Chapter 3

 

“An enigmatic voice from the dark whispers in a naïve ear.
It speaks of riches and glory and power.
Riches to buy wealth.
Glory to buy rewards.
Power to buy friends.
But the whisper is a lie.”

~ Bruce Allen humphreys

Mike woke up with a headache, wanting to curse his host for the whiskey last night. It had been a long time since Mike had drank, and either he had turned into a light weight or he had drank much more than he remembered. Judging by head ache it could be either, but he was going with to much.

The room was pitch black, except for a slight glow around the edges of the black out blankets. He sat up on the couch and then cradled his head in his hands. Trying to wish away the headache and the nausea that descended on him.

“ the world is overrun by zombies and I get drunk, at least I didn’t earn the Darwin award “ he muttered, wincing at the sound of his own voice. Where the hell are my pants he asked himself as he realized he was wearing only a pair of boxers. Oh god tell me I didn’t do something stupid like dance on the desk in my underwear.

He looked around slowly and didn’t see his pants, okay get to your feet he told himself. That’s right you can do it. no no not that way. Okay got it, he thought as he managed to stand there swaying with out falling down, which was a major accomplishment in his book at the moment.

The only thing that can make this morning worse is if the zombies attack right now he thought, as he glanced at the covered window half expecting it to shatter as a zombie horde poured into the room. The empty bottle still sat on the desk plotter, along with two glasses. .

“Good to see you’re finally awake” Ily said from the door. Correction, it can be worse he thought, having Ily walk in can be worse. He decided feeling a part of his body starting respond to just her voice. No damn it. Dead puppies, dead puppies, cold water. He chanted silently, man up old son

He turned to face the doorway and found Ily holding his pants. Oh shit what did I do last night, he wondered

“Sorry it took so long to get these done, it took a while to get them to dry using a hunk of heated iron and a wringer. “ She said laying them across the back of the wing back chair.

“Mordicai and Jim are ready to go, so as soon as you’re dressed” she said turning to leave.

“Cute boxers, had a hell of a time getting them on you” she said as she shut the door.

He stood there staring at the door for a long moment then snatched his pants off the back of the chair and began to dress. “Wait these are my damn boxers” he said suddenly and started to laugh then regretted it.

By the time he had swallowed aspirin, half a gallon of water, and something that Mordicai had brought him, promising it would relieve the headache. He felt well enough to join the two men for a ride into town to see if they could get into the clinic for medicines.

“Not to be rude, but I thought you guys rode around in wagons” Lee said as Mordicai unlocked the doors his F350.

“I think you have my faith confused with the Amish.” Mordicai said with a twitch of his lips that might have been a smile.

“Just wish this damn…. I mean this weather would just go away” Lee said as he climbed into the back seat and looked up at the sky.

“Wish in one hand, spit in the other and see which one fills up faster” Mike said as he buckled himself in. he leaned his head back hoping that the conversations would be very short and whispered, though the headache was fading pretty fast.

Mordicai, lived just North West of Cederhill, a small town of maybe four hundred people, or had been. They left under a leaden sky, which only got darker the closer they got to town. St Highway 41 ran thru overgrown fields and pastures with a few homes and barns scattered along the road. Lee noted that there were more cemeteries out here than in most cities

The town itself wasn’t much to look, a few streets, a Rail line, a water tower, a local store, and a pharmacy that had been newly built in the 20’s and zombies, in fact there appeared to be more zombies than the original population. In fact many more zombies than the original population. They filled the street, like a plague of cockroaches, milling around with no real purpose till the truck turned down the road, and then like a dam had been opened they flooded forward.

“The extra zombies are most likely Refugees that were taken in early on. Most people around here opened their homes, schools and churches to those escaping the madness in the cities.” Mordicai explained looking sick as he finally realized just how bad it really was out in the world beyond his farm.

“Mother of god” Lee muttered as the truck was surrounded by the horde of undead, men, women, children. Postal workers, Sheriffs deputies, store employees, some wore bikini’s, others were nude. He grimaced as a woman in a sun dressed caked in old blood, and missing an eye and half her face, slammed up against the window, trying to chew through the glass.

It was a sea of whitish blue flesh, which surged around the vehicles, with only one burning need, to reach the flesh of the living inside the truck.

Mordicai, his face pale didn’t let off the gas, he just kept creeping forward. Hands were slapping against the sides of the truck and the glass. smearing goo and dirt across the glass. Lee leaned away from the window, just in case it broke. He saw a woman with a baby carrier strapped to her chest, the undead infants hands were grasping at the air, its tiny head twisting from one side to another, and felt an unfocused fury flow thru him.

“We have to do something “Lee said looking nervous, twitching at every thump, bump or bang against the side of the truck. .

“Scream maybe” Mike said with sarcasm fueled by fear. Mike refused to look out the windows; he couldn’t deal with it, not yet, maybe not ever.

Something raked along the side of the truck with a sound like nails on a chalkboard setting all their teeth on edge. Lee winced, Mike ground his teeth trying to shut out the noise, but after a moment it was too much.

“Aaarrr.. God if I could roll down the window id shoot that one” mike growled.
Lee started to nod in agreement but his eyes locked on a zombie that stood on the sidewalk seemingly apart from the crowd that filled the street.

It stood there on spindly legs, with long arms and hunched shoulders, its head down, an old fashioned hat on its head. The clothes it wore looked turn of the century. He was just about to point it out, when the head slowly came up, and he saw the oddly shaped head. The face though, it burned into his mind, Its mottled leathery skin was stretched tight over its triangular shaped face, the leering thin lips quivering into a grin, the large beak nose, like a bird of preys beak, and The dead white eyes almost seemed lit with some dark inner fire, peered at him from under the rim of the bowler hat then it licked its lips.

Lee sucked in a breath, and almost screamed as a zombie, once a well built farmer slammed a fist into his door, its dead face twisted in hunger. Teeth snapping thru shredded lips. Another zombie this one an incredibly obese woman slammed her entire bulk against the side of the truck, causing the truck to shake. Mike swore, gripping the shotgun that he held in his lap.

And then suddenly they were clear, breaking free and Mordicai sped up leaving the huge crowd to lumber after them. Lee sat white face in the back breathing hard, not caring where they went as long as they didn’t see any more zombies for at least the rest of the day.

“Guess Cedar hill is out then” Mike said, wondering how likely it was that the entire population of Springfield would be hanging around the one place they needed to go to.
“Looks like we go to Springfield.”

“You think going to a small city would be better than this?” Lee asked incredulously.

“Not better, easier. The odds of the entire town hanging out around the one building we pick are sky high.” Mike said. “Lets head on back and make some plans, we have to come thru here to get to Springfield, so we can check it out again before we head on to the city.”

“If it gets us out of here right now Ill be happy enough” Lee said, looking back but saw no sign of the zombie that had bothered him so much. .
July 26th. 2011

It took two days to get ever one that wanted to go from the nursing home to the Holler, a day of the that was Ori and Jessie arguing with their kinfolk about Christian duty and to hell with they are outsiders. In the end Ori’s dad, Jeremy, had put his foot down and told the rest of the family they would be taking the refugees in and any one that didn’t like it was more than welcome to return to their homes in town.

While Ori spent time with his father and brothers, and one surviving sister, the rest of them helped to get the people from the nursing home settled in and get the food, weapons and ammo they had scavenged from the home stored in the Barn.

The family usually so insular, seemed much more accepting, of both Jareds group and the new arrivals, after a couple of days around them. It might be that so many people gave them hope that things might just return to normal some day, that not every one could be dead out beyond the hollow.

And even the quiet and Taciturn Jeremy had been happy about the amount of canned and dried goods, weapons and Ammunition that had been recovered from the raiders base. So much so that Jeremy had announced a celebration, the canny older man wanted all of them to spend time together to foster a sense of community that would hopeful lessen tensions between the outsiders and the family.

After spending half the of the third day working on Vehicles, clearing tree’s and getting three new cabins started that would eventually house the Refugees, Jared, hot, tired and sweaty, grabbed the dry bag in his ruck that contained clean clothes, a towel and soap. And headed down to the creek where he peeled off his shirt and pants, removed the soap from the bag, and waded into the ice cold water, almost slipping and falling on slick rocks. Sucking air between his teeth because of the cold water, he found a deep spot and made himself submerge just to get past the numbness. His testicles in protest tried to climb up his throat and kick his brains ass for putting them in the situation. But they were so cold it was only a half hearted attempt.

As he scrubbed himself down, Jared became aware of several of the young ladies suddenly having chores near the creek, or discovering important herbs to gather along the bank, as they giggled and talked amongst themselves.

He ignored them and finished washing up, just as Martha, one of Ori’s cousins, appeared with the kids, all of whom were between six and ten years old. With the total lack of shame most little kids had, they quickly stripped and dove into the water and began to play while Martha settled herself on a rock.

She watched Jared climb out of the creek with a smile that she should have felt ashamed of, she seemed too find the clinging boxers engrossing, then smiled widely as she met his eyes.

“Nice day isn’t it” she said, with a pointed look south of his waist.

“Sure is” Jared replied shaking his head and smiling. He took the clean clothes he had brought from the dry bag and dressed quickly. “God I feel human again,” he said as he pulled on clean socks.

Dressed and kitted out once more he settled himself on a rock, his commando over his knees , next to the rushing creek and watched the kids splash around and played His enjoyment of the moment partially spoiled by the thought of that Billy Thornton would never get to play like this again.

He had killed the man who had tortured then killed the little boy, just to get to Jared. But Jared still felt the guilt, and still saw images of the friendly little kid, standing near him. It didn’t matter that there was nothing he could have done to save the boy with out being able to read minds or see the future. Billy had looked up to Jared and Jared had loved having the happy little kid underfoot around the camp, and that had gotten him killed. At least Billy hasn’t come to me in my dreams Jared thought, I don’t know if I could deal with it.

“Hey My uncle wants so see you,” Ori said, walking up to where Jared sat by the bank of the creek, Jared almost leaped out of his skin as he was taken by surprise, at the sound of a voice.

Jared rose and looked around, spotting One of Ori’s cousins, he caught the woman’s attention and let her know he was leaving. She smiled and nodded. No one left kids alone these days and most every one took the time to keep an eye out to make sure they didn’t get in any kind of trouble.

They walked across the holler, enjoying the day, overcast though it was. Ori led him to a newly built cabin, that was probably thirty feet long and twelve feet wide, and housed Buck and Jeremy’s gunsmithing and reloading tools.

Stepping into the cool interior, Jared found it well lit with fluorescent lights. The smell of hot metal, cordite and other familiar smells filled the air. “Solar panels up on the cap rock.” Ori said jerking a thumb towards the top of the ridge.

Ori’s Uncle, was a thick man, not fat not muscular, just thick and solid with a bushy beard and bright blue eyes under shaggy eye brows. He was busy at a bench filled with reloading gear when they entered the shop.

He turned and smiled at Jared. “Ori’s told me some of what you folks have gone thru since last June. Sounds pretty rough out there” he said, patting a cloth covered tray on the bench behind him.

“Rough enough, I guess “Jared commented.

“Why keep doing it, you and yours could have stayed at that farm or at the fort on the island Ori told me about. Why leave?” Buck asked curiously.

“Pure and simple Family” Jared said. “I have a brother at fort Campbell, Ori wanted to check on you folks, Steve has a brother down around Memphis. We needed to find out if they are safe.”

Buck nodded slowly, “family is important to a man” he said after a moment glancing at Ori, “even when some in the family think they know how to run your life better than you do” he grinned at Ori.

“Anyway, not the reason I wanted to see you. Ori had some things he thought I might be able to use; I figured you could use them back. Not quite the same as they were but I think you’ll enjoy them.” He said as he pulled the cloth off the tray, revealing 40mm grenade casings. Where the grenade should have been it was sealed off

“40mm shotgun shells” Buck said proudly.

“Holy hell “Jared muttered as he picked one up.

“It’s not all that original really, they have been making shells like that for door breaching for a while now, and I just modified it a bit. But I’ve managed to make 36 of them for you using the spent shells Ori gave me.” Buck said with a smile. “Figure something like a mini claymore might come in handy against zombies”

Jared rolled the shell around in his hand and started to smile, it wasn’t a pleasant smile Buck noted.

“Thanks, if you need something let me know.” Jared said after a moment.

“Keep my nephew Safe, that’s all I ask.” Buck replied, as Ori rolled his eyes.

“Trying but you know how he can be” Jared said.

“I do, I truly do.” Buck agreed as he walked over to a Gun safe and swung it open.

“Got two more things one for Ori and one for you. Jeremy will pitch seven kinds of hell when he finds out, but they are mine.” Buck said as he pulled out a Siaga 12 and passed it to Ori. Then pulled a second one out and passed that to Jared.

“To be honest I can make these, I have the tools and the materials. Even have a design for a shot gun that mounts under a barrel like that Grenade launcher you’re so fond of” he said then cocked his head. “Sounds like Jesse is looking for you Ori, might as well go find out what the jar head wants.” Buck said then turned to Jared. “I’ll packs these in some ammo cases for you.” he said gesturing to the 40mm rounds.

Jared slung the Siaga and grinned at Buck. “Ill swing by and pick them up tomorrow morning” he said.

“Figured you would be leaving tomorrow or the next day. Going to be some sad women around here when you folks pull out” Buck said with a smile. “A lot of happy boys too”

Jared laughed and shook Bucks hand then headed for the door. He saw Ori over at the picnic table under the willow, talking with his brother and sister. Looking happier than Jared could remember him looking Might as well let the man enjoy his time with them. who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Jared wondered how some of the people in the group were taking the news that Ori’s family had survived, when their own had died. Jared couldn’t blame them for feeling bitter, but even a short conversation with some of Ori’s family it didn’t take long to figure out that only two in ten of the once large family had survived the coming of the dead.

Jared was at least thankful that his own parents had died years ago and had not had to see the horror filled nightmare their world had become. He only had to worry about Eric being alive.

* * *

Dawn was half an hour away, When Jared and the others began to get ready to move out. They loaded in the misty predawn light, Ori, went with his father to visit his mothers grave in the family plot. They returned just after sunrise, and the entire family and their guests sat down to a breakfast with foods that most hadn’t eaten in a long while.

It was later than Jared would have liked when they pulled out, heading further south than Jared would have liked, but one of the things they had learned after seizing the Home had been a cache of maps with blocked roads marked on them. which had changed the route Jared had intended on taking originally.

Towards noon, the sun peeked thru holes in the cloud cover, but was swallowed again an hour later, leaving only a few errant golden beams that managed to punch thru, and even those faded after a short time.

They turned off the main road, and took a narrow road that wound up the side of a heavily wooded ridge, to avoid the washed out main road.

They passed a house here, a cabin there. All tucked away in the woods off the road. Some perched precariously on the side of the steep ridge; Jill had looked at one, and had wondered aloud how in the hell any one had managed to mow that yard since it was dang near straight down. Ori had said they used a winch and climbing harness, explaining in great detail for almost five minutes before Jill realized he was joking.

Back before the zombies, it might have taken two hours to reach Wilmette’s Tenn. But these days, it would take much longer. More like two days now. The roads were covered in fallen limbs and the occasional rock or broken down vehicle. And where there was no debris, they often came upon areas that had sections of road washed away. .

They camped that night in a Hollow, beside a lake under the shadowy tree covered ridges, and a star strewn sky. A half moon floated overhead its light glittering on the rippling water turning it silver and black.

“ … Once we reach Layfette, things will get easier” Jared said as he passed the map to Steve who took it and spread it across his knees. Ori, sat quietly, holding a quart jar of Cinnamon apple shine, the pleasant fragrance filled the night.

“Easier on driving, not easier on the number of undead we will face.” Steve said pointedly. “Face it most of the towns between here and there might have a hundred people in them, or rather a hundred undead. Big whoop. We can run over more than half the town in two minutes. But once we reach Layfette, that number climbs up.”

“He has a point” Ori said, passing the jar to Jill who looked at it apprehensively. “Drink up; it puts hair on your chest “He said with a grin.

“Exactly what I’m scared of “Jill said, then took a sip, her eyes widening in surprise. “That tastes incredible ” she said after a moment.
“Old family recipe, made by my uncle Buck, who aside from being a great gunsmith, makes some of the best moonshine in the state” Ori said proudly.

“Seemed like a good guy” Jill said passing him the jar back.

“No he is an asshole, but a good guy in his own way” Ori replied with a laugh.
Jared leaned back in his chair listening to them talk, and looking around.

Spec 4 Jeb Hollis, wearing his Cav Stetson and ACU pants was flirting with Private Angela Martin, as he cleaned his weapons. Jeb tilted the flat brimmed Stetson back on his head and flashed his best smile at Angela. The dark haired Texan played up his heritage right down to the slow drawl and good manners.

To Jared’s mind the Man was built like a bull rider, muscular and compact. And according to the stories from the other soldiers hung like a horse judging by what they had all seen in the Porno’s’ Jeb had starred in, Angela was in for a surprise if she gave in to his charms Jared decided.

Angela, blonde, blue eyed, with an oval face, delicate features and full lips was a real beauty, in the girl next door sort of way, with a beach bunny body. At 18, 19 next month, she had seen more death than most 100 year olds and it seem to have been affected very little by the end of the world, aside from moments of intense brooding. He thought about what Ben Cross had told him back on Fort Jackson, about how Angela still new to the Army had stood the line for months keeping the undead off the base, just as solid as any Trooper who had been in for years.

Sooner or later we all are going to crack, he thought watching the almost normal flirting, and frankly I think Steve is starting to crack, to touchy lately, he looks upset and depressed a lot. And some of the people sharing Steve’s RV with him said he had been having nightmares lately.

He glanced towards Steve who was feeding another log into the fire, while talking with Mary. He seemed pretty normal, but there was tightness to his lips, and the way he sat that told Jared something was bothering him.

Yet another thing I have to worry about, Jared thought, if something happens to Steve, or any of his original friends it would tear him up. Jared had no doubt that it was only because of them that he had stayed sane and in control of his emotions. And now he had no idea how to return the favor to Steve.

He rose with a smile that ended at his eyes and walked down to the lake shore twenty feet from the camp, and watched the water for a while as his mind mulled over their plans. Was he or any of them doing the right thing by hunting down family? Would he ever stop having doubts, would he ….. He snorted a laugh at himself. Starting to sound like the wrap up at the end of a soap opera episode there son, he told himself.

“Penny for your pants” Jill said from behind him. “And no I didn’t mean thoughts” she said with a husky laugh.

Jared grinned in the darkness, pushing aside his doubts and fears. And for a moment even managed to get his brothers face out of his mind as he turned and wrapped thick arms around his wife.

“I see the price is rising “she said grinning wickedly rubbing against him.

“Take me to bed or lose me forever “he told her.

“That’s my line; I can’t believe you stole my lin…. Oomphf” she said falling silent as he kissed her.

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

The silver chased water lapped gently at the shore of the lake, under the moon. Jared walked slowly along the spit of land that acted as a beach, the camp at his back.
He knew he was dreaming, and that made it even more enjoyable he could actually enjoy the sight with out worrying about being eaten.

“You now marriage becomes you” Brendan said, sitting on a rock.

“You know I was kind of hoping dreams from the dead had pretty much ended, and that you would stop showing up right after or before I have sex with my wife. You’re dead and still a perv.” Jared said. Brendan rose and the two men embraced smiling.

“ okay so start being cryptic, because I doubt you dropped by to shoot the shit or give me insider information on how to make sex even better with Jill. “ Jared said as he dropped to the ground and crossed his legs. He had long since stopped feeling awkward at dealing with the dead in his dreams.

“You really have gotten blunt “Brendan said as he sat beside Jared.

“I prefer the term direct”Jared said then pointedly cleared his throat. “So what’s up in spook land? Ball and chain shortages, washers broke down for your sheet cleaning?”

Brendan chuckled, “so little respect for the dead” he said after a moment then his smile faded.

“Truth is your right in the middle of the shit storm that’s starting. The Dark, is unable at the moment to get to the Triad. It’s trying but not having much luck yet. So it’s on the move elsewhere, mopping up other groups of humans, using tools to get to those it can’t touch directly. And standing directly in the way are people like you. “Brendan said.

For a moment a vision flashed in Jared’s mind of a Guy on a train in a desert, and then it shifted and flowed into yet another image, another man and woman standing outside some heavily modified RV or big vehicle, with a dog. Then again, a man leading a group somewhere in the UK, a woman in the Caribbean on a boat. An Asian looking Man and dog leading people across a snow covered mountain, and more, some one in Tokyo, New Delhi, St. Petersburg, the images were so fast he couldn’t see details then like a switch had been thrown the images stopped.

“Hope you didn’t break any rules with that “ he said, the images had at least given him a bit of hope for the future, even if those here in the US failed, there were others out there doing their best to survive and oppose the dark.

“ not really, just learned how to do that actually.” Brendan said sofly, looking tired now.

“ great theres still school and jobs in the afterlife, tell me theres no taxes.” Jared said with a crooked smiled.

“ only if the dark wins.” Brendan said with a return smile. He shook his head, and looked almost translucent to Jared as if showing him the images had drained him somehow.

“ listen, you’ve earned a special place in the Darks hall of ass fuckery. You really chapped its ass by defeating its plans, and its not the forgiving type. It might have even left you alone for a while. Except you and your merry band of misfit toys headed out to find family and friends, and are right back in the crosshairs. And it wants you Jared, wants you bad.” Brendan said, as he faded even more. Moonlight fell through him now lighting the ground he sat on.

“well people in hell want ice water” Jared muttered, then shook his head“ I just don’t get why what we do is so important that the Evil asshat is making a point of trying to kill us” Jared commented.

“ hope Jared, you still have hope, and belief that things will work out, and you spread that to others. It wants people to despair, to be willing to just roll over and die, or live quietly in a hole waiting for death. You and others have saved folks, set up compounds to live in, you traveling around spreading the word that people are still alive, and still have places to go to where people aren’t broken and cowering. The one it has to affect to win is the Scribe, but every thing you and others do have affects that, your actions ripple out, and can influence events. Like right now, lots of undead are more interested in you than the Triad, and that’s making things … elsewhere a bit easier for the light.”

Jared was silent for a few minutes; he just sat and watched the moonlight on the water thinking over what Brendan had said.

“It has humans who work for it Jared, some it has to work at turning, others willing embrace its goals. Some don’t even know they are serving it, since it slowly turns them in their dreams, and the darkness of their hearts. Watch your ass buddy. “Brendan said suddenly his voice almost a whisper.

“I will “Jared said looking back out over the lake, as a cool breeze kicked up blowing across the water.

“One more thing, that creature, thing what ever that you call Bowler hat, it’s on the hunt for you folks again. And it will find you Jared.” Brendan warned his voice was faint now, “Peace out Brother. And kiss the wife for me” he said with a chuckle and was gone.

Jared woke up with the grey light of predawn, and sat up in his bed. “Just once I would love a visit that was just talking about what movies the dead watch on the other side or if they can actually have sex over there. Instead of doom and gloom” he muttered as he dragged on his pants.

* * *
Carrie as expected didn’t like the plan, and refused to participate. She wanted to stay at Mordicai’s house. Which judging from Mordicai’s reaction to this, wasn’t in the cards. It seemed he trusted her just as little as the rest did.

Brent was laid up now, to sick to even sit in a window and keep watch. Sandy was worried enough to restrain him on the bed, in case he passed when no one was in the room. That bothered Mike, not that he didn’t understand the reasoning or even agree. It just seemed insulting to do that to the man who had basically saved them by kicking them in the ass to keep them motivated instead of sitting in a corner and drooling waiting for the undead.

Mordicai had offered the use of three shotguns and a pistol he owned, but planned on staying at home, not wanting to risk being killed and leaving his boys with out a parent.

“They have been thru to much already, I wont risk leaving them to deal with this world alone I’m sorry” he told Mike, who completely understood.

Lee was pretty sure that assuming there wasn’t a huge number of zombies out front that he could get them inside the CVS safely. And after that it was just clear the store of undead, and then secure what they needed while the truck circled around hopefully leading the undead away from the building.

There was a feeling of excitement and fear in the air as they bedded down for the night, Mike had pretty much given up on sleeping anywhere near Carrie at this point and was settling down in the Mordicai’s study, when Carrie knocked and stepped in.

For a moment she stood there looking at his bare torso, noting the ripped abs and thick arms with something like appreciation, and then the frown was back.

“I just wanted to tell you, that I will do the best I can tomorrow. And I’m sorry that I’ve been such a bitch” she said.

Sure you are he thought, noting the frown still on her face. Be graceful about it he told himself maybe it might help her find her way back.

“I know you will, and apology accepted “he said, not missing the way her eyes narrowed slightly like she thought he was humoring her and it pissed her off.

He braced himself for an eruption and was surprised when none came.

“All right, well good night mike” she said in a more friendly tone than he had heard from her in months.

She turned and started down the hall brushing past Ily, who held some sheets and blankets in her arms, with out a word.

“Sorry, I hope I wasn’t intruding” Ily said placing the bundle on the couch. “Mordicai asked me to bring these to you.” She said with a slight unsure smile.

“No you weren’t, she was just apologizing for being such a bitch.” Mike said, Ily raised an eyebrow at that. “Her words not mine” Mike added.

Ily, didn’t respond, she couldn’t. Judging from the look on Carries face when she passed her in the hall, the woman was still the bitch that had woken up after the undead started eating the world. She couldn’t quite bring her self to say as much to Mike who she knew wanted to believe his wife might actually be coming back.

“Well that’s a start at any rate” she said with another slight smile.

Mike sat on the edge of the desk, watching her for a moment. “You don’t believe it do you” he asked. Something in his tone told her he really wanted to hear the truth.

Ily shook her head slowly. “No mike I’m sorry, I don’t. I could be wrong, I admit. But I think it’s just another little game for her.” And the fact you’re attracted to him doesn’t factor into your thinking does it she asked herself, she thought about that for a moment then decided that it actually didn’t.

She caught her self twirling a strand of dark hair around her finger and silently chastised herself as she pulled her hand away and tucked it into her belt.

“I don’t either to be honest” he said softly she almost couldn’t hear him; she had rarely ever seen a man look as heartbroken as mike did at that moment. And it took all she had not to wrap her arms around him and offer him support. Partly because she was scared it might go further than that, and later when things had calmed down she would feel like scum.

He gathered himself with a shake. “Well anyway thank you, I think I need to get some sleep tomorrow is going to be a long day.” He said. Ily nodded and left him alone.

She had to wonder, about the timing of Mordicai asking her to carry the sheets and blanket to mike at that particular moment. She suspected it wasn’t as casually timed as it appeared. Sneaky, sneaky man she decided as she headed for her sleeping bag.

The next morning after eating a real breakfast that Mordicai and Ily had prepared, they mounted up and headed out for Springfield.

Mordicai watched them leave then returned to the kitchen and finished cleaning up. Looking out the window to check on his sons who were doing chores in the back yard, he chewed on the inside of his cheek nervously. He hadn’t told Mike and the others the truth about his not wanting to go to Springfield, oh his stated reason was totally true, but it wasn’t the only reason.

He believed that the night before last, God had sent an angel to save him by bringing warning in a dream. To go to Springfield would result in his death. In the past he might have dismissed such a thing as a dream. But this dream was too real to vivid, and the angel had been his wife. He smiled at the memory of her face from his dream. At least she was happy, no matter what others might have said, this was not a dream from Satan. God was openly acting now that the devils plague had taken so many away.

He trudged up the steps, feeling far older than his 37 years. He looked in on Brent who looked ashen, his eyes sunken and fever bright but still breathing, still alive. He entered the room and checked the restraints to be on the safe side.

“I’m sorry to have to treat you like this. But it is for our own good” He told Brent whose head turned slightly so he could watch Mordicai. “If you should die, you will become a danger to us, so this becomes necessary”

“I understand” Brent gasped out, his voice harsh and scratchy. “Wish they hadn’t gone, I ……” he fell silent as he gathered his strength and tried again. “I won’t make it. No need to risk their lives.”

Mordicai, nodded in agreement. He would honestly be surprised if Brent made it through the night. But that also did not stop him from praying for a miracle for the man.

“I’ve killed” Brent said clearly and slowly as he turned his head to stare up at the ceiling.. “For my country, done my duty, tried …to make a difference… and it ends like this. I have no regrets but one… I never got married” Brent said with such profound regret Mordicai was taken aback. He rose and fetched the wash basin and cloths, and then sat next to Brent and placed wet compresses on his brow.

“She was a pretty little thing” Brent said, almost delirious. “Body like a goddess, hair like gold…….” His voice trailed off for a moment, but his smile never faltered. “Kindest, gentlest woman I’ve ever met. And when she smiled, she went from pretty to incredible, it lit the room.”

Mordicai continued to sponge Brent’s brow letting the dying man talk about the one woman he had truly loved, and lost. Loss was the theme of the apocalypse Mordicai knew, but it was a cruel way to end things to make men suffer for so long a far kinder god would have ended it quickly. And now after loosing all else, this man lay here dying with only a stranger for company. Not the few friends he had made, who were off on a pointless quest to save him. Mordicai felt pity for the man on the bed…
* * *
The sun came up casting its light across the tops of the ridges, setting the highest tree tops to glow. Tendrils of mist swirled up from the lake, and as some of the group awoke and stepped out of the motor homes, a flock of ducks took to the air, and flew off.

Soon the smell of rehydrated eggs, and pancakes filled the air and sizzling bacon. Bless Jeremy for that gift, Jared thought savoring the smell of frying bacon. The camp buzzed with quiet conversation as they made sure every thing was loaded, tied down and completely secured while breakfast cooked.

Ori had gotten up before 0400 and gone fishing, and as every one was sitting down to eat, he returned to camp carrying five large bass, much to their delight. When he dumped a bunch of potatoes out of the bag slung from his shoulder and explained they would be having fish and French fries for dinner, Jared thought some of the men were about to knock the women out of the way to Hump Ori’s leg.

“We need to stop at some of the homes along the way, most folks had gardens. Some of them will have gone wild; we can pick up onions, garlic, potatoes, beans, all kinds of stuff. “Ori explained to Jared who nodded, excited at the idea of having some of the things he really enjoyed. God a salad would be great. .

By the time they finished breakfast and were ready to go, the sentries had put down four zombies that had wandered up the road, towards the lake.

State road 56 ran along Jennings creek under steep wooded ridges that soared above the road, some reaching a thousand feet above sea leave. The road split just past the small town of North springs. Where they barreled thru a few undead that were wandering around aimlessly till the small convoy appeared.

They stayed on 56 which swung to the left following the valley that the creek had cut out over centuries, making their way towards the town of Goose Horn just down the road.
The town lay in a hollow surrounded by high wooded ridges that in better days had been teeming with wild life.

They avoided the turn off to Town instead remaining on 56 heading west carrying them across a ridge where they had to stop for almost two hours to clear debris, before they could get back on the road. From the top at almost a thousand feet above sea level they could see the valley below they were almost to Willette, they could even see some of the homes scattered along 56 from here. .

The line of vehicles started down the steep incline, that would take them off the ridge and into the valley. The Beast led the way with Daws on the Ma Deuce, after that Jared’s Van, followed by the three motor homes, then the two fuel trucks, and the one Water Truck, the Semi truck and trailer playing tail end charley.

Rocks suddenly began to rain down on the road, pelting the vehicles, a small landside it seemed, then two large rocks one the size of a vw bug slammed into the side of one of the Motor homes, metal crumpled, and glass shattered as the large vehicle was actually pushed five feet to the other side of the road and tipped over as it hit a deep water run off channel, and toppled onto its side.
A shot rang out, and Daws Crumpled to the bed of the Beast. Jared’s van surged to the right and up into the woods. Parking so that the side door on the passenger side faced away from the rock slide and gun fire, using the bulk of the van as cover. Not that it would provide a lot. .

More shots rang out, raking across the RV that Ori called home. Some of the shots had to have hit the engine; steam began to billow out of the back. Stephanie, who was driving Ori’s motor home, was alternating between screaming and cussing loudly, as she ran the motor home off the road on the right side by Jareds Van and threw it into Park.

“Dismount” Jared called over the Radio as he flashed a silent message to Ori who nodded and took two steps into the wood and vanished.

More shots rang out spanging off the metal armor that had been placed to protect the driver of the beast.

“Crippen status” Jared asked,

“Daws is alive, and his armor took the brunt of it. But he hurts like hell.” Crippen responded.

“Roger that, copy wounded. Get ready to return fire but don’t expose yourself till I say” Jared said as he looked behind him into the woods, if he had set up the Ambush he would have placed most of his men on this side, while the snipers fired from the other side drawing

“Ed, you, Steger and Mai linn Cover the rear, there’s probably a few men in the woods back there just waiting to get a clear shot at us” Jared said.

“Got it” Ed said as he scanned the area and found a good defensive position, with good cover. He led the other two in a dash to the relative safety of the position.
Jared peeked out around the front of the van, and saw muzzle flashes from the top of a large chunk of limestone just up the ridge on the left side of the road. He ducked back into cover then stepped back away from the van as he opened the breech of the M203 and loaded a grenade. He flipped up the sight, sighted and pulled the trigger sending the Grenade arcing towards it target with a coughing noise.

The grenade detonated with a boom that rolled across the ridges and down into the valley. “Get that .50 into action” Jared barked, “Ed get ready” he added as he led Team one in a running crouch to the motor home that lay on its side. the Ma Deuce opened up again spitting out defiance.

Hollis, martin, Jones, and Spacey dismounted from the Beast and began to lay down suppressing fire. The heavy .50 caliber rounds punched into the limestone that the sniper was using sending stone shards screaming into the air.

Jared and Team one ran for the shelter of the overturned RV, bullets chewing up the ground behind them as an attacker tried to bring his weapon to bear, with out being shot himself as the rock he hid on was being pounded to pieces.
“Son of bitches” Steven muttered as he slid to a stop his back against the roof of the Motor home. Ronny was grinning from ear to ear like a maniac, “nice try asshat” he yelled out leaning against the RV.

“Way to go Ronny, encourage them to try harder to kill us” Jill hissed, as a burst of fire tore into the underside of the RV.

“ sounds like one weapon is an AK, the other one is FAL” Steve observed, Jared nodded in agreement, Then used the butt of his rifle to break thru the small sky light in the roof of the motor home and looked in.

“Every one all right.” He asked praying they were, especially since he had seen no one thru the windshield as they ran past.

“Yeah sure, I’m laying on a broken window with a TV on my balls, its all great in here” Ryan called out. “I can’t see Bryan though; he was in the back somewhere when we got hit”

Jared could barely see Ryan’s legs where, he had been thrown out of the driver’s seat to land sprawled on what had been the side of the motor home. Supplies and other things had fallen on him, partially pinning him in place. Boxes shifted and slid as Ryan struggled to get free.

More gunfire whacked into the underside of the motor home, and from the sound of it some of the fire was being directed at the Beast as well.

“Got movement in the woods, about sixty feet in “Ed reported just then.

“Roger, and copy. “ Jared replied, “Hang in there Ryan, we will be right back”
The woods were thick with leaves and old fallen trees, which was both good and bad, in Jared’s book. It was harder to move quietly, and contained plenty of places for concealment, for both sides.

once they moved twenty feet from the toppled motor home, they would be exposed to the snipers on the other side. As long as Crippen and the others kept the snipers down they wouldn’t have much of a chance to shoot at Jared and his Team.

“Jared, Rob here. Got some more bad news to throw at you, we have maybe twenty or so smelly dead bastards coming up the road at us.” Rob reported from the Cab of the beast.

“Nothing like more good news to balance out the bad” Jared replied.

“Don’t worry about it” Jeb Hollis called out over the radio, “we can deal with that too”
“Got the snipers when you’re ready” Ori said suddenly.

“Sniper free” Jared replied with a cold as ice grin. Things were about to get very bad for the bushwhackers.

“Steve smoke if you please” Jared said, Steve nodded and pulled out a smoke grenade and tossed it into the tree line. The smoke at first was a thin stream, which rapidly grew filling the area and obscuring sight.

Somewhere down the Road behind them, Jared could hear Ori’s M24 punch out two rounds, then fall silent, as Ori shifted position.

“Let’s go “Jared said as he leaped to his feet, and led them into the smoke.

Leaves crunched under their feet, but Jared didn’t need to see, he knew exactly where he was going, twenty five feet up and ten feet to the right, there were two trees down, one lay on the ground the other was hung up just above it giving them cover from the approaching force, and the brush on this side would give them cover from the snipers on the rock across the road.

Jared slid into position, Steve at his side. Ronny took the far right of the tree fall to cover that flank while Jill and Logan were prepared to support either flank or defend to the rear. He felt a surge of pride in his wife; she had turned out to be one tough lady, solid as hell in a dust up.

He lay there controlling his breathing, eyes scanning the woods. There movement 11 o’clock, two men crouched and moving slowly, had exposed themselves trying to see into the smoke. They hadn’t seen the team, yet, he amended.

“Contact two, mine” Jared said, stroking the trigger. His first two shots, took the man in the hunting jacket high and to the left. The first round punched straight thru the mans throat and exited in a spray of blood, the second took him in the head. Sending a bone, blood and grey matter fountaining behind him. If it had been just a bit higher he would have missed.

Jared shifted to the next man, sighted, and serviced the second target. A man in some weird Soviet Camo pattern that would have been better suited to a gay pride parade than in the woods of Tennessee. The man toppled over with out a sound.

Instantly bullets tore into the ground just ahead of their position as at least two unseen assailants opened up on them.

“On it” Steve said as he fired his G3, laying down a good suppression pattern

“Going left cover my ass” Jared said as he slipped to the side and snaked thru the grass and leaves as silent as a mouse.

One of the odder things to sneaking around on the ground Jared decided not for the first time was how three small weeds or a sapling could actually conceal you. You could lay there, feeling like your ass was sticking out for the world to see, and ten men could look right past it, because there was a weed in front of you. One of his instructors had also insisted that if you thought you were a bush every one else usually thought so too.

How ever it actually worked, it worked. Jared moved from dips in the ground, to a tree trunk, from there to a rock surrounded by fern like plants and weeds. He could hear gunfire so close he could actually hear the bolt slam back with each shot. To kill or not to kill that is the question he thought as he moved plants in front of his postion slowly allowing him to see what lay just ahead. .

Not a view I would normally like he thought as he looked right between a mans legs.

The three men were behind a log fall, in an almost classic prone stance; Jared had gotten directly behind them. Take that Ori he thought silently as he kept himself from rushing. He could see a dead fourth man. But there were more in the area, Ed and the others were shooting at someone after all.

He made himself wait for two minutes just to be sure that no other attackers were just out of sight waiting to shoo his ass off. Steve and Ronny’s fire chewed at the logs, keeping the attackers heads down and covered. Jared gave to clicks over the radio to warn Steve and Ronny he was moving into their field of fire and flowed into a crouch, even as the his teams fire stopped.

“Don’t move if you want to keep your balls” Jared said, almost laughing as he saw the man directly in front of him piss himself.

One man, dressed in real tree camo, tried to roll over and bring his weapon into play, Jared shot him in the thigh “I said don’t move.”

Where ever their buddies are, they aren’t looking this way Jared thought as Steve and Ronny slipped up, and stood guard while Jared zipped tied the prisoner’s hands behind their backs.
The gunfire from the other side of the road had stopped Jared realized, as he finished and scanned the area, there he thought as he saw a shadow slip through the trees, moving away from the roadway. Oh shit Jared thought as he saw the man whirl, his weapon up and ready, and aimed at Ronny.

Jared lunged, taking Ronny with his shoulder, knocking him out of the way, even as the sound of a gunshot rolled over them.

Jared hit the ground, hard grunting in pain. Steve’s G3 ripped off a burst, and he dimly heard a scream.

Pain flared thru him, shit it hurts he thought staring at a leaf with mold on it. Look a grub worm. His thoughts were rapid and disoriented. Someone gripped his shoulders and rolled him over; it was Jill who was crying. Man she really does have a nice chest he decided, as she started laughing.

“His armor stopped it.” She said with relief.

“Still hurts like hell” He muttered.

“Idiot, Ronny is wearing his armor too.” She said sternly.

** ** **

Two Motor homes down, the hydraulic ram on the Cattle catcher, shot to shit, and the bad news only got worse. “Bryans Dead “Steve told Jared an hour later. “I put him down, he must have died when the RV rolled over, the only thing that saved Ryan from being eaten was, and Bryan had been pinned under a bunch of shit too. Ryan has a sprained ankle and a dislocated shoulder. Steger got shot in the shoulder a through and through, Daws is fine, his armor stopped the round, and like you he has a hell of a big bruise. And some cracked ribs.”
Jared looked over at the three men who, secured, sat by a tree under Guard. All three looked scared but defiant.

“Might as well see if we can get anything out of them.” He said as he walked stiffly over to them.

“ feeling like this is a second chance moment” Steve asked.

“ not so much at the moment” Jared said, as he stopped in front of the men. Knowing they didn’t have a lot of time. The twenty undead that had been cut down on the road had to mean more would show up.

“ you folks killed one of my men and hurt a few others, cost us vehicles and some supplies. Got any reason I shouldn’t just strip you naked and leave you tied to the tree for the undead.” Jared asked coldly.The men remained silent and pale.

“ strip em, and tie them to the tree, “ Jared said turning away. “ Ed you and the others start unloading food and ammo off the RVs first and get it loaded onto the remaining vehicles. Ori take Ronny and scout ahead, need to know….”

Steve moved toward the men drawing the bush knife at his side, the blade glittered coldly in the grey light. He knelt by the first man and cut his shirt open, Spacey joined him with an evil grin. In seconds the man was shirtless, and the two men started to cut his pants off when he began to beg.

“ for gods sake no, Ill tell you anything “he cried out. Jared stopped in mid sentence as Steve looked up at Jared who nodded.

“ talk Im listening.” Jared said folding thick arms across his broad chest.

“ we were just protecting our own that’s all. “ the man protested, as his buddies glared at him.

“ yep ambushing people passing thru who aren’t shooting at you is protecting yourselves all right” Jared replied, his voice hammered iron.

“ we were warned about you, guy came thru last night, said he was running from some raiders who were chasing him to stop him from warning others. Described you, your vehicles, all of it. when our guy down the road reported seeing you folks coming across the ridge, we decided to stop you before you hit our families.” The man said, almost tearfully.

Jared eyed the man for a long moment, feeling a sick knot in the pit of his stomach. If he hadn’t taken Mikhails head himself, he would believe this was a ploy by Mikhail to slow them down and cost them men. It was something the Russian asshole would have pulled for sure.

And he had been warned in his dream to expect something like this, damn. How many times will this happen to us, on the way to Fort Campbell.

Bet dollars to donuts that SOB bowler hat, has already gotten a few friends locally, to help it. Guess this is what happens when you piss off the dark overlord of the universe. Note to self, no more pissing off Evil dark gods of entropy.

But the fact He and his people were being used to kill other survivors, who were most likely decent folks, chapped his ass badly. .He would have flipped the bird to the Devil but didn’t want to tempt the asshole to try harder to kill them.

“ so what did this mysterious stranger look like” Jared asked.

“ tall, slim, dirty blond hair, average looks, scar on the right cheek, brown eyes. Claimed he was named Jon.” The man said with out hesitation. “ claimed you were raping and pillaging your way west.”

Jared eyed the three men for a couple of minutes as he thought it over, then
“ untie them, and get him some clothes. Mai Linn do what you can for his thigh wound” Jared said ignoring the look Steve shot him.

All three men gawked at him, surprised at how fast he seemed to accept the story. “ lets get all the crap we can salvage spread out through the surviving vehicles. “ He said, not letting the disgust he felt for being tricked into killing show on his face.

“ well I guess it was a second chance kind of day “ Steve commented as he sheathed his knife, “ got to say brother your making a habit of this. Those men killed one of our own”

“ Yes and we attacked the nursing home based on other people telling us they were bad guys too.” Jared pointed out. He took a deep breath and then said. “ I had a dream with Brendan last night.” He said then told Steve the entire dream.

Steve, long since familiar with the whole dreams from the dead believed Jared completely, but he still wasn’t happy about this. In all honesty he was more mad at himself for being mad than anything else.

He couldn’t be mad at Jared for not sharing the dream earlier either, not when he hadn’t ’t told Jared about the Dreams he had been having lately. The dreams that left him tired, depressed and feeling hopeless on waking. God id love to just go back to dreams are dreams, the dead don’t walk and eat people and Being paranoid was baseless. It really is no fun when you have to worry about the Devil and the Dead being out to get you.

“ Hey Im pretty sure I can get the one motor home running again, but its going to take a day or so.” Rob said as he walked up and rubbed a finger on his cleft chin.

“how sure is pretty sure” Jared asked, feeling a spark of hope, tempered by the idea that more undead might sweep down on them the longer they sat here.

“ well I haven’t found any holes in the anything that cant be replaced. For starters.” Rob said. “ and with the one downed Rv, what parts I don’t have in the Semi, I can pull off the trashed RV.” Rob replied.

“ we still have to bury Brian, I don’t see why not. If we can salvage one, that makes our lives a bit easier. And if enough undead show up to pose a serious threat, we can leave” Steve said.

Jared thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “ Lets do it, and I think we might just offer to take our prisoners home in the van. Because right now, any one left back at their home than can fight, is probably considering hitting us while we are vunerable and sitting here. Might as well see if we can end this now, before any one else dies. Assuming it can be avoided at all.” Jared said. Steve nodded, no more eager to kill a bunch of folks he didn’t have to. But still leery that they were being played.
* * * *

Jon Williams, was an Earth firster. He had believed for years that mother earth would be better off with out humans. That he was human and that his fellow earth firsters were human didn’t seem to register with the man. To his mind the plague of zombies was Mother earths way of sweeping away humanity using its own violence against it, so that the animals could remain pure of spirit.

He wasn’t exactly sure when the messenger of the earth mother had started coming to him but when he had recognized it for what it was, he had eagerly embraced its message. Besides he and his friends would be the only ones to survive, and would be able to grow old and eventually die in the paradise that the planet would become once the human race was eliminated. They would be the custodians of the new world till their deaths and then nature would appoint a new custodian.

He wondered if both sides of the little fracas he had set up had managed to kill each other, he hoped so. God he hated self righteous do gooders, like that Red head who thought that Humanity deserved to live, probably voted republican too, and even worse he had been a tool of the government, a killer in uniform.

It never occurred to Jon that he was exactly what he claimed to despise, nor did it ever occur to him that Nature played no favorites and made no promises. But because he couldn’t or wouldn’t see these things, He had no clue of the storm he was heading into, The pacifist turned murderer by proxy drove on happy that he was part of a bigger cause to save the world from mankind.

********************************
Le Anne Mosely, a rather unattractive woman of 23, watched as the large black van pulled into the parking lot of the only real store in Willette. It was a massive thing, with a four inch lift kit, military off road tires. A brush guard made from four inch diameter pipe, and a massive winch system on the front. The, almost overloaded, railed cargo rack on top was accessed by a ladder, it sounded like the thing was fitted with a large block motor too.

She watched silently, white knuckled hands gripping the shotgun across her chest, as the side door opened and her boyfriend Willy climbed out, he was wearing, what looked like new clean clothes, and had a bandage around his thigh. He carried his rifle, and now slung it across his back, as a solid looking Red head in Military BDU’s climbed from the van, weapons hanging from his belt and sides. She counted at least four pistols, two in shoulder rigs, two on his thighs, and the Assualt rifle he carried.

“ don’t any one shoot” she told the other three men in the building with her. They had been on look out for the return of their men from the ambush they had set up for the raiders for the last two days.

She was puzzled by the appearance of the van carrying willy, and would have assumed he was a prisoner except he had his weapon. Could be unloaded she decided. She was no shrinking violet, so she pulled up her pants and stepped out the door. ready to blow the red head away in a heartbeat.

Jared watched the dark haired woman, who looked a lot like a member of the East German female power lifting team emerge from the volunteer fire station across the street. She carried herself like a brawler, he decided watching the way she moved. She probably was too. He almost grinned at that.

“ Willy you okay” she asked her eyes never leaving Jared.

“ fine as rain Le Ann” Willy said walking forward, Jareds eyebrows rose as the two embraced in what was not a just friends hug, that ended in a kiss.

“ whats this all about “ she asked, using a hand to move Willy to one side in case she had to bring her weapon to bear.

“ seems you folks were lied to, about me and mine.” Jared replied. “ we lost people, you lost people. Id suggest you don’t start any more trouble when we pass through, Im about out of second chances to give away for the month, and damn sure out of third chances”

she glared at him for a moment clearly not liking the idea of anyone, much less a man laying down rules for her to follow. Poor willie, either he is more submissive than Ronnie is, or he is scared to tell her no. Jared thought with amusement.

“ they have rockets, grenades all kinds of stuff, those are army guys Le Ann” Willy told her. Like many people Willy tended to confuse lots of gear and weapons for competence, in this instance how ever he was dead on the money.
Jared motioned and the other two men he had captured climbed out of the van looking embarrassed, no doubt they had play the Im a countryboy, redneck and no one outside of these hills can out shoot or out stalk me card a lot..

Le Ann glared at them both for a moment, then her eyes hardened. “ how many of our people did you kill “ she asked.

“ how many of mine were you planning on killing” Jared asked cold as ice. “ heres something to thing about, you play soldier and people die. That’s the end result, some one dies.”

she bristled at that her glare intensifying from. But she had to admit that from what they had been told about these people, they wouldn’t have shot up the ambushers, and then taken three down the ridge returning them home, no they had been led to believe these people were ruthless killers and rapists.

“ your right but its mite bitter pill to swallow “ she said softening as much as iron can, then lowered her shot gun.

“ good, four more of your people are wounded an still up on the ridge with the rest of mine. As soon as we get repairs completed they will be brought down. I hope you have meds. If not, you might want to consider using your weapons on the stinking dead and get some from a clinic.” Jared said “ your best and safest bet is to find an ambulance, if it hasn’t been looted already it will have enough stuff in there to treat those guys.”

By the time Jared got the entire mess worked out, the locals were still ticked about losing so many men.. it was afternoon and the convoy, rolled into Willette, slowing only long enough for Jared and team one to link up and then the rolled thru, passing Gibbs crossing, and heading towards Union camp, another small town or village as Jared thought of it and others like it.

If there were any living or undead there they didn’t see any sign of them as they rolled through the town of a two hundred.

Ori ranged only a mile ahead of the column, even using military radios, the high ridges and dense woods cut down on the transmission range considerably. Jared hoped to be close to lafeyette come night fall, it was either that or head south and come out near Nashville and then cut back up north. That would add to many miles and eat up to much gas. And they would need to stop at a gas station to top off the Hemmit tankers.

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

“ an Aiport” Ily said pointing to right, past the thin stand of trees, they could see the five thousand foot plus runway, distant hangars, the buildings beyond that were hard to make out.

“ air field is more like it” Lee said absently, his mind continued to dwell on the nightmare he’d had last night.

“ Not like any one here can fly, and I would bet the only pilots there would be of the mostly dead variety.” Amy commented, getting annoyed at being pressed against the door because Carrie felt she needed room.

Carrie gave her the your just a teen aged girl what do you know look and rolled her eyes. Amy resisted the urge to pistol whip Carrie around her face and head.

“ look at that a National Guard Armory” Mike said perking up, around the front of the building were Hemmits and HumVees, place to act as a barricade for the building entrances. He slowed down automatically, the few zombies he could see, wouldn’t be a threat.

With out consulting any one he pulled in, and stopped the truck, and instantly was being harangued by Carrie who called him everything but human. Tired, worried, scared and pushed to far for the first time he turned in the seat and snapped, “ shut the fuck up you dumb bitch. There might be weapons laying around, ten zombies are nothing spread out like that.” Carrie closed her mouth with a snap, at the totally unexpected and uncharacteristic attack.

Mike felt like total shit for yelling and insulting her but he was right on the edge and was scared about going over that edge, it could have disastrous consequences for all of them if he lost it.

“ Lee help me out here, Ily get behind the wheel, if we come running we are going to need to get out of here quick.” He said lifting the shotgun as he shoved open the door, Lee wasn’t to sure about all this, but he was more than willing to try, especially since the zombies were scattered around and not clustered. Justin looked uncertain about staying behind.
Ily slithered into the front ignoring the glare from carrie.

In the bed of the truck three other men sat, carrying the shotguns that Mordicai had loaned them. they started to climb out, and join Mike and Lee, but Mike had them stay in the back of the truck.

Mike stood there for a moment, trying to ignore the reek in the air, he slung the Shotgun, and got Arthur, a former teacher to pass him the pick axe. He hefted the pick axe, Then satisfied with its weight, he walked forward, towards the nearest Humvee, lee at his side.

A zombie stumbled up, its police uniform half ripped away from its badly gnawed body. Mike saw the magazine pouches on the belt and drew the pick axe back and went for a home run. He threw up as the pick punched into the skull with a wet sucking noise.

“ image of an action star” he gasped out, wrenching the pickaxe from the body, then wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and wished he had some water to rinse the taste of puke out of it.

he walked up to the blood covered door of the Hummer and looked in, seeing an ammo case on the passenger seat he pulled the door open and started to reach in then thought better of it and looked into the back first, to make sure nothing was back there waiting to take a chunk out. He pulled the ammo can out and sat it on the roof, then moved to the next Hummer, where he saw an M16 laying on the ground, just under the rear tire. He retrieved it and then looked into the vehicle where he saw another M16 racked. He pulled it out and then retrieved the three 40mm grenades in a otherwise empty bandolier.

“ we don’t have a grenade launcher “ Lee said as he saw Mike add it to the small pile he had started.

“ the thing about 40 mike mikes, is they are basically safe to handle unless they get rolled. It takes 18 revolutions for one to arm, after that dropping it, wacking it or even sitting on it wrong will set it off.” Mike commented. “ so we don’t really need a grenade launcher, its just matter of figuring out how to best use it.”

“ basically safe?” Lee asked, looking doubtful.

“ yes basically its still a small bomb your carrying around, only an idiot would toss one around, or use it as a paperweight, shit happens, and it usually happens when people don’t think” Mike said, as Lee walked towards a zombie in a cheerleading outfit and beat her head in with iron pipe. Every time he pulled the pipe back blood and goo sprayed. Mike fought to hold his gorge down, getting really tired of the automatic need to puke he felt now.

he moved to the third Hummer, his hands shaking. Inside he saw a soldier, well a dead solider whose head snapped around, the milk white eyes staring bindly at him as the teeth snapped together. A ragged hand slapped at the inside of the window.

Another zombie, a city water worker from the looks of it, was stumbling up and Lee moved in with his pipe. Mike threw open the door to the hummer and the zombie spilled out onto the ground.

Mike lifted the pick axe over his head and brought it down on the zombie and pinned it to the ground. Damn he swore silently as he placed a boot on the things back and pulled the pick out from between its shoulder blades.. stepping back he brought it back down, as the zombie got to its hands and knees and this time drove the pick straight thru its skull knocking it back to the ground.

He managed to throw up one more time as he had to break the skull open to get the pick out of both the ground and the Skull.

He knelt and rolled the body over, not looking at the shattered face and skull, and began to remove the vest and gear the dead solider had worn. Once that was done he looked into the hummer and grinned as he saw the pack in the back and pulled it out, there was also another ammo can.

“ got a few more coming from inside and across the street “ Lee called out. Mike nodded and began to carry what he had collected so far to the truck., he handed the shot gun he carried over to Amy and Took one of the M16s then passed the Lee another one.

looking around at the steadily growing undead presence, he decided they had enough for the moment. “ lets get out of here, we can stop and try to get more on the way out. Three cans of ammo is a hell of a lot more ammo for the M16s than we have for the shotguns.” He said. Lee wasn’t going to argue, all he really wanted was to get back into the truck before the slow running zombies reached them.

they climbed into the truck, Lee getting into the back with Carrie, and pointedly ignoring her.

Ily pulled back out onto 41 and kept driving towards the city. “ right up there” Mike said as they approached the highway 41 bridge, “ N main, right before the Drivers license place” Ily nodded seeing the exit, slowed and turned passing the yellowish brown brick drivers license center.

They crossed the bridge and entered the actual down town area of Springfield, the tree lined streets had once been well maintained, but after a year of no cleaning and repairs, it was covered in leaves and other debris.

“ stay on North main, then at east tenth turn left, the CVS is just down the road on the left hand side” Mike said double checking the directions Mordicai had written down for them before they had left.

“ if we don’t find what we need there, theres another small pharmacy close to 41, and theres medical center on the south east side of the city.” Mike said.
“ I think id like to avoid that place “ Ily said. “ hospitals were overrun early, there will a butt load of undead around there…” she said then remembered where Mike had been the day it had all come apart. He knew better than most what hospitals had been like, he and Lee.

“ sandy should have come with us” Mike said, sure that the nurse would have a better idea on what to take than they would. But she had remained behind to take care of Steve along with three others.

Ily drove down the street, a years worth of leaves swirling up behind them that obscured sight till they floated back to the ground, ;like a gentle brown rain.

Occasionally they spotted a building that had been shot to hell, and at one intersection there were almost a hundred rotting bodies scattered around three sheriffs cars, one police cruiser and an ambulance. The buildings around the intersection looked like they had been in a war zone, no intact glass, huge divots and holes in the walls. Who ever had fought here had done a good job up to the end.

Down the road, the burnt out remains of a church lay, a truck had been used to block the doors, Mike only got a glimpse of scorched and blackened bones littered through the debris. a skull lay on the dais, its eyes staring blankely toward the road. The image haunted Mike. Ily muttered something in Spanish and crossed herself at the sight.
At least there were few zombies, he thought noting most were individuals, here and there he spotted groups of five to ten, all of them turned to follow the passing truck.

“ theres were we turn” Mike said pointing, on the corner was an automotive repair shop. The sign had fallen from its perch half into the road and the only thing Mike could read was Bra… auto…

just past it was the CVS pharmacy, ten undead wandered the parking lot and instantly focused on the truck as it pulled up to the doors.

Mike leaped out joined by lee and the men from the back, brandishing his pick axe, he ran to the nearest zombie and sent it straight back to hell, pivoting away from the grasping hands of another zombies, he pulled the pick free and whirled it around over his head 360 degrees and slammed the pick thru the side of the head of the next zombie. Bone cracked and gore sprayed.

Lee jumped in with his pipe, hammering it repeatedly into the head of another zombie til it went down, and then the other three men joined in and they rolled over the zombies till nothing but unmoving bodies littered the ground around them.

They returned to the truck as Ily, Carrie, Amy and Justin climbed out. Mike checked the front door of the store and found it unlock. He pushed the door open to look into the dimly lit store. Carefully he stepped into the store ands its tomb like smell.

“ Ily, Carrie, Amy and Justin stay here by the doors, Lee and I will take the far right, Arthur you guys stay with them. lets make some noise. “ Mike said. Thanks to the lay out of the store as they crossed to the right, they could look down each aisle as they passed. And as the group at the doors began to cat call and whistle, the zombies at the back of the store appeared out of the darkness, like dead white fish floating to the surface of a dark pond. .

Mike stopped as he saw a toddler, missing an arm run towards him in a weird jerking gait. Its one chubby hand grasping the air eagerly.

“ oh son of a bitch” mike groaned his stomach already roiling at what he had to do, but the fury he felt at the sight pushed it aside. “ God forgive me” he said softly as he brought the pick axe around and buried it in the childs head.

The one time I should be puking, theres nothing he thought as he shook the little body off the pick. Another zombie came at them Lee stepped past Mike and used his pipe like a bat striking the zombie, a once attractive woman, so hard in the head that she was lifted up on to her toes before crashing into a shelves and sending greeting cards, and envelopes flying thru the air.

Lee tripped and went down into a rack of DVDs, Mike stepped past him as a zombie rushed forward and brought the pick swinging up driving the pick up under its jaw into its skull. He saw the woman zombie getting to its feet and couldn’t get the pick out of the other zombies skull. He let go and scooped up Lees fallen pipe and went to town on the woman beating her around the head and shoulders, flesh ripped and tore, bone shattered,

Killing the toddler had triggered something in him dragging up memories he had tried to avoid, and now he was locked in the nightmare again. All he could see was the face of a pretty dark haired little girl, staring out the small window screaming in terror, hear the weapons fire, smell the smoke and feel the flames and heat wash over him again.
He was lost in a maelstrom of emotions, striking out in pure blind fury and disgust.

“Mike, mike, its okay calm down” a voice said with so much compassion it broke thru the trap of his memories. “ you’re here mike, its okay. Your not back in the sandbox.” Justin said as he pulled the bent pipe from mikes hands. He stood there for a moment his mind clearing as he stared at the corpse at his feet, there was little recognizable above the breasts.

The others stood there staring at the carnage he had wrought, and he felt sick at what he had done, but he didn’t see the fear or condemnation in their eyes he expected, just shock at what he had done.

He was soaked in sweat, and shaking badly, he drew in a ragged breath and looked around. “ sorry” he said lamely as he turned away from what he had done.

“ Im taking a breather, every one else make sure none of those damned things are inside, and then lets see about getting everything we can use out of here.” He said his voice sounding level and totally normal.

Someone in the past had taken a lot out, but there was still plenty left on the shelves. Most of the real looting would have occurred early on before the undead had completely overwhelmed the area. Those looters would have been at the stores every one thought about as having food and other needed supplies.

Medicine would have been low on the list in the beginning. Most people wouldn’t even think about the fact that places like CVS and Walgreens had some canned and frozen foods, chips, drinks and dried foods. Not to mention snack food as well. But at some point people had gotten sick or hurt and had come looking for pills and found food as well.

He leaned against the wall, while they finished off the last four zombies in the building then Lee went to work to get them into the Pharmacy section. While others were using school book bags and garbage bags to pack up the over the counter stuff that they then carried out and placed it in the truck.

The number of undead outside was steadily growing, Mike noted an hour later. It was almost to high a risk to try to kill them with melee weapons now. “ Lee can you get the back door open.” He asked, as he stared out into the parking lot. He was considering moving the truck behind the building, once they could get out of sight, the undead would lose interest and wander away. At least if there were only one or two undead in the back and he could kill them fast and get inside, before the rest showed up and saw where he went.

That would mean staying in the back of the store and in the stock room, out of sight from the front of the store.

“ oh shit, I didn’t even think about it” Lee said suddenly.

“ about what” Mike asked curious,

“ one of the zombies probably has keys to the place on them.” Lee said excitedly. In moments half the group was rifling thru the pockets of the dead zombies.

Finally Amy held up a ring of Keys. Lee took them and tried them on the door to the office and smiled as the lock engaged. “ got em.” He called to the front of the store

It was an ominous sight, the dead shambling toward the store, silhouetted against the leaden sky, a black tide of death sweeping every closer. They were almost on top of the truck now, mike shook his head, his plan was shot to hell. And it was to damn late for everyone to try to make it to the truck, they would lose people before every one get inside or in the bed of the truck and got away.

He had waited to damn long they should have left with out the medicine and came back later and tried again. their only choices now were to lose people making a run for the truck, or hole up inside the store and hope if they stayed out of sight the zombies numbers would drop till they could make a break for it.

Stay that had less risk he decided, but they would need ammo and the weapons from inside the truck though if they had any hope of making it thru this.

“ Lee get up here “ He said “ Amy, Arthur we need to get those weapons and ammo out of the truck.” He said as he readied himself. Amy looked nervous as hell but she was also one of the fastest runners in the group. Arthur didn’t like the idea, but he agreed with the need for the ammo. Besides the undead knew they were here now.

As soon as Lee got to the front with the keys, Mike led Amy and Arthur out the door. once out side he could see that tendrils of undead were wrapping around both sides of the store.

“ this shit sucks” Amy called out, as she reached the truck just ahead of Mike and Arthur. Throwing open the door, she handed out the few weapons inside to Arthur and mike who ran back to the door and passed them inside.

Returning Mike snagged the rucksack and the three 40mm grenades. Slinging on the pack, he snagged two of the ammo cans and ran back to the store, while Arthur grabbed the last one and then snatched up two of the bags of food from the back of the truck and ran for the door.

Mike dumped the gear on the floor and turned to run back to the truck for more when he saw zombies sweep around it, two headed directly for the open door.

Amy was digging furiously through the gear looking for her smaller pack, only half aware of the shouting. “ hang on “ she said as some one touched her shoe. Then the smell registered. She screamed and yanked her foot away, then started kicking at the zombie that was trying to crawl into the truck.

She managed to knock it back into another zombie and both undead corpses stumbled back. Giving her time to scrambling into the front seat, as more zombies started pawing at the windows. She looked back and saw another zombie pull itself into the open rear door of the truck, its teeth snapping as it locked eyes on her. She didn’t scream this time, she looked around and then like a sign from god noticed the keys hanging in the ignition.

“ hell yeah baby” she hollered as she turned the key, the motor started with a roar. She threw the truck into drive, and floored it. the truck bounced as it shot over the zombie in front of it, the zombie trying to climb inside lost its balance as the door slammed against, and it tumbled out into the parking lot, the door shut behind it. “ that right don’t send a man to do a cheerleaders job” she screamed out as she rolled over a zombie in ACU’s.

she was still hollering as she rolled over more zombies, gore splattering the front of the truck and the windshield. She swerved out into the street, and drove west, leaving the crowd behind.

Mike ducked back inside and let Lee shut and lock the door as the truck tore out of the parking lot rolling over undead and leaving a trail of broken bodies and gore behind it. it looked like every zombie in the parking lot was turning to follow the fleeing truck.

As the truck rolled out of sight, they could hear Amy laying on the horn. She was trying to draw them away, he realized, Good girl he thought , turning he got ever one moving into the back of the store and out of sight. He didn’t miss the look of satisfaction on Carries face either and that worried him.

* * *

 

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