“You knew I was coming for you, little one, when the kettle jumped into the fire. Towels flapped on the hooks, and the dog crept off, groaning, to the deepest part of the woods.
In the hackles of dry brush a thin laughter started up.
Mother scolded the food warm and smooth in the pot
and called you to eat.
But I spoke in the cold trees:
New one, I have come for you, child hide and lie still.”
~The Windigo, by Louise Erdrich
The Ultra light buzzed slowly across the crystal clear blue sky. Near the horizon y a few wispy clouds hovered. It was the kind of glorious day that made it easy to forget that horror and death stalked every living being still alive.
In the sky where the ultra light soared, unbound from earthly shackles, the pall, the sensed but not seen shadow that covered the world was banished by the golden sunlight that spilled across the land. Up there, fancy not reason insisted that the light should have burned away every bit of evil with its touch.
The Ultra light gently began to descend so that the men aboard could get a good look at the city they had come to see. It only took a second for them to wish they could forget what lay below them.
The Ultra light flew over block after block of homes and business that stood shoulder to jowl with each other separated only by ribbons of asphalt.
Vehicles littered the black top like a river of metal and colored plastic, many crushed together at intersections and through out the mess were abandoned emergency vehicles their doors standing open, still waiting to render aid that was no longer needed.
It was so easy to forget how bad it had been in the cities, Ronny thought, especially since we escaped early and have spent months living out in the sticks away from all of this. He checked the compass and with a gentle touch on the stick altered course. Nervously he checked the fuel gauge, running out of fuel and plummeting to the ground was not on his list of fun things. On the other hand, it might actually be preferable to an emergency landing down there.
Up head loomed the darkened buildings of downtown Knoxville, the windows of the buildings were like blank and mindless eyes that gazed out over the mass of undead that wandered the streets, mindlessly milling around wreckage, and roadblocks. There was little wind to shred the stench of death and corruption that filled the air like a cloud. .
Ronny spiraled down slowly then leveled off flying down a street at two hundred feet. Logan, strapped in behind him, grunted in disgust as the smell from below reached them. The stomach turning stench of the walking dead once smelled was never forgotten and the more of them there were, the worse the stench and they were in a city full of undead.
“Damn, that’s just nasty” Ronny commented. A few zombies, a bit brighter than the others actually looked up trying to find the droning motor of the ultra light.
Ronny feeling like he had already pushed their luck today, pulled the stick back and gained altitude before turning to head southwest back to the relative safety of the Groups new camp site just outside the city overlooking a misty hollow and forested hilltops.
He landed gently on the main drag of the camp the ultra light bouncing a few times as it rolled over bits of debris. Ronny was happy; his flight skills were definitely improving, though he doubted he would be able to get Jared back on board. Unless the camp was overrun with undead and the only escape was by air, and even then, Jared might choose to fight naked, smeared in BBq sauce armed with only a sharp pointy stick. He hated flying that much.
Ronny climbed out of the cockpit pulling the memory stick from the Camera that Rob and Gary the uber nerd had installed just before they had abandoned the Camp outside of Bergstown. .
He had to admit he was impressed by their work, they had even set up a stud on the control stick of the ultra light so all he had to do was hold the stick and push the button with his thumb. It might not look like a wholly professional job, but it worked and being able to study the images on a Laptop really helped them make plans.
“ How did it go?” Rob asked running up.
Ronny handed him the stick. “Great, except for a million or so undead” Ronny replied. His normally flippant self subdued.
“So no going to the mall” Rob asked with a tired smile.
“Not unless you don’t plan on leaving again” Ronny said watching as Logan was greeted by the Hot Russian girl. Lucky guy, Ronny thought, not really jealous he did love Mary. Appreciation for a beautiful woman and a bit of envy was something most men understood and to be honest it was more habit than anything else.
While Steve, Rob and Erik broke down the Ultra light in preparation for storing it on the trailer again. Ronny headed for the Camp proper, he could hear the shriek of kids playing, and frowned slightly. The noise would draw more undead, and that they didn’t need. He had to admit it was good they were able to cope as well as they did.
He had to wander sometimes what had happened there at the school that had left these kids stranded. He just couldn’t believe that the parents and most of the teachers had just bailed.
Granted he wasn’t a pie in the sky type, people through out history had done even worse in times of crisis. But at the same time, thinking about all the cars that had been in the parking lot of the school suggested that something more had to have happened to keep all those kids from being taken home.
He knew Beth hadn’t been outside the majority of the time and there had been four teachers who had managed to get to bus’s and get some of the kids out before the sheer numbers of undead had forced them to flee. But what had happened to all the other people who had been there? I suppose we will never really know what happened there and the only thing that matters is keeping those kids safe.
He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets as a chill wind set the trees and bushes to rustling. He walked across the old campground, wondering how Jared had remembered this place. It was halfway to the Smokies and had closed down after only a year during the economic down turn in 2007. It had never been a popular site for Campers, RV or otherwise, being outside of the tourist trap corridor.
It should have down well it was in the middle of some incredibly land, the camp itself was spacious and pretty nice and modern compared to most camps. Why it hadn’t become popular he didn’t know, it was probably for the same reason that Cookie cutter Marriott’s survived but elegant privately owned small hotels had barely been able to get guests and usually closed in a year or two.
It had, back before the dead, a lot to offer its guests including public showers and a laundry room for campers. Next door to the showers stood a large barn like kitchen and group hall the two buildings were connected by a enclosed walkway. Jutting out behind the group hall was a wide deck that had a hell of a view of the distant Smoky Mountains.
The groups Rv’s were parked in a semi-circle around the front of the group Hall. Between each RV were Portable wooden walls, an innovation of Jill and Robs, hooked into place using fittings that Rob had welded on to the front and back of each RV. Between the last RV and the wall of the building another wall had been placed, held in place by heavy steel plates.
Inside the semi-circle of RVs the fuel tankers and regular vehicles had been parked. The defenses wouldn’t hold off a huge number of zombies, but it wasn’t supposed to. It was there to allow the group to move around inside the semi circle without fear, and in case of attack, the walls would hold long enough for any one in the circle to get inside the vehicles safe from the threat and ready to escape.
They even had enough of those walls that they could park the Rvs and the Military trucks in a large circle and place the walls between each outside vehicle when they had to set up camp in a field or a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. The regular vehicles like usual would be parked inside the circle. Jill had gotten the idea from the Roman Legion Camps.
Who would have thought that the leather clad, sword wielding, warrior goddess, would know so much about history. He smiled to himself for a moment, turns out she held three degrees. Tough, smart and deadly what a combo. He thought.
Chad and Ori opened the portable gate, set up between two RV’s, and let Ronny thru with a smile. “ Next time you had better bring me a bottle of whiskey when you go to town” Ori said as he swung the gate closed once more.
Jared sat on the deck behind the hall, which seemed to be his favorite spot looking out over the wooded valley and the signature misty mountaintops around the valley.
“Remember that school group we guided thru the Smokies a few years ago” Jared asked as Ronny dropped into a seat and waved at Jill who was busying cleaning her pistols.
“ Sure do, I remember that good-looking senior that kept trying to get in your sleeping bag every time her daddy wasn’t looking too.” Ronny replied. Jared laughed softly.
“ I had almost forgotten about that. I ended up having to sling a hammock in the middle of camp and sleep in it for the rest of the trip just so she couldn’t sneak into my tent and get naked again” Jared said as Jill looked at both men.
“ she stripped in your tent,” Jill asked incredulously.
“ Naked as a jay bird,” Ronny confirmed with a wide grin. “ Jared was busy repairing a Pack one of the kids had managed to break, And asked me to get something, I don’t remember what now, out of his tent. I walked over and unzipped the tent and there she lay in all her underage, jail bait glory. Not sure which of us was more surprised, but she wasn’t happy that it was me and not Jared coming into the tent. I still think her daddy knew exactly what was going on though.”
Jared shrugged, “ I don’t know, and don’t really care. Even if she had been legal, I don’t sleep with the customers. Doesn’t work out well.” Jared said seriously, wondering if he would ever be able to think about the world before the undead with out feeling the deep grief that threatened to break free.
“Good for you “ Jill said.
“Now if you had been a customer… “ Jared let the sentence trail off suggestively, trying to lighten his own mood, then forced a smile before turning to Ronny. “how did our route look?” he asked leaning forward to listen. The route Ronny had checked out, was the one path that could take them around Knoxville and the dangers of a city infested with the undead.
“Mostly clear for fifty miles, scattered homes, and that one town is small enough that there cant be more than a hundred possibly two hundred zombies in the area. After that, it starts getting more developed the closer you get to the edges of Gatlinburg.” Ronny said, as he pulled a warm Coke from the box on the ground.
Jared nodded he had scoured maps for a way around the city and the larger towns that ran to the north and south of Knoxville like fortress line of undead. He needed to get closer to the edge of the mountains. But so far hadn’t found a damn thing to help him out. Even the smaller towns in the area, had been tourist traps and that meant when this broke out, that instead of the official population numbers for a given town, you were looking instead at tens of thousands of undead or even more depending on the popularity of the tourist destination in question. And the roads were packed with all the vacationers vehicles as well.
The Convoy was much to large and noisy to go through large population centers, without drawing most of the undead in the area down on them. The sheer number of bodies that could end up surrounding them would most certainly stall them out. And they really didn’t have the ammo to take out a city full of zombies. Unless he could lay his hands on an artillery tac nuke shell.
He wished they could have gotten into the Oakridge nuclear site. But the sheer number of undead around the fence kept Jared and the group far away. The zombies and the lights they saw at night past the complex’s fence line was a good indicator that someone was still alive in there and keeping the reactors online. He had sent Ronny over the place to drop a box of candy bars and a note telling them what channels to broadcast on if they wanted to talk.
So far they had not heard a word from who ever might be inside, and now they were well out of range. Jared rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, feeling tired. Who ever it was in the nuclear plant might not have a working radio either. But He supposed they would never know.
“ So how did Knoxville look?” Jared asked finally.
“ Bad! Really bad. That national Guard check point Logan and his group passed is far enough out from the city proper, that it doesn’t have a lot of zombies in the area, and there appears, from the air, to be a lot of equipment still there, vehicles and supplies. Also there are bodies, the dead kind. Well the old-fashioned kind of dead that don’t move” Ronny shrugged slightly, ” but past that point, you start getting into the heavily populated areas, and those are places you really want to avoid. Gary has the Memory stick and you can take a look at the pictures, it’s not a place we want to be Jared.
“But I did see places in Knoxville where people are still alive. At least if the crowds of undead surrounding them are an indication of life inside, mostly it was a few homes and apartment buildings, some businesses. One place is or was a national guard base. The fence is still up and there’s zombies ten deep along ever foot of the fence line. I didn’t see any people though.” Ronny shook his head. The knowing what Jared was probably thinking he added. “There’s no way to get to the Guard base, You would have to go thru a few thousand zombies just to get to the fence, then you would have to deal with another thousand or so around the fence. Assuming you make it past all that and get inside. A few thousand more would be making their way to all the shooting.”
“ I would love to have an arty division right about now. Just set up a Stereo system and draw them in and let artillery pound them into paste. We could clear a city like that,“ Jared said leaning back in his chair and drumming his fingers on the wooden table top.
“ I’ll see about locating an Artillery unit, but till then I guess we keep on bravely running away.” Ronny said, then downed the warm soda.
“Advancing to the rear, is the term that I like “ Jared said with true humor. Jill just shook her head; she had yet to understand how Jared and his friend’s sense of humor could survive so well under these conditions. But if it hadn’t she thought most of the group would have most likely given up and killed themselves by now. The fact that the men who led them appeared to be in a good mood and were not giving in to despair kept the others moving and hoping, and that, Jared said, was more important than gold ever had been.
They talked for a bit about options, and the need to get to that check point and see what they could scrounge up. Jared was at least happy that there where other people still alive. But he doubted that most of them would survive the winter.
As the conversation wound down Jill cleared her throat. “ mind if I ask you a question?” she asked.
Jared shrugged. “Go ahead. Its not like I’m going to shoot you or anything. That would pretty much end my sex life” Jared said with a crooked smile. Ronnie laughed but for once didn’t let loose with a stream of jokes.
“ Its just that, well there’s a problem and no one is really dealing with it.” Jill said, looking at Jared then cut her eyes to Ronny who only held up a hand as if to ward her off.
“ and what would that be?” Jared asked cautiously, not sure where she was going to take the conversation..
“ The number of single men, versus the single women” Jill said, Jared sighed, he had hoped no one would ever come to him and ask anything to do with stuff like that. But here it was, and if Jill was asking it meant that others were discussing the problem and had probably asked her to bring it up with him. Knowing he wouldn’t just blow her off. Why they expected him to have some special wisdom to share on the topic was beyond him.
“the only thing I can say is, people are going to have to figure out for themselves how they are going to deal with this. I can’t, wont start making rules for everyone else based on my own personal opinions or beliefs.” He said sincerely, and that was the total truth. “ if a guy can’t find a woman to date he has a few choices and he knows what they are. As long as he doesn’t start fights or force himself on a woman I’m not getting involved. People are going to have to figure out how they want to deal with it themselves.
The only thing I wont tolerate is rape” Jared said then paused for a second. “ you can relate this to them, I will castrate and then hang any rapists” he said coldly, a hard light flickered in his eyes. He forced himself to smile “ and I wont tolerate others trying to brow beat people into living the way they think is correct.
Me personally I don’t care and it’s not my place or any one else’s to tell adults how to live their lives unless there are harming others.” he said then shook his head. “ and you really don’t want to know the can of beans that Ben and Ian are wanting to open.” He added, almost smiling.
“ Speaking of, both of them want to learn how to fly the ultra light.” Ronny said.
“ Hell no” Jared responded. “They are just kids”
“ Jared shut up and think. Those kids, are already adults whether we like to think it or not, and we really do need a couple of other people who can fly the thing in case something happens to me. And we both know the odds of that are good.” Ronny replied.
Jared nodded in agreement to that last. Then he caved, who in the hell was he to tell them they couldn’t. Ben didn’t even have a family any more. The ‘boy’ had stood firm, when others had run, and killed zombies to protect the kids in that elementary school. Ian might have family but he had watched people die in wholesale lots, if his family thought it was okay then no problems.
He wasn’t going to say anything about the fact both boys had both been chasing older women. He didn’t know it but suspected that they had gotten what they were after too. “You can tell them both its okay. But clear it with Ian’s parents on the sly okay” Ronny nodded pleased with that answer..
God I don’t want to be in charge of this crap. Saving lives, leading hopeless charges fine no problem. Getting these folks to a safe place great, that I can do, but deciding on who is old enough for what and who can date who, and what’s proper. Get real god, I have enough problems matching socks, I am no Solomon and I am not going to play one even if I did stay in a holiday Inn express once.
“Tomorrow we hit that Guard road block, I need to think about the best way to get around Knoxville.” Jared said reaching a decision, there really wasn’t a way to avoid the city he knew at least not that he knew of heading east, every route would take them through at least the edges of the city or one of the towns. but maybe if they headed back west a few miles then swung south.
Mikhail drove slowly down the road, keeping an eye out for the undead. Not that he had any real fear of them. He was protected, for now. At least for as long as he did what he was asked to do.
Which, he reflected wouldn’t be all that hard. Find a group of survivors led by some red-headed former soldier and kill them, easy enough.
When the dreams had first started, He hadn’t believed it, they were just dreams no matter how real and how dark they might be. Then had come one particularly vivid dream that had told him if he needed proof to walk outside when he woke and the undead would not be there.
He had woken instantly and had lain there for a moment feeling foolish for even considering that the dreams could be real. More to prove that it had just been a dream conjured by his imagination he had climbed out of bed and padded over to the window and peeked out. The night before the house had been surrounded by the undead but that morning to his surprise there had not been a single zombie in his yard, or for that matter on his street.
He had walked out and stood on his porch taking a deep breath of air enjoying being outside, he remained alert and ready to run back inside at a seconds notice. He had looked around nervously then noticed a large book, a leather-bound copy of “Faust. Der Tragödie zweiter Teil” to be exact, laying on the porch. He had known deep down at that moment, that the dreams were real and knew who and what wanted his help. It was no more insane than zombies wandering around eating people.
“E’en hell hath its peculiar laws.” Faust had said as he remembered. That was all it took to convince Mikhail and seal the deal. He had served that master for many years before this, why not see it thru to the end.
He’d spent three weeks hunting down supplies and gear Getting ready, and then a dream had told him to go east. He didn’t question he just loaded up his stuff into the car. A dark green Plymouth, that some one had spent a lot of money and time fixing up.
It was an older car but he had never been good with years and things like that. but at a guess it was from the seventies. It just had that seventies feel to it. Once he was loaded up he headed east, not really concerned with a destination at this point. There were only so many ways they could reach the place his new “ friend” had told him of.
He had at first thought to head straight there. But decided that the fun would be in stalking them, destroying their hope. Who knew he might even link up with them and work from the inside. It would in all honesty make things easier.
Would they welcome him with open arms he wondered, then smiled as another line from Faust ran thru his mind, “Methinks, by most, ’twill be confessed That Death is never quite a welcome guest,” Mephistopheles the demon had said. No He would keep that option open, for now he would just travel the eight or ten possible routes they could take and see about what he could do to screw with them to let them simmer in fear and anxiously await the end.
The next morning under a leaden sky, the teams headed back up to I-40 and the National Guard Roadblock. It was a short trip all things considered and it was getting colder.
Jared climbed down out of the van and looked around the roadblock, there were a few clumps of undead maybe a hundred yards from his position, but nothing major or fast enough to pose a threat for a few minutes. Steve had dismounted on the right side with Ori.
This was Jared’s first time with Logan in the field and the younger man looked nervous. The AR Logan had been given seemed to give the young man some comfort. Not that they were going to use firearms unless they had too. . Swords, tomahawks, axes and bats were the order of the day. With Jill backing him up while Logan got a feel for this kind of fight, Jared had no worries.
Jeff, Chad and Chris had the rear. That was a team Jared wasn’t thrilled with, only Chris was an experienced fighter back there. Chad had, according to the story’s Logan and his group had told, gotten himself and three others out of the hotel they had been staying in with a Cricket bat, the same blood stained bat he now held. Jeff Sloan looked nervous holding the Axe, he would much rather have his Rifle in his hands at the moment. But he knew how fast the sounds of shooting would draw in more undead.
Rob, Eric and Brad a man from Logan’s group, were climbing around the barricade that blocked the road looking into hummers and parked supply trucks. They were leaving the field tent on the north side of road alone for now. Rob grunted as he dismounted the ma deuce from the sandbagged position and lugged it over and placed it in the bed of the Deuce and half. Eric carried all four boxes of ammo over with it.
Normally Jared would be thrilled as spit to have a .50 but these days, it wasn’t a big deal. Oh you could put zombies on the ground with it, even kill some of them. But once you were done you still had to go out and use more ammo to put down the crawlers unless you ran over them. Which was efficient but not something he relished. He would take them anyway, at some point being able to lay down serious fire against a huge horde or against well armed groups of humans would come in handy.
He was thrilled however to have found two m16s fitted with M203s and two boxes of HE grenades. There were 18 grenades to a box so they had a grand total of Thirty six grenades for the M203’s. Not that it was going to be much more effective against zombies than a .50 but like most every guy, he loved things that went boom. He had to admit that the 40mm would be good for crippling and crippling the undead was almost as effective as killing them.
“ Better deal with this group, “ Jill said at his side pointing to the closest group of undead that had wandered up, drawn by the sound of motors and people. There were only Ten zombies, and still fifty feet out. As he watched, the undead broke into that odd staggering jog that they used instead of running. In some cases it was a fast walk.
“Remember Knee shots to cripple them, and then kill them. Much safer that way” Jared said pulling both combat tomahawks.
Logan felt a knot of fear in his belly as he walked forward just to the right of Jared. J ill hadn’t even drawn that sword she wore. What she planned on doing with a wall hanger, one of the nicest he had ever seen he admitted, was beyond him. He didn’t doubt it would break the first time she hit a bone. The sharkskin grip and silk wrapping on the hilt as well as the decorations on the hilt and the scabbard must have cost her a pretty penny.
Three zombies pulled ahead of the group, arms outstretched, mouths working, fingers spastically clutching the air in anticipation. Logan braced himself as the undead closed. Then to his surprise Jared and Jill moved forward, Jill drew her sword and attacked the outer right zombie of the group in one fluid motion. Cutting from left knee to right hip. The blade sheared through the dead flesh, with ease leaving the left shin attached only by a thin strip of muscle and skin. with a twist of her wrists she brought the blade around in a diagonal slash that, to Logan’s surprise, swept the head from the zombies shoulders.
Jared took the far left zombie. he hooked of its arms with a tomahawk and pulled it off balance. As the zombie stumbled and the second tomahawk slammed into its temple with a crack of breaking bone. Something dark oozed out of the hole.
Jill hadn’t paused she had no sooner dispatched the zombie she pivoted and snap kicked the middle zombie in the knee. The bone shattered and the thing toppled to the ground.
Jared grunted with effort as he tore the tomahawk from the head of the zombie on the left, blocked a grasping hand with the shaft of his offhand tomahawk. And as the center zombie, its knee gone, began to topple over Jared pulped the back of its skull with his weapon, the zombie didn’t move when it hit the ground.
Logan was surprised at the speed of the violence. He wasn’t about to be called a coward. He caught up and after that stayed on Jared’s right. They hit the group head on, Jill taking a head then cutting a leg off another. Jared face planted a tomahawk in a third and placed a steel toed boot in the side of another’s face. One zombie, its white face covered in old blood, ran at Logan, all he could see were the eyes and the gnashing teeth. He knew it was reaching for him, he cocked back and swung the bat he was holding, rotting hands with blackened nails scored at his shoulders, but his bat struck it cleanly in the temple and dropped it like a rock.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jared use an elbow strike and a zombie staggered and half fell into Logan’s zone. Logan swung with all his might and put it right out of the park, then almost threw up as his bat tore away the zombies jaw and sent it flying across the street to vanish into some weeds, something that stunk badly splashed on him.
He hit the zombie a second time and it went down. Logan blinked and realized all ten of the undead were down. Jill and Jared were dispatching the crawlers as he looked.
“ That’s the strongest wall hanger I’ve ever seen, most break the moment you hit something hard” Logan said almost awed as they backed away to their prior position to gain a bit more space and time to react against the next group. Jill smiled as she wiped the blade with a swath of silk then sheathed it with a flourish like he had seen in movies and she did it with out looking.
“ Its not a wall hanger.” Jill said her left hand almost caressing scabbard at her side. “ had this traditionally forged by a master sword smith in Japan ten years ago, it took a year to be forged and cost me fifteen thousand dollars” Jill explained. Logan stared at her, fifteen thousand dollars for a sword. .
“You’re kidding.” Logan said after a moment. She shook her head slowly.
“No I am not, I’ve been involved in the martial arts since I was a kid. I saved up for years to have this sword made and I waited till I had gotten three black belts and reached the final ranks in kenjitsu.”
“That explains why you have it with you all the time” Logan commented, feeling like an idiot. Okay so she was hot, really hot. But he had just assumed she wasn’t a fighter, or at least not a good one. It was stupid he knew. Out of all the women that had escaped with him, only one Tatiana could fight halfway decently so Logan had just assumed Jill was as bad. “ Sorry, I shouldn’t have underestimated you.” He said after a moment.
“ do not worry grasshopper, I will hit you in the head with my boot repeatedly till you learn” she said, Logan looked puzzled as Jared snorted a laugh at what must be a private joke. “And speaking of, less talk and more zombie killing “ Jared said pointing to another group that had closed to a distance that could get dangerous.
When they made it back to their camp, and went thru the stuff they had scored, there were ten m16a3’s, eight magazines for each, thirteen combat vests with ammo pouches, four cases of ammo. 800 rounds of 9mm, two NVG sets, Radios, microwave com gear, twenty cases of MRE’s, blankets, flashlights, batteries, a field surgery kit, basic medicines, first aid kits and compression bandages, and an assortment of other things.
Tomorrow Jared planned on returning and taking down the tent, and retrieving the truck with the water tank as well as recovering the large pull behind diesel generator on the site.
“ You know there is a limit to how many vehicles we can drive, right” Chris mentioned over dinner.
“ Don’t be a smart ass, that water truck is vital to us.” Jared pointed out.
“ What about all the Com gear, we have a bunch of it now” Chris asked, absently flexing his hand, a habit he had developed after having two fingers broken.
“ Spare parts in case we need them, and Rob and Gary are installing the systems we didn’t have” jared replied.
Chris shook his head, other than basic radio communications between the members of the group he didn’t really see the point in taking the large rigs. And the RV that had been dubbed the command shack, was damn near full between the ham rigs, the systems taken out of the Command truck, the laptops and now the new systems.
“ You know how it works, when we really need the com gear something will happen and we will be down to slap flares, whistles and waving our peckers for attention.” Chris said.
He stopped speaking suddenly and looked up to see Beth glaring at him. Several of the kids were tittering like they always did when they heard a dirty word.
“ Sorry Beth, I’ll try to watch it “ he said. “ end of the world and we still have to be politically correct” Chris complained with a smile.
“Its called being polite you knob” Ronny said grinning. “ or would you rather have Mary deal with minor language infractions.”
“ After she got done spanking my butt, shelly would kill me for dropping my drawers for the spanking” Chris remarked with a smile.
“Damn straight boyo” Shelly said. “if she wants to spank you, I WILL drop your drawers for you”
Jared picked at his MRE, it wasn’t one of the worst ones, but it by god wasn’t real food. He had some smoked turkey stashed away he ought to give this to some one else and go sneak a bite. But no if they had to suffer thru this crap so did he. At least he didn’t get stuck with that nasty ass Mexican enchilada meal. Which tasted nothing like Mexican food, and only had a passing resemblance to food in general.
“ Jared can I see you “ Linda said from the entrance to the social area.
Jared shoved away his MRE and made himself look regretful at having to interrupt his meal. He was pretty sure he wasn’t fooling anyone though.
“ No problem, I can drag myself away” he said as he followed her outside. He glanced up at the roof to make sure John was on guard duty, and then focused on Linda.
“ What is it?” Jared asked, hoping it wasn’t bad news.
“ Pappy keeps asking for something to write on” Linda said.
“ asks, I thought you couldn’t take him off the oxygen?” Jared asked.
“ Hand signals Jared, hand signals” Linda explained.
“ So what’s the problem?” Jared asked.
“ no real problem really, it shows that his mind is at least somewhat intact. But the first thing he did was to write your name and wont write anything else now” there was something about her face, he thought. “ that’s all he wrote was my name.”
“ well almost all, about the third time I asked him to write down how he felt and what he needed, he….” Linda paused and blushed. “ he wrote, get Jared, you needle pushing pussy” inside the hall every one eating paused as they heard Jared explode into laughter.
Jared sat down on the edge of the bed, where Pappy lay hooked up to tubes and wires. He looked around for a moment. “ do you people take a special class in how to make any room look like a depressing hospital room” he asked. Privately pleased that they had all this working stuff, and that there were two people who actually had a small clue on how to use it.
He looked at pappy, whose single working eye was fixed on him. Pappy tapped the pad that lay next him. Jared leaned over and picked it up. “ you want me to read this “ he asked rhetorically. Pappy could still manage a “your stupider than a bag of hammers “ glare Jared noted.
I had dream, Jared read, so read it all shit head. It weren’t a normal dream. It was some white room, were an old pal of mine from the war was talking to me, he was a Cherokee, good soldier, good whoring partner. He said tell you go to the Ocanoluftee there’s some one you need to meet there. Don’t know where it’s at. and there was something about the three or three. Tell my son not to worry about me, and you shit head, you keep these people together. There’s something out there, that wants you all dead, especially the kids
Jared quickly read the note then tore it from the pad and shoved it into the cargo pocket of his pants. I am not ready for any one else to read the note, he thought as he placed the pad back beside pappy.
“ Now you listen to me, you hang in there. I know its rough, but like Jeff ,I haven’t given up hope for one more miracle.” Jared said with feeling that might have surprised others. He really was fond of the foul mouthed old coot. Pappy picked up the pencil and wrote for a moment. He tapped the pad when he was finished.
Jared saw that Pappy had written. your not surprised about the dream?, Jared read “ actually I was surprised, surprised that a marine could actually write” Jared replied with a grin as Pappy glared at him then choked out a laugh as he slowly gave Jared the finger.
Jared rose and then leaned over pappy. “ you hang in there you old fart, I mean it. But if it comes down to it. Ill send you on to the pearly gates myself.” He said then patted Pappys shoulder. For the first time he could ever think of, he saw a look of thanks in that old faded blue eye and a single tear. Jared left Linda to do her job and headed back to the hall he had a map to look at. .
“ Why this sudden change in routes” Steve asked as he looked at the map Jared had spread out over the table.
“ Because it passes thru mostly empty areas.” Jared said not wanting to explain Dreams and portents to them. Particularly Pappy’s dreams and portents which surprisingly didn’t lead to whore house.
“ It takes us near Cherokee too “ Chris noted.“ I remember that place didn’t we hike thru there a few years ago” Jared nodded. Ronny grinned suddenly.
“ That’s the place where that really hot Indian girl…. Um gave us directions to the waterfall” Ronny finished lamely, glancing at Mary who gave him a withering you’re an idiot look. .
“ That would be the place” Jared replied, wondering if he should find some way to charge Mary for paddle making.
“At least there wont be a huge amount of undead in the area.” Shelly said as she sipped a cup of coffee.
“ Okay I guess its settled then” Steve said looking around at his friends. “ I would also like to ask, what the hell is up with Henry and that college girl.”
“ Do you really not know” Jill asked.
Ronny looked up with a grin “ well let me explain .. boys have a penis and girls have a vagina, and when they love each other, or really want to bone, knock boots, do the dirty, bump uglys, boink, screw..” Ronny broke off abruptly as a hurricane of straws, napkins and other things flew his way. “ Okay, okay, keep believing that as long as you don’t French kiss you cant get pregnant. See if I care!” Ronny exclaimed with a laugh, the meeting broke up shortly after that.
Two days later, after they had finished stripping the road block of everything that could be used, Ronny was lifting off in the ultra light again as the sun rose over the mountains in splash of color. He took a moment to enjoy the mist filled vales, then turned south. Jared wanted the south scouted so a scouting he would go.
Jared watched the ultra light vanish into the distance then turned back to the team that would be going with him today. “ all right lets load up, make sure you have a full load out today. Use melee weapons if at all possible but don’t risk yourselves by attacking more than you can handle alone.”
Jared had decided to take a back road to Gatlinburg, wanting to check out an outfitters shop just outside of town that had used to supply the serious outdoors enthusiast’s. Things had fallen apart so fast, and so many had died in the first days, he hoped to find a mostly stocked store, they could really use the extra gear.
As the teams headed for the vehicles, Jared saw Kevin wheel himself out of the camp trying to catch up to Jared. The handicapped man had a determined look on his face. Jared sighed knowing what was coming.
“Jared a word please” Kevin, twenty four, once a promising athlete, had managed to survive by the skin of his teeth. Being wheel chair bound and surviving was something to brag about too.
“ Kevin we have talked about this” Jared said, as he kept an eye on the surroundings.
“ Don’t give me that shit, I talked, you acted like you listened, while thinking poor cripple, might endanger us all.” Kevin said angry at the thought of being treated like a kid.
“ Bullshit Kevin, I respect the hell out of you. But you can’t help us clear a building or secure a area.” Jared stated, in the world of today he couldn’t afford to be politically correct and pretend that some one with a disability like Kevins could do the same things as someone who could walk.
“ I can sit up on top of a damn vehicle and shoot anything that needs shooting” Kevin insisted.
“ For gods sake Jared, Try him out “ Logan said from the van. “ the man can shoot” Kevin flashed a look of thanks at Logan, then rounded on Jared again.
“ You think I don’t get how dangerous it is. You try getting out of a damned city in a wheelchair. And if I die so what, at least I die like a man. Not some puss sitting at camp with the kiddies being protected by the people with two working legs.” Kevin snapped angrily.
Jared glanced up at the heavens, but if there was any message from the almighty he missed it. Logan had a point, but if something went down, he did not want to have make the decision to have leave Kevin behind or get some one else and Kevin killed trying to carry him out of danger.
He looked into the other mans eyes and saw the desperate desire to be of use and to prove himself and knew he was going to cave.
“Okay, get a fragging weapon and get in the damn van, You will ride with me.” Kevin whooped and popped a wheelie in his wheelchair turning at the same time. As the front wheels hit the ground again he sped towards the camp gate, thick arms pumping tirelessly.
“ Don’t let him leave me behind Logan” Kevin called out as he passed the van.
“ Not a chance buddy, Ill stay behind if he tries it” Logan replied with a smile then turned to Jared. “thanks man, I know your worried about him being a liability. Trust me he is a good man and a good shot.
“Mutiny this is mutiny” Jared muttered as he walked over and pointedly leaned against the van his hands tucked in his pockets.
Gatlinburg was once a bustling town, but not anymore. It lay dead and silent under the gray sky, a decaying ghost of better times filled with dead hopes and dreams. Its streets filled with wreckage amidst burned out buildings and thru it all the undead roamed uncaring.
They pulled into the parking lot of the strip center, the vehicles spacing out in a semi circle around the front of an outdoors shop. The glass display windows had been broken sometime in the past.
Jared wasn’t happy seeing that, but had to hope that there might be some gear worth collecting inside. Jared and Logan lifted Kevin up on top of the van and then passed Kevin his rifle after the handicapped man had strapped himself to the Cargo rack on top.
Chris, and Brian collected shopping carts from an outside rack, and wheeled them back to the waiting men and women, who quickly chained the carts together and then stuck the lines of nested carts, between the vehicles they had arrived in to act as a barrier against the undead. Keeping them away from the storefront and giving the team a semi secure area to operate in. While the carts were being put in place Jared, and Jill watched the outfitters store for any undead. it didn’t take long for them to spot movement back in the shadows inside that store. There didn’t appear to be to many of the undead inside.
As soon as they had enough carts strung up to block the gaps between each vehicle and between the vehicles and the building, Jared led his team inside while Steve and Ori remained outside with the second team keeping watch.
The shop was a mess, the occasional overturned counters, broken displays, and glass from the broken window and counters littered the indoor/outdoor carpet.
Jared spotted three undead stumbling around a empty rack to his left. The mouths of the undead yawned open as they saw Jared and the others, and began to stumble towards the living in what Jared could only describe as a stumbling power walk.
Jared ran forward, with his tomahawks in his hands and launched into a spinning snap kick. The steel toe in his boot crushed the side of a skull, he landed lightly on the balls of his feet and struck the second Zombie with a rising cut to the jaw shattering the bone. Even as the crack of bone filled the air he twisted around and hooked the ankle of the last zombie with his off hand tomahawk and pulled it off balance, it crashed to the ground, Jared pivoted and drove the back spike of his tomahawk into its skull before its could lift its head up.
“ Feeling a bet tense are we” Chris asked Jared with a raised eyebrow. Jared shrugged then pulled his weapon free.
“At least its not a clown” Jared commented with a wry grin. His dislike of clowns was legendary amongst his friends though only two people in the group knew the story behind his intense almost pathological dislike.
“ Contact” Brian yelled as another zombie appeared from behind a display rack of Paddles. He backpedaled trying to stay out of reach of its arms. Logan moved up and split the head of the zombie with his axe but three more were right behind the first zombie. Jared grabbed Brian and pulled him back to the line of fighters where the zombies were finished off quickly. The team swept the storefront finding no other zombies.
“Just to let you know there’s a few more around out here Jared” Steve said over the radio.
“ No problems, keep me informed out” Jared said as he looked over the shelves. All of the food was gone, as were the lanterns, sleeping bags, and other basic gear. But there was still a lot of climbing gear. A few water purification systems and other items they could use..
“Brian, John. Watch that stock room door, we are going to get this stuff out now. Then deal with the stock room” He said, the two men nodded and went to stand behind a counter beside the stock room door.
The clothes racks were mostly empty, though some summer clothes remained, mostly shorts and some shirts. More importantly the sales racks of winter clothing were almost full.
Which made sense the people that had broken in here had been concerned with food and water. It had been summer when the dead had risen and no on had been thinking beyond the immediate moment. He saw North face jackets and other top brand winter gear that would be lifesavers in the coming months. .
“Lets grab it all” Jared said. They began to stuff everything into duffels and plastic bags.
Jared paused at a case full of watches then broke the glass and pulled out a expensive watch he had always wanted. “What so special about that one” Jill asked
“ it has an altimeter, barometer, speed and distance system. It’s rated for climbs up Everest and 190 foot dives. And it keeps time down to the a tenth of a atomic second.” Jared said, with an excitement that told her he had really liked this particular watch.
“ Don’t really see either one of those sports happening any more” Jill said.
“ I think diving might be the best sport these days, don’t expect you’d see to many zombies down there. and if they cant swim they cant catch me.” Jared said as he slipped the watch on, feeling guilty in way. Breaking the glass and taking the watch almost felt like stealing.
Finally, they had everything worth taking loaded up. Chris had even loaded three canoes and a kayak when asked why he shrugged. “Never know when we might need them.” Chris had replied. Jared couldn’t argue that sentiment in the least.
Jared entered the stock room once the storefront had been stripped of useable gear. He flashed his light around and saw plenty of boxes still on the shelves. Many had been opened and rifled thru. He suspected that when the front had been mostly stripped people had started looking back here, but it must have been close to the end for this much stuff to be left back here.
The door to the employee break room was standing open, revealing an empty room with a few overturned chairs and a table with dried blood on it.
Logan walked up to the men’s bathroom door and knocked. Almost instantly, there was a thud as something hit the other side and began to scrape at the door. He reached for the handle but Jill stopped him. “ Unless you really have to go, just leave it closed.” She said.
“ We cant leave it for some one else to stumble over” he said. She frowned, but understood. It was becoming more or less an unspoken rule to kill every zombie they found in a building anyway. She rested her hand on the sword that he had once dismissed so easily.
“ Well what are you waiting for, I am pretty sure its finished using the bathroom by now” she said motioning at the door handle, Logan smiled nervously and twisted the knob. He had to throw his body into the door but it flew open sending not one but two zombies to the floor.
He leaped forward planting his axe in the head of one, and then suddenly went flying as Jill hit him in the side with a shoulder. Her sword glittered in the flashlights as it swept the head from the second zombie that had been about to bite him in the leg. He shivered, and picked him self up, seeing a body, a well gnawed totally dead body sprawled between the urinals, still wearing the remains of an employee uniform. Just like the uniforms that the now dead, dead zombies wore.
He could bet on exactly how the poor bastard had died. The three of them had been attacked, and had managed to get into the bathroom and lock the door, one or two of them had already been bitten and turned. What a way to fucking go he thought, on a bathroom floor being eaten by your co-workers.
“ I guess some one probably had it worse than this guy, but its hard to imagine.” He muttered.
“ I don’t want to imagine it” Jill said as she turned and walked out. He thought about that for a second and found he totally agreed with her.
Jared headed for the managers office stopping at the closed door he knocked then waited listening for a moment. Hearing nothing, he opened the door and stepped into the office. Pictures of outdoors trips lined the walls, promo products were displayed on shelves. A huge fake potted plant sat to the left of the desk. The wall behind it deep in shadows spotting something on the shelf he walked over and picked it up.
“ Cool” he said stuffing the Alien 2 tool into his pocket. It was a multi tool on steroids sporting Twenty-six tools. It was a handy thing to have around camp at any time. he scooped the pouch for it off the shelf too. Spotting a pair of gargoyle sunglasses, he scooped them up and slung them around his neck by the cord. He stopped suddenly, something wasn’t right.
The smell, the damned smell was suddenly much stronger and coming from behind him, Oh shit he thought as he launched himself sideways, hitting the floor on his shoulder and rolling up onto the balls of his feet near the door to the hall.
The zombie had to have been an inch away from biting the shit out of my neck he thought staring at the corpse that turned towards him. Its face looked remarkable untouched. But there was a huge blood stain on the crotch of its pants. He really didn’t want to think about what wound might have caused that. It was also one of the faster ones. He hated that, but on occasion some of those things were faster than the others, he crouched with both tomahawks in his hands, the only light now was that that spilled in from the hallway, and from the head lamp he wore.
“ Contact” he yelled in warning then lunged forward and to the left slightly using his off hand to strike the creatures right arm and turning it slightly, just enough to set it up for the foot sweep that sent it falling to the ground. He flipped the tomahawk around in his hand and drove the butt spike into the back of the things skull.
He heard a scuff on the floor behind him, a second one just great. Next it will be a little clown car with two hundred clown zombies climbing out one by one with those blank vapid smiles painted on. Dead hands carrying horns and fake dynamite. All that ran thru his mind as he swung around and saw a female zombie, who in life had been pretty and maybe eighteen. She wore only a pair of panties, with a bandage on her calf.
She lunged for him teeth snapping, shredding her own lips. He rose up in a front kick that sent her flying backwards. Jared dropped the tomahawk tired of the whole situation; he drew his pistol and shot her in the forehead. He holstered his pistol and recovered his tomahawk and saw behind the potted plant was a doorway into a small room.
He strode forward and looked inside where he saw a fold down couch, a couch that was currently folded down with shirt, bra and pants laying beside it.
there were a few other odds and ends of no importance. He had no doubt now exactly what wound the manager had received. He shivered at the thought the turned to see half the team crammed into the office doorway, staring at the two zombies and then at him.
“ What, I got tired of playing last of the Mohicans” he said. “lets grab what we can and get out of here” he walked out front with Jill at his side.
“ That one shook you up “ she said. He nodded slightly. “I let myself get distracted, and missed that doorway, and that damn thing got right behind me without my even knowing till the last second. Almost got my ass to be honest.” She was silent as she watched him, there was more to this situation than just that she thought.
“ okay having to shoot that girl got to me. I mean jesus she was just a kid. I don’t care what she was doing at the time she died. she had a life ahead of her. and… damn it, I cant believe I feel like grieving for a girl I never knew. When damn near the entire world has been slaughtered” he fell silent, knowing that all the horror and dismay he had felt since this shit went down was there, deep down and trying to break free.
He stood there for a moment rigid as a board then suddenly relaxed and flashed her a smile that didn’t fool her in the least. Then looked up as the rest of the team hauled out the last of the gear they were taking and loaded it on the waiting vehicles. “ looks like we get to head to the next spot on the map.” He said.
“ Flight apocalypse, how’s it looking up there” Ronny jerked at the sudden voice in his ear then snorted in amusement
“so far the route looks good, haven’t seen but a couple of undead on the road. “ Ronny replied.
“ Roger that. Jared wants you back soon.”
“ Return soonest, I copy. Changing course now” he said putting words to action and heading back towards the camp.
Half an hour later he flew over the strip center and changed course, and snapped a picture so they would have a good idea of how many zombies had shown up after they had left. Just in case Jared wanted to return for something. He altered course once more, consulted his compass and lined up for his approach. He began to shed altitude and made a minor course correction.
“What the hell?” he thought stunned as off in the distance, just on the horizon he saw an aircraft. He scooped up his binoculars one handed and looked again. “ son of a bitch’ he said excited beyond words. Letting the binoculars drop and hang by its band he keyed his radio. “ Your not going to believe this, I just spotted a Chinook 20 miles east southeast. Looked like It was heading east. See if you can hear anything on your sets” he told base.
“ roger stand by “ Sharon, manning the radio shack with Gary replied. He pulled back on his stick and gave the engine more power as he quickly climbed hoping to spot the helicopter again, but it was gone. An Ultralight really didn’t have the power to intercept a seagull much less a helicopter.
“Sorry Flight, no joy” Sharon reported.
“ Roger that, coming back on approach “ he said, wishing he had a real plane, he would have gone after that copter if he had been in something a bit faster and a lot more fuel.
When he landed, Jared and most of the camp were waiting for him. He pulled he memory stick and passed it to Rob who rushed off hoping there was a picture of the mysterious Helicopter. Jared walked up and shook his hand “ welcome back. You stirred every one up with that news” Jared said first thing.
“You think they are stirred up, I got wood watching that chopper fly off. If I had been in a real plane I would have tried to catch them. And I want to talk to you about that later.”
“ All right but much later tonight okay” he said jerking a thumb at Ben and Ian who were so excited they were bouncing. “You seem to have some flying lessons to give”
Ronny laughed, “the only flying they are going to be doing for a bit is sitting in the back seat. There is a lot to learn before they even touch the stick. And I will be honest Jared, they aren’t touching a stick till we either find another ultralight with two control systems so I have a way to take control if they screw up or we find a real plane.”
It can never be easy can it Jared told himself, first an ultra light and now He wants a plane… Wait… “ you had this planned. Didn’t you? Get me to agree to let the kids fly then tell me we need a real aircraft to teach them in” Jared said gruffly, Ronny smiled beatifically
“Me, mislead the supreme El commandante, lie to the glorious leader. Me have ulterior motives. I’m wounded sir. Wounded I say, But I do have an idea on where to get the plane I want.” Ronny said. Jared glared at him for a moment then smiled.
“ Couple of problems with a real airplane we cant just haul them around in a truck bed and fuel.” Jared commented
“true, but they can be pulled behind a truck and AV fuel is sitting around in trucks just waiting to be picked up.” Ronny said with a grin. “Foiled again Jared. Face it the ultra light has been an incredible help to us, and a real plane will be even better”
“Ill admit that, but a real aircraft is a whole other can of beans” Jared replied.
“Let me get fueled up and I will take the boys up and we can talk after dinner” Ronny said as he motioned Ben to meet him at the ultra light. “ tell Ian he is next “
The temperature dropped that night and a light snow fell coating the area in white. It began to pile up quickly. Old man winter was putting in an unwelcome appearance. The undead unbothered by the falling white stuff, moved as silently as the snow, approaching the camp where they had been drawn by the ultra light earlier.
Jared woke from a sound sleep to the scream of the perimeter alarms. The battery operated motion sensors had just proven their worth.
He and Jill untangled themselves and rolled out of the bed quickly pulled on their clothes. Outside the alarm stopped. Yanking open the door of the van, Jared leaped to the ground and ran for the gate the snow crunching softly under his boots.
Spotting Ronny and Steve he angled over to them. “ What’s up?” he asked.
“ About thirty of the damn things just showed up out of nowhere.” Steve said as rifle fire began from the wall.
“ Damn it” Jared swore as he climbed the ladder on the side of the nearest RV and looked out over the wall. The zombies were coming across the campground in a ragged line, behind them he saw more, in clumps and knots.
His mind raced as he considered what to do, then snapped out orders. Sharon would lead a group to get the walls down and loaded while he led the defense team in slowing the undead down. Really, need to come up with a better way to camp, that will hold off large numbers. He thought
The night was torn again by the sound of rifle fire as the group began clearing away the zombies they could see. A few of the dead almost got close enough to get at Brian and Chad but Ori spotted the undead at the last moment shambling along in the wood line next to the edge of the bluff about twenty yards out and called out the alarm.
Five minutes later zombies were lying sprawled in the snow, oozing what for them passed for blood. Jared crouched in the snow, ignoring the soft cries of the scared children as they were loaded onto the bus, scanning the shadows.
A cold wind blew up the bluff and across the campground sending snow spiraling into the air obscuring their sight. They were going to have to find a snowplow to make life easier. Though usually the Snow in this part of the US was light, He thought. on the upside at least the zombies will have a hard time walking on slick surfaces. At least I think they will. he amended
“Walls loaded, we are up and ready.” Sharon hollered.
“Lets blow this taco stand” Ori said over the com. they turned and ran for their vehicles, Jared saw undead down towards the back end of the camp, they must have come up thru the woods on that side. They were still to far away to be of any threat he knew but it bothered him none the less..
The line of vehicles pulled out of the campground and drove slowly down the winding road to the highway, Headlights flashing over snow, sending sprays of light into the darkness. There were a few zombies along the road, but not many.
In a few hours, how ever, every zombie that had heard the alarm go off would be here and Jared hadn’t been about to stay and see just how many that might be.
By sunrise, they were heading into the Smoky Mountain National Park, hopefully leaving the dense population of zombies behind for now.
Jared peered out the windshield at the Park visitor center as they pulled into the parking lot. One of the plate glass windows was broken out, a Rangers truck was parked at an angle across two parking spots, next to an ambulance. There were no bodies in sight and no zombies either. Jared came to a stop and grabbed his rifle before getting out.
“ Every one else be ready to roll.” Jared said, as Steve’s truck pulled in behind his. The rest of the convoy came to a stop on the road waiting.
Jared walked slowly thru the snow, to peer into the ambulance. Snow had drifted inside, covering the floor almost to the wall that separated the driver from the back. The interior looked intact and there was no Stretcher, which to his mind meant the Paramedics had entered the Visitor center. He pointed to the visitor center and Steve and John nodded. He led the way stepping thru the broken window into the dim interior.
The Lobby if that’s what it was rightly called was large, filled with displays, racks holding maps, and information pamphlets. A glass wall with a doorway led into the “old Sugarland store” a place that sold cheap souvenirs, well cheaply made, not cheap to buy. Jared had never minded the prices since the money was used to help keep the park going. Not that he had every bought any, his trips into the center had only been to the desk, where he got his permits and then was out the door again.
The central desk where you could get back country permits, maps and other things, sat empty. Dried blood covered the blotter. To his right a large rack held pamphlets, and a hallway led back to the offices. To the left another hallway led to more offices. a map with the parks trails hung on the wall next to warnings and instructions.
Something moved back in the left hand hallway. Jared slung his rifle and drew his tomahawk. He watched as a zombie dressed as paramedic shuffled down the hall, the front of his uniform blouse was brownish and stiff. There were bite marks up his right arm. Jared saw nothing behind the zombie so he cocked his arm back and sent the axe flying. It hit the skull with a hollow cracking sound of breaking bone. The zombie swayed for a moment then fell over.
“Way to go, inventing new ways to disarm your self” Steve whispered. Jared walked over and pulled the tomahawk free and peered down the hallway. There was more movement back there so Jared backed away slowly drawing the thing towards him. as it shuffled past a open door, a bar of dim light from the office fell across the bluish white face and he almost gasped. “ Roger Gern” he said aloud.
He had known the Ranger well from the trips he had led thru here, a good man, with a wife and four kids. His throat had been ripped out. Milky white eyes locked with Jared’s, and Rogers’s hands came up as he lumbered forward.
Jared moved left, slamming a tomahawk into the zombies knee, rolled along the outstretched arm of the zombie and planted the butt spike of his tomahawk into the back of its head as it started to fall. There was more movement in the back of the hallway then more zombies came into view.
“Its like a damn clown car” Jared muttered as he backed up far enough so that all six of the zombies could emerge into the main area. He watched as they emerged from the hallway, an EMT, a man dressed in cargo pants and hiking boots, his shirt gone. A once pretty woman in cargo shorts and a sports bra, Another Ranger, and a teen aged boy that had worked as a volunteer for the park, dried blood splattered across his name badge, and an old guy who had been very fit in life. There wasn’t a mark on him that Jared could see.
“ Take them down” he said softly, hoping he could get over the slaughter that was about to occur.
Half an hour later, they sat in the office watching as Rob worked to get the ambulance running. Logan, Chris and Ori were guarding him while he worked. “ I still think we should just strip it” Steve said.
“We might if he can’t get it running” Jared responded as he gazed at the pistol in his hands he had taken off Roger. He couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to Rogers’s family.
They had dragged the bodies back into an office and laid them out after searching them for anything the group could use. Jared was honestly getting tired of feeling like a Vulture living off the carcass of the old world. Robbing the dead, what the hell have we come to he asked himself. He looked at the paramedics bag next to his leg and wondered if surviving was honestly worth the shit they were going thru.
Jared shook that thought away, didn’t matter if he was doomed cursed or hated by god and fate. He had to keep those kids alive at the very least. The rest either God would accept or not, nothing he could do about it either way just muddle on and hope for the best for himself.
But no matter his own fate he would do what ever he had to do so those kids could grow up, their hands clean of what ever sin and doom Jared had to earn to let them grow up. He had limits though, limits he would die before crossing.
“ Hey Jared” Rob said as he stepped into the visitor center.
“ gonna have to strip it are you.” Jared asked nodding his head towards the ambulance
“ No actually, turns out it’s a simple problem” Rob replied.
“ Okay why aren’t you fixing it” Jared asked, Rob smiled, though there was little trace of humor.
“ it was out of gas, no one thought about it. Paramedics pull up, the ambulance usually stays running. It just sat there running till it ran out.” Rob explained, as he shook his head in disgust at his own stupidity.
Jared felt a touch of stupid himself. Half an hour wasted on something that simple. “ at least all I’ve done so far was clean the plugs, try to jump it etc… it wasn’t till I started thinking about a blocked fuel line and bad fuel that I thought about it might be out of gas. Ben is drawing a gallon right now. If we can get it started I’ll pull the damn thing up next to the tanker and fill the tank. But what I wanted to bring up, is we cant really afford to have another fuel guzzling vehicle. If we can find a place to hole up for a week, I can strip the ambulance down and install all the stuff from the ambulance into the RV that Linda is using for a Medical center.”
Jared thought about all the equipment inside the Ambulance and nodded, it was a good idea. But could they find a place safe enough for a week. “ All right, I’ll work on thinking of a place we can use.” He replied, Rob nodded and walked back outside humming to himself. Ten minutes later they heard the heavy diesel motor of the ambulance turn over.
Jared rose and slipped Rogers gun belt over his arm and then scooped up the Paramedics bag. “ lets get out of here” he said leading the way.
Those who were of a mind to appreciate the beauty of nature, peered out the windows of their vehicles, taking in the winding road, the mountains and the red, gold, orange and even silver leaves on the trees that occasionally filled the air like rain as the wind dislodged them from the trees. The snow of the night before had vanished with the dawn, but all of them knew it was going to come back with a vengeance
The Leaves covered the road like a carpet, , stirred by the convoy’s passage they swirled up behind the line of vehicles in glorious swirling colors. At one point, the convoy had to go cautiously around a landslide that partially blocked the road. But an hour later they were clear and heading deeper into the forest. Just past the Sugar land Mountain, Jared pointed out the Chimney rocks to Jill, who wished she had actually known how beautiful it was up here before the zombies. she would have come often. Spilt milk as her granny used to say.
They slowed for a series of almost hairpin turns, Jared praying for no landslides, while Jill and many others were stunned by the incredible view out the windows.
“ Newfoundland gap “ Jared said pointing ahead and said “ we are now 5046 feet above sea level” it was at the moment he vowed to one day return as he took in the view, that almost literally took his breath away. Once he was finished with this whole supernatural dream trip, he was going to load up and come back to the land he truly loved.
They rode for a while longer in silence, the road steadily dropping. Jill finally roused herself and asked. “ where are we going anyway?” she asked. “Mountain farm museum” he replied. “ its right on the edge of Cherokee lands, it’s a collection of old Farm buildings. Plus there is a visitor center, and museum. Its even got a Blacksmith shop. Figured we might set up there and see what’s what before we head on. If there’s no real undead presence we might spend the winter there.” he didn’t mention Pappy’s note and the name it held, the name of a river that the farm sat beside. He wasn’t ready to discuss it.
By three they approached the Oconaluftee Visitor center. A large building with a peaked roof and large glass windows. Jared slowed suddenly and pointed at the small bridge just beyond the trees. Across the bridge, Jill could see the farm, and it wasn’t what she was expecting. The two old log homes and their attendant buildings sat in a large field with a wooden slat fence around it. Smoke curled lazily from the chimney’s and she was pretty sure three of the log homes were new, as in months old and built from the trees that had been cleared from around the Farmland itself. She could see a pig pen with pigs, and a large chicken house with chickens. A huge barn, that Jared said was a drovers barn, and something he called a corn crib.
Just on the other side of the bridge someone had built a small shed with slit windows to guard the crossing. The fence had also been re enforced. But it was the people that caught the eye and held it. Surprise swept through the convoy, then caution warred with elation. There were others still alive. .
Just on this side of the bridge, Two men dressed straight from the 1800’s complete with knee high boots stood at the new built gate, holding Rifles. Several other men, wearing blanket ponchos and armed with everything from pistols to old wooden shovels crossed the bridge to stand gaping at the line of vehicles that came to stop. A woman wearing a sweeping dress straight out of “gone with the wind”, complete with a shawl wrapped around her stood with a steaming cup in her hands.
‘ first zombies now time travelers” Jill muttered. Jared looked as surprised as she felt. He stopped the van and climbed out, his rifle in hand. The only sound was from the motors of the convoy as they idled in the cold afternoon. Jared slowly slung his rifle then smiled at the silent crowd of tense Strangers.
“ I really am happier than I can even begin to describe to see you folks “ Jared said stepping forward and holding out his hand to the first man he could reach. Behind him Steve and many others were dismounting and slinging their weapons. As if a signal had been given, the tension broke and the crowd of strangers rushed forward talking excitedly, shaking hands and slapping backs, asking a million and one questions.
Jared smiled as he spotted a face he knew. “ Lloyd Caldwell” he exclaimed as he saw the man. Lloyd was 46, in shape, and wore a pair of modern jeans, with a 357 holstered at his side. A thick fleece lined jacket kept the wind off him. Lloyd pushed up the brim of his John deer cap, he looked puzzled for a second then recognition dawned. “ Jared Stone, I hate to say I’m surprised to see you, but I am.” The Ranger said with a smile. Then his eyes lit on the ambulance and grew wide. “ tell me you have the drugs that go with that thing “ he said pointing.
“ Yes we do” Jared replied, smiling with relief at the welcome.
“ Thank god, we have sick people here and we have a doctor but no medicine” Lloyd said, that simple word doctor stunned and excited Jared. Such a simple word, one that had meant very little beyond a job title before the dead now held an almost sacred reverence.
Jared sat at the wooden table and watched as Rachel Moore, a lovely looking woman in her mid forties, scooped coffee from the container he had brought into the warm farm house.
She was almost drooling at the prospect of real coffee. A fire burned merrily in the fireplace heating the old log home easily. He smiled as she passed him a cup of coffee a few minutes later. “What was it like in the cities?” Lloyd asked as Rachel and some of the others gathered around the table.
“ Well, to be honest it was pure hell, I was in Nashville when it happened and…” he spoke for a long while, telling them of the girl, stephy’s, rescue, the escape from the city to get to his home outside the city. What they had seen and encountered along the way to the camp.
They looked as furious as he felt, when he told them about rescuing the kids. who could blame them, adults who just ran off leaving a bunch of little kids to the undead was unspeakable in their book. He told them how his people had learned that the dead will rise bitten or not after the ambush. Lloyd and his people didn’t looked surprised at that news, in the months since the dead had risen they had probably seen it at least once by now.
Jared told them of the camp and why they ended up leaving and finally how they came to be on the farms doorstep. Lloyd looked stunned and said “ I knew it was bad all over, but god. It sounds like every one is dead.” Jared leaned back and frowned.
“ Your only the second group of people we have come across. We know there are others, like at Oakridge, we just don’t know how many.” Jared said.
Lloyd sat back “ makes me wish I had kept those folks who wanted to go home, here at gun point. I let them go to their deaths” he said shaking his head in regret, angry at himself even though there was nothing he could have done to keep them at the Farm.
“ You let them do what they thought was right” Jared said. “some of them might even still be alive out there.”
Lloyd wasn’t buying it. “Maybe, Maybe not,” Lloyd said. Then shrugged there was no point in discussing it, what had happened, was in the past and there was no changing it now. “ To be honest it wasn’t that bad here. especially after hearing your story and what John Graham about what happened down in Cherokee where he lives. Here it started with Alerts on the radio, and a call from the office. Roger, you remember Roger right?” Lloyd told him
Jared nodded remembering the zombie that had once been Roger. “ After that call he headed on over towards Gatlinburg and calls back and tells me that its true, people that die are getting back up and killing people. and that any one bitten by one of them turns into one. Last thing he told me was he couldn’t send the ambulance down here, for our heart attack victim because the paramedics had been bitten.” Lloyd paused and took a deep breath. “that’s when it got bad here. The guy, lord forgive me I don’t even remember his damn name, died. His daughter was crying and hugging his body. I saw him twitch a few times, like some one had stuck him with an electric line. Then those dead white eyes opened up,” He shuddered at the memory then continued. “He ripped his own daughters throat out. I have to say Jared I just stood there shocked for a moment as he gnawed on her, blood spraying and then he just stopped and tried to get up. She must have died and that’s when I saw her body start twitching.
By then people were screaming and running for their cars.” Lloyd said looking miserable at the memory. “ Some poor old lady got run over and then she got up, but I didn’t know about that at the moment. I was just standing there watching the impossible happen as two dead people got up off the floor and started towards me and Rachel here.
I shot the guy three times, before I thought about shooting him in the head and down he went. Did his daughter next then had to reload. By then, the old lady had killed five people out there. Luckily, Jim had his old Henry rifle handy that He used for demonstrations. He put her and the other five down.” Lloyd paused pain flickered in his eyes. “ we had maybe two hundred people here to see the farm that day. Ten more had been bitten, but Jim and I got them into the visitor center and as each one died we put them down as soon as they started jerking. Shitty way to go too” he was quiet for a minute than said.
“ Most of our volunteers stayed after listening to the news on the radio. They had planned on going home once things were under control but that never happened. Forty of the people still left alive, stayed here too. A few tourist even showed up after, they had been driving the parkway or exploring the park and ended up here to terrified to go home.
So we got the crops harvested, and started moving vehicles and cleared trees to build cabins for the new folks, improved the fence, and outside of some of the Cherokee coming up to talk and trade, but there is a lot we are short on and you are the first people we have seen, outside of the Cherokee since July.”
“ I think we can help you out some, if you want “ Jared said. He quickly outlined some of the supplies and talent his group had. “Since we were planning on setting up house here till spring anyway. We might as well make sure you folks are set when we leave. Assuming you don’t mind us staying?” Jared added.
Lloyd looked thoughtful for a moment, he had his own concerns and problems and wasn’t sure how so many new people would impact them. He did know Jared how ever and if Jared was in charge and his people listened to him then Lloyd saw no reason to say no, especially since Jared was more than willing to share the medical supplies they had. he shot a quick glance at his people then nodded once firmly “I don’t mind at all.
Jared had his people setup their camp at the Visitor center, which wasn’t being used by Lloyds folks. It was a new building built with environmental concerns in mind. It had still been under construction the last time Jared had been up here so he was surprised to find that the building included a rainwater collection system for the toilets and a geothermal heating system for hot water.
That alone was a miracle in Jared’s mind and the thought of a hot shower sounded so incredible he was tempted to dance naked in the cold in thanks for it.
Why Lloyd and his people made little use of the place was beyond him, but Jared was not about to argue with their decision.
Once they hooked up the Large generator and had power to the building, the residents of the farm, excited beyond words to see working lights again, helped Jared’s people get the place set up for a long stay. Lloyd showed them where folding tables and chairs were stored and they were quickly hauled into the building to set up a common dining room for both groups.
“why haven’t you been using the place” Jared asked stepping aside as men entered carrying fire wood for the wood burning stove they had installed.
“no power for starters, its outside the fence and the security of the farm. We don’t have a lot of people and having to send guards with each person who wants a shower or wants to use a working toilet wasn’t something we could do to often. We had outhouses, and we rigged up some showers. It’s a little more labor intensive than turning a handle, and its not as nice. But it works and makes security easier.”
Linda thrilled to find a doctor at the Farm, had damn near locked herself in the Med RV with Dr. Winston pumping him for information and advice. Stan Winston had brought his wife and two sons up to see the farm the day the world had died. Stan hadn’t left because he felt it had been safer here than out in the world. His belief that things would be brought under control had died as the months rolled by, but that only made him more determined to help others.
Winston, with a warning from Linda, had examined Pappy and seemed optimistic about Pappy’s eventual recovery though he made sure that Pappy and Jeff understood that recovery didn’t mean full mobility. He had snorted with amusement at the nasty notes pappy scrawled out concerning his opinion of Medical witch doctors and modern medicine in general.
Stan had outlined treatment for Pappy then insisted that he would teach Linda and any one else as much as he could before spring rolled around. His only condition was they had to promise to pass on the knowledge to others. Jared had enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and sent five other people to sit in on the classes.
A week passed with something like normalcy setting in, the two groups were getting along and working together getting the place set for winter, which struck the second night, when the temperature plummeted and fat flakes of snow began to fall from the sky.
The smell of roasting meat filled the air, two of the turkeys that Jared had kept stashed in a freezer had been pulled out, and added to the menu. Jared smiled as he watched the children running around the farmyard screaming happily. He really hoped that no zombies showed up today.
They deserved this break by god, he knew he did. He looked up and saw Sharon, who was now starting to show, leave the main farmhouse carrying a covered tray heading for the visitor center. He smiled to himself, picturing Mark nervously following Sharon around trying to make sure she was okay. Don’t worry Mark I will do what I can to keep her safe, he said silently. He hoped he could keep that promise but there were no guarantees in the new world.
He was starting to get used to the old fashioned clothing mixed with new. He grinned as he remembered the female volunteers, who had worked at the farm, excitement as Jill and the other women from his group, produced pants, blouses and Tampons, and then broke open the stores of make up. Most of them had been over joyed to get out of the bustles, and bodices that had become a part of their lives and into T-shirts and pants again.
Lloyd had shared with Jared the plans he had for producing things the farm would need like toilet paper, but to get started he needed to get the turbine in the old mill up on the mountain running before he could even start on the basic stuff.
Lloyd knew just how lucky they had been that the blacksmith hadn’t been local and hadn’t had a family to go save. So there were no problems with making many of the metal items needed around the farm.
Jared was almost tempted to stay here, after everything else they had been through this place was almost heaven. But knew it was impossible. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was following his group, why he and his friends were so important that old scratch felt like following them around was beyond him. But he knew these people would be safer once he and his group were gone.
“ Ready” Lloyd asked emerging from the Cabin and stepping down from the porch into the newly fallen snow. Jared nodded and the two men started off towards the visitor center. Stopping as the sound of motors came to them. Steve, Ori and Logan trotted out of the barn where they had been working on a truck and joined them as four ATVs appeared out of the trees, coming up the river trail from the south.
“ Its John Graham and some of the others from Cherokee” Lloyd said as he waved at them. The four Cherokee parked next to the fence and walked over slowly studying the heavily armed men with Lloyd. “ John this is Jared” Lloyd said introducing them. They shook hands and Jared had the weirdest feeling he had met this man before.
If people had only seen movies, then John Graham and his friends wouldn’t have looked much like the image most had of native Americans. John was a fit man in his 30’s, and carried a Winchester 30 30. he was tanned but not the deep color most expected out of Native Americans. His dark hair was cut short but looked a bit ragged these days. He was a solid looking, square jawed all American Male. Jared could see the tip of a pistol holster sticking out from under his coat as well.
John took a deep breath and smiled at the smell of baking bread, roasting meat and a host of other food smells. “Just like old times” He commented. Lloyd raised an eyebrow in question. “ Thanksgiving at the white mans place, complete with the token Native Americans” John said then gave a deep baritone laugh. Jared laughed with him feeling completely at ease in the mans presence.
“ Brought some friends with me Lloyd, this is Frank, Joey two feathers, and Evangeline” Frank was a short man, with long dark hair. and wore a Native style amulet around his neck. Joey looked like any ordinary guy you’d meet on the street except for his darker skin tone and the angular jaw. The woman how ever wasn’t what most would call beautiful, nor was she plain. Her features blended together to form an exotic look that made her stunning, at least to him. Jared suspected under the cold weather gear she had a nice athletic body as well.
“ Your more than welcome to eat with us” Jared said. “ I think all of us here have something to be thankful for this year.”
“ Amen “ John replied. “ and then we have to bargain and no fire water this time white man “ he said poking Lloyd in the ribs. Frank didn’t seem to be to comfortable with the jokes, but he didn’t say much either, it was his body language that screamed shut the hell up.
They entered the hall and John and his people looked up in surprise at the electrical lights. Turning to Jared, John said. “ And after this, I have a message for you. I wasn’t sure it was you till just now. But” he jerked a thumb at the burning lights “ that convinced me.”
Jared nodded, somehow not surprised. He looked around the packed room where people had gathered for thanksgiving dinner. He knew just how lucky they had all been. Because out there right now were thousands of people who were trapped in buildings surrounded by undead, starving and alone with out heat or power, just waiting for their deaths..
He shook away the mental image, there was nothing he could do for those people no matter how much he wished he could. He sat down beside Jill staring at the turkey on the tray. It was like a dream, he told himself, but one he was determined to enjoy. They might all be dead this time next year. “Happy thanksgiving” he said loudly as he picked up the knife and began to carve the turkey.
Mikhail stopped his car and swore at the landslide that blocked the road. He had gotten lucky in finding the tire tracks in the snow, and that only because of the alarms that had sounded during the night. he had lost their trail a day later but had been reasonably certain where they were heading, so he had hung back giving them time to cross the mountains before he had followed. He had not counted on a Landslide blocking his way and cursing would not remove the recent landslide that blocked the Newfound Gap road.
He was going to have to find a way around or find shelter for the winter. He decided to do both as he looked at the map. He would backtrack to the main road then go around Gatlinburg, take 321 around then 32 which should take him straight to the unpaved road that the map showed cutting thru the park. Once he reached Cove creek he would have to find some back roads to cut back towards the Blue Ridge parkway. He planned on finding the convoy by Christmas and then see about creating a bit of fear.
He turned to climb into his car then paused. A zombie stood on the trail head, it wore an old waistcoat, its triangular face framed by stringy curls of white hair that hung limply from under the bowler hat it wore. It eyes were oddly shaped, disturbing really. Behind it he saw three more zombies, all dressed for summer hiking, one still had a small daypack on. He started to draw his pistol, but some compulsion made him hesitate.
They were just standing there, not reacting to his running car or himself. He looked back and saw nothing on the road. Then with a sigh of relief he slipped into the car, and quickly turned around and drove back the way he had come. It wasn’t till later that he noticed the smell in the car, almost like a zombie had been inside for a while. He almost wrecked turning his head to look in the back seat but saw nothing. He rolled down the windows to let out the smell. Shivering from something other than cold, but never considered backing out of the bargain, he had made. “ I hate thanksgiving “ he said aloud “ but Christmas will be fun this year”