“But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.”
~Edgar A. Poe
The sun rose slowly sending fingers of gold and pink reaching into the sky lighting the few scattered clouds in glory. A light mist clung to the pasture around the farm house and camp as the Sentry on the Scissor lift watched two Bucks with wide spread racks bounded across the pasture and leaped the distant fence to vanish into a stand of trees.
Mike woke from a restless sleep, and looked around seeing most of his people were still asleep. Yesterday had been a long day that had at least ended well. Except for him of course, Carrie had thrown such a fit, that Jared’s wife, had bodily removed her from the RV where she’d had to sleep in the Barn.
He couldn’t shake the shame he felt for her actions, not that any one blamed him. And the anger and disliked directed at the woman he had loved so hard and for so long was like a knife. He didn’t know what to do about it, or how to get her to change. And all he had really done was keep his distance from her hoping, she might calm down some.
All that aside though, Jared’s people were putting on their best manners that was for sure, even though with the addition of Mikes folks, sleeping spaces were tight. He grinned remembering the Embarrassment of Mort and Arthur when they entered the other RV to sleep and found two couples heavily involved with each other. These folks had obviously spent a lot of time crammed together and privacy wasn’t something they were used to anymore.
He buckled on his web belt with the ammo pouches, grabbed his tshirt and his rifle then stepped outside. Taking a deep breath, enjoying the early morning air he looked around and saw six people sparing in front of the farm house, under the shadows of the old tree’s.
The small group of people moved into and away from each other, arms and legs blurring, as they attacked and defended, the solid sound of flesh on flesh, and the occasional grunt as some one took a hard hit, broke the quiet of the morning.
For a moment he fondly remembered his hand to hand training days, he had at one point really enjoyed those bouts, till a street in Iraq had destroyed his life.
He noticed that one of the fuel trucks was missing as was the odd looking six wheeled Ram pickup. He wondered if that had anything to do with the excitement late last night, when two of their scouts had returned. They had reported to Jared and with in five minutes, The custom Van had left out with a fire team and a two other men.
The sparring match ended while he watched and the people headed for the portable showers they had set up next to the barn. He shook his head with a wry grin as all six stripped off their sweaty clothing and stepped under the showers, all under the watchful eye of a sentry.
“Must take some getting used to for you folks” Logan said from behind him. Mike almost jumped out of his skin, not having heard the man come up behind him.
“Actually seeing so many new people is more shocking than a bunch of naked people showering out in view of everyone.” Mike replied. “ I was surprised honestly that your folks weren’t as shocked, or excited about seeing more people.” Mike added curious about the lack of reaction of Jared’s people compared to his own, who once they had calmed down from their escape had been so excited at seeing new and very friendly faces had talked a mile a minute.
Mike had no doubt, that half of his folks would have danced naked and had sex with the new folks just out of sheer excitement after a year of thinking they were the damn near the last people on the planet.
“Well, truth is .. “ Logan said, and then told Mike the very short version of how he had met Jared and the others and how they had traveled all the way to South Carolina and set up a safe zone that currently had over two hundred people, working aircraft and fresh food.
Mike stared at Logan, not even able to envision two hundred people being alive much less in one place.
“Catch me later, and I’ll give you the long versions, its full of battles, evil assholes, evil undead assholes, hordes of zombies, Jared’s Mother of all bombs attack on some circus clowns, and much more” Logan said laughing.
“Jared doesn’t like clowns?” Mike asked half amused.
“Saying Jared doesn’t like Clowns is like calling Hitler mildly maladjusted.” Logan said with a grin then motioned to Mike to follow him as he headed for the barn, where the Asian woman, Mai Linn wearing a bra and a pair of cargo pants, and Jared walked in just ahead of Mike and Logan.
“All most breakfast time, might even be fresh eggs, and……” Logan said then fell silent as the sound of heavy motors could be heard in the distance. They stopped halfway to the barn and watched as Steve’s Ram appeared followed by the Hemmit fuel truck, Mikes jaw dropped as he saw a M88A1 army recovery vehicle rumbled along behind them, and last in line was a old Jeep ambulance.
“Good god, Rob got it running” Logan said smiling from ear to ear. “Zombies had better stay out of our way now,”
“Till you throw a track” Mike said grinning himself, as the vehicles turned into the farm and parked in front of the house. In moments a crowd had gathered around the two new vehicles and those in the Rvs scrambled out to see what all the excitement was about.
Logan tossed him a questioning look, and Mike smiled, though there was little humor in it.
“ I was in the Army for a few years” mike said. “ a friend of mine crewed one of those monsters, they are pretty tough all things considered. With some good range on them. around two hundred fifty miles or so.”
Logan wasn’t sure if that was good or not for a military vehicle and just gave a perfunctory nod. “ I’ve been telling Jared for months we need to find a few strykers, but he keeps saying no.” Logan said, “ lets get breakfast, fast before every one else descends on the food like a swarm of locusts.”
it was almost ten am by the time Jared found Mike, “ sorry its been hectic around here, Ori scored us a track, a jeep and two huge bucks over night. But we are heading out, to take you to the farm in ten minutes, so get the stuff you need to take and meet us at the Van.” Jared said Mike nodded and rushed off to gather his things.
“hey Jared need some help over here” Ori Called out from the side of the barn where he had strung up both deer.
“About to leave, you need to get Jeb to do that” Jared replied loud enough to be heard.
“ well come here anyway” Ori called out, loud enough to make Jared wince, Loud noises were still not cool, even in an area where they hadn’t seen many undead. Jared sighed and walked over to his Friend, waving at Ryan and Jeb to join him.
Ten minutes later, Jared walked up to the Van, where his Team was waiting, all them smiling hugely. Mike was already in the van itching to go.
Instantly suspicious, Jared stopped his right hand resting on the Commando, where it was slung across his chest. “What?” Jared asked, looking at each of his friends faces.
Ronny snickered and waved at Rob who pulled the Tarp off the side of the M88, Jared’s suspicious frown, twisted into a smile, and then he laughed.
He saw, on the side of the armored vehicle, a hastily painted clown face in a circle with a stripe thru it next to it was the legend “ Clowns aren’t funny till they are dead and unmoving”
“ Smart asses” he said as he shooed every one aboard the Van. “ lets get out of here, we have a ways to go.”
* * * *
The van bounced and swayed then slowed before coming to a stop, Mike craned his head around to look out one of the few windows trying to see what was going on, as Jared climbed out of the Van
It was right at Noon, assuming Jared’s watch was still correct, wispy clouds moved slowly across the deep blue sky. To either side of the Van were long abandoned fields, A few Trees lined the Road, mostly old oaks and a Few Cedars. Just ahead of the Van, the grass covered ground sloped down to the river, where a Bridge a rusted steel girder and wood affair sat. It didn’t look safe, Jared thought.
The river was only eight feet below the bridge, and it was obvious that it had flooded at least once since last year, judging by the deadfalls that had washed up on the banks and snagged in the rails and lower girders of the bridge.
“what do you think “ Ronny asked joining Jared at the bridge. Ronny himself wasn’t to sure about it, the conditions of roads and bridges had become a pretty lively topic lately.
“I think I’m not an engineer, because part of me says its fine, just go on across ignore the rotting wood, its normal” Jared said, as he stepped out onto the structure.
“Remember that bridge, in Germany, the one you had to cross to get down to the beach on the lake that was called Ho’s Neken or something like that.” Ronny asked with a grin.
“The one that your drunk buddy got the hummer stuck on.” Jared asked as he walked further out onto the span, and studied the wood.
“That’s the one, those two hot topless chicks came over to try and help” Ronny said laughing.
Jared smiled remembering good times, and then got down to business. “water looks shallow enough we can ford it with only a bit of water getting in the van” Jared observed, He turned slowly looking at the far bank, were trees grew thick along the river, but beyond that he could see a old church, surrounded by trees, one of those single room affairs, with a small gravel parking lot, and a what looked like a small cemetery behind it fenced in by wrought Iron.
Maybe two hundred yards past that opposite the church, he could see an old farm house, and a double wide both with vehicles parked in front of them. there were no signs of undead, but he would bet dollars, that there were undead inside the homes.
“I don’t know, the bridge looks sound to me, we either drive over it and risk it, or ford the river.” Jared said shrugging.
“Lets just cross it and see, what’s the worst that can happen, we end up on foot and have to walk back to the camp in the dark with Undead cannibals loose.” Ronny said.
Jared didn’t respond at first he just turned and walked back towards the Van, as he passed Ronny he Gibb slapped him, grinning hugely as he did so.
“Hey!” Ronny said, rubbing the back of his head.
“Sorry I promised Mary I would Gibb slap you for every stupid and annoying comment” Jared said then did it again.
“what the hell was that for “ Ronny asked glaring, then couldn’t help but laugh.
“sorry I though you were about to say something stupid” Jared said laughing and headed back to the van. “ you should just shave your head like Steve, so the callus can develop faster.
“Why you, I oughta….” Ronny said in his best stooge impersonation.
“okay, every one out, and take your Packs and weapons. Im going to drive, the van across. If the bridge falls in, Ill be the only one inside.” Jared said. Two minutes later the team was outside, watching as Jared put the van in gear and drove slowly across the bridge, the old wooden deck creaked and groaned, and the sound of splintering wood could be heard but the van made it safely to the other side.
“You know the point to having a vehicle is not to walk “ Ronny said as they trotted across the bridge, to the waiting van. “ if god had intended us to walk, we wouldn’t have vehicles.”
Mike chuckled at that, “your sure he was a mud puppy” He asked Ori who grinned.
“ no one ever said he was a good grunt.” Ori replied. “He probably should have worked in the motorpool, or joined the Air farce.”
“ bite me Ori “ Ronny said grinning back, as he snagged bandolier of Ammo from a case and slung it over his shoulder.
They mounted up while Jared moved to let Jill get back behind the wheel. He gazed at her for a moment, tendrils of dark hair dangled on either side of her face, her pony tail was longer now, falling almost to mid back she felt him staring and quirked a smiled. “ later stud” she whispered. He turned to look out the window smiling.
They drove through fenced in pastures, where weeds and shrub were running riot, occasionally they would see a tractor sitting, rusting and dead in a field. The farm houses were for the most part intact but showing signs of wear, a few had burned down, leaving nothing but blackened beams and stone jutting up out of the high grass like the bones of the dead.
Jared muttered an hour later, as he checked his maps again, the shrugged. “ half these roads aren’t even on my maps” he groused, rubbing at his bearded jaw.
“So we are lost.” Jill asked raising a delicate eyebrow.
“No, we aren’t lost. Lost implies I don’t know where we are at. Which I do, some of these cross roads, however, don’t exist according to my maps.” Jared replied. “besides I don’t get lost”
“there was that time in Iraq” Ronny volunteered.
“I wasn’t lost.” Jared replied as Steve laughed.
“Way I heard that story you passed the same dead bush six times” Ronny replied smugly. “The only bush in a hundred miles, so I heard.”
“Brendan told you that story and trust me He lied.” Jared assured them.
Jill laughed for a moment. “ there’s another road up ahead.” She said pointing. Jared sighed and went back to his maps.
“he was lost” Ronny said in a stage whisper to Mike
“ Steve do me a favor and Gibb slap him for me” Jared said not looking up, and grinned as he heard a very hard sounding slap. Ronny yelped in pain and cussed a blue streak.
Half an hour later the Van turned into a field and began to head west, the cleated tires chewing up dirt as they drove across once fertile farm land.
“ this should get us to 41, in ten minutes” Jared told Jill who gritted her teeth scared of becoming stuck. Jared assured her that with the off road setup on the van she would have to damn near work at getting stuck.
“ look scare crow zombie” Ronny called out pointing to a zombie that seemed to be trapped in barbed wire. It was one of the skinniest zombies they had seen, dressed in overalls, half its face was gone, like it had been ground down to the bone.
Jill didn’t slow down to look, she just kept looking grimly ahead gripping the wheel tightly. She wouldn’t admit it to any one, but she was scared if she slowed or stopped the van it would become stuck.
It was drawing close to 1430 when Jill slowed and came a stop and pointed. “ I don’t think that’s a good sign” she said gesturing with a slender hand.
Jared looked and could see a house, several large cedars grew around it, keeping the house in shade, a barn sat nearby, but it had collapsed into a pile of debris. old tractor parts and wheels sat outside the barn, but it was the forty or fifty undead surrounding the house, that gave Jared pause.
“Looks like some one is at home” Jared said after a moment, debating for a moment on whether, to stop and help possibly living people, or keep going to deliver Mike and the Medicines he carried. He couldn’t just leave people trapped like that, not when he could help. Others might not care, or could be that callus, but he wasn’t. the number of undead were low enough that they could be handled, if done right.
“So what do we do” Steve asked glancing side long at Jared, knowing his friend was going to want to go to the peoples aid.
“Run them down, check on the people in side, and then keep going, I don’t want to waste ammo. And according to Mike here, it’s vital we get these medicines back soonest” Jared replied, ignoring the look mike flashed him, part understanding and part frustration. Jared ignored it, he was committed to the plan now.
Jill started the van moving again and in moments about half the zombies they could see were already starting to head towards the sound of the motor. Most moved in clumps of five to ten with loners scattered between the groups, converging on the van. A few still beat on the walls of the house
She aimed carefully, at the first cluster, lining up to run down as many as possible. She got all eight but a ninth had stepped to the right in time to be missed by the front end, but it went down accompanied by the sound of Metal meeting flesh as Jared threw the Passenger door open and caught it full on.
“ I have always wanted to do that” Ronny said from the back, as Jill turned and ran over five more then got the van as close the side of the house as she could and swept the zombies there under the front wheels and brush guard.
Jill yanked the wheel to the left swinging away from the house and plowed over another group, all of the passengers in the van hanging on for dear life as the van bounced up and down, and side to side, as it crushed zombies under its tires.
It took ten minutes to clear all but ten, who were on the front porch, Jared had Jill pull up and the team minus Jill Slipped out, firearms slung, melee weapons in their hands. Jill sat behind the wheel fuming, Jared had taken to trying to protect her lately, and it was truly starting to Royally piss her off.
From the van Mike watched as Jared glided up the steps of the front porch Tomahawks spinning, and in minutes the team had swept the porch clear of undead, leaving hacked and mangled corpses around them.
“your driving” Jill said suddenly as she opened her door. “ I’m tired of being left in the damn van” She said as she snatched up the ornate katana she always had with her. Mike started to protest but kept his mouth shut, He climbed into the drivers seat, as Jill stormed up the steps and into the house. He felt a moment of sympathy for Jared he didn’t have ot know her well to know she was going to tear her husband a new one.
The house had the lived in feel of a long occupied home. The short entry way had an old fashioned hat and umbrella stand with a floral runner over the hard wood floor. Jill stepped past the arch into the house proper, and saw a living room thru a door way to her right, a Oriental rug covered most of the floor, shelving units containing books and photos lined a wall, an old Tv set. The bodies of the undead the team had cleared lay scattered on the floor .
The Dining room had books and papers stacked on it, the old fashioned chairs had been pushed against the wall near a cherry wood China cabinet, and pleasant old fashioned prints of farms and Lakes hung on the walls there was a closed door that led to another room .
She looked back down the hall, just ahead and to the right was a staircase leading upstairs past the stair case was a door that she assumed led to a kitchen. She could hear Jared talking to Steve and headed to the back. Ori and Ronny trooped down the stairs as she passed.
The kitchen, was large and about as old fashioned as the rest of the house. Its only new additions, outside of a light fixture, were the three zombies dead on the floor. Jared stood near an open door and was looking down a stair case that probably led to a cellar. Steve was watching the back door.
“If your alive down there, you need to know we killed the undead in and around the house. So its safe to come out for the moment” Jared called out.
“come on Jared, they aren’t going to open up. They have no clue who we are, and have no reason to trust us. Lets just leave and shut the front door on the way out.” Steve said, not willing to waste time on people who were didn’t want to be helped.
Jared nodded in agreement, he didn’t like it but they did have places to be, and he wasn’t going to waste time here. He glanced at Jill as she entered the room, and smiled in greeting, before he saw her expression, and knew he was going to get bitched out, bitched over and left begging for mercy later.
“ okay we are leaving, and will shut the front door on the way out. Good luck” he said and started to turn away when the scared wooden door below opened up a spill of lantern light flooding into the little landing.
* * * *
Drake hammered on the dashboard in frustration, the smoke rising in the distance, scared him badly. He didn’t look at Allen, afraid he would see an I told you so look. Allen had tried to convince him that the fires at the church had been set by some one inside, and Drake had dismissed it. it had been a tight nit group, no one had seemed dangerous at least not to the group.
They had made camp in an old Indoor flea market, that had still been full of everything under the sun, the ramshackle building was almost sixty feet long and forty feet wide, and had made a good site to camp, with only two doors it made it easy to guard and defend. He had picked it because it was in a hilly area with plenty of trees and a smallish creek for water, he had picked it because the ridge behind it made it difficult for the undead to come up behind them. he had picked it for a lot of reasons, but He hadn’t thought of fires, son of bitch, He hadn’t thought of fires he thought angrily resisting the urge to pound on the steering wheel again.
Drake accelerated as much as he dared on this road, the sped past a small building no bigger than a box truck that had been a BBq place, and he knew he had three miles to get back to the camp. The men in the back were holding on for dear life as the truck bounced and even slid once.
He turned into the tree-lined drive and could see the building engulfed in flames. he hit the brakes and even before it came to a complete stop he slammed the truck into park and leaped out with his men.
He saw Regan Dempsey walking towards him, his clothes singed, a shocked look on his face, Allen rushed over to Regan and helped him towards the Truck.
“Its all gone, if you hadn’t left to scout, we…” Regan said accusingly his voice falling off.
Drake started to protest, but there was truth to what the man said Drake thought guiltily “ Im sorry Regan, I really am” Drake said, if he had stayed with the camp, there would have more guards, maybe some one would have seen the bastard who set the fires.
Regan looked at him, his mouth pressed into a hard line, and his eyes shifted, Drake couldn’t find a better word, they were black and full of malice, and the one corner of his lips quirked up, the sudden gunshot took every one by surprise, Allen gasped and fell over, hands pressed to his side as blood gushed out.
Drake back pedaled, lifting his rifle, “ so fucking righteous aren’t you buddy boy,” Regan said, but there was something subtly different in that voice, something Drake couldn’t place but he knew it wasn’t Regan, but it didn’t matter, not when he saw the large black hole at the end of Regans pistol barrel. It was amazing, part of his mind calmly mused, how much bigger a barrel looks when your staring down the business end.
Drake knew he was too late, his rifle wasn’t in position. It had all been for nothing after all, his thought rippled thru his mind seemingly at light speed. And then suddenly Regan’s eyes widened, and something punched thru his Chest in a spray of blood, and almost at the same time a gun roared from close by and the side of Regans head exploded in a spray of gore.
The body toppled sideways, an arrow sticking out of its back, Lany stood in the trees directly behind Regan at a hundred feet, holding her bow. Jon Williams, the hippy, stood to the left, a smoking pistol in his hands. Drakes eyes went back to Allen who lay sprawled on the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. He took a shuddering breath, and then voices erupted around him, then Lany was hanging off his neck hugging him and Crying, he tried to get out of her arms and to Allen’s side, but the others were pressing close, talking quickly, they were angry, shocked and saddened. Ballinger appeared with a first Aid kit that they all knew was hopelessly inadequate for the Job and knelt at Allens side, waving Drake to stay away, as Mitchum joined him.
Drake slumped back against the front of the truck as the survivors appeared, they had been hiding down by the creek, Lany explained as she leaned against him. He looked over the survivors feeling stunned, and angry, sixteen out of the thirty five left at camp, not counting the himself and the five men who had left with him, more than half his people dead, the only good thing was the fire had been so hot and intense, cooking the brain, that all but a few of the dead had been able to rise, but they had and had been put down by their loved ones and friends.
At least most of their food and ammo had been still aboard the vehicles, all they had really lost were clothes, about a quarter of their food, and some of their weapons and ammo, not counting the dead, Drake felt another spark of guilt as his mind suggested the remaining food would last much longer now.
“ what are we going to do now” Lany asked, watching Ballinger and Mitchum, with blood covering their arms, as they tended to Allen.
Allen looked pale, and weak and would probably not make it thru the night. Drake knew All they could really do to treat him was a pressure bandage.
Drake shook his head, he had no idea at this moment how to answer her question, but his eyes fell on the Hippy, who had arguably saved his life, and there were more questions than answers.
Allen had become close, almost family to Drake and the impending hole of his absence tore at Drake, who also felt an intense guilt for what had happened, if he had listened to Allen, this might not have happened. “ lets get boards or something and get him inside the bus, and everyone that really cares, should pray, because that’s about all we can do.” Drake said heavily.
An hour later Jon found himself down by the creek filling up water bottles, while every one else was doing inventory and vehicle maintenance. He knelt on a rock, under the shifting shadows and beams of sunlight, fuming.
Of all the damn times for some wack job, to go off the deep end, Jon thought angrily. He had no doubt that Drake was now wondering about the story that Jon had spun him about the Red head and his asshole friends.
Maybe he should have stopped the wacko, when he saw him start the fires, but at the time it had suited his purposes it wasn’t till he heard some one mention that Allen had been insisting that the fires had been set by one of their own that he had realized he had screwed up by letting the fires start.
He had sized Drake up from the get go, and he had been right as usual. Drake was the kind of guy that thought with his fists, he was easy to anger, and even easier to get angry then point him at a target. Jon had used people like him in high school to get even with guys he didn’t like, Jon wasn’t, or rather hadn’t been a fighter.
Things had been going so well too, Drake didn’t question Jons story, why should he, Jon had just told him what he wanted to hear, that the bad guys were the red head and his buddies. And the need to smash what pissed him off had done the rest pointing Drake right at the enemies of Mother Earth.
But now, now there doubts, Damn it Jon thought again, as he considered his options, there was little he could for damage control, other than if asked insist that the Red head and his buddies had talked about setting fire to the Refuge. Make it emotional, act like the hippie Drake expected, maybe even cry. That he could do, he would have to work on his story.
And…. His thoughts stuttered to a halt his attention fixed on a spot across the creek, where something moved in the shadows of the tree’s, Jon felt a sudden surge of fear, but saw nothing when he looked directly at the spot,. He looked back at the water as he shoved another bottle in, and out of the corner of his eye he saw something dark, hunchbacked, a shadow of a man wearing some kind of hat. White eyes gleamed under the brim of the old fashioned hat, and a quivering grin spread across its triangular face.
Jon dropped the water bottle into the creek, where it landed with a splash, as he tried to scramble backwards, eyes locking on the spot where the thing squatted. But there was nothing standing there on the mossy rock under the trees. Damn my nerves are totally on edge he thought as he returned to the bottles, I’m seeing things now, he thought as hurriedly finished filling the bottles. Glancing nervously up into the woods across the creek.
By the time he was filling the last bottle he was beginning to calm down, believing that it had been his imagination after all.
He still hadn’t quite figured out what to do about the Drake situation, but if things went south, Jon would at least be ready to run like hell, and if possible get that cute ass high school girl Lany in his jeep, so if he had to bail out on the road he would have a woman to spend some time with.
He smiled at the thought of Lany riding next to him, the top down on the jeep, her top down and hair streaming in the wind. Aaah he thought, but it wont happen most likely unless I kidnap her, I don’t think she is going to get to far away from Drake any more.
Maybe one of her cute friends, if I cant get Lany, that little blond was a hot number. He thought with a smile as he gathered up the bottles and placed them in the bag he had used to carry them down here. With one last look into the shadows, he headed back to the survivors of the group.
Jared stood for a moment looking at the man who stood in the doorway with a rifle behind him a pretty looking woman stood holding a lantern, with two young children clinging to her legs.
The man, with his raggedly cut brown, hair, looked up warily at Jared. his hands were steady though.
“We cleared out the zombies around the house, if you want to leave we can take you” Jared said, calmly. Tearing his eyes away from the kids, he focused on the man. Afraid, the guy might just assume he was a perv, and slam the door in Jareds face leaving his family to starve or die hideously at the teeth of the undead.
“Thanks, but no, this is our house and we are staying” the man, who was maybe thirty five said, he looked like he hadn’t eaten a lot in awhile. His face was gaunt, as was his wife, but the kids looked better fed. But if either of them died.
“Look, I know you don’t know us, but its…….” Jared fell silent as the sound of a horn honking reached him. “Steve, take the others and go see what has mike so excited.” Steve nodded though they were both pretty sure what it was. Jill stayed with her arms crossed under her breasts, with that I’m not going anywhere asshole, look.
“We have food, ammunition, shelter, and where we are from theres over two hundred people and plenty of kids.” Jared said, knowing he wasn’t getting thru, the distrust in the other mans eyes only grew stronger. Jared could see the woman was desperate to get out, it was in the way she stood, in her eyes. But she remained silent.
“I only opened the door so you wouldn’t come down and kick the thing open . We aren’t going any where.” The man said.
“Dale..” the woman said finally speaking up.
“no Meg, we stay, we don’t even know these people” Dale snapped, with out turning his head. He was scared for his family, Jared understood that, but with out a lot of time, Jared wasn’t going to convince the man he could trust Jared.
“ What happens when you die Dale” Jared asked suddenly, hoping to at least give them that much knowledge, he could see that using the mans name pissed Dale off but Jared didn’t budge. “did you know that you don’t have to be bitten to turn, you just have to die, that’s it.” Jared said looking pointedly at Dales family. “ that’s all it takes Dale, die of starvation, a heart attack, or just hitting your head on a corner, and you come back as one of those things”
Dale angry climbed up a step to block Jared’s view of his family, “ Thank you for clearing them, But we didn’t ask you to, and ……”
Steve voice erupted from the ear bud drowning out what dale was saying. “Jared, we need to leave, theres more undead a half mile down the road than I have ever seen. A couple thousand at least, we have maybe seven or so minutes before they get here. man we don’t even come close to having the ammo to deal with this.”
Jill saw Jared go pale, “Jill talk to them, I need to go look at that, “ Jared faced the father. “ Sorry call on the radio, from the sounds of it a whole towns worth of zombies are down the road and heading this way.” He said, and ran from the room.
He burst out on the porch and didn’t have to hunt for the undead, they were like a wall across the road and the fields to either side, and now being close enough to pin point the location of the running motor, the entire group was heading this way. “ Jared unless you have an arty battalion up your ass, we cant handle this shit.” Steve said, motioning to Mike to bring the van closer to the porch. Mike maneuvered the van around till it was almost scraping the porch with side door even with the steps.
“ Jared, they may not come, and that’s their choice brother, told you before we cant save every one, and not every one wants to be saved.” Steve said softly, knowing Jared wasn’t going to be happy with that thought. Jared had always resisted the idea of leaving any one behind that he thought he could save.
Jared nodded hating the idea, and knowing that Steve was right, and he hated himself for what he was about to do. And Jared didn’t want to consider how his decision was going to affect Jill.
“Thanks man, be right back” Jared said softly as he turned and heading back to the kitchen, walking as if there was a weight on his shoulders.
Entering the kitchen he heard the door to the basement slam shut, and the woman’s voice begging her husband to change his mind, Jill was standing there with tears tracking down her face. “He won’t leave, Jared, those poor kids, I …” Jared wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Hating himself for the relief he felt at not having to end this himself. “We tried, and we need to go” Jared said, turning her towards the door.
“Dale listen to me, Ill shut the front door, but man, if you have anything to block the doors and windows, you had better do it fast. You have minutes before they get here.” Jared said. “Good luck”
Jared led Jill out side, and got her into the van. “Mount up folks” he said, as he helped Jill inside. Once inside the Van, Jared checked his watch, the zombies were moving slower than he would have expected but he didn’t mind. “We wait till we cant wait any longer.” He told Mike, who looked scared shitless.
“Why wait” Steve asked, ready to get the hell out while they could.
“ Because I want them fixated on us, I want as many of them as we can get to follow, and we wait just in case those folks change their minds and run outside, before that … obscenity rolls over their home. “ Jared said.
Finally they could wait no longer, the mob reached the fence and it toppled over with all the bodies pressing against it. Jared watched with no expression on his face, taking in the hideous sight, of corrupted flesh that swept towards them like a relentless tide.
“Let’s go” he said, Mike didn’t hesitate, the van pulled away
“Go slow make sure they are paying attention to us” Jared told him as Mike started to speed up, his nerves getting the better of him.
Please Jared thought, let them follow us, for the kids, he prayed silently watching in the mirrors. And it appeared that most of them were. Only a small band thirty or so kept approaching the house, stumbling up onto the porch, and pressing against the doors and windows as if looking inside.
Once on the road mike honked the horn, and crept forward, refusing to look, letting Jared tell him what to do. If he looked he would slam that pedal down and leave the undead choking on his dust. Finally Jared told him to speed up, and mike was more than eager to comply, he pushed down on the pedal leaving the Undead behind.
Twenty minutes later Jared pointed to an Intersection where a sign pointed Left announcing TN 41. Mike breathed a sigh of relief as he turned west with luck they could be at the farm in another fifteen to twenty minutes.
Jill sat in the back, silent, just staring out the window. Steve watched her for a while worried about her, but she was a strong one, he didn’t doubt she would make it thru this, but she was going to go through a lot of what if’s and if I had said this or done that moments. None of it would change what had happened, and she knew the decision wasn’t hers to make, it had been that families.
All of which brought him back to what was he going to do, he had yet to tell Jared about his dreams, and his doubts, and with all that shit with the undead back there, it just made him want to head back to the coast, take a boat and go find an island where he, Bridget and Sharon and the kids could settle down safely. God he was getting too damn old for this kind of thing, He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, hoping a nap would at least make him forget for a little while.
They rolled down 41, making good time now, passing the green and brown former pastures, old homes, a few churches. The town of Cedar Hill came and went, just a collection of old buildings clustered around a few roads, filled with undead.
Finally mike slowed, “ there it is” He said as he turned onto a long gravel drive that ran along a Wooden fence that looked as if it had been re enforced in many places. it wouldn’t hold up worth shit against the horde coming out of Springfield Jared thought.
And I’m not that far from Fort Campbell, we can scout it out before we head back, Jared thought then shook his head. There had been something like a two hundred thousand in Clarksville, and twenty to thirty thousand military and dependents possibly more on Fort Campbell; Rolling in there with a single van and seven people wasn’t the brightest idea he had ever had. No wait till the whole group is back together, or , he mused send one or two people, on foot. Ori for sure, he had proven he could slip past the undead with out notice on more than one occasion, and possibly Jeb, who lacked the natural skill Ori had, but he had been a scout in the Green machine.
Between the two, the odds were pretty good they could scout ahead with out drawing a few thousand zombies down on the groups heads. And maybe get Ronny up in the ultra light, frankly he had damn near forgotten they had it.
Jared tilted his head back, pissed that he had forgotten something so useful. Losing your grip old boy he told himself. Just like you’ve been telling yourself you need to find out whats bothering Steve and have avoided that conversation too. So pull your head out of your ass, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with the job of leading these folks or hand it off to some one else.
Jared felt the Van slow, and looked up to see they were approaching the gate that led into the farm. Buck up, and put on your game face, as long as theres no clowns your good.
Reaching the metal gate, Mike brought the van to a stop, fear and excitement mingled on his square face. he opened the drivers door and tossed a glance towards Jared, “ be right back” Mike said hopping out and walking to the gate waving at the farm house. Jared slipped into the drivers seat, watching as three men came out of the large barn, and more people appeared on the porch.
From what mike had told him last night, after leaving the hospital, they had picked up people along the way forming their own convoy heading out of town, something like a hundred, but had lost a lot to zombies, and disease till the smallish group had eventually reached this place a Mennonites farm, or the farm of man that had once been a Mennonite.
The house, a brick and wood two story home, was separated from the road by ten acres. Two Willow trees, were close to the homes front door, flanking the door on either side. Apple trees evenly spaced covered three acres of the front yard. A large fairly modern barn sat a hundred feet back from the house, with a large cattle pen attached. A Chicken coop, and fenced in feed lot were to the left of the barn. A two acre garden was in full bloom, and from the Gate Jared could see tomotato plants , Bell peppers and others. His mouth watered at the sight.
Mike opened the gate, and waited till Jared had driven past the gate and stopped. Mike, closed the gate, then climbed up on the running step and rode there till Jared stopped at the porch, where Mike hopped off and climbed the steps to the porch to his waiting friends.
After that it was a whirlwind of greetings, thanks, and back slapping as Mikes group adjusted to the new, heavily armed People. Mike had passed the medications to a Pretty woman, dressed in Jeans and a wife beater, who headed upstairs with another man to begin treating the patient.
Mordicai, stepped into the house and reappeared with a tray full of glasses loaded with luke warm tea, followed by two boys. Jared accepted a glass with thanks, and sipped from it his eyes drifting south down the basin where the unseen horde was steadily making its way north towards them.
Mordicai, was neatly dressed, as were his boys, he stood talking quietly to Mike who looked a lot less excited now. Jared didn’t try to listen in, he just kicked back on the steps his legs extended one ankle over the other, his Commando resting across his chest, while Jill sat next to him, enjoying the hell out of the sweet tea.
“ Jared, Id like you to meet Mordicai,” Mike said, stepping up to stand in front of Jared and Jill. Jared rose with that fluid grace, that still took mike by surprise, and extended his hand. Mordicai hesitated for a half second then took the offered hand.
Mordicai was a bit shorter than Jared, with Light brown hair, and a neatly trimmed beard. The pale blue shirt was wrinkle free, and his jeans looked well used but clean and maintained. “ nice to meet you “ Jared said, as he let go of the others hand. Mordicai had a firm handshake, which Jared liked. Nothing worse than a limp, wet noodle hand shake or the macho I want to crush your hand to show how much tougher I am shake.
“I want to thank you for helping, though it doesn’t look good for Brent.” Mordicai said his voice slow and soft, only an idiot would think the man was scared or slow.
It was interesting that he seemed to be much closer to Mikes group than Mike had intimated. An image flashed in his mind, as they were pulling up to the porch, Mordicai had been standing close to Sandy, the nurse. Body language and position, spoke of a couple.
“ your more than welcome, I’ve been told trying to save people is one of my major failings” Jared said with a laugh, ignoring the pointed look Steve flashed him.
“great place you have here, but for the sake of honesty, You might want to consider leaving for a few days, or weeks even.” Jared said, then explained about the mass of undead they had encountered heading this way.
There was a stunned silence as Mike nodded, “ its true, there were so many we couldn’t count them, only guess based on the area they took up, it had to be a couple thousand at least.” Mike said supporting Jareds numbers.
Jared stayed silent while the group debated, somewhat loudly. Then cleared his throat to get their attention.
“ I hate to rush, but I need to get back to My group, and I want to make sure my people are all right and get them moving if they haven’t been hit by that wave of undead yet.” Jared said glancing at Mike. It was going to be up to him to get his people moving out of the way. Jared would suggest up on the rim, if asked, hidden on a ridge or down in a holler for a week or two. “ if your feeling really friendly I need help plotting a route back to the camp, the one we took to get here was a bit round about and is probably covered in zombies by now.” Jared said as he pulled out his map.
Drake stood on top of the M113, and looked across the low rolling hills, with its patches of trees between the old farms and pastures. He scanned the area with binoculars, and was not happy with what he saw. They had cut back up onto the rim and taken an old logging road, around till they dropped down just north of the Jo Byrns High school that was crawling with undead.
They would have to pass thru Adams, which shouldn’t pose a problem. Even if the entire town had become undead, there weren’t enough to slow them down. Especially not with the convoy consisting of his own truck, Ballingers Bronco, the school bus, the water tanker acting as a fuel carrier, the M113 and a box truck, Allens Humvee, and Jons Jeep.
The only other route would be north and go through Guthrie, which would have more undead in it. at least no one was suggesting back roads anymore, not after the one they had take this morning, when both the School bus and the box truck had gotten stuck in a washed out section, if they hadn’t had the Army tracked vehicle the two vehicles would still be stuck there.
Drake lowered his binoculars and let them dangle around his neck. He still didn’t trust the hippie who had arguably saved his life. And the looks Jon gave Lany when he thought no one was watching creeped him out. And since the fire, Jon had been acting different; it might be he was opening up more. But it seemed even the way he talked had changed, there were no more dudes, or man, or you knows. And there were times when Jon thought he was out of sight of the group, and thought he was alone, that some people claimed to have heard him talking to some one else, a few even claimed to have heard another voice replying, to low to be understood, but loud enough to be noticed and according to them creepy sounding.
Drake didn’t know what to make of that, but he wasn’t going to be calling any one a liar over it. and the fact that Jon had seemingly lied about the red heads involvement in the fires, had cooled Drakes desire for revenge, not that he had a lot of people to fight with now, and with Allen out of it and laid up in the bus, and most likely going to die, he was even less inclined to leap without looking. He had yet to confront the hippie over obvious lies he had given Drake, no point right at the moment, But Drake didn’t trust him, and had made sure there were men watching Jon Williams as much as possible. Till Drake figured out how he wanted to deal with the man, who had saved his life.
Drake was still going to take his people to Fort Campbell, even it there was no one left alive there, there would food, ammo, fuel and better vehicles, and if and when the Red head arrived, Drake planned on keeping out of sight and observing the red head and his people before Drake did anything. But what he wasn’t going to do was just start shooting now, that he had doubts about that group being what Jon called them.
It had finally been driven home, that his people were the ones that could die. And if the Red head hadn’t started the fires, then they would be dying for no reason. This wasn’t a bar brawl or a fist fight, this would be for keeps, and Drake wasn’t ready to let the people that trusted him, foolish as they might be for doing so, die for being mislead.
He climbed down and headed for his truck they had a lot of miles to cover before dark, and he wanted to enter Clarksville by dawn.
* * * *
Rob stepped back and eyed the huge metal monster in front of him, the M88A1, was impressive, even with out a big honking gun. It squatted there sullen and powerful looking, it was 27 feet long, eleven feet wide, and ten feet high., all angles and corners. With a massive crane for lifting parts and smaller vehicles, that was currently lowered and lay across the upper deck pointing back behind the vehicle.
Mike had taken a peek before he had left, and had expressed surprise to see the that 750hp motor had been replaced, with a V12 diesel engine like the A2’s, and with out all the extra weight that the A2 had, the A1 should go faster, and pull just as strong. And once Rob had the governor removed it should be able to do over forty miles an hour. That was hauling ass for something that weighed 50 + tons.
It was supposed to be crewed by three men, but there was room for at least six more inside. They would be cramped but it could be done, what it would do, was allow them to get a full fire team inside if they ever needed armor to get to a location. In a fit of inspiration Rob had swapped the ma deuce on the beast for a SAW, so that the Fifty could be mounted on the Clown Crusher, as half the camp was calling the thing.
One of the things that Jared had loved about it, was the ability of the Crusher, to pump, retrieve and store fuel. With this thing, they could just roll up to a gas station, or tanker truck and fill up the Crushers tanks, then flip a switch reversing the pump and fill up the groups vehicles from the Crushers own tanks.
Another major plus, was all the places to store, parts, tools, even ammo. And there had been extra set of treads, which were now secured to the upper deck. It even had an APU, to provide power when the motor wasn’t running and the on board compressor could fill tires, run impact tools and other things. He was almost tempted to claim it for his own, but Jared would just jack slap him and call him a silly homo.
At least now, if one of the RVs breaks down, or the semi, they had something that could pull it to a spot where they could safely fix or strip the vehicle. What he needed was a damn Manuel, but he would just have to muddle through like he had every other vehicle, tracing out, hoses, wires, cables and everything else and making his own diagrams and learning as he went.
My dad would be so proud that even though I’m still a fag, I’m no longer a wilderness guide, but turning into a top notch mechanic, welder, and jury rigging , weapons specialist, the tone of his thoughts were bitter, but he did hope his parents had survived. They had moved to Daytona Beach eight years ago, the odds were against them making it. May be when they got back. To Sullivan Island, he might take a boat and go down that way and take a look, even if his dad had hated him.
Speaking of weapons he thought as he turned and walked over to the Semi trailer, where Ryan was assembling the newest little toy, A Flame thrower, which was actually easier to design and build than he had expected. Maybe next week he would sit down and build a jet pack or something just for shits and chuckles.
“good job” Rob told the Teenager who grinned, as he hooked the igniter to the stock and then set it aside.
“Thanks, that should be all of it, if you don’t mind, I need to run.” He said grinning from ear to ear.
“Ah Stephanie “Rob replied, recognizing the I’m about to get laid grin.
Ryan blushed slightly, and nodded. “Well then get your ass moving I don’t want to be blamed for ruining the sex lives of two young newlyweds” Rob said, as he picked up the stock and eyed the assembly for a moment.
“Thanks Rob, I should be free in a couple of hours if you need more help.” Ryan said then dashed off.
A couple of hours, either he was a really lucky kid, or those two sat and talked a lot, Rob thought with a silent laugh as he pick up tanks and the stock and carried them over and placed them in the Crusher, where it was less likely a stray round would pierce the exterior and hit the tanks.
Climbing out of the Crusher Rob saw the girl from the other group Carrie, standing by herself, as every one but the sentries gathered for dinner. She looked seriously annoyed and kept tossing go straight to fucking hell looks at Mai Linn and the girl, Amy, If rob remembered the teenagers name correctly.
I really hope some on is keeping on eye on that woman too, I don’t trust her as far as I could throw the crusher.
Rob shook his head, and climbed up on the top deck, enjoying the early evening. You could almost believe the world was normal at moments like this he thought, just as the sentry on the scissor lift blew his whistle and began to lower the platform.
Ed, the massive blond, former cop, and Steger rushed out of the barn to the sentry, as Rob climbed down off the Crusher and made his way over to them.
Even as he drew near, he knew what it was, Jared had returned, he could hear the diesel motor in the distance. Ed looked towards the gate then got Jones to run down and open the gates when Jared arrived.
Jared turned into the drive just before the gate; as Jones threw it open, and waved them through, one hand resting on the grip of his rifle. The van turned and rumbled over the cattle guard, and rolled down the Drive to park next to Steve’s Motor home. The Team piled out, looking tired.
“Any troubles?” Ed asked as Jared wrapped a thick arm around Jills waist, as they walked over to stand by Ed and Rob. To Rob, it looked like Jill had been crying.
“Ran across a family in a house, that had the mother of all undead hordes sweeping down on it, they refused to leave.” Jared said as he squeezed Jill slightly, as if to comfort her.
Ronny swaggered up, a tired grin on his face as he watched Mary walk up, thanks to no fast food, and a very active life style, she had the hard fit body she had always wanted. Ronny stretched out his arms “there had better be food waiting,” Ronny said, Mary slapped him in the back of the head. Rob had often suspected Ronny had developed a hard spot on the back of his head, judging by how often she slapped him there.
“You had better have something else to say to me, or I will pull down your pants and whale the shit out of your ass right here in front of god and everybody” she warned him, as she brushed a lock of hair away from her face, while those around them laughed.
Ronny smiled, and swept her off her feet then kissed her deeply, Mary melted into him, kicking up one foot, Ori watched for a moment then grunted “ get a damn room, or dungeon or kennel cage what ever.” Ronny let Mary go and ran a hand thru her silky dark hair smiling.
“ do you think that horde will show up here “ Ed asked, ignoring Ronny’s antics.
“I cant say, they were heading north, last time we saw them. But there might be more groups like that, spreading out to find the living” Jared said, rubbing his chin absently. “Every one should eat up, we are going to be packing up as soon as dinners over, in case we need to leave in a hurry.” Jared said as he and Jill and started for the barn.
* * * * *
It was one of those sunsets, where the sky looked like it was on fire, dull reds and bright oranges. And everything else looked like a silhouette, just the black shapes of trees, and hills. It was more suited to Halloween than almost the first of August.
Mike stared out the window, nervous as hell. Even knowing how slow zombies were, he kept expecting them to show up any moment. Brent wasn’t doing so well, Sandy honestly expected him to pass by morning. After all that they had gone through, the thought of having failed was galling.
He paced the study again, wishing he had a bottle of Jack, or hell even a beer, he was tempted to check in Mordicai’s drawer, but didn’t out of respect for the man who had taken them in.
Now with hector reporting a line of vehicles coming down out off the ridge by the high school, he had to wander if the others had decided to stay with Jared and they had just gone on their way, leaving the rest of them stuck high and dry with only one truck.
But no, he remembered the expression on Jared’s face when they left that farmhouse, with the undead approaching, and had seen Jill’s tears and anger at her failure to get the family in the farm house to leave. and they had saved the Mike and the others when they didn’t have, Jared wouldn’t just haul ass and leave them with out at least stopping and offering a ride.
From the descriptions of the vehicles it didn’t sound like Jared’s group and they never came near the farm or the town so he would probably never know who it had been.
The door opened and Mordicai entered carrying a second oil lantern which he sat on the small hand made table by the door.
“I thought I would find you here” Mordicai said, as he passed Mike and settled himself behind the desk.
“I like it in here, its calming” Mike replied as he sat down on the small couch, or love seat, or what ever it was people called small couches.
“Its been my sanctuary, outside of the church of course, when there was a church and I still had faith.” Mordicai said for the first time bringing up a really personal topic. “That is not technically accurate, really. I have faith, restored faith, but not in the same things I did, or rather not all of the same things.”
Mike looked curious but held his tongue, if nothing else this was taking his mind off Brent dying upstairs.
Mordicai shook his head slowly, then gave Mike a smile. “I had a dream, but it was so much more than that Michael, Im sorry you prefer mike,” Mordicai said breaking his stiff formality for the first time as well. The day was just full of surprises. “I suspect Mike that you, noticed that Sandra and Myself have grown close. It was unexpected on both of our parts, and I hope it is okay with you.”
Mike was wondering what this had to do with a dream, but decided to let Mordicai just talk. “I had noticed yes, and I don’t see you need my permission” Mike replied.
Mordicai gave him a smile, “you are the closet to a father figure she has to ask at this point, and my beliefs may have changed, I still hold to many of the traditions I was raised with, note I said traditions not rules.” Mordicai said with yet another smile, Mike wasn’t sure he was happy with being a father figure for anyone, much less a woman close to his own age, but wasn’t going to argue. “As long as I have your permission, then Im happy.”
Mordicai opened the infamous drawer and removed a bottle filled with amber liquid. Mike groaned, but his mouth watered. Mordicai poured to glasses and passed one to Mike. “I need to tell you about this dream, it was odd in the fact it was real, as real as we are sitting here talking.”
Mike sat and listened as Mordicai talked about his wife coming to him, and telling him about the undead coming this way, about Jared and his searching for his brother and other survivors, and of something else that stalked people’s dreams, as well as the world.
Mike listened, convinced as soon as Mordicai mentioned Jared searching for his brother, he knew for a fact that, that hadn’t been mentioned once by any one. Mike didn’t know what to make of it, hell he hadn’t known what to make of much of anything for a few years. By the time Mordicai told Mike he had decided to leave no later than sunset tomorrow because of the warning from a dead woman, Mike wasn’t surprised.
He started to say something, when Hector knocked on the door, and asked Mike to come up stairs. Mike felt a cold knot in the pit of his stomach as he sat aside the glass, and rose to his feet. Mordicai rose as well and followed Mike upstairs. their steps thudding hollowly on the stairs like the ticking of a death clock
Sandy was waiting outside the door, and shook her head as mike looked at her. “ he’s awake but fading, and wanted to talk with you” she said wiping a tear from her eyes. Brent had literally saved her June 23rd, she owed her life to him and every day after. Now she felt like she had failed Brent. Mike patted her on the shoulder and entered the room.
It was a small white room, with a handmade dresser, bedside tables and a rocking chair, all Mordicai’s handiwork. The only picture on the wall was an old oil painting of the farm, placed so that it could be viewed from the bed.
The first thing he noticed was the smell, old sweat and sickness. A smell he was more than familiar with. Brent lay on the bed, hands and feet tied to the head and footboards.
His hair was wet and plastered to his head; he looked horrible, eyes sunken, skin yellow and drawn. He smiled at Mike, it was a shaky weak thing, but there was genuine humor in it. “Drag up a seat and humor a dying man” Brent said his voice low and raspy.
Mike sat on the edge of the bed, trying not to fidget; he wanted nothing more than to pace around the bed. As he sat down he heard others enter the room, and stand quietly, no one wanted Brent to go with out knowing how much they respected and loved him.
“I wish every one else could be here, buddy” mike said, knowing how some of the ones still with Jared were going to feel.
“Tell them I understand, and I don’t mind.” Brent said. “Funny always figured Id eat a bullet to keep from getting eaten or die from being shot or being stupid. Not like this, but what can you do” Brent said his voice fading at the last. He lay there for moment gathering his strength, and actually looked annoyed at the wait.
“Mike, I want you to take care of these folks, I know you got problems man, but your still the best choice. And if you think you can say yes and pass it to some one else when Im dead I’ll come back and haunt you.” Brent said with a ghost of a laugh. “ and don’t let Sandy fuck up and lose Mordicai, Tell Amy Im sorry for leaving, tell every one not here I said bye…….” Brent said then took shuddering breath. “I want you to have my gear Mike, especially the pistol.” Mike felt tears well up in his eyes. Brent seemed to fight to hang on; on impulse Mike placed a hand on Brent’s shoulder as if to lend him strength.
“Can’t really see well at the moment, but Mordicai, thanks for help… helping these folks, you’re a good man.” Brent’s eyes were already starting to turn white, as if a cloud were passing over his normally blue eyes. “this fucking sucks, buddy” he said weakly. “better move the hand.”
Mike nodded and pulled his hand back. Brent looked towards the ceiling breathing hard. “Mike, I’m really sorry about Carrie, you take care buddy.” Brent said and drew his last breath.
Sandy sobbed as she turned and buried her face in Mordicai’s chest. Mike stood and drew his pistol hating the indignity he was about to do to Brent’s body. Mikes world narrowed, his breathing became erratic, as the stress of the moment threatened to send him over the edge. He aimed, making himself watch as he pulled the trigger twice sending Brent to his final rest, or what ever awaited people on the other side these days.
Mike turned and silently walked past the men and two women clustered around the door, he headed downstairs, into the study and picked up the whiskey and downed it on one shot then sat down his hands shaking, his mind reeling with images from Iraq. He managed to control his breathing and forced it back, caging it once more. God will this ever end, Mike asked silently as he buried his head in his hands and fought back the sobs for Brent, for the Carrie he had lost, and for one little girl in Iraq.
Jared finished his morning sparring practice, got his shower then got his maps and spread them over his knee’s while every one got breakfast. He studied the map for a while trying not to think about the family they had left in the path of the undead yesterday. They were either alive or dead, and that was totally out of his hands. His only option would to have been to force Dale at Gun point to leave, and he was sure that would only have resulted in some one dying.
It bothered him a lot, knowing that he had been ready to just stop talking and leave them, even though they ended up taking the decision out of his hands. And even worse in his book was he wasn’t hit by it as badly as he would have been a year ago. Jill had cried most of last night, while he held her, she cried for the kids, not the parents. Jared just prayed they never saw them again as undead.
The family added on top of having to leave Crippen’s body in the wreckage of the Land rover was a double whammy. Intellectually he knew they had no choice, there were to many damned zombies. But it really cut across the grain to leave a man behind. He shook his head forcing the thoughts aside, they would be going back, and soon, and by then it would be safe to get Crippen’s body out to be buried. .
Jared suddenly took a deep breath, no way he thought as he smelled coffee, his mouth watered uncontrollably. Jill appeared from inside the RV and handed him a cup of steaming black coffee. It couldn’t be, the thought smelling it. he took a sip and almost orgasmed and died at the same time, it was, it was pure uncut coffee. No chickory, no Coffee tree nut substitute, but real one hundred percent coffee. Ahhh nectar of the gods he thought as he took another sip and sighed with pleasure.
“We found four large bags of coffee beans in the house, and a hand grinder” Jill explained, “I wanted to surprise you.”
“You did that baby” Jared said with a smile. “I hope there’s enough for every one or I might not live thru the briefing.”
Jill nodded, “ there is, but you got the first cup.”
“I knew I loved you,” Jared said grinning. Then looked around and waved at people to come over and join him. “Okay gather round, my band of merry misfits” Jared said. “This is the route, I don’t have extra copies of these maps, to mark it out and pass it around. so listen up and take notes if you have to. we are going to Mikes farm first,” Jared said laying out the route to get to the Farm. “ if we run into that mass of undead, let the heavy vehicles flatten em and follow close behind. Don’t waste rounds unless you have to. I hope to get Mike and the others to leave with us, trust me no one wants to be in the path of that horde; from there we head to Adams, where we head west on 76.
There not much danger for a few miles, at least nothing we have to worry about, till we get close to Clarksville, and as we get closer the land becomes gentle rolling hills, barely noticeable in most places, and wooded with a lot more creeks and even a few real rivers. There will even be some steep hills and rough rocky areas” Like Jared a lot of people were looking forward to that kind of terrain, zombies tended to suck in steep areas like ridges and rocky areas.
“So we are just going to roll right into the built up areas then?” Steve asked not liking the idea. Jared shook his head.
“No, not at first, once we cross over the Sulphur fork, we head north on 238, its less populated, farms and the like, 238 crosses the Red river. The area on both sides of the bridge is a park, actually Port Royal Park; I’m debating on camping there and using it as a base.
Once across the Red river, we head north and then turn onto 237 west, it crosses I 24 and that’s when it becomes hairy. With the RVs, and the Semi, it takes the option of going cross country off the table, which is why I think we need to set up a camp at Port Royal, on the north side of the river the camp is surrounded on three sides by the river, with only the bridge and a narrow gap between the bends of the river that the road runs through, we can send the heavy vehicles on ahead from there, and should be able to keep the camp relatively safe.
And with all the zombies in that area, Port Royal might be the best, what I like is we can block the bridge on the south side, in case the horde shows up behind us from there its not to far maybe 19 miles or so from Port Royal to Fort Campbell, the problem is we will have to go thru St. Bethlehem, a satellite community, and I mean we go through as fast as we can, till we reach this point” Jared said pointing to a road on the map. “ that’s Needmore street, which passes next to a subdivision just before it reaches TN 236 which is our west bound route to the base, its damn near straight shot.”
Finally he took a breath and looked around. “ Rob I want you to mount that com mast on the M88”
“ the Crusher” Rob added helpfully. Jared rolled his eyes, but smiled.
“On the Crusher, then we are breaking out the com sets we got from the FEMA cache, I want long range coms up for this, because as soon as we reach the Farm I want Ori and Jeb to scout ahead, as far the interchange, once the main group arrives there, they are going to stay ahead of us, and check out the routes, reporting on the numbers and location of the undead. Rob is that jeep good enough to make some long range patrols.”
Rob nodded, “ who ever restored that baby, used top shelf parts Jared she is set up and ready to go. Just like the Crusher. And it’s a good thing we stripped that command vehicle that Logan and Gary had last fall, we can use the Antenna’s from that for the unit in the jeep. And Ill have to do the math, but I think either I can make an Antenna or use one of the Whip Antenna’s for the Crusher”
“ Good, Ori you know what your going to need, so find it and get it loaded on board the jeep now. we need to be out of here in an hour.” Jared said, noting Steve wanted to speak badly.
“Steve?” Jared asked.
“what happens if the zombie presence is too thick” Steve asked.
“we go thru or around, this isn’t just about finding My brother at this point, if the base was overrun we need the fuel, parts and what ever that’s there. If the Military is still there, we can hopefully get inside, get news, and get what we need too. we also need to keep an eye out for a FEMA storage yard or complex; we could use more of the medical supplies they have stored. If we come under fire, we return fire. I don’t care if it’s a band of naked pissed off hookers, in high heels, we will send them to hell.”
Jared’s friends started laughing. Steve between chuckles Said. “Your channeling pappy now”
Jared laughed too, that did sound like something pappy would have said.
“ all right, like always plans are subject to change on a whim, Rob get those Radios passed around, get a base unit hooked up and bolted into the Crusher, one in Steve’s RV and one in the Jeep Ori will be Driving.” Jared paused for a moment. “Ori pick a third person to take with you, your going to need some one to man the base unit, so if you and Jeb go on foot, you can call back to the jeep and who ever is on the radio can relay to us. Okay folks that’s it, every one shit, shower and shave, check over the camp to make sure we didn’t miss anything and be ready to roll out in an hour.”
Brent Mathew Lawson was buried, August 1st 2011, the sunrise had been glorious, a thing of gold and rose glory, while a gentle wind that smelled of dew and grass stirred the leaves. A simple stone with the his name and date of death with the epitaph “ A real hero” had been engraved on it using an Air tool.
Mike had said a few words, and then let the others speak as well. Then they had all buried the make shift coffin.
They gathered for breakfast on the back porch and talking quietly, mostly discussing Mikes suggestion about leaving, and finally reached a consensus. An hour later, Mordicai, Mike, Hector and Mark left to find vehicles.
Sandy finished packing her things, looking around at the house that had been home for so short a time. She was going to miss it, but maybe if she and Mordicai were going to make it, they needed a place that was theirs. She had no idea what a future together meant in this new world. All the old meter sticks were gone, money, new home, promotions, families all of it was gone or changed, need a new home, stake one out. Need a new blender find one, No one needed money anymore, and the only promotion available was a permanent one, called death.
Well what ever happened, they had the present. The future would painfully take care of itself she decided, as she sat down on the bed, and let her mind rove over the thoughts that she hadn’t told any one else about.
God how could she tell them that she thought Brent had been poisoned, oh sure he had been sick as well, but the last week or so, the symptom’s had been off, some even wrong for what he had. Okay for what she thought he had, and these people think I can serve as a doctor. Which was one of the reasons she had kept her suspicions to herself, it was possible she had been wrong about what was Brent was dying of. But everything had been consistent till the last week.
And what about the night he had died, she still didn’t even like to think about it even with the light of the sun falling on her. If she told anyone how she had gone into the Brent’s room to say a private good bye and for a moment as the door had opened letting in a fan of light. She had seen something standing by the window, some thing dark and insubstantial, with a shark toothed smile and malice filled eyes, that had faded from view.
Outside she heard motors, a lot of them. she rose and walked to the window, and saw Jared’s black van, followed by a military truck, some kind of tank thing, Rv’s, two fuel trucks, and a semi that only pulled in once every one else was parked. She clipped her pistol to her belt, and head downstairs, Benjamin, would probably tell them of Brent’s death, she hoped so, she didn’t want to have to be the one to pass on good news.
God she dreaded, facing this. By the time she got outside, Ily, Amy and every one but Carrie were clustered around Brents grave paying their respects. She had to stifle the urge to kick the shit out of the bitch for disrespecting a man who had helped save her miserable ass at the hospital, when others would have left her and Mike alone, so they wouldn’t be saddled with an unconscious women who was of no help.
She steadied her thoughts, and forced herself to stay calm, for the sake of the others, and stepped out onto the porch.
* * * * *
Mike waved Mordicai into position watching Mordicai backed the truck up perfectly till he had the hitch in place. Mike looked around to make sure it was safe, even with Hector and mark on watch, he felt his skin crawl if didn’t pay attention to the surroundings himself.
Mike settled the hitch and locked it down, then stepped back as he gave Mordicai a thumbs up. Almost smiling, as he looked at the fifth wheel travel trailer. Mordicai had been insistent on having something he could call a home for his children and he hoped for Sandy. Mike shook his head; Mordicai really didn’t have much experience with women. The man was a babe in the woods, while Sandy was, the best word would be worldly. He shook his head suddenly, what makes you think she hasn’t already taught him just how worldly she is, he asked himself.
While Mordicai got out and double checked the hook up, Mike walked over to the HumVee parked next to the house, they had chosen Adams to look for vehicles, because of the last few years quite a few upper class folks had moved out to the small town, and the chances of finding a good vehicle that had been well maintained was far greater.
And this sprawling modern plantation style home was a jack pot. Hector and Mark had already loaded all the tools out of the four car garage, Mike had insisted on loading one of the Dirt bikes in the back of Mordicai’s truck. They had stripped the pantry, and the cellar bare of canned goods, and even found vacuum packed bread and rolls in the cellar, as well as enough TP to keep their butts in three ply heaven for a while.
There had been firearms, the open gun safe proved that, but some one had taken the firearms, long ago. They had found a couple of boxes of 12 gauge, 30-30, and some .22 in the cellar but that was about it.
Mike wasn’t sure about the Humvee, he would honestly prefer the military model, even if the seats weren’t made for humans to sit on, Hector and Mark had chosen to take the Dually that had been used to pull the fifth wheel that Mordicai was taking, they had spotted another the fifth wheel trailer down the road and planned on picking it up on the way out.
There was no reason, none really for him to get a trailer; he didn’t need a home, on wheels or otherwise. At least not yet, but he had come up with a plan, that might just might shake Carrie out of what ever was going on. They were going with Jared even if he had to tie her ass up.
Because he was going to take her back to their Home, where there were pictures, mementos, even videos. If that didn’t do it, he would let go, just the fact he was thinking seriously of kidnapping his own wife, told him he was desperate. But god damn it, she had stuck by him, thru the breakdowns, the panic attacks, all of it, she had been there for him and by god, if he didn’t make this attempt no matter what others might think of his actions, then it was a betrayal of the love she had given him.
“You don’t want that thing” Mark said walking up behind Mike shaking him out of his thoughts.
“Why not” Mike asked curious as Mark kicked the tire of the Hummer.
“ to many electronics, more than whats in the dually, the dually is a 96 model, so it has a lot less to go wrong with it on the electronics side, that H2 is packed with the damn things. A sensor goes bad in the wrong spot and the motor could die, or start hitching.” Mark explained. “ if your wanting something big but not a truck, I saw two scouts down the road, both looked like they have been restored, plus I spotted a Bronco, early eighties model, that looked great body wise. And both can be pretty stout for going off road.”
“And to be honest man, you want a diesel, more fuel lying around for diesel, and it can be converted to run off cooking oil if nothing else. And they have the power to pull a pretty big load.” Mark said.
“ thanks, the Bronco would probably be the best one for me” Mike said as he walked back to Mordicai’s truck, and a minute later they were back on the road, driving down the tree shaded road, looking at the sun drenched pastures beyond.
They pulled into the gravel drive way of a red bricked home nestled amongst oaks and cedars, it had once been a single story 1960’s style home, but some one had added a second story to one side of the house, with plenty of windows and deck that jutted out over the roof of the original building, and wrapped around the back side of the new addition.
A body mostly skeletal lay on the stoop in front of the open front door. The Bronco was parked ten feet away under the shade of an oak. Mike slipped out, leaving the M16 with Mordicai, but he had his, and Brents pistols on his belt with two extra magazines for both. Hector was approaching the Bronco, while Mark was ready to guard the immediate area.
The Bronco, was a 6.9l diesel, with a mud brown paint job, the tires were okay but would probably need replacement soon. Hector tried the driver’s door and found it unlocked, he opened the door and reached inside and popped the hood.
Mike drew his pistol as he approached the open front door in a crouch. Fighting the nausea and panic that hovered in the wings, with every damn step, god I just want this to go the fuck away, he thought.
The smell was horrible, and very little of it was from the corpse at the door, there was a Desert Eagle .50 in its hands and the back of its head was gone. Mike suspected that the man had been bitten and had shot himself while he was being chewed on. As he reached out and grasped the door knob he heard something move inside the house, and then something clattered to the floor inside the house, what ever it was it sounded like glass breaking.
Not here to clear the house, he told himself with something like relief and pulled the front door closed, the hinges squealing. The door closed and latched, and mike sighed with relief, thankful too that it was a solid wood door with no windows.
He turned back to the bronco and saw that Hector had the hood up and was checking out the motor.
“At least one inside, I closed the front door, but there might be another door open” Mike said, as he walked over and looked in the back of the bronco. There was a lot of camping gear inside, and a cooler he was going to dump.
“Going to need to hotwire the damn thing” Mark said as he pulled out the long jumper cables.
Mike looked at the corpse in the door then around the yard, there was only one vehicle, and no garage, so who ever that poor bastard was, he had probably driven the bronco here. “One of you keep guard for a second.” Mike said waiting till Mark nodded and started scanning the area for threats.
Mike barely held his gorge in check as he knelt next to the Corpse and first removed the Desert Eagle and shoved it into his waist band before he started going thru the pockets of the dead man. He did find three magazines for the Eagle in a pouch on the mans belt, a buck knife, a Gerber multi tool, and keys. He slipped the knife and the multi tool into his back pocket, then walked over and handed Hector the keys, before stepping off the gravel and throwing up.
God I miss the days, where this shit wouldn’t have bothered me, he thought as he wiped his mouth, and turned. There are moments, when time seems to stand still, where you have all the time in the world to consider your options, and react. This wasn’t one of them; Mark was looking towards the front door, of the house where something was thumping against the front door. Hector was bent over the engine of the Bronco, looking at something. And behind him three zombies had come around the corner of the house, one was a woman, wearing a pair of shorts and no top, in the past Mike would have really stopped and admired that view, it would have been impressive. But in the here and now, the dried blood and blackish goo caked around her mouth and down her front, just ruined the whole image, well that and her being deadish. The kids, were bad, they had been half gnawed on. All three looked enough alike to be related,
Mike took all that in with a glance, the bile rose, his blood pressure shot up, his vision narrowed, he was on the edge of a panic attack. But Hector had no idea, he was in danger, your job, your job Brent said his voice ringing thru Mikes head.
The female was close enough a lunge would put her on top of Hector, the kids were a few feet behind her. No more time, act his hand was a blur as it rose, he found himself, in the right stance, and the pistol roared one, twice, three times, then shift and fire. five more shots, divided between two targets. . One bullet passed so close to Hector his hair moved. The woman’s head exploded, the kids danced and jerked, backwards as bullets punched into their little bodies to drive them back, and then two shots to each head kept them down.
Hector yelled out cussing in Spanish, as he damn near climbed in with the motor and pulled the hood down behind him.. Mark wheeled around his eyes wide, and weapon up. He saw the three bodies, and turned white.
Mike stood, under the shadows of a Cedar tree, that stirred in the wind, his pistol in hand, smoke rising from the barrel, as calm as anyone, maybe more so.
“Clear” he called out, sick at the thought he almost let Hector die, almost.
Hector thanked him repeatedly in Spanish for saving his life, then at Mikes urging got back to the Bronco, Leaving Mike to stand there trying not to puke, his hands shaking violently. Two minutes later, Hector had the jumper cables attached, and started the Bronco, then used a meter to check the battery load. He seemed satisfied and closed the hood. “it’s all yours “ he said heading back to the dually.
Mike retrieved his M16, and then climbed into the Bronco, now all they had to do was score a van and they would be ready to go. He thought. Minutes later they were heading down the road.
* * * * *
“ This is insane” Jeb said, as he tiled his Stetson back on his head, looking at out the window as they passed Walnut Grove, calling it a town was like calling a Cardboard box a home, it wasn’t even a village. Two buildings, that didn’t rate a dot on any but a topo map. “scouting this far ahead of the main Group”
“Consider it a challenge” Ori said calmly.
“A challenge was filming porn while on active duty and not getting caught, a challenge was getting into Betty Santos’s pants in ninth grade, a challenge….” Jeb said as he was interrupted by Steger laughing in the back.
“A challenge would be not speaking for twenty minutes” Ori replied cutting in before he lost the chance to get a word in edge wise.
Jeb leaned back in his seat grinning. The grin slowly faded, as he concentrated on the terrain outside the vehicle.
They crossed the Sulpher fork, a branch of the Red river that had cut its way thru the landscape a long time ago, leaving a wooded ridge along both sides of the fork. It wasn’t all that far really from the farm.
Ori slowed as they passed a cemetery surrounded by trees, three zombies were shambling around the graves, almost like they were visiting long dead family. “now that’s just creepier than normal.” Jeb said as he watched the zombies turn and begin to weave thru the tombstones, towards the fence.
Ori gave the Jeep gas and pulled away, leaving the zombies to try to figure out how to get past the fence. A minute later they found them selves at four way intersection, an old wood clabbered church with a narrow steeple on the left side of the road, Ori stopped and checked his map, then turned right, following 76. Jeb watched the right side, where he saw several small ponds and lakes surrounded by lightwoods.
It was a slow drive to the park; Ori took his time, studying the homes along the way, which were thankfully few, and even less undead.
The land was mostly gently hills with and low ridges, and lightly wooded. Occasionally they would see groups of deer bound across the road, running gracefully till they vanished into the distance.
“There it is” Ori said pointing to the turn off to 238, directly across from the Mt. Zion church, or what was left of it. at some point in the last year it had caught fire, the steeple had collapsed into the small sanctuary and now jutted up thru the skeletal, scorched joists like an accusing finger. Wild turkeys were foraging in the grass next to the Church, under the shadow of a burned out truck.
“Lightening strike?” Jeb asked, Ori shrugged his shoulders..
“Maybe, most likely” Ori said not elaborating on what he thought, then fell silent for the next couple of miles.
Jeb liked Ori, it was hard not to, he was a competent, no a Skilled outdoorsman, and smarter than hell, but he was also quiet, and that tended to drive Jeb nuts. Not that he wanted a chatter box sitting next to him. But some kind of conversation would be nice.
The trees had been slowly growing thicker, as they drove, now the fields and pastures had vanished and only the woods remained. Shadows lay thick under the spreading limbs of the trees.
Ori pointed silently, up ahead there was a sign that read Port Royal park. The park was only twenty two acres, not large, by any means; its only distinction was it had once been a town. Nothing really remained of the town but the old two story brick Masonic Lodge, built right around the time of the civil war which had served other functions like general store, now it was the Parks office.
Parking the Jeep in front of the Two story building, Ori, looked around the lightly forested area, with keen interest, but saw nothing moving in the trees. The smell of water was in the air.
Ori dismounted, and ran up the com mast, Rob had installed, he waited while Steger did a radio check then flashed them a thumbs up. With the Radio up and running, Ori dragged out his pack and pulled it on. He was a firm believer in making sure his gear was available just on the off chance of becoming lost, getting injured or something happened to keep him out longer than expected.
It was a beautiful day, Ori thought as they walked the area around the old building, noting details and committing them to memory. Next the entered the Park office, some one had trashed the place, breaking furniture and display cases, old pamphlets, maps and other items covered the floors downstairs.
The up stairs had been converted to a small apartment for the Park Ranger, and was like downstairs, trashed with the addition of a corpse, in a Rangers uniform. If there had been anything of use it had long ago been stripped out. Together the two men wrapped the decomposing body in a sheet and carried it outside, and then into the woods to bury the man.
With the ranger buried in a shallow grave, they headed out onto the trails, intent on getting them checked out, partly to see if any undead were wandering around, and partly to see if any one was camped in the area. Ori would have preferred to do a more intensive search, but they didn’t have the time.
By the time they combed all the trails on this side, and reached the river it was near two in the afternoon. They paused on the River bank to eat lunch. The low almost inaudible sound of the river was pleasant, the sun glittered off the slow moving water of the Red River, named for the reddish brown color of the water. Tall trees, laden with dark green leaves lined the banks. A light wind cooled by the water blew softly, while insects droned lazily
Ori squatted, eating an MRE, Ham to be exact, thankfully that he wasn’t stuck with the King Ranch MRE, he hated that thing with a passion. Across the river, were the remains of an old covered bridge. At some point a storm or flooding had taken out half of the bridge, and the park had kept and reinforced the other half. He assumed it was a historical place. And It would make a great place for the group to camp. They could use that half as a common area, so people were not sitting out in the open, exposed to any undead that might wander up.
“ lots of animal tracks here “ Jeb said suddenly, Ori nodded he had noted that as well, Deer, turkey, raccoon, Coyote, at least two dogs, and a ton of other critters had been coming down to here to drink. That was usually a good sign that no undead were in the area, Animals tended to vanish when the undead moved into the neighborhood.
“Might do some hunting once the group gets here, and some fishing to restock the coolers and freezers” Ori commented..
Jeb licked his lips in anticipation, then poked at his MRE Enchilada with distaste plain on his face. “this crap sucks” he commented.
“Next time you can pick your own, you should know better than to let some one else grab your food.” Ori said with a grin.
“Mind if I ask you a question?” Jeb said suddenly.
“Sure ask away, I just wont answer if I don’t like it” Ori replied as he tucked the remains of his MRE into a pouch on his Pack.
“Why did you get out and become a guide, I mean with your experience you could have worked bomb disposal, or probably even with a SWAT team. Why guide.” Jeb asked.
Ori rose to his feet, his hands resting on the weapon slung across his chest. Jeb didn’t think he was going to answer for a moment.
“Bombs blow up, and people sometimes shoot at SWAT” Ori said lightly, but it didn’t fool Jeb, there was a story there he could hear it in Ori’s voice. “ I got out of EOD, because I lost it one day, not in a major way, not because some one died, I just couldn’t take waiting for the damn things to blow up in my face while I was trying to disarm them. I can still do it, and Im good at it, but its not a job I wanted to do. In pinch yes, as a job no. and be an LEO, or SWAT. Not a chance, risking my life so some dumb ass can shoot me over a traffic stop or in a raid on a drug lab, not a chance.
When Jared told me he was starting a guide business, and wanted me and the others to work it with him, I jumped at it. Work with my best friends from the Service, men that I bled with, guys that wouldn’t screw me over for a buck, guys that would cover my ass if something happened, and getting to work in the one thing I love, wilderness. Hell yes” Ori fell silent, lost in thought, though his eyes never stopped sweeping the area for threats. A small smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
“You would have liked Mark, you two would have gotten along well.” Ori said suddenly, Jeb had heard them talk about the man a few times, but the close knit group of friends never went into much detail about their friend around others.
“sorry I talk to much sometimes” Ori said, dismissing the conversation. “ breaks over lets head down to the 238 bridge and cross over.”
Jeb nodded, as he shoved his trash into his pack, he would burn it later. He couldn’t help but smile, Ori talk to much, that was the longest conversation he had ever heard Ori have.
He rose to his feet, and slung on his pack, when Ori touched his arm and said“ turn slowly.”
Jeb turned slowly and then took one very slow cautious step back, a black bear, easily five hundred pounds, about the size of a small car, had wandered down to the bank and froze seeing the two men.
“Back up slowly no sudden moves,” Ori said putting words to action and took a slow step backwards.
Ori heard Jeb mutter something under his breath, repeating the words like a chant; the bear cocked its head watching them as they slowly moved away up into the trees. As soon as they were out of sight, they jogged back towards the trail to put distance between them and the bear.
“What were you saying back there” Ori asked as they reached the trail, and loped along at a steady pace.
“Nothing really” Jeb said grinning, “I was just telling myself, I only have to run faster than Ori”
Ori started laughing, and picked up the pace running down the trail, thru the hazy golden beams of light that pushed through the tree limbs creating splashes of light on the trail where dust motes danced. Jeb eyed the older man, as he raced to catch up, he knew that Ori’s pack had to weigh a good ninety pounds, no way was he going to let Ori out do him.
The sun was already sliding down the sky, when they started up to the trail from the river, returning to the jeep.
All in all the trails were short, and empty of undead. Ori called Steger and had him inform Jared so the group could get moving. By the time Jared and the group got here it would be around sunset. Tomorrow the fun stuff starts, scouting ahead into an urban area. Now that should be damn fun. Though Jared might just decided to push through with a few heavy vehicles and drop the scouting idea. Either way they were just about twenty miles from Fort Campbell.
Jon climbed to the roof of the Radio station they were using as a camp, and looked down on the street below, where in the fading light of day, he could see, the vehicles scattered along the road, their doors standing open, awaiting owners that would never return. He couldn’t see the dropped purses, the baby bags, back packs, and brief cases that had been dropped in the terror to escape the walking dead, but he knew they were there.
Every where you went these days, the streets were littered with the remains of the past, things that had once been so important, were nothing but trash now. Their owners soulless husks, that shuffled the streets.
He felt nothing for those lost and damned people, they had been killing the Earth, and that made them enemies. And enemies of the earth deserved what they got. No mercy, none for his enemies, the Russian was right, a man had to be able to embrace violence, accept it, and use it to achieve great goals. Killing, was only removing a parasite from the world. And Killing people like the red head, weakened the enemies of Mother Earth.
The only thing that bothered him was sometimes his thoughts didn’t seem to be his thoughts. He didn’t remember ever being this angry, and the violence he found himself craving was unlike him as well your going insane, he thought and admitted that was possible, but who could blame him the world had gone insane too, or maybe Im finally going sane in an insane universe he thought almost smiling.
Then there was the shadow thing that he kept seeing, lurking nearby, always nearby. Even when he was going to sleep, he could if he looked out of the corners of his eyes , see it squatting there next to him, its head jutted forward, white eyes fixed on him, as it rocked back and forth on its heels, then it would fade from view. As if it knew it was being observed.
It would speak to him sometimes, tell him things in that cold voice, when he was alone, whispering secrets, tell him of places to avoid. It was he suspected, a servant of the earth, some were said to be dark, and inspired fear. Or so he had been told by a few earth first neo pagans years before the world had been eaten, at the time he hadn’t believed it. But he hadn’t believed in zombies either, so who knew.
Jon turned away from the View; he had things to do, before he left tomorrow. And he wasn’t planning on leaving alone. Lany would be going with him, even if she wasn’t aware of that little fact.
After that it was off to Nashville, where he had a few things to do, the Russian had been pretty explicit in his plans, and Jon wasn’t going to let his mentor down. Insane or not, Jon was on a mission and was determined to succeed. He headed downstairs, eager to get his little gift finished, and get on the road away from here, even if it was a Road to Madness, he had work to do.
On the roof, a shadowy shape crouched on the edge of the roof, its sightless white eyes fixed on the door, a jagged smile spreading across its nightmarish face. This time things would be different.
It loved that its mere presence corrupted the Tool it had chosen for this work, with enough time the man its tool, would take the woman he so desired and do to her what It had once enjoyed so much. For a moment an image appeared in its mind, of a woman her flesh flayed, breasts gone, screaming in agony as light glinted off a sharp knife. The image filled it with a long forgotten sense of pleasure, which was gone as fast as it arrived.
Oh how it had reveled in the blood and the pain, a artist whose carved canvases evoked the future of the world, hideous work, a grand work, a work unfinished, but not for much longer.
His other tools were almost in place, and when they were, that red headed bastard and his wife would die. Not even the meddling of the dead on the other side could stop this new threat. Its smile was a thing of pain and vengeance, and of nightmare.