They were up by 0600hrs and ready to head out in the bluish pre dawn light, a flurries of snow flakes drifted down around them as they pulled the tarp off the shelter folded and stowed it away on the sled then started walking higher up the mountain.

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

Julie walked slowly down the streets of her hometown, it was just like she had last seen the place, a disaster area, wrecks scattered along the roads, smoke hung in the air, fires burned in the distance. But there was no sign of life or of the undead.

Soon she found herself in the woods behind the suburb she had lived in as a teen ager, she knew where she was going, where she was bound to, the place her life had change for ever. It was in every way that counted the place the woman she was had been born.

It hadn’t changed much, she thought as she stepped into the clearing beside the river, there was the old dusty white van, parked under the limbs of an old tree, there was the mattress that kids had hauled out here to make out on, over there was a pair of red panties half buried in the leaves. The girl who had owned them hadn’t needed them again when Julie was finished with her lesson.

She smiled as she saw him sitting on the stump he had taught her from. Her mentor, her father figure, the man who had brought her into the world. he had seemed so freakish at first, with his odd shaped eyes, skinny limbs and hooked nose, but she had sensed a kindred spirit inside the man who had studied her intently from under the brim of the bowler hat he wore, then he had smiled hugely showing shark teeth an invited her to sit at his feet and she had and her world had changed.

“it has been a while since I last saw you” Jasper Brown said giving her the shark toothed smile she remembered so well. “you have done wonderful works, but tonight we must talk about what you are to do for me.”

“any thing Jasper” She replied as she dropped to the ground at his feet and leaned against his legs. “any thing for you.” She said smiling up at him.

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

Jan 1st, 0800hrs

Gray light filtered through the small narrow windows of the Cabin, Ronny sat on a small wooden stool watching the undead wandering around the yard outside through a crack in the shutters. To the east of the clearing was a private cemetery, two zombies just stood in the here in front of the three tombstones that stuck up out of the snow like rotting teeth.

Something thumped against the front door and he held his breath, but the noise wasn’t repeated. They had barely made it into yesterday before the undead had followed, by sunrise most of the zombies had moved on through the yard still heading in the general direction they had been heading, but a hundred or so had just stayed, almost like they suspected they humans were in the cabin and were just waiting for proof before they attacked.

His leg still throbbed from the run through the woods the other night, and it was lucky they had found the cabin, he couldn’t have much further, and as it was he could barely walk yesterday. He hated this, hated being limited like this, especially now, but he had already done more than he had thought he could do and he was going to damn well keep pushing at his limitations, he had to there was to much at stake to do anything else.

He looked around the old cabin, it was pretty bare, but had a butchers sink and an old chopping black table. The walls with a few streaks of mold were plywood, It was probably a hunters cabin, since it lacked water and there were no light fixtures in the small place. The only real furniture in the place were a few stools, a folding table and a cot beside the fire place.

He saw Mary stirring where she lay on the cot, rising he walked over and knelt awkwardly beside her. “ssshh. There’s one the porch” he whispered.

“how long” she asked in a whisper that was barely audible.

He wasn’t sure if she meant how long it had been there, or how long the undead might hang around. “don’t know” he said, then fell silent as the light that came through the shutters dimmed even further as a zombie moved in front of the window.

His leg hurting badly from kneeling convinced him to stand again, the zombie was still in front of the window he had been sitting beside he noted. Flinching as another one bumped against the door. He stood there for a while listening to zombies move along the old porch outside.

You know you cant escape me Father, the voice was a whisper, soft and colder than the world outside the door. I’ve just been a little preoccupied killing Jared and the rest of your friends I cant have them interrupting our family time.

“your not real” he hissed softly, his new found confidence beginning to crumble.

“Ronny, what is it?” Mary asked grabbing his hand.

Oh but I am, go to the west window and look out Father, it whispered in his ear.

Ronny pulled his hand from Marys and walked unsteadily to the west window and peered out a gap in the shutters.. Outside maybe forty feet away, under the shadows of a Maple tree, stood a figure in white, long dark hair dangling almost to its waist covering its face, but even from here he could see the gleam of jet black eyes peering at him from the tangles of the hair.

“what is it” Mary asked again from behind him.

“do you see her” Ronny asked desperate for some one else to see what he saw.

Mary looked outside then shook her head, she saw twenty or so undead shuffling through the deep snow, but none of them were female. “no, I don’t see a woman Ronny.” She said worried now.

She cant see me, because I do not want her to you shit, she doesn’t get kill me you do.

Ronny stood there hands clenched tightly at his side, not real not real he told himself.

Just open the door father, you can end this now, no more pain, no more being crippled, just open the door and Ill make your death swift.

There was a presence building in the room he could feel it slithering in through the cracks of the old cabin, dark and malevolent riding on a stench of old blood and rotted meat.

“what the hell is that” Stephen whispered. Sarah had sat up looking around her weapon already in her hands.

Too late Ronny, I offered you the easy way out, the voice said changing to something that was deeper, ageless and lacked any emotion.

Something slammed against the door, and then the light from the windows began to fade as the undead surrounded the cabin and began to paw at the walls. The door was shaking in its frame as the undead tried to get in, there was a loud crack of splintering wood.

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

Jansen stood at the HET looking at the lodge, then down over the town of Monterey, everything was loaded up and engines were idling. “everything is loaded up Sarge, ready to roll out when you are.” Benton said.

Jansen nodded, he had hoped as stupid as it was to see something that might give him a clue where Jared and the others were at, but there was no sign of them, no flares, no smoke, no fires nothing.

I know I shouldn’t lover her, he thought, who ever is out there looking out for us good guy’s, Keep them all safe, especially Jill. He prayed silently.

“double check and make sure all the cameras have been recovered” he told Benton who rushed off to the CnC vehicle. he was just about to Climb up into the HET when he heard something snapping, and turned to see an one of the soldiers had placed a Small US flag on the antenna whip of a Hummer. He smiled slightly, it was a damn nice to see, hopefully if they won, the next Government to fly that flag would live up to the ideals it represented. Well that was for the future, all I can do was try to deal with the present, and the present was one hell of a messed up place. He thought as he climbed up into the HET.

“cameras are all accounted for” Benton transmitted, as Jansen settled in the Passenger seat.

“Chris you ready” Jansen asked over the radio.

“lets roll” Chris replied,

the convoy much shrunken in people rolled out, heading for the next camp on the list that Jared had given Jansen and Chris, hopefully Jared would meet them there in four days.

The convoy passed out of sight, and a minute later a Green Jeep rolled down the road through the swirling snow following.

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

0830 Seybert hills.

Jared slid through the snow on his belly till he reached the line of brush where Ori lay, he settled down and peered through the branches and saw the UV sitting across a clearing, surrounded by undead. it looked like Ronny had built some kind of log frame under the fuselage, but for what reason Jared had no clue.

The only reason they had ended up finding the plane was Darius had insisted this morning that they head south a few miles, up near a ridge he had pointed out. Jared suspected that Darius might have dreamed the location but the man had not mentioned it.

“I cant see anyone inside” Ori said a note of relief in his voice.

“Doesn’t mean anything “ Jared replied, he hated having to point that out, but they all needed to be prepared for finding Ronny and the others dead and just laying on the floor of the plane till some one living opened the door.

“There’s maybe twenty of those things staggering around the clearing,” Ori said

“then we take them out.” Jared said, “hold tight till I come back” he said sliding backwards in the snow till he could stand with out being seen by the undead in the clearing.

Jill looked up as Jared strode towards them, he looked grim which didn’t bode well he stopped at the sled and picked up the staff he had made with the Machete blade attached to one end. “we found the plane, there’s undead around it, but no sign of Ronny and the others.” Jared said. Jill looked away for a moment processing the info and refusing to think about what might have happened to their friends.

“so what now” Logan asked, his expression unreadable. Jared didn’t need to be a mind reader to know the younger man was upset and worried about Sarah, whom he had developed an attraction for.

“we clear out the undead around the plane, see if they left any messages, or clues to where they went, and then we start tracking if all else fails, and if we all die then we don’t have to worry about anything else ever again” Jared said with a shrug then headed towards the edge of the woods, the group following.

He stepped out of the woods Ori beside him, a machete in his hand. Jill and Logan off to his left Steger and Mike drifted further to the right, trying to draw some of the undead away to keep them from massing on any one or two people. Brian and Darius came up behind them.

Jared didn’t pay much attention to them, he didn’t need to, he had lived and fought beside the most of these people for over a year, they were a team. He knew how they would react in almost any given situation and never had to worry that some one would go rushing off leaving him exposed on one side or the other.

Halfway across the field, he shed his pack and his coat, then headed straight for the largest concentration of undead and waded into them the pole arm a blur in his hands as he slashed, thrust and broke bones with it, using its length to keep them at bay, while Jill and Logan cut down those that tried to move in on the left and Ori dispatched the ones that Jared crippled.

“mother of god” Brian said as he saw Jill Stone practically flying through a knot of undead, spinning and striking with her legs, knees and the shimmering blade in her hands. Jared was as lethal and impressive, though a little slower, they both should have been hired to play Jedi knights or as stunt men for fight scenes in action movies he decided seeing Jared slide across the snow on one knee using his staff to sweep a zombie off its feet, before he spun upright spinning the staff around to line up the machete affixed to one end of his staff and slam the blade into the things head.

They hit the undead and kept hammering through the corpses, keeping the walking dead off balance and unable to mass on any one person.

Brian felt like a fifth wheel, but watching how Jared and his people worked together in the fight he understood why Jared had asked he and Darius to cover the rear. They would only have gotten in the way of that team. No matter what Jared and any one else might say, no matter how much they might miss the old world these people were made for the current world.

In three minutes maybe slightly less the undead were down, staining the snow with black slime that oozed out of shattered skulls and gaping wounds and not a shot had been fired.

Jared stalked through the churned snow to the plane, where he found six corpses scattered with in feet of the cargo doors, each had bullet holes in their heads and upper torsos, he peered in the windows sighing in relief when he saw no bodies.

“Ori, take Logan and Mike and start looking for sign,” Jared said as he pulled himself into the plane.

most of the supplies were still onboard, it looked like some one had been in a hurry and rifled through a couple of cases of MRE’s, all the packs were gone, and no ammo was left on the plane.

Jared climbed out of the plane, and saw the anxious look in Logans eyes. “all I can tell you is it looks like they left in a hurry.” He said, which did nothing to make Logan or even Jared feel better about the fate of their friends.

Seeing Ori waving at him, he retrieved his coat and Pack then walked over to Ori who was standing over a body, which had been partially covered in snow. It wasn’t any one he recognized thankfully.

“There’s five of them scattered across here” Ori said, “and I found sign that a couple of people went south, it could be the whole group or might be only a two or three of them, snows filled in any tracks, but there’s plenty of broken branches and scrapes on tree bark.”

“can you follow it?” he asked quietly, Ori lifted his shoulders as if to shrug.

“Probably what I saw was pretty clear, like they were moving in the dark and running into stuff. And less snow under the trees, so I might be able to find tracks deeper into the woods there.”

“Then lets go” Jared said signaling for the team to move to the edge of the woods Ori had pointed out.

The going was tough, the men pulling the sled and the tub had to detour around trees, thick stands of brush and rocks, occasionally a group had to pick up the sleds and carry them over obstacles.

At a creek they found the body of Dale Moore, his leg had been chewed on and some one had shot him in the head. His gear had been taken and minutes later Ori discovered his pack on the other side of the icy creek. They loaded it into the tub and kept moving.

They entered another clearing, and in the distance down the slope see part of another clearing, and the peak of a building roof, the clearing looked full of undead. it was at least a mile away, and as Jared pulled out his binoculars, he heard gunfire a lot of it.

“that might be them” Logan said excited starting to speed up but Jared dragged him back dropping his binoculars.

“hold up Logan don’t be stupid” Jared said as he pulled off is pack, then pulled out two bandoliers of 40mm antipersonnel rounds and the M32 from the sled, before he placed his pack in the sled.

“lets drag the sleds over into the tree line and hide them, I hate to do it but we need to leave packs too, we are going to be moving fast and we don’t need the weight.” Jared said, wishing he had enough people to leave guards on the sled and the tub but he didn’t and from what little he had seen of that clearing there were a lot of undead down there and would need every single weapon the group could bring to bear.

It only took a couple of minutes to ditch their packs with the sleds and leave them hidden in the woods, before they were slipping quickly and quietly through the woods, Jared and Ori ahead of the pack. Jared hated doing this they were all starting to sweat from the run and the heavy clothes and that was not a good think in cold weather like this. But it was an issue they would have to deal with if and when they dealt with the undead and hopefully found Ronny and the others alive an well.

No matter how quiet they tried to be they still made noise as limbs caught equipment, or some one would stumble an fall. Each time they would look around but so far they saw no undead in their race down the wooded mountain slope. Race implied they were moving hard and fast, Jared thought, unfortunately the ice and snow kept it from being an all out run. And it was hard to actually get into a mile eating run in snowshoes.

Suddenly Ori held up a clenched fist and pumped it twice dropping to his knees, the sound of gunfire close by, Jared slipped up beside him an knelt immediately covering the area to Ori’s right, Logan as anxious as he was moved up and took the left, in moments the entire team was together kneeling in a circle facing outward.

“wait here till I give the signal, and when I do, stay together, Darius, Brian you cover the back, and if some one needs help you move up and assist. Got it” He asked them. Every one nodded, and if Darius looked a bit annoyed he kept his mouth shut, he had that pre combat calm look so many men put on to hide the raging fear and tension, which made him about as Normal as any soldier.

Jared and Ori, weapons at high ready moved up in a combat crouch maybe thirty feet to a position that let them looked into the Clearing.

Jared could see the clearing from here, and the undead clustered around the old cabin, as he watched a zombie tore a set of shutters from a window and its hands quickly shattered the glass, there was a boom of a shotgun and it fell back headless from the window, but another moved into to take its place.

Bodies were heaped in front of the door, and as Jared watched a zombie staggered over the corpses of its fellows and was blown back, from the sound of the weapons some one was using a P90 and a Siaga 12, .12ga, both of which had been on the plane.

But it was the gunfire coming from across the clearing from the trees that was curious, from the sound they were hunting rifles, mostly 30 30’s and at least on 30 06. they were not firing at the cabin either, which was interesting, but firing into the undead. about forty zombies had broken from the main group and were lurching towards the shooters in the woods.

Every zombie in two miles has to be here, Jared thought, and any beyond that would be heading up the mountain trying to locate the source of the noise. Who knew how long they had till another crowd arrived.

“Lets go” Jared said as he moved out of wood line HK Already rocking, he would save the M32 till he got closer and had groups to deal with. In seconds his team had joined him.

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

Ronny could barely stand, his leg hurt so bad. Stephan wave him back from the door, and the pile of undead, the Siaga 12 was a better weapon to hold the door at the moment. he had no idea how long the fight had gone on so far, all he knew was they were holding on but barely.

Mary sat by the fire covering the west window that was still intact, Sarah had the east window which a zombie had almost gotten through, thankfully Stephen had been facing the window at the time, now Sarah’s M4 was in play, she was using single shots, as a zombie stepped in front of the window its head was perfectly outline by the sky behind it, and she would put one or two shots right in the ring sending it stumbling back.

The hundred zombies he had first counted had turned into three hundred after the first shots had been fired, zombies had poured out of the southern woods, the horde had apparently not gone all that far after all.

They had shoved the cot across the door, which had tripped up zombies, keeping them from just pouring into the cabin. But it couldn’t last, sooner or later they were going to get in, hell the walls of the cabin were creaking and sounded like they were about to come down.

When gunmen had opened up on the undead, for a brief moment Ronny had almost shouted with joy, thinking that Jared and the others had arrived, but those were hunting rifles not military grade weapons.

The Siaga Fell silent, Stephen jumped back away from grasping hands dropping the weapon and running for the AR he had leaned against the wall ten feet away. a zombie stepped in, almost falling but it didn’t. it stood there for half a second its dead cloudy eyes fixed on Ronny, he could swear the corners of its mouth lifted as if it were about to smile, then a hole appeared in its fore head as Mary shot it. but it was too late really another one had gotten in, and a third was squeezing past it.

The momentary paralysis that had gripped Ronny passed and he fired, but the undead just kept coming into the room, a leak that would become a flood.

“YES!” Sarah shouted from the window, as fresh gunfire roared outside from a new direction.

“Ronny hold the hell on” Jared’s voice rang out clear and sharp over the gunfire.

“Son of a bitch he made it” Ronny said tears of relief sliding down his face as he stepped forward firing into the mass of undead. All he had to do was hold on and Mary would be safe, that was the thought he clung to, his anchor in the chaos.

Jared moved and fired, burning through a magazine, with out thought, pure reflex he popped the spent mag and slapped in a fresh, in a movement that was so fast and smooth there was barely anytime between his last shot and his first of the new magazine.

His weapon shifted from target to target, servicing them coldly with no emotion, safe as long as Ori stayed on his left and Mike stayed on his right. And the rest of the team covered the flanks and the rear.

The undead were piled up on the porch trying to climb over each other to get inside, more had turned as Jared and the others had appeared and swept towards them. He didn’t care they were just targets on the range, and years of training and combat kept him calm and centered in the middle of the chaos.

They were halfway to the cabin, undead falling before them, who ever was in the woods were still shooting and having an easier time since the undead not attacking the cabin were now heading straight for the people they could see. Walking corpses were tumbling to the ground far short of their intended victims. Men and women who no longer were scared of them, and knew how to fight them. After so long.

A scream erupted from the cabin and was cut off abruptly, Jared heard but it didn’t knock him out of the zone, beside him Ori was firing single shots calmly and just as mechanically as Jared.

Third magazine went empty and Jared let the HK go to dangle across his chest as he pulled the M32 from his side and laid its sights on the undead on the porch. He was close enough. “ fire in the hole in the hole” he bellowed over the din of gunfire and pulled the trigger on the M32, rapidly cycling through all six rounds, the antipersonnel rounds were nothing more than shot gun shells writ large, each round of the military antipersonnel rounds contained twenty steel pellets, Jared fired off six rounds in three seconds, sending one hundred and twenty steel pellets ripping into the undead at what amounted to knife fighting range. Flesh shredded, limbs were torn away, bodies tumbled to the ground, either dead, immobilized, or had just been knocked down didn’t matter, what mattered was half the undead massed at the door were down in three seconds, Jared didn’t have time to reload, he just dropped the M32 and drew his pistol and the carnage grew.

Ronny stood there blinking as the last zombie fell, smoke curled up from the barrel of his P90, Stephens corpse lay half buried under the mound of dead, Mary had shot the man in the head as the undead had managed to drag him down. Sarah, leaned exhausted against the wall, wet with sweat, shaking from head to toe.

Mary was sobbing in relief, he turned and limped over to her, then his abused leg finally gave out and he fell sprawling beside his the woman he was going to marry the first moment he got the chance. With a soft cry she knelt beside and he managed to give her the hug he had intended before his leg had given way.

Hearing movement at the door, he pulled free of Mary and tried to bring his rifle up just in case it was more undead, then smiled crookedly seeing Jared walking over the corpses to enter the cabin. “I hate to ruin the moment, but are you folks ready to be rescued” Jared asked giving them a relieved smile.

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

it was snowing again, which shouldn’t have surprised anyone especially not Jess, who stood there shivering in the snow as he faced the heavily armed band of strangers.

Jess and his friends had only made the dangerous trek to Seybert hills hoping that that who ever was on that plane that had landed might be able to take them out of here, which is what had led them to try and rescue the survivors trapped in the cabin. He was surprised as hell to say the least to find that the leader of the band who had come charging into the rescue guns blazing was the red head he had seen in the camp down near the edge of town.

He and his friends had walked out of the woods, hands raised, and Jess had explained why they had helped the people in the cabin, which had turned out to be a man and two women. No one was pointing weapons at him or his raggedly dressed friends, not that they could put up a fight, they were pretty much out of ammo now. Burning through it hoping the pilot of the plane would appreciate their help so much he would offer to get them as far from the mountains as possible.

The Red head walked up and stood in front of Jess, he had hooke his right thumb in his belt so the hand dangled over his pistol. The same pistol he had just use to put down more zombies than Jess had ever shot and faster than he would have believed possible.

“I’m Jared, and the people you just helped save are my friends, so if you want some food, better clothes, and a way to get the hell out of this place. I will gladly help you” He said extending his hand to Jess, who shook it slowly in disbelief.

“your really not kidding” Jess asked shocked, there had been no arguments, no complaints and no discussion just like that.

“shut the hell up Jess before he changes his mind” Moses, his best friend said. Jared chuckled, and just as abruptly as the day the dead rose, Jess and his friends lives changed again, not as drastically no, but almost as profoundly as Hope flared deep in hearts that had long since thought they would never feel it again.

some where else something dark felt that hope and put pieces into motion, The storm was coming that would sweep away humanity once and for all, but this could not be allowed to stand, hope endangered all it sought to achieve and Jared Stone was the cause.

The light must be thwarted and Stone and his friends must be removed, they were like a cancer to its plans and would be excised.

4 thoughts on “Chapter Eighteen

    • Thanks, glad you liked it.

      I swear, destroy a few town blocks for two clowns and your tarred for life LOL

      Ive actually been working on the Story that explains Jareds intense dislike of clowns. once I finish “a Storm” I will try to get it finished and posted.

      Like

  1. Just what I needed, more Jared and company on a day like today….Thanks for yet another great entry…waiting for more now. Again thanks.

    Like

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